by Austin Bay
No outsider ever really topples Afghanistan. Polyglot tribes, the Himalayasand several thousand years of experience in the smuggling business presenteven a genius warrior like Alexander the Great with a multi-dimensionalstrategic problem.
Every valley is, potentially, an entirely different war. However, withastute diplomacy and careful encouragement, Afghanistan -- a notion of anation, anyway -- will topple itself.
That's the open secret to waging war with the Taliban. Provide appropriatehelp, then let the locals do it.
The Taliban confront the same fractious strategic hodge-podge all would-beAfghan potentates, commissars or ayatollahs confront. Fanaticism only goesso far when you have to raise children and feed goats, so tribal loyaltiesto the bosses in Kabul are always iffy, at best. "What have you done for melately?" is a question common to every political culture, but in thepurchasing of tribal, ethnic and political loyalty in Afghanistan, how thequestion is answered is decisive.
At one time the Taliban provided acceptable answers. The Taliban began as areformist movement with the mission of: (1) winning the Afghan War theSoviets began in 1979; (2) ending political and economic corruption; (3)establishing a just Islamic society.
To the brutalized Afghan populace, the Taliban's moral armor ofincorruptible commitment was far preferable to the usual politics of CentralAsian warlords.
However, the Taliban's more recent answers have been dreadful, destructiveand macabre. When violence is rampant, when a taste for power has beenwhetted, moral armor corrodes. When history doesn't go like it's supposed togo, when victory is elusive, when enemies prove to be resilient, doubtsintrude, grumbling starts, defections begin.
And that was the Taliban's situation prior to Sept. 11.
Now the Taliban's alliance with Osama bin Laden, the ultimate fanatic, hasput their regime in true peril.
Pundits who keep asking the Bush administration when military action willoccur have not been paying attention. The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance --legitimate mujahadeen who were key to defeating the Soviets -- has launcheda series of small offensives. Don't tell defeated Taliban militiamen there'sno combat.
The Northern Alliance's current operation is illustrative of the way Americawill fight this nuanced global anti-terror war. America will savvily chooselocal allies who enhance American political and military capabilities. Thisstrategic approach will be replicated. Anti-Saddam Hussein Kurds will be keyin confronting Iraq. Pro-U.S. actors will emerge in Somalia. FrightenedSudanese government officials, aware of recent successes by black Africanrebels in Sudan's south, claim they are ready to provide new intelligence onterrorist activities.
This approach (which leverages unique local conditions, turning them intostrengths rather than liabilities) demonstrates that America is allied withthe world against terrorists and the cabals that coddle them. With theNorthern Alliance, the world will see Muslim soldiers destroying Islamistfanatics. Muslims will make the case that the Islamists' fanaticism has leadthem into crime and heresy.
For these reasons, among many others, facile comparisons to Vietnam have nomerit. "Vietnam" is the fossil verbal jerk of reactionary peaceniks andnouveau Neville Chamberlains. Nor are comparisons to the Soviet invasionquite apt.
The Soviets saw Afghanistan as part of a corridor to the Indian Ocean thatit aimed to occupy and incorporate. These aren't American aims. Americaintends to selectively destroy terrorists and those who harbor them.
There's another big difference. The Soviets bankrolled the North Vietnamese.The U.S. bankrolled the anti-Soviet mujahadeen. The Taliban, however, has nosuperpower patron. Since Pakistan closed its Afghan border, the Taliban'sonly patrons are heroin dealers. Iran is anti-Taliban. Tajiks and Uzbeks areanti-Taliban. The Chinese see the Taliban as reprehensible meddlers.
Russia has promised to supply the Northern Alliance with weapons and ammo.The United States can provide assistance, such as food and militaryintelligence. Green Berets can target smart bombs and directly supportoffensive action. As the vise tightens, U.S. ground units could launch veryselective raids on terrorist bases.
America's crafty response to the massacres of Sept. 11 is not the responsebin Laden and his cohorts anticipated. The world has not witnessed rashretaliation, quick spates of air attacks with thousands of civiliancasualties filling TV screens and U.S. troops parachuting into Kabul tograpple with holy warriors.
Instead, the response has been methodical and shrewd. Though in itsformative stages, a U.S.-led counter-terror coalition is already at war inCentral Asia. And the fanatics in Terror Inc. will be in for even moresurprises.