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Monday, December 31, 2007
On getting 'it' right

During the nineteen forties, India was given its independence; its constitution was secular. Meanwhile, the dual Pakistan states were created for Muslims. At the time, this partition was seen as a wise move in that it reduced the terrible bloodshed at the time. Until recently, despite the rise of India's BJP, an aggressively conservative, religious party, I would have been inclined to agree that partition was, on the whole, a fine piece of judgement, even though some of the detail, e.g. Kashmir, may not have been handled correctly at the time.

Faced with the current deteriorating situation in Pakistan, one wonders whether, after all, it might have been better to stamp on religion and encourage secularism in a larger India, without a separate Pakistan. (I mean, what civilised country would, these days, call a major/capital city after a religion? Well, I suppose there's Stalingrad, now Volgograd, and Leningrad, now Sankt Petersburg, but Islamabad…What sort of nonsense is that?)

Whether or not partition was a mistake, it would now indubitably be better for the West to be dealing with a unified, albeit fractious, monolithic India, than with two nuclear-armed countries, where one at least is full of antipathetic religious zeal.

As the Irishman said, 'I wouldn't start from here, if I were you'. Quite! So how did we get here?

Many years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary – I guess it was in the late seventies or early eighties - about Afghanistan under Najibullah, supported by the Russians. I wish I could remember more but the part that made the biggest impression was seeing girls going to their new school and sitting down learning sensible things. Unsurprising to us, but then, in an Islamic country, that was absolutely unacceptable. In researching this piece, to help my memory, I read several articles that indicated that Afghanistan was moving in a democratic direction under Najibullah.

If there's one thing that Communist countries have a name for, it's for educating their children, both boys and girls. And they do it very, very well. Their literacy rates are excellent. The UK currently has many examples of these people, brought up under Communism, from behind the former Iron Curtain. Their countries having joined the EU, these young people have come here to work. (And I'm not talking about legendary Polish plumbers but about Slovenians, Slovakians, Czechs, Estonian and Lithuanians.) They work as opticians, receptionists, shop assistants, even as wine waiters. They are competent, well-educated, polite, and they have the most beguiling accents.

Faced with a Communist regime running an Islamic country, what's the best thing to do? Apart from cheer, that is. All you have to do is wait: no need for invasions or anything of that sort. You simply wait for education to do its work, and for the educated masses to dump the religious straitjacket, ditch the Communism and join the consumer society. It's easy when you think about it. The film I saw was optimistic about Afghanistan, despite its troubled history.

So, what did the Americans do? They provided the religious fundamentalists, the Mujahideen, with arms and support with a view to expelling the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Such strategic naivety!

What on Earth could have motivated such a crazy strategy? All they had to do instead was sit back and wait, perhaps without even providing the Afghani government with discreet material help.

America is a country where Communism, Socialism and even Atheism are dirty words. The fear of egalitarianism is fostered by the very rich who have so much to lose. Socialism can't be allowed to work anywhere in the World because people might want it in the US. This explains why America is so keen to stamp on a less tribal, less religious, gender-equal Afghanistan. D'you know, I once heard a US politician go unchallenged on UK TV when he claimed that there had never been a democratically elected Communist government in any country in the World. I was thinking of Chile… The lie should have been rammed down his throat with a remark such as: 'No democratically elected Communist government has ever survived naked political interference from the US.'

So this is what brought the Taliban and Al Qaeda, morphing from the Mujahideen, to power in Afghanistan. This is what led to 11/9 and other horrors. Here we have two Islamic states next door to each other, with their contiguous mountain areas and backward tribes. There is a vast area where it is a crime for a woman to be unveiled, and where the highest forms of excellence are to memorise the Koran and/or to die fighting in the name of Allah. Total effing nonsense.

Not content with creating a monster in a misjudgement about the nature of 'the World-wide Communist conspiracy', (e.g. Vietnam: more Nationalist than Communist), the US finds itself faced with a religious hydra, that it has created, that suddenly turns its rage on America itself. To put it down effectively in its homeland, Afghanistan, it was essential to have done something about the adjacent tribal areas of Pakistan but this was unacceptable, if not impossible. To compound the error, they attack Iraq, a sophisticated state where religion was discouraged, probably on the way to democracy given some help, as a method of dealing with terrorism. At the time, there was no anti-Western terrorism in Iraq. There is now, though. It takes spectacular incompetence to create terrorism where there is none; step forward the entire US administration. The best we can now hope for Iraq is that it will emerge as a semi-democratic theocracy.

Not only was the invasion of Iraq a catastrophic adventure in its own right, it meant taking the eye off Afghanistan. Having created the Afghanistan problem in the first place, the administration virtually abandons it midway through an attempt at reform. Here's a short piece about the situation in Afghanistan. It begins
After two years in which the violence in Afghanistan has become worse, it is hard to see signs of hope in 2008.
Is it likely that Afghanistan will survive as a democracy of any sort? Currently unthinkable without an occupation force five or ten times its current size. Here's Paddy Ashdown:
He comes with experience from a similar role in Bosnia, but Afghanistan is a far larger task as he acknowledged recently, going as far as saying, "We have lost and success is unlikely".
And what about Pakistan? A basket case I fear. A nineteen year-old, Oxford-educated student in line for PM? Absolute lunacy.

It was my intention to start this year-end round-up of the World situation with a quote from Winston Churchill:
Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities.
Apposite enough, but this time they've painted themselves so far into a corner that it's difficult to know what 'The Right Thing' is. It was possible once, but that was in Najibullah's time.

I was going to conclude with another quote, this time from Eisenhower:
Only Americans can hurt America.
Quite right, Ike, but they can do an awful lot of harm to the rest of us, too...

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