[interact_list] [Afghanistan] briefing

  • From: Akio Fujita <A.Fujita@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: interact_list@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 16:15:09 +0100

"The Russians went in without totally comprehending the implications of
what they were getting involved in," said J.N. Dixit, a former Indian 
ambassador to Kabul. "America is reaping the results of its 
miscalculation also." 

Thursday September 13, 9:55 PM
Afghanistan-a chilling story of bungling superpowers
By Myra MacDonald 
 NEW DELHI (Reuters) - They massacred the armies of the British Raj. 
They virtually destroyed the Soviet Empire. And now they are under 
suspicion in the biggest attack on the mainland of the United States, 
the world's sole superpower. 

If Washington decides to strike at Afghanistan for sheltering prime 
suspect Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, it will be following 
others who tried to tame the Afghans. And failed. 

"In addition to the natural hatred which every Afghan feels towards a 
foreign invader, there is a strong underlying current of fanaticism," 
wrote one old Afghan hand. 

"Unless promptly checked, (it) becomes at times, and especially against
a Christian enemy, uncontrollable." 

That was about Afghanistan in 1880, written by British Field Marshal 
Lord Roberts, after ill-fated British invaders had been massacred in 

The story of Afghanistan, an arid mountainous country at the crossroads
of central Asia, is a chronicle of miscalculation. 

The British army tried twice to invade in the 19th century in a bungled
attempt to build a buffer to protect India's borders. 

Moscow sent in troops on Christmas Day 1979 to protect its southern 
borders. Its retreat, at least 13,000 Russian deaths and nine years 
later, precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

And the United States supported the very people who may now be trying 
to destroy it -- helping Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, 
to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. 

"The Russians went in without totally comprehending the implications of
what they were getting involved in," said J.N. Dixit, a former Indian 
ambassador to Kabul. "America is reaping the results of its 
miscalculation also." 


For many in the British Raj, the tangle with the Afghans started as a 
game, or the Great Game as it became known, led by eager, ambitious 
soldiers determined to make their names. 

They also had the missionary zeal of 19th century Christians who 
believed their desire to tame the wild Muslim tribesmen of Afghanistan 
was a battle of good over evil. 

Prompted by fear that Russia might seize control of Afghanistan, 
Britain decided in 1838 to invade. 

Twelve thousand men, 38,000 followers, and thousands of elephants and 
camels marched to Kabul to install a puppet ruler. 

But then came rebellion, and a disorderly evacuation in which thousands
died, killed by tribesmen or of cold and hunger. 

Britain invaded again in 1878. This time the British resident of Kabul 
and his escort were massacred by a mutinous mob. 

A century later, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ignored those urging 
caution and invaded to back a leftist government in Kabul. 

Like the British before them, the Russians underestimated the 
complexity of Afghanistan, failing to see that support for the left in 
Kabul had no backing among the tribes in the countryside. 

"You cannot talk about Afghans as a single cohesive identity. They are 
fiercely autonomous people, not inclined to accept centralisation," 
said Dixit. 


Fearing a spread of Russian influence into South Asia and even as far 
as the strategic oil-producing nations in the Gulf, the United States 
provided covert support to the Afghan rebels through its then main 
South Asia ally, Pakistan. 

But far from extending its power, Moscow became bogged down in a nasty 
guerrilla war in what was the Soviet Union's Vietnam. 

Reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a withdrawal in 1988, but in
doing so lost support at home and eventually his job. The collapse of 
the Soviet Union followed. 

The vast majority of Afghanistan is now controlled by the Islamic 
fundamentalist Taliban government, allegedly supported by Pakistan, the
United States' erstwhile ally. 

Pakistan denies providing military support to the Taliban but is one of
only three countries to have recognised it, along with Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates. The Taliban has also denied bin Laden was 
behind the U.S. attacks. 

"There was a feeling of triumphalism among the jehadi (holy warriors) 
terrorists when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan," Indian 
defence analyst K. Subrahmanyam wrote in The Times of India on 

"Many of them, including...Osama bin Laden, used to tell the Americans 
who trained him in special operations that the jehadis had defeated one
superpower and thereafter it would be the turn of the other 
superpower," he wrote. 

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