June 3, 2009
On Wednesday 6th May President Barack Obama met with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to try to find a solution to the fast deteriorating situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and to develop his strategy towards those two countries. After the meetings, President Obama praised the two leaders and said that the three of them would work together on a long-term basis to defeat terrorism. This is despite the fact that a few days earlier, in a speech on the occasion of his 100th day in office, President Obama had poured scorn on the Pakistani president's "very fragile" government, which lacked "the capacity to deliver basic services" and did not enjoy "the support and the loyalty of their people".
Nearly eight years after the start of the war in Afghanistan not only has that country not been turned into a functioning democracy, Afghanistan's much larger neighbour Pakistan has also been destabilised. On 12th April 2008, former President George Bush told ABC news that the most dangerous area in the world was neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan, but Pakistan. The insurgency in Afghanistan is now affecting Pakistan and the instability in Pakistan is fuelling the war in Afghanistan. On 28th February 2008, Admiral Michael McConnel, director of National Intelligence, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that President Hamid Karzai's government controlled less than a third of Afghanistan, but that the Taliban were present virtually everywhere.(1) Since then, the situation has grown steadily worse in both countries.
Meanwhile, instead of withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, the US government is surging their number to nearly 80,000 US and NATO troops. The repeated bombings of suspected insurgents has resulted in a large number of civilian deaths, which further infuriates and alienates the population. On 5th May 2009, an air attack in Bala Boluk district in Farah province killed at least 100 civilians, two-thirds of them children and teenagers.(2) Reuters reported: "Villagers brought truckloads of bodies to the capital of a province in Western Afghanistan on Tuesday to prove that scores of civilians had been killed by U.S. air strikes in a battle with the Taliban."(3) Ghulan Farooq, a member of parliament from the province where the bombing took place, said that "as many as 150 people had died."(4) The incident stands as the largest civilian toll in Afghanistan since August 2008, when the US killed at least 90 civilians in the neighbouring Herat Province. In that case, the US angrily denied the allegations for months, finally admitting to killing many civilians but insisting it was legitimate.(5)
The fact that the villagers have to carry the dead bodies of their loved ones to the capital of the province in trucks to prove the killings is bad enough, but the dismissive attitude of US military officials towards the 'collateral damage', despite President Karza'i's repeated protests, is more worrying.
Not only has the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, but there is now serious risk of instability in Pakistan, possibly resulting in the collapse of the fledgling democratic government. Only a few weeks after the government reached a cease-fire in the north-west Swat Valley, giving the Taliban free rein to impose Shari'a law, the Taliban extended their control over an adjacent district known as Buner, less than 60 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. This sent shivers down the spines of not only the Pakistani government, but also the Americans who are worried about a new safe haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, enabling them to plot further attacks against Afghanistan and even the United States.
Coinciding with Zardari's visit to Washington, and under strong US pressure, on 26 April 2009 Pakistani forces attacked the militants in Swat Valley, killing over 1,000 militants according to Pakistani sources. Over two million residents of Swat Valley have been displaced according to UN figures, the most extensive case of internal displacement since the partition of India, thus intensifying the anti-American feelings among the Pakistani public. Although in the short term the campaign against the militants may seem successful, it can store up more trouble for the future. Already we have seen a backlash and a taste of what may be coming. On 27th May a massive car bomb turned the police building in Lahore into rubble, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of policemen and civilians in Pakistan's second city. Nearby offices of the ISI intelligence service were also damaged.(6)
Terrorist Attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India
The insurgents in Afghanistan are growing bolder by the day. In June 2008, a guerrilla contingent on motorbikes attacked the prison in Kandahar and freed over 1,000 prisoners. The frontier city of Peshawar boasts a major air base and military garrisons. In December 2008, 200 Taliban guerrillas methodically ransacked depots with NATO supplies. After assuring the outnumbered guards that they would not be killed if they agreed never to work there again the militants shouted “God is great” through bullhorns. They then grabbed jerrycans and made several trips to a nearby gas station for fuel, which they dumped on the cargo trucks and Humvees before setting them ablaze, and destroying 300 vehicles.
The attack provided further evidence of how extensively militants now rule the critical region east of the Khyber Pass, the narrow gorge through the mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, through which most of American supplies pass. Khyber’s downward spiral is jeopardising NATO’s most important supply line, sending American military officials scrambling to find alternative routes into Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia and maybe through Iran that provides the shortest routes. The situation has grown more critical and urgent as the result of Kyrgyzstan's decision to close Manas base, the only US base in Central Asia, that is a vital transit point for Nato and US operations in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, India has not remained immune to the attacks from the terrorists. In November 2008, India's main commercial centre Mumbai suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history. In the same way that the Twin Towers were chosen as the symbols of American economic dominance, the attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel on 27th November by Pakistani militants, killing 101 people and injuring 287 more, was also symbolic. The Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 1903 - the dream of a member of the Indian Parsi community, Jamsetji Tata – and was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electric lights. The triumphal arch between the hotel and the bay, the Gateway to India, was built to commemorate the 1911 landing of King George V.
