As George Santayana, the philosopher, and my role model for writing said, “Those that do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” I do believe we made a mistake and forgot our past and now are doomed. To recount what I know about Afghanistan, I need to tell you a little of my own history. It starts with my first girlfriend, who lived next door to me in a huge mental asylum of some 7000 inmates. Before you jump to any conclusions, both our fathers were doctors at that institution. As part of their compensation, we lived on the grounds of this 200-acre compound. There was the entire gamut of mental diseases hospitalized there, from harmless demented old men and women who just existed until they faded away, to dangerous schizophrenic mass murderers. My desire since age six was to be a doctor like my father, so I followed my father around, saw unbelievable events from violent people getting lobotomized (cutting the brain connections from the front part of the brain to the rest of the brain that made them into vegetables) to suicides who jumped off a tall structure right in front of my house, reminiscent of the recent events in Kabul.
It was a very disturbing but exciting time for me. My relationship with Leila, confounded by her younger brother, Merrill, who delighted in surfacing from behind couches where we were doing what teenagers do, soon ended because her father found a better job in Dayton, Ohio, and the family moved just as we were getting friendly. Although our families continued our friendship, and Leila went to the University of Indiana in Bloomington’s School of Music, where she was already an accomplished pianist, and eventually would go professional. We continued our relationship despite the distances between Peoria, where I went to Bradley University and she to IU.
What was the Afghani connection? Leila’s father, an Afghan, was sent by his government to study medicine in Germany during World War II. Although Afghanistan remained neutral in World War II, Germany and Afghanistan were allies. Her father became a surgeon. He was specifically groomed to become the personal physician of the King of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah. Mir Nisam, her father, met and married a Jewish girl in Germany, not a good time to marry into a Jewish family. But because he had diplomatic immunity, he was able to leave Germany with his new bride and her brother to his homeland and his job as the physician of the King. His wife had to learn new customs, a new culinary style, new dress fashion, and a new language. The King, who was educated in France, established a Constitutional Monarchy. He imported many modern concepts of government but eventually ran into troubles with civil unrest, Mir Nisam MD decided to leave the country. The King was treasonably deposed by his brother-in-law and left for Italy.
In our early school years, my sister and I would have access to the Afgan court clothing from both parents of Leila. We had great fun playing dress-up with real vestments of the Afghani court. Leila and I met once more when I went to Med. School at UCLA, and she continued in graduate studies of music at USC. But as is common with high school romances, we lost touch. I do remember the one dish that her mother taught me to make, Afgan rice, which remains a standard dish for our family celebrations, especially at Thanks Giving.
Afghanistan was like a fairy tale to me, hearing all the court intrigue and the history of this far away land, the different foods, and different customs my family learned from the Nisams. Leila being half Afghani and half German, was a striking beauty with some of the Asiatic Persian and European features melded into one person.
Unfortunately, Afghanistan has turned into, pardon my profanity, the “shithole” of the world. How did that happen? It was Hitler that claimed that Persia, Iran, Afghanistan were Aryian. Few people know how Persia changed its name to Iran. Hitler personally convinced Shah Pahlavi to rename Persia, Iran, for Indo-Arian. In Hitler’s construct of world history, the Aryian migrations of 50,000 years ago gave rise to the early cities of Afghanistan. Alexander the Great and later Genghis Khan would rule Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah Durrani, the first of the Pashtun kings, marked the origin of modern Afghanistan in the 18th Century. The last King of Afghanistan, born of the aristocracy that had ruled Afghanistan for two centuries, Mohammed Zahir Shah, educated in France, took the throne in 1933 until his brother-in-law ousted him in 1973, who in turn was ousted by the Soviets that ruled for ten years. The Russians had bad experiences in Afghanistan. With Carter’s undercover support and later the Reagan administration’s help, the Mujahideen, Afghan warlords, chased out the Russians. But the various factions squabbled among themselves and could not find common ground. One faction, the Taliban, won out. They ruled the country from 1996 until 2001. The Taliban is a hardline radical Islamic group who support strict Sharia Law of public execution by beheadings and stoning, including cutting off hands or feet for theft and petty crimes. Men are required to grow beards, women have to wear all-covering burkas, television, photography, music, and cinema are forbidden, girls are banned from going to school. Teachers that taught in girl schools were executed in the streets. The Taliban destroyed the historical monuments of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, 6th-century carvings. They massacred thousands of Afghans and denied food to 160,000 starving civilians, all in all cruel and uncivilized people.
When the Taliban was ousted in 2001 King Mohammad Zahir Shah had a brief return after 29 years of exile. He was named “the Father of the Nation” in Afghanistan’s Constitution. There was even talk of his returning the monarchy to the country, but it was not to be. Hamid Karzai, a fellow Pashtun tribesman, and the country’s President at the time, announced the King’s passing on July 23, 2007.
