Afghanistan Karzai scuppers peace talks/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

The US and its imperialist allies know they have lost their war on Afghanistan. At a time of economic crisis and with other conflicts looming, they are desperate to extricate themselves as soon as possible. Yet they cannot be seen to be defeated or to give way entirely in a region that is strategically crucial to their global domination. Their hope is to achieve a settlement before the bulk of occupying forces leave in 2014 and, if possible, retain a sizeable military and diplomatic presence to police the outcome after that. Consequently, the first official talks between the US and the Taliban (unofficial contacts had been maintained for several years) were scheduled to start on 20 June; just two days after the occupying forces had ostensibly handed responsibility for combat operations to the Afghan national security forces (ANSF). The ‘evil enemy’ were to become ‘partners in peace’, just as FRFI predicted many years ago. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The talks, brokered by the Qatar and Pakistan governments, were due to take place at an office opened by the Taliban in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Unfortunately for the imperialists, they had not allowed for the fact that their Afghan presidential puppet might shake his strings. Karzai accused the US of duplicity, withdrew the offer to send his High Peace Council to Doha and insisted the talks be moved to Afghanistan. In retaliation, he cut negotiations with the US on a long-term strategic agreement. Karzai argued that his Afghan constitution must be preserved and that the Taliban must renounce violence before he would participate. He was particularly peeved that the Taliban flew their flag and that their office was entitled ‘The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, the term the Taliban used for the country when they were in power, thus suggesting they were a government in exile. In a farcical attempt to appease Karzai, the Taliban flagpole was cut to half size and the brass plaque removed. The talks still floundered. Two weeks later, in a video conference intended to reconcile the two sides, Karzai accused the US of seeking a separate deal with the Taliban in Pakistan.

Karzai, of course, has his own agenda. His life may depend on it. He wants to be seen as a nationalist who has stood up to the invaders. In May, he eventually reached an agreement with the US that all Afghan prisoners would be handed over to Afghan control within 96 hours of capture. He then gave British forces a two-week deadline to hand over the 80-100 prisoners held at Camp Bastion. In July, Karzai ordered the arrest of Zakaria Kandahari, accused of aiding US special forces in the torture, murder and mutilation of villagers in Wardak province in 2012. Karzai claimed Kandahari had been allowed to escape by the US.

Anti-occupation forces’ complex response

The position of the Taliban has long been that it would not engage in negotiations while foreign troops remained in Afghanistan; would not talk to Karzai, whom it regards as a corrupt stooge of the occupiers, and would not recognise the Afghan constitution, which it sees as having been imposed from outside. Now, some Taliban leaders have expressed willingness to compromise on the question of the occupying forces and, following the cancelled talks, said they would speak with all sectors of Afghan society, though only after they had negotiated with the US. The position is said to have the backing of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, although others claim the leaders making these statements are peripheral. The Taliban is not one united and centralised organisation. Especially since the assassination of many of its leaders, the Taliban has become more localised in its structure. Furthermore, the Taliban constitutes only one part of the anti-occupation forces. Other sections include the Haqqani Network, which has close links with Pakistan and has made no indication that it is ready to talk yet. Another is Hezb-i-Islami, the militia of northern warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once funded by the CIA and considered a rival of Mullah Omar. Hezb-i-Islami has two ministers in the Karzai government, emphasising the complex relationships of the ‘two sides’. It is also questionable whether the fighters on the ground will be as ready to compromise as some of their leaders.

Researchers from King’s College London, who interviewed over 50 Taliban leaders and commanders, found strong support for talks following heavy losses in recent months. The Taliban also accepted that it could never conquer the whole country. However, the academics concluded that the Taliban would not give ground easily in negotiations, that it was very resilient and that the struggle in the south and east of the country was likely to continue for some time. ‘What we find’, said the researchers, ‘is an insurgency driven both by a strong unifying strategic narrative and purpose – jihad against foreign invaders – and by local conflict dynamics – rivalry between kinship groups and competition over land, water and drugs.’

British failure

In June, General Nick Carter, commander of British forces in Afghanistan, admitted that the occupying powers should have talked to the Taliban back in 2002. He also accepted that the insurgency was strong enough to prevent the Afghan government controlling the whole country. A British military official conceded further that the Taliban will share power and that Taliban fighters might even join the Afghan army.

Publicly, the imperialists still claim the ANSF will be capable of maintaining security after 2014, but they have been reduced to gobbledegook statements such as this from ISAF commander US Gen Joseph Dunford: ‘The – the challenges they’ve had against the Taliban, they’ve absolutely confronted those. And – and not had an issue, you know’. Well, among these ‘non-issues’ are that 350 members of the Afghan army were killed in five weeks (many more than the total US casualties in the whole of last year): that the annual desertion rate stands at around 30%; that they have virtually no logistical expertise (a recent operation had to be abandoned because the vehicles ran out of petrol) and that they will have no Afghan air support for another five years. In his recent book Investment in Blood, Frank Ledwidge reports British soldiers as saying the idea that the ANSF could hold Helmand was ‘laughable’.

Ledwidge, a former serving officer and military adviser to the British government in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, believes that Helmand is no more secure now than it was in 2006 when British troops arrived. The King’s College researchers went further, saying: ‘Far from helping to secure Helmand, the arrival of the British triggered a violent intensification of the insurgency’. Ledwidge reports that many disillusioned young British officers are leaving the army. When asked what they had achieved, one infantry officer replied ‘Fuck all’. Ledwidge rightly argues that the main purpose of Britain’s involvement is to retain close links with the US, on whose military power British imperialism depends to defend its foreign interests. The cost of the war to Britain since 2006, according to Ledwidge, is at least £37bn, or £15m a day, equivalent to £25,000 for every person in Helmand: more than they could hope to earn in a lifetime. The main beneficiaries have been development consultants, drug lords and international arms companies. As well as the more than 440 British personnel killed in Afghanistan, Ledwidge estimates that there are more than 2,500 wounded and 5,000 psychological casualties who will need continuing care. In fact, for the past two years, in both Britain and the US, more serving personnel and veterans have committed suicide than have been killed in battle. David Somers, a US veteran of more than 400 combat missions, wrote in his suicide note: ‘I was made to participate in things the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity ... [to return to society and to] move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath.’

British attempts to eradicate poppy production have been another complete failure. The poppy harvest over the past two years has reached record levels and Afghanistan now supplies around 97% of the world’s heroin. The opium industry has helped to fund the insurgency (the Taliban regards heroin addiction as a western problem) but it restricts the development of a wider economy because it is so lucrative and is central to the rampant crime and corruption among the Afghan elite. The drugs trade was developed by CIA Operation Mosquito in the 1980s to fund the anti-Soviet war. The trade in opiates today is worth over $3bn a year. This compares with an official GDP of $15.7bn. Most of this, however, comes from international military and development aid and spending by the occupying forces. The estimated domestic revenue is just $2.4bn, but Afghan government expenditure is around $7bn a year. In other words, the Afghan government could not continue with even its modest provisions without the $8bn a year promised by other countries for the 10 years after 2014. However, only three of 17 benchmarks set for that aid have been met. There is still no legal framework for elections, weak prison sentences are being given to those responsible for major fraud and laws intended to safeguard women are being revoked. The National Assembly includes at least 17 drug traffickers and 24 members of criminal gangs, as well as 19 members who face charges of serious war crimes or human rights violations. A UN report in 2012 estimated that $4bn a year is paid in bribes. The deputy head of the Afghan Central Bank states that wealthy and corrupt officials take a further $8bn a year out of the country.