Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould is a must read book for anyone who wants to understand world geopolitics since the Vietnam war and even before. It might be surprising what an important part the small country Afghanistan played in the politics of the cold war. This was a difficult review simply because there is so much information. Some of it contains information I knew nothing about. In some cases I had little knowledge but most striking was how much of what I thought I knew was wrong.
The first quarter of the book covers Afghan history up to 1960 and I did not fully appreciate the country's importance.
A great deal of what is traditionally denoted in historical studies as Persian, Iranian, and even Indian history involves the cities and principalities of what is now Afghanistan. Composed of tribes that were even at the time recognized as ethnically and culturally distinct, such ancient cities as Kandahar, Bamiyan, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, Bagram, and Baikh played a leading role in the evolving history of the region and the civilized world. Over the millennia, rulers from these cities swept far outside their territories to conquer and for long intervals rule over kingdoms stretching from China to the Caspian Sea. At times Afghan dynasties controlled the fate of Indian and Persian empires, while no less a figure than Zoroaster (Zarathustra) is said to have gained renown as a priest-scholar in the northern Bactrian city of Baikh, now located in Afghanistan, not far from Mazar-e Sharif.
But the ancient apocalyptic religious teachings accredited to Zoroaster take on even more meaning when placed against a backdrop of today s holy war. For what may seem to our modern secular society a hopelessly anachronistic throwback to the past is in fact seen by its mystical holy warrior participants in Washington and elsewhere as the final act in an ancient historical drama.
Afghanistan become important to the west in early in the 19th century when Britain saw it as a buffer between Tsarist Russia and it's economic empire in India. The most significant thing to come out of the British actions in the 19th century was the Durand Line which sliced off a chunk of Afghanistan and divided the Pashtuns. That was to remain a contentious issue to this day.
Moving forward to the mid 20th century Afghanistan was still seen as a buffer to Russia by the "B-Team", which I discussed here. To the B-Team Afghanistan was more than a buffer, it was a way to further weaken the Soviet Union and pay back for Vietnam. The Soviets did not want to invade and occupy Afghanistan but the B-Team forced their hand and made it impossible for them to withdraw when that was really what they wanted to do.
Dreyfuss writes, "In the Nouvel Observateur interview, Brzezinski admitted that his intention all along was to provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-even though, after the Soviet action occurred, U.S. officials expressed shock and surprise. 'We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would,' said Brzezinski." "'Now,' he told President Carter in 1979, 'we can give the USSR its Vietnam war.'"
To do this they supported and encouraged the very Islamic extremists that were responsible for 911 and we are fighting now in Afghanistan. Even as the American's and their allies were fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban Pakistan's ISI was giving them support.
This entire effort required that the American people be fed what can only be described as propaganda. Just like the lead up to the Iraq war the media was more than willing to play along. The failure of the media to do their job is nothing new.
After the fall of the Soviet Union the Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton administrations still assumed that instability created by religious extremists in Afghanistan was in the best interest of the United States and watched or even encouraged Pakistan's ISI and Saudi Arabia create the Taliban. It was only after the bombings of the two US embassies in Africa and the near sinking of the USS Cole that they realized they had created a monster. The events on 911 were icing on the cake. But this was good news for the neocons and the military industrial complex - they had an enemy again which would justify military spending.
Fitzgerald and Gould close the book with some advice for President Obama:
President Obama will face the toughest foreign policy decisions of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But among the toughest of those tough decisions will be how to handle the ongoing battle for Afghanistan.
Lest he fall prey to the popular misconceptions and the self-fulfilling delusions of Washington s current Beltway wisdom, he should be well advised that today's Afghanistan is more a creation of Washington, Islamabad and London than it is of Kabul. He should also be advised that achieving anything resembling a real victory will require much more than just additional troops or taking the battle into Taliban- and Al Qaeda-controlled areas of neighboring Pakistan. It will require rethinking some basic assumptions about both Afghanistan, and Pakistan and America's goals in
I see little evidence that Obama is willing to take the advice. The same hawks are still in charge.
I repeat, Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story, is a must read for anyone trying to understand AF/PAK policy. I have not even scratched the surface of what you will find in this book. And how about a teaser? - Pakistan's ISI was involved in the 911 attacks.