Afghanistan: Unwinnable war for colonial ends
by Ramtanu Maitra on 31 Jul 2008 0 Comment

A spectacular assault by Taliban suicide bombers on the main prison in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on the night of 20 June 2008 led to the escape of at least 1250 prisoners there and laid bare the West’s failed Afghan mission. Of these 1250 prisoners, 350 have been officially identified as Taliban fighters.  There is little doubt whom the other escapees would fight for in coming days.


This brazen assault, coupled with the deteriorating security situation across the border in Pakistan, has made evident that the entire region, which also includes the Central Asian countries and Iran, is in the danger of falling into real chaos. The biggest threat the regional chaos poses at this point in time is Pakistan’s sovereignty.


Break-up of Pakistan: On the agenda?


Pakistan is now caught in a vice. The nominally-governed from Islamabad Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is slipping fast into the hands of secessionist militant forces. These militant groups have organized under a new banner: Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban. The situation has deteriorated so much that in Pakistan’s National Assembly, speaking on a point of order on June 23, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said: “it was a matter of months until the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was no longer part of the country.” He criticized the government saying it would further aggravate the situation through the use of force as demanded by foreign troops inside Afghanistan.


The break-up of Pakistan’s western-most wing is ostensibly a policy backed by colonial forces and their adjuncts. The break-up will establish an unstable state that would depend wholly on western powers for its survival. It would cut-off both India and China from land access to Central Asian oil and gas fields, and the important nation of Iran. Over a period of time, it would also endanger the southern flanks of Russia.


The Kandahar jail break was followed by a tactical move by the Taliban fighters to converge in the Arghandab valley, south of the famed Kandahar city across the river Arghandab, posing to assault Kandahar, birthplace of Taliban and a town infested with Taliban supporters. NATO retaliated quickly and one air strike followed another. While it is arguable how many militants were actually killed, the large contingent of Taliban melted away in the fruit orchards of the Arghandab valley, sure to challenge the occupying forces another day, perhaps in another place.


Meanwhile, in the Khyber agency, Afghan militants have begun to hurt foreign troops who bring supplies through Khyber Pass, disrupting supply lines that bring in on a regular basis about 70 percent of foreign troops’ food, armaments and other supplies, including oil tankers. Taliban has issued a warning to Pakistani private transporters not to transport gasoline from Karachi Port to Afghanistan. Washington’s blue-eyed Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now a sworn enemy of President Karzai and the foreign occupying forces, in a two page written statement provided to Pajhwok Afghan News said Pakistan played a key role in the US occupation of Afghanistan as it provided logistic support to the foreign troops and still the main supply line of the invaders was Pakistan. He urged Pakistani Taliban to fight Americans in Pakistan, attack their military convoys, equipments being supplied through Pakistan to Afghanistan for the killing of Afghans and innocent children.


What the prison-break implies


That event epitomized the growing strength of the Taliban, the way the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong in 1968 taunted the “bodycount” McNamara and Co., and made clear that the invaders were not “winning” the war… and they never will. Subsequent to the jail break, within a week, things have gotten rougher. US and NATO troops have gone on wide-ranging air strikes killing Afghans, who happen to be all “Taliban”.  Such killings have once again brought many Afghans out on the streets protesting against killing of innocent civilians through organized air strikes.


At the same time, reports of deaths of occupying troops have multiplied. In the month of May, more US troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq. If one counts the British, the Canadians and others, one could see the numbers are growing rapidly.


On June 23, US Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser told reporters during a tele-conference from Afghanistan: “We've had about a 40 percent increase in ‘kinetic events’: we define those as the number of enemy attacks that we've had on our coalition and our Afghan partners.” That means attacks by Taliban militants on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan were up in the first five months of 2008 by 40 percent—not an insignificant number by any count. “This number was not unexpected,” he continued, adding that the frequency of attacks has increased each year since 2002.”The enemies are aggressively burning schools, killing teachers and students,” said Schloesser.


Intelligence reports from Afghan intelligence agencies say Taliban and al-Qaeda are planning a spectacular attack on Kabul [Subsequently, the Indian Mission in Kabul was attacked-Editor]. That could come soon since the militants have moved as close as 12 miles of Kabul and sending recruits from US and Britain into the city to collect information needed to kidnap Westerners and prepare for spectacular suicide attacks. “Spectacular/High Profile attack in Kabul,” is expected to take place in upcoming months and “female suicide members present in Kabul. ... US/British citizens” one recent security report states.


Reality denied: business as usual


But these developments have not sunk in inside the corridors of power in Washington. As an analyst pointed out at the June meeting in Europe, President Bush and other coalition leaders pledged another $20-plus billion in aid to Kabul - if Karzai’s regime becomes much less corrupt - while Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon called for an additional 10,000 NATO troops for Afghanistan and said that the war against Taliban and its allies - including al-Qaeda - would take another 10 years.


