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          PAS : KE ARAH PEMERINTAHAN ISLAM YANG ADIL
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Thursday September 13, 9:55 PM

Afghanistan-a chilling story of bungling superpowers
By Myra MacDonald 
 
Photo Gallery 

Reuters Photo
 

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - They massacred the armies of the
British Raj. They virtually destroyed the Soviet
Empire. And now they are under suspicion in the
biggest attack on the mainland of the United States,
the world's sole superpower. 

If Washington decides to strike at Afghanistan for
sheltering prime suspect Saudi-born dissident Osama
bin Laden, it will be following others who tried to
tame the Afghans. And failed. 

"In addition to the natural hatred which every Afghan
feels towards a foreign invader, there is a strong
underlying current of fanaticism," wrote one old
Afghan hand. 

"Unless promptly checked, (it) becomes at times, and
especially against a Christian enemy, uncontrollable."


That was about Afghanistan in 1880, written by British
Field Marshal Lord Roberts, after ill-fated British
invaders had been massacred in Kabul. 

The story of Afghanistan, an arid mountainous country
at the crossroads of central Asia, is a chronicle of
miscalculation. 

The British army tried twice to invade in the 19th
century in a bungled attempt to build a buffer to
protect India's borders. 

Moscow sent in troops on Christmas Day 1979 to protect
its southern borders. Its retreat, at least 13,000
Russian deaths and nine years later, precipitated the
collapse of the Soviet Union. 

And the United States supported the very people who
may now be trying to destroy it -- helping Islamic
militants, including Osama bin Laden, to drive the
Soviet Union from Afghanistan. 

"The Russians went in without totally comprehending
the implications of what they were getting involved
in," said J.N. Dixit, a former Indian ambassador to
Kabul. "America is reaping the results of its
miscalculation also." 


THE GREAT GAME 

For many in the British Raj, the tangle with the
Afghans started as a game, or the Great Game as it
became known, led by eager, ambitious soldiers
determined to make their names. 

They also had the missionary zeal of 19th century
Christians who believed their desire to tame the wild
Muslim tribesmen of Afghanistan was a battle of good
over evil. 

Prompted by fear that Russia might seize control of
Afghanistan, Britain decided in 1838 to invade. 

Twelve thousand men, 38,000 followers, and thousands
of elephants and camels marched to Kabul to install a
puppet ruler. 

But then came rebellion, and a disorderly evacuation
in which thousands died, killed by tribesmen or of
cold and hunger. 

Britain invaded again in 1878. This time the British
resident of Kabul and his escort were massacred by a
mutinous mob. 

A century later, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ignored
those urging caution and invaded to back a leftist
government in Kabul. 

Like the British before them, the Russians
underestimated the complexity of Afghanistan, failing
to see that support for the left in Kabul had no
backing among the tribes in the countryside. 

"You cannot talk about Afghans as a single cohesive
identity. They are fiercely autonomous people, not
inclined to accept centralisation," said Dixit. 


U.S. SUPPORT 

Fearing a spread of Russian influence into South Asia
and even as far as the strategic oil-producing nations
in the Gulf, the United States provided covert support
to the Afghan rebels through its then main South Asia
ally, Pakistan. 

But far from extending its power, Moscow became bogged
down in a nasty guerrilla war in what was the Soviet
Union's Vietnam. 

Reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a
withdrawal in 1988, but in doing so lost support at
home and eventually his job. The collapse of the
Soviet Union followed. 

The vast majority of Afghanistan is now controlled by
the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government,
allegedly supported by Pakistan, the United States'
erstwhile ally. 

Pakistan denies providing military support to the
Taliban but is one of only three countries to have
recognised it, along with Saudi Arabia and the United
Arab Emirates. The Taliban has also denied bin Laden
was behind the U.S. attacks. 

"There was a feeling of triumphalism among the jehadi
(holy warriors) terrorists when the Soviet Union
withdrew from Afghanistan," Indian defence analyst K.
Subrahmanyam wrote in The Times of India on Thursday. 

"Many of them, including...Osama bin Laden, used to
tell the Americans who trained him in special
operations that the jehadis had defeated one
superpower and thereafter it would be the turn of the
other superpower," he wrote. 



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