Coalition strategy in the Pak-Afghan region


With public polls on both sides of the Atlantic indicating public frustration at the involvement in the region and a wide spread desire for withdrawal of troops, Obama and Brown face difficult decisions on their next step. Nafeez Ahmed and Agha Pooya  provide  an analysis of the successes and failures of the coalition tactics in curbing an increasingly sophisticated Taliban insurgency. They  also glance at what the future holds for the troubled region.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed: Before we talk about coalition tactics currently it is very important to understand the background of what is going on so we can put it into context and understand the reality in Afghanistan.

 To do that you really need to go back to the story we are all very familiar with when the whole process started in 1979. That is when the USA and Britain and a number of Western powers hooked up with networks and groups in Afghanistan in order to basically kick the Soviets out. There is  whole back story of  how this happened and who went in there first which I don’t want to go  into today.

There is a whole back story of how the West hooked up to these networks. Osama bin Laden was part of this process and during this whole period from 1979 to 1989 Osama bin Laden didn’t use this opportunity to build his international networks which we now label Al Qaeda. What is not very well understood is what happened after the official liaisons with Osama bin Laden.

So what you are looking at   is the post cold war period until now. What was our relationship with these guys? And one of the things I have always been arguing shortly after 9/11 when I wrote my first book, is that we never actually disconnected from Al Qaeda. And this is where the official narrative starts to become very murky.  The official story is very simple. We used bin Laden during the cold war to kick out the  Soviets and  to counter the left across  much of the world. We saw Islamism as a counterweight to these left wing, progressive, nationalist movement across the world.

What I am  arguing is that the strategy never ended. They continued to see Islamism of this very extreme kind of interpretation of  Islam, political Islam, as a way of countering certain types of nationalist movements within Central Asia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and many other parts of the world.

But basically they wanted to use these groups as a strategy to counter Chinese and Russian influence. There was a very interesting interview given by a guy called Graham Fuller in 1999. He did an interview with a Swiss journalist who is actually a chief editor at Radio France International. He wrote a book called Dollars for Terrorists. Richard Lebievere. He actually said that during the cold war we were actually quite successful in using Islam in this way. After the cold war we can still do this to counter Chinese and Russian influence. This was not actually stated at the time.

I will  give you an idea of the kind of stuff that is now coming  out about this. There was a woman called  Sibel Edmonds. She is a Turkish-American,  ex FBI translator who joined the FBI  a week after 9/11 and she worked there for about six months. During that time she was translating classified intercepts from any number of agencies linked to terrorism and narco trafficking and all kinds of things.

She left the FBI and she blew the whistle on what she said were corrupt practices inside the entire US government intelligence services including bribery, corruption, selling of national security secrets to foreign intelligence agencies. And most worringly she talked about liaisons between intelligence services and terrorist networks linked to Al Qaeda through a number of key states in the region such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and several other key states.

This is what she said in a recent interview. She was basically gagged by the justice department. She gave testimony in congress and all this was retrospectively classified. In a way it confirmed that she had something very worrying to say and the government did not want it to come out. She said : “I have information about things that our government has lied to us about. I know. For instance to say that since the fall of the Soviet Union we ceased all of our intimate relationship with bin Laden and the taleban. These things can be proved as lies very easily, based on the information they classified in my case because we did carry very intimate relationships with these people all the way up to September 11th.”

And she says that Al Qaeda and the taleban were used by US as proxies in what she says  is a decades long, illegal, covert operation by a small group in the US intent on furthering the oil industry and the military industrial complex.

This has been documented. One of the journalists who looked into this is a Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid who was written two main books. One is called The Taleban and he wrote another one recently but I can’t remember what its called. What they did was they funded the taleban from 1994 to the year 2000.  This has actually come out in congressional records.  Rotterbecker a senior congressman who used to be special assistant to Reagan,  gave testimony to the Senate about this. And he said its really about is the trans Afghan oil pipeline.

This was a pipeline that was going from Afghanistan through Central Asia through to Pakistan and India. And it was basically by passing Russia. This was clearly seen as a way of accessing Caspian resources which hadn’t been tapped very much, and doing it without going through Russia. So you sideline Russian and Chinese influence. That was the idea. And companies like Uniko and Enron were highly involved  in this.

