The United States and other Western powers have generally been more successful in their interactions with lowland societies. While the United States is far from achieving stability in either Iraq or Syria, it has made significantly more progress on the desert terrain than it has in mountainous Afghanistan.
As for the future, an outsider’s default position should be to just leave mountain people alone. Unfortunately, there may be times, like the United States in the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, when a nation has to take action. In these situations, it is essential to keep in mind the historical record. Nation-building, even when done by the people of the mountain society, is a decades to centuries long struggle that will most likely fail to significantly alter their society. The United States needs to accept that punishment raids followed by campaigns focused on suppressing terrorist capabilities (“mowing the grass”) will be both more effective and cheaper.
Dr. T. X. Hammes is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the U. S. National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government.