I is for Infidel…
J is for Jihad, K is for Kalashnikov
From Holy War to Holy Terror in Afghanistan
PublicAffairs, 2005, 186 pp., ISBN 978-1-58648-452-1
Gannon was AP correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1986-2005. She is now an AP international correspondent based in Pakistan.
This is the kind of book that makes you want to scream. There is widespread--seemingly universal--intrigue, profiteering, double-crossing, changing sides, and misinformation in this part of the world, all designed to build the personal power and wealth of those who have managed to crawl on top of others. But reading the book, you feel all this mess is because of the mistakes made by Western governments. And you are suspicious that any alternatives they might have taken would also have turned out equally misguided when judged in retrospect. If only the West could have discovered and taken the advice of the few honest, public-minded informants the author knows, everything would have worked out better. Perhaps.
Here are some examples.
"The United States took its guidance from Northern Alliance leaders who wanted only to regain control of Afghanistan. The United States deployed a force smaller than that of the New York City Police Department and handed Afghanistan over to Northern Alliance militiamen who had personal scores to settle with Pashtuns. The United States asked them to hunt the same al Qaeda men they had once harbored and gave Afghanistan's ethnic minorities a free pass to hunt down Pashtuns in the name of tracking Taliban. Within six months, most Pashtuns would blame the Untied States for bringing back warlords and criminals and for making every Pashtun a suspected Taliban." (113)
"As point man in Afghanistan for both President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, Khalilzhad made disastrous choices. He knew the men of the Northern Alliance, yet ignored their murderous history that had given rise to the Taliban; partnered them with U.S. soldiers; declared them the victorious army, although it was U.S. and British air power that had defeated the Taliban; treated Afghanistan as the spoils of war and handed the country to Northern Alliance leaders, who divided it up into fiefdoms; and then enlisted their militias in the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban."
"The Northern Alliance used U.S. soldiers to settle old scores, to intimidate and terrorize. Tribal enemies were turned in as Taliban. U.S jets bombed villages and convoys wrongly identified by their Afghan allies as harboring al Qaeda and Taliban." (114)
A frustrated Marine commander said, "We are coming in cold; our intelligence is zero. We don't know who is the bad guy and who is the good guy." (114)
"Within a year of the Taliban's defeat, the U.S. army, once welcomed as a liberator, was feared by ordinary Afghans." (118)
"In hindsight, it was a mistake to support Zia and his Islamic fervor, which gave rise to extremist militants. The same mistake is being made by supporting Musharraf, whose military is slowly strangling Pakistan's civil society and protecting the religious right." (146)
"For years the Pakistani military had played both sides of the fence: saying one thing but doing another; closing militant training camps in one area and reopening them in another; calling for enlightened moderation while shutting down one terrorist organization and letting it reopen under another name." (154)
"The links between the ISI, the Taliban, the mujahedeen in Kabul today, and Arab al Qaeda were forged in battle from Bosnia to Kashmir as well as Afghanistan and have not been broken." (157)
"Bin Laden had simply disappeared, and at the time no one seemed to know where he was--except the Pakistani military. That may still be true today." (164)
Epilogue: 4 years later
"Afghanistan's tragedy is that to the world's powers, it has never really mattered--or has not mattered for long. It has never been valued for itself. Afghanistan has repeatedly played the role of pawn in a larger power game…." (165) "No country has acted out of long-term concern for the Afghan people. Afghanistan--a 'failed state'--points to a long list of distinguished power brokers who participated in its failure." (165)
[Is the West alone responsible for Afghanistan's troubles? Perhaps the warlords, mujahaeens, military leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, and Pakistani opportunists, also bear responsibility for turning the help Afghanistan gets against its own people. dlm]
"Afghans are disillusioned, not sure who can be trusted." (166)
"Afghanistan appears to be forging toward democracy and freedom. But beneath that façade are men and militias that harbor a thinly disguised contempt for the West and are knee-deep in the drug trade. They have the patience to wait until an overstretched West pulls out the few soldiers it has stationed there." (166)
"I realized that armies could not win this war on terror, because their enemy is a guerrilla fighter. And the bigger the army, the more vulnerable the soft targets--the schools, the roadside checkpoints, the innocent workers."
"The West has to own up to the mistakes it has made…." (172)
So who are the good guys (for the people)? Or are there any? And how would you know? And if there are, will they continue to be good guys if they get help?
* * * * *
Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.
To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.