Kabul's Long Shadows: Historical Perspectives

Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination
Publication type

After a decade of direct military intervention provoked by the attacks of September 11, 2001, and even after urgent reinforcements decided in 2009 and dispatched in 2010 in the midst of painful national debates throughout the Western alliance, the attainment of fundamental US and NATO policy goals in Afghanistan appeared far more elusive in early 2011 than in the first optimistic months of the new post-Taliban Afghan government installed in December 2001. This report addresses a number of deeper historical, political, and social issues involved in the long-lasting Afghan conflict: The durable strategic concerns of successive imperial powers (Mughal, British, Pakistani, Soviet); the tribal culture of warlike poverty and economic dependence on outside imperial powers that came to predominate in the region ever since the decay of Central Asia’s trade routes and commercial stagnation in the seventeenth century; the patterns of proud Afghan social resentment, resistance, and self-inflicted “human scorched-earth” tactics, that have efficiently opposed outside direct military control throughout the nineteenth-century Anglo-Afghan Wars and late twentieth-century Soviet-Afghan War; and the past conflicts that throw the sharpest light on imperial political and military patterns of behavior when involved in apparently unwinnable, protracted colonial wars.

Great Powers,