Afghanistan: Extension of the war to Pakistan digs a deeper hole for the occupation
At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led Nato forces, it was the belief in imperialist circles that the war would be over within a matter of a few months, and that, having installed a puppet regime (beg your pardon, a democratic government) in Kabul, the predatory imperialist forces would return home unscathed and covered in glory. Eight years on, imperialism is losing the Afghan war – and losing it badly. With each passing year, the situation for the invading hordes has become worse, with an incremental loss of lives among the Nato forces. In addition to the losses suffered by other countries participating in this criminal, cruel, unjust and predatory war against the Afghan people, the US has thus far lost 891 soldiers (8 of them just as these lines are being written on 28 October), while Britain, with the second-largest contingent of 9,000, has lost 222 soldiers.
So far this month, the US has lost 53 soldiers. This exceeds the figure of 51 deaths for August. With two months still to go, 275 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, in comparison with 155 in 2008 and fewer than 100 for every year between 2001 and 2007.
Nato on the road to defeat
With increasing losses, and defeat staring it in the face, Nato has had to increase the number of troops deployed to fight this war. While in 2006 there were 39,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan, of which 20,000 were US soldiers, by the beginning of this year this number had doubled to 80,000. Last March, the newly-installed US president, Barack Obama, who has characterised the Afghan war as a ‘war of necessity’, despatched another 21,000 US soldiers to the Afghan theatre, bringing the total number of US soldiers deployed there to 68,000 and the Nato strength to 100,000. That surge in troop numbers was effected as a consequence of his own, supposedly fundamental, review of strategy. But all to no avail, for since then his commander of choice, General Stanley McChrystal, has openly stated that the Afghan resistance is winning the war and he is reliably rumoured to have requested an extra 80,000 troops, indicating that he would settle for 40,000 extra soldiers as a compromise.
Even if the US administration manages to overcome the resistance of the US population to a further increase of troop numbers for this highly unpopular war, the extra soldiers would not enable imperialism to stop further deterioration in its fortunes, let alone help it defeat the Afghan resistance, which has assumed the proportions of a national insurrection against imperialist occupation and brigandage. Thus the latest request for additional troop numbers will doubtless be a precursor to further and frequent such requests. Since most of the soldiers in the so-called Afghan National Army (ANA) are ill-trained, ill-equipped, incapable and unwilling to fight against the resistance, the bulk of the 600,000 needed to fight against the resistance must come from the US, Britain and other imperialist countries. There is not a hope in hell of the US being able to mobilise such a large force of its own or in co-operation with its partners in crime. In any case, numbers alone will not avert imperialist defeat in Afghanistan, for to stand any chance of achieving even a semblance of success, imperialist armies need to be stationed in Afghanistan for at least two decades – a luxury that neither the depleted treasuries nor public opinion in the centres of imperialism would allow for. In the proverbial language of the resistance, while its enemies have watches, it – the resistance – has time. It can therefore outlast the willingness, ability and patience of the imperialist armies to stay and fight in Afghanistan; it can wear down their will to fight.
There are of course those who argue that Nato must stay the course, for the regional stakes are high, and that valour and perseverance are required to achieve any foreign policy objectives. It is to counter such sages that Max Hastings, realising the certainty of defeat facing the occupation, correctly asserts: “But this does not make it sensible for the west to continue pushing military chips on to the table if each spin of the roulette wheel obstinately delivers a zero.” (“The west’s strategic options in Afghanistan’, Financial Times,20 October 2009).
In an effort to gain some legitimacy for the occupation forces, as well as for the puppet government in Kabul, imperialism staged the electoral farce of 20 August. What was supposed to have served as a panacea for all the ills of the occupation has turned out to be a catastrophic nightmare for the Afghan puppets as well as their imperialist masters. Attended by an abysmally low turnout and electoral fraud on an unbelievably massive scale, this travesty of an election, held under the shadow of the guns of the occupation, has discredited the entire exercise and those responsible for staging it – causing deep divisions in the camp of the puppets as well as in the camp of imperialism.
