War in Afghanistan threatens whole region

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012

It is ten years since imperialist forces invaded Afghanistan. As they struggle to extricate themselves from the jaws of defeat, they threaten to engulf the whole region in war. In September, Admiral Mike Mullen, former chair of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, threatened unilateral action in Pakistan, implying attacks on intelligence and military bases. Pakistan’s General Athar Abbas warned such action would have ‘grave consequences’. Reports suggested some Pakistanis were preparing for war with the US. JIM CRAVEN reports.

On 26 November, the Pakistan government condemned as ‘unprovoked and indiscriminate’ a NATO helicopter attack on a Pakistan border checkpoint that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistan government closed the border crossing for NATO supplies into Afghanistan in protest.

Earlier, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cancelled a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani and visited India, where he signed a strategic partnership agreement giving India access to Afghanistan’s natural resources in return for financial and military assistance. India, Pakistan’s chief adversary, will help train the Afghan army and police. General Kayani, head of Pakistan’s army, warned that India would interfere in the Afghan army and use the country as a base for gathering intelligence against Pakistan. For its part, Pakistan has taken a more determined stand for its own interests following the US raid which killed Osama Bin Laden. Seeking closer ties with China, Prime Minister Gilani told Chinese Vice-Premier Meng Jianzhu, ‘Your friends are our friends, your enemies are our enemies and your security is our security.’ Pakistan confirmed that members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were already in the country helping with reconstruction in the north.

The deteriorating relations stem from resistance to US demands that Pakistan attack bases in North Waziristan used by Afghan anti-occupation fighters, in particular the groups led by Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network was established and funded by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) in the 1980s to fight the Afghan government and Soviet Red Army. The US and the Afghan government claim it operates in collusion with the ISI and Pakistan military. Admiral Mullen said the Haqqani network was ‘a veritable arm of the ISI’ and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Pakistan rid itself of ‘the snakes in its backyard’.

The Haqqani group was responsible for the raid on the US embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul in September, when just seven fighters kept imperialist and Afghan national forces at bay for 20 hours. President Karzai claims the Haqqani network was also behind a foiled plot to assassinate him in the same month, and that the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabani was planned in Pakistan and carried out by a Pakistani bomber. Rabani was acting as the Afghan government envoy for peace talks with the Taliban at the time. Karzai subsequently cancelled further talks, saying he might as well talk directly with the Pakistan government, implying it was pulling the strings.

First Pakistan, then Iran

The US has launched dozens of drone missile attacks against Pakistan and sent special service and CIA death squads into the country. As a result of these raids and the 2004 operation in South Waziristan demanded of the Pakistan army by the US, plus subsequent reprisals by the Pakistan Taliban, at least 12,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed, millions displaced and two divisions of the Pakistani army destroyed. However, despite their belligerence, the imperialists know they cannot hope to reach a settlement in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan. They fear provoking such opposition in Pakistan that a totally hostile regime takes over the country, armed with nuclear weapons. In October, US special envoy Marc Grossman was sent to try and establish better co-operation in the region.

President Karzai wants Afghanistan to sign long-term strategic agreements with the US and the EU, as well as with India. Iran’s Interior Minister said that such agreements would threaten his country. In October, Iranian and Afghan forces exchanged rocket fire when the Iranians tried to establish a military base in the disputed border region. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that the US has no interest in establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan, but the US continues to expand the Shinland air base on the Iranian border as the main Afghan air force training base and will continue deploying US trainers there until at least 2016.

Imperialist lies

US and British propaganda claims that the Taliban are being subdued and that Afghan national forces are increasingly prepared to take over security responsibilities. The UN, however, reported a 40% increase in the number of security incidents in the first eight months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. During the past three years there have been at least 28 major attacks in Kabul, supposedly the most heavily protected city in the country. On 30 October, 18 people, including 13 ISAF soldiers and mercenaries, were killed in two attacks in Kabul and three Australian soldiers were killed by a member of the Afghan National Army in north Kandahar: the imperialists’ worst casualties in one day for the past two years. Afghan army desertion rates doubled in the first six months of 2011. An astonishing 24,590 went AWOL.

