Afghanistan and Pakistan – drones and the new doctrines of war / FRFI 228 Aug/Sep 2012

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%.

Afghanistan agreement – death squads to continue / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

The Enduring Strategic Partnership (ESP) agreement between the US and Afghanistan was signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai in May. In the days that followed, dozens of Afghan civilians were killed by US air strikes. In the Fatih Mohammed Pech area of Sangin, a mother and her five children were killed when their home was bombed. In Nawboor village in Baghdis province, US helicopters killed 15 civilians, including children. There were more casualties in Logar and Kapisa provinces east of Kabul. President Karzai, compelled to token protest, exclaimed: ‘If the lives of Afghans are not safe then the strategic partnership loses its meaning.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.

The ESP agreement had been paraded as an important stage in the hand-over of security responsibility to Afghan national forces and the end of US night-time raids. In fact, it was neither. Aiming to kill or capture anti-occupation fighters, night raids by US/NATO special forces terrorise the local population, destroying homes and killing civilians. Contrary to international law, entire villages are held for questioning for prolonged periods and thousands of people have been detained without charge.

The night raids are a major cause of opposition to the occupation amongst the Afghan people. President Karzai had to appear to insist that they were brought under Afghan control before he would sign the ESP agreement. US Central Command totally rejected Karzai’s demands but the US administration wanted to sign a deal before the NATO summit in May in order to bolster long-term support from the wavering Europeans. At the same time, the number in the US who want troops to be removed as soon as possible has risen from less than half to almost two-thirds of the population. In this election year, President Obama hoped to maintain the illusion that the war is coming to an end without making any commitment to leaving. Answering his rhetorical question, ‘Why don’t we leave immediately?’, Obama told the US people, ‘We must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilise’!

It was against this background of contradictory priorities and lies that the ESP agreement was cobbled together. According to the Memorandum of Understanding that accompanied the agreement, special force raids, led ostensibly by Afghan troops, will have to be sanctioned by the Afghan Operational Co-ordination Group. But this is already the case. The most important raids, those led by or consisting entirely of US/NATO special forces or CIA militias, are not covered by the memorandum. They will continue without any Afghan veto. As US Captain John Kirby commented, ‘In practical terms, not much has changed’.

US will stay in Afghanistan

Furthermore, the ESP agreement says nothing about the number of US troops to remain after 2014 and what their role will be. These will be part of a ‘Bilateral Security Agreement’ to be concluded within the next year. This is likely to be after Obama’s re-election is safely complete because any such agreement will allow for thousands of US troops to remain in Afghanistan until at least 2024. US combat operations are supposed to end in 2013 and the remaining troops to concentrate on training Afghan forces, but the agreement will undoubtedly allow US forces or their CIA counterparts to act against Al Qaeda or other generalised ‘terrorist threats’ that, in effect, will give them freedom to undertake whatever military operations they wish.

Nor is the plan to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces genuinely feasible. It may happen on paper, but on the ground US forces will remain in command for a long time to come and US bases will be transferred to the Afghans in name only. The Afghan army and police are riddled by drug-running and corruption and infiltrated by anti-occupation fighters. So-called ‘blue on green’ attacks, where members of the Afghan police or army attack US/NATO forces, have accounted for 80 deaths and over 100 injuries since 2007. Three quarters of the killings have taken place in the last two years and 22 of those this year. A dozen of the 414 British military deaths in Afghanistan result from ‘blue on green’ attacks. Annual desertion rates among Afghan forces are around 20%. In order to cut costs, a meeting of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries in April 2012 discussed slashing the proposed size of the Afghan forces from 352,000 to 230,000. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt had earlier pointed out the dangers of such cuts: ‘We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun and then made them unemployed.’

The occupying powers are planning, however, to increase the number of Afghan ‘local police’ from 10,000 to 30,000. These forces were created by the imperialists, supposedly to give local people a role in defending their neighbourhood from insurgents. In reality, most of them have become the personal militia of local warlords, accused by human rights groups of threatening the local population and carrying out extra-judicial killings.

