Thursday, December 10, 2009

History repeats itself?

On the eve of the US troop announcement and Islamabad's chattering classes are abuzz with speculation.

It's not about the level of troops to be deployed in Afghanistan but about the exit strategy.

In an official statement sent out by the US embassy in Islamabad there is one telling line: "This is not an open-ended commitment."

That has Islamabad buzzing. America's Exit Strategy. At one dinner party I was at on Monday night and attended by a prominent Pakistani politician, a former Western diplomat and a high profile journalist, one theme kept coming up: Afghanistan and America.

The Politician kept saying that the US must do a better job in listening to Pakistan's concerns. The high profile journalist countered by saying "Why? They never have listened to us before, why would they start now?" The former Western diplomat was also blunt. "Don't worry, they don't listen to anyone else either!"

As the conversation flip-flopped between old memories and the current political climate, I was reminded of that old quote from a Rudyard Kipling poem "Young British Soldier".

The poem, written in late 1800s, when Britain tried to tame the wilds of Afghanistan laments the ordinary soldier's lot: One line is particularly poignant:

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

Clearly Britain had a tough time in Afghanistan. Nearly one hundred years later the Mighty Soviet empire faced even greater challenges there. Once it pulled out of the country after 10 years occupying it the Soviet empire crumbled.

It's now America's turn.

"Go to your Gawd like a soldier" Is how the poem ends. It could well be a warning from history to Barack Obama. Kipling was slyly commenting on the madness of a military solution to the Afghan Issue. If Kipling was alive today, he may well offer the same advice to the US President.

Obama inherited the Afghan war but it could come to define his presidency.

The best way to stabilise the country is to strike a deal and pull out. Across dinner parties in Islamabad that is what conclusion keeps coming up. In the next 24 hours we will know Barack Obama's strategy.

But will the lesson's of history be applied? Perhaps not. America insists that this is a different war with different scenarios. For Pakistani's, well, they have been here before with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. It was American that armed and funded the Afghan Mujahedeen.

When the Russians left America abandoned the country, leaving Pakistan to pick up the pieces. Pakistan armed and funded the Taliban. They brought peace to the country but at brutal cost. In the coming years we saw the rise of Osama Bin Laden, the attacks of September the 11th 2001, America's war with the Taliban and then eventually Pakistan at war within it's own borders and wave of suicide bombing's across the country. Now America talks of an exit strategy.

History, Some Pakistani's fear, is repeating itself.

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