As one of the terrorists set out in his murderous rampage in the hotel, he screamed "Remember Babri Masjid!" He was referring to the 16th century mosque built by Babur and destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992. Hafiz Saeed who founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) said: "India has shown us this path. We would like to give India a tit-for-tat response and reciprocate in the same way by killing the Hindus, just like it is killing the Muslims in Kashmir."(7)
This militancy is not unique to Lashkar-e Taiba. Babu Bajrangi of Ahmedabad, India, who sees himself as a democrat not a terrorist, was one of the major lynchpins of the 2002 Gujarat genocide and has said (on camera):
"We didn't spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire? We hacked, burned, set on fire? I have just one last wish? Let me be sentenced to death? I don't care if I'm hanged... just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs [7 or 8 hundred thousand] of these people stay... I will finish them off? let a few more of them die... at least twenty-five thousand to fifty thousand should die."(8)
Therefore, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the most dangerous in the world, goes beyond the boundaries of the two nations and poses the greatest challenge to America. On 23rd January 2009, introducing Richard C. Holbrooke as the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama declared that both Afghanistan and Pakistan would be the "central front" in the War on Terror. On the same day, a U.S. spy plane killed at least 15 in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. It was the first violation of Pakistan's sovereignty under the new administration.
Recently, the New York Times revealed President Bush's secret authorisation last July to launch U.S. air strikes and ground operations across the Durand Line, without consulting Islamabad. These attacks mainly by drones, killing a large number of civilians as well as alleged terrorists, have aroused fury in Pakistan. The New York Times has reported that during the past year alone at least 2,118 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan.(9) According to some estimates, about 20,000 Afghans have been killed and over 50,000 have been injured since US invasion.(10)
The New US Strategy for Afghanistan
Richard Holbrooke's appointment as the special US envoy in charge of Afghanistan and Pakistan (to which he refers dismissively as AfPak) was meant to co-ordinate US efforts against the Taliban on both sides of the border. However, the omission of India from Holbrooke's remit was a source of surprise, not to mention a sharp departure from Obama's own previously-stated approach of engaging India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a regional dialogue, especially over Kashmir. According to many reports, India vigorously and successfully lobbied the US Administration to make sure that neither India nor Kashmir was included in Holbrooke's official brief, thus taking out a major factor in the conflict that affects the relations of the three countries. The solution of the Kashmir problem is essential for diverting Pakistan's attention from its tense borders with India and concentrating on confronting the Taliban and its frontier with Afghanistan instead.
The New York Times reported that according to a senior administration official President Obama intended to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development. "Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the official said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban."(11) President Karzai's brother has been allegedly implicated in drugs smuggling, something that he denies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has on a number of occasions referred to Afghanistan as a narco-state.
Among those pressing for Mr. Karzai to do more are Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Holbrooke. They say that the Obama Administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents. Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates said that there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there “our greatest military challenge.”(12) Certainly, the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has deteriorated and requires urgent action.
This strategy of engaging provincial leaders would undermine the central government and would create greater chaos in the country. There are also some suggestions to replace Karzai – so much for democracy! However, it may be difficult to find someone who is both acceptable to Washington and to most Afghans. These decisions seem to be hasty moves, taken out of desperation due to the deteriorating situation, rather than looking at the root causes of the problem. If we wish to see an end to the problems in Afghanistan and to the unfortunate term 'war on terror' we must look and see how this terrorism started.
Problems faced by Pakistan
Pakistan is certainly facing an existential threat from the militants. These militants are in turn the result of a number of unresolved issues in Pakistan's history. Pakistan is suffering from three destabilising problems; the first is Kashmir, the second is Balochistan, and the third is the presence of a large number of Pashtuns on its territory as the result of the artificially drawn Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan from Pakistan.
1. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan triggered the massacre of more than a million people and the largest migration of human population in contemporary history. Eight million people fled, Hindus fleeing the new Pakistan and Muslims fleeing the new Hindu-dominated India. It has left Kashmir trapped in a nightmare from which it can't seem to emerge, a nightmare that has claimed more than 60,000 lives. The fate of that province was supposed to be decided by a referendum to see if the people would like to remain as part of India or join Pakistan. As Kashmir has a large majority of Muslims, India has been reluctant to go ahead with the referendum, and the dispute over Kashmir has already led to a few wars between India and Pakistan and the nuclearisation of both of them.
