On Point

Why Afghanistan Will Topple Itself

by Austin Bayand several thousand years of experience in the smuggling business present even a genius warrior like Alexander the Great with a multi-dimensional strategic problem.

Every valley is, potentially, an entirely different war. However, with astute diplomacy and careful encouragement, Afghanistan -- a notion of a nation, anyway -- will topple itself.

That's the open secret to waging war with the Taliban. Provide appropriate help, then let the locals do it.

The Taliban confront the same fractious strategic hodge-podge all would-be Afghan potentates, commissars or ayatollahs confront. Fanaticism only goes so far when you have to raise children and feed goats, so tribal loyalties to the bosses in Kabul are always iffy, at best. "What have you done for me lately?" is a question common to every political culture, but in the purchasing of tribal, ethnic and political loyalty in Afghanistan, how the question is answered is decisive.

At one time the Taliban provided acceptable answers. The Taliban began as a reformist movement with the mission of: (1) winning the Afghan War the Soviets 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 of incorruptible commitment was far preferable to the usual politics of Central Asian warlords.

However, the Taliban's more recent answers have been dreadful, destructive and macabre. When violence is rampant, when a taste for power has been whetted, moral armor corrodes. When history doesn't go like it's supposed to go, when victory is elusive, when enemies prove to be resilient, doubts intrude, 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, has put their regime in true peril.

Pundits who keep asking the Bush administration when military action will occur have not been paying attention. The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance -- legitimate mujahadeen who were key to defeating the Soviets -- has launched a series of small offensives. Don't tell defeated Taliban militiamen there's no combat.

The Northern Alliance's current operation is illustrative of the way America will fight this nuanced global anti-terror war. America will savvily choose local allies who enhance American political and military capabilities. This strategic approach will be replicated. Anti-Saddam Hussein Kurds will be key in confronting Iraq. Pro-U.S. actors will emerge in Somalia. Frightened Sudanese government officials, aware of recent successes by black African rebels in Sudan's south, claim they are ready to provide new intelligence on terrorist activities.

This approach (which leverages unique local conditions, turning them into strengths rather than liabilities) demonstrates that America is allied with the world against terrorists and the cabals that coddle them. With the Northern Alliance, the world will see Muslim soldiers destroying Islamist fanatics. Muslims will make the case that the Islamists' fanaticism has lead them into crime and heresy.

For these reasons, among many others, facile comparisons to Vietnam have no merit. "Vietnam" is the fossil verbal jerk of reactionary peaceniks and nouveau Neville Chamberlains. Nor are comparisons to the Soviet invasion quite apt.

The Soviets saw Afghanistan as part of a corridor to the Indian Ocean that it aimed to occupy and incorporate. These aren't American aims. America intends 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 no superpower patron. Since Pakistan closed its Afghan border, the Taliban's only patrons are heroin dealers. Iran is anti-Taliban. Tajiks and Uzbeks are anti-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 military intelligence. Green Berets can target smart bombs and directly support offensive action. As the vise tightens, U.S. ground units could launch very selective raids on terrorist bases.

America's crafty response to the massacres of Sept. 11 is not the response bin Laden and his cohorts anticipated. The world has not witnessed rash retaliation, quick spates of air attacks with thousands of civilian casualties filling TV screens and U.S. troops parachuting into Kabul to grapple with holy warriors.

Instead, the response has been methodical and shrewd. Though in its formative stages, a U.S.-led counter-terror coalition is already at war in Central Asia. And the fanatics in Terror Inc. will be in for even more surprises.

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