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Tariq Ali: Six years in Afghanistan

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    Tariq Ali on Afghanistan: Six years of a war of terror Sherry Wolf 3 November 2007 Socialist Worker http://www.greenleft.org.au/2007/730/37859 The US launched
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7 11:41 AM
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      Tariq Ali on Afghanistan: Six years of a war of terror
      Sherry Wolf
      3 November 2007
      Socialist Worker

      The US launched its first assault in the "war on terror" in
      Afghanistan six years ago. Today, the country remains one of the
      poorest places on Earth, ruled by a corrupt warlord elite. Tariq Ali,
      a veteran of the anti-war struggle for four decades, spoke to Sherry
      Wolf about the disastrous consequences of the US-led war — and what
      the future holds.

      This is the sixth anniversary of the US war on Afghanistan, which a
      lot of people see as the "good" battle in the "war on terror", as
      opposed to Iraq. Is that true?

      I have always argued that this was essentially a crude war of revenge
      to hit back immediately after the September 11 attacks — for political
      leaders to show the American population that "we are busy defending
      you". It had no other major purpose to it other than being for revenge
      — an eye for an eye.

      The second aim of this war, as [US President George] Bush spelled it
      out, was to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive". Those were his
      exact words, which we shouldn't forget. Apart from that, there were no
      war aims.

      There was never any question that they were going to capture the
      country. For one, the Northern Alliance wasn't going to resist — nor
      were the Iranians, who were very strong in western Afghanistan.
      Iranian leaders were hostile to the Taliban for their own
      opportunistic reasons, so they clambered onto the imperial bandwagon
      and said, "Fine, we can't get rid of these guys, but if the Americans
      do, we'll see how the situation develops".

      Then there was the Pakistani military regime, without which the
      Taliban would never have been in power, and which had been backing up
      the Taliban logistically, militarily and in every other way.

      Given that the US was going to use Pakistani military bases, the
      regime asked for a few weeks to get their military personnel out of
      Afghanistan before the US went in. In those two crucial weeks, of
      course, Osama bin laden and the al Qaeda leadership also left
      Afghanistan. They weren't going to wait around.

      So the US took Kabul with NATO help, but it wasn't difficult because
      there was no resistance at all. Then the question arose: What were
      they going to do with the country?

      They couldn't find Osama, though there was a two-week period media
      hysteria about "reaching the Tora Bora caves" and all this kind of
      propaganda. They dropped all these bombs and what happened? Nothing.
      They destroyed the caves, but the quarry had escaped.

      So what were they going to do now? It's obvious that bin Laden left
      the country and went to the tribal zones between Pakistan and
      Afghanistan, where the traditions of hospitality are very strong, and
      he wasn't going to be handed over.

      The US then implanted a puppet regime in Afghanistan. Let's remember
      that Zalmay Khalilzad was Bush's chief adviser on Afghanistan at the
      time, and he brought in one of his cronies who once worked for the
      Unocal oil company, Hamid Karzai, to be president of Afghanistan. And,
      presto, we had a country.

      The problem soon became very obvious to the West that its arrangement
      didn't really extend beyond Kabul and Kandahar, the two big cities in
      the south, during the daytime. Elsewhere, in the west of the country,
      pro-Iranian forces were in control. And in the north, the former
      Soviet republics, still heavily under Moscow's influence, were in

      So what were they going to do with this country? The answer is nothing.

      Does the US have any support within Afghanistan?

      I've argued that there's no doubt quite a number of Afghans were
      relieved to have the Taliban removed — quite a few thought, well, at
      least now we'll have some peace and safety, and maybe some food to
      eat. This was also the view of quite a few liberal commentators inside

      Some of us argued with them, saying that the Taliban might have been
      removed, but what would happen now? We warned them that as far as the
      social infrastructure was concerned, it wasn't going to change for the
      majority of Afghans.

      That's exactly what has happened in these six years. What people
      underestimate is that imperial occupations under neoliberalism reflect
      the priorities of the new capitalist order, where they're privatising
      everything in their own countries. So what happened was that money did
      pour in — and this money was used by Hamid Karzai and his cronies to
      construct an elite in Afghanistan.

      In the heart of Kabul, on prime land that they took by land-grabbing,
      the elite were and are building large villas protected by NATO troops
      in front of the entire population of the city and country.

      It costs about $5000 or $6000 to build a cheap house for a family of
      five or six, but they didn't do that. They spent millions of dollars
      constructing large villas. God knows why, since they need a permanent
      NATO guard to live in one of those villas. And they'll be taken away
      from them once the Western armies withdraw.