2. The second problem concerns Balochestan. On August 11, 1947, the British handed control of Balochistan to the ruler of Balochistan, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan. The Khan immediately declared the independence of Balochistan, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, also signed the proclamation of Balochestan’s sovereignty under the Khan. The next day, the New York Times even printed a map of the world showing Balochistan as a fully independent country. Afghanistan claims that initially Balochistan was part of its territory and its annexation by Britain and later by Pakistan has been illegal and has made it completely landlocked. Meanwhile, there are secessionist tendencies among the Balochis who wish to have their own independent state.
3. As far as Pakistan and Afghanistan are concerned, the Durand Line is the most problematic. The Durand Line is named after Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the British Indian government, and is the term used for the 2,640-kilometre (1,610-mile) border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. After reaching a virtual stalemate in two wars against the Afghans, the British forced Emir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan on November 12, 1893 to come to an agreement under duress to demarcate the border between Afghanistan and what was then British India (now North-West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (F.A.T.A.) and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan).
This was part of the so-called Great Game to demarcate the boundaries of the spheres of influence between the Tsarist Russia and the British Empire in India. India's 19th century British viceroy, Lord Curzon, claimed Afghanistan was "a purely accidental geographic unit." British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli advocated subsuming Afghanistan into British India. Failing that, in 1893 the British drew a line down the Hindu Kush (the Durand line), dividing Afghan tribal homelands between Afghanistan and the then British colony of India.(13) Also, in May 1834 the Afghans lost Peshawar to the Sikhs.
After Indian independence and the establishment of Pakistan, Afghanistan's loya jirga (parliament) of 1949 declared the Durand Line invalid (since British India ceased to exist in 1947 with the independence of Pakistan).(14) On September 30, 1947, at the UN General Assembly meeting, Afghanistan even cast a vote against the admission of Pakistan to the United Nations. This had no tangible effect because world courts have universally upheld the principle that bilateral agreements with or between colonial powers are "passed down" to successor independent states, as with most of Africa.
Thus, the Durand Line boundary remains in effect today as the international boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is recognised as such by most nations. Initially, the treaty was to stay in force for a 100-year period. Successive Afghan rulers have repudiated it. Even Hamid Karzai has called the Durand Line a "line of hate," because by cutting through tribal lands it artificially divides the Pashtun people, whom Kabul would like to claim as Afghans.
According to the Afghans, this disputed land was legally to be returned to Afghanistan in 1993 after the 100-year old Durand Treaty expired, similar to the way in which Hong Kong was returned to China. Kabul has refused to renew the Durand Line treaty since 1993 when it expired.
From 2003 to the present, Pakistani military patrols have established bases up to a kilometre or two on the Afghanistan side of the boundary in the Yaqubi area.
Ever since the establishment of the Durand Line, every government in Islamabad, whether military or non-military, has desperately tried to reach a bilateral agreement with successive regimes in Kabul to convert the Durand Line into the international border, but without any success. Despite propping up several pro-Pakistan regimes in Kabul, Islamabad was unable to get any of them to endorse the Durand Line as the international border. In 1996, when the Durand agreement and line completed a century, it was considered to have lapsed. Consequently, Pakistan's de jure western border ceased to exist.
This realisation made it imperative for Pakistan to get even more deeply involved in determining who rules in Kabul. According to a US House Republican Research Committee Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare report, Islamabad has always been anxious to secure a docile Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul.(15)
This explains Islamabad's continuing and increasing involvement in Afghan affairs. This serves several strategic purposes for Islamabad. First, by co-opting the Pashtuns and promising them rule over Kabul, it neutralises the group that was most likely to challenge the non-existent Durand Line. Second, a pro-Pakistan regime in Kabul is more likely to ensure the de facto preservation of the lapsed and abrogated Durand Line, even if it cannot be converted into an international border. Third, a Pakistani-dominated Afghanistan would then constitute a forward strategic depth against India on Pakistan's western flank.
Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America's ally, first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists (the Mujahedin) and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careering towards civil war. The terrorist training camps, the fire-breathing mullahs, and the fanatics who believe that Islam will, or should, rule the world are mostly the result of two Afghan wars. If Pakistan collapses, Iran, India and Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern states can look forward to having millions of "non-state actors" with an arsenal of nuclear weapons at their disposal as neighbours.
Britain's former viceroy to India, Lord Curzon, famously remarked that "no patchwork scheme will settle Waziristan problem… Not until the military steam-roller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine."(19) I hope the new US Administration will not try to pick up where Curzon left off, or to try to engage in a venture that even the British Empire refused to contemplate.
