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Mad dogs and our men go out in the Afghan sun - Times, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 22, 2002 Mad dogs and our men go out in the Afghan sun -simon jenkins http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,482-303438,00.html The account ran: Akbar
    Message 1 of 1 , May 23, 2002
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      May 22, 2002

      Mad dogs and our men go out in the Afghan sun
      -simon jenkins


      The account ran: "Akbar Khan, heir to the Afghan
      throne, was forced by his British conquerors to wander
      the wilderness in exile, plotting his revenge . A
      swarthy horseman galloped towards him bringing news.
      The garrison of Kabul had been depleted. The Afghan
      tribes were in revolt. They had written their oaths in
      blood on the leaves of the Koran. Akbar's dark eyes
      His powerful sensual mouth uttered fierce orders." By
      the time he had driven the Infidel back through the
      Khyber, 20,000 Britons were dead.

      We do not report wars like that any more. These days
      cynical journalists chase cynical spin-doctors round
      conference tables. But British troops
      still scramble over Afghan ravines, "denying" them to
      tribesmen for a month or two to keep London happy. I
      doubt if any expedition has ever been sent on a
      mission so militarily obscure and so politically
      blatant as the present Marine operation in Shah-i Kot.

      What are these troops doing? The Taleban have been
      toppled, so easily as to amaze all but those who knew
      their Taleban. As long as the West is meddling,
      Afghan politics has returned to lawlessness, whether
      financed by drugs or aid. Al-Qaeda has shifted its
      headquarters to Pakistan and a dozen other places. The
      Marines can do no more than obey their covert orders.
      These are to find a proper firefight, take casualties
      as predicted by ministers, declare a victory and
      return home in glory.

      Why? The Americans have all but given up the fight in
      Afghanistan. Their abortive bid to find Osama bin
      Laden ended in the same Shah-i Kot district now being
      scoured by British troops. They were badly shot up and
      with eight dead. After the failure of Operation
      Anaconda, George Bush asked Tony Blair to take their
      place. He asked the Marines, who declined to move
      for a month.

      The Americans are now openly saying they have "no dog
      in the Afghan fight". Last October can be seen for
      what it always was, a punitive revenge raid for
      domestic consumption. Finding Osama bin Laden was not
      a priority, since Pakistani negotiations with the
      Taleban and Saudi Arabia on his extradition were then
      on a knife-edge. The story is told by Rohan Gunaratna
      of St
      Andrew 's University in his remarkable new study,
      Inside Al Qaeda (Hurst). The bombing wrecked the
      negotiations and abruptly cemented a weakening
      alliance between the unpopular al-Qaeda and the
      Taleban in Kabul. That did not matter to the
      Americans. Bombing mattered.

      Today the reconstruction of Afghanistan is no longer
      America's business. Nor are conditions in the
      appalling prisons of Britain's so-called ally, General
      Dostum. Nor is the reopening of the opium warehouses
      and the falling
      price of European heroin. Nor is the fate of Kabul's
      hapless Hamid Karzai, desperate for Western troops to
      hold territory outside his capital. Afghanistan may
      still be host to the world's "special forces", eager
      for bounty or glory.

      But the country is off the political map.

      The truth is that America's war aim, unlike Britain's,
      was coherent. It
      to hit hard and get out. Americans are not now
      whingeing about the
      "refusing to confront Our Boys and fight". They are
      not complaining
      that we
      cannot tell "friend from foe" or that "they keep
      returning to their
      villages", all reported comments of British Marines
      last week.
      are not staying around to police the unpoliceable.
      Once it was clear
      Osama bin Laden was not to be found, the US declared
      the battle won. Mr
      Blair can tell the Afghans that "Britain will not
      desert you" but
      Bush has moved elsewhere.

      In 1841 the British resident in Kabul, Sir William
      Macnaghten, was
      by Akbar Khan and, much to his surprise, beheaded on
      the spot. This
      week Sir
      William's successor, Brigadier Roger Lane, appeared to
      suffer a similar
      fate. Like him, the brigadier was trying to get his
      troops out of
      Afghanistan without loss of face to his political
      masters. Like Sir
      he was the victim of fiendish and treacherous tribal
      rivalry, albeit in
      Whitehall. Defence ministry officials have not
      forgiven the Marines for
      demanding a slice of the Afghan action and then
      failing to move. This
      bad publicity for Britain's much-vaunted "rapid
      reaction force".

      The Marines must now find a victory to cover their
      retreat. It is
      Afghan irregulars always refuse open combat. The
      Taleban were bound to
      disappear and bide their time. There is no territory
      for the British to
      capture and hold. Local warlords can only be "rented
      but not bought".
      is no political pacification to be engineered short of
      would be suicide. All outside troops can do is bomb
      suspect "al-Qaeda"
      villages and explode suspect arms dumps. This wins no
      friends and
      rates a score on the regimental banner. Brigadier
      Lane's chief
      has been with the British press. But it too will not
      join battle. It
      flatters, feints, ambushes and decapitates.

      Now Washington has sold the Afghan pass. The US
      Vice-President, Dick
      has warned Americans that "another September 11" is
      "not a matter of if
      when". His Homeland Security colleague, Colonel
      Randall Larsen, adds
      the attack will be "much bigger than September 11". It
      might involve
      in air-conditioning systems or bombs stuffed in
      apartment blocks.
      has not been curbed. Its networks have not been
      destroyed. The world is
      safer today than it was before September 11. Nobody

      Nobody even mentions Pakistan. If Afghanistan was so
      great a threat to
      West when the bombing began last October, why is not
      Pakistan the same
      threat today? Waziristan and the North-West Frontier
      harbour the same
      warriors as protected al-Qaeda in the Afghan
      mountains. Eager to avenge
      sons, fathers and brothers killed by Western bombs in
      Afghanistan, they
      already fired missiles at the American base at Miram
      Shah. Are they not
      plotting to undermine Western freedoms? Besides,
      Pakistan is a base for
      terrorism in Kashmir, much of it penetrated by
      al-Qaeda. Whatever the
      provocation and however much Islamabad may struggle to
      deny it, this
      terrorism is no less lethal than that of September 11
      or the suicide
      of Palestine. It is probably more dangerous since it
      has led a million
      troops to confront each other across the Kashmir
      partition line, both
      with "weapons of mass destruction". Yet because
      Pakistan is a "friend"
      nobody talks of bombing Waziristan or of sending
      special forces to

      No one reading Gunaratna's book could be in any doubt
      that al-Qaeda is
      awesome force. It is scattered not just across the
      Muslim world but
      had, and
      presumably still has, a corporate structure in states
      across the entire
      world. It is a sinister fundamentalist church in
      thrall to a
      leader. The attack on Afghanistan was like combating
      an international
      cartel by bombing the boss's house in Marbella. Many
      al-Qaeda leaders
      killed, but the networks remain, together with the
      targets, the
      the young men eager for martyrdom.

      I doubt if Mr Cheney was last week bluffing to divert
      attention from
      allegations of White House negligence prior to
      September 11. But his
      constant terrifying of hyper-sensitive Americans does
      al-Qaeda's job
      for it.
      An al-Qaeda memorandum after September 11 gloated that
      Americans were
      now so
      scared that Intercontinental had to lay off 20,000
      employees, "thanks
      Allah's grace". Al-Qaeda can tax the American economy
      of billions of
      merely by getting Mr Cheney to do its work for it, on
      pain of a
      charge in Congress.

      Mr Cheney's plea can only be for all citizens to show
      normal vigilance.
      he reminds us that Afghanistan is a sideshow. Wiping
      its regime from
      the map
      made people feel better, but it did not diminish any
      threat. This
      is only territorial in its target, the sophisticated
      Western nations
      its agents live, move and have their being.

      The challenge is therefore the same as it was before
      September 11. It
      is to
      find and eliminate these agents in each and every
      Western state. This
      difficult given the freedoms that the West holds
      sacred. To sacrifice
      freedoms is to let the terrorist win. Not to sacrifice
      them is to risk
      another outrage. Democracy is always a balancing of

      But Afghanistan is nothing to do with the case.
      British troops should
      before they suffer any more decapitations.

      Ghost of partition still traumatises India
      The timing of the Gujarat crisis and the stand-off
      between India and Pakistan could not be worse. "It's a
      dangerous time for India. It faces internal and
      external security threats at the same time," warned
      one political commentator.


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