Kabul — A Return to the Past

“If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!” is the inscription on Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur’s Mausoleum in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Of all the cities conquered by Babur Khan in the founding of the Moghul Empire, Kabul held a special place of honor in his heart.  It was his city of dreams.  It was the city that gave rise to his empire.  In 1504, Babur came out of the mountains of Ghor after having traveled through snowdrifts higher than the tallest of his men.  Those mountains and those surrounding all of Kabul are part of the Hindu Kush (aka the Hindu Killer).  Babur would cross those mountains again in his conquest of the Punjab.  His descendants would build beautiful edifices such as the Taj Mahal.  Babur himself died in Delhi and was interred in a Mausoleum in Agra despite his fervent desire to be buried in Kabul.  Some years later, his son Humayun is said to have moved his remains to Kabul where they were laid in what came to be known as the Bagh-e Babur or Babur’s Gardens.
Kabul predates the great Mughal Emperor by some two to three thousand years.  The city has seen it’s share of famous visitors — Genghis, of course, being one of the most famous.  Seven hundred years later, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and take the capital.  Not long after the Soviet invasion, events that would lead to the American invasion were set in motion.
On a dark winter night in 1979 not long after the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the people of Kabul gathered on their rooftops.  The men yelled “Allahu Akhbar” and fired Kalashnikov rifles into the air.  The women sounded off as well.  They stood on their rooftops ululating in the time honored manner of Islamic women sending their men off to war.  This signaled the beginning of the Mujahideen insurgency in Central and Eastern Afghanistan.  A decade later, Soviet Lieutenant General Boris Gromov walked across the the Amu Darya River as the last Soviet soldier to depart Afghanistan.
Almost immediately after the Soviets departed, the Mujahideen commanders fell into civil war fighting for control of the country.  Kabul had been largely untouched by the Mujahideen insurgency during the Soviet occupation.  The city was not so fortunate at the hands of the Mujahideen.  The Mujahideen commanders such as Rashid Doostum and Gulbuddin Hekmetyar staked out areas like street gangs in American ghettoes and proceeded to bombard each other with captured Soviet Artillery and Armor.  Whole neighborhoods were flattened.  The Mujahideen raped, pillaged and brought near complete destruction to Kabul.   What the Soviets had left untouched, the Mujahideen had virtually destroyed.  The residents of the Kabul who had earlier greeted the Mujahideen as liberators from the Soviet puppets now fled the city to refugee camps in Pakistan, Iran and out to Europe via Central Asia.

After a series of defeats and setbacks at the hands of the Ahmad Shah Massoud led Northern Alliance, the Taliban entered Kabul.   They were hailed as conquering heroes and restorers of law and order.  They wasted little time in declaring the new Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan.  They emplaced sharia as the law of the land and replaced Radio Kabul with Radio Sharia.  Soon thereafter, televisions, music and dancing were outlawed.  Girl schools were closed.  Women were confined to the home or forced to wear the burqa in public.  Men were made to grow beards and shave their heads on pain of public beating.  Religious police brutally beat Afghans for the slightest infractions.  There were beard patrols that checked to ensure that beards were at least fist length meaning that if the religious police grabbed one’s beard in his fist and one’s beard did not protrude from the bottom of his fist, you were beaten.  The five daily prayers were made mandatory.  Any Muslim who was late or not in attendance was beaten flailed mercilessly.  Public executions and medieval punishments became the norm in Kabul’s Olympic Stadium.

A few years after the Taliban took Kabul, Osama bin Laden sought political refuge in Afghanistan.  The Saudis had stripped him of his citizenship.  The United States had pressured Sudan into deporting bin Laden from his safe haven in Khartoum.  Osama contacted Mullah Omar and was given permission to fly with his family and entourage into the country.  Osama took up residence in the South at Karnak Farms but had other places of refuge throughout the South and East.
It was from Afghanistan that Osama planned his 9-11 attacks.  Once those plans were carried out and the Twin Towers fell, President George Bush demanded that Mullah Omar surrender Osama or suffer the consequences.  Mullah Omar refused to bow to Washington’s pressure.  The invasion started soon thereafter and Kabul fell in short order.
An Afghan friend told me that he sat on a place called Antenna Hill overlooking Kabul as the rockets fell on the city.  He watched as Coalition forces entered the city from the North and East and the Taliban fled to the South.  I visited Antenna Hill while I was in Afghanistan.  The whole of the city is visible from that vantage.  I could imagine events unfolding as they had in 2001.  Six year later in 2007, I was returning to Kabul for a third time.  This time, I would spend eight weeks preparing to train Afghan Police in Western Afghanistan.