But what happened was around the year 2,000 they started to realise that it wasn’t working. They  had managed to gain control of about 80 percent of Afghanistan. But there was no stability. There was constant war and it wasn’t going to work. If you want to have a pipeline route which is continuously pumping oil and gas  you need to have a serious level of stability. So they realised that it was not going to work. We need to get the taleban to make some kind of deal with the Northern Alliance. Get them to join up in  a federal government.

So what happened is between 2000 to around July 2001 they actually had negotiations with taleban officials. These happened in various countries including Pakistan. What the US proposed to the taleban was join up with the Northern Alliance in a federal government and you you will get international legitimacy, you will get international aid, the pipeline will come through and everything will be honky dory. And the taleban true to form just said ‘no’. We are not going to join up with the Northern Alliance.

This has given the US little room to manoeuvre. But the US had given them an ultimatum. The US said to them, according to a Pakistani foreign minister, that they had been given a deadline. They said if you don’t comply with this we will go to war in October and they went to war in October. So the whole war plan operationally in Afghanistan was actually being developed about one to two years prior to 9/11. It was already on the table.

So this puts the whole thing in context and takes us away from the idea that what we are doing in Afghanistan is simply fighting this terrorist insurgency. That’s not what the agenda was before 9/11 and certainly to some extent that seems to be the operationalising issue.

