US encourages the Talibanisation of Afghanistan

US encourages the Talibanisation of Afghanistan

By Abid Mustafa

Lately, relations between Kabul and Islamabad have taken a dramatic turn for
the worse. Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of spurring the Taliban to
carry out attacks against his fledgling government and the NATO troops that
defend it. He is not alone in holding Pakistan responsible for the
re-emergence of the Taliban. NATO commanders, the New York Times and the
International Crisis Group (ISG) have all pointed the finger at Pakistan for
fomenting the Pushtoon resistance that shows no sign of abating.

On its part, the Musharraf government vehemently denies such accusations and
continues to blame Karzai’s government for its failure to include the
Taliban and other militants as part of the national reconciliation drive. It
must be stressed here—Pakistan is almost isolated on its present
stance—evidence to the contrary shows that Islamabad has actively nurtured
Taliban fighters to reassert their authority on towns and villages ceded to
US led forces in the aftermath Taliban’s collapse during the winter of 2001.

Oddly enough, the Whitehouse instead of holding Islamabad to account has
thrown its weight behind the Pakistani government and has suggested that a
more collaborative approach between Islamabad and Kabul would stymie the
rising militancy in Afghanistan. Washington’s ambivalent attitude raises the
question; is America encouraging the emergence of Taliban as a way of
extricating itself from Afghanistan?

The answer lies in the Afghan coalition America cobbled together to ouster
Taliban. Back then, the Bush administration believed that the Northern
Alliance (NA) could be used as an instrument to remove the Taliban from
power, subdue the Pushtoon resistance, and bring stability to Afghanistan.
But just the opposite occurred on all three fronts. From the outset of the
Bonn Conference it became plainly clear that the NA was rife with internal
rancour and prone to outside influences of Russia and Europe. America,
having spent millions of dollars buying the fickle loyalty of warlords was
left with no option, but to counter the Pushtoon resistance on her own. If
this was not bad enough—America’s association with the NA enraged the
Pushtoons further who felt politically isolated and indignant towards the
Tajik-Uzbek dominated government in Kabul. As a result, a violent rebellion
erupted against Karzai and his US masters. The epicentre of the rebellion
quickly became the strip of land known as the Pakistani tribal belt that
abuts Afghanistan. Fighters from all over Afghanistan opposed to the
occupation sought refuge here and mingled freely with the remnants of
Taliban and other Pashtoons disillusioned with American promises of a better
Afghanistan.

Unable to quell the resistance, America had to change tack. In 2003 acting
under the tutelage of US Ambassador to Afghanistan Khalilzad,  Karzai
adopted a two prong approach to suppress the resistance. He offered an olive
branch to moderate Taliban fighters and declared an all out assault against
hardened Pashtoon militants and their backers. The intention was to shore up
Karzai’s beleaguered government with moderate elements of the resistance
movement and to win the support of tribal elders on both sides of the
Afghan-Pak border. The longevity of any government in Kabul is dependant
upon the support of the Pashtoons. In Karzai’s case, his constituency was
diminishing and support base dwindling.

America was fully aware that the Pushtoon uprising could not be defeated
unless the support structures for waging guerrilla warfare against US forces
were destroyed, especially those located in Pakistan’s tribal belt region
or Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). After all, it was with
American money and know-how that the military infrastructure was
meticulously assembled by Pakistan’s ISI. Training camps strewn across the
region were established to arm and train Afghans to wage asymmetric war
against the Soviets. Not surprisingly then, America turned to enlist
Pakistan to deploy its army to the restless tribal areas. Musharraf promptly
obliged, and in 2004 under the pretext of fighting foreign fighters linked
to al-Qaeda, military operations commenced in South and North Waziristan
agencies.

However, the Pakistani military forays into the tribal region yielded very
little success for the Americans. Instead, the Pakistan army suffered high
causalities—some ranks even experienced mutiny; Musharraf, America’s
stalwart in region lost credibility; the Pashtoon resistance increased in
ferocity, the government in Kabul looked ever shakier and for the first time
the prospect of defeat in Afghanistan troubled American officials.
Confronted with these realities America decided to resurrect the Taliban.
Pakistan swiftly abandoned military force and hurriedly concluded peace
pacts with pro-Taliban tribal elders in the agencies.

Taliban buoyed by Pakistan’s apparent turn around, extended their reach
further into Pakistan and made Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan an
additional mainstay for their activities. Here they began to rearm and
recruit young men from religious seminaries, replenish their front lines
with valuable supplies for the planned spring offensive next year. Some of
the new recruits were given senior positions in preference to old Taliban
warriors whose loyalty could no longer be guaranteed by Pakistan’s ISI. Thus
the Taliban were swiftly transformed from a rag-tag band of men into a force
to be reckoned with. This boosted their capability to lead the Pushtoon
resistance in many parts of Afghanistan. NATO was the first international
organisation to borne the full brunt of a rejuvenated Taliban movement. Some
members of NATO were surprised by the intensity and the magnitude of the
resistance. UK’s Defence Secretary Des Brown said,” We do have to accept
that it’s been even harder than we expected.”

