The Best News Out of Afghanistan

The mistakes made were tragic. But the lessons learned can be valuable

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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The next best news is that we don't have to spend so much time wringing our hands about the Pakistanis anymore. To be sure, Pakistan remains the most dangerous country in the world, far more dangerous, potentially, than Iran. It has a nuclear arsenal of perhaps 100 warheads--and a history of Islamist military coups. It also has a history of foreign policy chicanery, delusion and paranoia. If there were a Pakistani leader with a fraction of, say, Benjamin Netanyahu's knowledge of American politics, Pakistan never would have closed the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and demanded an apology from Barack Obama for the incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by American fire in a cross-border artillery duel last November. For one thing, the Pakistanis fired first. For another, Obama isn't going to apologize for anything in the midst of a presidential campaign in which his opponent has attacked him, falsely, for engaging in a global "apology tour."

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate estimated that the NATO effort in Afghanistan would survive only 10 to 15 days if Pakistan closed the transport routes. That proved to be ridiculous. "And it is costing Pakistan more than it is NATO," says one regional expert. "The Pakistani truckers are suffering." But then, Pakistan's miscalculations have been legion. It harbored Osama bin Laden and armed Taliban factions, like the Haqqanis, in the mistaken belief that we'd never find out or that we needed Pakistan too much to do anything about it. The truth is, our need for an alliance with Pakistan is marginal. India is a more reliable partner in the region.

We have learned a great deal in the past 11 years. We have learned about the power of ethnicity, sectarianism and, above all, geography. We've learned of the impotence of Western imperial inventions like the cobbled-together nonstates of Iraq and Pakistan. We've learned that Southwest Asia is no more hospitable to Western expeditionary forces than Southeast Asia was. Perhaps, in the process, we've also learned something about the importance of humility as we make our way in the world.

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