A history lesson that is worth learning | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A history lesson that is worth learning

Kathryn Reed, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune

It is hard to believe in the couple of years since the book “Taliban” was published that the United States still has a policy toward Osama bin Laden and not one toward Afghanistan.

After reading this 279 page book (the last 62 are appendixes) by Ahmed Rashid I have a better understanding of who the Taliban are and why it’s such a chaotic mess in that part of the world.

Rashid in his opening remarks says it took him more than 20 years to compile the data — the length of time he had been a reporter in the region.

It certainly is not the kind of book you take to the beach and leisurely read. In fact it probably took me more months to wade through this than any other book I’ve picked up.

Despite the book being difficult to track in the first couple of chapters, I recommend it, especially in light of Sept. 11 and the pending war with Iraq.

It gives a history lesson of U.S. foreign policy. And it shows that although we no longer support the Taliban — something we did for years via money and arms — we have not come far enough.

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“Today the USA, by picking up single issues and creating entire policies around them, whether it be oil pipelines, the treatment of women or terrorism, is only demonstrating that it has learnt little,” Ahmed wrote.

It comes across as a factual retrospective. At times Ahmed adds his opinion, but it is hard not to agree that as a country we have made mistakes. Don’t worry, it’s not a book bashing the United States.

Ahmed takes readers through the warlord bickering history of Afghanistan.

“The Taliban are essentially caught between a tribal society which they try to ignore and the need for a state structure which they refuse to establish,” Rashid wrote of modern-day Afghanistan.

The United States’ role during Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan is highlighted. Rashid says in 1986 then CIA Director William Casey made three clandestine moves to step up the fight against Russia. Congress agreed to supply weapons, Britain’s MI6 got involved and radical Muslims were recruited to fight with the Afghans.

“Washington wanted to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was fighting the Soviet Union alongside the Afghans and their American benefactors. And the Saudis saw an opportunity both to promote Wahabbism and get rid of its disgruntled radicals. None of the players reckoned on these volunteers having their own agendas, which would eventually turn their hatred against the Soviets on their own regimes and the Americans,” Rashid wrote.

It is amazing the names that are mentioned in the book. Of course bin Laden’s outrage with Saudi Arabia allowing U.S. troops on its soil during the first Gulf War is mentioned.

Henry Kissinger was a consultant with Unocal — a U.S. company — when the oil pipeline agreement was signed in 1995. Rashid does a thorough job of explaining who the players have been in regards to getting oil from the Caspian Sea into the barrels of competing interests.

The first President George Bush and President Bill Clinton tried to woo the president of Kazakhstan because his country had nuclear weapons from the Soviet era. Kazakhstan could have been a key country in getting economic and political unrest in the area to subside.

Alexander Haig was hired by the president of Turkmenistan to “soften the U.S. position on pipelines through Iran.”

“Secretary of State Warren Christopher never mentioned Afghanistan once during his entire tenure,” Rashid said. That is a rather telling statement about our ignorance. Things began to change when his successor, Madeleine Albright, took over in 1997.

One of the more poignant paragraphs in the book says, “The Afghan Majaheddin contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union, the Soviet empire and even communism itself. While the Afghans take all credit for this, the West has gone the other way, barely acknowledging the Afghan contribution to the end of the Cold War. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan heralded the end of the Gorbachev experiment in perestroika and glasnost — the idea that the Soviet system could be changed from within. There is a lesson to be learnt here for today’s meddlers — those who intervene in Afghanistan can face disintegration themselves — not because of the power of the Afghans, but because of the forces that are unleashed in their own fragile societies.”

Take the time to read “Taliban” because it undoubtedly will help with understanding the state of world affairs today.

Kathryn Reed is managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She may be reached at kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.