Military action overrules negotiations

The US military insists it must weaken the anti-occupation forces before meaningful peace negotiations take place. The present US stance – not so much a negotiating position as an ultimatum – is that the anti-occupation forces must cut all ties with Al Qaeda, recognise the Afghan constitution, lay down their arms and accede to the US military presence until at least 2024. In fact, in late 2007, the Taliban offered to cut ties to Al Qaeda, form a government of national unity until the constitution could be rewritten and elections held and to accept a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal instead of the immediate withdrawal it had previously insisted upon. The offer was ignored by Presidents Bush and Obama. The Taliban’s first confidence building proposal in the recent discussions – that five prisoners should be released from the US prison at Guantanamo in return for concessions on the Taliban’s part – was also rejected. In March, the Taliban withdrew from the peace talks saying the US was being ‘shaky, erratic and vague’. They were followed by other sections of the anti-occupation forces.

General John Allen, US commander of ISAF, recently claimed that the Taliban was in retreat, its leadership in Pakistan divided and dispirited and its foot soldiers deserting in large numbers. These assertions were contradicted by two US politicians returning from Afghanistan. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said ‘what we found is the Taliban is stronger. The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They’ve gone up north. They’ve gone to the east. Attacks are up’. While Republican Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee, spoke of ‘the growing strength of the Taliban’ being ‘a huge problem’.

In mid-April, anti-occupation fighters attacked military bases, embassies and Afghan parliament buildings in three areas of Kabul, and simultaneously targets in the capital cities of the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia. Professor Mohammed Isaqzadeh of the American University in Kabul said, ‘We have never had such a co-ordinated attack.’ One British journalist described it as ‘the most ambitious insurgent assault of its kind since the US intervention in 2001’. Two weeks later, while President Obama was visiting Kabul, anti-occupation fighters attacked ‘The Green Village’ in the east of the city, where foreign mercenaries and contractors are housed. Announcing the raid as the start of its spring offensive, the Taliban said it would target the foreign military, Afghan government officials and members of the High Peace Council.

Threats of more war in Asia

In March, it was announced that no charges would be brought against any US serviceman over the NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. The Financial Times reported Pakistan as being in the grip of ‘hysterical anti-Americanism’. Since President Obama came to office, there have been over 260 strikes in Pakistan by Predator and Reaper drones. In January, Obama claimed ‘drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’ – as though even the ‘several dozen’ killings admitted by US officials weren’t important. Many hundreds of civilian deaths have been credibly reported and the actual total is probably higher still. Commenting on the futility of the raids as a means of eradicating what the US labels ‘terrorist groups’, a top Pakistan government official said, ‘The number three in Al Qaeda has been killed at least five times but there is always a new number three. It is the mentality that gives rise to Al Qaeda that you need to defeat.’

Relations between Pakistan and the US are now at such a low that Pakistan fears the US wants to seize its nuclear weapons and so has started to increase production and distribute them around the country. In April, Pakistan tested an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching all parts of India. A week earlier India had tested a similar missile. India is closely allied with the US in its strategy to contain China. The US allowed India to purchase nuclear materials contrary to the non-proliferation treaty. President Obama also reneged on a promise made to Pakistan that he would tackle the long-term dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. India is the only country in the region not to condemn the US night raids in Afghanistan. Nor has India joined with Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan in opposing the long-term presence of US troops there. Imperialist intervention is raising the threat of wider regional conflict. This year, for the first time, arms spending in Asia will exceed that of Europe.

Afghanistan: more imperialist atrocities /FRFI 226 Apr/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

On 11 March, 16 Afghan civilians were massacred in a pre-planned attack by a US sergeant. Two families, including nine children, were shot in their own homes and the bodies set on fire by the gunman before he calmly returned to base. In recent months, in addition to the ongoing slaughter of civilians and the torture of prisoners, we have seen evidence of the mutilation of Afghan corpses by US soldiers to take body parts as ‘trophies’, US marines urinating on their victims and taking videos of their celebration and the sporting of Nazi SS banners by a US sniper unit. Such behaviour is not exceptional. It is the norm for every colonialist war, where the inherent racism of imperialism leads the invading troops to consider the local population as inferior, even less than human, beings and where the contradiction between their assumed invincibility and the reality on the ground results in pathological acts of revenge. JIM CRAVEN reports.

