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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Afghanistan: a War Correspondent's Viewpoint: By RON JACOBS

A Conversation with Anand Gopal        

Anand Gopal is a correspondent who has been covering the war in Afghanistan for several years.  He has worked for The Wall Street Journal.  and The Christian Science Monitor.  He is currently working on a book about Afganistan. I met Gopal a couple of years ago and check in with him occasionally to get his viewpoint on the Washington-led occupation and war in South Asia.  Most recently, I sent him a few few questions via email. The exchange follows.
--Ron Jacobs                                               
Ron: If you were to compare the situation in Afghanistan in summer 2009 with the current situation, how would you characterize it? For example, is there more fighting or less? Has the nature of the insurgency changed? If so, how?
Anand: It is six months into the troop surge yet we haven't seen any drop-off in violence. Rather, the summer of 2010 is proving to be far more violent than that of 2009, which in itself is remarkable given that 2009 was the bloodiest year of this war. Look at the numbers: There is a 30% increase in the number of soldiers killed in June and July compared to the same period last year. The number of security incidents in the first week of July, for instance, is 65% greater than the same week last year (see websites like and for these numbers). This is easily the most violent summer in Afghanistan since the civil war days of the mid-nineties. Hope of peace amongst ordinary Afghans has plummeted to incredible lows.
The insurgency has changed quite a bit in the last year. It is more splintered movement, partly due to Coalition Force assassinations of commanders, and partly due to the arrest of the Taliban's leader Mullah Beradar. Hundreds of commanders have been killed, but the Taliban has no trouble finding recruits to fill their shoes. The new commanders are younger and (often) more radical than their predecessors. At the top, after Pakistan's arrest of Beradar (who was the day-to-day leader of the movement) in February has led to a power struggle between different insurgent leaders. None of this, however, has diminished the group's effectiveness as a fighting force on the ground, as the above numbers indicate.
Ron: Now that General McChrystal is gone, is there any sense among the people in Afghanistan that you talk with—among the occupying forces or Afghans—that the nature of the war will change? Part two to this question: is there any sense among the Afghans you talk with that the US presence will begin to diminish next summer (2011)? If not, in what ways do these people see the war ending?
Anand: Most Afghans don't believe the nature of the war will change. In particular, many Pashtuns in the south and east view the Americans as brutal, arrogant and deadly. For them this has less to do with this or that commander, but more so with the general thrust of the war and US policy here for the last nine years.
From the point of view of the soldier, however, I believe that they do expect a change. There was a lot of anger and disgruntlement towards McChrystal from the military's rank and file. In particular, many soldiers felt that McChrystal's rules of engagement were too restrictive and put the lives of ordinary soldiers in danger. Whereas before soldiers were able to fire when they felt a threat, under McChrystal they had to take measures to ensure that there were no civilians the could be harmed--a difficult thing to do in the heat of battle. Moreover, while such rules existed for conventional soldiers, a different set of rules appear to have existed for the special forces, who seemed to have been free to attack whom they wanted as they pleased. This led to a lot of night raids that killed civilians, and also spawned an image that McChrystal's special forces guys had free reign (keep in mind that McChrystal used to head the special forces) while conventional troops had their hands tied.
It may be too early to say exactly what changes will come about with the changeover of command. However, it appears that one big change is that Petreaus is pushing hard to expand the militia program in an attempt to replicate his successes with militias in Iraq. But militias in Afghanistan can be quite dangerous, especially in a country with recent history of warlordism and civil war. Another change is that Petreaus appears to be moving to ease restrictions on air strikes, which will likely lead to more civilian deaths.
Ron: The last time we communicated, I asked about the war in Pakistan? What can you tell us about that? We know that drone attacks continue at an even greater rate and that the US media has published allegations that there are some connections between Pakistan's ISI and certain elements of the Taliban. Based on your knowledge, are those allegations true or are they merely an attempt to convince the US public that the war needs to be expanded in Pakistan?
Anand: First, it's important to realize first that the Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban are distinct organizations. The Pakistani Taliban is a broad collection of Pakistani groups and commanders, most of whom have been fighting against the Pakistani military during the last few years. These groups mostly consist of Pashtuns from the tribal areas and surrounding regions. It is also closely allied with an array of other groups, made up of Punjabis, Arabs and more. In recent times the Pakistani military has succeeded in weakening the Pakistani Taliban quite a bit in places like Swat and South Waziristan, thanks to a series of offensives.
The Afghan Taliban are, as the name suggests, mostly Afghan. Allegations that elements of Pakistani intelligence support the Afghan Taliban are undoubtedly true. The Afghan Taliban's leadership is based in Pakistan, and the ISI supports the group in a variety of ways. There was ample evidence of this even before the wikileaks incident. Unlike most of the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban concentrate their efforts in Afghanistan, and in particular against the Afghan government and the foreign forces.
Pakistan is playing a double game in all of this. They are closely allied with the US, and get millions in support from Washington, but at the same time secretly supporting an insurgency against the Americans in Afghanistan. There are a lot of complicated historical reasons for this, but to make a long story short we can say that Pakistan views the Afghan Taliban as one of the best ways to safeguard its interests in Afghanistan.
It should be added, by the way, the Pakistan is doing now what it has done consistently for the last thirty years--supporting Afghan Islamist groups. What is new is the change in the U.S. position. For instance, whereas in the eighties Washington, together with Islamabad, funneled millions to Afghan insurgent leaders like Jalaluddin Haqqani, the U.S. has now stopped and is fighting Haqqani, whereas Pakistan continues to support him.
Ron:  Thanks, Anand.  Take care.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex,Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press.

