I was never a fan of the project to democratise Afghanistan. The politics and culture of that fascinating nation are nearer to those of fourteenth-century England than to modern America. Imagine men from the Planet Zog arriving in 1350 to bring democracy to England.
Man from Zog : ‘Here you are, all registered, polling stations set up, we’ll check the count, carry on !’
1st Great Lord – ‘Super. Knights – you’ll all be voting for me‘
Knight – ‘Super. Squires – you’ll all vote for the Great Lord ‘
Squire – ‘Yeomen – put your cross by the Great Lord’s name if you want to keep that farm ’
Yeoman – ‘Serfs – I’ll show you where to put the thumbprint tomorrow’.
Serf – ‘Yes, Master’
From Our Own Correspondent :
Over the last few months, there has been a scramble by candidates to secure the backing of the big beasts of the Afghan political jungle. They are mainly the leaders and major commanders of those jihadi factions who, after years of warfare, ended up on the winning side in 2001 - in other words, with the US-led forces.I suppose there's one similarity to US politics. The concept of the (halal) pork-barrel seems to have been enthusiastically adopted.
Added to their ranks are civilians who have come back from exile and some tribal leaders. All are men who have done well since 2001, establishing themselves as important patrons who look after their networks. Many face continuing allegations of corruption, opium-trafficking and human rights abuses.
They promise to deliver voters - blocks of voters - for their chosen candidate. Then after the election, it will be payback time. The next government, according to one joke I heard, will have 200 ministers to fulfil all the back-room deals made.
We "acted communally" too, for a very long time - via the web of institutions, clubs, political parties, societies, churches, trades unions and charities which once made up British society. I think there's a qualitative difference between that sort of 'communality' and this sort of 'communalism'. We acted that way in 1400 - but without worrying about a facade of democracy.
If you wanted to defend this type of politicking, you could say that Afghans tend to act communally - at the clan or village level, as tribes or ethnic groups, or as factional networks. One friend told me, quite matter-of-factly, that 300 people were waiting for him to decide who to vote for (family members and former students who looked to him for guidance).
I wondered if in Britain I could actually contact 300 relatives or colleagues to even discuss an election.
No one was paying the great lords to provide such a facade, of course.
One might be tempted to ask why it's so important to sort Afghanistan - or to worry about Pakistan for that matter. Why not just use Western military might to duff up the Taleban from a great height and Al Quaeda with special forces - and let the Afghans do what they will as long as they don't bother us ? What's our dog in the fight ?
After all, Afghanistan and Pakistan are a very long way away. Why should we care about what happens there to the extent of expending blood and treasure ? We don't do that for Sudan or Burma, for example - both ex-British administered territories, which is more than can be said for Afghanistan.
I think we all know the answer. Afghanistan and Pakistan are rather closer to us than their geographical position would indicate. Just as the citizens of Carmarthen preserved their dead tree for many years, so our rulers - perhaps with good reason - are concerned with preventing the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy.