Continuing instability in Afghanistan threatening US plans for the region

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Jumada' al-Akhirah 23, 1423 2002-09-01


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 13, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1423)

Events in Afghanistan are not going according to America’s script, despite tall claims of having routed the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. It is not just attacks on American and other so-called coalition forces, which are now becoming more frequent, but also the continuing factional fighting, especially between forces loyal to defence minister Mohammed Fahim and forces loyal to president Hamid Karzai, that are causing concern in Washington. So worried are the Americans for the safety of their Afghan puppet that in July they took direct control of his security, replacing Fahim’s Tajik fighters. Now the 60-member US Special Forces team assigned to protect Karzai will be replaced by the State department’s own security personnel, in conjunction with the military and “private contractors”, according to Jo-Anne Prokopowicz, state department spokeswoman, on August 24. A week earlier Fahim had been forced to declare publicly that there were “no differences” within the government: few believed him.

After claiming for months that everything was under control, the Americans have begun to admit that there are major problems. While western news sources, especially CNN, have been almost completely silent about what is going on in Afghanistan, reports indicate that Americans are increasingly being targeted. In mid-August a number of American soldiers were kidnapped; their abductors are still at large. In Khost, where the Americans have launched a large operation, things are not going at all well. Supporters of Jalaluddin Haqqani as well as of Maulvi Mansour are giving the Americans a good fight. In Asadabad, Roohullah, a former mujahideen commander and supporter of Karzai, was arrested on August 25, allegedly for providing protection to the “Arabs”. Even in Qandahar, Karzai’s home town, which was also the stronghold of the Taliban, Americans are being shot at and killed. American casualties are far greater than those officially admitted so far.

Speaking in Astana, the Kazakh capital, on August 21, US Central Command chief general Tommy Franks, who is also in charge of the Afghan campaign, admitted that the “security situation” in Afghanistan is threatened by various groups contending for power. On August 15 Franks had said at a press briefing in Washington that US forces could be in Afghanistan for years to “help the Afghan government grow” and to run its own affairs. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, present at the same press briefing, was even more candid: describing the removal of the Taliban as the first phase of the US’s mission, he said that the second was the “establishment of a government in Kabul.” The US defence chief then said: “Now we are in phase three where the task is to chase out [the Taliban and al-Qa’ida fighters], to prevent the concentrations from forming again, to prevent them from flowing back into the country from the neighbouring countries, to prevent the Taliban from taking the country back over and to begin the process of... civil action and humanitarian support.”

When the US attacked Afghanistan last October, American officials insisted that their mission was not “nation-building.” When the Taliban abandoned Kabul on November 13, it was immediately proclaimed a great victory for the US, and the demise of the Taliban. Yet Rumsfeld is now forced to concede that the task is not done yet, that the US has to continue to prevent the Taliban from taking over, and that this could take years. As the Americans sink deeper into the Afghan quagmire, the situation will look more and more like Vietnam in the sixties. Robert Fisk, a veteran British journalist, who happens to be one of the few western reporters to report realities fairly accurately, has compared it to Vietnam already.

During his visit to Kazakhstan, general Franks made another astonishing admission: “The process of our coalition... will be to work with the transitional administration that we see in Afghanistan to provide for its ability to mature so that it can lead the country” (emphasis added). In June, Karzai was installed as president of Afghanistan after a loya jirga at which Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, himself of Afghan origin, played a key role in forcing Zahir Shah, the former king, to withdraw his candidature. Members of the loya jirga were also handpicked, with American manipulation behind the scenes, yet Karzai has failed to secure any legitimacy because the Afghans regard him as an American puppet. He is more or less a prisoner in Kabul because he has no support among the people.

Even the capital is not safe, as the assassination on July 6 of vice president Haji Abdul Qadir shows. But both Rumsfeld and Franks dismiss such criticisms as coming from those who have “good intentions” but are not aware of the latest situation. “Is the situation perfectly tidy? No... but it would be accurate to say that the security situation in Afghanistan is the best it’s been probably in close to a quarter of a century.” Perhaps that is why the Americans do not venture far from their fortified compounds, why they bomb wedding-parties, and why they attack schools and kill children: for the sake of ‘security’. Even their allies are not safe from attack by American forces, as the Canadian forces found out in April.

There is an even more sinister side to the US involvement in Afghanistan: violence against suspects to extract confessions. While local Afghans actually inflict the beatings, it is Americans who call the shots, supervising the torture and killing. Newsweek magazine carried a detailed report in its August 26 issue, describing the killing last November of prisoners from Kunduz and their burial in mass graves near Dasht-e Leili. The investigative report was by Babak Dehghanipesheh, John Barry and Roy Guttman: they pointed out that the Americans witnessed everything and did nothing to prevent the deaths of several hundred (perhaps as many as a thousand) prisoners by suffocation in cargo containers. This clearly constitutes a war crime. The US-based Physicians for Human Rights had first raised the matter of prisoners’ deaths after a visit to Sheberghan last January, but the story was dismissed as speculative. Pakistani newspaper reports had mentioned prisoners’ deaths by suffocation earlier, but such reports were given no credence because they were not from western sources.

Beyond the murder and mayhem in Afghanistan is America’s plan to control the region. There are now US troops stationed in several Central Asian republics, as well as in Pakistan. In fact, one western aid worker in Kabul told Robert Fisk of the Independent: “The British forces were right to leave. They realized that the Americans had no real interest in returning this country to law and order. They knew that the Americans were going to fail. So they got out as soon as they could. The Americans say they want peace and stability. So why don’t they let ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul] move into the other big cities of Afghanistan? Why do they let their friendly warlords persecute the rest of the country?”

American troops are also kidnapping suspected Taliban and al-Qa’ida supporters ñ Pakistanis as well as Arabs ñ and transferring them to Kabul illegally for interrogation. The presence of American troops also helps to keep general Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on a tight leash. He has been forced to retreat on the question of Kashmir without India withdrawing its troops from the border. That the Americans have made little effort to get India to back off means that they concur with such military pressure on Pakistan, ironically an “ally in the war on terrorism.” Such is the reward for supporting America.

The US’s real interest is not so much Afghanistan itself, as it is to encircle and contain Islamic Iran. America’s war is against the political expression of Islam in Iran, or anywhere else. The ruthless campaign against Islamic groups in Pakistan, as well as attempts to equate the Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom with terrorism, are all part of this plan. Some Muslim rulers are willing accomplices in this diabolical plot. But history suggests that such attempts will not succeed. The Afghans are likely to surprise the Americans as they surprised the Russians, and also the British before them. Even the mighty dollar will not be able to save Uncle Sam from the Afghans’ cold anger and fiery revenge.

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