With Taliban once again resurgent in Afghanistan, one is reminded of Robert Michael Gates’ words that he spoke at a press conference in Kabul in March 2010 as the 22nd Secretary of Defense of United States of America. He said:

“There is still much fighting ahead, and there will assuredly be more dark days….but there is reason to be hopeful that Afghan and coalition forces can rout the hardest elements of the Taliban and establish security for the rest of the population.”

‘Rout’, he said. What then, had this scribe asked him in one of his columns at the time!

Now as the Taliban specter rises yet again over Afghanistan, Robert Michael Gates, still hale and hearty, and his successors need to go to a game of Buzkashi in Afghanistan.

A time-honored game of the steppe people in Central Asian region, Buzkashi is a wild sport. Skilled riders attempt to grab the carcass of a headless goat from the ground while riding a horse at full gallop. The aim is to get clear of other players and throw it across a goal line or into a target circle.

From Scythians, Bactrians and Aryans to the later Arachosians, many civilizations of the yore have played the game of Buzkashi for countless centuries over the region with Afghanistan being the prized carcass. In time, from Median and Persian Empires to Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, the Indians, the Turks and the Mongols, a host of other people appeared on the horizons to join the game on one side or the other. No sooner would one team exit than another would join the pursuit. Called the Great Game in recent times, the blood sport was continued with old fervor by the British, the Soviets, and most recently by the United States and their allies.

Vested interests then and vested interests now have been the chief aim of the invading teams all along. The invaders and the defenders, though, have been responding to various rallying cries. The leaders of the time sounded these calls from bullhorns of ideologies as diverse as of Pre-Zoroastrian to post-Zoroastrian Iranian to Buddhist to Hindu to Islamic Jihad calls to an out and out appeal to lust for spoils of war to the ‘War on Terror’ of recent years.

Historically, however, in Afghanistan the winning sides stayed the winners for short spans of time. They came, they won, they sparkled for a brief moment and then faded into the mist of times as if they never were. After a brief revival period of an expectant lull, the game would start afresh. In the recent game, almost at its frayed end now, America and its allies were on one side and most of the rest on the other.

There is only one consistent lesson one learns from the eons long game played over Afghanistan with brief respites. Everyone bled then, everyone bleeds now and everyone will bleed long after the current spell of the game is over whatever the outcome and whatever the American decisions to affect that outcome.

The Afghans are bleeding because their social fabric is of a society that, though held loosely by a common religion, is interwoven with strong strands of racial animosities. And they will bleed because carrying these enmities they sit on a part of real estate whose geopolitical importance to the Empire builders, present and aspiring, only increases with each passing day. Their attitude, the Afghans will not change, and their geography, they cannot. They will thus remain a battleground on which ideologies, greed and politics of various regional and alien interests will continue to clash till the Afghans decide to bring a change from within.

The neighbors, Pakistan being the case in point, are bleeding because in their quest for ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, and with a not-so-subtle a nudge from their masters one hastens to add, they reared a breed of foot soldiers on divine diet of hate to defeat the Soviets. And they will bleed because, with the strategic depth now having become a strategic blunder that threatens their very existence, they neither know how to deprogram the zombies nor to explain to them why heaven and its resident hoories were promised as a reward in the fight against the ‘godless’ Russians but not any more when fighting the ‘infidel’ Americans and their local sidekicks.

For the Americans, however, the situation is especially ironic. Firstly, as a fool returns to his folly, the Americans came back to kill their own creations i.e. the Taliban. Secondly, if turmoil and insecurity indeed were the reasons the Americans initially came to Afghanistan, as they would like the world to believe, it makes no sense to now leave in greater disarray not only that country but also almost the entire surrounding region---not to mention the increasing insecurity of their own country. Yet they cannot stay on for reasons obvious enough to even fresh entrants into the State Department. They stay and fight, they bleed. They quit and run, they bleed. They do neither, they bleed. Talk of double binds!

The Americans and their allies are bleeding because they tried to conquer a land of which they neither know the culture, nor the custom, nor the religion nor the heady brew that the three things make. They can succeed only if they ruin the Afghans into oblivion, a physical impossibility, or reside here in person, which they cannot forever, or permit them to live under their own laws by establishing within it a cabal that will keep it friendly to them, something already tried and miserably failed at.

And they will bleed for a whole range of reasons. They will bleed because they don’t let go of easily where they once implant their handgrip and because of the energy, sapped of which as they already are, required to hold fast onto distant lands inhabited by alien peoples. And if they decide to depart leaving behind a few garrisons and a toady regime, they will bleed not only because of the nerve wracking wariness required to remaining alert to another great power starting a fresh spell of the game but also due to the resources wasted in the continuous long range knee-jerking that false alarms tend to induce from afar.

All the same, once the present game of Buzkashi is over, with the wasted heroes lowered in to their graves in flag draped caskets, the politicians, the Generals and the Mullahs will promptly wash the blood off their hands with well worded sorrow. The remaining foot soldiers, called the choppendoz in Buzkashi, will await the call from the bullhorn for the next bleeding round.

Everyone bleeds in Afghanistan.