Seriously, however high ‘toppling the Pakistani government’ may be on the Taliban to-do list, it’s still, you know, hard. Indeed, it’s worth emphasizing that on both sides of the border there are actual human beings living and fighting against the Taliban who would continue to resist Taliban domination of their countries even if the United States didn’t lift a finger to help them. It’s important not to confuse the difficulty the U.S., Karzai, Pakistan, etc. have with dislodging the Pakistan from their home base with the idea that the Taliban is some kind of all-powerful super-army capable of easily overrunning Islamabad or the Panjshir Valley.
Matthew. Dude. Lemme tell you a story, hmmkay?
There was a time, back when you were, um, on fifth grade, when this weird bunch of black-turbaned madrassa students driving fancy Toyota pickups appeared out of nowhere in Southern Afghanistan. Even those of us who had been covering Afghanistan for some time went like, whoa, WTF is this now? But the country at the time was in pretty bad shape — you know, bodies on the streets and stuff — so we thought, first of all, these guys ain’t gonna last, and second, even if they did, is that really so bad, seeing as they were kind of bringing order to a crazy situation? Next thing we knew, they’d taken this butthole-of-the-world sort of town called Kandahar (pronounced like ‘Pandahar’ but with a ‘k’). We said okay, that was easy ’cause that’s their home turf, but from now on it’s uphill and getting steeper. Yeah, well. A year later they were in Herat, and then Kabul fell. And then they started striking all these deals with local honchos in places where there weren’t even any of those majority Pashtun people, and one morning we woke up and the bastards were all over Mazar-e-Sharif. They weren’t supposed to. They were supposed to be just this ragtag bunch of redneck zealots. I mean, hell, it was supposed to be, you know, hard to take over Afghanistan. But just ’cause you think nothing bad’s gonna happen doesn’t mean it won’t.
So, dude, most of us kinda spent the 90s underestimating the Taliban. We were wrong so many times a dork like yours truly couldn’t even count that far. These hillbillies turned out to be pretty awesome at manipulating other bad guys to join them and making the rest really really pissed off at each other, and they weren’t too bad at waging war, either. And when they were done, we were, like, whoa, what just happened?
Oh, and then there were these other yahoos called al-Qaeda (pronounced ‘Al Cayda’, like a mobster or something). But that’s another story.
Fabius Maximus, who I kindly suggest should breathe into a paper bag next time before posting, directs a payload of snark my way as retaliation for my Alarmist and Inflammatory South Asian Nuclear Armageddon Scenario™. As a gentle rejoinder, I offer the following:
- In the space of just two and half years — that’s 32 months — after India’s second nuclear test and Pakistan carrying out its own in 1998, the two countries were on the brink of nuclear war twice. Both times, in the Kargil War of 1999 and the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the issue was Kashmir, a conflict greatly exacerbated by the instability in Afghanistan, where many of the pro-Pakistan terrorist groups formed and trained. In short, this is a uniquely dangerous place, and if you think the probability of nuclear war is “well under 1%”, as Fabius does, please visit your local library, and we’ll talk more.
- Contrary to what Fabius claims, I’m not declaring anything “to be a reason for war”. I’m merely suggesting we cannot disengage without risking a wider confrontation that may include the use of weapons of mass destruction. A Taliban takeover in Afghanistan would further destabilise Pakistan, possibly prompting a military coup, which in turn would increase the risk of another standoff with India. Even more importantly, a precipitous departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan would lead to rapid loss of Western diplomatic leverage in the region. See Iraq, Republic of.
- Pointing out Finland’s ludicrously small contribution to ISAF, something I have frequently criticised, Fabius asks: “What do you mean by ‘we’, Mr. Lindholm?” Well, let’s see. There are 42 countries fighting this war — or “managing the crisis”, as we say in Finland –, so by “we” I could mean a pretty good cross-section of the international community, right? Or, since Finland, Sweden and Norway, together with Germany, are securing ISAF’s northern flank, I could maybe mean “the European Union”, no? Or, hey, with Swedish and Finnish troops now engaged in firefights almost daily in Sar-e-Pol, and being hit with suicide bombers and IEDs in the meantime, could I possibly mean “we Scandinavians”? Alas, with Finland lagging so embarrassingly behind in the number of combat deaths, by “we” I couldn’t possibly mean “we Finns” until we earn our place in Fabius Maximus’s short list of honourable warfighting nations, right?
[Fabius has updated his post with more huffing and puffing. Habibi: You like to say you "don't understand" my arguments. But I think you understand them all too well; you're just confusing "not understanding" with "not hearing what one wants to hear". That's okay -- I get that a lot at home with my 6-year-old. I'm glad, though, that you did get the Onionesque tone of my take on Yglesias's post. That was my way of saying I think most of the time you guys don't know what the hell you're talking about. Maybe you're too young, maybe you don't study the region enough, who knows. Bottom line: with this issue, I'll be happy to be proven wrong.]