What goes around

We hear a lot of casual references made about the history of Afghanistan, references to its centuries of political unrest, chaos and tribal anarchy. This is probably a good time to bone up on the details.

We hear, for example, about the British being hassled relentlessly before they were finally run out of the country. The Afghans took control of their own affairs via the Treaty of Rawalpindi, signed in 1918, ending once and for all British influence. It should be noted, though, that the Brits had been meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan from their perch in India for at least 80 years prior. All things considered, a pretty good run.

It’s the Russians who bled their guts all over the Hindu Kush. The Russian relationship with Afghanistan began pleasantly enough, since the Afghans were the first country on Earth to recognize the new government of the Bolsheviks and Lenin in 1918. This laid the groundwork for what has been described as “a special relationship” between the two that lasted for six decades, until it disintegrated when the Russians invaded just 30 years ago, on Dec. 24, 1979.

Why did the Russians move in? Moscow wanted to prop up the fledgling Communist government that had taken control of Afghanistan in April of ’78 via your basic coup. This Marxist regime did things that were quite radical, especially when considered in the context of the retro-Islamic, Taliban-laced Afghanistan we’ve observed since 2001. The People’s Democratic Party, for example, outlawed beards on men, as well as the burka. Indeed, the PDP declared “privileges that women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country.”

Well, that pinko leftist jazz didn’t sit too well with the fine, funky, fundamentalist folks living just about everywhere besides Kabul, and they began blowing shit up almost immediately in the PDP’s reign. They must have been pretty good at making mayhem, because it didn’t take too long for The Home Office to send in the goons. A hundred thousand of them. And they spent the next eight years fighting hordes of Koran-toting rednecks, many of whom were supported and funded by us (recognizing as we did a golden opportunity to fuck with the Evil Empire). At least a million Afghan civilians died. At least 28,000 Soviet soldiers were killed. It was, all in all, a nasty piece of work. And it contributed significantly to the ultimate downfall of the U.S.S.R.

So now, here we are. The U.S.A. Eight years into our little party, and shit to show for it. More troops needed, so more on the way. Grinding against the gnarled knots of history. Somewhere, does Mikhail Gorbachev chortle to himself with just a dash of schadenfreude?