By Chris Moore
(Deepak Tripathi. Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism. Potomac Books, Washington, DC. 2010)
There was once a king whose land was poor and surrounded by rivals. The king struggled for forty years to hold his feuding tribes together but eventually he fell out with his cousin, the Prime Minister, who deposed him. That was in 1973. The king’s name was Zahir Shah. His kingdom was Afghanistan.
Deepak Tripathi’s third book, Breeding Ground, is a political-military history of modern Afghanistan that’s sharp and to the point. He begins his un-tangling with the rise of the communists to power after the downfall of Zahir Shah. Patiently, he links the causes and effects that dragged one of the poorest, least developed, least developable countries in Asia to the centre of world attention. He has already touched on some of this in his previous book, Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here again he finds gold in under-exploited sources — American documents obtained by the U.S. National Security Archive and Soviet documents made available to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. In assembling his arguments — ‘clear-sighted and non-ideological’ according to Professor Richard Falk in his foreword — Tripathi relies on the persuasive accumulation of fact.
Two themes emerge very clearly. Both are frequently discussed but not always with such economy and conviction. First, the ever expanding, multi-dimensional meddling of Pakistan in its neighbor’s internal affairs. Second, the baleful influence of the Cold War on Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic social equilibrium. The USA and USSR were never able to see Afghanistan’s domestic misfortunes as anything but an opportunity for mischief-making. For their part, Afghanistan’s leaders proved to be all too corruptible. Foreign interventionists with large pockets and few scruples found Afghanistan, at the crossroads between geo-politics and religious schism, a convenient cockpit for their proxy wars. It was the disastrous impact of the Cold War (and its later exploitation by Osama bin Laden) that contributed most to today’s mess.
The ten-year war that followed the Soviet invasion of 1979, wired the culture of violence into the Afghan way of life. The more the Soviets tried to bolster the communist government in Kabul the more the CIA and their Pakistani collaborators worked to strengthen the mujahadin. American involvement intensified after Ronald Regan took over from Jimmy Carter. Washington’s initial objective was to ‘stretch’ Soviet military power. But by 1985, according to Tripathi’s sources, Reagan had glimpsed the possibility that the Russians could be beaten on the battlefield. By the time the war was over, a million people had been killed and a third of Afghans had fled their homeland.
First the king, then his cousin. Then the communist coup, followed by Soviet invasion. Then the mujahidin. Then the Taliban. Violence bred violence, force came to be accepted as an expedient for settling differences. By 1996, with the Taliban in control of Kabul, the culture of terror had matured, as Tripathi puts it, and become pervasive. Tripathi’s chain of cause and effect leads — naturally, dialectically — to the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington in September, 2001, and the ‘War on Terror’ that was George Bush’s misguided and mishandled response.
‘Effective counterterrorism efforts,’ says Tripathi ‘require an understanding of the culture … together with an institutional arrangement that enjoys broad consent in society. Unless effective institutions are there to provide citizens with security and ways of earning their livelihood, other players will appear … in the absence of a coordinated strategy, the thought of victory in the war against terror is a triumph of hope over reality.’
Breeding Ground presents the anti-Western ideology of Al Qaeda and the Taliban as a grotesque mirror-image of the state terrorism inflicted by Carter and the Reagan-Bush administrations. This ‘ethos of terrorism’, as Richard Falk calls it, has been adopted by all participants in Afghanistan, blurring the boundaries between warfare and massacre. The Americans and the Russians, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda; they sowed the wind, we must all reap the whirlwind.
– Chris Moore contributed this review to PalestineChronicle.com.