After two long months of horse trading, skullduggery, arm-twisting, threats and intimidation, Hamid Karzai was forced to submit to the dictates of the US-led imperialist occupation regime by accepting, albeit implicitly, that the August 20 exercise had been a fraud and agreeing to a second round of the Afghan presidential election – something which he, and his corrupt coterie of warlords, drug dealers and criminal gangsters, had fiercely resisted up to the very last moment. On 20 October, a glum-looking Karzai, flanked by US Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the US and UK ambassadors, and a UN envoy, announced his agreement to a run-off election, which is scheduled to be held on 7 November.
After the announcement of the run-off election, the leaders of imperialism were quick to express hypocritically their appreciation of the “courageous” and “statesmanlike” acceptance by Karzai of the electoral audit by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which had reduced Karzai’s votes by 954,526, bringing down the percentage of votes cast for him from the earlier 55% to 48.3%, thus necessitating the second-round run-off. As a matter of fact, Karzai had resisted the recommendations of the ECC and the demands of the principal imperialist occupying powers until threatened with a “car crash” between him and the so-called “international community”. The US administration, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, and the UK premier, Gordon Brown, all threatened to withhold extra troops for Afghanistan unless Karzai agreed to the run-off. Singing from the same imperialist hymn sheet, and not wanting to lag behind, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, made it clear that if Karzai did not submit to the demands of the imperialist powers, he would be working outside the Constitution and would no longer be a partner of the West. Karzai’ options having thus been closed, he had no option but to knuckle under and have the mantle of statesmanship and the quality of courage thrust upon him.
A risky strategy
The run-off election itself is a risky strategy and a logistical nightmare for imperialism. Staged in a desperate bid to somehow gain legitimacy for the puppet government and the occupying powers, in the eyes of the Afghan masses and the populations of the belligerent imperialist countries, the second round is only too likely to be just as disastrous in consequences as the first – this for the following reasons. First, with Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, pitting against Karzai, a Pashtun, the contest is likely to end up deepening divisions along ethnic lines. Second, it is just as likely to be accompanied by a gigantic electoral fraud, hand in hand with a similarly low turnout, as the first round. And lastly, while the electoral sideshow prolongs the political stalemate, the resistance gathers strength and further momentum. As if to give notice of its intention to put Kabul at the forefront of its endeavours to frustrate the electoral sham imposed by the occupation forces, on 28 October the resistance launched a lethal assault on a UN residential compound and a luxury hotel.
Extra troops won’t help
In any case, whatever the outcome of this non-election, the person chosen (the world ‘elected’ is totally inappropriate) to be the head of the puppet Afghan administration, whoever he is, will be a prisoner in the presidential palace, unable to step outside of it for fear of losing his life, presiding over a corrupt tiny clique of warlords, drug barons and an assortment of Mafiosi – all enriching themselves and doing the bidding of the imperialist predatory powers, chiefly that of US imperialism. At a time when more than two-thirds of the country is beyond the control of the Afghan government and the occupation armies, when it is too dangerous for the imperialist ‘aid’ agencies to work there, the very idea that the incoming Afghan government, even with the help of its imperialist backers, will somehow be able to provide jobs, security, schools, clinics, roads, electricity and water, and put an end to corruption, borders on the insane.
US officials now openly admit that the resistance now holds the initiative. Totally disconnected from the Afghan people, the puppet regime is gasping its last. No amount of extra troops will be sufficient to save it. This bitter truth is known to perceptive observers even in the heartlands of imperialism. As a matter of fact, political, military and ideological representatives of imperialism on both sides of the Atlantic, faced with the reality of their imminent defeat in Afghanistan, are busy preparing excuses for that defeat and deciding on whom to put the blame. Writing in the Financial Times of 16 October, its contributing editor, Max Hastings, wrote that “…it is implausible that even a reinforced Nato army can secure a country the size of France unless the population shares its objectives”.
This hits the nail on the head. The imperialist soldiery in Afghanistan are an occupation army, which has imprisoned and disenfranchised the entire Afghan people. As such, they are hated and resisted by the latter. The puppet regime set up by the occupation forces, as a façade for its predatory activities, is likewise despised by the wider masses of the country. As if the occupation of the country were not offensive enough, soldiers of the occupying powers, frightened by the mere rustling of leaves in a hostile territory, shoot their way into people’s houses, bang into women’s quarters, detain thousands of innocent Afghans at will, call frequent air strikes, which kill dozens at a time. By their very presence and the nature of their activities, their objectives cannot and will never be shared by the Afghan people.
The dissensions and disarray in the imperialist camp are all too obvious and add to the problems of the occupation. Let Mr Hastings speak on this question:
“Mr Obama’s credibility on Afghan policymaking is wearing thin. His representative, Richard Holbrooke, has proved unconvincing. Scarcely any Nato ally is willing to meet US requests for more troops. The Canadians, who fought hard in the past, are now withdrawing from active combat. Only the Danish and Romanian contingents are doing real fighting”.
Such being the state of affairs, continues Mr Hastings:
“Politicians and commanders on both sides of the Atlantic are drawing lines on which responsibility for failure in Afghanistan will sooner or later be contested. The soldiers will claim they were denied adequate resources. Mr Obama and Mr Brown will say their predecessors made political mistakes that were irreversible. Both views possess some substance.
“As for the Afghans, they back winners. Taliban leaders and Afghan warlords watch CNN. They know how frail western commitment has become, how sour public opinion is. To have any chance of success, Nato troops need to fight and accept losses for years. It is unlikely that the patience of their own nations will match that of their enemies on the battlefield. Only a dramatic improvement in the quality of the Kabul government might change this equation”.
The last sentence in the above quotation is an attempt, albeit implicit, to put the blame for the coming defeat on the quality (lack of quality to be precise) of the Afghan government. The author ‘forgets’, however, to add that the quality of the Afghan government is merely a reflection of the occupation regime, which, for obvious reasons, unable to get on its side patriotic and honest forces in Afghan society, is compelled to rely on the dregs of Afghan society – warlords, drug traffickers, gangsters and CIA agents – who readily and willingly sell their country’s fundamental interests and its sovereignty to the predatory imperialist powers in return for being allowed to enrich themselves through trade in narcotics and a hundred other rackets. Only this explains why such a corrupt person as the brother of Karzai is, and has been for several years, on the CIA payroll.
It is not the case that Afghanistan is incapable of producing politicians who are not corrupt. It is just that such elements belong to the forces fighting the occupation regime. This is how the Guardian, in its leading article of 20 October, put it:
“There is an alternative to the corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai. It appoints governors, reviews their performance, replaces them if necessary, appoints courts that deliver swift justice, levies taxes and hires a conscript army. The snag is, it is run by the Taliban. The hunt for what Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s chief of staff, called an acceptable Afghan partner has proved to be more elusive.”
US administration paralysed
The successes of the Afghan resistance are having a paralysing effect on the US administration, causing deep disagreements within the government, as well as between the government and the military. Obama has thus far withheld his decision concerning further reinforcements requested by General McChrystal. This has infuriated the General, who tried to force Obama’s hand by an openly defiant speech in London in which he declared: “Uncertainty dismays our allies and emboldens our enemies”. For this embarrassing insubordination, General McChrystal received this rebuke from the US defence secretary Robert Gates: “It is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations – civilian and military alike – provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.”
Obama replied through his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, saying that, in view of the seriously flawed 20 August Afghan presidential election, there was no effective partner in Kabul and it was therefore pointless sending further troops in the absence of a legitimate Afghan government. But this pretext will run out after the 7 November run-off election, whatever the result. After that date, Obama will be forced to choose between the two contending parties in the US administration – one headed by vice-president Joe Biden, which opposes further reinforcements and favours a counter-terrorism strategy, the other proposing the more ambitious counter-insurgency approach advocated by General McChrystal. On Monday 26 October, Senator John Kerry, back from successfully coercing Karzai into accepting a runoff for the Afghan presidency, warned that the McChrystal plan “goes too far, too fast”, calling instead for greater emphasis on the training of Afghan forces, provision of civilian assistance and improvement of the effectiveness of local government.
In a sign of deep divisions within the US policy-making élite, the Washington Post reported on 27 October the first known resignation by a US official by way of direct protest against the US war in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh, the civilian representative in Zabul province, according to the Washington Post, resigned despite having been airlifted to Washington and offered several other posts by Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Kabul, and Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Post added that Mr Hoh, a former US marine, was due to have a meeting with a senior advisor to Joe Biden, who has expressed his own serious doubts about General McChrystal’s Afghan war strategy. In his resignation letter, Mr Hoh drove the point home by questioning US involvement in “…a 35-year civil war” observing that from his experience in the east and south, “…the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul”.
He went on to add “I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the US military has received in Afghanistan.”
Extension of the war to Pakistan
In the face of rising Afghan resistance, and in a futile effort to extricate itself from the quagmire of its own making, US imperialism has maniacally extended the war to neighbouring Pakistan, in the belief that the Afghan resistance only exists because of cross-border attacks by Afghan resistance groups with bases and safe havens on the Pakistani side of the long border between the two countries, and that the elimination of their presence in Pakistan, as well as the defeat of Pakistani groups who support them, is a necessary pre-condition for the victory of US-led forces in Afghanistan.
Following this line of thinking, in July 2008, and without seeking prior Pakistani permission, the former US president, George W Bush, authorised cross-border attacks by US forces on Pakistan from Afghanistan. On 3 September 2008, US troops crossed into Pakistan and killed 20 civilians in the Pakistani village of Angoor Adda. A few days previously, on 25 August 2008, Pakistani soldiers exchanged fire with US troops when two US helicopters crossed into Pakistan. These incidents inflamed the feelings of the Pakistani people as well as sections of the armed forces.
Pakistani government and military coerced
Since those days, the Pakistani government and armed forces have been goaded into waging war against their own people in the name of fighting terrorism – a good part of which is being created through the US war in Afghanistan, and its extension into Pakistan, with the consequent loss of hundreds of innocent lives for every alleged Jihadi killed by the US or the Pakistani army. First the Pakistani army conducted military operations in the Swat Valley. It has now sent 30,000 soldiers to take on an estimated 10,000 Jihadis in south Waziristan. The Pakistani army’s collaboration with the US-led so called war on terror, and its resultant war on its own people, have spawned a number of armed groups who are increasingly co-ordinating and co-operating with each other and waging a veritable guerrilla struggle against the Pakistani state.
In advance of the Pakistani army’s offensive against Waziristan, which was expected for some weeks and actually commenced on 16 October, the Jihadi groups struck pre-emptively. On 5 October a suicide bomber killed 5 people at the Pakistan headquarters of the UN’s World Food Programme in Islamabad, forcing the UN to close its offices in the country. On 9 October, 50 people were killed when a suicide bomber drove his car into a crowded shopping area in Peshawar’s main bazaar. Then, on the weekend of 10-11 October, came the most audacious of attacks, in which the Jihadis struck at the headquarters of the country’s army in Rawalpindi, killing at least 9 people. The Pakistani army headquarters at Rawalpindi is one of the most fortified of Pakistan’s bases and was hitherto considered impregnable. Yet the attackers, wearing army uniform and carrying false IDs, managed to drive through it, striking at the very heart of the military establishment. This was, thus, the third, and the most daring, Jihadi assault in a week – after the bombings in Islamabad and Peshawar.
Two days later, on 12 October, a suicide bomber killed 41 people in an attack on a Pakistani military convoy in Shingla near Swat. On 15 October, gunmen attacked three security sites in Lahore, while bombs exploded in Kohat and Peshawar, claiming 30 lives. On 22 October, gunmen shot and killed a Pakistani army brigadier and his driver in Islamabad, the capital. On 29 October, as Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, arrived in Islamabad, a powerful car bomb exploded in the busy Peepal Mandi Market in Peshawar’s old city, killing 90 people and injuring another 100. Although Mrs Clinton was at a safe distance from it, the explosion and the resultant carnage were meant by their perpetrators to send a clear message to the Pakistani and US government alike that their unholy alliance in the ‘war on terror’ carries a very heavy price. In October alone, more than 300 people have been killed in such Jihadi activities.
The October attacks come on top of other lethal assaults launched by the Jihadi groups earlier this year. On 3 March, gunmen attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team outside a stadium in Lahore, killing 6 policemen and a driver, and wounding 6 of the cricketers and a British coach; on 30 March, Jihadis armed with guns and grenades stormed a police training centre in Lahore, killing 8 recruits and wounding scores; on 27 May, they attacked a police headquarters in Lahore, setting off a car bomb that killed over two dozen people; and on 9 June, the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar came under attack, with 7 people killed.
All these attacks were intended by their perpetrators to deter the army from unleashing its then impending assault against Taliban strongholds in Waziristan, the region bordering Afghanistan, or in revenge for this attack. They were intended, too, to demoralise the army and send a clear message that before you, the army, come to get us, we the Taliban will come to get you; that the Jihadis can strike at will at targets of their choosing. By attacking Lahore, the second biggest city, the cultural centre of Pakistan and capital of the Punjab, from which the army draws most of its officer corps and soldiers, the aim of the Jihadis was to undermine civilian support for the army.
The Pakistani army, numbering 619,000, with approximately 528,000 reserves, is the strongest institution in Pakistan, deriving much of its clout from the fact that it has ruled the country for more than half of its 62-year existence. The most recent attacks are a source of major embarrassment to the army, coming as they do in the wake of its claims of success in the northern Swat Valley. They will set alarm bells ringing in US and Nato circles, for the Pakistani military’s ability to fight the Jihadis is a matter of crucial concern to them, as it has great bearing on their predatory war against the Afghan people.
Danger of disintegration
In the opening paragraph of its leading article of 19 October, this is how the Financial Times evaluated the situation in Pakistan in the wake of the string of attacks by the Jihadis in Pakistan:
“The sustained wave of attacks on Pakistan’s cities and markets, police and army over the past two weeks is a lethal display of jihadi power that looks chillingly like the beginnings of a war for the future of the country, which is in real danger of failing as a state” (‘Pakistan’s struggle’).
It is thus clear that the extension of the war to Pakistan, far from improving Nato’s military fortunes in Afghanistan, is merely serving to destabilise Pakistan and the wider south Asian region. US imperialism has learned nothing from its experience in the Vietnam war, where, suffering heavy defeats at the hands of the Vietnamese people, it began the wholesale bombing of Cambodia, in the mistaken belief that by doing so it would defeat the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people by choking off supplies reaching the NLF fighters in the southern part of Vietnam. The result was the widening of the front against US imperialism through the inclusion of the Cambodian people into its ranks. US-led imperialist forces in Afghanistan are vying for the laurels of the US imperialist authors of the Cambodian fiasco – and succeeding.
Normally the Jihadi groups would be no match for the Pakistani army. What makes them a formidable force is that the Pakistani masses, while not being enamoured of the Jihadis, harbour sympathy for the latter’s opposition both to imperialism’s war against Afghanistan as well as to the extension of that war to Pakistan. They resent bitterly the present role of the Pakistani army as a hired gun of US imperialism. According to a Pew Global Attitude Survey released in August, 64% of Pakistanis regard the US as an enemy. Unless the Pakistani government and army reverse their present policy and course of action, there is a serious danger that Pakistan may disintegrate as a state. Besides, without such a change of the present course, the Pakistani military may prove ineffectual in controlling the Jihadi menace. There is even the likelihood that, in the face of continued violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US-led forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistani army may break into two warring factions, with one faction fighting on the side of imperialism and the other on the side of the Jihadis resisting the US and its stooges. No wonder, then, that, alarmed by the turn of events in Pakistan, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, a US think tank, has come to conclude that Pakistan is a bigger and far more serious problem than Afghanistan and has suggested that, to reflect his reality, the coinage should be changed from the present AfPak to PakAf or even PakPak.
It is high time the Pakistani civil and military élites put an end to their subservience to US imperialism, opposed Nato’s predatory war in Pakistan, and refused the use of Pakistani territory as a conduit for the transit of war materials to Nato forces across its borders. Only by so doing will the Pakistani ruling élite be able to win the sympathy and support of the Pakistani people – a support without which all its efforts in containing the Jihadis are only too likely to founder.