But we will come back to that.
In terms of what is  happening now in Afghanistan, the civilian death toll is really horrendous. What is interesting is neither  the British nor the Americans are keeping track of casualties. They did the same thing in Iraq. They refused to keep track of civilian casualties ever though this is actually a requirement of international law.
Again that has muddied the water and you have all these other groups trying to calculate civilian casualties. It gives them room to manoeuvre. They can say it is not that many, maybe a couple of hundred whereas other groups say it is actually a couple of thousand. The highest figure has been produced by a guy called Mark Harold who is a US economist. He has been tracking media reports about casualties. There are question marks about the methodology. I think it is probably one of the best methodologies available in the circumstances where there is not much room to manoeuvre. He said it looks as if 5,000 civilians have been killed since the initial invasion in October.  In the initial invasion he calculated that there were just under 4,000 civilians killed in the actual major  bombing campaign and the months thereafter. And according to UN figures  just under  a thousand civilians have been killed in the last year. So if you add it up it is just under 5,000 that is coming out in the public record.
This is actually counterproductive. You are killing the population whose support you need to fight the insurgency. You need to get the population on your side. You can’t be alien to the population. Those  are the people who are facing the brunt of the policy.
In terms of what is actually happening inside Afghanistan right now. Afghanistan is basically what you might call a narco state which means that before 9/11, before the invasion around 2000 the taleban banned opium cultivation. That used to be the big thing. They banned opium cultivation. But ironically US forces reversed the ban. Since 2003 the Northern Alliance has basically become the world’s  leading producer of heroin.
There is a lot of murky information about  the relationship between the official kind of US troops, the NATO forces the  existing Northern Alliance regime and the ongoing opium production.  A number of US officials have actually come out and have said that the US government specifically and systematically sabotaged efforts to stop the opium trade.
One of the guys is Thomas Schweiz who  was the former US counter narcotics ambassador to Afghanistan. He said that the Pentagon, the CIA, Hamid Karzai and elements of the British military have systematically sabotaged counter narcotics measures across the board. He is also joined by Robert  Charles who is assistant secretary of state for the international narcotics trade and law enforcement. He also said we could have destroyed all the heroin labs and warehouses in the three primary provinces, Helmund, Mangehar and Kandahar in a week. But he said  that those measures were blocked by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield.
This is continuing. President Obama and his administration have continued and nothing has been done. There is a question mark about what exactly is our relationship to the drug trade. The drug trade amounts to – there are various estimates – but you are looking at $100bn to $200bn going into the global economy from narcotics trading, especially with the heroin trade.
According  to Sibel Edmonds – there are lots of other sources but I will quote her for now – she says that US officials have been taking a cut. She has actually named names in her testimony. She says that NATO planes have actually carried shipments of drugs to Europe, the Belgium and even to the United States. This is a most extraordinary allegation and it even suggests that one of the motives to be in Afghanistan  isn’t just about the pipeline – it is also about controlling the narcotics trade.
This also raises questions about how we understand the role of Pakistan in this. The way the narrative is being put to us starting with Obama himself that Pakistan is there financing terrorism. I remember before the election campaign I had this feeling that Pakistan was the next theatre of operations and he made it very clear that Pakistan had almost joined the axis of evil. That was the kind of language that was being used. That is not being used in the same way now.  That is not being said now but they are saying that Pakistan is a hub of terrorism financed within Pakistan so we have use Pakistan as a kind of forward base to get into Afghanistan and to get these guys out.
We have had tentative acknowledgements. And what is interesting, what is missing from this narrative is how fluid the financing of groups like the taleban have been and how it has  continued under the noses of the USA and actually with their full knowledge and I would argue complicity.
One of the key periods that has come out in the public light  is that between 2004 and 2007 this was when the  Interservices Intelligence – the ISI – was headed by General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani. During this period in came out in a NATO report the ISI administered training camps for the taleban in Baluchistan. They gave them huge amounts of weapons which funded a particular campaign in Kandahar.
So we know that this has happened. And Kiani himself has been intersepted by US intelligence as describing a number of senior taleban officials who were allegedly fighting  as ‘strategic assets’. The US know this and these reports have been circulated at a very senior level in the White House.
Yet  just recently in the last couple of weeks, Obama has pushed through recent legislation for a five year deal for unconditional economic and military aid to Pakistan under the pretext that we need to help them to stop the taleban insurgency. Pakistan has been given $6bn.
So in effect when you look at this it is almost as if the US is subsidizing the Afghan insurgency through the ISI. That is one rather controversial way of looking at. But when you look at the systematic way in which it continues it is very difficult to avoid that conclusion. And it raises the question of the world’s role in legitimizing a continued US presence within the region.
It also raises the question about the pipeline. When I discovered this bit of information recently I started to think if the  pipeline issue is really the issue then surely they would want to push the Pakistanis into kicking out the taleban from that southern section of Afghanistan where the taleban forces still are so that they could get that stability. Why are they still actually financing both sides.
It is actually quite interesting that earlier this year I was given a confidential 2009 report written by a defense consultant for the Norwegian foreign ministry. The report describes quite candidly an inside perspective from a European state on what the US is doing in Afghanistan over the last decade or so.
This is what they say: In several states and not least in the USA there are significant war elites that actually seek to introduce military conflicts in order to run a profit from them. As the economy of war, weapons and drugs is as important as the world’s oil  economy US covert forces may play a central role in calibrating the violence in various areas at a certain level to gain hundreds of billions of dollars in profits from weapons and drug trafficking. In some cases the report continues, the idea is to prolong the war by supporting both sides in the conflict. The USA’s superior military strength and intelligence hegemony could only be translated into power and real local strength if there were ongoing conflicts that threatened the multi polar economic structure of the political world order. Accordingly from a European or Chinese or  Japanese point of view every US war wherever its fought isn’t just directed against the local insurgency or anti American ruler. It is directed against the multi polar political power structure that would give Europe, China and Japan a significant position in the world. By fanning the flames on both sides US forces are able to increase and  decrease the military temperature and caliberate the level of violence to  mobilize other governments in support of US global policy.
What that suggests if we take it seriously is that  is happening in Afghanistan may not have a strategic goal by itself. Maybe it isn’t just about the pipeline. Maybe that is part of it. Maybe  once we stop the Russians getting there we have hegemony over that whole route.
It would also suggest that what is happening now is really an attempt to shore up and slow down a potential decline in US hegemony and a kind of crisis in US hegemony which is something the neo conservatives spoke about. The bush administration and the thinkers behind them were very worried about the decline of US power.
The question that needs to be asked is whether Obama is continuing this policy. It is  clear that he has inherited a policy from the Bush administration. I think he has as he is pretty much continuing. There doesn’t seem to be much change.
The question marks that this raises in conclusion are to do overall with what are our actual connections, militarily and financially to terrorist networks. That is the first question that I think we have to ask and force the British government to answer because a lot of this stuff is in the public record. We need to exert pressure on parliament to look into these things.
And secondly how does this then relate to issues of national security? Does it undermine national security. And if you find there is actually a connection there – what we are doing is actually undermining security. The solution is not let us go in here we have an insurgency out there that we need to stop. The solution then becomes looking at our own power structures and how they  are inter-related with these other political issues. And for me that is the fundamental thing that needs to be looked at before we are going to take issue with this threat that we are facing today.
Agha Murtaza Pooya:  Ladies and gentlemen, it only betrays your interest that in the next day after Eid you are here to hear me out. My colleague gave an excellent presentation.

