Monday, October 20, 2008


The New York Times has an article today by John Burns on the lessons that Americans seemed to have missed from the ten-year Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's.

Burns interviews Zamir N. Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan and former KGB Afghan section head.

"Mr. Kabulov, 54, is no ordinary ambassador, having served as a K.G.B. agent in Kabul — and eventually as the K.G.B. resident, Moscow’s top spy — in the 1980s and 1990s, during and after the nine-year Soviet military occupation. He also worked as an adviser to the United Nations’ peacekeeping envoy during the turbulent period in the mid-1990s that led to the Taliban’s seizing power."

Kabulov, according to Burns, talks about the Americans today in Afghanistan:

"In fact, it is precisely because of a belief that the Soviet past may hold lessons for the American future that a talk with Mr. Kabulov is valued by many Western diplomats here. That is a perception that has drawn at least one NATO general to the Russian Embassy in Mr. Kabulov’s years as ambassador, though the officer involved, not an American, showed no sign of having been influenced by what he heard, Mr. Kabulov said.

"“They listen, but they do not hear,” he said with another wry smile.

"“Their attitude is, ‘The past is the past,’ and that they know more than I do.” Perhaps, too, he said, “they think what I have to say is just part of a philosophy of revenge,” a diplomatic turning of the tables by a government in Moscow that is embittered by the Soviet failure here and eager for the United States to suffer a similar fate."

The underlying theme of Kabulov's advice is that Afghanis detest foreign invaders, whoever they may be. The more numerous the occupiers, the greater the level of Afghan insurgent violence against them, whether they be Persians under Alexander the Great several thousand years ago or Americans under Gen. David McKiernan today.

Writes Burns of Kabulov:

"The solution, he said, is to shift the fighting as quickly as possible to Afghan troops. This is something the United States and its partners have already embarked on, with a decision this summer to double the size of the Afghan Army. But even that, Mr. Kabulov said, will accomplish little unless the Americans turn the army into a genuine national force, with a sense among the troops that they are fighting for their country, not as “clients” of the Americans, as Mr. Kabulov believes they see themselves now."

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