Published September 3, 2004
Didn’t the mujaheddin once appear on our screens along with the West’s finest, Rambo and James Bond, liberating the freedom loving Afghanis from the evil Russians? Just as the Berlin blockade brought us a change in bad guys in 1948, when the tyrannical Russians cut off the freedom loving Germans of Berlin, a city the Americans and Russians had taken turns reducing to rubble three years prior.
Afghanistan has always had a habit of stopping history dead in its tracks. Alexander, Timur Lenk, the Persians and the Moghuls all passed through, and failed to gain a permanent foothold due to fierce resistance. Even the mighty British Empire stopped its expansion at the borders of Afghanistan, their disastrous retreat through the Khyber pass in 1842 still being a synonym for suffering and defeat in the English mind. Both World Wars passed Afghanistan by. It wasn´t until the Cold War that history finally caught up with the country. In 1978, the communist party of Afghanistan came to power in a coup. This led to the United States sponsoring anti-communist forces, and, as the inept regime tottered, the Soviet Union took matters into its own hands and sent in the Red Army in December 1979. Ever since, the flow of world history has seemed to emanate from this mountainous backwater. With the Russian invasion, Afghanistan became a highway for every intriguing secret service in the world. The CIA, MI6, Pakistani ISI, Chinese military intelligence, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the French; all poured in arms and money, and Muslim international brigades were formed of volunteers for fight the Soviets. Even the Israelis sent in Russian arms captured from the Arabs in the 1973 war to support Islam, a decision it would come to regret when Palestinian volunteer veterans returned home to form Hamas.
Men like Osama bin Laden answered the call to Jihad in their thousands. Mercenaries, smugglers, religious fanatics; all gathered upon this mountain country, from which not only fundamentalism but also hard drugs were soon to spread throughout the world. The Islamic crusade was then sponsored by the United States to the tune of a billion dollars a year. The Soviets tried to play one tribe of against the other, but eventually had to withdraw in 1989 after heavy losses, the war contributing in no small way to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Zia Al-Haq, the Pakistani dictator who has spearheaded the anti-Soviet effort, was at wars end killed in a mysterious plane crash, and Afghanistan seemed that it would once again disappear from the mainstream of history. It was abruptly abandoned by the powers who had taken such a keen interest in it during the anti-Soviet war, and left to rot. The arms that had been pouring into the country for ten years were now put to use in the civil war that followed the Russian withdrawal.
In an attempt to secure its Northern Border, Pakistan sponsored and trained the Taliban movement which took over the country in 1994, with reluctant US approval. Apart from occasional reports of violations of women´s rights, no one knew or cared very much what was going on in Afghanistan. This all changed on the 11th of September 2001. Suddenly all eyes were on the country again as the attacks were blamed on America´s former ally Osama, currently residing in Afghanistan. The US mounted yet another invasion. This time, there was no other superpower to supply the Afghanis, so resistance quickly collapsed. As always, thousands of innocent civilians were killed. But once the smoke cleared, a new situation presented itself. The international community could now make right what it had done wrong a decade before, and the long, hard task of reconstruction could begin. Or so it seemed. Again, the opportunity was left unused. Instead of concentrating on reconstruction, an ill thought out invasion of Iraq was instead mounted, and again Afghanistan was forgotten. Today, the US sponsored Prime Minister Karzai controls little outside the capital of Kabul, and a NATO force guards the capitals´ international airport. This force, as it happens, is led by an Icelander, Hallgrímur
Sigurðsson. Documentary maker Kristinn Hrafnsson went over there, and reported back on what is really going in the turf of Commander Halli. In this issue of Grapevine, we get an exclusive report on the daily life of the commander´s men.
We hope you enjoy this last Grapevine of the summer, which also happens to be the first Grapevine of the winter. See you again in October.