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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“US Is Destroying Pakistan”

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: ‘America is destroying Pakistan. We’re using our army to kill our own people with their money’

The Pakistani cricketing legend and politician talks about his country’s damaging relationship with the US, how aid and corruption are further ruining it — and how he is sure he will be its next president

By Stuart Jeffries

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File:  Imran Khan

When Barack Obama announced in May that American commandos had killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Imran Khan was furious. “The whole of Pakistan felt this way. Wherever I went I felt this humiliation and anger in people. It was humiliating because an American president announces it, not our president. And because it was the American military, not our military, which this country has given great sacrifices to nurture, that killed him.”

Khan stirs his cappuccino angrily. “Most humiliating of all was that the CIA chief Panetta says that the Pakistan government was either incompetent or complicit. Complicit!” But surely Leon Panetta had a point, didn’t he? The world’s most wanted man was living a mile from Pakistan’s military academy, not in some obscure cave. “They’re talking about a country in which 35,000 people have died during a war that had nothing to do with us. Ours is perhaps the only country in history that keeps getting bombed, through drone attacks, by our ally.”

Khan’s rage is directed not chiefly at Obama’s administration but at successive Pakistani governments for entrapping his homeland in a dismal cycle of immiseration and mass deaths for the past eight years by supporting the war on terror in return for billions of dollars of financial aid. The manner of Bin Laden’s killing and the national shame of its aftermath typify for Khan how Pakistan has never properly learned to stand on its own two feet. He calls it an era of neocolonialism in which Pakistan’s people seem destined to suffer as much as, if not more than, they did during British colonial rule.

“According to the government economic survey in Pakistan, $70bn has been lost to the economy because of this war. Total aid has been barely $20bn. Aid has gone to the ruling elite, while the people have lost $70bn. We have lost 35,000 lives and as many maimed — and then to be said to be complicit. The shame of it!”

Arguably Khan is benefiting from that anger. The legendary cricketer turned politician hopes — even expects — to become Pakistan’s next prime minister. “Every poll has shown the gap widening between us and other parties.” He is modest about his impact on the polls: “It’s not what I have done, it’s that they have got discredited. These are the best of times and the worst of times. The best of it is that people are hungry for a change.”

I sip the tea that his ex-wife, Jemima Khan née Goldsmith, has just handed me. We’re sitting on huge sofas in the vast living room-cum-kitchen of her opulent west London home. He’s here to see his two sons, Sulaiman Isa, 14, and Kasim 12, who live with their mother, when they return from school. Later this evening he will fly home to Islamabad.

Jemima retreats upstairs so that her ex and I can analyse what went wrong with his country — and the couple’s marriage. Understandably, Khan would rather talk about the former.

He recalls his greatest cricketing achievement as Pakistani team captain, winning the 1992 World Cup. Perhaps the 2012 Pakistani election will eclipse that triumph. “I played five World Cups and it was only in the last World Cup before we won [in 1992] that I said:

‘Put money on us.’ Now I’m saying my party will win. I’m throwing everyone a challenge that nothing can stop this party. Nothing.”

Perhaps. But Pakistani politics, to hear Khan talk, isn’t cricket. “To have a senior post in the government, you have to have a criminal record.” I laugh. Surely not? He names ministers who have. This was one consequence of ex-president Pervez Musharraf’s 2007 National Conciliation Ordinance that gave amnesties to many politicians (including former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan as a result and was shortly afterwards assassinated). “He did the greatest disservice to us by that ordinance. And guess what — it was brokered by the Bush administration.

“My country can barely stoop any lower. All you need to do with a senior politician today is look at his assets before he came into politics and look at them after and you know why they’re there. My party is made up of people who don’t need politics. You need people who don’t need politics to make money.” But surely that implies government by gentry, by people who are independently wealthy? “Or people who are not necessarily wealthy but who are in a profession and are doing quite well out of it outside politics. Career politicians have destroyed our country.”

I take a sidelong glance at Imran Khan. He’s a young, fit-looking 58, dressed in western playboy uniform (jeans, sports jacket, big-collared open-neck shirt), but with an imposingly stern face that he may have inherited from the Pashtun ancestors on his mother’s side of the family. He claims to be shy and introverted, but to me he conveys the enviably easy assuredness typical of English public schoolboys. Indeed, Khan is steeped in that ethos: he was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore, a so-called English-medium school, before being sent to England to study at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, and then read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. Ironically, one of his party’s policies is that elite schools such as Aitchison should be abolished for being inegalitarian.

