“You know, win or lose, I gotta say I love my day job”: The Pashtun positive work ethic
I’ve been watching the news out of Afg—I like it spelled that way, “Afg”; kinda gets the spirit of the thing. The Afg news is simple: those Pashtun boys are keeping a hand in, having a good time, while they wait for a better offer.
A few weeks ago I read a story about a Stryker brigade leaving the Pashtun zone of Afghanistan. The funniest bit was this quote by a staff sergeant: “We set the tone there, and the biggest worry that my guys have is that what we did there will be forgotten. One thing is certain. If you ask the Taliban, they know who we are.” In my day they had a name for that kind of talk: selling woof tickets. It’s just plain sad when you leave a combat zone and the best you can say is that they won’t forget me, like some Summer Bible Study girl making the guy she held hands with in the pew swear he won’t forget her back home in Camarillo.
I’ll go one better, Sarge: they not only won’t remember you, they don’t even know who you are. They barely remember the British, even though the Brits were scary fuckers back then and most countries unlucky enough to get a visit from the Redcoats never forget it, if they’re lucky enough to still exist. It’s the Brits who remember Afg, not the other way around, because they left two armies chopped up on the road to Kabul, cut to pieces by the Pashtun.
Us? Not in the Brits’ league when it comes to Empire. I guarantee they won’t remember us ten years from now. They’ve forgotten the Russians already, 20 years after they slunk home, broke and beaten. It’s the Russians who remember Afg; the war in Afg was one of the bigger nails in the USSR’s coffin, and they left a good chunk of their total tank and APC production lying in the dust there. Barely made an impression on the Pashtun. Just another day at the office.
With us, they’re not even playing their A team. Seriously, they’re funning with us. You can see that if you read these stories carefully, with a cold eye. Here’s a classic example from that Stryker story, a little story about this local Pashtun kid whose heart’n’mind they won over, supposedly:
“A young boy came up to Outpost Outlaw with news of a buried bomb. Stick in hand, he took the soldiers to a trail a short distance away, but then seemed uncertain about just where to point. Finally, he gestured to a spot directly underneath the feet of Cpl. Wes Pfeil.
“Everybody kind of freaked out,” Pfeil recalled.
“The boy smiled and pulled a battery out of his pocket. He had already defused the bomb.”
The comedy here is so obvious I can’t believe the dipshit who wrote this thing even tried to pass it off as proof that the locals are coming around, warming up to us at last. This is open mike nite Pashtun style, the kid’s big debut. I bet the whole district was pissing itself laughing that night, the kid doing impressions: “Look, look, this is the Aliens’ faces when I show them the battery!” And the whole mud hut cracks up. Even the goats were laughing.
“We set the tone…” makes me sick. That’s not what Timur said after destroying Tokhtamysh’s empire. Timur was a man who didn’t worry too much about tone, just keeping the vultures fed. They still remember Timur in Herat, but they won’t remember us. Not even all the money we spent, because Afghans are not future software billionaires. They’ll spend it on guns or pretty little dancing boys, and it’ll all end up in the form of Muhajir merchant families, or the 32-foot Bayliners sitting in the driveway of some merc’s house in Tracy
One of the smelliest things about big-time journalism is the way they have to pretend everything’s serious. Like Afghanistan. Afghanistan is beach volleyball for people with no beach. Well, too much beach and not enough water. The typical Pashtun male is trained for life in Alexander’s day. In fact, like I’ve said before, if all these neocons who worship the Ancient Greeks, like Victor Davis Hanson, really want to know what their precious Greeks were like, those boy-fucking, throat-slitting, 400-verse war-song reciting founders of our glorious civilization and all that, they should go live in a Pashtun village. Get down and dirty with the true descendants of all those cleaned-up marble statues. These guys are not ready for economic prime time, and maybe they never will be. And maybe they don’t even want to be.
