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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Afghan Reality
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 9/1/06

It’s fascinating to watch Anglo-American leftists (those champions of human rights and freedom) welcoming every Taliban attack and fantasizing of a Western defeat. But the rest of us deal with reality. And Afghanistan's reality is that things are going as well as any sane person could expect.

The get-Bush-and-Blair partisans who yearn for Afghanistan (and Iraq) to fail, no matter the human or strategic cost, impose impossible standards for success, then insist we're being defeated when their standards aren't met. It's a self-licking ice-cream cone straight from the Stalinist dairy.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

The reality is that Afghanistan will always be . . . Afghanistan. The relevant question is straightforward: "Is it a better Afghanistan today than under the Taliban?" Of course, the answer is an emphatic "Yes!"

Afghanistan is never going to resemble the liberal-arts faculty at Columbia. It's a country of jealous clans patched together with uneasy compromises and lubricated with lies (OK, maybe it does resemble a liberal-arts faculty . . .). Kabul long was the refuge of the "enlightened" classes, while the countryside belonged to the mud and the mullahs.

That isn't going to change in our lifetimes. All Afghans, but, especially, the Pathan majority, will continue to cling to their folkways. Women's liberation isn't scheduled for an early arrival in the faith-choked valleys of eastern Afghanistan, nor will Herat, in the west, soon lead the world in scientific research.

Heroin-poppy cultivation is a serious problem in the south. Warlords - the traditional arbiters of power in the provinces - dominate the north. And yes, the Taliban is a deadly annoyance again - it represents a small but tenacious constituency.

But isn't Afghanistan, urban or rural, better off now than under Taliban rule? In urban areas and even in parts of the countryside, women can at least catch their breath and invoke legal protections - and sometimes the law actually protects them, which is an improvement over the female-hating barbarism of the Taliban.

Afghanistan is still often unjust (to both sexes), but the situation is far better than it was a decade ago in the heyday of public stonings and executions-as-spectator-sport. Isn't it better to have al Qaeda's remnants skulking amid remote mountains on the Pakistani side of the border than to have them enjoying the free run of an entire country? Isn't it better if at least some Afghan children (including girls) can get an education that goes beyond rote recitations from religious tomes?

Isn't it better to have the Taliban and al Qaeda scheming to return to the country's most-backward provinces rather than sharing power in Kabul and designing attacks on Manhattan and Washington?

Afghanistan's problems won't disappear in our lifetimes. But the positive changes we wrought or enabled represent an enormous win for decency, dignity and freedom - despite pestering Taliban attacks on society's edges. The real worry isn't Afghanistan, but Pakistan, where the Musharraf regime sees no alternative to a two-faced strategy that aims at placating the West (especially America) while continuing to hedge its longterm bets by clandestinely supporting the Taliban.

And this is where it gets interesting: Recently, Pakistani intelligence tipped off the British about the exploding-shampoo plot to bring down multiple trans-Atlantic flights. Why did Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) boys blow the whistle on the al Qaeda clones?

For multiple reasons. First, as Washington and London move closer to New Delhi, Islamabad needs to do all it can to prove itself as an indispensable ally in the War on Terror. Giving up alQaeda wannabes in the West is a cheap way to do it, since the Pakistani government has no great affection for al Qaeda, an interloper with roots on the other side of the Persian Gulf.

If President Pervez Musharraf could hand over Osama today, he'd do it. Al Qaeda is in the way of Pakistan's long-term policy - a competitor, not an ally. And it draws too much attention to the region.

The Taliban is something else entirely. Experts argue over whether it was created or merely nurtured by ISI operatives, but the consensus is that, by the time the Talibs reached Kabul, the group was backed by, equipped by, advised by and allied to Pakistan's security establishment.

The Pakistanis viewed the Taliban as an ideal tool to achieve two things: First, to bring order to lawless post-Soviet Afghanistan; second, to provide desperately needed strategic depth in the event of a war with India. The Islamist card played well in Peshawar, too.

Today, Pakistan still supports the Taliban, if quietly and within careful limits. The issue of strategic depth hasn't gone away, and the Pakistanis are certain that, sooner or later, America will lose interest and the NATO presence will wither - but India will still be right there on Pakistan's border, big and nuclear (New Delhi has also made overtures to the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul). Having the Taliban ready in a back pocket just makes sense to Islamabad.

So Pakistan is playing both a short game and a long one. It cooperates with us against al Qaeda - and doesn't want to take the rap for another major terror attack in the West. At the same time, it makes sure that the Taliban has "survival rations." It doesn't expect the Talibs to return to Kabul any time soon, but it does expect to see a Taliban-dominated coalition in Afghanistan eventually.

That mustn't happen. And if we don't walk away, it won't. Meanwhile, we can be satisfied and proud that our actions have made a dirt-poor, deeply flawed, feudal state on the other side of the world a better place for the average human being within its borders. Oh, and we ripped the guts out of al Qaeda, too. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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