If this cricketing legend did become Pakistan’s prime minister, it would involve a remarkable turn around in fortunes. In his early test-cricketing days, he was called Imran Khan’t — and that nickname applied too to his political career. Ever since he established his political party Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) in 1996, Khan has fared abysmally. Even the Guardian’s Declan Walsh described him in 2005 as making a “miserable politician. Khan’s ideas and affiliations since entering politics in 1996 have swerved and skidded like a rickshaw in a rain shower.”

Khan may have been a brilliant cricketer who for 21 years until retirement in 1992 made Pakistan a leading force in the international game. He may have once been renowned as a soigné habitué of toff nightclubs such as Annabel’s and Tramp in the 1980s, and as the playboy who romanced debutantes Susannah Constantine, Lady Liza Campbell and the artist Emma Sergeant. But is he really the man to lead Pakistan from what he calls “the the edge of collapse”?

He, at least, thinks so. “The old parties are all petrified of me now.

They all want to make alliances with me and I say: ‘No, I’m going to fight all of you together because you’re all the same.’”

Excellent. But how does he propose to effect what he calls a soft revolution in Pakistan? “Oh hawk,” he replies unexpectedly, “death is better than that livelihood that stops you ascending.” He is quoting a verse from his favourite poet and philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who died in 1938 and so missed both Pakistan’s birth, its rule by dicators and corrupt dynasties, and its current ignominy.

How do Iqbal’s words apply to modern Pakistan? “I take them to mean anything that comes with strings attached damages your self-esteem and self-respect — you’d better die than take it,” says Khan. “A country that relies on aid? Death is better than that. It stops you from achieving your potential, just as colonialism did. Aid is humiliating.

Every country I know that has had IMF or World Bank programmes has only impoverished the poor and enriched the rich.” And American aid, he argues, has had a calamitous effect on his homeland.
What Khan is planning politically echoes what he did in cricket.

“Colonialism deprives you of your self-esteem and to get it back you have to fight to redress the balance,” he says. “I know for myself and my contemporaries Viv Richards [the great West Indies batsman] and Sunil Gavaskar [the no-less-great Indian batsman] beating the English at cricket was a means of doing that. We wanted to assert our equality on the cricket field against our colonial masters.”

Isn’t cutting foreign aid a perilous policy for a bankrupt economy?

“But it doesn’t matter,” retorts Khan. “We will cut down expenditure, tax the rich and fight corruption. The reason we’re bankrupt is because of corruption. Asif Ali Zardari [Pakistan’s current president] puts his cronies on top and they literally siphon off money.”

He argues that if Pakistan’s two greatest problems, corruption and tax evasion, can be solved, then the country will become solvent. “We have the lowest tax-GDP ratio in the world: 9%. If we get it to 18%, which is India, we’re solvent.” Not only does Khan believe he can tax the rich but also that exploiting Pakistan’s huge mineral reserves will help the country escape its current mess. “A country that has no power is sitting on the biggest coal reserves in the world!”

Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s other key policy is withdrawing from the war on terror. Why? “The war on terror is the most insane and immoral war of all time. The Americans are doing what they did in Vietnam, bombing villages. But how can a civilised nation do this? How can you can eliminate suspects, their wives, their children, their families, their neighbours? How can you justify this?

“When I came here at 18 I learned about western rule of law and human rights, innocent until proven guilty. The Americans are violating all of this.”

Khan wrote an open letter to Obama arguing that the war was unwinnable.

“I said you do not have to own Bush’s war — you can’t win it anyway.

It’s creating radicals. The more you kill, the more you create extremism.”

Why can’t the war be won? “The Soviets killed more than a million people in Afghanistan. They were fighting more at the end than the beginning. So clearly a population of 15 million could take a million dead and still keep fighting. They [the Americans] are going to have to kill a lot of people to make any impact and they also have in Zardari an impotent puppet as Pakistani president who has not delivered anything to the Americans.

“The Americans also don’t realise that this whole Arab spring was against puppets or dictators. People want democracy. So this whole idea of planting your own man there, a dictator — neocolonialism is what it’s called — is not going to work any more.

“The aid to our puppet government from the US is destroying our country. We’re basically using our army to kill our own people with American money. We have to separate from the US.”

Khan knows what it is to be attacked from both sides. “I’ve been called Taliban Khan for supporting the tribal Pashtuns and I’ve been called part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over Pakistan. I am of course neither.”

The latter allegation came when Khan married Jemima Goldsmith in 1995.

