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‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive’,

observed Holmes to the astounded Watson,

having noted that the doctor’s face spoke

‘of hardship and sickness’. He had seen action

in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which,

like the First was all about The Great Game

and Russia, and both, like the Third, all

about the British Raj, that Jewel in the Crown,

and Afghan monarchs that might be cajoled

with sufficient treasure or sufficient blood,

while the true rulers, the tribal elders

of the ethnic groups, parleyed with all sides.


The Great Game continues, and with new players:

America, China, Iran, Pakistan,

Saudi Arabia. Are Taliban –

who, as some predicted never went away,

but fought a twenty year insurgency –

aka Mujahideen aka

‘freedom fighters’ (to quote Margaret Thatcher),

and the well-funded, so-called Islamic State –

that movable terror, that mobile nihilism –

pawns in the new game,

useful idiots in the exploitation

of the country’s many mineral fields?


Those who brought Enduring Freedom chose

not to eradicate polio

but supplied electricity throughout

enabling scenes of havoc and mayhem

to be broadcast on WhatsApp and Instagram.

So, record the lies about Afghanistan –

hypocritical, self-serving untruths,

which ignore the torture at Bagram Air Base,

which prioritise the lives of dogs. Record

that the liars are mostly privileged,

sanctimonious, nostalgic, white

imperialists, some moonlighting as hacks.


The Fourth war has masqueraded under

two different euphemisms,

Operation Herrick and then Toral,

and been fought with allies – with Nato,

and the erstwhile Afghan Army and Police –

and achieved no discernible victories,

no battle honours only body bags,

only more of the maimed and the desperate,

only incompetence and abandonment –

against lightly-armed zealots on Chinese-made

Honda motor bikes with a seemingly

endless supply of imported fuel

financed by hectares of exported drugs,

and for whom aspects of criminality,

particularly towards women and girls,

appear a brutal and sacred duty,

in a poor country corrupted with money,

a Ponzi scheme for foreign consultants.


Although its capital city, Kabul,

remains the only one in the world

without a railway station, the trade

in opium and hashish has blossomed,

Afghanistan becoming the world leader –

which might have rendered even Holmes speechless.





© Copyright David Selzer
4 Responses
  • Gerald Kelly
    September 30, 2021

    David, your ‘Saeva Indignatio’ is worthy of Swift! Oh for politicians and generals who have read history! It’s all in William Dalrymple’s ‘Return Of A King’ and the words of Pete Seeger “When will they ever learn?”

  • Mary Clark
    October 1, 2021

    That’s an apt characterization of Taliban as “moveable terror, mobile nihilism.” And to leave out the “the” shows you know Taliban means “The Students.” Such a perverse use of the word and idea of “students.” I almost feel sorry for Iran and China now. The polio campaign was marred by using a live vaccine (who does that anymore, was it deliberate or carelessness?) and making people sick. Still, I mourn the women and girls and men who supported them who are being swept under by the tides of history. I’m sure the U.S. and U.K. will rewrite history to make it sound like a noble experiment.

  • David Selzer
    October 1, 2021

    I think the re-writing of history began as soon as it became clear Taliban had never actually been defeated and a motley crew on both sides of the Atlantic, including John Bolton, argued that the US et al should have stayed forever!

    Those Afghans who thought Afghanistan had been invaded so they might be free at last and forever have been duped – which, I think, is rather Joe Biden’s point.

  • Alan Horne
    October 4, 2021

    Quite right, David. I imagine the opium-financed outcome in Afghanistan would afford Holmes another argument when Watson next has a go at his use of cocaine.

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