The Pashtun are not going to go out and start Smoothie franchises with cute green product names. They’re not going to design the next big Kinect game. They’re not going to get to wear the gold blazer for the Khyber Pass branch of Century 21. They have nowhere to go except Karachi, where Pashtun run the porter trade. Now that’s some monopoly, huh? Yessir, they’ve got that whole important industry sewn up tight, those wily Pashtun. So if you want a cushy job schlepping 400 pounds of knockoff polo shirts on your back in the hottest place in the world for a few rupees a day—well, you better be a Pashtun, baby! Maybe you can make a few extra rupees moonlighting as an extra in ANP riots, but there’s not much more money in that and you’re likely to end up stabbed to death by MQM goons.
And in return for that wonderful career opportunity, they’re supposed to give up two valuable stocks: their guns and their women. Granted, women aren’t their favorite livestock—there’re a lot of Pashtun proverbs like “Even a man’s own mother and sister are disgusting” which show the warm, gentle feeling they have toward wimmin—but they’re saleable, and that’s equity, the only equity your average Pashtun has. They’re supposed to let the women go free-range and hand in their RPGs and retrain for data entry—well I’ve been there and I’m telling you, don’t do it!
If I had that choice, I’d rather stay home and live the good old-fashioned way, keeping a good hard sandal on the womenfolks’ necks and moseying on over to the lookout point to take a few potshots at whatever crazy white people are visiting the valley this decade. In granddad’s stories it was the Brits, who could be dangerous. Now it’s these Americans, who are only dangerous when provoked—and the only thing that seems to provoke them is a wedding party. Anything else and they barely react. You’re even better off if it’s their German friends down there in the valley, because Germans aren’t even allowed to fire back for fear it might look kinda, you know, swastickey. So you can practice your marksmanship or do some tinkering with the fertilizer bombs in your three-goat garage with no fear of interruption.
Ho-hum: Just another day at the office for Mr. Pashtun and his colleagues
You may get killed, if the pilots circling up there haven’t had their wakey-pills yet and are in a bad mood. But what’s killing, after all? Not everybody has this death phobia like we have. The longer I look around the more I realize the attitude to dying I grew up in is weird…weird and pretty awful. The way I learned it in California, dying was proof you did something bad. Like smoked, or had a good time some other way. If you really lived right you wouldn’t die. Which is, now that I notice it, (a) a sure way to make dying even worse, and (b) just plain not true. We just don’t admit that jocks and marathon runners and CEOs die like every other stray dog by the freeway. The longer I live in CA…we’re fucked up, way more than anybody sees. You should see the faces at lunch. God damn, a war would do them good.
Maybe it’s all a lie, just a big media myth that we like being alive. If life is so great, how come it’s always been easy to recruit cannon fodder? That’s one thing you find in every era, every continent: nothing easier than getting young, healthy guys to get themselves killed. The peaceniks just say, “Oh, they were crazy, they were lied to, man….” Maybe they weren’t so dumb, just like maybe the Pashtun aren’t. Who says those millions of farm boys who joined up as soon as a war came along didn’t make a logical decision: “Duh…fifty more years of scratching at my lice and shoveling cow shit…versus a quick glorious death if we lose, and lotsa enemy villages full of implied consent if we win?” I know how I’d choose.
Well, the Pashtun are sensible people too. They don’t have much to lose, and they’re not that scared of dying. It’s not going to stop them having a little fun with us. What we’re offering them in return is just a flat-out lie—that bullshit about how they’ll transform in one or two generations, zoom to the top, shave and learn to write up a winning business plan and start their own fro-yo empire. They’re never going to make it that way. If you’re Chinese, say, you have good reason to want to sweep away Maoism and play yuppie. That’s all familiar territory for the Chinese. But come on–a Pashtun illiterate with no skills besides marksmanship and pedophilia is going to compete and win against a middle-class Delhi kid or a math whiz from Shanghai? That’s just a lie. The best he can hope for is maybe his kids can get porter jobs, getting kicked and called a sister-fucker and cheated by every Muhajir customer, then flop in an alley til dawn. They may be lice-crawling illiterate thugs, but they know a bad offer when they see it.
