US Afghan policy in shambles after failure at Bonn

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Pakistan’s boycott of the December 5 US-sponsored conference on Afghanis-tan in Bonn, Germany reduced it to little more than a farce. It was like a wedding without the groom. Pakistan boycotted to protest the November 26 US-NATO attack on two of its military posts near the Afghan border that killed 24 soldiers and injured 28 others. The US had touted the conference as an international effort to agree on a plan for Afghanistan beyond 2014 when foreign (mainly American) troops are scheduled to depart.
No durable peace can be achieved in Afghanistan without Pakistani help. Not surprisingly, the conference ended up with vacuous rhetoric about Afghanis-tan’s future. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indirectly admitted failure when she said it would have been better if Pakistan were present. Other US officials have also emphasized Pakistan’s centrality in bringing to an end the war and establishing durable peace in Afghanistan.

The US was banking on Pakistan bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and hoped that some progress would be made at Bonn. It ended up alienating even Pakistan after attacking two of its border posts. Pakistani officials insist it was deliberate since the coordinates of the two posts were known to the Americans and that the attack continued for two hours despite repeated pleas by Pakistani military officials to their American counterparts to stop firing. Why the Americans attacked the Pakistani posts is analyzed elsewhere in this issue.

The conference “highlight” turned out to be a laundry list of requests from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He said Afghanistan would need foreign handouts for another decade after the 2014 foreign troop withdrawal. In addition to the current costs, estimated at some $12 billion per month, Karzai asked for $10 billion in annual assistance for another decade. Given the precarious state of Western economies with America leading the pack in financial meltdown, it would be difficult to cough up such large sums unless Karzai had another plan in mind. Prior to the conference, Afghan officials had announced they would invite bids to develop mines (estimated worth: some $4 trillion) in the country. This may have been the carrot Karzai was trying to dangle before Western officials in Bonn. Given that the primary reason for US invasion of Afghanistan was to grab the region’s natural resources, this assumption may not be too far fetched.

For the Americans, mineral and gas resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia remain the principal reasons for its military policy. It is also why the Americans want to maintain military bases in Afghanistan even if their troops are withdrawn from frontline duty by 2014. US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker hinted at this in an interview on December 10 (Washington Post). While saying that troops could stay beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline, he was emphatic that there would be no drawdown in the huge “diplomatic” staff in Kabul. He said the diplomatic “surge” was continuing.

Karzai also attempted to gain approval for US military bases through a loya jirga convened on November 16–”19. His opponents, mainly from the minority Tajik, while also in favor of US military bases, tried to undermine his authority by demanding that the proposal be placed before the parliament for approval. Such internal bickering aside, both groups are in agreement about US military bases because it is only through such support that they can retain their hold on power.

Karzai may also need personal protection after foreign troops leave. Even now, his hold on power is tenuous at best. His powerful half-brother, Wali Karzai was gunned down last August leaving the president quite vulnerable. Besides, Afghans do not forgive people that betray the country by aligning themselves with foreigners. There is speculation that once the foreign troops leave –” a persistent demand of the Taliban before they would agree to any peace deal –” Karzai and his clan would also flee Kabul and settle either in Europe or India. Karzai’s ingratitude to Pakistan may have closed that door for him despite spending many years in exile in Quetta, Pakistan with his father and other clan members during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Given that the Taliban now operate fairly freely in about 97% of the country and their resistance has forced the most heavily-armed country’s generals to admit that there is no military solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan, it would be difficult to dismiss Taliban demands. In addition to the removal of all foreign troops, they also want an end to the targeting of civilians as well as resistance fighters and removal of their leaders’ names from the UN terrorist list. Their other demands –” removal of corrupt elements from government, prosecution of warlords, etc. –” would become redundant once Karzai and his cohorts are gone.

As part of the US plan –” or perhaps to deflect criticism for not withdrawing forces from Afghanistan sooner –” the Americans and their allies want to train at least 250,000 members of the Afghan army by 2014. This is a non-starter: the desertion rate is very high, so is the risk of soldiers and their family members being killed by the Taliban. The cost of maintaining such a huge army is also prohibitive. If the Taliban were to come to power, they would not need such a huge army to maintain security.

The crucial test for what is likely to occur in Afghanistan will be based on Pakistan’s interests, or more precisely what its military will agree to. Certain contours of Pakistan’s policy are clear. It will never tolerate an anti-Pakistan regime in Kabul; the risks would be too high and would open another front for Pakistan. This automatically means that the regime in Kabul cannot be comfortably aligned with India for any length of time. Last October’s strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and India would go out the window.

The Americans, however, are playing a duplicitous role. While seeking Pakistan’s help in restoring peace by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, Washington wants India to maintain a dominant role in Afghanistan. It is this disconnect that may prolong the Afghans’ agony for many more years to come. As far as the Americans and their racist allies are concerned, they could care less about the Afghans. What matters to them are their financial and strategic interests. Towards this end, they are prepared to kill as many Afghans as it takes. Some informed observers believe that the December 6 bombing of a Shi’i procession that killed nearly 60 people was carried out by American agents in order to sow sectarian discord where little or none existed before. None of the players –” Taliban, Pakistan or Iran, for instance –” have benefited from such conflict. The only beneficiaries are the Americans.

The endgame in Afghanistan is beginning to look as bloody and messy as was the start of the war in October 2001. Pity the poor Afghans.

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