Butcher & Bolt: Saul David on two centuries of foreign engagement in Afghanistan

From The Telegraph:

Bofil_300_2 “Why,” asks David Loyn in this timely book, has holding Afghanistan always been “far more difficult than taking it?” It’s a pertinent question. In 2001 the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were forced out in a relatively bloodless war, at least for the US. But seven years on there are more than 50,000 foreign troops in the country, and both the British and US governments plan to increase their military presence even as they reduce troop numbers in Iraq. Few Western journalists know Afghanistan better than Loyn. He was the only TV reporter to witness the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, and as recently as October 2006 was criticised in the House of Commons for interviewing a Taliban commander in Helmand province.

In this survey of 200 years of intervention in Afghanistan, he has detected a constant theme “running from Britain’s first intervention in the early 19th century up to the imposition of democracy after 2001: policy was to be shaped from the outside whatever the local Afghan circumstances”. This inability of foreign invaders to understand Afghan society and politics is, he feels, why history keeps repeating itself.  The most obvious recent example was the misreading of the Taliban when the movement emerged in the Nineties, and during its resurgence in 2006. Or, as the EU representative to Kabul put it in 2007, with the introduction of democracy, “it was not thought necessary for us to understand the tribal system”.

More here.