In a chapter on his marriage in his excellent new book Pakistan: A Personal History, he recalls that, when he left for England aged 18, his mother’s last words were: “Don’t bring back an English wife.” But after his mother’s death, Khan did that, even though the British press wailed that Jemima would not be allowed to drive in Pakistan and that she would have to be veiled from head to toe; even though the Pakistani media portrayed the marriage as a Zionist plot to take over Pakistan.

No matter, as Khan writes, that his wife wasn’t actually Jewish (her paternal grandfather was Jewish), but had been baptised and confirmed as a Protestant. No matter that she converted to Islam and set about learning Urdu on her arrival in Pakistan.

The smears got worse a year after their marriage when Khan launched his political career. “Cross-cultural marriage is difficult, especially when one person has to live in another country. But I thought there was a very good chance of it working because people grow together if they have a common passion. But from the moment my opponents attacked her in the first election in terms of a Zionist conspiracy we had to then take her away from politics. That meant we were doing different things. We couldn’t share our passions.”

Jemima returned to England, ostensibly for a year to do a masters in modern trends in Islam, taking her sons with her. She never returned, the couple divorced in 2004 and she is now associate editor of the Independent and editor-at-large for Vanity Fair. They remain on friendly terms. “It was very painful that it didn’t work out but that bitterness and anger that comes when a marriage breaks down through infidelity was not there. We were completely faithful to each other.”

There was no way he could have moved to London? “London is like a second home, but never could I imagine living away from Pakistan.” It must be tough with his sons living half a world away most of the year.

“Very tough. Nothing gave me more happiness than fatherhood. And here’s someone who had great highs in his life. The biggest void in my life is not being close to my children all the time, but mercifully, thanks to my relationship with Jemima, I see them a great deal.”

One way of looking at his failed marriage, then, is that it could not survive the bearpit of Pakistani politics. How could he continue in that grim game given the high cost it extorted from you? “Ever since my mother died in great pain from cancer, I have had a social conscience that can only express itself in getting involved in politics. As long as I played cricket there was hardly any social conscience. It came because of my mother and how she was treated.” It also came after a spiritual awakening and renewed Islamic faith, in which Iqbal’s writings played an important role.

“The No1 thing that struck me about your country when I came here was your welfare state, which I’m sad to say they are dismantling — a big mistake. I thought: ‘What a civilised society.’ When my mother was treated here we were paying for her and there was a national health patient next to her — equal treatment. We didn’t have that in Pakistan.”

After his mother’s death he founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore in her name. “My hospital is the only one in Pakistan where doctors are not allowed to know which patients are paying and which are free. Equal treatment for rich and poor is essential.”

But the hospital was only possible because of donations that he raised  from the streets of Pakistan’s cities. “We needed $4m for the hospital and we had run out of steam so someone suggested we just go out into the streets. I ended up covering 29 cities in six weeks and I just went into the street with a big collecting sack. Only in Pakistan would this happen.”

But that Pakistani generosity, he realises, articulates an important principle of Islam, of doing good deeds to get to heaven. In the book he writes that he asked why poor people would give such high proportions of their income to a cancer hospital not even in their own town. “It was always the same reply, ‘I am not doing you a favour. I am doing it to invest in my Hereafter.’”

That geneoristy proved a catalyst for Khan’s political career, he writes: “I started thinking that these people were capable of great sacrifice. Could these people not be mobilised to fight to save our ever-deteriorating country?” He may have a sentimental vision of poor Pakistanis but Khan has no doubt: they will revolutionise Pakistan, led by him.

Just before I leave him to his children, he tells me that the nadir for Pakistan came last year when Angelina Jolie visited Pakistan’s flood-hit area. “It’s so shameful. The prime minister gave her a reception in his palace and she commented on its opulence. The prime minister gets his family in a private jet to see her, the family give her expensive presents and yet there are people dying in these flood-affected areas. They were living like Mughal emperors in splendour and our people were dying. It took a Hollywood star to point this out. Our politics can never be so shameful again.” That remains to be seen.

Guardian UK

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Former Intel Chief: Call Off The Drone War (And Maybe the Whole War on Terror)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

ASPEN, Colorado Ground the U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Rethink the idea of spending billions of dollars to pursue al-Qaida. Forget chasing terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, unless the local governments are willing to join in the hunt.

Those arent the words of some human rights activist, or some far-left Congressman. Theyre from retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair the man who was, until recently, nominally in charge of the entire American effort to find, track, and take out terrorists. Now, hes calling for that campaign to be reconsidered, and possibly even junked.

