Slick, oleagineous, is Hamid Karzai, but not more than one is used to in such regions. Think of Hussein of Jordan, in his celebrated role as plucky little king. Hamid Karzai, when he first appeared on the world scene, in that beautifully-colored robe he wears, seemed okay. He had brothers and a sister running restaurants in Maryland and Massachusetts. He was the son of a civic-minded Afghan. He seemed — okay. He seemed to be one of those “Muslim-for-identification-purposes-only” Muslims, or as close to it as one might hope for outside of Azar Nafisi and Fouad Ajami. He was not able to fess up to it all himself, but still…or so one thought.
Then came the Speech of Mahathir Mohamed, the sober-toned, yet hysterical and telling speech, at the O.I.C., when he made an appeal for the world’s Muslims to use their brains, not in order to investigate the nature of the brain or DNA or of the atom or the origins of the universe, but only — the only thing he meant by “science” — to acquire military technology, and to defeat, among others, “the Jews.” Smooth Hamid Karzai, oily Hamid Karzai applauded. Interviewed just after, Karzai was enthusiastic about Mahathir’s speech. The oleaginous Karzai said he found the speech deeply impressive. He said he had found the speech wonderful, inspirational, tip-top. Well, that was it as far as Hamid Karzai was concerned.
Never mind that the poppy trade is flourishing and Karzai is weak. Never mind that he is better than the Taliban. His Muslim solidarity, of the kind he expressed after that speech, leaves a permanent impression: he is not to be trusted. Oh, he’s more to be trusted than any conceivable Arab leader. He’s more to be trusted than any conceivable Pakistani leader. But he’s not to be trusted. That’s it.
His government is famously corrupt. Oh, not as corrupt as that of the Al-Saud. Not as corrupt as that of Mubarak. Not as corrupt as that of Arafat and his successors and collaborators in the so-called “Palestinian” “Authority.” But corrupt. And the American and NATO forces are tearing their hair out.
But he wants, he wants, he wants. A year or two ago he was lamenting all the money spent in Iraq because he thought it should go to Afghanistan. He wants, he wants, he wants.
And he wants the Western powers to prop up his government — why? — but to fight exactly as he wishes them to fight, obeying Marquess of Queensberry rules that will only cause more Western casualties, and that make no sense in the Afghani context.
He wants, he wants, he wants.
Afghanistan can be controlled, as much as it can be controlled, from afar. There is no need for such a NATO presence, that will only be a waste, and a cause for intra-NATO tensions, and will be as ineffectual in promoting Infidel aims as is the business in Tarbaby Iraq.
The belief or desire to remake Afghanistan springs from an impulse born of naivete. It is a manifestation of the Yankee-can-do spirit misapplied to things of the spirit rather than to objects one can indeed improve. See the observations on this American polypragmonic impulse. It springs from a reluctance, and even from a fear, to dare to confront the backwardness and social injustice that arises from the application of Islamic principles. In Afghanistan these effects are felt mainly by women. Women there are held in permanent thrall. As for non-Muslims, there are none left in the country — the Jews and Hindus once described by Robert Byron in The Road to Oxiana all left, some before, some during, the rule of the Taliban.
The British could not hold Afghanistan, and intelligently left. The Russians, with a ruthlessness (and a geographical proximity) that the Western powers could never hope to approach, could not hold Afghanistan, and intelligently left (having self-inflicted great damage on their own economy, and on their own military morale).
Why are we in Afghanistan? Why do we wish to build roads, and other infrastructure, when we have every reason to believe that the poorer, more illiterate and isolated the Muslim villagers are, the less able they are to receive the Jihad-war-whoops and propaganda that greater prosperity would naturally bring? For that is what audiocassettes, and videocassettes, and access to satellite television, and Internet service, mean for Muslims who are pulled out of living (and fighting among themselves) at a subsistence level.
The misapplication of naive Western ideas — that greater “prosperity” will perforce lessen the hold of Islam in Afghanistan — has to be held up for public inspection.
J. B. Kelly and many others with some sense of what Afghanistan’s history has been suggest it will “all end in tears” for the West. That is exactly the phrase Kelly used several years ago about Iraq, at the very beginning of the conflict, when there was such enormous oorah-excitement and pleasure all over official Washington at the magnificent achievement, at the certain great victory, at the impending “transformation” of the whole Muslim Middle East.
A little reading, a little thought, a little knowledge about Islam and Iraq, or for that matter Islam and Afghanistan, would help. It would help save lives. It would save a trillion dollars. It would save NATO from internecine wrangling. It would save soldiers from going to war wearing karakul kid gloves, and never taking those gloves off, lest Afghani hearts, lest Afghani minds, lest oily Karzai himself, be too much offended to be won, won, won.