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The winners in Afghanistan – cricket, Coke & Karzai

In 1963, I returned to Pakistan after a year in California under the American Field Service (AFS) programme. I joined the prestigious Edwardes College in Peshawar. Across the border, Kabul was a swinging city. It was the epicenter of the hippy movement. Thousands of Flower children from the west would hang out in Kabul. If no accommodation was available, they would sleep in the Public Parks. Then onwards to Lahore, Delhi and Nepal (the final stop). My friends and I spent many weekends in Kabul. The main entertainment constituted girls, beer, recreational drugs and Indian Bollywood movies.

The Soviet invasion in 1979 did not come as a complete surprise. The Kremlin was seriously concerned about the activities of the Islamic groups along Afghanistan’s northern border and its impact on the southern ‘Soft Underbelly’ of the USSR. The Russians intervened to silence the emerging spectre of Islamic terrorism. The alternative view on the events is that if left to complete their mission, the USSR could have (may be) confined the Islamists by supporting the socialist government of Afghanistan and imposing a socialist order throughout Afghanistan. In 1989, when the USSR neared its demise, the Soviets would be forced to exit, leaving behind a socialist government. No Mujahideen, no Insurgency, no Osama bin Laden.

In 1979, the US government was still smarting at the loss in Vietnam, the first war it had lost decisively. The Pentagon and CIA were restive. They were looking for payback. In Pakistan, General Ziaul Haq had executed Bhutto and installed himself as President. He was looking for legitimacy. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan served both these needs. At the behest of the CIA/Pentagon the Mujahideen were created to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen were funded by some Arab states. The strategy was crafted by the US. The execution was carried out by the ISI. In those 10 years (79-89), the ISI managed the war in Afghanistan for its western and Arab partners. Come 1989, with the exit of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the US walked away, with nary thanks.

The Afghan war continues to drag on into its 16th consecutive year. The only winners are cricket, Coke & Karzai. The Afghan cricket teams, both national team and the under-19 team, are doing well. They keep defeating Pakistan in encounters. The International Cricket council (ICC) considers that Afghanistan may soon enter the big league of Test cricket. The corporate sponsors in Kabul are lining up. Corporate sponsorship is a new concept in Kabul. A lot of drug money is backing cricket. There’s even talk of a women’s team. Soon the Afghan cricket team will be playing at the Lord’s and Oval.

The other big winner in Afghanistan is Coke – not the drug type, but Coca-Cola. It has become the drink of choice. The American soldiers, of course, cannot fight a war without Coke. It is an essential item in the commissary and field kitchens. But the Afghans have taken to coke in droves. Coke is drunk by everybody – the warlords, the Taliban, the mullas, the shopkeepers, the students. Coca-Cola has won the war. Even at the cabinet meetings in Kabul, the attendees are given a choice of sugary green tea or Coke. This is great for the Coca-Cola company. Five years ago, ‘coke’ was the most valuable brand in the world worth approx US $ 72 billion. Of late the brand value has been slipping. Brand ‘Coke’ has been overtaken by the technology brands – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. It is apparent that Afghanistan was good for ‘coke’.

The third big winner is Hamid Karzai. He and his brother, Wali Karzai, and other kin have amassed a fortune. Not a difficult task considering that almost US $ 1 trillion has been spent in Afghanistan since 9/11. The Karzai family is multinational corporation. It has subsidiaries in India, Pakistan, the UAE, and Afghanistan.

On serious note, I see no quick fix to the Afghan war. Two issues must be considered seriously. The counter – insurgency strategy must be given precedence over ‘Shock & Awe’. The guru of the counter – insurgency, Edward Lansdale, has recently passed away. But people like H. R. McMaster and the Brass in Pentagon must give this a chance. The other is that the Pakistan Army must have a place at the centre table. It is a battle-hardened army. It has been involved since 1979. The Pak army understands the strategic issues involved. It has the commitment. In the last six years, it has almost eliminated terrorism within the borders of Pakistan. What Washington D.C. does not understand is that the Pakistan Army is Pakistan’s Army. It is not a mercenary outfit.

Farooq Hassan, "The winners in Afghanistan – cricket, Coke & Karzai," Business Recorder. 2018-03-13.
Keywords: Social sciences , Islamic terrorism , Islamic groups , Emerging spectre , Socialist government , Centre table , Strategic issues , ICC , ISI , CIA , AFS , USSR