Starting with the drone attacks. Yes, they take out some mid-level terrorists, Blair said. But theyre not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, its not going to lower the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaida and its allies have proven it can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign, he said.

The statements wont exactly win Blair new friends in the Obama administration, which forced him out of the top intelligence job about a year after he was nominated. Not only has Obama drastically escalated the drone war thereve been 50 strikes in the first seven months of this year, almost as many as in all of 2009. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the remotely-piloted attacks the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaida leadership.

Plus, American relations with the Pakistani government are at their lowest point in years. And every time Washington tries to tip off Islamabad to a raid, it seems, the targets of the raid seem to conveniently skip town. No wonder the U.S. kept the mother of all unilateral strikes the mission to kill Osama bin Laden a secret from their erstwhile allies in Pakistan.

But Blair believes the cooperation not only with Pakistan, but also with the government in Yemen and with whatever authorities can be found in Somalia is the only way to bring some measure of peace to the worlds ungoverned spaces. We have to change in those three countries, he told the Forum (Full disclosure: Im a moderator on one of the panels here.)

The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. Thats $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out.

You think woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate? he asked. So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.

Blair mentioned that 17 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorists since 9/11 14 of them in the Ft. Hood massacre. Meanwhile, auto accidents, murders and rapes combine have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the past decade. What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem? he asked.

Blair purposely let his own question go unanswered.

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Assassinations Anyone?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

CIA claims of cancelled campaign are hogwash

By Eric Margolis

CIA director Leon Panetta just told Congress he cancelled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. The CIA campaign, authorized in 2001, had not yet become operational, claimed Panetta.

I respect Panetta, but his claim is humbug. The U.S. has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue under President Barack Obama. Claims by Congress it was never informed are hogwash.

The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950s, using American hit teams or third parties. For example, a CIA-organized attempt to assassinate Lebanon’s leading Shia cleric, Muhammad Fadlallah, using a truck bomb, failed, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.

In 1975, I was approached to join the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress investigating CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Add to America’s hit list Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Chile’s Marxist leaders and, very likely, Yasser Arafat.

Libya’s Moammar Khadaffy led me by the hand through the ruins of his private quarters, showing me where a 2,000-pound U.S. bomb hit his bedroom, killing his infant daughter. Most Pakistanis believe, rightly or wrongly, the U.S. played a role in the assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

To quote Josef Stalin’s favourite saying, “No man. No problem.”

Assassination was outlawed in the U.S. in 1976, but that did not stop attempts by its last three administrations to emulate Israel’s Mossad in the “targeted killing” of enemies. The George W. Bush administration, and now the Obama White House, sidestepped American law by saying the U.S. was at war, and thus legally killing “enemy combatants.” But Congress never declared war.

Washington is buzzing about a secret death squad run by Dick Cheney when he was vice-president and his protege, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This gung-ho general led the Pentagon’s super secret Special Operations Command, which has become a major rival to the CIA in the business of “wet affairs” (as the KGB used to call assassinations) and covert raids.

Democrats are all over Cheney on the death squad issue, as are some Republicans — in order to shield Bush. But the orders likely came from Bush, who bears ultimate responsibility.

Americans are now being deluged by sordid scandals from the Bush years about torture, kidnapping, brutal secret prisons, brainwashing, mass surveillance of American’s phones, e-mail, and banking.

In 2001, as this column previously reported, U.S. Special Forces oversaw the murder at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, of thousands of captured Taliban fighters by Uzbek forces of the Communist warlord, Rashid Dostum.

CIA was paying Dostum, a notorious war criminal from the 1980s, millions to fight Taliban. Dostum is poised to become vice-president of the U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai. Bush hushed up this major war crime.

America is hardly alone in trying to rub out enemies or those who thwart its designs. Britain’s MI-6 and France’s SDECE were notorious for sending out assassins. The late chief of SDECE told me how he had been ordered by then-president Francois Mitterrand to kill Libya’s Khadaffy. Israel’s hit teams are feared around the globe.

History shows that state-directed murder is more often than not counterproductive and inevitably runs out of control, disgracing nations and organizations that practise it.

But U.S. assassins are still at work. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. drones are killing tribesmen almost daily. Over 90% are civilians. Americans have a curious notion that killing people from the air is not murder or even a crime, but somehow clean.

U.S. Predator attacks are illegal and violate U.S. and international law. Pakistan’s government, against which no war has been declared, is not even asked permission or warned of the attacks.

Dropping 2,000-pound bombs on apartment buildings in Gaza or Predator raids on Pakistan’s tribal territory are as much murder as exploding car bombs or suicide bombers.

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