NOTE:This is a cross post from Counter Punch.


  1. Ans 1>

    the larger the opponent, the easier it is to hit. the surge of forces in Afganistan as well as their offense in different regions has resulted in more casualties.

    besides, Afgans think that the US is about to strike for one last time, before making a run out of it all. and sensing the dying elephant, they have upped their efforts against the forces that occupy their land.

  2. Ans2 >

    air strikes will kill civilians. and i guarantee, that after that, Afganistan will become even more dangerous for the Allies.

    Yes. you can't compare Afgan militia with Iraq. very different. i think the number of militia men in Afganistan, who have deserted their comrades and after killing an Allied soldier or two (or more), is more than any such case in Iraq.

    one thing though, Patreaus is different than his predecessor in that he listens to what Kyani sahab has to say. Mchrystal was headstrong, who wanted to run the operations in Afganistan just like he did in Iraq, even though the two battlegrounds were very different.

  3. Yasin :
    After such interviews, who needs wiki leaks...and the correspondent also says the same clearly .
    However he does gives fresh tidings of a more proactive military policy in Afghanistan and beyond.
    The content of the interview , is basically the same old tune , using a new trumpet , called............... Gopal!!

  4. Ans 3> comes the most interesting part of this q and a session.

    i fail to understand, why can't all these war vet journalists grasp the simple fact. Pakistan considers the Afgan Talibans as an ally and as an asset. especially after the US allowed the Indians (our worst enemies) to operate so freely in the border alongside Pakistan.

    Pakistan military has shown visible proofs against Indian involvement, (alongside US involvement), in Pakistan in the form of the so called Pakistani Talibans. Still, we are unable to convince our "allies" that this move by them, to throw few bones and crumbs at the Indians is only going to make us more resilient about our view of Afgan Talibans staying within Pakistan.

    the Indians want to sell their goods (not armaments) to the Afgans, fine. but if the want to buy people and use them for insurgency in Pakistan, that too with the knowledge of the US, then they are only going to make things worse for themselves.

    the US protects its assets worldwide, because its in their interest.

    the rest of the world does it also.

    so Y, NOT, Pakistan???

  5. as regards as "They are closely allied with the US, and get millions in support from Washington, "

    kindly check your facts mr. anand, how much pakistan is getting from the US, how much is spent on Americans out of it, and how much Pakistan suffers annually just because of this so called war or terror.

    and while u are at it, check also, how much civilians and military personnel have lost their lives in pakistan due to this "war".

    now compare these losses with US, you may be surprised!

    we are NOT indebted to US. they should be the ones who should be thankful to us!