Since President Obama took office in 2009 civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan have increased by 24%. According to the UN, 80% of these were killed in the vicinity of attacks by anti-occupation fighters, leading Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar to warn Taliban fighters that they must ‘take every step to protect the lives and wealth of ordinary people’ or face punishment under Sharia law. An analysis of ISAF figures by Gareth Porter in the on-line journal Counterpunch, however, suggests that raids by ISAF special forces (SOF), and not attacks by anti-occupation fighters, are the major cause of civilian casualties. In the ten months from May 2010, the SOF carried out 6,282 raids killing over 2,840 people. ISAF claims all these were insurgents. Porter points out, however, that the majority of victims were more likely ordinary villagers trying to defend their homes and family, or those targeted as ‘insurgents’ for very dubious reasons. The latter contention is supported by the fact that 90% of those arrested as ‘insurgents’ were later released, often within days. Porter concludes that at least 1,500 civilians were killed by occupation forces in SOF raids over the ten months.

Ten years of suffering

Malalai Joya, a former Afghan MP, who herself suffered death threats from racketeers in and around the government, wrote in October, ‘Ten years ago the US and NATO invaded my country under the fake banner of women’s rights, human rights and democracy. But after a decade, Afghanistan still remains the most uncivil, most corrupt, and most war-torn country in the world. The consequences of the so-called war on terror has only been more bloodshed, crimes, barbarism, human rights and women’s rights violations which has doubled the miseries and sorrows of our people.’

The UN reported in October that prisoners in detention centres run by the Afghan security forces were being tortured by beating, suspension by the wrists, twisting genitals and removing toe nails. Of the 324 cases examined 89 had been transferred to the centres by the occupation forces.

A law forbidding violence against women is being enforced in only ten of the 34 provinces. The UN said 87% of Afghan women are subject to domestic violence. Every year around 2,400 women set fire to themselves to escape their suffering. One in 11 Afghan women dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

Progress in health and education remains ‘patchy and tenuous’. The worst drought in a decade has provoked the failure of the wheat harvest and left three million people facing food shortages. Some face a nine-hour trek to find clean water. Yet the UN reports a bumper year for opium, with prices up by over 300%.

Militias recruited and armed by US special services have killed, raped and stolen from villagers and then aligned themselves with local warlords. Little wonder that the Afghan government is loathed and the imperialist occupation increasingly detested.

Out of sight: the increasing military use of drones

The recently reported deaths of two young British men killed by CIA drone strikes in South Waziristan, Pakistan brought home how extensive the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones) has become. A report in January 2011 by the Conflict Monitoring Centre estimated that 2,043 Pakistanis had been slain by CIA drones in the previous five years, three quarters of them in the first two years of Obama’s presidency. The US is bombing a country with which it is not at war and killing three people a day. By May 2011, the US was estimated to be using 147 combat-capable drones overseas. In December 2009, a US drone attack killed 14 women and 21 children in Yemen.

Yet drones are not only being used by the US, but are also being used or developed by over 40 other nations. There is robust demand from Britain which has used drones in Afghanistan since 2007 and in Libya in 2011. New deals over their production have been signed between Britain’s BAE systems and Dassault Aviation of France, with roughly $70m set aside for the research.  It is now a £5bn a year industry. Israel has been using UAVs in Gaza since 2008. In January 2009 an Israeli Defence Force drone launched a missile at six children playing on the roof of the Al Habbash family home in Gaza City. It killed two girls, cousins aged 10 and 12, and injured three other people, two of whom lost their legs. Israel is a leading exporter of UAVs, with more than 1,000 sold abroad. Despite being keen to develop its own ‘sovereign’ drones, Britain also buys and rents drones from Israel.

Anthony Rupert


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