Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Obama's war": Tariq Ali

Afghanistan was captured without a struggle, in reality. Worth remembering that. There was no real struggle by any segment of Afghan society to resist the U.S./NATO occupation. Why? Because the key player in this war was Pakistan, which had armed the Taliban, which had sent the Taliban to take power and end a period of civil war. And there were large numbers of Pakistani soldiers, Pakistani Air Force, Pakistani military, Pakistani intelligence people, people in Afghanistan who essentially told the Taliban leaders, “Now is not the time to fight. Shave your beards and come back to Pakistan, or go. But do not resist, because you will all be killed.” From their point of view, it was very sane advice. And, more astonishingly, the Taliban leadership, which was divided, actually accepted that advice. So Kabul fell without a struggle. And for the first two years the resistance to the United States and its NATO allies was limited, episodic, and localized.

What made it national? What made it national was the decision by the United States to impose a regime on Afghanistan. One of its CIA assets, Hamid Karzai, was propelled into power. More on him later since he has become a controversial figure as of late, supposedly fighting with the United States. But let’s just go through the chronology.

They imposed this regime and gave it a U.S. bodyguard. I think DynCorp supplied the bodyguard because Karzai said at that point that he didn’t trust any Afghans to protect him, give him personal protection. And of course, that was astute, because they probably would have bumped him off. He then established together with his brother a government of cronies and a very tiny, narrow circle of supporters, largely within Kabul and a tiny part of Kabul, and their aim in Afghanistan was that the only way forward was to enrich ourselves. And in a country with the most appalling levels of poverty in the entire world, these people used the money that was being sent to them for reconstruction, money that was being sent to them both via NGOs and via states, after the Bonn conference, spent this money and they did enrich themselves. It’s no secret.
That is why General Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, warned very seriously against against “the surge” of 30,000 extra troops.
So the entire socio-economic structure, backed by NATO armies, was a structure that made a tiny group of people very rich. And this in front of the eyes of the poor, who were swelling the slums outside Kabul, which grew by half a million within the first two years of the occupation.

And that’s the reason that Peter Galbraith got kicked out of Kabul, not because he was engaged in corrupting the Kurds in relation to oil, but because he’d screwed up by antagonizing Karzai without having any alternative. And that is why General Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, warned very seriously against two things. He warned against “the surge” of 30,000 extra troops. And he warned very sharply against removing Karzai in private. Or so we are told. Because he said, “There is nothing else here, removing him is like handing the place over to the Taliban.”

If you want a particularly contorted defense of this position written, I hate to say this, but really written for idiots who know nothing about Afghanistan, I would recommend the article of the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in the New York Review of Books. It is truly appalling, without understanding what’s going on in the country, bland, one cliché dripping onto the pages after another, but at least saying one thing which is of interest: that we can’t stay there.
The U.S. Marines went back in and with knives took the bullets out of everyone there, especially the women and children, so no one would know American bullets had been used to kill them.
You see, since the surge began, the big publicity machines going into operation—another victory, yes, we’ve captured this, we are now going to attack Kandahar… In fact, disaster stories. Total and complete disaster stories. And you read side-by-side with these big propaganda stories smaller, quite shocking stories, of which many more happen, if you read the vernacular press in Pakistan (because that reports them). But occasionally they find a way into the mainstream press in the United States and Britain and other parts of Europe.
Let’s just see one story. The U.S. Special Black Ops Squad targets a house because they think insurgents are in the house. They don’t explain why they think that, but they say they’re pretty sure. They attack the house and kill everyone in it. In that house is a family, a large joined family. Everyone is killed. Women, children, a pregnant woman—this happened in February—are killed. Realizing what they’ve done… but the story is already going out: “We had a targeted attack on an insurgent house and it was successful.” Then, a London Times journalist who’s there, embedded with the troops, finds out what really happens. That it was a completely innocent family that was killed, that they went back in, the marines on these special operations, and with knives took the bullets out of everyone there, especially the women and children, so that no one would know American bullets had been used to kill them and to cover up the whole story. Now this is a tiny cover up. But there have been big cover ups since.

A week after this event happened, a passenger bus on its way to Kandahar was bombed and hit by helicopter gunships. Why? Because the troops on the ground had said that the bus was traveling in a funny way, and may have insurgents in it. So they fired at the bus and killed a few dozen people, wounded several dozen others, and even Karzai once again had to say, “This is atrocious, how the hell can we do anything if this is going on?” This is the concrete result of the surge, essentially.

In other words, if the draft constitution had gone through, women in Afghanistan would have had the right to vote before they did in the United States and Britain and most parts of the West.
The other ally which gave the U.S. the green light to occupy both Iraq and Afghanistan are the Iranian clerics. I mean, it’s no secret now.

Now, what is the way out? The only way out is the way the Russians took and the British before them. And by the way, the British were driven out of Afghanistan in the nineteenth century. They fought two wars, and they were driven out; they were defeated at a time when weapons were very straightforward and simple. Of course, the British had the Maxim gun, or something closely resembling it, which later became the Maxim gun. They had quite advanced technology for the time. But they were defeated essentially, you know, by tribal guerrillas who had nothing but very old-fashioned rifles which often took just one gunshot, and they fired it normally for killing animals. And the British, realizing they had lost, left the country.

