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"WW III? No thanks...!" On-Line Library

What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

               "The Ox of Kabul was strung up on a lampost,
               his genitals stuffed in his mouth, by the Taliban"
               - Fisk


By Ben Macintyre, The Times, London

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

RUDYARD Kipling knew, as did Queen Victoria's army, just how pitiless
warfare in Afghanistan could be and yet foreign powers, from Alexander
the Great onwards, have not been able to resist trying to conquer, or at
least impose order on, that warrior land.

We may soon be going back again, with America and NATO, to try to
extirpate the murderous organisers of Bloody Tuesday and punish their
protectors. That prospect, however righteous, chills me.

When much younger I became briefly obsessed with Afghanistan when the
Mujahidin guerrillas were still locked in bloody combat with the
Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. I grew a beard, travelled to Peshawar,
bought myself the regulation Mujahidin outfit in the souk and was taken
on an eight-hour journey to meet Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, then one of the most
powerful guerrilla warlords, in his mountain stronghold. I have never seen
a more beautiful or brutal terrain, or a prouder and more callous people.
At the camp entrance a huge vulture, shot out of the sky on whim, had been
impaled on a steel post. We drank tea and ate warm Afghan bread with
yoghurt sitting on the floor of a hut as Hekmatyar, who would become
Afghanistan's premier before going into exile in Iran, described to me the
perfidy of rival Mujahidin leaders and how the war would soon be won
against "the puppet" in Kabul.

A few months later I was with the other side, sitting to an identical meal
in Kabul's presidential palace with Sayid Mohammed Najibullah, "the Ox of
Kabul," the Afghan president who would eventually be ousted and then strung
up by Taliban fighters.

I cannot now remember the details of what was said in either conversation,
but my most vivid recollection is of the extraordinary similarity between
these two bitter enemies, once contemporaries at the University of Kabul.

One was a Communist and the other a fanatical Muslim, but both were
haughty warlords, men for whom fighting was not just a way of life but the
highest calling. The Mujahidin fighters' excitement as they clustered
around Hekmatyar, their sheer pleasure in their weapons and ferocity, was
thrilling, and horrible.

Hekmatyar picked up an AK-47 and announced "target practice." For 10
minutes they blazed away at a rockface, a display at once childish,
deliberately menacing and, for people raised on gunpowder, quite natural.
Bloody war is sewn into the very land of Afghanistan, in the form of
innumerable landmines. Outside Kabul I was taken to meet an Afghan doctor
making rubber "feet" out of old lorry tyres to attach to children who had
lost their legs from the bombs ... some of the 500,000 crippled by war. My
government guide (minder/spy) condemned the brutality, then without irony
proudly took me to Kabul Gorge where Afghan tribesmen massacred 16,000
British soldiers and their dependants in 1842.

The tussle for Afghanistan was a "Great Game" to the great powers, but
truly the greatest players were the Afghans. Mogul, Persian, Russian,
Soviet and British armies all perished in these unconquerable mountains.
When the Soviets pulled out in 1989 they left 50,000 dead and 1m dead
Afghans. This medieval world, with its endless cycles of atrocity and
revenge, is the one that trained, formed and defends Osama bin Laden and
his like. The attack on the World Trade Centre may drag us back to the
world's cruellest battlefield, and George W. Bush should have no
illusions: if it comes to war, Afghan warriors will fight the Americans
who once armed them as ferociously as they once fought the British and
the Russians. There is a saying in the Middle East: what happens in
Afghanistan decides the course of history.