It is rather difficult to sum up or give a reasonably clear picture of the mischief that is going on in Afghanistan in 20 minutes. But none of you are new comers. You have been following Afghanistan and what is happening in the region for a long time so it is really talking to the converted.

Afghanistan is a paradigm of paradoxes. Beginning from day one when the so-called Soviet invasion of Afghanistan took place. It was with the full blessing of the USA.
Every move that the US makes in the region is linked to the security of the Zionist entity. Every move in the last 30 years is linked to the security of the Zionist entity and how to contain the Islamic ground swell.

Where does NATO come into the picture? NATO is nothing other than a fig leaf for US hegemony. Its as big a fig leaf as is the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement and the OIC.  They are just covers for US hegemony for what I call Pax Zionicia.  A peace for the Zionists, by the Zionists and of the Zionists. This is all a cover. We have an unholy trinity which is plugging for Pax Zionicia and that is the US, India and Israel. 

On the other side we have the holy trinity which is Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. And we have been mercilessly destroyed. Collectively destroyed. We are talking of figures of 100bn and 200 bn. I don’t know what aid is coming into Pakistan and what aid is not coming into Pakistan.

Hopefully in sha Allah an international criminal court will try the US  not for crimes against Muslims but for crimes against humanity. They have destroyed human values and that is what is worrying us.

Before the US dollar  came into Pakistan in 1979 or even before the first Saudi riyal came into Pakistan for the so-called Afghan effort the Soviet Union had already decided to quit Afghanistan and the message was brought to us by none other than Lord Carrington who was at that time the Secretary General of NATO.

He said that if Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan declared neutrality we are prepared  to withdraw from Afghanistan, we have made a criminal mistake and we would like to walk back. We asked why are you condemning us to neutrality. We are sovereign enough to ensure that we will not allow our lands to be used against you provided you don’t invade any of our lands.

And again the price the people of Pakistan have paid, the price the people of Iran, Iraq and this whole region has paid for this criminal policy of the United States and Israel and India. When the commander of the troops that invaded Afghanistan came into Kabul he sent message that he wants to call on Imam Khomeini. He arrived in Tehran without notice and said :”I want to see Imam Khomeini”. The Imam saw him the next morning. He was in a hurry to go back. Commander of the troops that walked into Afghanistan.

The next morning he was taken to see the Imam. He said the US is going to attack you and we are prepared to defend you. The Imam said you are very fine people, you walk into my neighbour’s back yard and now you want to defend us. First get out of Afghanistan and then make the offer.

So the linkages between Palestine, Afghanistan and Kashmir are very intricate and you cannot break this knot without solving all three of them. It has got to be all of three of them. This taleban game and the rest of it. You see how the US builds a Saddam and then decides to destroy him. When they are building a Saddam the  people of the region had to pay a price and when they destroyed Saddam  the people of the region have been paying a price.

They created the taleban in Afghanistan. We have been paying the price. Now they decide they want to take out the taleban and we are paying the price. They created a merciless terrorist organisation in Pakistan called Sefai Sehab, a sectarian outfit, totally guided by India. At that time they were absolute mercenaries of Saddam and they went on a rampage in Pakistan. They destroyed the purity of the Afghan jihad if ever there was one from day one the Afghan jihad was a totally mischievous jihad and people in Pakistan used to say what jihad with American dollars and Saudi riyals. So it was the Saudi-American contribution in trying to make a pincher around Iran. And that continues till today.

If Obama is talking of change and he can manage it, it will be the biggest miracle in the century which has just started. If he can. He is going to pulled down to dust by the Israelis so there is no hope of that. These battles will continue.

I will tell you of an incident way back in 1988. We had a bomb blast in Islamabad which shook Islamabad and four days later Pakistan signed on the Geneva Accords. President Zia Al Haq was not willing to sign. The Americans had this big blow up in Islamabad so that the whole atmosphere would change and our president signed.

After that incident of the Ojeri blast as it was called, I was asked at that time by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Aftar Abdul Rahman. He called me over for a cup of coffee and started the coffee session by saying you are the biggest hypocrite I have ever come across. I said thank you very much but don’t give it to me on a cup of coffee – give me lunch at least.

We started talking and he said Mr Poya please play low key. Between now and October the Americans will assassinate us. This was told to me in the month of 1988. And here was the man who was rumoured to have siphoned off millions from American aid. He said the Americans are going to snatch Afghanistan from our teeth. We are holding Afghanistan in our teeth. We did not need one Arab mujahid to help us. We didn’t need one American to help. We fought this war single-handed. But they are going to deny us a victory because a victory by Pakistan in Afghanistan is going to change the political ecology of this region.