While it is certain Fitzgibbon did not have a clue about the subject he was so confident about, it also indicates the Vietnam War mentality. If the Karzai government does not remain as corrupt, if Taliban insurgents do not come in across the border from Pakistan, if the amount of funding is just right, if some more troops could be brought in… the war could be won. Well, the Bush administration does not have to worry too long that these ‘ifs’ would never materialize. The Bush administration will be history in a few months, leaving behind the bloody baggage to the next incumbent in the White House.


In the midst of such absurdities which indicate how little the people in power understand the gravity of the situation, or deliberately want to make it worse like those who are beset with the British colonial mindset do, Afghan President Hamid Karzai - often referred to as the ‘Mayor of Kabul’ because of his virtual non-existence as president - threatened Pakistan of some sort of invasion if Islamabad does not prevent incursions of militants inside Afghanistan. He warned Pakistan of this a day after the jail break. President Karzai has been reportedly informed by Afghan intelligence service personnel that the April 27 failed attempt on his life in Kabul was carried out with the help of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhury Ahmad Mukhtar on June 26 rejected those allegations telling the AFP that “this is all baseless, this is not true. ISI is a professional organization which is not interfering in the affairs of any country.”


No matter what, any aggressive action against Pakistan by Kabul could lead to an imbroglio which may draw western powers in a full-fledged war in Asia, next door to Iran, now in the cross-hairs of West. Islamabad believes President Karzai issued this threat under pressure from Washington, London and Brussels, while knowing fully well that Afghan troops, without support of the occupying forces, would be no match for the Pakistan army and, unlike the uncontested American incursions, any incursion by Afghan forces would be militarily contested by Pakistan.


On the other hand, it should become evident by now that the Afghan war cannot be “won.” Despite this reality, more troops are being poured into Afghanistan to tame the insurgents. Germany’s Angela Merkel, desperate to be on the wrong side of this absurd war, has committed 1000 more troops to bring up the number of soldiers in Afghanistan to 4,500. This was announced this week by German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, and the decision was made despite the fact that deployment of German troops in post-World War II Germany remains a hot topic inside the country.


In addition, it has been reported that Moscow and Washington have signed a deal in mid-June in Moscow as part of the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG) in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghan army in its fight against the Taliban. “An agreement in principle to provide Russian military material to the Afghanistan National Army,” was concluded during a two-day meeting of the CTWG, the communiqué said. “We in the past have already provided military equipment to Afghanistan and we feel there is now a demand by the Afghan population and the ability of Afghanistan to take its security in its own hands,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak told reporters.


Lost war, but geo-strategic gains?


Reports from London indicate that Britain's armed forces were stretched beyond their capabilities and could not continue fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Daily Telegraph reported on June 25. “We are not structured or resourced to do two of these things on this scale on an enduring basis but we have been doing it on an enduring basis for years,” Chief of the British Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said.


Another report indicated that debates have ensued in Canada about the role of its troops in Afghanistan. The Canadian government has acknowledged that its troops can be used for protecting the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline favored by Washington over the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline which is scheduled to be signed in July. The Bush administration has made clear that it does not support the IPI because it would fetch revenue to one of the axis of evil nations, Iran, and the pipeline could be extended to China in future.


The war in Afghanistan cannot be “won” because of a number of reasons. According to the recently-retired NATO's US Commander Gen. Dan McNeill, “this is an under-resourced war and it needs more manoeuvre units, it needs more flying machines, it needs more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus.” Gen McNeill pointed out that America's counter-insurgency textbooks would recommend 400,000 soldiers to stabilize a country of Afghanistan's size and terrain as opposed to 65,000 troops that have been deployed so far.


The war in Afghanistan cannot be “won” also because of the in-built contradictions that started this war. This war was launched in the winter of 2001 not against the Afghans, or the Pakistanis, but ostensibly against al-Qaeda and Taliban. But the war was conducted in reality with the mindset of a colonial power. The objective of the war, as it stands now, is to have a geo-strategic presence with the purpose of  keeping Central Asia in permanent turmoil, contain, Iran, China, and Russia, even if that leads to the break-up of Pakistan, and thus forming unviable hostile nations. In that context, one may claim the war in Afghanistan is heading towards “victory.”


Those who read history, and recall it for the sake of understanding realities, know this war in Afghanistan cannot be “won.” United States, when it invaded Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, had two options. The first one was what the British Col. Frederick Roberts (later Lord Roberts and subject of Kipling’s sarcasm as ‘Bobs Bahadur’) did on Sept.1 1880, when he was confronted with more than 2000 Afghan insurgents under Ayub Khan in Kandahar. He slaughtered them all. It brought temporary peace in Afghanistan. In this context, Gen. McNeill’s remarks about the necessity of deploying 400,000 troops make sense.


The other option, as pointed out by another analyst, is of a temporarily successful Western military operation in Afghanistan - Alexander the Great’s permanent settlement of a significant number of Greek soldiers and civilians there four centuries before Christ. This does not seem viable either in the present context. Therefore, it is a certainty now that the West is following the path toward humiliating defeat in Afghanistan carved out by Britain in 1842, and the Soviet Union between 1979 and 1989. One must not forget Bobs Bahadur’s later musings in a letter to a friend: “It may not be very flattering to our amour propre (self esteem), but I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they dislike of us…”


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc. 

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