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afghanistan and pakistan in focus: special section Pp1-4
PAM GLEW – ‘Afghan Girl’ (2009)
Starts with candy,
ends in napalm
Barack Obama once described the operations in Afghanistan as a “necessary war”. That war has lasted eight years and General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US forces there, appointed by Obama, is urging him to deploy 40,000 more troops.
In Indochina, the US supported corrupt and illegitimate puppet governments, to no avail. In Afghanistan, Britain and the Soviet Union failed to subdue the country, despite all their efforts. US military losses have been relatively small (880 since 2001, compared with 1,200 a month in Vietnam in 1968) and anti-war protests have been low-key, but have the western armies any chance of winning, lost in mountains, surrounded by drug traffickers (1), and suspected of crusading against Islam?
The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner still hopes to “win hearts and minds with a bulletproof vest” (2) and McChrystal assures the world that “the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents but to protect the population” (3). Apart from their cynicism, these statements are based on a common assumption that social development can be combined with military operations in a country where it is impossible to distinguish between insurgents and civilians. In Vietnam, the US journalist Andrew Kopkind summed up this kind of “counter-insurgency” in 1966 as “candy in the morning, napalm in the afternoon”.
Washington appreciated the strength of Afghan nationalist and religious forces when, with American aid, they drained the Soviet Union. The US may have no hope of decisively beating them now, but it would like to weaken the loose links between the Taliban and al-Qaida militants (4). After all, Washington’s reason for deploying troops and drones in central Asia following the attacks on 11 September 2001 was to destroy al-Qaida, not to secure an education for Afghan girls.
If Obama, the latest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, resists the neoconservative call for military escalation, he will have to explain to the US public that it is rarely possible to secure happiness by bombing the people; that there are now only a handful of Osama bin Laden’s followers in Afghanistan; and that US security will not be threatened if an understanding is reached with the less extremist wing of the
Taliban (see Culture wars in Afghanistan, page 3). Russia, China, India and Pakistan have no interest in perpetuating this serious regional tension and might help to arrange a negotiated settlement. To sacrifice a life for “democracy” in a foreign country is a challenge, but to die for Hamid Karzai? And to do so when General McChrystal admits that the “mayor of Kabul”, hanging on to office by electoral fraud, has actually managed to make many Afghans feel “nostalgic for the security and justice Taliban rule provided”.
These questions seem to be of no concern to European leaders, although 31,000 British, German, French, Italian and other European troops are fighting alongside the US forces. Now, more than ever, Nato decisions are taken in Washington. In Paris, President Sarkozy recently announced that France “will not send one soldier more”, and then added: “Is it necessary to stay in Afghanistan? I say yes. And to stay to win” (5). Buried in a two-page interview, his statement attracted no comment, perhaps the kindest response.
TRANSLATED BY BARBARA WILSON
(1) Afghanistan accounts for 93% of heroin production worldwide. See Ahmed Rashid, “The Afghanistan Impasse”, New York Review of Books, 8 October 2009. See also the map, “L’opium, principale production afghane”, on the French Monde diplomatique website, http://www.mondediplomatique.fr/cartes/afghanopium2009/. (2) Canal +, 18 October 2009. (3) Le Figaro, Paris, 29 September 2009. (4) See Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Al-Qaida: the unwanted guests”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, July 2007. (5) Le Figaro, Paris, 16 October 2009. Ségolène Royal joined in, declaring that the war in Afghanistan must and would be won.
REVOLUTION AS MUCH AS RELIGION POWERS
THE NEW TALIBAN
Pakistan creates its
The current area of concern for the US, and the world, is the zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan where porous borders allow the free passage of conflicts. The US is pressuring Pakistan to achieve through military means what it has itself failed to do in Afghanistan. In a special section over four pages, we examine who is fighting who,
and why, and what they hope to win
BY MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD
On the day I arrived in Peshawar last month, the evening stillness was broken by nine loud explosions, each preceded by the sucking sound of a projectile as it arced into Hayatabad, the suburban sprawl west of the city. Their target was a Frontier Constabulary post guarding the fence that separates the city from the tribal region of Khyber.
When I lived here seven years ago, Hayatabad hosted many Afghan refugees; those with fewer resources lived in the slums of Kacha Garhi, along the Jamrud Road to the Khyber Pass. Many established businesses here, and dominated commerce and transport in parts of the city. Some temporarily migrated in summer to Afghanistan, where it was cooler. But Peshawar was a sanctuary, as Afghanistan was perpetually at war. Now, many Afghans are leaving because Afghanistan feels safer. There are checkpoints all over the city, many kidnappings, and in the past month, there have been at least three suicide bombings and four rocket attacks, most targeting Hayatabad.
This war began in 2002 under intense US pressure, with piecemeal military action in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous region of seven agencies along Pakistan’s north-western border. The Afghan Taliban were using the region to regroup after their earlier rout: veteran anti-Soviet commander Jalaluddin Haqqani headquartered his network in North Waziristan; Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org
e-Islami had a presence in Bajaur. However, the military, reluctant to take on pro-Pakistan Afghans, whom the government sees as assets against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, instead marched into South Waziristan to apprehend “foreigners” (mainly Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs). Following the regional code of honour, the tribes refused to surrender the guests and were subjected to collective punishment that soon united them against the government. Disparate militant groups coalesced into the Pakistani Taliban, distinct from and less disciplined than its Afghan counterpart. Ineffectual tribal elders were marginalised or assassinated. The leadership shifted to individuals such as Nek Muhammad, 27, a charismatic veteran of the Afghan war, a sworn enemy of the US presence in Afghanistan.
a gulf created
Although FATA had been a transit base for rebels and weaponry during the anti-Soviet struggle, this did not undermine the tribal structures or the political administration. There were no insurgents, according to Rustam Shah Mohmand, an astute analyst of frontier politics, “because the policy of the government and the aspirations of the people converged”. He suggests three causes for the present impasse: President Pervaiz Musharraf’s decision in 2001 to join the US “war on terror”; the use of indiscriminate force to support what was seen as an American war; and the disappearances and rendition of suspects, many innocents among them, given into US custody for compensation.
These combined to create a gulf between public opinion and government policy, and in 2002 led to the protest vote that brought the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, an alliance of religious parties opposed to the “war on terror”) to power in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The evisceration of established institutions, particularly the office of the Political Agent,
Continued on page 4
inside this issue No leaders, no future: Israel’s left pays the price of neglecting socialism page 5 Is Denmark’s welfare state supporting those that need it most? page 6 Divided we stand: Germany’s reunification never materialised page 8 Balkans still non grata in the EU page 10
Moving forward: Angola’s battle-scarred people try to heal the past page 12 Guinea’s bauxite town betrayed page 13 What will we eat? World Trade food rules need urgent reform page 14 Desert queen: Aziza Brahim sings for justice first, pleasure second page 16