Et Tu Stratfor? – American Myth About Afghanistan – From Alexander To The Soviets

We believe that lack of education breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds cultural racism. This may be the hidden factor behind media’s portrayal of the Afghanistan situation. The French used to look down on the Vietnamese as primitive and unintelligent. The French Generals were proud of being the country of Napoleon and they underestimated Ho Chi Minh. The results are well documented in history.

Many American pandits think of the Taleban as primitive. They do not understand English, they live in caves and they seem primitive in their behavior. Bill O”Reilly expressed these sentiments in his show last week. He should speak with the American field commanders in Afghanistan. They will tell him that the Taleban are sophisticated thinkers and well versed in military strategy.
Then there is the other school of American pandits who think of the Afghans as legendary warriors who cause the death of empires. These writers speak expansively on this topic lumping Alexander with the British and the Soviets. We were disturbed to see Stratfor make similar comments this week. We have great respect for Stratfor’s work. So were surprised to see Stratfor succumb to historical stereotypes.   

“Many empires have disappeared into the maw that is Afghanistan. The Greeks left. The Huns left. The Mongols left. The British Left. The Soviets left. The Taliban is pretty sure that the Americans will leave too.” wrote Stratfor this week.  Rarely have we seen Stratfor make such an erroneous statement. This is not just a statement. It forms the basis of Stratfor’s mistaken thesis about Afghanistan’s strategic importance to America. 

So, we will try to set the record straight.  You will notice that Stratfor does not say that Indians left or that Iranians left. This is because, Afghanistan has been an Indian or Iranian suzerain for much of its existence. Foreign empires did not disappear in to the “Afghan Maw” as Stratfor writes. They were thrown out of Afghanistan by either India or Iran.

History of Afghanistan – Indo-Iranian Control 

The word Afghan comes from the Sanskrut word “Upagan” and Stan is the Hindi-Persian word for the Sanskrut “Sthan”. Sthan means “the place of” or “the land of”. The word Upagan means allied groups or tribes in modern nomenclature. The various “Gan” or clans or tribes of this area survived by allying themselves with the strongest entity in the Indo-Iranian region. This pattern has continued for thousands of years.

  • Modern Afghanistan is considered to be the creation of Ahmed Shah Abdali of the Durrani clan who united all the tribes into the Durrani Empire in the mid-1700s. 
  • Ahmed Shah was a deputy and the personal bodyguard of Nadir Shah of Iran. Nadir Shah occupied and ruled Afghanistan. After the assassination of Nadir Shah, Abdali broke away from Iran and was “made” the King of Afghanistan by the Afghan tribes.
  • Afghanistan was ruled by the Mogul Empire of Delhi prior to Nadir Shah’s conquest.  
  • Prior to that, the Mongols invaded Afghanistan. The Mongols did not leave Afghanistan as Stratfor writes. The Mongol armies were massacred by Allah-ud-din Khilji, the ruler of Delhi. They never returned to Afghanistan.
  • Prior to the invasion of the Mongols, Afghanistan was ruled by Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms allied with Delhi. The greatest of these was the reign of Kanishka, the great Indo-Kushan king.  Kanishka ruled over an empire that included Tibet, Kashmir, parts of Iran, central Asia and India.  The capital of Kanishka was Purushpur or today’s Peshawar. 
  • European American pandits now write about Alexander’s defeat by the Afghans. This is balderdash. Alexander’s major victory in India was over King Parvateshwar (called Porus by Greeks) who ruled today’s Afghanistan from Purushpur or Peshawar. He was a suzerain of the Magadh Empire of India. Alexander’s troops had great difficulty in defeating this minor King and they rebelled against going into India. 
  • Selecus I, the great successor of Alexander, was routed by ChandraGupta Maurya of the Magadh Empire. Selecus was captured and he ceded all his lands in eastern Persia and Afghanistan to India. All the Greeks did not leave as Stratfor writes. They remained as Indian subjects and their successors became Indo-Greeks. 
  • ChandraGupta’s grandson, the great Ashok, was one of the greatest emperors of all time. Ashok later converted to Buddhism and was instrumental is spreading Buddhism to Tibet, China and the Far East. Under Ashok, Afghanistan became a Buddhist kingdom which later reached its zenith under Kanishka. The “Chakra” of Ashok adorns the center of today’s Indian flag.
  • A thousand years before Alexander, Afghanistan was the center of the Gandhar Kingdom, an Aryan kingdom which was a suzerain of the Kuru and Ishwaku empires of India. It was King Shalya of Gandhar who took the Gandhar army to fight in the Great Maha-Bharat war (1500-2000 BCE depending on the historian). 

In short, Afghanistan has been a buffer state between India and Iran for the past 3000-4000 thousand years.  These two countries have never tolerated foreign presence in Afghanistan for long. These two empires organized local Afghan tribes and defeated the foreign occupiers of Afghanistan, whether they were Greeks or Mongols.

Sins of England Visited Upon America?  

This brings us to the British and the Soviets. The British presence in Afghanistan was never stand-alone. It was the British-Indian Army that entered Afghanistan and captured South Afghanistan. In other words, the British rulers of Delhi behaved in exactly the same way as all the Indian rulers behaved though out history. They insisted on Afghanistan remaining a suzerain of Delhi. 

The British were thrown out of India and today, their successor state, Pakistan, controls all the territory captured by British India in the 19th century. So the British may have left India but, in reality, the British-Indian Raj never left Afghanistan. That Raj is now called Pakistan.

The Soviets were foreign unlike British Indian Subcontinentals. Their presence was intolerable. But to whom? To Pakistan, the successor to Indian rule in Panjab and South Afghanistan. It was Pakistan, with great American help,  who trained the Pashtuns and fought with them to wage a guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan. This was the Indian continent’s traditional fight against foreign occupation of Afghanistan. 

America has a similar problem. Today’s war in Afghanistan is really a proxy war between America and Pakistan. It is Pakistan that is giving sanctuary to the Taleban and helping them fight the American Army in Afghanistan. The amazing part is that Pakistan is doing this with American money.

America understands this but cannot come to grips with it because the challenge is too steep and the public embarrassment would be too great. American leadership would have to admit to the American people that Pakistan is the real enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been hoodwinking America for the past 30 years.  It would be then impossible to justify the Afghan War to the American people. America would have to leave Afghanistan or to wage war on Pakistan.

American leadership understands with great clarity that it needs to bring in both India and Iran to make Afghanistan safe and stable. Help from Iran seems unlikely at this time. Thanks to the British partition of 1947 India and thanks to Nehru’s nearsighted acceptance of Pakistani seizure of West Kashmir, today’s India does not share a contiguous border with Afghanistan. So India is forced to watch the problems in Afghanistan helplessly.

This is how the British partition of India in 1947 has come to haunt America in 2009. 

Editor’s Note: For more details on the Af-Pak problem, see our August 2008 article Will the Sins of England be visited Upon America?

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