America deftly exploited the upsurge in attacks against NATO troops to press
home to alliance members at the NATO summit in Riga, the need to permanently
redefine the organisation’s mission, approve proposed amendments to its
charter, establish a 25,000 strong rapid reaction force, and to increase
troop levels to buttress NATO operations in Afghanistan. At the Riga summit
Bush said,”The Taliban radicals who are trying to pull down Afghanistan’s
democracy and regain power saw the transfer from American to NATO control as
a window of opportunity to test the will of the Alliance…Today Afghanistan
is NATO’s most important military operation, and by standing together in
Afghanistan, we’ll protect our people, defend our freedom, and send a clear
message to the extremists the forces of freedom and decency will prevail.”

Nonetheless, the NATO mission in Afghanistan exposed deep fissures—over
political and operational issues— amongst some of the older members of the
alliance. France was unequivocal in its condemnation to make NATO duplicate
functions of the UN, while Britain, America’s closet alley expressed dismay
at Pakistan’s endeavours to revive the Taliban. UK‘s Ministry of Defence
intentionally leaked a report that revealed the extent to which Pakistan’s
ISI was providing assistance to the Taliban thereby contributing to the
death of British soldiers in southern Afghanistan. The disclosure was
supposed to embarrass Musharraf on his visit to London who promptly
proceeded to reject the allegation that ISI was a rogue institution acting
separately from the army. He said, “ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the
back of al-Qaida.”

To redress the short-sightedness of Britain’s NATO policy in Afghanistan,
Blair visited Pakistan in November, and again urged Musharraf to put a halt
to the rise of the Taliban. The gravity of the deteriorating situation
facing Britain’s armed forces was summed up in a speech given by Blair at
Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Blair said, “Here in this extraordinary
piece of desert is where the future of world security in the early
twenty-first century is going to be played out.” Earlier, Bush had described
Iraq and not Afghanistan—central to the ideological struggle of the 21st
century. The difference in Anglo-American perspectives underscores America’s
belief that General Musharraf will stabilise Afghanistan for them.

On the battle front, acute differences have surfaced between American and
British commanders. Britain ignored American sensibilities and urged her
ally Mohammed Daud the governor of Helmand to and secure the retreat of
British forces from the town of Musa Qala via a peace deal with the Taliban.
But the Americans publicly criticised the truce in Musa Qala and other
Helmand towns, saying they effectively gave in to the Taliban. Exasperated
by British tactics, the Americans instructed Karzai to remove Daud from
power. “The Americans knew Daud was a main British ally,” one official told
The Independent on Sunday, “yet they deliberately undermined him and told
Karzai to sack him.” Americans have also been irked by the British commander
of the NATO force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Richards. On
10/12/06 the British paper Independent on Sunday reported that the American
supreme commander of NATO, General Jim Jones, has let it be known, according
to sources, that General Richards “would have been sacked if he had been an
American officer”.

Away from the battle field, the Pakistani political establishment confident
of a Taliban victory come next spring, has begun to instil momentum in the
idea that NATO must consult the Taliban prior to any political settlement.
On 30/11/06 Mushahid Hussain Sayed, chairman of the Pakistan’s foreign
affairs committee, told a visiting delegation of British
Parliamentarians:”There has to be negotiations, a dialogue with all elements
of Afghan society—ethnic or political, including, frankly, members of the
resistance.” Latif Khosa, of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party
said,”You have to open avenues for talking with the Taliban.” Speaking
before the press, Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said, “The
international community must encourage national reconciliation and undertake
an extensive reconstruction programme for South and Southeast Afghanistan.”

It appears that America’s plan is to exploit the Taliban to take the helm of
the indigenous Afghan resistance, invest the battle field gains made by the
resistance into a political process, which recognises the Pushtoon’s popular
base, but is cognisant of other ethnic groups’ concerns; then convene an
international conference to forge a comprehensive settlement pertaining to
Afghanistan and the interference from its neighbours. The pertinent issues
will be the composition of the new government in Kabul, the continuation of
US bases, the resolution of the border disputes between Afghanistan and
Pakistan, resettlement of Afghan refugees and the successful integration of
FATA into mainstream Pakistani life.

In this way, US policy makers hope to stabilise Afghanistan and use as a
conduit for transporting the rich energy reserves of the Caspian region,
conducting military incursion into the former Soviet Republics, thwarting
Russian and Chinese expansions into Central Asia and foiling the
re-establishment of the Caliphate. However, the success of this plan depends
upon factors which may no longer be in Washington’s control such as can the
Pashtoons be trusted, will the Europeans tolerate a Taliban dominated
government in Kabul, and will the Russian and Chinese remain quiet as they
did after 9-11.

As far as the people of Pakistan are concerned they have been duped by
General Musharraf into believing that Pakistan had no choice, but to disown
the Taliban and join America’s war on terror. Five years on, Pakistan has
again embraced the Taliban at the America’s behest. This time it is to help
the US extricate itself from Afghanistan and preserve her plan for the
region. General Musharraf is right when he said that without Pakistan’s help
the West would have been brought to its knees. But under his leadership it
is Pakistan that has been brought to its knees in a senseless quest to
preserve American interests.


December 22 2006

Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises in Muslim affairs


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