Washington wants what Pakistan will not or cannot deliver, except to a modest degree – namely the uprooting of Taliban and al-Qa'ida from Pakistan – because the Taliban and to some extent the al-Qa'ida enjoy widespread sympathy among militant Pashtuns and Pakistanis. Washington wants a compliant Pakistan that will dutifully play its assigned role in the U.S. regional vision. Washington will try to achieve its goal any way it can get it, with or without democracy. So the U.S. calls for democracy are now issued in panic and ring hollow after six years of support for the Musharraf dictatorship. Pakistani liberals condemn the U.S. for supporting the Pakistani military dictatorship for so long in the name of an unpopular “war against terror”, and perceive the present confrontation with the Taliban as only serving to inflame the militant jihadists.
Mounting public dissatisfaction with President Musharraf forced US officials to turn to civilian opposition to see if they could calm the situation. A genuine coalition between Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League Party (PML-Q) could have provided a workable alternative to the military dictatorship. Bhutto's arrival procession on October 18 2007 demonstrated the strength of her Pakistan Peoples Party, as did the quarter of a million loyal and enthusiastic supporters who went to Karachi to greet her. But the bomb blasts, which killed 140 of them, showed her enemies to be equally fervent. However, Bhutto’s estranged niece, Fatima Bhutto, who held Benazir Bhutto morally responsible for the death of her father Murtaza, was especially scalding in her criticism. Fatima Bhutto argued that hard-won progress in grass-roots democracy would be jeopardised by Benazir, who was giving democracy a bad name with her pro-American agenda. “She has put us all in danger of an Islamic backlash,” she said in an interview. “I do believe Benazir is the most dangerous thing to happen to this country.”(20)
The open backing that Bhutto received from the United States sealed her fate. Many people saw General Musharraf’s backroom deal with Benazir Bhutto — encouraged by Washington —as his latest attempt to buy time and stay in office. However, Benazir Bhutto's assassination on 27th December 2007 and Musharraf's resignation in August 2008, led to the September presidential election, and the victory of Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower.
Since coming to power, Zardari and military leaders have been struggling to control Islamist militants, many of whom are located in the tribal areas adjacent to the border with Afghanistan, but increasingly also inside Pakistan. In recent weeks, the Taliban group has repeatedly threatened that if it faces intensified operations by the Pakistani armed forces it will turn Pakistan into another Afghanistan. In other words, it will topple the government and will establish an Islamic Emirate in Pakistan. It remains to be seen whether the latest offensive against them will totally defeat them or whether they will manage to recruit more followers and pose a greater threat in the future.
Afghanistan - an account of its contemporary history
The recent problems in Afghanistan, which by and large had enjoyed relative peace and stability under Zahir Shah for four decades, from 1933 until 1973, started with his removal in a bloodless coup by his cousin and former Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan. While Zahir Shah had remained staunchly independent, refusing to join either the Western or the Soviet camps, Daoud Khan who declared a republic tried to move closer to the West with the encouragement of Mohammad Reza Shah of Iran.
During a state visit to Moscow in April 1977, Leonid Brezhnev told Khan that Afghanistan's non-alignment was important to the USSR, and warned him about the presence of experts from NATO countries stationed in the northern parts of Afghanistan. The Western leanings of Daoud Khan incensed the leftist and particularly communist parties in Afghanistan that staged a bloody coup in April 1978 led by the Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The rivalry between Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin led to the assassination of the former and the harsh short-lived rule of the latter, jeopardising Soviet interests in Afghanistan.
In December 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, instating Babrak Karmal, the leader of the Parcham wing of the communist party, as the new Afghan president. The event was described in cataclysmic terms by Western media, and it was seen as a major threat to the West. It seemed that the whole of the Middle East was about to slip out of Western control. President Jimmy Carter issued his famous 'Carter Doctrine', proclaiming that the Persian Gulf constituted a major area of vital US national interest and that the US would defend it by all means necessary.
However, what is not often realised is what had brought the Soviet forces to Afghanistan in the first place. According to some major Western players, Afghanistan was a trap laid for the Soviet Union to do to it what Vietnam had done to America.
The United States provided massive military and financial assistance to the religious fanatics, the Mujahedin (the Holy Warriors), in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the help of Saudi money and military assistance from the Islamist government of General Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan who had toppled the democratically elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted for ten years with some 30,000 Soviet forces killed and tens of thousands wounded. Over two million Afghans were also killed and another five million became refugees in Iran and Pakistan and many others were made homeless inside Afghanistan, and the country was devastated.