British troops are currently on trial for abusing Afghan children. In 2011 a hungover British soldier stabbed a ten-year old in the kidneys for no reason. US Wikileaks records 21 separate incidents when British soldiers shot dead or bombed Afghan civilians.

The murders in Kandahar took place days after copies of the Koran were burned by US soldiers. Subsequent protests that raged throughout the country signified more than the Afghan people’s outrage at the desecration of their Holy Book. They expressed the seething hostility felt by most Afghan people to the occupation of their country and the humiliations they are forced to endure. Mohammed Anwar, an officer in the Afghan National Police (ANP), told reporters: ‘I will take revenge for the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance. I don’t care about the job I have.’

A US colonel and major were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in the supposedly secure command complex of the Interior Ministry after they had mocked the burning of the Koran. Two more US soldiers were killed by another Afghan soldier serving with ISAF and another two when an Afghan soldier and a teacher opened fire at a base in south Afghanistan. Such killings are labelled as ‘isolated incidents’ by ISAF, but at least 76 US/NATO troops have been killed by members of the Afghan police and army since 2007 (36 of them in the past year), indicating not only the ease with which anti-occupation supporters can infiltrate Afghan security forces but also the depth of antagonism among those forces. A recent investigation in three eastern provinces found that more than a third of Afghan soldiers had had serious altercations with the US troops leading them. Most telling of all was that during the demonstrations all US/NATO advisers working in Afghan ministries were withdrawn for fear that reprisals were likely to take place anywhere and at any time.

Losing the will to fight

In February, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced that US forces would begin the switch from combat to a training role in mid-2013, a year earlier than expected. The will to continue fighting a lost war is disintegrating among the coalition nations. Following the shooting of four French soldiers by an Afghan soldier in January, France announced it would be pulling out its forces a year earlier than planned. Britain has a fixed timetable for withdrawal by 2014, regardless of requirements on the ground, and will leave earlier if possible. The US has growing concerns elsewhere – in Iran, Syria, Somalia and Yemen – and in curtailing the growing influence of China in the Pacific.

This is not to say that the imperialists are set to abandon Afghanistan. They cannot afford to. It is a vital link in US strategy to maintain global hegemony. Even after the remainder of the ‘surge’ forces are withdrawn this September, the US will still have 68,000 troops in the country and it wants to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government that will allow up to 20,000 mainly special operation forces to remain long after 2014. The dilemma facing the imperialists is that the plan to train an Afghan force to take over security has been riddled with problems of desertion, incompetence, ethnic sectarianism and corruption. One Afghan general said the earlier timetable was a ‘disaster’ for Afghanistan, underlining the lack of preparedness of the Afghan forces. One alternative will be for the US to concentrate on training an elite Afghan strike force ostensibly to lead operations, while in reality under the command of US special forces.

The occupying forces have come to rely increasingly on special force operations: what one US central command official called ‘the last offensive tactic we will have available’. These night raids provoke massive hostility among the Afghan people. Not only are innocent civilians killed and arrested and homes destroyed, but the raids violate the customs of the Afghan people. As Haji-Niaz Akka explained, ‘It’s better to be killed than to be searched at night while sleeping with one’s wife and kids. This is absolutely unacceptable.’

Karzai clings on

Even the corrupt President Karzai demands an end to night time raids, or at least bringing them under Afghan control, before he signs up to the strategic agreement. But Karzai cannot survive without US support. He is already under pressure to relent before the NATO summit in Chicago in May when long-term assistance for Afghanistan will be considered. Karzai’s main hope of influence is to play a key role in peace negotiations. In an attempt to curry favour with the Taliban, Karzai recently posted on his website a statement from the Halema (religious) Council that read, ‘Men are fundamental and women secondary. Men and women should not mix in work or education and women must have a male guardian when travelling.’ The Afghan constitution is supposed to uphold women’s rights but Karzai, along with most other Afghan warlords, ignores it. Remember that some in the Labour Party, like Cherie Blair, and Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, used the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan to justify the war.

