BY KENNETH MUFUKA
In the year 2002, a brash, self-loving and all-knowing United States Defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, declared that the American invasion of Afghanistan would mark the beginning of “the 21st Century warfare”.
With super weapons at its disposal, mother of all bombs that could dig out Taliban mountain hide-outs, laser beams and micro-wave devices that could cook human flesh, and drones that could fly unmanned, all reasonable men agreed with Rumsfeld’s dictate.
But history is unkind to rulers who do not study it. Frank Hall, in his new book, In the Land of Bones (Afghanistan), has reminded us that Alexander the Great, 328 BC, with the most modern army Europe had at that time, with 30 000 Immortals (so they were called) stood where the US stood in Bactria (Afghanistan) and said the same words.
As I write, 7th July, the US has completed its withdrawal from Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night, without saying goodbye to their Afghan surrogates, switching off all the lights and leaving behind 3.5 million articles, including thousands of water bottles and meals ready to eat (MRE’s).
Twenty years have passed, 100 000 Americans once set foot on this base, 1 000 girl schools were built in order to wean Afghans from their Muslim culture, and 35 000 contractors were employed. Those who knew how became millionaires overnight. Truck drivers were paid US$80 000 per year, tax-free.
Afghans breathed a new sense of freedom, and girls could go to school and learn biology, even the biology of their own bodies. That was the summary of American idealism. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said brave words at a girls’ school.
“The people of the United States will never leave you,” she assured them.
Holt takes us back to the year, 328 BC Alexander was himself a genius, Ptolemy and Seleucid were his seasoned generals. Up to this point no power, even the great Persian King Darius with a million-men army, was no match.
“Yet, in the summer of 328,” writes Holt, Alexander saw no “palaces to storm and pillage, no great concentrations of (armies) to engage and no single head of state to capture”. Like the Americans, the Afghans moved in small units, sometimes as small as 20 men.
“The opposition moved and melted around the invader” like dust, one moment creating a small dust storm and the next moment as calm as the waters.
More than 300 000 Afghan lives were lost over the last 20 years of fighting as well as 7 000 American lives.
US President Joe Biden says that he has learned some home truths from his 50 years in government. Rather than go into prolonged negotiations with the Taliban, the main opposition to US occupation, he says when one decides to leave, then one must leave.
Without US support, most of the 358 counties cannot pay their workers. Of these, 150 districts have fallen into Taliban hands in two months.
More than 1 000 soldiers have fled for their lives into Tajikistan.
More than 300 000 people who worked for the Americans are targets for retribution and even death at Taliban hands. The US immigration offices are flooded with over 100 000 applicants.
Special immigration status for US interpreters and workers has been given, but governments are by nature as slow as turtles. Meanwhile, their families, if they remain behind, are in danger from the Taliban.
As late as December 2, 2009, after 10 years of war, US General Barry Strauss still felt that the good mission, to liberate Afghanistan from the Muslim extremists, was still possible.
This is called the tragedy of good intentions. In the same presentation, Strauss recalled Alexander the Great’s problems, severe cold winds, extreme heat during the day, rising to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, unforgiving winds and a land that is so thirsty that a cup of water evaporates before it hits the ground.
The ghosts of yesteryear are coming back to haunt the pro-American Afghan supporters. President Ashraf Gani and former president Hamid Kazai are still in Kabul even as we speak.
In 1992, when the 50 000 Soviet forces left, then president Muhammad Najibullah and his brother suddenly found themselves hiding in the United Nations compound. The “agreement” for safe passage to India was not honoured. Muslims need not keep “agreements” with infidels.
Najibullah was dragged out of the UN compound, tortured and beaten and then hanged from a makeshift platform.
The US has attempted “negotiations” with the Taliban, but found that the Taliban says the only negotiations allowed by Islamic law for an invader are the terms of his leaving a house that is not his.
Indeed President Gani has argued that the Taliban should negotiate the terms for a free and fair election. Again, the Taliban, do not recognise Gani, whom they regard as a US surrogate.
Historian Holt takes us back to the days of Alexander the Great, 328 BC. In one year, Alexander lost more men than he had in the previous four years, fighting the mighty armies of the Persian King Darius.
The trick was that, as mentioned above, like the dust storms that plague their country, Afghan forces, in very small units, attacked and disappeared into the wild terrain as if they had been swallowed by the earth.
To the historian, the question that arose then, 328 BC as it has ever since the US invasion in 2002 is this: “What are we doing in this God-forsaken country?”
The answer is not what Hillary Clinton told Afghan girls. The US wanted freedom and liberty for them. The answer is in the history books. Looking for water, Alexander dug a hole into sand-filled Bactria River, only to find a smelly output. It was oil.
The end of the Second World War, 1945, marked the beginning of what Americans called the American Century. As the US willingly and brashly entered into Rumsfeld’s War in Afghanistan, 2002, little did they know that that date marked the end of US total economic and military dominance of the world.
Bogged down there for 20 years, a new upstart, China, was quietly stealing their economic and military secrets.
As American GIs go home, they will be surprised to find that the Chinese have invaded their homes; their furniture, their microwaves, the HP computers, even their medicines, their children’s notebooks, their bed-sheets and the solar panels now so famous, were made in China.
A ruler who does not study history must be shot.
- Ken Mufuka is a historian and Zimbabwe patriot. He writes form the US.