Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Afghanistan: What's Behind a Seemingly Unwinnable War?

Afghanistan: What's Behind a Seemingly Unwinnable War?
Many on both sides of the Atlantic are saying the Afghan conflict—which has already lasted twice as long as World War I—is unwinnable. Why are the allies finding it so difficult to win this war in a backward third world country?

by Melvin Rhodes

July 2009 turned out to be the worst month of the Afghan conflict for both British and American fatalities. For the British, who have the second-highest number of troops serving in the country, the death toll in Afghanistan has now surpassed the total lost in Iraq.

Proportionate to population, Britain, Canada, Denmark and Estonia have each lost more men there than the United States. Understandably, the war is increasingly controversial, with opposition at home mounting. The Netherlands is withdrawing troops next year, with Canada leaving in 2011.

"The graveyard of empires"

Ironically, the month of the highest number of British casualties coincided with the 200th anniversary of Britain's first involvement with the country of Afghanistan.

"In 1809 a (British) diplomat named Mountstuart Elphinstone led Britain's first fact-finding mission to Afghanistan. In a land filled with strife and [divided] by independent factions, he met an elderly tribal leader and tried to convince him of the benefits of a firm central government.

"The leader's response? 'We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood,' the Afghan replied. 'But we will never be content with a master'" (Stephen Tanner, "Indomitable Afghanistan," Military History, August-September 2009).

The country has often been called "the graveyard of empires." In recent times, the Soviets were defeated after a decade of military involvement in Afghanistan. Over the long course of history, Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and more recently the British in the 19th century and Soviets in the 20th all invaded Afghanistan. None was able to subdue the country and govern it as other nations have been governed.

So what makes Western nations today think they can succeed where others have failed?

"After eight years of disheartening warfare, it is tempting to see NATO's mission as a repeat of past misadventures in the Hindu Kush. The Soviets lost even though they had more troops than NATO has today, a more powerful Afghan army and were supported by a cadre of motivated Afghan communists" ("Hold Your Nerve," The Economist, July 18, 2009.)

The same article continues: "For America Afghanistan is a war of necessity; it is from there that Osama bin Laden ordered the attacks of September 11th, 2001. For many European allies, though, it is less vital—a war of solidarity with America, a war of choice. Such operations quickly turn unpopular when they go badly, and governments tend to inflate their aims. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, talks of promoting 'an emerging democracy.'"

For the United States, it is clear that a lot is at stake in Afghanistan. Failure to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda will send a clear signal that America is losing the war against Islamic extremism, which will open up the country for further attacks at home.

Other disastrous consequences, The Economist says, would include: "the return of the Taliban to power; an Afghan civil war; the utter destabilisation of nuclear-armed Pakistan; the restoration of al-Qaeda's Afghan haven; the emboldening of every jihadist in the world; and the weakening of the West's friends."

A bigger problem than Afghanistan

For the British, the war is considerably more complex due to its long history in the region.

More than 60 years ago, the British withdrew from South Asia when they gave independence to the nations of India, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar). Any involvement they had had in Afghanistan during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th was simply because they ruled India and the Afghans had been causing trouble in the border areas. The British kept a military garrison stationed at the head of the Khyber Pass until 1947.

Interestingly, The Book of Knowledge encyclopedia's entry on Afghanistan begins with these words: "Land of wild tribesmen, barren and trackless, Afghanistan lies in a jumble of mountains between Russia, Persia [Iran] and Pakistan" (1954, Vol. 1, "Afghanistan," p. 46).

Afghanistan's geographical location has been a crucial factor in its history. For two centuries it was a buffer state between Czarist Russia and British India. Neither power wanted the other there, which helped Afghanistan maintain its independence.

The Economist continues: "Britain's ambition to be a global 'force for good' comes at a cost. As America's best friend, with privileged access to intelligence, it feels compelled to take part in America's wars. As the most capable militarily of NATO's European members (together with France), it helps to rally others.

"But fighting in Afghanistan is not just about prestige. With its large population of Pakistani origin, it has much at stake in helping to maintain the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan. London has been attacked by al-Qaeda more recently than New York."

Herein lies the real problem—Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

And it goes even deeper than that.

Britain's immigration problem

The Economist is correct in stating that Britain has a "large population of Pakistani origin." Due to Britain's historical and colonial links to Pakistan, and Pakistan being part of the British Commonwealth, a million or more people of Pakistani descent now live in Britain.

This was not the case in 1947 when Britain gave independence to India and Islamic Pakistan.

The presence of so many people from the Indian subcontinent has complicated Britain's relationship with the area. It has also made the country highly vulnerable to Islamic extremism.

Some commentators have said that London is one of the most vulnerable cities in the world, as well as a major hotbed of Islamic extremism. "Churchill would not have permitted British citizens to call for attacks on the nation, as some Islamic preachers do," wrote Irwin Stelzer in London's Daily Telegraph ("A Lesson From History That Goes Unheeded," July 15, 2009).

The four terrorists who attacked the London subway and a bus on July 7, 2005, killing 52, were all homegrown young men of Pakistani descent. Videotaped statements by two of the suicide bombers said their attacks were retaliation for British involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pointedly, none of the fatalities suffered by the British military in Afghanistan have been of Pakistani descent or even bore a Muslim name. There is some resentment among British people at demonstrations against the war. This is particularly the case when demonstrations—by Muslims mostly of Pakistani origin—are held as bodies are brought home in coffins covered by the Union Jack.

