24 August 2009

Amin Saikal on Afghanistan

In the latest edition of the Australian National University’s East Asia Forum, Amin Saikal, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, has more bad news for us about Afghanistan.

Professor Saikal writes in Afghanistan: A British nightmare? that it was a strategic mistake to deploy British troops to the Taliban heartland in Helmund Province along the border with Pakistan:

The [Pashtun] Taliban could not have wished for a better nationality to fight than the British. It has provided them with a very effective propaganda tool to galvanise public support and enlarge their circles of recruitment....

[The Pashtuns] have taken great pride in the claim that their ancestors bravely and gallantly foiled the British efforts in subjugating Afghanistan during their colonial rule of the Indian Sub-Continent. As enforced by successive Afghan political leaders, the Afghan population in general, and its Pashtun component in particular, hold a strong view of the British as cheaters, vacillators and conspirators, prepared to engage in any intrigues in order to promote their interests. Pashtun literature and folklore are full of stories painting the British as untrustworthy and adversarial to Islam, but glorifying the Afghan (primarily Pashtun) defeat of the British in the three famous Anglo-Afghan Wars in 1842, 1880 and 1919.

Professor Saikal says that this is a matter to which NATO strategists need to pay serious attention, or the British deployment against the Taliban in a Pashtun zone might seriously undermine President Obama’s revised strategy in Afghanistan.

However correct Professor Saikal might be in this assessment, I find it hard, in the current climate of growing British public disenchantment with the whole Afghanistan venture, to imagine anyone persuading the British to redeploy to anywhere else in Afghanistan. My guess is that when they leave their current theatre of operations, it will be to go home.

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