Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, July 26, 2010

  How do you subdue a people who will fight to the death over pine nut foraging rights?

Herodotus records a Delphic oracle warning the early Spartans against trying to subdue Arcadia “where men eat acorns”. When the Spartan military marched into Arcadia anyway, they met disaster. Acorn-foraging became a by-word for the ruggedness of the famously indomitable population in that remote mountainous region.

So I took notice when I came across this SIGACT among the nearly 92,000 Afghan war documents published yesterday. It’s a report of September 2007 from the remote province of Nuristan, along the Pakistan border. This region was the setting for Kipling’s “The man who would be king”. Here’s the part of the report that caught my attention:

There is a feud/civil conflict developing between 3 villages (Nanglam, Mashpah, and Malel) over pine nut foraging rights. 1 Afghan national has been killed, and 2 injured. Waliswol Muhammad Ali is attempting to mediate.


So how does anybody imagine that coalition forces can ever impose their will upon a population that is willing to fight to the death over pine nut foraging rights?

A simple question encompassing a world of problems for the US-led occupation. Afghans are desperately poor, their economy rudimentary, and their society rough hewn. They fight to defend their honor and minor slights can lead to feuds lasting generations. Even where ethnic and sectarian rivalries are absent, such as in Nuristan, social fractures between families and villages are the very stuff of the social fabric. I cannot conceive why any outsiders would suppose they could ever bend such people to their will.

Indeed Nuristan now is firmly back under Taliban rule. Americans increasingly came under brutal attack in the province, as a 2008 document singled out the by NY Times shows. Less than a year after this report, the US military suffered its worst casualties of the war in an attack at the village of Wanat. A little more than a year later, the US withdrew all its forces from the province after one base was nearly overrun.

For all the confusion of bad intelligence and chaos on the ground in Afghanistan, the evidence of these Wikileaks documents could hardly be clearer about one thing: Coalition forces are way out of their depth in trying to get a purchase on rural Afghan society.

crossposted at unbossed.com

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3 Comments:

  • Perhaps the pine nuts are the real reason why we are there?! They're quite nutritious. (Could have sworn that word had a C in it.)

    Yes, it is an entirely futile endeavor, unless the aim is to brutalize the population to the point they give up all aspirations of autonomy. We may very well be able to accomplish that. We've much experience in it, after all.

    The overwhelming pity of this aspect of the situation is, to me, the fact that Americans have nothing they feel strongly enough about to die for. Not kill for, obviously, but die for. I think this is a reliable test of one's humanity. Character, we used to call it.

    By Anonymous DPirate, at 5:21 AM  

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