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A Bumpy Road Ahead

I.P. Khosla

By Tamim Ansary
Public Affairs, New York, 2012, pp. 397, $27.99

By Saima Wahab
Crown Publishers, New York, 2012, pp. 346, Rs. 599.00

By Amitabha Ray
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 165, Rs. 250.00


Writing and discussion about Afghanistan in recent years are almost always accompanied by adjectives, a select few; clichés, again just a few; and a forecast, which can be summarized in one word: bleak. The adjectives suit that one word, like ‘war-torn’, ‘unruly’ or ‘ungovernable’; while the clichés are as appropriate: ‘graveyard of empires’ and, more recently, ‘terrorist haven’.   The potted judgment that lies behind this language derives from a specific perspective on Afghanistan’s relations with the outside world, of which a good early example is the Simla Manifesto, drawn up in the late 1830s by the newly arrived Lord Auckland, British Viceroy in India and in which he spelled out British policy, namely to establish the independence and integrity of Afghanistan, to promote the general prosperity of the Afghan people and secure the freedom of commerce of the country. It was the presumption at the time that all this was threatened by the Russians, though not quite clear what the evidence behind this presumption was since there was no Russian presence anywhere near the Afghan northern border. But the British troops were, it seemed, invited by a man who was not even there, Shah Shuja, who they then proceeded to instal on the throne in Kabul. Nearly two centuries later that perspective remains largely unchanged. Foreign troops go in, always in the best interests of the Afghan people, then decide to stay there to consolidate the gains made, whether it is of a Marxist-Leninist revolution, as in case of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, sending their troops in on the invitation of a man who (once again!) was not even there to issue the invitation; or the promotion of democracy and peace, stability and genuine independence, as in the case of the United States in the early part of the new century, sending their troops in, again seemingly on invitation, though it was not entirely clear who invited them.   And then, every time, the Afghans fight back.   And now this last cycle is nearing its end, with the planned withdrawal of the US and other foreign troops by 2014, which now seems alarmingly close. It is understandable, therefore, that the writing and discussions about what may happen thereafter are increasing in volume and intensity, if not clarity; while the adjectives, the clichés as well as the forecast bear a strong family resemblance to what has ...

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