The story of American support for the mujahedeen must be instructive for Israelis. With rare exceptions, Afghani mujahedeen militias are a remarkably murderous bunch. While generally refraining from alienating the neighboring population, they often engage in grisly atrocities against less supportive segments. American officials never did so much as scold the Northern Alliance publicly for their human rights violations. Israel, however, is constantly investigated for ridiculously minor transgressions. The Northern Alliance’s secret is threefold: its atrocities are sufficiently gross that reforming its policies is not an option—and diplomats do not like to involve themselves with thankless tasks. Reporters also are not permitted into areas where atrocities have been committed, and the atrocities are large enough to turn from human tragedy into statistics. The American-propped Kabul government is rotten: not only does it incorporate a number of high-profile thugs, but many Taliban fighters and commanders joined the Northern Alliance’s forces, tilting them still further toward fundamentalism. Afghanis, like other wild peoples, cannot afford moralism; they are notoriously pragmatic. Afghanis have no stories like those of Mucius Scaevola, or the Jewish teenagers who ascended British gallows refusing to ask for pardons. They easily cooperate with the dominant power and switch alliances quickly. It wouldn’t take weeks of soul-searching for the mujahedeen to switch from democratic America to Islamic fundamentalists.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism cannot be prevented in Afghanistan. Very poor people who strive to survive have no time for excessive religiosity. Affluent people have no need for it. The danger of fundamentalism arises when a society is in transition: people need firm values to cling to and can afford them. With American aid, urban Afghanis came to this stage, just like the Palestinians.

Americans dislike the Taliban, but Afghanis felt gratitude to the bearded fellows who brought order to their land. After decades of civil war—sponsored by Russia and the United States—Afghanistan became a lawless territory roamed by murderous gangs. America and Russia shed fake tears over Israel killing a few Palestinians, but close to two million Afghanis died in the war they fanned for thirty years. The Taliban brought a welcome respite from the murder at the low cost of fundamentalist Islamic observance. For the West to condemn their oppression of women is hypocritical: it was only recently that women were allowed to vote in America and France. Afghani society, centuries behind the West, can be allowed a few more restrictions. The Taliban restricted female access to higher education, an avenue pursued by a tiny minority in any case, but at least it shielded the women from rampaging rape by mujahedeen, which is now widespread again. The ubiquity of rape by Islamic fighters confirms that unrealized sexual drive is a major force behind militant Islam, and the West can channel the Muslims’ energies more cheaply and efficiently by distributing pornography.

There is little doubt that Afghanis would welcome the Taliban back, either in free elections or a military campaign after the Americans finally leave. The Taliban’s hold on Pakistan’s border regions provides it with cash.: As the anarchy increases in Afghanistan, the Taliban return to their old business of convoy protection. Remarkably honest and willing to risk their lives for their clients’ cargo, the Taliban push the convoys through numerous illegal checkpoints erected by local mujahedeen for racketeering. It is curious that the United States objects so vehemently to Israeli anti-terrorist checkpoints in the West Bank, but has basically accepted the numerous checkpoints dotting Afghani roads. Reportedly the Taliban also receives significant income from local levies and poppy trade. When the Americans leave, the Taliban is fully capable of recapturing Afghanistan. Pakistan would also prefer them in Afghanistan rather than on its own border areas. The reasoning goes that once the Taliban gets its own state, Islamic fundamentalists will be less inclined to capture the Pakistani regions; or at least they will be easier to fight: Pakistan can then retaliate against Afghanistan rather than its own population centers. Pakistan also prefers an Islamic rather than a Pashtun nationalistic government in Kabul because the Pashtuns would claim the Pakistani Northwestern Frontier settled by their kinsmen. Pakistan is not yet ready to recognize the wisdom of relinquishing their unruly border area to Afghanistan.

The American crackdown on the Taliban was senseless. They are an orderly bunch, which is a major advantage in a lawless territory. Unlike the Northern Alliance gangsters, the Taliban keep their word, don’t switch alliances easily, and are fairly predictable. Never did they engage in the mass murder or tortures typical of the Alliance gangs. Answering to the West’s call to curb opium production, the Taliban quickly eradicated poppy plantations in Afghanistan; at the same time, the size of the plantations tripled in the territory held by the Alliance. Still, America sided with known thugs and drug lords against decent Islamists.

Sure, everyone would prefer a liberal government in Kabul, but in practice, there can be no government at all. Afghanistan is a tribal area unsuitable for central rule. Monarchy is no longer an option: saturated with weapons, Afghanistan is no longer a patriarchal society based on mutual respect. The real choice is between uniting the country under the banner of Islam and breaking it into independent areas ruled by feudal warlords. As Islamists take over the border areas of Pakistan, it would be natural for them to demand a Pashtun state which carves its territory from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The balance of Afghanistan falls into Tajikistan’s sphere of influence.

There is not a chance for democracy to work in Afghanistan, a country grossly fragmented ethnically. Though Pashtuns are by far the largest group, a number of smaller ethnic groups together constitute the majority. In district (majoritarian) elections Pashtuns assuredly take hold of the country and push other groups out of the government. In nationwide (proportional) elections Pashtuns always lose and turn to fighting. A parliament based on ethnic quotas has little to do with democracy, and in any case ignores the smaller groups.