Time to Face Reality of Afghan Mission
Among the steady stream of bad news coming from Afghanistan, there was some moderately hopeful news this past week.
The US-installed and sustained Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, revealed he hadasked Saudi Arabia to broker peace talks with the alliance of tribal and political groups resisting Western occupation, collectively known as Taleban. Saudi Arabia had been one of the few nations to recognise the erstwhile Taleban government and retains considerable influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Taleban leader Mullah Omar quickly rejected Karzai’s offer, and claimed the US was heading toward the same kind of catastrophic defeat in Afghanistan that the Soviet Union had met.
The ongoing financial panic in the United States lent substance to his words.The US economy is in grave peril and its three big automakers face bankruptcy.
At the same time, the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, urgently called for at least 10,000 more troops. US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are increasingly on the defensive, hard pressed to defend vulnerable supply lines in spite of massive fire-power at their disposal.
Startlingly, Gen. McKiernan appeared to break with Bush administration policy by proposing talks with the Taleban and admitting that the war needs to be dealt with diplomacy.His predecessor, General Dan McNeil, had asserted that 400,000 Western troops would be needed to pacify Afghanistan. The military men know this war cannot be won on the battlefield.
By sharp contrast, I recently asked Karl Rove, President Bush’s former senior advisor, how the US could ever hope to win the war in Afghanistan.His eyes dancing with imperial fervour, Rove replied to me, “More predators (missile armed drones) and helicopters!” Which reminded me of poet Hilaire Beloc’s wonderful line about 19th century British imperialism that I use in my new book, ‘American Raj:’ “Whatever happens/we have got/the Maxim gun (machine gun)/and they have not.”
Though Karzai’s olive branch was rejected, the fact he made it public is very important.By doing so, both he and General McKiernan broke the simple-minded Western taboo against negotiations with Taleban and its allies.
Taleban was founded as an Islamic movement dedicated to fighting Communism and the drug trade. It received US funding until May, 2001.In fact, the CIA maintained close contacts with Taleban, many of whose members wereMujahideen from the anti-Soviet war of the 1980’s, for possible future use against the Communist regimes of Central Asia and against China.
The 9/11 attacks made CIA immediately cut its links with Taleban and burn its associated files. In recent years, Western war propaganda has so demonised Taleban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: a negotiated settlement to this pointless seven-year war.
A noteworthy exception came last April when NATO’s Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer,while calling for more troops, said the war could only be ended by negotiations, not military means. Taleban and its allies are mostly Pashtoons, who comprise half of Afghanistan’s population.They have been largely excluded from political power by the US-backed Kabul regime, which relies on Tajik and Uzbekethnic minorities, chiefs of the old Afghan Communist Party, and the nation’s leading drug lords.
The Karzai government cannot extend its authority beyond Kabul because that would mean overthrowing the very same drug-dealing warlords that are its allies.
There is no real Afghan national army, just a bunch of unenthusiastic mercenaries who pretend to fight while playing footsie with Taleban.
Contrary to Western propaganda, Taleban are not `terrorists.’ The movement had nothing to do with 9/11 — though it did shelter Osama bin Laden, a national hero of the war against the Soviets. The 9/11 attacks were plotted in Germany and Spain, not Afghanistan. Only a handful of Al Qaeda members are left in Afghanistan. The current war is not really about Al Qaeda and `terrorism,’ but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtoon tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West.
The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops. As that great American founding father Benjamin Franklin said, “there is no good war, and no bad peace.” It’s time for the West to face reality in Afghanistan.
Eric S MargoFlis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun
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