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No Regrets Reviewed by Sir Rodric Braithwaite

No Regrets Reviewed by Sir Rodric Braithwaite

A month ago, I sent a copy of my book to Sir Rodric Braithwaite. Sir Rodric is a British Diplomat and Author. I had read his book Afghantsy about the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. About half way through, I noticed that much of the Soviet experienced mirrored our ( US) own.

I decided to send Sir Rodric a copy of my book and ask his opinion on my assumptions and observations. Sir Rodric received the book and immediately emailed me. We had been corresponding via email and I asked if he could write up short review of the book that I could post and send out to attempt to garner interest in the book.

Though he was busy with the Crimean Crisis, Sir Rodric was gracious enough to grant my request. The attached is the result.

SHORT BIO: Sir Rodric Braithwaite, British Diplomat and Author, former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union & Russian Federation,the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser and chairman of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee

Author of:

Across the Moscow River: The World Turned Upside Down
Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War
Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan

The Approach to No Regrets

The approach that I’ve attempted in my book No Regrets is to simply tell the story.  Lay out what happened/happens in Afghanistan/Nation Building and let people decide for themselves if it’s good, bad or somewhere in between.  I try not to lead to an opinion.

My opinion is that the Afghans are not ready for “democracy” or even Republicanism/Pluralism.  They are still tribal, patriarchal, superstitious (religious) and, by our standards, medieval.  There is nothing that an outside force can do to elevate them to a higher plain.

For the most part, they still sell their daughters into marriage.  They still see dark people as inferior.  They still believe that non-believers (in Islam) are inferior.  Their politicians are corrupt and see that as the way of business and governance.

Warlords still rule every facet of political life, social justice and still guide the way through violence or the threat of violence.  Mullahs still rule the social sphere.  Islam guides their thinking to a large degree.

We can only influence and hope that they integrate some of our mannerisms, culture (political and social) and values into their way of life.  In many ways we have done this already — positively and negatively.  However, the people of Afghanistan are a long way off from becoming anything resembling what the West would recognize as civilized or modern.  They’re somewhere around 1500 in terms of Western attitudes and such.

Women have no real rights.  Factions vie for power in the post-ISAF Coalition Afghanistan, corrupt officials steal every silver coin upon which they can lay their thieving hands and Mullahs still spout lies that America or the West is trying to crush Islam when, in fact, most of the West could care less about Islam except to the degree that it violently affects our cultures because of their obsessions over Israel, Wahhabism and a new Qaliphate over all of the old Muslim possessions.

I still keep an ear to the ground in Afghanistan as I care very much what happens to that nation and it’s people.  I have friends there.  I’ve heard rumors that the Taliban, or some factions thereof, are leery about the post-Coalition Afghanistan.  These talibs worry over the influences of Iran and Pakistan.  They are suspicious of the aims of those two Muslim nations.

However, China is out there to play some role in the post-Coalition Afghanistan.  China has invested billions in the region and has a vested interest in a peaceful, non-fundamentalist Afghanistan.

I hope my books creates discussion of some sort .  I’d love that.  Aside from lining my pockets, it might enlighten a few muddled headed souls about Islam, nation building and the US Coalition among other things.  How’s that for naivite’ and arrogance all rolled into one?

There are, of course, many negatives to the story of Afghanistan and our efforts therein.  Yet, there are also stories of hope and kindness.  There are patriots in that nation that wish for a strong, healthy Afghan Republic that is free of insurgents, Taliban, coalitions, war and violence.  Many private citizens work hard in the private arena to bring business to the country and to bring employment and build a strong economy with which Afghanistan can forge ahead.

Within the coalition, as misguided as it may sometimes be, there are many who work hard during their tours of duty in the Stan to leave behind a lasting legacy.  Schools are built.  Water pumps installed in villages that, theretofore, had no running water.  Hospitals are established and staffed.  Fire Stations are manned and equipped.

There are many who wish work to halt corruption and to find a way to work for the future.

If these folks are supported and successful, Afghanistan may prevail.   May the Gods be with them, comfort them and carry them to a day of promise and fulfillment.