Is the death of Osama Bin Laden going to make any difference to the war in Afghanistan? Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said it might be a game changer. His man in eastern Afghanistan, Maj Gen John Campbell, said that maybe it would make the Taliban reconsider its symbiotic relationship with Al-Qaeda. Symbiotic is a good word for the relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but it does not mean synonymous. Al-Qaeda is a loose conglomeration of international terrorists. The Taliban, on the other hand, is dominated by Pashtuns, they account for nearly half of Afghanistans ethnic and tribal mosaic, and are the countrys largest ethnic group as well as its traditional rulers. Al-Qaeda has global reach and ambitions. The Afghan Taliban wants to restore Pashtun rule in Afghanistan and has few global ambitions. There were no Pashtuns, or any other type of Afghan, on the planes that flew into the World Trade Centre, albeit there is evidence now, after 10 years of war, that the Taliban may be moving into to the international terrorism game as it spreads beyond the Pashtun heartland. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban found each other useful when Mullah Muhammad Omar and the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. But toward the end, when it was clear that Osama Bin Laden was becoming a detriment to the Taliban and Afghanistan, Mullah Omar tried to find a graceful way to get him to leave. The ancient code of Pashtunwali, a strict code of hospitality which requires, among other things, that you not hand your guests over to their enemies, led Mullah Omar to reject requests to hand over Bin Laden. But if another place could be found for Bin Laden, then Mullah Omar would not be breaking the Pashtun code. Hearing that a Chechen leader had offered Bin Laden hospitality, Mullah Omar inquired if Chechnya could be reached by road. The Taliban leaders back then were not sophisticated men, and knew little about the world at large. When asked if Bin Laden could fly to Chechnya, he was reminded that a UN embargo meant that no international flight could land in Afghanistan. When Bin Laden and Mullah Omar did leave Afghanistan, it was on horseback, and they were both on the run. But the code of hospitality was no longer Mullah Omars problem. The symbiosis between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban continued because both were now fighting the United States. There also had been intermarriages between Al-Qaeda Arabs and Pashtuns. But the mistake the United States made was to turn its justified attacks against Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda into a 10-year war against the Taliban - to treat both groups as synonymous rather than symbiotic. America risked the war morphing it into a war against the Pashtuns. Richard Holbrooke was roundly criticised for saying that the Taliban was woven deep into the fabric of Pashtun society, but he was right. That doesnt mean that all Pashtuns are Taliban, but as the war drags on, and as long as the Pashtuns remain under-represented in the Kabul government, the war becomes more and more a nationalistic struggle for the Pashtuns. Of all the worlds people to get into a fight with, the Pashtuns would be my last choice. Resisting foreigners has been their forte for a couple of hundred years. The British were never able to completely subdue them on the Northwest frontier of what was then India, and the Russians found them indomitable as well. In the eyes of many Pashtuns, the United States and NATO are simply the new Russians, foreign soldiers to be resisted. So it is not at all clear that Bin Ladens death will make much difference to that equation. In Washington, even before Bin Ladens death, there were questions building about how many troops to bring home and how many should remain fighting Americas longest war. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that trying to remake the economic, political and security culture of Afghanistan is an ambitious goal beyond our power. Kerrys concerns echoed what Churchill had to say more than 100 years ago when the British Empire was expanding into Pashtun lands. Addressing what was then called the forward policy for subduing the Pashtuns by force, he said the goal might be admirable, but we have neither the troops nor the money to carry it out. New York Times