15 January 2010

Rudyard Kipling on Afghanistan

I had the opportunity to read “The Jungle Book” recently and there was a few short paragraphs at the very end of it that seemed very pertinent to the current conflict in Afghanistan. To set up the scene: Afghanistan’s Amir has come to the palace of India’s Viceroy to review his armed services. The Amir has brought one of his friends; a chief of one of his country’s many tribes. After watching thousands of men and animals march in unison, the chief inquired of one of the Indian officers how it was that the animals marched with the same precision as the men. The Indian officer responded:

"They obey, as the men do. Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier the general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servant of the Empress. Thus it is done."

"Would it were so in Afghanistan!" said the chief, "for there we obey only our own wills."

"And for that reason," said the native officer, twirling his mustache, "your Amir whom you do not obey must come here and take orders from our Viceroy."

My point is that I’m starting to doubt that US has the ability to create any type of stable central government in Afghanistan. I know that there are many ways in which US involvement in this country is different than the machinations of the British or the Russians, but Afghanistan itself has not really changed in all this time. Kipling wrote this in 1897, and Afghanistan’s central government still cannot get the recognition of all the tribes and factions. I’m starting to get convinced that the nation-state model just isn’t going to work. Even the Taliban, as brutal as they were, still could not keep control of the whole country. I don’t know what a solution in Afghanistan is going to look like, but I don’t think it’s going to look like a nation-state.

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