And they claimed they left it alone. But they never did because they were then occupying and ruling over India. It was British India at the time. And when, for the first time, you had in Afghanistan an attempt by native Afghans to create a popular democratic constitution in 1918, 1919—inspired partially by the Kemalists in Turkey, and partially by the Bolsheviks—the new king, Amanullah, said, “We will have a democratic constitution and permit elections,” and his wife Soraya, said, “And we will give women the right to vote.” This was in the Afghan draft constitution.

In other words, if that had gone through, women in Afghanistan would have had the right to vote before they did in the United States and Britain and most parts of the West. But this plan was defeated by a British plot which conspired with very deeply conservative and reactionary tribes and toppled this regime and put a semi-puppet regime in its place which was always unstable.

So it’s all been tried before. The Russians likewise invaded Afghanistan in 1979 after two unanimous politburo decisions not to do it. Zbigniew Brzezinski boasts that they drew them into a bear trap. Was false information put on the desk of the politburo saying that Hafizullah Amin, the president of Afghanistan, was a CIA agent? Probably.

In any case, they changed their minds; they went in and were stuck in an unwinnable bloody war for ten years, until finally, Gorbachev came and decided, “We have to withdraw unilaterally,” and General Boris Gromov crossed the River Oxus, the Amu Darya, marched out. Quite a courageous thing to do given the enormous causalities they had had.

One thing I will say about the Russians, opposed though I was to that invasion and occupation, simply for the reason that I said, “If this happens the Americans will come in and it will become a Cold War battlefield and the whole area will be a mess for thirty years.” And it is more than that now. Afghanistan has now been at war, bloody, brutal war since 1979, longer than the Vietnam War, longer than the First World War, longer than the Second World War, and imagine what that does to the people… But I was saying that, opposed though I was, the Russians at least did one thing. They did build an education infrastructure, they did build hospitals, and for the time they were there, they did attempt—and succeeded—to educate Afghan women, lots of people were trained as technicians, lots of people were taught sciences, lots of people were given free room, board and lodging, and education at higher institutions in Moscow. That they did.

Their successors in the invasion occupation business, the U.S. and NATO, have not done that. They claim they have but the statistics are a joke. And any serious person who goes to Afghanistan reports back on how much of a joke it is: statistics are cooked, statistics are manufactured, handed to them, and they believe them. But of course the real intelligence forces in that country know that this is far removed from the truth.
So, this is a war which is unwinnable, this is a war which is going to end, no one can win it. Neither the United States nor the insurgents.

The insurgents do not have the power to inflict a Vietnamese-style defeat, and that defeat too which the Vietnamese inflicted in 1975—you know, we tend to sort of exaggerate the indigenous impact; it was very strong, but we mustn’t forget the Vietnamese armies had state-of-the-art weaponry from the Soviet Union and from the early days from China. So they were incredibly well armed to take on the United States; even though their causalities were huge, they inflicted very heavy damage. And the second help the Vietnamese had, which is hardly a secret, is from the huge anti-war movement that erupted in the United States because you had a conscript army and every single family was affected by that war.

These two factors are missing in the case of Afghanistan. So there’s not going to be any quick victory for the insurgents. But they now have the support of large swathes of the population who were indifferent to them, because of their experience of the regime they had imposed on Afghanistan, and are now not so indifferent. And what has made them supportive of the insurgents and [enabled] large numbers of kids joining the insurgency is how the NATO armies have operated. Look, it’s not just the killings, it’s not just the massacre of innocents, which happens regularly; it is the whole tone and tenor of this occupation. That the way Western soldiers, Western journalists, Western administrators, Western NGOs live is in such sharp contrast with the ordinary people of the country, that it excites anger and makes people feel this is not the way we are ever going to get anything.

The argument being used today by Obama and his British camp followers is: “We can create a stable Afghan army. Look: we have an Afghan army of 100,000 people.” Hang on a minute. You may have that on paper. How do you know how many of these 100,000 soldiers are on your side, how do you know that all the people you’re training to be policemen are on your side? We know what the insurgency has instructed people to do. It’s not a secret. They’ve said in the villages and in the towns, “If the Americans offer you military training, if they say, ‘We’ll teach you how to use weapons,’ join it; we need people in there.”

Classic resistance tactics, utilized in virtually every resistance struggle over the last century. The Vietnamese did it, by the way. Lots of the opponents were asked to join the South Vietnamese army. Which is why sections of them collapsed in ’74,’75. And the Afghans are doing it because it’s an obvious thing to do, and in this case even more so—no one is backing you, no one is training you, a tiny chunk of your forces are getting irregular, informal help from the Pakistanis. But by and large you’re dependent on the weapons you capture and the training you get. And we’ve had episodes lately of supposedly loyal Afghan policeman turning and killing British officers. We’ve had a famous case of an Afghan agent working for the Intelligence agencies for United States who went into a very heavily guarded secure facility and shot people dead. And that is not surprising given the anger that exists at the moment.

So what to do? What then is to be done? Out. Got to get out of Afghanistan and got to get out quick.

From Tariq Ali's lecture in Guernica a magazine of art and politics. More Here and Here and Here

1 comment:

V K Abdul Malick said...

The illustration depicting the gradual transformation of a Obama into George Bush is superb. But the naked truth is there is no difference between Obama and Bush. Could you spot a difference between a Pepsi and a cococola? Similarly there is no big difference between Obama and Bush. Hope Tariq Ali & Co., realises this grim reality.


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