An AP report, issued on April 10, highlighted that US General McKiernan of Afghan fame had paid a visit to Kandahar/Helmand. Besides striving to reach out to the tribesmen, he was there to offer "apologies for the past mistakes." The general explained, "I'm trying to connect to the local people in a bottom-up way and try to explain what the new US strategy means.... Indicating a change of stance he promised them less harassment and lesser wanton death/destruction by his troops as laid down by President Obama. Going an extra mile to charm his audience, he emphasised that he was studying their Holy Book. To win widespread acclaim he explained: "I'm reading a very good book now about this part of the world. It's written in English, but it's all about you - it's the Quran." The general may be a good guy but he makes desperate statements at times. In the above avowal he appears to have made the mistake of implying that the Holy Quran is about "this part of the world" and "all about you" whereas it about the whole niverse/humanity. His audience, despite the acrimony aroused a la the occupation, may have overlooked or failed to notice such a slip due to the feelings of hospitality which is rife herein. While he is welcome to his new initiative, he should have his expressions conforming to the local lingo/leanings in relation to Islam. I can't help being reminded of the days of the Afghan War of mid80's. As I was working in the Intelligence Bureau in Islamabad and dealing with the subject, I had access to lot of relevant intelligence, directly as well as indirectly. During the first week of Jan 86 we had the privilege of welcoming John who ended up as being one of the principal proponents among the Republicans, like the Democrat Brezeinski, of avenging the US' Vietnam-disaster. The material produced by CIA to induce the Muslims to fight against 'Godless Communism' was stupendous. One of my friends in our sister agency had also briefed me on the subject and we wondered what our American friends could produce to bolster their support among the credulous/hard-pressed Muslims. We also got to learn that such propaganda received indispensable input from the Saudis/Egyptians etc. Subsequently I got posted to our embassy in Bonn/W Germany. Most of the mujahideen commanders had a foothold in that country besides having many followers belonging to Afghanistan. This was, mainly, due to traditional links between Germany and Afghanistan established earlier on which led to the setting up of German Institutes. Such an interaction introduced the language among the Afghans which built up good feelings among the two people. Most of the mujahideen commanders remained in touch with the embassy; more so the Pashtuns. I had the privilege of meeting most of them quite frequently as and when they were around. One top-notch and two others told me about the ways the US agencies were indoctrinating the Muslims to fight in the name of God in the jihad against the Soviets. I also had the privilege of listening to the radio-broadcasts recorded and circulated in Afghanistan/Pakistan ad nauseam. The main source of invocation for jihad against the Soviets, of course, was tenets of the Holy Quran supplemented by traditions/Ahadis of the Holy Prophet. Muslims are expected to fight back by their Creator if they are under attack; however, if they find it feasible they can resort to migration from the belligerent area. The disproportionate difference between the aggressors and the victims was made good by the US when Reagan Administration decided to issue the latest weapons to the mujahideen generously around 1987. Wanting to make a kill, Reagan compared the visiting Afghan commanders to US' 'forefathers' who fought the War of Independence. Such theatrical public relations exercises were being indulged in at all levels. The mujahideen felt beholden as well as close to a US which proclaimed on its Greenback "in God we trust." Going by the history of AfPak, people tend to be, generally, open and can interact with foreigners with goodwill/hospitality. Despite being poor, they are always keen on offering 'a free lunch' to any guest regardless of colour, creed and nationality which is an anathema, generally, in the West. By their own traditions, they cherish tribal etc enmities which can last for centuries. If they own somebody up as a friend, by the force of custom, such relationship is lifelong despite the glitches. However, two things alienate these people fast. First, anything that smacks of bad faith etc which challenges or denigrates their beliefs and way of life etc. Second, any attempt at billeting forces to signify occupation of their land. The British Empire learnt their lesson in the Second Afghan War of the last century, which Blair etc appear to have forgotten, while the Soviets suffered the disintegration of their Empire there-from. General McKiernan' change of tactics, and may be change of heart, could undo some damage done by the Gung-ho policy followed by the 'occupation forces' during the last 7 years. According to one estimate the US lobbed daisy-cutters/bunker-busters worth $1.5 billion when it attacked Afghanistan with the help of Russia etc. Since then continuous casualties caused by the indiscriminate use of airpower have swollen the rank of the dead/injured and destroyed. George W etc never bothered about the sufferings of the 'lesser human beings' in the embattled area despite the protests even by his acolyte, Hamid Karzai/Pakistan. This has caused infinite damage to US goodwill in the area which the general apologised for, either due to expediency or out of genuine regrets at the atrocities committed. Massive use of blatant airpower against a people who are badly outgunned can be a war crime as is the destruction of Gaza by Israel recently. It is, generally, believed here that the 'occupation' was mainly prompted by the designs of the US oil-lobby, to which most neo-con leadership belonged including the 'Bushes'. Another dominant tradition calls on the people never to forget/forgive the intrusion unless clemency is espoused by the aggressor. The area has suffered because of the disregard shown by the US to the relationship developed since early eighties. If history is any guide, US can't benefit from the Caspian resources while alienating AfPak. President Obama, unlike his nave predecessor, is sharp enough to appreciate the utter failure of his country to settle issues by force of unrivalled arms. In fact such unwise policy has made the Taliban stronger as against their unpopular position at home in 2000. The spillover of such a perverse situation appears to be haunting Pakistan which is also being subjected to a 'propaganda war' by India. Such short-sighted antics of the Indian politicians would not help the US or themselves. President Obama is opening new channels to Muslims as was forcefully brought in his speech to the Turkish Parliament recently. Atonement appears to be the best way out in the area and one hopes 'the lobbies' dominating the US would allow the new president to salvage his country' image, credibility and goodwill which lie tattered all over the world. The writer is a former secretary interior E-mail: