Obama is continuing George Bush’s policy almost to the letter in Afghanistan – just as he always said he would. He criticises his predecessor for not having organised an earlier ‘surge’ such as that which is supposed to have ‘pacified’ Iraq, but in fact Bush had planned something of a ‘surge’, and Obama is implementing Bush’s plans. Obama is looking for ways to establish a more effective puppet government than Karzai’s, which scarcely even controls Kabul – as if Bush had not already been doing so. And Obama is facing just the same logistical impossibility of US imperialism winning the war in Afghanistan as did his predecessor.
The purpose of the war is, for public consumption, the elimination of the Taliban regime which fostered the ‘terrorists’ responsible for 9/11. The actual purpose is the unification of Afghanistan under a strong uncontested central government obedient to US imperialism in order that Afghanistan may become a safe, cheap, conduit for Caucasian oil and gas, by-passing Russia and Iran. One would have thought that even a person of Bush’s limited intelligence, let alone a clever man like Obama, would realise that neither of these objectives is attainable by the deployment of military force, not in a million years. However, no US president wants to be the one to accept that all the overwhelming military might of US imperialism, all its expensive and awesome modern technology, can be defeated by peasants in flipflops. This is not a lesson US imperialism can allow its subject peoples to witness. And so the war drags on.
The ‘war on terror’ mobilises worldwide against US imperialism
The so-called ‘war on terror’, starting with the war against Iraq, is mobilising millions to rise up who would otherwise never have done so, and the chaos of that war in Afghanistan has put the question of pipelines on indefinite hold. Can anyone believe that, were it not for the sheer injustice and cruelty of this unequal war, young people from Bradford and Birmingham would be shaken out of the relative comfort of life in the UK to go to fight for the resistance in Afghanistan? Yet we are told: “in Afghanistan … British forces are now directly facing fellow Britons on the other side. RAF Nimrod aircraft flying over Afghanistan at up to 40,000ft have been picking up Taliban electronic ‘chatter’ in which voices can be heard in West Midlands and Yorkshire accents. Worryingly for the military, this has increased in the past few months, with communications picked up by both ground and air surveillance, showing the presence of more British voices in the Taliban front line”. (Kim Sengupta, ‘Top Army officers reveal surge in attacks by radicalised Britons’, The Independent, 25 February 2009).
Since the start of the Iraq war, according to MI5 estimates, some 4,000 British people have travelled to Pakistan or Afghanistan for military training. The Independent sees this as training for civil war against the British government in the UK, and even goes so far as to suggest that the British fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan: “… are now involved in a kind of surreal mini-British civil war a few thousand miles away,” an Army officer is reported as saying! What an extraordinary way of turning facts on their heads! The British government involves itself in an ongoing illegal and unconscionable war against a foreign sovereign state, yet those British people who travel to that state in order to defend it are portrayed as doing so in order to conduct civil war against the British government! The truth is that these people have gone to Afghanistan to fight imperialist predatory forces in the same way that young people went to Spain to fight Franco and his German and Italian backers.
Replacing the Karzai government
Although there would not appear to be a more convincing puppet at hand for the US to install in Afghanistan consequent upon ‘elections’ that it was announced were to be delayed from May (when they are constitutionally required to be held) to August this year (giving the US time to put extra troops in place to ensure the ‘election’ proceeds as planned), it seems clear that the US is intending to replace Karzai.
“Charismatic and conciliatory, Mr Karzai was once the darling of the West. … But as the fighting has intensified and spread – insurgent attacks were up by a third and civilian casualties increased by 40% last year over 2007 – opinion of Mr Karzai has darkened.” (‘Changing the guard in Kabul’, The Economist, 12 February 2009.
Accusations that Afghanistan under Karzai has become a “narco state” (Hillary Clinton’s words) certainly seem to suggest that Karzai’s days are numbered. Already the jackals are fighting over the bone:
According to the Sunday Telegraph, “In a clash which showed how fragile the Western-backed government has become, President Hamid Karzai was labelled a corrupt incompetent by his own understudy, Ahmad Zia Massoud. He responded in kind, saying Mr Massoud was part of an American conspiracy to oust him.
“The ferocity of the infighting reflects a collapse in support for the Afghan president – both within the Afghan coalitions who have supported him since his election in 2004, and among his backers in Britain, the United States, the European Union and NATO. …
“Tensions erupted after Mr Massoud made a speech blaming greed and corruption in the Karzai administration for the hunger and poverty in the country. He also said that Mr Karzai’s plan to delay the May election until August 20 and extend his term until then was unconstitutional.
“The row lasted for ten minutes and had to be broken up by cabinet colleagues, who eventually moved the men onto the meeting’s business agenda.” (Ben Farmer and Dean Nelson, Karzai is US stooge says Afghan deputy president, 22 February 2009).
Nevertheless, weak though Karzai is, he is probably the most influential of the stooges at US imperialism’s command, the reason being that he has a half-brother, Ahmed Wali, who reputedly holds together a strong network among the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan, keeping them on the US side or at least neutral. Obviously his influence is weakening, hence the increasing US willingness to expose his dealings in the narcotics which remain the backbone of the Afghan economy.
Yet who could be expected to be a more effective stooge that Karzai? The Economist is not optimistic:
“The conventional wisdom is that Afghanistan needs to be led by a Pushtun with credibility among the southern tribes (Mr Karzai’s Popolzai are linked to royalty) and, ideally, acceptable to Pakistan.
“Mr Qanuni, who came second in the last presidential ballot, and the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, are regarded as able. But the former is a Tajik and the latter, although claiming some Pushtun roots, is closely associated with the Tajiks. Other names that are often mentioned include Ashraf Ghani and Ali Jalali, both Pushtuns living in America who once served under Mr Karzai, as finance and interior ministers respectively. But many believe that Afghan exiles, no matter how able as technocrats, lack credibility; Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, calls them ‘dog-washers’. Such misgivings would be even more true of a man the subject of much intriguing speculation: Zalmay Khalilzad, a former American ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, who is said to have put out feelers about running. Would any of these have what it takes to play the tribal game and, as a businessman puts it, ‘kiss bearded guys who have never brushed their teeth’?
“One who certainly could is Gul Agha Sherzai, a former warlord and governor of Kandahar, a successful governor of Nangarhar, now largely free of opium poppy. When Mr Obama visited Afghanistan last year, Mr Sherzai was the first Afghan leader he met. But the governor would be a brave choice. Diplomats describe him as a controversial figure, and speak of many (unproven) lurid stories about him.” In fact his rule over Kandahar in the early 1990s was notorious for bribery, extortion, drug dealing, and widespread theft, exactly the conditions that were cleaned up by the Taliban. However, in view of the fact that he was brought back to Kandahar by US imperialism, he could no doubt be seen as just the person to serve its interests in the central Afghan puppet government, from which position he can resume his career as recruiting sergeant for the Taliban!
As we go to press, however, it has just been announced that Karzai is threatening to hold the election at the time required by the Constitution, namely, April – i.e., before any of his opponents is able to get any kind of campaign off the ground – and before US imperialist troops have cleared the ground for voter registration …
No money, no troops
Obama has pledged to send 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan immediately, whose job will be to make nationwide elections seem plausible! The plan had been to send another 30,000. However, the US is running out of troops to send. It would like to redeploy troops from Iraq, which we are asked to believe the US has succeeded in pacifying. But 35,000 US troops appear to be set to remain in Iraq indefinitely – certainly for at least the next 6 years. The US has been begging for other countries to increase their troops, but hardly any have agreed to do so, and those like Britain which have agreed have only offered a few hundred. The Canadians are to withdraw their troops. The plan was to train sufficient local troops to be able to do the US’s job for it, but this plan would necessitate winning over enough hearts and minds in Afghanistan to create a supply of troops willing to die for America. Imperialism, however, is a paper tiger precisely because it can never do that. As a result, there is always the threat that any troops trained will immediately offer their services and weaponry to the resistance.
It is generally agreed that winning hearts and minds requires delivering a better standard of living to the masses of the people. As the Financial Times – with a Guardianesque disregard of imperialist reality – put in (‘The AfPak envoy’, 16 February 2009), “wars like this are won through the patient accumulation of popular support, not by stacking up corpses”. In Afghanistan this “patient accumulation of popular support” certainly has not happened. “In a country where seven out of 10 citizens live on about a dollar a day, the average family each year must pay about $100 in baksheesh, or bribes … Foreign aid is, after narcotics, the readiest source of income in Afghanistan. But it has been widely estimated that because of stealing and mismanagement in Kabul, the capital, less than half of the money actually finds its way into projects, and only a quarter of that makes it to the countryside, where 70 percent of the people live… ‘What have the people of Afghanistan received from the Coalition?’ asks Zamir Kabulov, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan. ‘They lived very poorly before, and they still live poorly- but sometimes they also get bombed by mistake.’” (John Barry and Evan Thomas, ‘Obama’s Vietnam’, Newsweek, 9 February 2009). This quotation is valuable in that it shows that nothing in the way of economic benefits is coming the way of the ordinary Afghan masses. Of course, the blame is placed on the corruption of the local puppets, and corruption there certainly is. If local bigwigs have sold out to imperialism, it is because they expect a good price – and they get it. However, whereas imperialism can be persuaded to hand out largesse to a handful of influential bigwigs in order to keep the masses in order, it would not be imperialism if it were capable of organising a better standard of life for the masses. The very system of production for profit makes that an impossibility.
The result in Afghanistan is that imperialism is unable to enrol the numbers it needs in its local military forces, and the quality of those desperate enough to sell themselves is extremely low:
“As insurgents come under pressure from NATO in the south, they may shift their attacks to areas that are less defended; the Dutch in Uruzgan, a relative success story of late, worry that the Taliban will move into their area as the Americans push into Helmand and Kandahar. Counter-insurgency requires large numbers of troops and policemen (which in Afghanistan are weak, corrupt and often drug-addled). Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s defence minister, says his army needs to be much bigger than the planned 134,000. Almost everybody would agree with him. Iraq, smaller than Afghanistan in terms of land area and population, has over 267,000 troops.
“One problem, though, is that the Afghan army cannot grow any faster because of a shortage of literate recruits for the officer corps. Another problem is money; Afghanistan is too poor to afford even the forces it now has.” (‘Boots on the ground’, The Economist, 19 February 2009).
It is quite clear that the subsidies US imperialism and its allies are prepared to pay the Afghanis to fight their fellow Afghanis are far too meagre to attract either the quality or the quantity of troops that would be needed to overwhelm the resistance that is fighting for Afghan sovereignty and independence.
The Afghan police is even more shambolic than the Afghan army. According to Ben Farmer writing in The Telegraph of 19 February, (‘Two-thirds of Afghan police take illegal drugs’), “The casualty rate among police is several times higher than among the army and the daily toll of casualties has been blamed for contributing to the high numbers going absent without leave and turning to drugs”.
The sheer cost to the various imperialist countries of continuing the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan is a heavy burden on national economic budgets at a time when severe economic crisis is wiping out the fortunes of rich and poor alike and bankrupting whole governments. The mighty US imperialism is vulnerable, having lived way beyond its means for decades. It is steadily aggravating its insolvency and weakening its imperialist status with every billion that it fritters on its various wars of aggression. According to the Newsweek article cited above, “Deploying a U.S. force of 60,000 will cost about $70 billion a year. Training and supporting the 130,000 to 200,000 troops required for a proper Afghan Army would take another decade and could cost at least $20 billion”. The US population is losing all enthusiasm for war: “A recent NEWSWEEK Poll shows that while 71 percent of the people believe that Obama can turn around the cratering economy, only 48 percent think he can make progress in Afghanistan. … Only 10 percent put Afghanistan at the top of their list [of government priorities], even fewer than nominate Iraq.” (ibid.).
Nor would it be rational to expect much in the way of financial support from the US’s imperialist partners in crime: Jon Boone of the Financial Times (‘Afghan donations fall billions short’, 19 February 2009) notes that: “Afghanistan’s international backers have left the country billions short of money promised at June’s Paris aid conference…
“While some $21bn (€16.8bn, £14.8bn) in aid was officially promised by world governments at the conference, nearly a third has proved to be old money that has been ‘double pledged’…
As a result, “large parts of the National Development Strategy laid out by the Afghan government will go unfunded.
“The NDS put a heavy emphasis on improving the country’s agricultural base but the finance ministry report shows that rural development will be underfunded by $412m in 2009 alone.
“Overall, there will be a $3.1bn shortfall for this year, with other key sectors, including health, education and infrastructure, all suffering for lack of funds.
“In a sign of where international priorities lie, nearly half of all available money will be spent on building up Afghanistan’s security forces.
“The finance ministry forecasts that there will be a total shortfall of $22.3bn for the NDS, which requires $50.1bn over the next four years.” …
The Financial Times concludes with the observation: “Time is running out and unless sufficient funding is forthcoming for a strategy that goes beyond military solutions the international community’s state building mission in Afghanistan will fail.”
For our part we consider it more than likely that sufficient funding will never be forthcoming, largely because bitter experience has taught at least some of the imperialist jackals and hyenas (aka ‘the international community’) that US imperialism’s wars of aggression are a black hole into which they have been pouring money with no return and it is safe to assume that this would continue to be the case so long as imperialism pursues its nefarious cause and the resistance continues to give the imperialists a good run for their money.