In 2001 the US, in response to 9/11 and the unwillingness or inability of the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden sent in special forces who toppled the Taliban in just two months. It was Barack Obama who increased the troop deployment in the Afghan state to 100,000 troops. In 2010 Julian Assange complicated things further by a massive leak of secret files known as the WikiLeaks with out-of-context information on the Afgan war. On May 2, 2011, a small team of US special forces located bin Laden in Pakistan and killed him. By 2014 Obama decided to end the combat troops and left 13,000 as support troops. That same year a new leader, Ashraf Ghani took over from Hamid Karzai. Trump took office in 2016 with the plan of further drawing down the troops from 5,000 starting in 2020. There were only 2500 troops by this year, 2021. All the while, the Taliban was gaining strength. It was clear to everyone that the Taliban had to be involved in the governance of Afghanistan because without them, no government could survive for very long. Meetings with high-level Taliban, including former leaders whom we had captured and imprisoned, were now set free to take part in the negotiations. Secretary Pompeo made it clear to the Taliban that no harm should come to any Americans or Afghans that helped us during this drawdown, and indeed as agreed, no casualties occurred.
It was Biden and his team that changed the rules. I am certain that this would have played out differently under the Trump team. With Biden’s fanatic need to destroy anything that had Trump’s mark on it, he erased the restraints that Trump had placed on the Taliban. But we also showed the world and the Afghan army what a weak country we had become in such a short time. We could not control our own cities’ violence as Seattle and Portland were burning and Chicago and New York were exploding in a hail of bullets. We were defunding the police. Our military leaders were vastly more interested in “Wokeism” and teaching CRT than protecting us, our allies, and strategic planning to keep the world safe. Our Congress was more involved in dismantling carbon-based energy and going from energy independence to begging the Middle East and Russia to give us more of precious oil. The final straw that convinced them of our weakness was how our last few weeks of the withdrawal were executed; amateurish, feeble, and incompetent are what the rest of the world, both allies and enemies, think, despite what Biden says. It is not how a major world power deals with a disorganized, uncivilized, uneducated band of 70,000 hillbillys with cell phones (aka the Taliban). The writing was on the wall that America was no longer capable of supporting the legitimate Afghan government anymore. There was general agreement that 20 years of military support was long enough. Four presidents have tried to disengage, but to shut down our airbases and pull out the military first before evacuating civilians both American citizens and the Afghans that helped us, as well as our weapons, tanks, and helicopters has to go down as one of the more stupid military moves in all of history going back to the stone age. No wonder the Afghan military threw away their weapons, went into hiding, or fled the country any way they could, including in our Black Hawk Helicopters. The Taliban saw their chance to act out their most barbaric behaviors with what they recognized as a weak leader in the Whitehouse and a country that had lost its moral compass. It took them less than ten days to overrun the country with none of the restraining threats the Trump administration had promised. The Taliban, we see now, are the same people that came to power in 1996. They are older now, and their sons are with them, and not much different. There are, however, various factions within the Taliban. The real religious fanatics have not yet gotten to Kabul. They are centered in Kandahar and are working their way to Kabul. We may see much more humanitarian abuses once they get there. But from what we have seen so far, the Taliban is just as crazy as it was in 1996. What they have shown us has not been a new Taliban. They are the ones that surround the Hamid Karzai airport and beat, shoot, and otherwise prevent Americans and Afghans from getting to the planes that would evacuate them in diametrical opposition to their own interest. So much for the picture that our deluded President paints.
We froze assets the Taliban and the former Afghan government had in the US, billions of dollars! There are 30,000,000 inhabitants of Afghanistan. The economy has been destroyed, with no people earning a living, no income for anyone. The Taliban has no means to feed the people. How long are they going to withstand 30,000,000 demanding food, energy sources, health care, and a livelihood? Where are the smart Taliban leaders? It does not appear the Taliban has thought this through!
Afghanistan is a mess that will haunt us for decades. Political blunders, weak leaders, stupid decisions, idiotic events, religious fervor, zealotry, mental illness, corruption, lack of coordination, and the pathologic hatred between the Trump and Biden teams which did not allow for a coordinated transfer of power. Also, our country’s recent display of weakness, inability to control crime, inability to control our borders, inability to control the pandemic, misguided political agendas, inconsistent economics, upward spiraling inflation, continued problems with unemployment despite companies with the inability to find workers to fill their jobs. If you think these are not all interrelated, you are living in a fairytale. This has all played a major role in needlessly creating a disaster with potentially thousands of murders. It will take years to sort out who is the most guilty in this human tragedy. But I have my theories.