Afghanistan and Pakistan – drones and the new doctrines of war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

When US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011, the Pakistan government closed US/NATO supply routes into southern Afghanistan, demanding an apology for the massacre and an end to drone raids. The attacks continued relentlessly. In two weeks alone around the beginning of June 2012, eight drone strikes killed at least 56 people. More than 3,000 people have been killed by drones in Pakistan, including at least 175 children. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Zamir Akram, called for international action to halt the raids. China and Russia condemned the attacks at the UN Human Rights Council. On 4 July, after intense pressure from the US, the Pakistan government re-opened the supply routes. Just two days later, up to 24 people were killed in another US attack on Pakistan. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The US government claims that drone strikes in Pakistan are aimed at killing Afghan anti-occupation fighters, whom they call ‘terrorists’. However, they refuse to publish criteria for putting people on their assassination lists. Candidates for killing are proposed each week by a US security committee. President Obama personally makes the final decision as to who is targeted. In practice, every male of fighting age in a strike zone becomes a target. They are posthumously labelled terrorists. Deaths of civilians are consistently denied. The same attitudes apply to air strikes in Afghanistan. When 18 civilians, including at least five women and seven children, were killed at a wedding in Logar province in June, NATO listed the dead as ‘multiple insurgents’. Mohammed Yar, cousin of the dead bride, said, ‘We want revenge on the Americans and we want the president to help us take our revenge.’ Often, those going to the aid of victims are themselves attacked. Obama’s national security adviser, John Brennan, regards drone strikes as ‘legal, ethical and wise’. Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, calls them war crimes.

Hundreds of people have also been killed by US drones in Yemen and Somalia. Drones are being used in Mexico. US troops in Afghanistan are being supplied with mini ‘switchblade’ drones, to attack nearby targets. British forces operate Reaper drones around the clock in Afghanistan. Over the past five years they have fired more than 280 Hellfire missiles and bombs. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) admits to only four civilian deaths but says it has no idea of the total killed because it relies for verification on complaints by the Afghan people! New British drones were on display at this year’s Farnborough Air Show. The MOD has suggested they could be used over Britain.

New strategy for global war

The escalating use of drones is part of a new imperialist strategy for waging war. It includes greater use of elite special forces, civilian contractors (mercenaries) and proxy fighters controlled by ‘advisers and trainers’ from the imperialist countries. It also involves widespread use of cyber warfare, as, for instance, the recent attempts by the US and Israel to shut down Iran’s nuclear facilities. The doctrine behind the strategy is that US imperialism can and will go anywhere to defend its global interests. National borders are no longer sovereign. ‘Hands-off’ and covert methods allow the US to attack whomever it wishes without declaring war and without getting mired in expensive land wars that costs US lives. This, they hope, will reduce opposition back home.

The strategy requires ever closer co-ordination of the armed forces, intelligence services and government. Last year, former US commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, became head of the CIA, while its previous director, Leon Panetta, became Defence Secretary. In April, Panetta announced a new Defence Clandestine Agency to extend military espionage beyond war zones, while the Pentagon and State Department pooled funds to create a Global Security Contingency Fund. A few years ago the US Congress rejected President Bush’s request for open-ended military authority, but this is what President Obama has achieved. A UN report in 2010 warned that ‘the US’s ill-defined licence to kill threatens the rules to the right to life and the prevention of extrajudicial executions.’ Christof Heyns added, ‘Some states want to invent laws to justify new practices.’

Before his election, Obama promised to end illegal aspects of the so-called ‘war on terror’, including Guantanamo, other torture prisons, rendition, military commissions and detention without trial. These remain. At the same time, Obama has overseen a massive increase in the secret surveillance of US citizens, has made more government information classified than any previous president, and, in a crackdown on ‘whistleblowers’, has charged more people under the Espionage Act for handling classified documents than all past presidents combined. The same processes are underway in Britain. This ever greater subordination of civil life to martial authority has little to do with the ‘terrorist threat’. It is a reflection of the crisis of capitalism and the desperate struggle of the imperialist ruling classes to defend their global privileges.

Preparing for the long-term occupation

The Enduring Partnership Agreement signed between Afghan President Karzai and the US in May will allow the US to keep 20,000 troops, including special forces, in Afghanistan. The US military will control air power and direct the Afghan national forces through ‘trainers and advisers’. Afghanistan will receive over $4bn of military aid each year. The US is planning a long-term presence in the country. The military failure of the present US/NATO occupation, however, means they cannot hope to stabilise the country after the partial withdrawal of troops in 2014 without reaching some accord with other regional powers, and Pakistan, with its close links to the Taliban and expanding nuclear arsenal, will be one of the most important.

India has its own interests in Afghanistan. It has spent $2bn on projects there and recently won an iron ore concession involving $11bn of investment. Recently, India has also been edging towards cooperation with Pakistan on the stabilisation of Afghanistan. They have agreed a joint gas pipeline project and India invited Pakistan to participate in an Afghanistan investors’ conference in New Delhi in June.

Corruption and poverty

In July, an international conference in Tokyo agreed to provide Afghanistan with $16 billion of development aid over four years to try to stabilise the country in the interests of the imperialists; major donors are the US, Britain, Germany and Japan. Afghanistan has received $60 billion in civilian aid since 2002; roughly equivalent to its GDP. President Karzai dutifully promised the money would be used for the benefit of the Afghan people, but Afghanistan is rated as the world’s third most corrupt country. The Deputy Governor of the Afghan Central Bank reported that ‘up to $8 billion’ a year was being smuggled out of the country. Former Vice President Zia Masood arrived in Dubai with $52 million. The new Afghan ambassador to Britain, Mohammed Daud Yaar, is accused of fraud in the US. He got the post by lobbying President Karzai’s brother Mahmoud, whose business activities are also being investigated in the US. While these parasites enjoy the spoils of war, half the people of Afghanistan live in extreme poverty. A severe drought has caused food prices to soar. Every year around 30,000 children die of malnutrition and related disease. Unemployment is around 40%.


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