Did the Treaty of Versailles have anything to do with Afghanistan? Well no, not directly, but the inherent attitude that permeated the Versailles Treaty did.
You see, throughout most of the last half of the 19th century the British Empire and the Russian Empire were locked in what became known as the Great Game. They were fighting for control over the area that would become known as Afghanistan. The British wanted to secure their northern frontier in India, and the Russians wanted to continue their march towards a warm water port.
As they signed various treaties with one another, and certain Afghan Tribes they drew up boundaries for a country, that had never been a country. To make matters worse the British signed a treaty with Emir Khan of Afghanistan in 1893 laying out the Durand Line. This was supposed to designate the line in the sand between the Afghan Tribes and Pakistan. The British had fought battle after battle with the Afghan Tribes that had not fared well for them. Establishing a border was seen as a way to secure their possessions within present day Pakistan.
But what did this line in the sand do? Well it doesn't exist. It is just that, a line in the sand. To make matters worse, it split the Pashtun Super Tribes in two between Afghanistan and Pakistan. People in the
present day talk about securing the border. But what must be understood is that this border is an artificial demarcation in the middle of a tribal homeland, that they have crossed back and forth over for generations.
The second part of this problem is that power was vested in the Pashtun Tribes from the beginning since they were the dominant tribe in the south, and had secured most of southern Afghanistan. This did not take into account lands and ethic groups / tribes that were north of the Hindu Kush Mountains, namely the Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek. From 1919 on, when the British fully gave sovereign power to Amanullah the current leader in Afghanistan, they sought to put these northern tribes under their control. This led to many grievances between these northern tribes and the Pashtuns.
Finally, from 1919 until present day, every major power that has entered Afghanistan has tried the same thing to establish government. This model, was exactly what was tried in places such as Iraq and Trans-Jordan after World War One with the Treaty Of Versailles. A strong central government is created, this government tries to assert its power and control over the tribes and local people, and create changes in their culture to make them more western.
In some examples this worked for a time being. In Afghanistan, this has not worked. In every single attempt at creating strong central government, that government has tried to change the people, and the people have risen up in insurgencies against them.
These are the challenges that we still face today. How do you help structure a government in a country that has historically favored local level tribal leadership and governance? How do you establish economic infrastructure and revenue sharing in this environment? How do you deal with the fact that the identity of, "Afghanistan", is still developing and many people still see themselves as a member of their tribe vice the nation?
These questions plague us today in Afghanistan, and in many ways were created by the attitudes and ideas put forth by the colonial powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The endeavors that we are undertaking currently are in many ways righting improper political and international relations decisions that were made almost a century ago.
God Bless America
A Major's Perspective©2009, MAJ C. One, all rights reserved.