By Eric Margolis

One of my favorite artists was the superb Victorian painter Lady Jane Butler who captured in oil the triumphs and tragedies of the British Empire.
Her haunting painting, “The Retreat from Kabul, ” shows the sole survivor of a British army of 16,500, Dr. William Brydon, struggling out of Afghanistan in January, 1842. All the rest were killed by Afghan tribesmen after a futile attempt to garrison Kabul.
This gripping painting should have hung over the NATO summit meeting last week in Chicago to remind the US and its allies that Afghanistan remains “the graveyard of empires.”
The latest empire to try to conquer Afghanistan has failed, and is now sounding the retreat.
All the hot air in Chicago about “transition,” Afghan self-reliance, and growing security could not conceal the truth that the mighty US and its dragooned western allies have been beaten in Afghanistan by a bunch of mountain warriors from the 12th Century.
The objective of war is to achieve political goals, not kill people. The US goal was to turn Afghanistan into a protectorate providing bases close to Caspian Basin oil, and to block China. After an eleven-year war costing $1 trillion, this effort failed – meaning a military and political defeat.
The US dragged NATO into a war in which it had no business and lacked any popular support. The result: a serious weakening of the NATO alliance, raising questions about whose interests it really serves. The defeat in Afghanistan will undermine US domination of Western Europe.
Claims made in Chicago that the US-installed Afghan regime will stand on its own with $4 billion of aid from the west were pie in the sky. Once US support ends, the Karzai regime is unlikely to survive much longer than did Najibullah’s Afghan Communist regime in Kabul after its Soviet sponsor withdrew in 1989. Or the US-run South Vietnamese regime that fell in 1975.
The current 350,000-man Afghan government army and police are mercenaries fighting for money supplied by the US and NATO. Many are ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, blood foes of the majority Pashtun. Taliban and its allies are fighting for nationalism and faith. History tells us who will prevail.
All Afghans know the western powers have been defeated. Those with sense are already making deals with Taliban. Vengeance being a cherished Afghan custom, those who collaborated closely with the foreign forces can expect little mercy.
Air power is the key to US control of Afghanistan. Warplanes and helicopter gunships circle constantly overhead to defend western bases and supply routes. Reduce this air power, as will likely happen after 2014, and remaining US troops will be in peril. Pakistan’s temporary closure of NATO land supply routes to Kabul and Kandahar provides a foretoken of what may occur. Currently, the US must rely on Russia for much of its heavy supplies.
Already there are worries about getting US and NATO troops out of Afghanistan.
France’s new president, Francoise Hollande, wisely reaffirmed his pledge to withdraw all French troops this year. Other NATO members are wishing they could do the same. No one wants to have their soldiers be the last to die in a futile war that everyone knows is lost.
To wage and sustain the Afghan War, the US has been forced to virtually occupy Pakistan, bribe its high officials, and force Islamabad to follow policies hated by 95% of its people, generating virulent anti-Americanism. The Afghan War must be ended before it tears apart Pakistan and plunges South Asia into crisis into which nuclear-armed India is likely to become involved.
Washington intends to leave garrisons in Afghanistan after the 2014 announced pullout date, rebranding them “trainers” instead of combat troops. Their mission will be to keep the pro-US Afghan regime in power. But neither the US nor NATO will come up with the $4 billion promised in Chicago.
Washington is encouraging India to get ever more deeply involved in Afghanistan – even to become its new colonial power. India would be wise to keep its hands off.
In a second “Retreat from Kabul,” remaining US garrisons in Afghanistan may face the fate of the 1842 British invaders, cut off, ambushed, and hacked to pieces by the ferocious Pashtun tribesmen. 30
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  • Kausar Bajwa  On May 28, 2012 at 3:10 am

    The author is well versed with the past history and the current ground realities in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

    Kausar Bajwa

  • Bakhtiar Hakeem  On May 28, 2012 at 3:20 am

    m d acm ks,
    precise and crisp, rather too definite about future…
    Afghan War I and II recalled,
    12000 men in uniform and followers natives (Indian) inclusive were laid to rest between Kabul and Peshawar….will it or can it be repeated with karazais to play important role???? doubtful

  • Arif Khan  On May 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Dear Yasmeen another way of Looking at it is that if they would have cooperated with NATO they would have had New Schools, New Shopping Centers, New Industry and Mass Education instead of (wasteing money fighting the NATO forces) like Germany and Japan and Korea, After they leave they will be back to Square i backward Poor illiterate and independant but totally isolated and backward as ever, Thats what a person who has not gone thru the “Age of Reason” and Voltaire and Mostesquieu , Hobbes Locke and Rousseau would have taken advatage which they blew away and its Sad for Afghanistan … Japan , Germany and Korae cooperated with the NATO USA and look where thery are Today Arif Khan

  • khan saheb  On May 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    “All Afghans know the western powers have been defeated. Those with sense are already making deals with Taliban”

    Its not just the Afghans, the US too is trying to sleep with the enemy now. The bedroom is in Qatar.

  • Mahmud Sultan  On May 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Very well written

  • Admiral Sirohey  On May 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Pakistan would certainly not wish to see history repeated. However if the treatment meted out to Pakistan in Chicago is any measure then those 5% who according to the article have been purchased/bribed will also revert to their faith for their survival. Because 5% of now 200m is 10 million. They would have no choice but to abandon the purchasers as they will not be welcome by the [purchaser barring a few. Therefore withdrawal may have to take the northern route.

    Pakistan has been extensively damaged. It can not bear any more. Therefore an angry nation may use this anger in destructive fashion that will also endanger those who have destroyed a flourishing nation by dragging it in war that it had nothing to do. The so called support is pittance for the damage to lives of thousands and causing misery to the whole Pakistani nation.


  • Nasim Hassan  On May 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    It is amazing to see the USA committing the same folly as others have done in the Past. Any person who knows Afghanistan could have predicted this outcome. The basic question every invader has to ask is:

    How to bring people living in 10th century to 21st century?

    I have seen Afghanistan of King Zahir Shah era. Kabul and few other cities had a small elite that collaborated with the King while majority lived like they had for centuries.
    Just read Mullah Zaeef book (My life with Talibans) and we can easily figure out the life.

    Frankly I wish the western powers had a little compassion and used dialogue instead of force to resolve the problem. I wanted them to stay for fifty years rebuilding Afghanistan. Again in the chaos the poor people will suffer the most.

    Nasim Hassan

  • Nasim Hassan  On June 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    This tells us very clearly that even the super power and west does not have very smart people. They also have human drawbacks like greed and make errors. Perhaps the only difference is that common people apply the brakes and kick out republican party from the white house while common people of Pakistan are not smart enough to kick out bad politicians.

    I hope the common people in Pakistan understand the right and wrong and elect decent people.

    N. Hassan

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