      That created a big crisis, and coupled with it was the fact that a
      trigger-happy US military embarked on killing innocents.

      Wherever the US heard gunfire, they would drop bombs. Someone should
      have told them that Afghanistan is a tribal society, a culture where
      people fire guns to celebrate — whether it's weddings or the birth of
      a child, they just run out and fire guns in the air. You'd have
      thought Americans would have been more sympathetic to this, given the
      gun culture in the US, but somehow they didn't appreciate it in

      So the US started bombing people. Reports came of a wedding ceremony
      in the US came and bombed the hell out of it. Casualties: 90 or 100
      killed, men, women and children. And this multiplied.

      How has the Taliban been able to make a resurgence?

      The Taliban began to regroup, rearm and fight, and it scored a few
      successes. What also began to happen simultaneously is that there were
      people who were happy to see them back — since no one else was
      defending them.

      So they began to treat the Taliban as an umbrella organisation and
      tell them what was going on. Lots of people supposedly working with
      the US-NATO occupying authorities would go tell the Taliban where the
      troops were going. Classic guerrilla warfare operations began, and the
      US responded with more bombing raids. So there's a vicious circle in

      If you look at the newspapers over the last year and do a survey of
      all the reports where there were 60 Taliban were killed, 80 Taliban
      killed, 90 Taliban killed, you add it up and they've already killed
      thousands of supposed "Taliban" militia members — and the total force
      was supposed to be about 10,000.

      In other words, if you believe these reports, then they've wiped out
      three-quarters of the Taliban organisation, which is far from the
      truth. But because the US is embarrassed at having killed civilians,
      it has to say this.

      You have a situation in the country where Hamid Karzai's brother, Wali
      Ahmed Karzai, is well known as the largest heroin and arms smuggler in
      the region. He's become that because his brother runs the country.

      Here's this guy who was happy running an Afghan restaurant in
      Baltimore and selling high-priced food to the students at Johns
      Hopkins [University] — and he's now second-in-command in the country
      and making a fortune — a "killing", let's say.

      Symbolically, this has been a total disaster. So, far from being a
      "good war", Afghanistan is turning out to be a nasty, unpleasant war,
      and there's no way the US or other Western forces are going to be able
      to stay there for too long.

      What are the regional powers hoping to get as an outcome in Afghanistan?

      The Pakistani military is hoping that the West will withdraw and some
      sort of coalition government will be cobbled together between Karzai
      and chunks of the Taliban.

      This is worth stressing. Backed by the West, the Karzai regime, even
      as we speak, is in serious negotiations with the Taliban. So the
      Taliban, which was demonised as the worst force that ever existed in
      the world, is now backed by the West — as long as they do a deal with

      The Taliban's first response to Karzai's offers was to say, "We won't
      even discuss this with you unless all foreign troops are withdrawn
      from the country". To which Karzai said, "That's not possible". He
      thinks it's not possible because without foreign troops, he wouldn't
      last 48 hours.

      But as far as the Pakistani military is concerned, they know that they
      won't be able to pull off a deal between the Taliban and Karzai as
      long as foreign troops are in the region. The military imagines that
      once Western troops are out, it can grab the country again, through
      the Taliban and Karzai.

      But I think this possibility is excluded now, because NATO made a mess
      of the occupation, and because in these last six years, regional
      autonomy has set in as a major factor in the country. Afghanistan was
      always a tribal confederation, but it's now even more confederated in

      And the Iranians and Russians are not going to permit a US-backed
      Taliban takeover of the country. So Pakistan's military leaders can
      hope to rule in one part of Afghanistan, but they won't be able to
      rule the whole country.

      I've been arguing in Pakistan and elsewhere for the total and
      immediate withdrawal of all major troops and, simultaneously, the
      convocation of a peace conference by the regional powers involved in
      Afghanistan — which means Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India, which is
      the biggest power of all — to set up a national government following
      Western troop withdrawal and provide a breathing space for this
      country to rest and hold elections for a constituent assembly in two
      or three years' time.

      In the meantime, these regional powers will guarantee no fighting and
      no civil war. People should be sympathetic to such a notion, because
      Afghanistan has been at war virtually nonstop since 1979. It's a
      horrible business taking place in that country.

      It's unlikely that the Americans or Pakistanis would agree to this, in
      which case the situation will go from bad to worse, in my opinion.

      So to sum up the situation in Afghanistan, it's a total mess. The US
      can never win that war, and the main reason they can never win is that
      Afghans don't like being occupied. Afghans kicked out the British in
      the 19th century, the Russians in the 20th Century, and now they're
      fighting again against the US and its NATO allies.



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