Imperialist shambles in Afghanistan/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Henry Kissinger recently described President Obama’s exit strategy in Afghanistan as ‘all exit and no strategy’. Although wrong (the US still hopes to retain a military presence after the 2014 ‘exit’), Kissinger’s quip reveals something of the shambles into which US and British plans have fallen.

In September, the Pakistani government announced that it was releasing Mullah Abdul Baradar, second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, as a means of promoting peace talks. Earlier it had released seven other Taliban prisoners. The move indicates the extent to which Pakistan retains the initiative in reaching a settlement in the war on Afghanistan despite all the threats, bribes and promises thrown at it by the Obama administration. Baradar was captured in a joint US/Pakistan special forces operation a couple of years ago but Pakistan refused to hand him over to the US. If Baradar is (or has been) released he will not be transferred to Afghan custody but allowed to return to Taliban bases on the Afghan border where, no doubt, the Pakistani intelligence service will retain close contact. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also suggested to Afghanistan’s President Karzai that the Taliban should open a new office for talks in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Taliban closed its office in Qatar following the summer fiasco when the US abandoned planned talks there following objections from President Karzai. Although it is said that Obama can hardly bear talking to Karzai, the US obviously believes a corrupt stooge who occasionally rattles his cage is more important to them than a peace settlement. This is despite the fact that the Taliban still adamantly refuse to talk to Karzai and that, even if he survives beyond the withdrawal of US troops in 2014, Karzai and his loathed cronies are likely to be quickly overthrown, if not by the anti-occupation forces then by rival crooks and warlords. 

Imperialists fund the Taliban

Indicative of the confusion in US and British strategy was a report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in August, which said that the US government had awarded contracts worth $150m to 43 companies known to support the Taliban. The British Foreign Office refused to respond to questions as to whether any such contracts were awarded by the British government.

Despite claims that the Taliban has been severely weakened and that Afghan national forces are able to manage security, the anti-occupation struggle appears to be unabated. At the end of August, the district governor in Kunduz Province was killed together with seven others. A few days later, the Taliban attacked an Afghan intelligence outpost near Kabul, killing four Afghan soldiers. On 12 September they attacked the US consulate in Herat. The last week in August was the worst so far for casualties among the Afghan security forces. Civilian casualties increased by nearly a quarter in the first half of 2013 compared with last year. The vast majority of these are the result of attacks by the anti-occupation forces. However, many civilians are still victims of the imperialists. A US soldier on trial for the massacre of 16 villagers in Kandahar last year apologised and claimed he did it behind ‘a mask of fear, bullshit and bravado’. On 7 September, a NATO air strike killed nine civilians, including children, when it hit a truck believed to have been carrying six anti-occupation fighters. They were also killed. The total number of people killed in the US drone campaign is at least 3,600. The British government confirmed that the number of British drone missions undertaken in Afghanistan rose from 296 in 2008 to 892 in 2012, while the number in which weapons were released increased from 14 to 92 over the same period. The government did not have data on casualties or on the extent of flights over civilian areas. Armed forces minister Andrew Robathan said, ‘We have no reason to believe the presence of any type of aircraft in Afghanistan has any psychological impact on the civilian population’ – thus revealing the hypocrisy behind the holier-than-thou expressions of concern the imperialists use to justify their global aggression. 

US rivals gain ground in Asia

Part of the reason why Afghanistan is so strategically important to the imperialists is that it lies close to the oil-rich Central Asian republics. But while the US has been preoccupied with Afghanistan itself, its rivals have been advancing towards the Caucasus. Kyrgyzstan has set a deadline for the closure of the US airbase at Manas, while Russia, which has its own base in the country, has recently signed military deals worth more than a billion dollars with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. China is also planning deals with Kyrgyzstan, including the redevelopment of Manas airport. It has also recently signed a bilateral energy deal with Turkmenistan and wants to negotiate with Tajikistan about its huge natural gas reserves. China is even making inroads in Uzbekistan, which remains friendly to the US military. Trade between the two countries grew by 60% in the first half of this year and China plans to extend this and political co-operation still further.

Jim Craven