Banking on a jirga and a prayer in Afghanistan

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 1431 2010-06-01

Main Stories

by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1431)

The Americans are caught, literally, between and a rock and a hard place in Afghanistan. The mountainous country has one of the toughest people on earth that have never allowed foreigners to dominate them.

The Americans are caught, literally, between and a rock and a hard place in Afghanistan. The mountainous country has one of the toughest people on earth that have never allowed foreigners to dominate them. They may be primitive, perhaps too primitive, but they simply will not tolerate foreigners even if the general leading the army were called Alexander. And Barack Obama is no Alexander, nor indeed is General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, who was sacked on June 23 for his unflattering comments about Obama’s advisors published in the Rolling Stone magazine (June 25, 2010). General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, was asked to take over responsibility in Afghanistan.

The US strategy in Afghanistan is self-defeating. While claiming to win hearts and minds, the Americans have aroused the anger — nay hatred — of the Afghans by barging into their homes in the middle of the night with guns blazing. This has turned even apathetic Afghans into staunch American-haters. The Afghans neither forgive nor forget such insults; by their culturally insensitive behaviour, the Americans have turned most Afghans into enemies. At the macro level, the Americans want to train more Afghan soldiers and police — what training can they impart to the Afghans who are born fighters? — to take over once they leave but they are busy undermining the government of President Hamid Karzai. The Ameri-cans have gone around distributing fistfuls of dollars among local warlords and tribal leaders in hopes of winning them over.

On June 21, the US House of Representatives Subcommittee for National Security released a report after a year-long study saying US money was financing warlords as well as funding the Taliban in Afghanistan. Money paid to warlords came from a $2.1 billion contract called “Host Nation Trucking”. The fund is allocated to pay for the movement of food and supplies to nearly 200 American bases throughout the country.

General Petraeus, who has become something of a celebrity among success-starved Americans because of his questionable success in Iraq, calls his strategy “clear, hold and build” except that it plays straight into the hands of the Taliban. As in Marja earlier this year when the Americans declared, with much fanfare, that they were about to launch an operation into this non-descript village in the middle of nowhere that few had heard of, the Taliban simply melted away. Despite this, it took the Americans two months to pacify a place of no particular significance. Today, it is back under the control of the Taliban. The same fate awaits the Qandahar operation, another media event to convince the ill-informed Americans back home that the “war against terror” is going well. Facing stiff local opposition, the Qandahar operation has been postponed until September although the US military will continue to issue optimistic reports about its non-existent successes.

As George F. Will, the conservative commentator wrote in the Washington Post (May 6, 2010) “First, is an area ‘cleared’ only because the Taliban have cleared out, knowing they can wait out the enemy and then return? The Americans are going home; the Taliban are home. Second, what can be held by a counterinsurgency force focused on an exit strategy? Third, can anything lasting be built when what has been only tenuously cleared is only conditionally held?”

The other leg of America’s two-legged stool is the political process of reconciliation with “moderate” Taliban. This is what the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) of tribal elders held from June 2–4 in Kabul, was all about but the Taliban rained in on that circus as well. Apart from consuming large amounts of rice and kebab — no doubt delicious Afghan food — tribal elders attending the jirga achieved little. The Taliban not only denounced the process as facilitating the occupiers’ objectives but to make sure the point was driven home, they attacked the jirga with rockets and then two suicide bombers blew themselves up. That the suicide bombers could penetrate a security cordon of 1200 heavily armed men speaks volumes for the Taliban’s ability and incompetence of the security forces. If the Americans are banking on such people to provide security when they leave, they have a lot more surprises coming.

On June 6, Karzai sacked his Intelligence Chief, Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar for failing to provide security during the jirga. Both were close to the Americans. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that Washington favoured Atmar as the interior minister. “Both the ministers of Interior and Intelligence are people we admire and whose services we appreciate,” he said.

Sacking of the two men led to much tongue-lashing of Karzai in the US media but others saw it as his assertion of independence at a time when the Americans are planning to leave anyway. It was also aimed at placating the Taliban who are appalled at the widespread torture in Afghan prisons by operatives of the National Security Directorate, the notorious Afghan intelligence agency run by Saleh. He was also a close associate of the northern warlord, Ahmed Shah Masud and served as his liaison with the CIA in the late 1990s. Saleh’s departure fulfills another Taliban demand; they simply did not trust him in any secret negotiations. The Kabul jirga, presided over by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president, also demanded that all Taliban placed on the UN terror list be removed. At present there are 137 Afghans on this list, down from 142 since January when five Taliban members were cleared to enable them to attend a conference in London, England. On June 13, Staffan de Mistura, UN Secretary General’s special representative for Afghanistan, said the issue was under UN consideration. He said a four-member delegation from the Security Council’s al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee was in Kabul on a three-day visit to study the composition of the terrorist blacklist and make recommendations to the Security Council about possible changes. Staffan de Mistura went on: “I am personally delighted that the timing of the visit coincided with the follow-up to the peace jirga,” adding that it was an important part of building momentum toward peace talks. There are strong indications that at least some names would be removed from the list.

The UN Security Council is a thinly disguised cover for the US government in advancing its egregious agenda. When Washington does not want to openly own a policy, it hides behind the Security Council. Since 1999, Security Council Resolution 1267 has blacklisted 142 Taliban figures as well as 360 others with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, ordering their bank accounts seized and prohibiting them from crossing international borders. The presence of Taliban leaders on the list has been a sticking point in efforts to start peace negotiations. The Americans had earlier vowed to eliminate the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies, but are now pushing for peace talks, albeit with “moderate” elements among them. When American officials and commanders start talking about negotiations, this is an admission that they have lost the war and want a way out.

Resistance to foreign occupation troops has spread to most parts of the country. Kabul has been surrounded from Logar, Ghazni, Parwan, Kapisa and Wardak provinces. The Taliban also control most districts in the provinces of Qandahar, Helmand and Farah, the first two having witnessed the most intense fighting. They also control large swathes of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar provinces. American casualties escalated in June. If they do not get out of the Afghan mountains soon, they may face a fate worse than the one that befell the British during the Second Afghan War. The Afghans are about to teach another arrogant invader the lesson never to invade Afghanistan.

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