In February, Karzai called on Pakistan to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan replied that it was ‘preposterous’ to suggest they could do so. However, the Pakistan military and intelligence service have close links with the Taliban and other sections of the anti-occupation forces. One commander quoted in The Independent on Sunday said, ‘Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t piss on a tree in Kunar without them watching’. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Hasan, told the British government that relations with the US were at their lowest ebb. He warned Britain to stop US ‘drone wars’ slaughtering hundreds of civilians or else Pakistan ‘has the means to retaliate’. Pakistan will use its connections with the anti-occupation forces to ensure its own interests – using Afghanistan as a rearguard against Indian encroachment – are safeguarded in any peace settlement.

Lies for public consumption

The imperialist propaganda machine in the US and Britain would have us believe that the anti-occupation forces are being forced into a weak position ready for peace negotiations. A report by US Lt-Colonel Daniel Davis, however, said that Taliban strength is undiminished. Davis, a veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, travelled 9,000 miles throughout the country in 2011, interviewing US/NATO troops, Afghan security forces and civilians. He concluded, ‘What I saw bore no resemblance to the rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground.’ Davis said, ‘I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level’ and was told stories of ‘how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of US or ISAF bases.’ Davis also observed Afghan security forces co-operating with anti-occupation fighters. One member of the ANP told him, ‘No, we don’t go after them. That would be dangerous.’

In January 2011 the Afghan NGO office warned all its field workers not to base their plans on ISAF public statements. ‘These messages’, it said, ‘are sharply divergent from ISAF strategic communications. [They] are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion ahead of the withdrawal and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here’.

A recent NATO report based on interrogations of 27,000 insurgent and civilian prisoners admitted that the anti-occupation forces remained in confident mood and that ‘Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption, ethnic bias and lack of connections with local religious and tribal leaders’. This made for ready recruitment to the Taliban forces.

More imperialist wars?

This March British forces suffered their biggest loss of life in a single attack since the war began when six soldiers died in an explosion. This brought the number of British troops killed to 404. More than 5,000 have been injured. 3,000 of these are long-term injuries, including 300 amputations. These young men and women are feted as heroes, fighting to protect Britain from terrorism. In reality they are giving their lives to defend the foreign interests of the rich and powerful. The parliamentary committee on national security recently called for an overarching strategy to maintain Britain’s influence in the face of rising global powers. The Labour Party has launched a defence review to, in the words of Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy, ‘examine the drivers of global change’ in order to ‘retain an interventionist defence posture’. Prime Minister Cameron may be keen to extricate British forces from a costly defeat in Afghanistan but it will not be the end of Britain’s imperialist adventures, whichever party is in power.

DEFEND Azhar Ahmed

Demonstrating yet again just how little ‘free speech’ there is in Britain, the Yorkshire police arrested and charged 19-year-old Azhar Ahmed with a ‘racially-aggravated public order offence’ after he posted on Facebook following the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan on 6 March. Azhar’s post attacked the killing of innocent people and included the words ‘All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL!’. When Azhar appeared in court on 20 March, the racially-aggravated charge was dropped and replaced by one under the Communications Act 2003, the same law which has been used to imprison four young men who posted on Facebook about the August 2011 riots. Azhar will stand trial at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court on 3 July. Meanwhile, serving officers and others, who have posted flagrantly racially abusive comments about Azhar in response to his post, have been allowed to continue with impunity.

Afghanistan – failing imperialists try to divide opposition/FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Despite escalating brutality from night time raids by special forces, drone attacks and assaults by helicopter gunships, US/NATO forces are failing to blunt anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan and to force the Pakistan military to take action against their bases over the border.

