The lessons of Lebanon

March 9, 2003

The United States attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, a month or so after the World Trade Centre was razed and around 2900 people killed by terrorists. The publicly provided reason was to topple the Taliban who were said to be supporters of terror and the group that was behind it - Al Qaeda.

The entire operation is now more or less forgotten. The bloodthirsty march towards war against Iraq in order to gain control of that country's oil reserves, reduce oil prices and shore up the US economy has cast everything else into the shade as far as an increasingly jingoistic US media goes.

But some others do keep track of what's happening in Afghanistan and what they see isn't very heartening. The country is slowly lurching back to the state of anarchy in which it was when the Taliban took over. The situation is slowly getting ripe for another takeover by any sectarian group that can marshal a decent amount of force.

But the Americans have forgotten the lessons of the past. Afghanistan is another collection of warring clans, a country steeped in tribalism and one that no outside influence, directly or indirectly, has been able to control. The soldiers who are patrolling an increasingly lawless country and taking plenty of casualties in the process would do well to cast their minds back to Lebanon and the year 1983.

That was the year when American forces were sent to the strife-torn Mediterranean country to support what was believed to be a "peace treaty" between Israel and Lebanon. The "treaty" was forced out of the Lebanese Christian militia, the Phalangists, after Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied the country.

What the Americans didn't know was that they were entering a civil war. They were taking sides with the Phalangists, Israel's clients, and thereby they were rendering themselves fair game for the other warring factions.

It didn't take long for the reaction to come. In 1983, the Hezbollah killed 241 US marines by using a truck as a bomb. That was the end of the American "intervention". The "peace treaty" was a farce.

In Afghanistan, the Americans have to provide backup to the clique which supports their chosen president, Hamid Karzai. Illusions of having a coalition government are just that - illusions. Tribes who have been at war with each other for centuries are not going to settle for a slice of the pie. Each wants their rightful share - the whole pie.

It is unlikely that the Americans will bother about Afghanistan any more. The war on terror has served its purpose - a couple of weeks from today, the Iraqis will be the targets. That was the game all along.

The cynicism shown in mounting an attack on Afghanistan will serve to breed a new generation of terrorists who hate the US. Five years from now, the Americans will again be asking the time-old question - why does the rest of the world hate us?