The United States is using blood and treasure in Afghanistan to defend the worst existing legacy of 19th- and 20th-century European colonialism: artificial borders.
"Bad borders push people together who don't want to be together, or they drive people apart who do want to be together," Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel-turned-author, told a group of journalists last month at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland for sessions titled "U.S. Military: New President, New Outlook?"
Peters, whose 24 books include Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts That Will Shape the 21st Century, said that America's misunderstanding of the fundamentals of Afghan history and tribal social structure is why conditions are spiraling out of control despite the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition.
Trying to establish a strong central government may be an exercise in futility.
"There is no Afghan nation," Peters said. "There never really was an Afghan state, just a city-state in Kabul."
The kings and the sultans who ruled Kabul had as much trouble with rural tribal areas as coalition forces and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai have today.
Alexander the Great nearly paid with his life in the 4th century B.C. to learn the lesson of the Pashtuns' territorial ferocity. Fast-forward 2,000 years and Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire, railed against the unmanageable nature of the tribesmen who controlled what is today Waziristan, the porous and virtually lawless area along either side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. They are still there.
By the middle of the 19th century, British forces engaged in the great push-me, pull-you with Imperial Russian forces for control of the area were routinely bedeviled by tribes in northern and southern Waziristan.
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