Afghanistan: Ten Years of Aimless War

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Eric Margolis

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A boy rides a bike along a road in Kabul October 12, 2011. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Operation Enduring Freedom – the dreadfully misnamed ten-year US occupation of Afghanistan – has turned into Operation Enduring Misery.

The renowned military strategist, Maj. Gen. J.F.C Fuller, defined war’s true objective as achieving desired political results, not killing enemies.

But this is just what the US has been doing in Afghanistan. After ten years of war costing at least $450 billion, 1,600 dead and 15,000 seriously wounded soldiers, the US has achieved none of its strategic or political goals.

Each US soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per annum. CIA employs 80,000 mercenaries there, cost unknown. The US spends a staggering $20.2 billion alone annually air conditioning troop quarters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The most damning assessment comes from the US-installed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai: America’s war has been “ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties.”
Washington’s goal was a favorable political settlement producing a pacified Afghan state run by a regime totally responsive to US political, economic and strategic interests; a native sepoy army led by white officers; and US bases that threaten Iran, watch China, and control the energy-rich Caspian Basin.

All the claims made about fighting “terrorism and al-Qaida,” liberating Afghan women and bringing democracy are pro-war window dressing. CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there were no more than 25-50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. Why are there 150,000 US and NATO troops there?

Washington’s real objective was clearly defined in 2007 by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher: to “stabilize Afghanistan so it can become a conduit and hub between South and Central Asia – so energy can flow south.”

The Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan TAPI gas pipeline that the US has sought since 1998 is finally nearing completion. But whether it can operate in the face of sabotage remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Washington has been unable to create a stable government in Kabul. The primary reason: ethnic politics. Over half the population is Pashtun (or Pathan), from whose ranks come Taliban. Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities fiercely oppose the Pashtun. All three collaborated with the Soviet occupation from 1979-1989; today they collaborate with the US and NATO occupation.

Most of the Afghan army and police, on which the US spends $6 billion annually, are Tajiks and Uzbek, many members of the old Afghan Communist Party. To Pashtun, they are bitter enemies. In Afghanistan, the US has built its political house on ethnic quicksands.

Worse, US-run Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world’s most dangerous narcotic, heroin. Under Taliban, drug production virtually ended, according to the UN. Today, the Afghan drug business is booming.

The US tries to blame Taliban; but the real culprits are high government officials in Kabul and US-backed warlords.

A senior UN drug official recently asserted that Afghan heroin killed 10,000 people in NATO countries last year. And this does not include Russia, a primary destination for Afghan heroin.

So the United States is now the proud owner of the world’s leading narco-state and deeply involved with the Afghan Tajik drug mafia.

The US is bleeding billions in Afghanistan. Forty-four cents of every dollar spent by Washington is borrowed from China and Japan. While the US has wasted $1.283 trillion on the so-called “war on terror,” China has been busy buying up resources and making new friends and markets.

The ghost of Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

The US can’t afford this endless war against the fierce Pashtun people, renowned for making Afghanistan “the Graveyard of Empires.” But the imperial establishment in Washington wants to hold on to strategic Afghanistan, particularly the ex-Soviet air bases at Bagram and Kandahar. The US is building its biggest embassy in the world in Kabul, an $800 million fortress with 1,000 personnel, protected by a small army of mercenary gunmen. So much for withdrawal plans.

The stumbling, confused US war in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than the two world wars. The former US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, just said Washington’s view of that nation is “frighteningly simplistic.” That’s an understatement.

Facing the possibility of stalemate or even defeat in Afghanistan, Washington is trying to push India deeper into the conflict. This desperate ploy, and nurturing ethnic conflict, will ensure another decade of misery for Afghanistan.

Columnist and author Eric Margolis is a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation orDomination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World

He is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles appear in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times and other news sites in Asia.

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Pakistan ‘Punished’ in Pipelineistan

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Pepe Escobar

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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari during an official meeting in Tehran June 24, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Before the end of 2011, Pakistan will start working on its stretch of the IP (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline – according to Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. The
1,092 kilometers of pipeline on the Iranian side are already in place.

IP, also known as “the peace pipeline”, was originally IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). Although it badly needs gas for its economic expansion, faced with immense pressure by the George W Bush – and then Barack Obama – administrations, India still has not committed to the project, even after a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008.
More than 740 million cubic feet of gas per year will start flowing to Pakistan from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf by 2014. This is an immense development in the Pipelineistan “wars” in Eurasia. IP is a major node in the much-vaunted Asian Energy Security Grid – the progressive energy integration of Southwest, South, Central and East Asia that is the ultimate mantra for Eurasian players as diverse as Iran, China, India and the Central Asian “stans”.

