So. If what Harvey says is right, then Barack Obama, Robert Gates and the rest of us Dummies could be in Afghanistan forever.
"I think we forget that some wars are brief and have decisive outcomes; some wars have been going on for at least a half-century. So unless some underlying rules and structures are substantially changed, Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming one of those chronic wars. Ho Chi Minh had an achievable, specific objective: national sovereignty for all of Vietnam. That was achieved. I am not sure that the Taliban have a realistic, achievable positive 'project' -- and I am pretty convinced that neither the US nor Pakistan have a realistic project for dismantling the Taliban movement either."
So. What is the main point we have learned about the Taliban?
"I don't think the Taliban could take over Afghanistan again. I don't think the Heratis, the Mazaris, nor Iran would allow that." Iran seems to have a large stake in what goes on in Afghanistan these days, not only because Iranians and Afghans speak the same language and have several cross-cultural ties, but also because there are now hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees now living in Iran and perhaps Iran wants Afghanistan to finally become safe enough for them all to go home. But I digress.
"However," Pietro continued, "I don't know any Afghan who wants to see the country partitioned; so if they fight to a 'line of control' as Pakistan and India and Turkey and the Cypriots did, then we may see a country that aspires to be one, but will remain split for decades -- especially if that serves outside interests."
So. Apparently at this point in time the so-called Taliban is too weak to take over the whole country like they did in 1996. Whew. But don't count them totally out either. America could still make the same mistake the Soviets did when they suddenly withdrew their financial and infrastructural aid to Afghanistan. And America could also make the same mistakes now that Charlie Wilson et al. made back in the day -- by continuing to fund unstable warlords and mujahideen and thus leaving Afghanistan vulnerable to civil war once again. And if this happens, the Taliban might actually have a shot at taking all of Afghanistan over again.
"The similarities are chilling."
PS: Pietro just e-mailed me even more information on the Taliban. You wanna know more about Afghanistan? Here's your chance!
"Pakistan's ISI had been instrumental in preventing the mujahideen from uniting during the anti-Soviet insurgency but by 1993, it was pretty clear that these actions had produced a failed state. Ahmed Rashid's book, Taliban (2000), is the best-known source on what happened next: Pious Afghans were disgusted with the rapes and general brigandage and so when a vigilante group out of the Kandahar area looked like it would take on the mujahideen commanders, the ISI helped get the Taliban going and many, many Afghans supported the movement."
The ISI helped to form the Taliban. Check.
"A lot of the rank-and-file members of the Taliban movement had grown up in refugee camps and gone to school at private madrasas (Pakistan spends too much on its military to support universal public education, so pious foundations stepped in). These young men were known as 'students'--or, in Arabic, as 'Taliban.'
"The Taliban's first test was to force a local commander to stop levying percentages (extortion) on truck-caravans on the Quetta-Kandahar highway. The newly-formed Taliban drove off the thugs who had stopped one caravan and found that task so easy that they immediately proceeded to Kandahar and drove out the local commander -- with minimal resistance."
So. The Taliban originally started in order to help establish the rule of law.
"Between 1994 and 1996 the Taliban re-imagined themselves several times; initially they did not imagine taking over Afghanistan and governing it. But by mid-1996 that seemed possible, especially with the capture of Kabul. Their opponents, the commanders, were their own worst enemies: once they had been mujahideen (roughly translated as those [mu-] who pursue the struggle [jihad] against the infidel). But once the mujahideen started fighting each other (i.e. other Muslims), they became just 'commanders' and resorted to banditry and narcotics to support themselves."
The mujahideen got corrupted. Check and double-check.
"The Taliban therefore had a simple platform: honesty/anti-corruption, piety, and imposition of security and God's law (as they interpreted it). The formula worked; and as much as contemporary Kabulis may have varying opinions of the Taliban ranging from hope to dread, there is an extraordinary level of agreement that the Taliban did not cheat or steal.