Afghanistan: imperialists raise level of violence in advance of talks

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

NATO forces can neither win in Afghanistan nor can they leave, if imperialism is not to receive a serious blow. British Prime Minister Cameron repeated at November’s NATO conference in Lisbon that British combat troops would be out of Afghanistan in 2015. However, the US government said that US troops would remain until Afghan government forces take the lead. That is precisely their problem: Afghanistan’s political leadership under the Karzai government and its military and police forces are unable to take over.

Throughout the autumn, over 8,000 US and Afghan national troops attempted to clear anti-occupation fighters from districts around Kandahar. Operations by US/NATO special forces to assassinate Taliban leaders were intensified. The imperialists know they cannot win the war, but they hope to strengthen their bargaining position before entering peace talks; they have to find elements in the Taliban they can deal with.

Low level talks involving intermediaries have been taking place for several years, but in October, US commander General David Petraeus claimed that senior Taliban leaders had ‘sought to reach out’ for negotiations and that ‘this is how you end these kinds of insurgencies’. He said that US forces were giving safe passage to Taliban leaders travelling to Kabul.

The Taliban denied that senior leaders were in contact with Kabul and described Afghan President Karzai’s High Peace Council as ‘failed and impractical’. Others were sceptical about Petraeus’s claims, saying they were an attempt to spin good news ahead of the NATO summit and President Obama’s December review of strategy. The imperialists are also trying to ‘buy off’ Taliban fighters by providing jobs or recruiting them to the ‘Sons of Shura’, an armed militia meant to guard areas cleared of anti-occupation forces. Similar groups organised by the British used their guns and uniforms to extort money and favours from the local population and had to be wound up.

In September, General Petraeus claimed that the use of Improvised Explosive Devices by anti-occupation fighters had ‘generally flattened out in the past year’. The truth is that IEDs killed 40% more US/NATO troops and injured almost 100% more in the first eight months of 2010 than they did in the same period of 2009. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, has pointed out that, whereas Afghan civilians were revealing the whereabouts of around 15% of IEDs in late 2005, by June 2010 this had fallen to just 1%. This indicates worsening relations between the civilian population and the occupying forces.

After the imperialist forces’ attacks around Kandahar, anti-occupation fighters were reported to be burying their arms and slipping back into village life or seeking temporary safe havens elsewhere. As the occupiers discovered in Marjah, overwhelming force might cause guerrilla fighters to temporarily withdraw from combat but this does not mean the area has been secured. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, explained their tactics in the context of an attack on Khogyani, where the police unit defected to the Taliban and burnt down their own station, ‘The Taliban exist in and around the district centres, and we have our own judges, courts, district governors and other officials. We do our guerrilla attacks and then leave the district centre. These are just buildings. They are not important.’ Most Taliban fight in the proximity of the villages they live in.

US threatens Pakistan

Pakistan has refused US demands to attack Taliban bases in North Waziristan, causing General Petraeus to make veiled threats of a US ground attack. By the end of September over 600 people had been killed this year by US drones in the region. The number of strikes was 50% more than for the whole of 2009. When three Pakistani soldiers were killed by a US helicopter raid on 30 September, the Pakistan government closed the border crossing into Afghanistan, prompting Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik to say, ‘We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies.’ More than 75% of all non-lethal NATO supplies use this route through the Khyber Pass. As the backlog of trucks piled up, dozens were destroyed by supporters of the Afghan anti-occupation forces.

Many in the Pakistan military see the Afghan Taliban as Pashtun freedom fighters combating foreign occupation. With a negotiated settlement in sight and the possibility that the Taliban will control Pashtun areas, they believe their support could give Pakistan a strong say in the region and more influence over the US. Although the US has cemented its strategic partnership with Pakistan’s rival India over the past few years and, despite its present frustrations with Pakistan, it cannot afford to lose its grip on the country. Recently it offered Pakistan a $2 billion arms deal in addition to $7.5 billion in civil aid over five years.

Carve-up

Other regional powers are competing for a stake in Afghanistan’s future. Russia, which is training Afghan army officers, is supplying helicopters to Poland that may be available for use in Afghanistan. It is also offering to remove restrictions on the US/NATO supply route through Russia in return for a restraint agreement with NATO and their acceptance of the present position in Georgia. In the summer, Iran organised a conference on Afghanistan with India, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The US has signalled to Iran that it would put aside major differences if Iran were to help facilitate talks. President Karzai has admitted his chief-of-staff receives around $1 million once or twice a year in ‘official aid’ from Iran. Both China and India are keen to secure Afghan mineral and energy resources to fuel their expanding economies. India, worried about Pakistan’s future influence, already has a $1.3 billion development programme in Afghanistan. China is extracting copper south of Kabul and has promised to build a smelter and railway line if it can mine iron ore at Hajigak.

Meanwhile, the Afghan people continue to suffer. Less than half the registered electorate bothered to vote in September’s parliamentary elections and a quarter of those votes were declared invalid. As Darya Khan, a 40-year-old driver, told The Guardian ‘Democracy, what’s that? I’m not going to vote. The people who get elected are just in it for themselves. They are not working to benefit the country, they are not thinking about the poor.’

Jim Craven

 

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