Friday, October 30, 2009

No way out

Steve Coll's book 'Ghost Wars' is an excellent insight into how the CIA, the Pakistani ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) and Saudi money put the Taliban into power. Moreover, he is correct in his more recent contention that "The territorial achievements of the Najibullah government -- no forcible takeover of the Afghan state by Islamist guerrillas, continuous control of all the country's cities and major towns -- might look attractive today to the United States as a minimum measure of success."  Nevertheless, when he further asserts that the  "international community" (the inverted commas are mine) still has reason to believe that it can do better, he is divorcing himself from the realities on the ground. He is right to hope, but for many Afghanis the "international community" is, if anything, worse than the Soviets ever were.

Although the last thing the majority of Afghanis want is a return of the Taliban to power this does not detract from the fact that when they look at the corruption that bedevils the so-called "international community", when they look at that community's inability to do constructive work for the people of Afghanistan and when they see their people being bombed by foreign troops they also don't want "Uncle Sam" and his chums there. Steve appears to offer a solution of sorts when he points to how a stable Pakistan will work in Afghanistan and, indeed, in America's interests. However, he appears to make that stable Pakistan dependent on a stable Afghanistan. Already we are drifting into the realms of the chicken and the egg. Furthermore, while he thinks that efforts to stabilise Pakistan, should run parallel with the limited goal of achieving what the Soviets achieved, the evidence only suggests that the opposite is happening and will continue to happen. Indeed, if America, as Mathew P Hoh suggests, is essentially involved in a thirty-five year civil war in Afghanistan it would appear that it is also in the process of getting involved in, indeed is helping to flame the fires of, what is essentially a civil war in Pakistan; nobody would argue against the contention that the whole region has been destablised by the so-called "intervention" of the so-called "international community".

There might, however, be some hope; if the "international community" were to stop dropping bombs on both sides of the ' Durand Line', if that community were to actually do something for the people of Afghanistan and, finally, if that community were to stop supporting a corrupt government that is as much the enemy of the Afghani people as the Taliban is and if that "international community" were to introduce a genuinely secular, democratic government into Afghanistan, then, perhaps, America could avoid disaster. However, while Steve offers a strategy that might make that possible, in doing so he is almost demonstrating a naivity that belies his knowledge of the region. Indeed, it almost smacks of wishful thinking from a man who is all too aware of the history of American policy in Afghanistan from 1979 up until the present and of the failure of that policy. There are too many conditionals and it is already five to midnight. In the meantime, General McChrystal calls for 500,000 troops over five years, the man with the shawls brother, Ahmed Wali Kharzai, a major player in the country's booming opium trade picks up extra pay cheques from the CIA, the "international community", and the Afghani in-crowd, sup cappucino in Kabul whle a few miles outside the city the war rages. Yes, there is an eerie "Déjà Vu", which echoes of Saigon,  and one is beginning to think that the success of America's imperial adventure will be limited, at best, to an orderly withdrawal of the sort that the Soviets achieved in 1989 and the United States failed to achieve in 1975. Still, as we say in Germany, "die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt" (hope is the last thing to die) and with that in mind, I should not be too critical of Mr Coll for trying to feed that hope.

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