Yet, subsequently, we have learned that there was more to that invasion than was initially realised. Zbigniew Brzesinksi, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur openly admitted that the official story that the US gave military aid to the Afghan opposition only after the Soviet invasion in 1979 was false. The truth was, he said, that the US began aiding the Islamic fundamentalist Mojahedin six months before the Russians made their move because, in his words, "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention."(21)
Brzesinksi was asked if he regretted this decision: "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire."(22)
After the Soviet invasion, Brzezinski wrote to President Carter: "This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and, alas, a decision that our security policy towards Pakistan cannot be dictated by our non-proliferation policy."(23) Later, Brzezinski offered the explanation: "The question here was whether it was morally acceptable that, in order to keep the Soviets off balance, which was the reason for the operation, it was permissible to use other lives for our geopolitical interests."(24) Clearly, it was 'morally acceptable' to sacrifice millions of Afghans for the sake of the United States' geopolitical gains.
Robert Gates, the present defence secretary and the then director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in a State Department report in 1979, months before the Soviets rolled across the border to support the Taraki-Amin regime: "Beginning early in 1979, the United States government began considering providing covert support to the potential opposition in the mujahideen in Afghanistan and, beginning in July, actually the president authorised the kind of support…. The United States' larger interest… would be served by the demise of the [pro-Soviet] Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan."(25)
President Carter's CIA director Stansfield Turner wrote: "The question here was whether it was morally acceptable that, in order to keep the Soviets off balance, which was the reason for the operation, it was permissible to use other lives for our geopolitical interests." He answered the question: "I decided I could live with that."(26)
According to Representative Charles Wilson, a Texas Democrat, "There were 58,000 dead in Vietnam and we owe the Russians one.... I have a slight obsession with it, because of Vietnam. I thought the Soviets ought to get a dose of it.... I've been of the opinion that this money was better spent to hurt our adversaries than other money in the Defense Department budget."(27)
When the Taliban took power, State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies said that he saw "nothing objectionable" in the Taliban's plans to impose strict Islamic law. Senator Hank Brown, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia, welcomed the new regime: "The good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan."(28) "The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that," said another U.S. diplomat in 1997.(29)
There was though a kind of method in the madness: Brzezinski hoped not just to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, but to ferment unrest within the Soviet Union itself. His plan, says author Dilip Hiro, was "to export a composite ideology of nationalism and Islam to the Muslim-majority Central Asian states and Soviet Republics with a view to destroying the Soviet order."(30) Looking back in 1998, Brzezinski had no regrets. "What was more important in the world view of history?... A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"(31)
President Mohammad Najibullah, the last Afghan president before the Mujahedin came to power (November 1986 - April 1992), made the following prophetic statement to the reporters about the support given to the Mujahedin and the Taliban: "If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a centre of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a centre for terrorism."(32) His prediction proved all too accurate.
On September 26, 1996, the Taliban conquered Kabul. The first thing they did was to drag President Najibullah and his brother from the UN compound where they had taken refuge and hanged them in public. The next day they expelled 8,000 female undergraduates from Kabul University and fired a similar number of women schoolteachers.
Between 1982 and 1992, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East would pass their baptism of fire with the Afghan Mujahedin. Tens of thousands more foreign Muslim radicals joined them. Eventually more than 100,000 Muslim radicals were to have direct contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan and be influenced by the jihad against the USSR. One group of these radicals was led by Osama bin-Ladin. But as the Economist magazine noted soon after September 11, " [U.S.] policies in Afghanistan a decade and more ago helped to create both Osama bin Laden and the fundamentalist Taliban regime that shelters him."(33)
In 1998, the Taliban and a western oil consortium led by the U.S. firm Unocal signed a major pipeline deal. It is sad that after so much bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan the oil companies are back again. Five major western oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total are about to sign U.S.-brokered no-bid contracts to begin exploiting Iraq’s oil fields.(34) Saddam Hussein nationalised Iraq’s oil industry in 1972, but the U.S.-installed Baghdad regime is welcoming them back.
Afghanistan has just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned 1,680-km pipeline project expected to cost $8 billion.(35) If completed, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) will export gas and later oil from the Caspian basin to Pakistan’s coast where tankers will transport it to the West. These short-term economic gains will only store up more trouble for the future, as they are bound to intensify resentment among the Iraqis and Afghans who will see the wars that have been fought on their territories to have been for the sake of access to oil and gas.
Occupation - a major cause of resentment
This short survey of the recent history in Afghanistan and Pakistan shows that the issues are complex and deep-rooted and some of them are due to short-sighted policies of various Western governments in the past. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan poses a major threat to both countries, but the removal of that threat cannot be achieved by military force alone.
In order to put an end to violence and terrorism their causes should be removed. Occupation and the presence of foreign troops in other countries are always major causes of resentment, violence and bloodshed. Consequently, the region will only find peace if U.S. and NATO forces withdraw, allowing the people in those countries to decide their own fate.