Security incidents reached record levels in 2011, up 39% on the previous year, to a monthly average of 2,108. The Institute for Strategic Studies said that the fighting had spread to the east of the country while occupation forces were concentrating on the south and that plans for a major withdrawal of US troops by 2014 were not on track. A secret report by the US military called for an extra 2,000 US and British troops to be sent. ISAF commander General John Allen said a fast pull-out would create difficulties holding ground won from the insurgents. He pointed out that, even with accelerated training, Afghan security forces would not be ready to take over by 2014. US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker admitted that the 2014 deadline may not be met and that the US would not ‘walk away’ from Afghanistan. He said a joint security pact in the early stages of negotiation would ‘lay out the framework for strategic partnership well beyond 2014 on a wide range of areas – the economy, education as well as security’ and that ‘major weapons systems’ would be delivered after 2014. The British government, in the mire of the capitalist economic crisis, is keen to end British military involvement as soon as possible. In December, the National Security Council met to discuss a pull-out and some ministers argued for the withdrawal of half of Britain’s 9,500 troops by mid-2013.

Pakistan military resists US

The Pakistan government described the murder of 24 Pakistani soldiers by US forces in November 2011 as ‘a blatant act of aggression’. It retaliated by closing two border crossings through which the US military transfers around a third of its supplies into Afghanistan. Pakistan also gave notice for US forces to vacate the Shamsi drone base in Baluchistan within two weeks and threatened to ban US ships carrying war materials from docking at Pakistani ports. The Pakistan government then withdrew from an international conference on Afghanistan held in Bonn at the beginning of December. There were big anti-US demonstrations in several towns and cities. Predator drone attacks on Pakistan, suspended following the incident, resumed in January.

The impetus in Pakistan is with those sections of the Pakistan military and intelligence service (ISI) that back the Taliban as a means of achieving influence in Afghanistan and preventing Indian encroachment. Reports in December suggested that Pakistan’s President Zardari was being sidelined. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, was forced to resign after secret communications with the US came to light in which he asked for US help against the military and promised in return to disband the ISI and the Haqqani network (a non-Taliban anti-occupation force with close links to ISI) and carry out US instructions. General Kayani, head of the Pakistan army, and Lt-General Shuja Pasha, head of ISI, called for a judicial inquiry into Haqqani’s possibly treasonable activities. Haqqani had to seek protection in the Prime Minister’s residence.

US manoeuvres for talks

In January, the Taliban announced it was opening a political office in Doha, Qatar’s capital, from which negotiations for a settlement might take place. The idea had been floated at the December conference in Bonn. As part of this agreement the Taliban is demanding the release of key commanders. At least five are known to be held in Guantanamo. US Vice-President Joe Biden told Newsweek the Taliban ‘per se is not our enemy’. After years of demonising the Taliban and anyone the imperialists considered associated with them, it is difficult to imagine a more hypocritical statement. Having failed in their military assault, the imperialists are using divisions among the anti-occupation forces and sidelining both Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan in pursuing a settlement that suits their own interests. The Afghan Taliban recently issued a plea for various anti-occupation groups based in Pakistan to put aside internal differences and unite behind it. The official Taliban position is that it will not negotiate a settlement until all foreign forces have left the country. The Haqqani network continues to reject any peace negotiations. Qatar’s offer is significant because it is the US’s staunchest ally in the region, having a US airbase, assisting in the invasion of Libya and now calling for foreign intervention in Syria.

President Karzai had wanted the Taliban office to be in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. As head of a corrupt and highly unpopular government, Karzai knows his position (indeed his life) will be under threat after any settlement. Since he cannot stand for a third term as president, he is trying to secure his hold on power by becoming Prime Minister and reducing the presidential role to a figurehead. He is also trying to belie his image as a US puppet by refusing to sign a new strategic partnership agreement until NATO ends the night raids that have killed so many Afghan civilians and, most recently, by demanding that all detention centres run by occupation forces should be turned over to Afghan national control.

Jim Craven

War in Afghanistan threatens whole region / FRFI 224 Decr 2011/Jan 2012

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