Back in September 2001, a couple of weeks after 9/11, I wrote a movie review of The Man Who Would Be King to make two predictions: Toppling the Taliban government of Afghanistan in a punitive raid for hosting Osama bin Laden would be less difficult than widely predicted, while sticking around to nation-build would be a fool’s errand:
Yet, if a war in Afghanistan does prove winnable, which it should, ought the U.S. undertake a long-term benevolent occupation to attempt to turn that desolate land into a peaceful “normal country”? Huston’s movie offers a skeptical perspective.
Both of my forecasts came true. But nobody ever learns.
Just as Serbia resembles an outpost of Russian culture in southern Europe, Afghanistan is culturally similar to Arabia, if the Arabs were all smoking meth. The Pashtun culture, centered in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, may be the world’s most dysfunctional. Here are some of their proverbs:
The Pukhtun is never at peace, except when he is at war.
One’s own mother and sister are disgusting.
When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet.
The horribleness of indigenous Pashtun culture might explain why the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban are seen by locals not as savages but, due to their strict obedience to the Koran, as moral exemplars. Muhammad might have married a 9-year-old, but at least she was a girl. For example, pederasty, or bacha bazi (“dancing boys), is so common among the Pashtuns that American troops were told they had to ignore sex abuse of minors for the good of the alliance. In contrast, one of the precipitating events of the Taliban’s rise to power in the mid-1990s was a small civil war between two non-Taliban warlords over a boy they both fancied. A Taliban squad under Mullah Omar rescued the boy, which raised their reputation.