The military campaign against the Taliban has fulfilled the expectations of Pakistan's ruler, General Musharraf, who hoped it would be "short and sharp." And so it was. All of a sudden, the scent of victory is in the air. Last week, according to our disgruntled hawks, the war was "stalled," and Senator John McCain and his amen chorus in the media were griping that it was time to put in the ground troops – American ground troops, that is. Oh, what a difference a week makes! Now, it appears, the Taliban is broken, the "Northern Alliance" has marched victoriously into Kabul, and, as one news report put it:
"Afghans brought their radios out of hiding and played music in the streets, savoring the end of five years of harsh Taliban rule as the northern alliance marched triumphantly into Afghanistan's capital Tuesday."
This war, which was supposed to take years, is now essentially over. "They're not retreating, they're not withdrawing, they're in a total rout, they're panicked,'' declared Bill Taylor, senior adviser of international security affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "As a governing entity, the Taliban is finished" – and, therefore, so is Operation Enduring Freedom….
Of course, there's still the question of Osama bin Laden and the hardcore Taliban: but it's only a matter of time (a few weeks, at most) before they're mopped up, and the Evil One is either killed, or captured. Already, the Northern Alliance is setting up checkpoints throughout the Afghan countryside, and the intelligence agencies of all key players are homing in on the man at the top of America's Most Wanted list. The US is offering $25 million to the lucky Afghan who brings us the head of Bin Laden, just about enough to build "President" Rabbani, the religious scholar who heads up the Northern Alliance, a nice new presidential palace.
Or perhaps the new government – which has already begun to assert its authority in Kabul – will put the money to better use by paying a Washington public relations firm to prettify Northern Alliance atrocities. Haron Amin, the shifty-eyed little greaseball serving as their spokesman, has been all over television in the past 24 hours. Amin is supremely unconvincing: his perpetually smiling face twitches as he rationalizes widespread killing of POWs and others by calling the Taliban "Nazis" In an interview with Gwen Ifill, on the PBS News Hour, Amin was asked to respond to the atrocities allegations and also say how he intended to stop Northern Alliance troops from going into Kabul. Addressing the atrocity question first, Amin averred:
"If there's anyone in the world that can say that the Taliban have not committed atrocities that would be mistaken. The Taliban have done the kind of atrocities that humanity hasn't seen for the last couple hundred of years."
GWEN IFILL: "So an eye for an eye is okay?"
AMIN: "No. Certainly not. The fact of the matter is certain acts of reprisal in local bases should not implicate the united front. That's number one. Secondly the resolve of the united front is not to go into Kabul and unless a political road map is in place."
Even as Amin's lies were being broadcast, troops under the command of the various warlords who make up the Northern Alliance were marching into Kabul. Oh, but never mind that: after all, why complain when the Northerners are "liberating" their Afghan brethren? What's a few hundred (or thousands?) of "revenge killings" (the exculpatory phrase the Western media used to describe the reverse ethnic cleansing of Kosovo after the KLA victory)? Who cares about such minor details when, finally, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan are now "free" to hear Britney Spears' latest love song?
Never mind those bothersome atrocities – as Tucker Carlson put it on Crossfire, "Is now really the time to be criticizing the Northern Alliance if they freed millions of people in Afghanistan?" – when the really important issue is the freedom to groom. Hailing the great advances being brought to "liberated" Afghanistan by Northern Alliance troops, Amin told Ifill:
"Certainly in other parts of Afghanistan what we have seen right now is in Mazar women for the first time have been able to go out of their houses. People in Herat women have been able to venture outside their houses and at their own desire without any sort of problem on the street whatsoever. Men, some of them have ventured into barbershops to get the kind of haircut that they want, so on and so forth."
Those women venturing out into the street are taking their lives in their hands, because the last time the forces associated with the Northern Alliance took Kabul, there was mayhem in the streets. As for the men: if the past is any indication, these freshly coifed freedom-fighters will soon replace the Taliban and Al Qaeda as our principal enemies in the region. "President" Rabbani has already rejected the "imposition" of the exiled King Zahir as titular head of a provisional government of national unity, and the Alliance high command has declared they don't need any UN or American "peacekeepers," thank you, they can handle it all by themselves. Why argue with them? Just as soon as we lay our hands on Bin Laden & Co., and the last remnants of Al Qaeda are mopped up, it's time to declare victory, fold up our tent, and come on home.
The real danger, as it turns out, is not to be found in a protracted conflict with our enemies – Al Qaeda and the Taliban – but in managing and reining in our alleged "allies" in this war. We will be bogged down, not in fighting, but in "nation-building." The big problem is that the materials at hand are not very promising.
The bewildering array of factions and sub-factions that make up the so-called Northern Alliance is a subject made impenetrable by the sheer proliferation of parties, militias, and rival warlords, all of them caught up in a kaleidoscopic history of shifting alliances and stunning betrayals. Suffice to say that what Afghanistan is in for is an instant replay of what happened the last time this same crew took power: the various ethnic and religious factions immediately fell to fighting among themselves. The result was the rule of the warlords, who divided the country up into various fiefdoms, and instituted a reign of terror, paving the way for the rise of the Taliban. Now the pendulum is swinging from totalitarianism back to anarchy. We are witnessing the dissolution of the central government of Afghanistan (always a precarious fiction) and a total reversion to its natural state of combative disunion.
There is no way to prevent this process, or even to manage it, short of sending in American troops and converting Afghanistan into a gigantic Bosnia. As one advocate of a frankly colonialist policy declared, what Afghanistan needs is "not just food parcels, but British courts and Canadian police and Indian civil servants and American town clerks and Australian newspapers." In this view, we cannot rest until Kabul is transformed into a reasonable facsimile of Everytown, USA (or Canada, or Britain) – a feat of social engineering not even attempted by the Soviets, who were initially reluctant to intervene on behalf of their fanatically "modernizing" Communist allies.
It's interesting, too, how the rhetoric of the Afghan "liberators" and their Western supporters so closely resembles that of the Soviets at the time of the Russian invasion. The Russians claimed that they were liberating women, bringing education and Western enlightenment to Afghanistan's medieval darkness: they, too, claimed to be agents of modernity and "internationalism." That our ostensibly "conservative" advocates of neocolonialism and "nation-building," such as Mark Steyn and Max Boot, are now echoing the catchphrases of the Evil Empire in its death-throes is just one of history's delicious little ironies.
Here's another: the Northern Alliance is made up almost entirely of those elements in Afghan society who collaborated, to some extent, with the Soviet occupation army against the Muslim "freedom-fighters" known as the Mujahedeen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose Uzbek troops now control Kabul, supported the pro-Soviet puppet government until it became apparent which side was winning. The successor to Ahmed Shah Masoud, the recently assassinated Northern Alliance military chieftain, is Gen. Mohammed Fahim, who served in the Communist army as one of President Najibullah's top commanders. As the recipient of Russian (and Indian) aid, Gen. Fahim and his "Islamic Army" are widely detested, and unlikely to provide a stable basis for a political solution to the Afghan conundrum.
The trap set by Bin Laden, which I wrote about in a previous column, has not yet been sprung. The real quagmire awaits us. Will we allow ourselves to be dragged into building what has never existed in Afghanistan, and that is a unified nation? Will we continue to meddle where we aren't wanted, and further incite the sort of deadly "blowback" we have seen so much of lately? When the history books are written, Operation Enduring Freedom will be hailed as a great success – provided it doesn't endure much more than a few weeks longer.
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