Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Afghanistan War: To Be or Not To Be, That's the Question -- 2

Map of Afghanistan with its neighbouring countries

Map courtesy: http://maps-world.cn/

Past Foreign Invasions in Afghanistan

Although a rugged, mountainous and land-locked country, Afghanistan had a strategic position. It is located in such a way that overland routes crisscross it from Persia (Iran), Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. As a result, it was victim to numerous foreign invasions.

Persian King Darius I conquered Afghanistan around 500 B.C. Greek ruler Alexander the Great, after a long fight, took over this place in 330 B.C., but he encountered repeated rebellions. According to the Wikipedia, Alexander is said to have commented that Afghanistan is "easy to march into, hard to march out of." Writing to his mother back home, he commented: "I am involved in the land of a 'Leonie' (lion-like) and brave people, where every Foot of the ground is like a well of steel, confronting my soldier. This is the land of the Afghans [in] which children are fighting valiantly against my steel forces. You have brought only one son into the world, but Everyone in this land can be called an Alexander."

In 667 A.D., Arab armies partially subdued some Afghans but faced many revolts. After several other Arab invasions, Islam took root in this country, where Zoroastrian (Parsi), Buddhist and Hindu faiths were prevalent earlier. In 122o, Mongol emperor's armies were in charge of this land.

In the 19th century, the British, who were ruling the Indian subcontinent, wanted to extend their influence and power in Afghanistan by supporting some tribes against others. Their goal was to secure this place against Russian aggression. The British fought three Afghan wars in 1838-1842, 1878-1880 and May-August 1919. In the first Afghan War, the British lost about 15,000 soldiers to snipers and guerrilla incursions during their retreat from Kabul.

In 1979, the Soviet Union, with the intention of helping the weak pro-Soviet communist government of Afghanistan against the Islamic militant groups, deployed its armed forces there. To end the Soviet influence in that country, USA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan spent billions of dollars in helping, training and arming anti-communist mujahedeen (fighter in a jihad or holy war) guerrilla groups (see the map below) and succeeded in forcing the Soviets to leave Afghanistan in 1989. Osama bin Laden and his group also fought against the Soviet army alongside the local mujahedeens. This war resulted in more than five million Afghan refugees taking shelter in neighbouring Pakistan.

A map showing major anti-Soviet insurgent groups in Afghanistan

Map courtesy: http://maps.world.cn/

After the ouster of the Soviet army, some Afghan mujahedeen groups took over power, but bitter in-fighring weakened them. In this void, the Afghan Talibans and their supporter Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda became more powerful with backing and assistance from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In 1996, the fundamentalist and militant Talibans usurped power and introduced restrictions on education and women working outside their homes, made women's burqa (veil) use compulsory, and prohibited music and lifestyle considered un-Islamic by them.

When Osama bin Laden received an all-out support from the Taliban government, it began to provide training to foreign Muslim youths determined to wage jihad (holy war) on the infidels, mostly Americans, who had placed their armed forces in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. Osama bin Laden expressed his vow for driving out foreign forces from Saudi Arabia, considered as "the holy land" of the Muslims.

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