It makes little sense to people that British boys are dying to fight Islamic militants in Afghanistan when the British government continues to allow people into the country from that part of the world—some of whom are likely to be militants themselves! However, it's not politically correct to voice this opinion or discuss it in the media.

Immigration is strictly one-way

The fact is, for all the denial about any "clash of civilizations," the conflict in South Asia clearly shows that there is one. And not just in South Asia.

Afghans don't want foreigners—whom they consider infidels or nonbelievers—on their soil. They are a fiercely independent people. It's a high-risk country for Western visitors, civilian or military.

But so are some other countries, including some Islamic nations.

There are 57 nations in the Islamic Conference. These are nations with a predominant or significant Islamic population. They have regular summit meetings. Not one of these countries allows Westerners to move into their countries, work and, given time, become citizens.

But liberal Western nations take in people from all over the world, thinking that they will all adapt and that everybody will live happily ever after.

Immigration is purely one-way traffic—into the West from other nations. Some in the West may move from one Western country to another. Some will accept work contracts in third world countries, but they will never be offered citizenship. One reason, surely, is because most countries do not think that everybody moving in will adapt. They fear a clash of cultures—a clash of civilizations!

It's not a question of equality. The Bible says that "God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34) and He "has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings" (Acts 17:26). As Afghanistan itself shows, mixing different ethnic groups is problematic. The nation never has been able to function with any form of centralized authority due to divided tribal loyalties. Could the same happen in Britain or America?

"It can't happen here"

In a July 10, 2009, article titled "It Can't Happen Here," American conservative columnist and author Pat Buchanan began with an analysis of China's problems with the Islamic Uighurs in the western part of that country. China has been moving majority Han Chinese into the Uighur province in an effort to quell rebellion and subdue the native Uighurs.

The locals clearly resent this and fear for their own separate identity. Civil disturbance has been the result, with hundreds dead as China has clamped down. China's fear is that what happened in the former Soviet Union could happen in China—the breakup of the nation along ethnic lines.

Buchanan explained: "The larger issue here is the enduring power of ethnonationalism—the drive of ethnic minorities, embryonic nations, to break free and create their own countries, where their faith, culture and language are predominant. The Uighurs are such a people.

"Ethnonationalism caused the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, triggered World War I in Sarajevo, and tore apart the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Ethnonationalism birthed Ireland, Turkey and Israel.

"Ethnonationalism in the 1990s tore apart the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and broke up Czechoslovakia, creating two-dozen nations out of three. Last August, ethnonationalism, with an assist from the Russian Army, relieved Georgia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Russia has its own ethnic worries in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, whose Moscow-installed president was nearly blown to pieces two weeks ago and where a Chechen convoy was ambushed last week with 10 soldiers killed.

"The ethnonationalism that pulled Ireland out of the United Kingdom in 1921 is pulling Scotland out. It split the Asian subcontinent up into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Iran, Iraq and Pakistan are all threatened.

"Persians are a bare majority against the combined numbers of Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Baluch. Each of those minorities shares a border with kinfolk—in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

"Turkey has fought for decades against Kurd ethnonationalism.

"If one were to wager on new nations, Kurdistan and Baluchistan would be among the favorites.

"And Pashtun in Pakistan outnumber Pashtun in Afghanistan, though in the latter they are the majority."

It would appear that multiculturalism and, in particular, the mixing of very different religions, is not working wherever you look in the rest of the world.

Yet Western intellectuals would argue that it works in the liberal democratic West. But does it really? In conclusion, Buchanan writes:

"Without the assent of her people, America is being converted from a Christian country, nine in 10 of whose people traced their roots to Europe as late as the time of JFK, into a multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural Tower of Babel not seen since the late Roman Empire.

"The city farthest along the path is Los Angeles, famous worldwide for the number, variety, and size of its ethnic and racial street gangs.

"Not to worry," he concludes, tongue in cheek. "It can't happen here." Or in London, Toronto, Sydney, Paris or Amsterdam!

It should be noted that the attacks of 9/11, 7/7 (the suicide bombings in London) and even the April 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech by a deranged South Korean student who killed 32 would not have happened were it not for liberal immigration policies that have deliberately overlooked cultural and religious differences.

"It can't happen here"

All these factors have contributed to American and British involvement in Afghanistan. The Taliban's role in the events of Sept. 11, 2001, led directly to America's involvement. The British are there to support America but also to root out Islamic extremists from the area who train second and third-generation British Muslims to return to their British homeland to inflict terror on the population.

Ironically, just as I was writing the final paragraphs of this article, the BBC's news service reported an antiterrorist operation in Australia, another country whose troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Authorities there arrested several Islamic extremists of Lebanese and Somali descent who were planning an attack on a military barracks just outside Sydney. Australia is another country whose liberal immigration policies have directly led to threats like this one.

The problems stemming from the Afghanistan conflict cannot be resolved until changes are made at home, in the United States, Britain and other Western nations. Reforming immigration and citizenship policies is only one step these countries need to make if they are to retain their cohesion. Far more important to their long-term survival is that they return to their Christian and biblical roots.

The real problem for the West is not in South Asia—it's at home! GN

Related Resources

The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy
Where does the United States of America appear in Bible prophecy? Does Bible prophecy neglect to mention major nations such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom? In fact, many prophecies do mention these nations.

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