Certainly, the immediate aftermath of occupation is going to be ugly and messy as different groups try to settle scores with their enemies and compete for power, but this is inevitable no matter when foreign troops leave. However, the longer they stay the more intense will be the subsequent conflict and bloodshed.
The United States should have left Afghanistan after having removed the Taliban from power, if indeed there had not been other ways of resolving the presence of al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. Now, it is much more difficult to do so than immediately after the fall of the Taliban, and in a few years' time it will be even harder than now. Therefore, the sooner the United States decides to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, as well as from Iraq, the better.
The Afghans have lived together and with their neighbours for thousands of years and have evolved a form of life that best suits them, based on religious tolerance, hospitality, generosity and fierce independence. People have forgotten that prior to the Soviet invasion and the Western campaign to defeat the invaders the Afghans were among the most peaceful and the most hospitable people in the world. Afghanistan was a Mecca for Western backpackers who travelled to Afghanistan in their thousands and received friendship and hospitality from the Afghans. However, history has shown that when they have been invaded they have been among the fiercest people intent on repelling the invasion.
Many well-informed Western officials and observers have also come to the same conclusion. Rory Stewart, who was an administrator in southern Iraq, is angered by the arrogance and condescending attitude of occupiers in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In an article in the New York Times, he wrote: "Afghans and Iraqis are often genuinely courageous, charming, generous, inventive and honourable. Their social structures have survived centuries of poverty and foreign mischief and decades of war and oppression, and have enabled them to overcome almost unimaginable trauma. But to acknowledge this seems embarrassingly romantic or even patronising. Yet the only chance of rebuilding Iraq or Afghanistan in the face of insurgency or civil war is to identify, develop and use some of these traditional values."(36)
If President Obama continues with his policy of 'surge' and military campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, part of the Pentagon's "Long War" and President Bush's "War on Terror", he will face a situation much worse than President Bush faced in Iraq.
The ill-conceived policy of the surge in Iraq and buying off nearly 100,000 former Sunni insurgents with 300-dollar monthly payments was bound to backfire. That policy is already unravelling, with April 2009 being one of the bloodiest months since the surge began, with many attacks by the members of the so-called Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq against the Shi'i-dominated Iraqi government resulting in hundreds of deaths. Violence has continued in the month of May too.
In Afghanistan, tribal and ethnic loyalties run deep and it is unlikely that any form of payment would separate the so-called moderate members of those clans from their kith and kin.
Pakistan is a nation of over 170 million people, with a large group of militants who have been radicalised as the result of the war against the Soviet Union and later on the US invasion of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has always proved hostile to its occupiers and the developments in the last seven years show that the same spirit still persists. The continuation and intensification of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan will gravely weaken America, in the same way that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put an end to the Soviet system.
Possible solutions to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan
A fundamental rethinking of Western strategy is therefore urgently required. This could include:
* Hold a regional conference.
The problems of the greater Middle East and South Asia can only be resolved on a regional basis. Therefore, it is important that the West acknowledges the deep interests of the main regional players who also seek stability in the region, and should involve them in the solution of the conflict. Instability in Iraq and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan are of more immediate concern to the countries in the region than they are to the West. Therefore, what is needed is to form a meaningful peace conference with the participation of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, China and India, as well as of the representatives from the West, under UN auspices. It is only through local solutions reached by all these countries through dialogue and consultation that any arrangement can have a lasting effect in settling the issues of terrorism and insurgency. Any unilateral imposition of ill-conceived designs by the West would only prolong the tragedy. The history of the past one hundred years of meddling in the affairs of the region, with tragic consequences, should have taught us this fundamental lesson if nothing else.
* Declare a unilateral ceasefire.
Seven years of fighting should have been enough to show that there is no military solution to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A brave gesture of reconciliation, telling the Afghans and Pakistanis that US forces will be leaving by a set date in the near future can win back many more moderate elements who have been alienated. This, combined with the announcement of a regional conference aimed at peace and reconciliation, could encourage more moderate elements in the region to look for a peaceful settlement of the conflicts.
* Start negotiations with the Taliban and the Pashtuns.
As a part of this process, there should be political negotiations with the Taliban and with Pashtun tribes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the aim of separating them from al-Qaida. While most Pashtuns are warlike and fiercely independent, there is no reason to believe that most of them would support al-Qaida, which is mainly a foreign organisation dominated by Wahhabi Arabs. It should be also borne in mind that the Taliban was not a native product of Afghanistan. It was imposed on Afghanistan by Pakistan, with US support. It is believed that nearly half of the Taliban forces that initially conquered Kabul were made up of regular Pakistani forces. Many Afghans do not agree with the Taliban's harsh and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. In fact, the traditional form of Islam in Afghanistan has been mild and moderate with strong mystical leanings. Their tentative support for the Taliban is partly due to their opposition to the presence of foreign forces in their country.
