A. R. Jerral Americas ongoing war in Afghanistan is now passing through a psychological downswing and it is showing through the frustration evident from the conduct of American commanding generals. On June 15, General David Petraeus was Commander CENTCOM when he fainted while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He attributed it to not eating that days breakfast. It sounds absurd; one does not fall unconscious for just missing the breakfast. This is a case of mental and psychological exhaustion impacting on the general who is leading the American war effort which is going nowhere. He is not alone in this frustrating state; General McChrystal, now quietly sitting at home, was also losing his cool in the field. When McChrystal was posted as commander in Afghanistan, he was hailed as the commander who will bring victory to the American cause. He had brought with him the rich special operations experience, and mental and physical robustness. A general who was reputed to run 10 kilometres everyday before going to the office, was showing the mental fatigue which is evident from his recent verbal outburst. In a recent Afghan National Security Council meeting General McChrystal lost his cool and told the Afghans: My father has a son and two nephews fighting for Afghan freedom, how many of you have sons fighting for Afghan freedom? How many of you are willing to make the sacrifices necessary for your countrys future?(TIME, June 28, 2010).This is the American dilemma which neither its political, nor its military leadership understands. The perception of freedom held by the Americans is different from that held by the Afghans. In American perception the freedom for Afghanistan is establishment of a politico-social system acceptable solely to the US. For the Afghans, freedom is throwing the occupation forces out and leading a life according to their own social and tribal customs. Seen in this perspective, the US commanding general on ground should realise that every Afghan is fighting for his and his countrys freedom. He is not only willing but is actually making sacrifices for this cause. The second dilemma is that the US generals are not clear which war are they fighting in Afghanistan. Is it anti-terror war or counterinsurgency? When the Afghans fought a similar war against the Soviet army in their country, the Americans called it jihad and, thus, the Afghans were called freedom fighters or mujahideens. Apparently, for the Afghans the nature of their war has still not changed, although the US wants them to believe that what they are doing now is terrorism. Therefore, since the perception of freedom varies, it is difficult to convince the Afghans. General McChrystal was indeed frustrated because his campaign to win the Afghan hearts and minds has failed. When McChrystal had landed in Afghanistan, he went round visiting markets and tea shops sipping tea and patting on the shoulders of Afghan elders and young hoping to win them over with his charm. This shows that the Americans have not yet understood the character and psyche of the Afghans. Afghanistan is a country that is divided into tribes comprising the Turkmans, Hazaras and Pashtuns, of which the Pashtuns form the majority. They live in their defined areas and respect their territorial sanctity. They are fiercely independent and do not accept or tolerate foreign interference or dominance in their social system. Truly, this is the only country in the world which has never permitted any foreign rule. The oldest foreign ruler mentioned in history is Seleucus but nothing much is known about his reign. Baber landed in Kabul but soon realised that he will not survive there and moved on to establish the Mughal Empire in India. From within Afghanistan great men arose to prominence; however, they are few and none of them was able to establish a dynasty of kings. Those who arose to the heights of political prominence - Ghori, Ghaznvi, Abdali and Durrani - all had three qualities in common. They were brave, ruthless and they all were ethnic Pashtuns. They all established an empire far beyond Afghanistan but their empires vanished with them. The Afghan certainly does not accept or tolerate the meek and the weak. As a matter of fact, they will accept conditional dominance of someone only from their own tribes provided he respects their tribal freedom and the tribal social code. They never have and never will accept an outsider or a puppet as their ruler. The Afghan is a 'past-masters of survival. His natural environments and his tribal conditions make him adept at this art; he is born with the skills others learn through training. He does not need tinned meat, cakes and mineral water to survive; for him muddy water scooped up from a stream and dry bread soaked in water is enough to go on. Though he loves life, he walks with death everyday and this he has been doing through centuries. He is not bound by time, in fact time is on his side, and he will wait for the right moment to strike and kill his enemy. Moreover, the Afghans value the tribal honour code more than their life. This code has two cardinal aspects: Nang - individual and collective honour, and Badla - the revenge. The revenge runs through ages and generations. Individually and collectively they can and will kill or get killed to preserve these codes of honour. So this is the third dilemma the Americans are facing in Afghanistan. Their anti-terror fight manual teaches them to kill the bad guys, and save those whom they think to be good guys. But in Afghanistan the line between the good and the bad either does not exist or is very thin. Every strike that kills an Afghan sets the wheels of badla in motion and the fight will go on till the death is avenged and honour redeemed. The US should understand that even an average Afghan is physically fit and mentally robust, this is a game he has been playing for centuries and he does not get mentally fatigued. He will not lose his cool like McChrystal and will not faint because he could not eat his breakfast like Petreaus. For him all meals are equal and he will go on fighting at the time and ground of his own choosing. The sooner the US administration realises it the better; otherwise it will be worse than the Vietnam experience. The Russians called Afghanistan a bleeding wound, now the American generals have termed it a bleeding ulcer - but we must remember that the wound was inflicted on the Russians. Prudence demands that the Afghan should be left to his own way of life; otherwise a lengthy American involvement will be very costly in money, material and men. About 10 years of combat in Afghanistan should have taught this lesson. General McChrystals removal and General Petraeus appointment to command the war in Afghanistan will not change the Afghan psyche. The writer is a freelance columnist.