So they blew up General Zia and whatever happened after that and the Americans started working towards  building up the taleban and the terror net was in Pakistan. Therefore the American strategy, if there is any strategy, is the most criminal strategy: designate, demonise, destroy and then develop. So we are afflicted by this disease. There have been people in the American administration who think wisely and morally. As far as Britain and Europe go I think the last prime minister of Britain who had a semblance of standing up to the Americans was Harold Wilson. And we saw how the CIA destroyed him. We had a De Gaulle who stood up against US criminalities and we saw how he was destroyed the same year that Harold  Wilson was destroyed – in 1968 – because both of them did not uphold the 1967 war.

So the whole scenario revolves round the Palestinian question. Afghanistan is a side show – it s picnic. So we have to start thinking and coalesce our efforts and come up with answers. The present government in Pakistan doesn’t know whether its coming or its going. There has been a beautiful transition management. There was a dictatorship and without shedding a drop of blood there is democracy.

If the Americans are really so committed to democracy let them start with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Why Afghanisatn? The poor unruly Afghans living in the mountains – who wants democracy  down there. Lets get it closer.

So this whole mischief has got to be unravelled and you cannot unravel it without an equitable settlement of the Palestinian issue which is at the heart of all the problems. There is talk of people saying you want to throw the Jews in the sea. Who wants to throw anybody in the sea? You shed the blood of one non-Muslim you have destroyed humanity. These are Islamic values and these are Islamic moralities. No one is trying to show the power the gun. It is a commitment.

I have had a number of people including one former American ambassador telling me Mr Poya you have no idea how much we hate the Zionists. I said I met a few people. He said forget the few people –  right at the top we hate them. I said it will be the Muslims who  will give you the courage to deal with them.

I am glad the conclusion of Dr Nafez is that US power is ebbing. Unfortunately neither Europe nor Japan are the answer. They are economic samurais and political bonsais. Nobody wants the USA to collapse. They have done enough to destroy themselves. This financial crisis is also because of Palestine. And what is the cost for the NATO alliance – 300 dead, 500 dead, 5,000 dead.This is no cost. This is a bearable cost and we saw in Iraq that is a policy based totally on lies.
I was in Iran in 1997. The taleban had just taken over Kabul. My ambassador said I would like to go along with you when you give the talk. I said it wasn’t necessary. We went and I gave my presentation, 30 – 40 minutes. The first question was what about the taleban, they have just taken over Kabul. I said the taleban have been created to create a problem for you. But for God sake don’t ever get provoked, no matter what provocation they do. Within two years the Americans and the Saudis will come and destroy them.
I wasn’t doing any crystal gazing. I was going by pure dialectics and as for the Soviet Union and the cold war there was no cold war. There was cold co-ordination. There was no cold war. When it came to China, the USA,  the Soviet Union and India co-ordinated against China. And  that was communism and when Khomenism came all three of them co-ordinated against the Islamic Republic of Iran. And a war was  waged by Saddam and  funded by the Arabs. So we know where their hearts lie. They want to keep the status quo going.
When 9/11 happened I told my friend, a great general and a great strategist,  I don’t know whether the Arabs are involved in it or not but  they should have picked a softer target. You mean they should have hit the Saudis?  I said yes, they should have hit the Saudis and the whole game would have been wrapped up.
So therefore  this is a criminal status quo which is tethering on its legs. And the only thing that will destroy it is not bombs, not nuclear strikes – it  is the resistance of the Muslim people. If the Christians can join us, if the Jews can  join us in resisting ahlan wa sahlan.
We are talking of the US involvement in terrorism. In 1994 BBC ran a ten part series that in every terror organisation of Europe the CIA was involved.

 * Agha Murtaza Pooya is Senior Vice President of Pakistan’s Awami Tehreek. He launched the English Daily “The Muslim” in 1979 and was editor for almost 20 years.

** Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a London born author and political scientist specialising in interdisciplinary security studies. He teaches International Relations at School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton where he is currently engaged in Doctoral research on European imperial genocides from 15th to 19th centuries. He is author of “London Bombings: An independent inquiry” and “the War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism”. His research on international Terrorism was officially used by the 9/11 Commission


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