Equally, if the Pashtuns were left to themselves they would return to their old ways of independence based on their tribal loyalties. The introduction of Western-style democracy is not something that can be imposed on them by force. Democracy is not a product but a process. It is something that can grow as the result of education and greater integration with the outside world. Initially, a resolution of the situation in Afghanistan would require guaranteeing the autonomy of the tribal areas, under a loose form of federation and a symbolic central government, which has been the pattern in Afghanistan's history.
* Resolve the Kashmir problem.
The West should help resolve the Kashmir problem and bring about reconciliation between India and Pakistan. If the Indo-Pakistani tension and the ever-present threat of war subside, Pakistan can devote her energies to making a better life for its citizens. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and another war could involve the use of nuclear weapons.
There have been several attempts at finding a peaceful solution to the issue of Kashmir and at times they seemed tantalising close. General Musharraf was open to a deal that would entail the notion of 'soft borders' and separate autonomy for the two parts of Kashmir.(37) However, India has been dragging its feet due to security considerations. The resolution of Kashmir problem would remove a major cause of terrorism and would ensure a lasting peace between India and Pakistan.
* Provide bread not guns.
While putting an end to its military presence, the West should provide substantial financial subsidies to the Afghans in reparation for the enormous damage that has been done to them both during the war against the Soviet invasion, as well as during the subsequent US invasion. Afghanistan is now one of the poorest countries in the world, with a shattered economy and almost non-existent infrastructure, like roads, hospitals, schools and factories. The unemployment rate is estimated to exceed 50 per cent.
Pakistan also needs huge economic subsidies, not military assistance. The West should make sure that the assistance that is provided is spent on education, health care and social services, rather than on maintaining an inflated and corrupt military establishment. The best guarantee against extremism and radicalism is the hope of a better future and prospects of jobs and security.
* Build modern schools instead of religious madrasas.
Pakistan is still a mainly rural country with more than 64 per cent of the population living in villages. Less than half of the population can either read or write, while girls’ enrolment is among the lowest in the world, lagging behind Ethiopia and Yemen. One in three school-age Pakistani children does not attend school, and many of those who do, attend madrasas that offer almost no instruction beyond the memorising of the Koran, thus creating a large pool of volunteers for militant Islam.
The madrasas mushroomed under General Zia ul-Haq who, as a part of an American-supported policy, established many madrasas mainly with Saudi money to train Islamic fighters against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. These measures would go much further to putting an end to radical Islamism than any military campaigns.
* Stop drone attacks.
The most immediate step that the US government must take is to put an end to drone attacks in Pakistan. Even the top adviser to the US army chief in Afghanistan, David Kilcullen, has observed that the US drone strikes in Pakistan are creating more enemies than eliminating them, hence the need to have them "called off."(38) The impersonality of the drones and the large number of casualties that result alienate and infuriate most Pakistanis. Pakistani leaders have repeatedly condemned these attacks and have called on the United States to stop them. Their inability to change US behaviour further humiliates and enrages the public and turns them against their own government.
Beware of a massive volcano
Shortly after the Iranian revolution that unexpectedly brought many disparate anti-Shah and anti-American forces together and resulted in an unstoppable revolution against one of the most powerful and most stables governments in the Middle East, Stansfield Turner, the former Director of the CIA, wrote: "What we didn't predict was a 78-year-old-man, an Ayatollah, who had spent 14 years in exile, uniting these forces and turning all these volcanos into one immense volcano; into a national and real revolution."(39)
As the wars that are raging in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia, and now Pakistan and elsewhere are intensifying anti-Western feelings among a large section of the public in those countries, we must beware lest those aroused masses come together and create a volcano beyond anything that we can imagine.
What the world hopes to see under President Obama is a radical shift away from militarism and foreign adventures to peaceful resolutions of conflicts all over the world. There should be a paradigm shift away from a military-dominated outlook to one based on old-fashioned diplomacy, and a policy of winning hearts and minds. At the moment, the budgets of the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence and military organisations dwarf the budget of the State Department and foreign aid. There should be a reversal of this balance.
With the economic problems that the United States is facing she cannot continue to be the sole gendarme of the world and bear the cost of running the largest empire that has ever existed. America cannot go on spending as much on its military as the rest of the world put together. The neoconservative dream of world domination and unilateralism has turned into a nightmare. It is time to admit the folly of trying to establish global hegemony and to return to what America does best, the championship of democracy, human rights, freedom and openness. These values cannot be taught at the barrel of a gun.
