by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 11, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1428)
With the surge in Iraq to establish security an utter failure and the British having fled Basra, Washington’s propagandists are in no mood to set another trap for themselves by making bold policy pronouncements about Afghanistan. A detailed review, forced by the failure of America and NATO to subdue the resistance in Afghanistan, has been launched without fanfare.
“Deeply concerned about the prospect of failure in Afghanistan, the Bush administration and NATO have begun three top-to-bottom reviews of the entire mission, from security and counter-terrorism to political consolidation and economic development, according to American and alliance officials,” the New York Times reported on December 16. Lack of coordination in fighting the Taliban and al-Qa'ida, the failure to eradicate opium-production (Afghanistan now supplies 92 percent of the world's heroin, according to the UN), and helping the Kabul regime to extend its legitimacy and control, were cited as reasons for launching the recent reviews.
The need to keep the reviews low-key, however, was motivated by the desire to keep expectations low so that there would be no demand for more US troops, because none are available. NATO members are refusing to let their troops stay longer, while the self-declared “sole superpower” is not in a position to mobilise more combat forces, having reached its limit in Iraq. In any case, military officials say that it will require 150,000 to 200,000 troops to subdue Afghanistan; nobody has that kind of troops available.
Instead, the US is now looking for an international coordinator, a sort of “super envoy”, whose task will be to coordinate a range of efforts in Afghanistan. This is a far cry from the arrogant declaration by US president George Bush after the attacks in September 2001: “You are either with us or against us” in fighting terrorism. He even declared war on those who would “harbour terrorists”. Uncle Sam had gone mad and it was dangerous for anyone to stand in his way. Six years of stiff resistance by the Afghans has deflated some of that arrogance and taught the uncle a lesson he will not forget in a hurry.
“We are looking for ways to gain greater strategic coherence,” a senior US official involved in the review process has said. If the Americans and their NATO allies are still looking for “greater strategic coherence” even after six years of warfare and aerial bombardments, it is clear that they have failed miserably to subdue the Afghans, who are known for their toughness and independent spirit. Instead, fighting seems to have stiffened the Afghans’ resolve to drive the invaders out. The resistance is now supported by many tribes throughout the country.
The “super envoy” proposal fits America’s style of operations. It launches unilateral wars against other countries on spurious pretexts and then demands that others must support it. There is a long list of European states that are America’s willing partners in crime. They will do anything Uncle Sam demands of them. Britain tops the list, but even France under Nicholas Sarkozy has now joined in. These countries can be described as international outlaws whose sole purpose is to terrorise other people into submission by brute force. When terror fails to achieve the US’s objectives, Washington throws the problem into the lap of the UN and demands that the “international community” must assume a greater share of the burden. This ploy has been used several times. What it really indicates is the cowardly and bankrupt nature of US – and indeed Western – policy. Other people refuse to surrender meekly to the criminal behaviour of the US and its allies.
The “super envoy” proposal, however, is also being resisted by President Hamid Karzai, the US’s Afghan puppet. He fears that the appointment of such a person will further erode his position, weak as that is. Boxed in by members of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance (who are heavily represented in both the cabinet and the opposition in parliament), Karzai is a prisoner in his own house. He is shunned even by his own ethnic group, the majority Pashtuns, who regard him as a traitor. His isolation can be gauged from the fact that even in his home province of Qandahar parliamentary elections have not been held because of lack of security. Similarly, large parts of the country are completely out of the government’s control. On December 7, NATO launched a massive operation to wrest control of Musa Qala, a small town in Helmand province, from the Taliban. After several days of bombing by US B-52 planes that mostly killed civilians, the British-led NATO forces declared that they had retaken the town.
It would have been foolish of the Taliban to sit still at fixed positions to be pummelled by 1,000-pound bombs dropped from 40,000 feet. They are waging a guerrilla war, not fighting a pitched battle. Their strategy is to bleed the occupiers by repeated stabs. This is what they are doing with car- and roadside-bombs, which seem to be taking a toll of both the occupation forces and the Afghan police and military forces. In any case, Afghan troops–army and police–are notoriously unreliable. During the day they seem to be with the Americans or British, but at night many of them become the Taliban. Their families live in villages controlled by the resistance; they do not want their families harmed because they are charged with supporting the enemy.
The Americans are also conducting a military review of the entire operation in Afghanistan, as well as assessing what more NATO could do. NATO’s involvement was discussed in Scotland on December 9 when Robert Gates, US secretary of defence, joined the meeting after his visits to Afghanistan and Iraq. The NATO report is expected to be ready within the next few months, and is expected to be presented to a NATO meeting in Bucharest, Rumania. At the diplomatic and economic levels, Nicholas Burns, US under secretary of state for political affairs, is coordinating internal assessment to propose economic assistance, apart from the combat troops that officials say are required for success. The US and its allies have used economic aid as a tool to blunt criticism of their military operations, but this strategy has been just as much a failure as brute force.
There are two reasons for this: first, there is a wide gap between economic and financial aid pledged and what is delivered. Second, there is massive financial corruption in Afghanistan; Karzai has even been forced to appeal to his ministers and other officials to keep it “within limits”. It is unlikely that anyone will heed such appeals. The warlords and drug-lords that dominate the Afghan government are allies of the US. Such criminal elements are used by the Americans to fight those whom they do not like: people who resist their occupiers. Thus crime and American occupation are two sides of the same coin. The rape and murder of women and the kidnapping of children for ransom has escalated alarmingly. Many children are murdered when parents fail to raise the amount of ransom demanded by their abductors. Such criminal behaviour was unheard of under the much-maligned Taliban.
Another American proposal, to destroy the poppy crop by aerial spraying, has also run into stiff resistance, not only from farmers who depend on the poppies for their livelihood in the absence of any other crop but also from Karzai. He fears that this will alienate the people further. Afghan environmentalists have criticised the proposal on the grounds that its implementation would poison their land and pollute their rivers and streams. The Americans are notorious for creating problems and then simply walking away from them. There is, for instance, widespread famine in large parts of Afghanistan. Despite a massive grain-surplus in the US and Europe, there is not even a hint that any will be sent to Afghanistan to feed the starving Afghans. Instead, the Americans plan to add to their misery. Medical facilities are non-existent; most Afghan children do not make it past the first year after birth. A very high number die each year before the age of five, that is, if they survive the murderous US aerial bombings that are supposed to “liberate” them from the Taliban.
The US proposals are part of a plan to keep foreign troops in Afghanistan well into the next decade to advance its imperialist and exploitative agenda. How many Afghans are murdered in the process is not a figure that the Americans are very interested in.