Pakistan is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the grid. Becoming an energy transit country is Pakistan’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to transition from a near-failed state into an “energy corridor” to Asia and, why not, global markets.

And as pipelines function as an umbilical cord, the heart of the matter is that IP, and maybe IPI in the future, will do more than any form of US “aid” (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Obama’s AfPak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

Another ‘axis of evil’?

This Pipelineistan development may go a long way to explain why the White House announced this past Sunday it was postponing US$800 million in military aid to Islamabad – more than a third of the annual such largess Pakistan receives from the US.

The burgeoning Pakistan-bashing industry in Washington may spin this as punishment related to the never-ending saga of Osama bin Laden being sheltered so close to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. But the measure may smack of desperation – and on top it do absolutely nothing to convince the Pakistani army to follow Washington’s agenda uncritically.

On Monday, the US State Department stressed once again that Washington expected Islamabad to do more in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency – otherwise it would not get its “aid” back. The usual diplomatic doublespeak of “constructive, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship” remains on show – but that cannot mask the growing mistrust on both sides. The Pakistani military confirmed on the record it had not been warned of the “suspension”.

No less than $300 million of this blocked $800 million is for “American trainers” – that is, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency brigade.

Moreover, Islamabad had already asked Washington not to send these people anymore; the fact is their methods are useless to fight the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked jihadis based in the tribal areas. Not to mention the preferred US method is the killer drone anyway.

The wall of mistrust is bound to reach Himalaya/Karakoram/Pamir proportions. Washington only sees Pakistan in “war on terror”, counter-terrorism terms. Since the coupling of the AfPak combo by the Obama administration, clearly Washington’s top war is in Pakistan – not in Afghanistan, which harbors just a handful of al-Qaeda jihadis.

Most “high-value al-Qaeda targets” are in the tribal areas in Pakistan – and they are, in a curious parallel to the Americans, essentially trainers. As for Afghanistan, it is most of all a neo-colonial North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war against a Pashtun-majority “national liberation” movement – as Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself defined it.

Asia Times Online’s Saleem Shahzad – murdered in May – argued in his book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban (full review coming later this week) that al-Qaeda’s master coup over the past few years was to fully relocate to the tribal areas, strengthen the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), and in a nutshell coordinate a massive Pashtun guerrilla war against the Pakistani army and the Americans – as a diversionist tactic. Al-Qaeda’s agenda – to export its caliphate-bound ideology to other parts of South and Central Asia – has nothing to do with the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban, who fight to go back to power in Afghanistan.

Washington for its part wants a “stable” Afghanistan led by a convenient puppet, Hamid Karzai-style – so the holy grail (since the mid-1990s) can be achieved; the construction of IP’s rival, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, bypassing “evil” Iran.

And as far as Pakistan is concerned, Washington wants it to smash the Pashtun guerrillas inside their territory; otherwise the tribal areas will keep being droned to death – literally, with no regard whatsoever to territorial integrity.

No wonder the wall of mistrust will keep rising, because Islamabad’s agenda is not bound to change anytime soon. Pakistan’s Afghan policy implies Afghanistan as a vassal state – with a very weak military (what the US calls the Afghan National Force) and especially always unstable, and thus incapable of attacking the real heart of the matter: the Pashtunistan issue.

For Islamabad, Pashtun nationalism is an existential threat. So the Pakistani army may fight the Tehrik-e-Taliban-style Pashtun guerrillas, but with extreme care; otherwise Pashtuns on both side of the border may unite en masse and make a push to destabilize Islamabad for good.

On the other had, what Islamabad wants for Afghanistan is the Taliban back in power – just like the good old days of 1996-2001. That’s the opposite of what Washington wants; a long-range occupation, preferably via NATO, so the alliance may protect the TAPI pipeline, if it ever gets built. Moreover, for Washington “losing” Afghanistan and its key network of military bases so close to both China and Russia is simply unthinkable – according to the Pentagon’s full-spectrum dominance doctrine.

What’s going on at the moment is a complex war of positioning.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy – which also implies containing Indian influence in Afghanistan – won’t change. The Afghan Taliban will keep being encouraged as potential long-term allies – in the name of the unalterable “strategic depth” doctrine – and India will keep being regarded as the top strategic priority.

What IP will do is to embolden Islamabad even more – with Pakistan finally becoming a key transit corridor for Iranian gas, apart from using gas for its own needs. If India finally decides against IPI, China is ready to step on board – and build an extension from IP, parallel to the Karakoram highway, towards Xinjiang.

Either way, Pakistan wins – especially with increasing Chinese investment. Or with further Chinese military “aid”. That’s why the Pakistani army’s “suspension” by Washington is not bound to rattle too many nerves in Islamabad.

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