The war in Afghanistan that was supposedly won has resumed -- with a vengeance. Fighting is reportedly intensifying and spreading across southern Afghanistan as resistance to foreign occupation grows.
In 2001, unable to withstand high-tech U.S. forces, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered his men to disband and blend into the civilian population. At the time, this column warned war would resume in about four years, just as it did after the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Now, Taliban forces have taken the offensive against U.S. and NATO troops, often employing deadly new tactics like roadside and suicide bombs, learned from Iraq's resistance.
Significantly, the Taliban have been joined by many other political and tribal groups. Prominent among them: Hisbi Islami, led by former CIA protege Gulbadin Hekmatyar -- the most effective guerilla leader in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad -- and renowned mujahadin leader, Jallaludin Haqqi.
Small numbers of foreign jihadis have also come to fight. Most important, growing numbers of "khels," or clans of the Pashtun (Pathan) tribe -- the world's largest tribal group, numbering 40 million -- have joined the resistance.
Pashtuns comprise half of Afghanistan's population of 30 million; 28 million more live across the border in Pakistan.
The U.S./NATO campaign is increasingly directed against warlike Pashtun tribes like the Afridi and Orokzai, and their civilians, rather than against so-called "Taliban terrorists."
Only fools pick fights with Pashtuns.
Until recently, millions of dollars in monthly cash bribes from the CIA to Afghan warlords kept key areas under the nominal authority of the U.S.-installed Hamid Karzai regime. But that authority barely extends beyond the capital, Kabul.
Karzai's popularity among Afghans is best judged by the fact that he is surrounded 24/7 by 100-200 U.S. bodyguards kept just out of range of western TV cameras.
The Soviets built schools, clinics, and roads in Afghanistan, held "democratic" elections and branded the resistance "Islamic terrorists." The U.S./NATO occupation follows an identical pattern, complete with candy for kids, platitudes about women's rights and nation-building, and rigged elections.
But the westerners won't be any more successful in winning hearts and minds of Afghans than the Russians -- particularly once Washington begins to cut back on the mission.
The biggest difference between the Soviet and U.S. occupation is that since 1989, Afghanistan has become a total narco-state. Close to 80% of national income comes from export of opium and morphine/heroin. Washington's allies (the Karzai regime and Afghan communists) are believed to be up to their turbans in the drug trade.
Sending troops to Afghanistan was marketed to Americans -- and Canadians -- as a crusade against terrorism, with nation-building as a sub-theme. Blaming "terrorists" for the current upsurge in fighting obscures the natural and inevitable growth of resistance to foreign occupation.
Claims by Washington and its allies that political progress is being made in Afghanistan are unbelievable. Many Afghans working for the foreign occupation are secretly in touch with the resistance.
Of course. Afghans know one day the Americans, Canadians, and other foreigners will go home, just as did the Russians, British and Alexander's Greeks.
What Canada hopes to gain by waging a 19th-century style colonial campaign of "pacification" straight out of the pages of Rudyard Kipling, against wild Pashtun tribesmen in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, remains to be satisfactorily explained.
Eric S. Margolis is a foreign affairs columnist for Canadian and Pakistani newspapers and author of "War at the Top of the World--The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet" (Routledge, 2000)
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