Friday, January 30, 2009


American military men and machines have now been in Afghanistan nearly twice as long as the war with Germany and Japan (1941-45). It was October 7, 2001, the day we buried my mother-in-law, that our military force tore into Afghanistan, looking for Osama ben Laden and his student-followers, the Taliban.

Since then more bombs have been dropped; more of the innocents than the guilty died. So many civilians have been killed, not intentionally by Americans, that Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, has called on the Americans to be more careful. (He can't complain very strongly. The American troops and our tax money keep him in office.)

It seems history has it in for the tribes of the mountains and plains of Afghanistan. They have been invaded from every direction for as long as men have lived to tell it.

Before even the ancestors of the Afghanis could write, there were wars. Unearthed relics from the Bronze Age (5,000 years ago, give or take a few years) reveal war tools they made or were brought by invaders. In the foothills of the Hindu Kush the earliest evidence of domestic plants and animals. This crossroads between Mesopotamia, and lands that later became China and India each added to the their culture. The famous Silk Road went through it.

Kabal, today's capital, was founded by Aryan tribes about the time Abraham was moving to what we call Palestine. The Rig Veda, the most famous Asian literature, may have been created in Afghanistan about this time. But today, except for token efforts by some Non-government originations and some of our military, who know how to win hearts and minds, it is a long way from the 21st century and what we call "civilization."

Afghanistan gave birth to one of the great religions of the ancient world. Zoroastrianism. The founder, Zoroaster, was almost a contemporary with Israel's prophet Isaiah and China's sage Confucius. The Horoscopes in our newspapers came out of the religion of Zoroaster.

Five hundred years before Christ, Darius the Great, expanded his Persian empire to include Afghanistan. A couple of hundred years later came the Greek from Macedonia, Alexander. (He also was called "Great". Their "greatness" is being worse killers than the Sopranos.) Alexander defeated the Persians and is said to have died in Afghanistan. As with most such occupations, Alexander's time there was filled with bloody tribal revolts. Occupiers are never welcome anywhere.

A few years after Jesus the Christ was crucified in Jerusalem, the Graeco-Buddhist Gandharan culture of Afghanistan that outlived the Greek occupation, fell due to the plague of all dynasties: family and princely envy.

Moving on to the year 652, the Arabs introduced their Islamic religion and form of government. The Muslim faith and laws took root and continues to be the strongest force among most of the tribes.

In 1219-1220 Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde from Mongolia were in the process or taking over China, and invaded Afghanistan. Genghis Khan laid waste to Central Asia, even going as far as the Danube River in Europe. By the beginning of the 14th century Genghis Khan's descendants were also Muslims.

The vast area from China to Europe was fragmented. Then came Tamerlane (the terror of the plains) and his armies ruled Afghanistan from 1370 to 1404. All this happened almost a hundred years before Columbus "discovered" the New World.

Babur (who was descended from Tamerlane on his father's side and Genghis Khan on his mother's.) began the Moghul dynasty (1504-1519). were the next long-lasting power. Followed by revolts and raids up and down the land for centuries.

Much slaughter went on and continued even into the evolution of Afghanistan's modern history (1747 – 1978).

The 1800s are no more peaceful than the other centuries. The Sikhs come in; there are wars with India, Russian Empire and the Soviets in the 20th century . There were three wars with the British that lasted into the 20th century.

One of more victorious fights Afghanistan was in January of 1842. The routed 16,500 British soldiers and 12,000 dependents. The only survivor, a mixed British-Indian soldier, reached safety on a stumbling pony. Is there apt to be another such retreat by a foreign army in the future?

In 1934, The United States formally recognized Afghanistan. In 1947 the nation of Pakistan was carved out of Indian and Afghan lands. In 1954 the U.S. rejected Afghanistan's request to purchase military equipment. They got their arms then from the Soviet Union. By 1959 Purdah was made optional and women began entering the workforce and attending universities. (Purdah translates as a screen or veil and is the practice that includes the seclusion of women in most Muslim and Hindu countries.)

Nationwide elections in the 1960s came to mean as little as the Bush imposed election of recent years.

The now familiar Mujahideen movement began in 1978 was followed by a bloody Soviet coup. The U.S. ambassador was killed the next year. The Soviets occupied Afghanistan for ten years and by 1989 had retreated. Defeated.

The Taliban roustabouts took control and destroyed the ancient historical statues in the Kabul Museum, and blew up the giant Bamiyan Buddhas from the 5th century. By May, 2001, Taliban ordered religious minorities to wear tags identifying themselves as non-Muslims. September 9, two days before the suicide attack on New York City and Washington, D.C., Freedom Fighter Ahmad Shah Masood was killed by assassins posing as journalists.

The radical and rich Saudi, Osama bin Laden, was held directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban protected him and the U.S. air attacks, with too few ground troops, went after him. Most guesses are Osama is in the border wilderness of northern Pakistan (our ally?).

Reconstruction of Afghanistan has been more talk than action. The US, as of 2008, has spent more than $32 billion on assistance to Afghanistan – 32 percent of which was allocated to development and humanitarian assistance. All this is being carried out amid the fighting and a rising death toll.

If one word has been missing in the history of the people of Afghanistan it might be "peace." Today's Afghanis are a rich mixture of Greeks, Persians, Turks, Mongolians and who knows what else, but a proud people, deserving of being left alone and in peace. Today's military situation there is nothing like the battle grounds of World War I or II. It is pointless to trek out and kill a few Talibans before they run back to Pakistan. More troops to chase them away is not the answer. More killing is not worthy of our nation or a help to the peace the Afghanis seek and deserve.

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