  6. Anand's comments on ISI are nonsense.Initially ISI policy had USA blessings & inputs. NOW policy of BOTH ISI & USA reg Afghanistan is the same. However, it is too much to expect an Indian Hindu to speak well of Pakistan.......and is not Ron from Israel & a Jew as well?

  7. Americans on one hand say that Afghanistan cannot be handled without active and effective support of Pakistan; BUT on the other hand they have created conditions that will NEVER bring them a willing, happy and effective support of Pakistani Army and nation. And that condition is bringing Indians into Afghanistan and allowing them to do what they are doing against Pakistan from there.

    Now, for God's sake Americans, please don't ever think we do not know what is happening and that we do not know that your Army there knows what the Indians are doing there and in Balochistan and elsewhere in our country.

    Let me tell you, if you do not know already, that you can handle Afghanistan without India , but NOT without Pakistan. If you people are still bent upon keeping India in Afghanistan, it is your choice.

    One thing more: Till such time that Kashmir problem is not solved, you will be living in a fool's paradise if you think that Pakistan will sever all her connections with the elements who have in the past, and can in the future, support us and Kashmiris in their freedom struggle.

    These things are so very clear and don't need a Bertrend Russel to understand.

    Lastly, don't keep repeating the meaningless rhetoric about Pakistan getting millions of dollars from your country. It means sweet F***ALL
    because we know and your experts know that Pakistan's economy has suffered to the tune of at least 50 Billion dollars because of your war in Afghanistan and in the bargain what we have got from you is PEANUTS. So don't try to impress us with your paltry figures on this account.

    Come and talk to every ordinary man and woman on the streets of Pakistan about what we have lost and what we have gained because of Afghanistan War and they will update your knowledge about this.

  8. Dear Haidre
    Thank you for the detailed comment. I disagree with Anand that Pakistan is following a strategy regarding Taliban in diversion to USA.
    This is just an effort to pass the buck on.
    Unfortunately, it reflects upon his bias against Pakistan.
    I will agree with points raised by you.

  9. Anyone from anywhere who can repeat the crap of the American and Israeli mindset is termed as the most enlightened and intellectually refined analyst or a vet. journalist. Mr.Gopal does not even solicit a comment because all the three elements he possesses deprives him of the right to an opinion on the issue....1.Gopal being an Indian 2.Had at one time or the other represented newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal. The West has no idea how transparent they are and even a street Pakistani know who the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor represent. Going back to 2001 it was the Bush who had given himself the Almighty right to make premptive strike anywhere in the world where he thought that the area posed a threat to the national interest of the United States then or anytime in the future comes cribbing about Pakistan about the ISI maintaining ties with the Afghan Taliban while they could allow India to built seven conulates in the war torn Afghanistan from where they aimed thier subversive activites into Pakistan with the blessing complete blessing of the Americans and their illegitimate child Israel.WOW the US was supposed to be our ******ally. The US get their lackies all over the world who squeeze them for the dollars and quietly walk away when they see the bullets being fired towards the US. Somehow the location of the United States has given them the notion of being invincible but have constantly failed to learn their lessons from history.Two things have to be clearly understood by the US Israel and India that Pakistan does constitute of the corrupt charecterless politicians who harp the Western tune like Reza Shah Pehalvi of Iran, Marcos of Phillipines and his like but the people of Pakistan and the Pakistan Defence Forces would not for a minute tolerate anyone from inside or outside to compromise Pakistans interest at the hands of India or anyone else.The people of Pakistan are simple hospitable and very accomodating but "stupid they are not" If Bush can live with Barbara the way he likes, Manmohan can live with his wife the way he likes and Netanyahu with his we do not need and counsel from anyone on how we should live with our wives. Let me close tjis with a note of warning for those who have plunged themselves into the pleasures of wishful thinking that the most common slogan for the people of Pakistan is,"IF PAKISTAN DIES WHO LIVES" the decision is yours. And about the hue and cry about the billions of dollars given to Pakistan by the US....its simple to understand why because American as a society let their Parents rot in the old homes sending them cards and flowers once every Christmas, Thanks giving and Easter so they definitely do not pay us for the love of Jesus.