They’ve got nothing coming from the whole Thomas Friedman world, and they’d be fools to think they do. They’ve got a better business plan: the Stay-Thug Plan. There’s a lot of money in being dangerous these days. If North Korea proves one thing, it’s that right now raw crazy courage, plus total disconnect from the global economy, is a valuable commodity for about the first time in history. Because it’s rare, for about the first time in history. We were all Pashtuns once; they’re just old-school. And old-school is worth something if you hold onto it long enough. Hold out, you crazy Pashtun kiddie-fiddlers! The more you act out, the better deal you’ll end up getting. And that’s called playing the market, which these Flintsone-faced losers seem to understand, long-term, a lot better than the pundits that want them to sell low. They’ll get a much better buyout from the pipeline companies if they hold out another ten years doing what they do best, sniping and popping out babies and being dangerous.
There are a lot of rumors these days that Afghanistan is going to become “the Saudi Arabia of Lithium,” which supposedly means big money.
That whole “mineral wealth” story was planted in the NYT by the Pentagon, and planted so bush-league obvious that even tame stateside writers complained about it. So the whole thing is probably a lie. But let’s take it seriously for a second and assume there really is a whole Saudi’s worth of lithium, whatever that is, under that Afg dust.
Personally, all I know about Lithium is that my Uncle Frank was on it and it made him gain about 100 pounds—that’s on top of a svelte 290 or so before he went around the proverbial bend for good–but we still liked him better on lithium than off it, because whenever he went off it he lost the weight and went totally manic, decided he was two of the apostles—not one, see, two of them, used to answer the phone “Apostles Thomas and Peter residence,” and drank so much water he had a potassium OD and fainted and pissed himself, and me and my dad had to carry his saggy-skin smelly carcasse into the emergency room. So, yay for lithium. Dose every thug in Afg. with it; fatten’em up, slow’em down. Made him smell, too, Uncle Frank, but something tells me that won’t be a problem in Afg.
Anyway, suppose, and it’s a big “suppose,” that all this pathetic hype about Afg. mineral wealth is for real; well, first thing you notice is that the NYT article has a map of Afg. with the mineral-rich zones marked, and a lot of them are in the Pasthun areas, the south and east. That’s the kind of stuff that goes up in value at a time like this one, when every kid in Asia suddenly needs at least two cellphones. The smartest thing the Pashtuns could do is sit on the stuff, and sit hard, because pipeline companies and mining companies suck every drop of blood from patient, trusting locals, but pay big to suck the paydirt out of dangerous tribes’ territories.
So even if the NYT is right and today’s Pasthun sasquatch is tomorrow’s lithium millionaire, they’re still playing it smart by staying thug. They’re sitting on a non-renewable resource while the price goes up. In ten years every kid in Korea will be uncool if she owns less than ten cellphones and five iPads, and all those rare metals will be worth ten times what they are now.
The real lesson here is like the econ version of this really mean, horrible—and absolutely true—line from Luke: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 of the righteous.” I always hated that line in Sunday School, made me sick to my stomach. It was like some stepmom boasting right there in the living room about how she likes your handsome cool rebel brother better than you, no matter if you work five times harder than him. But even then, age six, I knew in my fat little bones it was absolutely true, one of those weird little moments when Jesus stops faking and laughs right in your face. And the Pashtun are the perfect free-market version of that horrible, true Scripture line. They’re the sinners here, and when they repent, sell off and get paid for it, there’ll be more joy in DC than there is over ten million hard-working Mexicans or Chinese who worked two jobs all their lives and never even got a traffic ticket. That’s what higher-ups love, thugs who flirt with them. The righteous they pay minimum wage, or less under the table, then laugh at.
So however you look at it, the Pashtun are playing it smart (even if it’s only by accident, or instinct. If only these free-market assholes really thought hard about the world, they’d see that, and we’d get self-help books like “Lice, Goats and an AK: The Pashtun Pattern for Winning CEOs.”
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