US News commentary: In the cruel mountainsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
BY FOUAD AJAMI
In the cruel mountains
There will be no symmetry, no equality, in this new encounter between an America bent on exacting justice and the Taliban, the radicals who harbor the Saudi-born mastermind of terror, Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. That country has no World Trade Center we can level, no financial markets we can shut down, no military command center invested with the authority of the state. The place is an anarchy, its radical faith a cover for the hegemony of a breed of pitiless warriors who rose out of wars and misery to erect a reign of virtue and terror. History has been unkind to Afghanistan; the Taliban--literally, "students" or "seminarians"--added new chapters of sorrow. They are to our era, and to their people, what the Khmer Rouge were to Cambodia in a time of horror: cruel avengers who stripped a suffering land of the last remnants of civility.
In the early outlines of America's campaign, Afghanistan is set to be the first target. This will be a new, serious kind of warfare, President Bush vowed in a remarkable address summoning the nation to war. In other words, there will be no revisiting of Clintonian warfare with million-dollar missiles being fired at $10 tents, as was the case in 1998 after America's embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.
Though not a stated aim of this new drive, the effort may entail unseating the Taliban regime. By the doctrine of just wars, this could be as clear a mission as can be found. The band of jihadists, or "holy warriors," has precious few friends. The women of Afghanistan, to begin with, would welcome the demise of a regime that has driven them into a medieval hell.
There would be muted celebration in Iran, for the rulers of that theocracy have a dread of the Taliban. In part, it is the natural enmity between city people of a settled civilization --the Iranians-- and a mountainous band given to brigandage and banditry. In the same vein, there shall be no sorrow in neighboring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan for what might befall the righteous warriors.
True enough, few will openly embrace an American expeditionary force. For the crowds in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, the conflict will fall along predictable civilizational and religious fault lines. The fight that matters will be the struggle of a seemingly professional soldier, Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, against the agitations and the wrath of the mob. History presented the general a cruel dilemma: He could join the forces of stability--or let Pakistan drift into further chaos. He has made his choice, asking his nation to trust him as he places it on the side of international order.
But Pakistan, we should know, could crack. It can't be what Saudi Arabia was to Desert Storm, a linchpin and a base. In that campaign of a decade ago, American forces arrived into an orderly place directly menaced by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Years of preparation had gone into precisely what unfolded there: The Saudis had built military facilities throughout the kingdom, support facilities for American- made F-15 and F-16 fighter planes, including airfields with redundant runways.
Needless to say, none of this exists in Pakistan. Indeed, there are plotters and true believers keen to bring to the country a parody of the reign of virtue that the Taliban imposed in Afghanistan. A culture of religious radicalism was unleashed during the war that Afghanistan, with Pakistani support, fought against the Soviet Union. During those ruinous years, Pakistan's tough, cynical ruler, the late Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, promoted the spread of theocratic education, using religious schools as recruiting grounds for the anti-Soviet effort. We ride, then, into the blowback of that war.
In retrospect, it was an innocent time. The mujahideen who fought the Soviets seemed quaint. The journalists and spies who tracked their war even endeared them with a nickname, "the mooj." But in those barren mountains, "the Arab Afghans"--men like Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants--picked up the tools of war, and the conviction that mighty powers could be undone. The maladies of the Arab world, the fierce hatred between ruler and ruled, grew malignant in those years.
A warning now goes out to the rulers of Afghanistan. They can break with their history and heed the call to reason, if only to save their own lives and rule. Or they can fall back on the deadly legends of Afghanistan--the hard nation that withstood two 19th-century wars against the British and the long Soviet struggle that closed little more than a decade ago. It is the mark of our troubled age that a good deal of history now hinges on what a band of radical zealots in a ruined country decides to do. A twilight war has begun.
-- Swissrose (email@example.com), September 23, 2001
Another great story. I am catching up fast on learning precisely what's going on there. Thanks for posting this, Swissrose.
-- R2D2 (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 23, 2001.