A genuine multilateralism will not only help put an end to many conflicts in the world, it will also turn the United States into a beacon of hope for humanity and a major player in the advancement of democracy.
The United States is the only country that can either destroy the world, or can remake the world with its power of idealism, energy and passionate belief in freedom and democracy.
1- Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2008), p 224
3- See http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/05-7
5- See http://news.antiwar.com/2009/05/06/us-strikes-in-afghanistan-kill-100-mostly-civilians/
6- See BBC report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8069467.stm, and CNN report http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/27/lahore.blast/index.html
7- See Arundhati Roy "The monster in India's mirror", Asia Times, Dec 16, 2008, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/south_asia/jl16df02.html
8- See "9 Is Not 11", by Arundhati Roy, TomDispatch.com, December 12, 2008, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175013
9- See "Civilian deaths a flash point in Afghanistan" by Dexter Filkins, New York Times, November 8, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/world/asia/18iht-afghan.1.20273614.html?scp=7&sq=Civilians%20killed%20in%20Afghanistan&st=cse
10- See "Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq", Unknown News http://www.unknownnews.net/casualties.html
11- See "Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War" by Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/us/politics/28policy.html?scp=1&sq=President%20Obama%20tougher%20line%20on%20Afghanistan&st=cse
13- See "Struggle ahead for Afghanistan" by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Boston Globe, July 30, 2008, http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/07/30/struggle_ahead_for_afghanistan/
14- See End of Imaginary Durand Line, http://www.afghanland.com/history/durrand.html
15- See Pakistan's Assertive Regional Strategy, September 12,1994, http://www.fas.org/news/pakistan/1994/940912.htm, also February 1, 1993, http://www.kashmir-information.com/Afghanistan/Appendix2.html
16- See "Tribes of Terror" The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, Winter 2007, http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1507/article_detail.asp
17- See "Bhutto’s Return Brings Pakistani Politics to a Boil", New York Times, October 30, 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/world/asia/30pakistan.html?_r=2&th=&emc=th&pagewanted=all
18- See "Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinsk" from Le Nouvel Observateur, January 15-21, 1998, p. 76, http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/s11/brzezinski.html
19- See "Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinsk" from Le Nouvel Observateur, January 15-21, 1998, p. 76, http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/s11/brzezinski.html
20- See "Context of 'December 26, 1979: Memo to President Carter Gives Pakistan Green Light to Pursue Nuclear Weapons Program", History Commons, http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a122679memotocarter
21- See "Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban" by Phil Gasper, International Socialist Review, November-December 2001, http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Afghanistan/Afghanistan_CIA_Taliban.html
22- See "Superpowers' 'mistakes' in Afghanistan", BBC News, 24 December, 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4112117.stm
23- See "Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban", by Phil Gasper, International Socialist Review, November-December 2001, http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Afghanistan/Afghanistan_CIA_Taliban.html
24- See Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, By William Blum, "Afghanistan 1979-1992" http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/51/100.html
25- See http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article9040.htm
27- See "The Cost of an Afghan Victory" by Dilip Hiro; The Nation, Vol. 268, February 15, 1999. http://www.thenation.com/doc/19990215/hiro
28- Quoted by Andrew Hartman, "The Red Template: US Policy in Soviet-Occupied Afghanistan," Third World Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2002): 482.
29- See "End the War in Afghanistan", April 24, 2009, Ceasefire.ca, http://www.ceasefire.ca/?p=1090
30- Quoted in "Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden and the Taliban" By Phil Gasper, International Socialist Review http://www.isreview.org/issues/20/CIA_binladen_afghan.shtml
31- See "Oil giants return to Iraq" by Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, Friday, 20 June 2008: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/oil-giants-return-to-iraq-851036.html
32- See "At Last, Some Truth About Iraq and Afghanistan" by Eric Margolis June 24, 2008, LewRockwell.com, http://www.lewrockwell.com/margolis/margolis114.html
33- New York Times, March 7, 2007, http://select.nytimes.com/2007/03/07/opinion/07stewart.html?scp=4&sq=Rory%20Stewart&st=cse
34- See: "Now is the time for a deal on Kashmir" by Jonathan Power, TFF, May 26, 2009, http://www.transnational.org/Columns_Power/2009/21.Kashmir.html
35- See "Advisor: ‘US Needs to Call off Drone Strikes in Pak’", Asia News International, 3rd May 2009 http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/03-1
36- Quoted in "Looking back at Iran's revolution", BBC News, 11 February, 2002: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1814141.stm
Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power
(Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2008), p 224
Quoted by Andrew Hartman, "The Red Template: US Policy in Soviet-Occupied Afghanistan," Third World Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2002): 482.