Exit Strategies

After a Decade of Working on Hearts and Minds...

I don’t think anybody expected Pashtun tribesmen to eventually became supporters of American troops in their country, but how do the elites who have the most invested in the new Afghanistan feel about their liberators?

It's near-impossible to find anyone in Afghanistan who doesn't believe the US are funding the Taliban: and it's the highly educated Afghan professionals, those employed by ISAF, USAID, international media organisations – and even advising US diplomats – who seem the most convinced.

One Afghan friend, who speaks flawless English and likes to quote Charles Dickens, Bertolt Brecht and Anton Chekhov, says the reason is clear. "The US has an interest in prolonging the conflict so as to stay in Afghanistan for the long term."...

This isn't just some vague prejudice or the wildly conspiratorial theories so prevalent in the Middle East. There is a highly structured if convoluted analysis behind this. If the US really wanted to defeat the Taliban, person after person asks me, why don't they tackle them in Pakistan? The reason is simple, one friend tells me. "As long as you don't get rid of the nest, the problem will continue. If they eliminate the Taliban, the US will have no reason to stay here."

The proof is manifold, they say (although it does tend to include the phrase guaranteed to dismay every journalist: "everybody knows that …").

Among the things everybody knows are that Afghan national army troops report taking over Taliban bases to find identical rations and weapons to their own US-supplied equipment. The US funds the madrasas both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, which produce the young Talibs. US army helicopters regularly deliver supplies behind Taliban lines. The aid organisations are nothing more than intelligence-collecting agencies, going into regions the army cannot easily reach to obtain facts on the ground. Even the humblest midwife-training project is a spying outfit.

Well what are they supposed to believe?  That the US is over there to help them rebuild their country?  Free their women?  Educate their children?  

Many of us who've grown up in the Culture of Western Suicide don't find it too difficult to believe that our leaders would sacrifice lives (of people from a different class whom they don't know, of course) to help foreigners who detest them.  But if you don't understand the modern white man, just about any theory sounds more credible than that!