A long time ago, I had a friend who had been stationed at the American Embassy in Kabul; it must have been in the 1960ies, or early 1970ies. He rather liked it; high in the mountains, with a jagged range of them all around, like a wall. But the most beautiful thing he remembered was that Kabul was full of almond trees, and surrounded by orchards of them, and the scent of almond trees in bloom, in the clear mountain air was like nothing he ever smelled again. It always sounded like a place I would have like to have seen. I never did, but a great many military people now have been there, and will be there for the foreseeable future, according to this story
Troops will be in Afghanistan for next 20 years, says commander

Actually, looking at Afghanistan’s history, that may be a more or less realistic assessment of how long it may take to settle matters. Well, to settle them down as well as they ever have been settled, which may have been for about fifteen minutes forty years ago. At the height of British imperial power in India a hundred years ago, they barely kept Afghanistan damped down to a dull roar, as Kipling pointed out wryly, in the story “Servants of the Queen”, from the immortal “Jungle Book”

“Then I heard an old grizzled, long-haired Central Asian chief,
who had come down with the Amir, asking questions of a native officer.
“Now,” said he, “in what manner was this wonderful thing done?”
And the officer answered, “An order was given, and they obeyed.”
“But are the beasts as wise as the men?” said the chief.
“They obey, as the men do. Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he
obeys his driver, and the driver his sergeant, and the sergeant his
lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major,
and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding
three regiments, and the brigadier the general, who obeys the Viceroy,
who is the servant of the Empress. Thus it is done.”
“Would it were so in Afghanistan!” said the chief, “for there we
obey only our own wills.”
“And for that reason,” said the native officer, twirling his
mustache, “your Amir whom you do not obey must come here and take
orders from our Viceroy.” “

There was always a sort of sneaking liking and respect for the proud and freedom-loving Afghans, in the days of the Raj. Perhaps some of it still carries over among the British soldiers who may well be there long enough to see a new generation of Afghans, to build new roads, and see that wonders like the Babur’s magnificent rose garden in Kabul is reconstructed. It may prove that the brutal rule of the Taliban and the alien ways of bin Laden’s Arab followers, was more galling to the independent and proud Afghans than the presence of British and American troops ever would be. Nothing seems to disillusion people about the virtues of strict Islamic law quite so much as actually having lived under it. Roads and roses, new wells and irrigation systems, kite-flying and schools for girls; they had them once, and will have them again or better. But it takes time to build, and time for people to grow into new habits. Rome was not built in a day, neither will Kabul or Kandahar or Herat re-built … but twenty years is a good start. Along with everything lese, I hope that the almond trees are blooming in this next spring.

“Sgt. Mom” is a freelance writer and retired Air Force NCO who blogs at www.sgtstryker.com, and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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