Afghanistan: we should not be too optimistic

A few days ago I read again Joseph Kessel’s novel “Les cavaliers” (“The Riders “). I really enjoy the story of Ouroz, the rider, and Jehol, the horse, which tells us of an initiatory travel through Afghanistan. The story takes place between the 30’s and 1966.

Once I had finished reading it, I went back to some speeches and statements over this country. On Washington post web site, one can find an article titled “U.S cites big gains against Al Qaeda” (dated 30th May 2008). This article focuses on Al Qaeda as the main threat against the USA. As well, the lost of Al Qaeda officials in different strikes is described as a source of progress. The most surprising sentence is the following one: “Those are the kinds of things that delay and disrupt al-Qaeda's planning”.

Of course, al-Qaeda is a threat. Of course this protean organization is a threat. However, one should not apply the western way of thinking to those people. The main danger we are confronted with in Afghanistan is neither Al-Qaeda, nor the Talibans. Of course, they are a permanent threat against our forces and our soldiers who put their lives at stake over there. But they are not the main danger.

The main danger lies within our brains. It consists in applying to the war in Afghanistan and the people living there the same cultural scheme than ours. Indeed our first victory will not be on the field, but in our brains, when we will be able to say that those people are not organized like we are, do not think like we do and do not react like we do to a defeat or the death of a leader. For instance, I found in the archive of Time, dated 8th January 2002 the words “pocket of resistance”. This expression has been used in all western wars, when speaking of the invasion of a country. Did we change our mindsets since that era? I do not really think so: the interview I quote first was made in 2008 and it reflects a large part of the public opinion whose culture on such complicated topics is mainly made by the mass media, which like and need to simplify.

Therefore, I will now quote Joseph Kessel:
“Elle est longue, longue et large, large, la terre des Afghans, reprit Zéré. Et chaque vallée est une contrée à part…”
“The soil of the Afghans is long, long and large, large, said Zere. And every valley is a region apart”.

“Les Pachtous…dit Ouroz. Il n’avait jamais rencontré leurs caravanes qui, dans les migrations, passaient bien au-dessus des steppes. Leur nom et renom lui étaient cependant, comme à tout Afghan, plus que familiers. Les Pachtous des passes de l’Est, des châteaux forts en nid d’aigle… Pachtous et guerriers indomptables. Ils forgeaient dans leurs ateliers secrets sabres, lances, fusils. Ils avaient conquis les plaines jusqu’à l’Amou Daria, réduit les Hazaras en esclavage, soumis les païens du Kafiristan à la vraie foi. Même les soldats des rois anglais, invincibles ailleurs, ils les avaient chassés de leurs vallées et montagnes, après un siècle de combats. Pachtous, race des maîtres…clans faiseurs de rois…”

“The pashtus…said Ouroz. He had never met their caravans, which were passing far away from the steppes in ther migrations. However, their name and fame were more than familiar to him, like t any Afghan. The Pashtus of the Eastern passes, of those eyrie castles… Pashtus and unconquerable warriors. They were forging swords, lances and rifles in their clandestine workshops. They had conquered the plains until the Amou Daria river, reduced the Hazaras to slavery, subdued the pagans of Kafiristan to the true faith. Even the soldiers of the English kings, invincible anywhere else, they had chased them from their valleys and mountains after one hundred years of fightings. Pashtus of masters’ blood…clans of king makers…”

We could interpret those words, published for the very first time in 1967, as:
-There will be no global solution in Afghanistan without a local solution in every valley.
-Nothing will be possible without a broad support of the Pashtus, although the Talibans come mainly from their ethnicity.
 And as a conclusion:
-Every attempt to simplify the extent of the Afghan issue can let think that the issue is not so complicated. But it will be complicated in any case, moreover if we apply our Western European mindsets to this country.

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