Search This Blog

Thursday, November 18, 2010

U.S. taxpayers owe the Afghan people – not the other way around

By:Michael Hughes

There’s been this constant absurd clamoring about protecting the American taxpayer when making strategic decisions related to Afghanistan – a ridiculous assertion considering American taxpayers are the ones guilty of electing pro-military leaders that played a major role in the ruination of the Afghan nation over the last 30 years. As Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre quipped in 1811:

“The people get the government they deserve”.

These same aforementioned taxpayers act as if they didn’t know their tax dollars were feeding a military-commercial nexus that espoused interventionist policies primarily aimed at prosecuting war against Islamic countries.

I’ve said in these pages repeatedly that it’s time for the Afghans to decide their own fate. When Afghans were allowed to run their own country - and not Soviet, NATO and/or American taxpayer-backed power centers – there was a 30 year period of peace, stability and progressive reform under King Zahir Shah.

Some decry this notion based on the false argument that implementing a form of government other than a Western-style democracy will be unacceptable to U.S. taxpayers, after all the dollars invested to date in Afghanistan. The fact that U.S. taxpayers have put leaders in power that have misspent their tax dollars in a way that has been detrimental to most Afghans is not the fault of the Afghan people. This type of ethno-centric arrogance is why we are in this situation in the first place. We think we know what is best for the Afghans.

We’ve seen the results of U.S. taxpayer logic and their inability to make decisions that best serve their own interests, let alone other countries - namely by electing a string of officials who have directly and indirectly been complicit in transforming Afghan society from a stable regime that had been undergoing democratic reform in the 1970s to one of the most violent places on earth, wracked by Islamist extremism. And, by the way, this perverse fundamentalist religious movement that grew in Afghanistan since the 1950s has been fostered in no small part by the U.S. government (and the voters that created it).

To be fair to “Joe the Taxpayer”, the average American was in the dark in 1979 when Jimmy Carter and his hawkish National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski persuaded the Russians to invade Afghanistan – which led to the deaths of over 1 million Afghans and the decimation of the very fabric of their society, as a result of 10 years of Soviet occupation during the 80s.

It was during this period that the White House was occupied by an unabashed right-wing hawk put there by Reagan Democrats who were enamored with the Hollywood actor’s borderline messianic vision to destroy communism at all costs. The Reagan administration, stock full of neoconservative Christian and Jewish fundamentalists, ran the biggest covert operation in U.S. history to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan, while supporting the most dangerous and violent Islamist extremists in the world.

The reign of these mujahideen warlords most of whom became depraved, corrupt and pernicious warlords responsible for furthur destroying Afghanistan during the post-Soviet civil wars - and subsequent Taliban rule helped Afghan society regress culturally and politically at a pace and nature unrivaled in world history. These warlord mujahideen committed the same heinous religious brutality against the Afghan population – but of course back then they were our compadres. Throwing acid in the faces of women wasn’t a big deal when the mujahideen were our allies and, as Reagan called them, "freedom fighters".

One could argue that the U.S. public did not realize countless millions were funding the CIA mission in Afghanistan, but eventually it did become known and American taxpayers weren’t bothered in the least because the commies were beaten. In the meantime they reelected Reagan and then voted George H.W. Bush into the White House, issuing each a mandate for continued military buildup.

However, once communism was defeated, U.S. taxpayer dollars were allocated elsewhere and Afghan society was completely neglected – negligence that set the stage for the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s – a movement completely ignored and even implicitly supported by the Clinton administration and other Western powers.

George W. Bush’s administration was responsible for inserting a corrupt puppet to rule Afghanistan and then took taxpayer dollars and funded warlords to “keep the peace” as other resources were diverted to Iraq. It was clear then that Afghanistan suffered tremendously because of the Iraqi diversion. Yet, even this didn’t seem to bother American taxpayers enough – because they reelected Bush in 2004.

Then Obama came in and insulted his liberal base by foolishly inserting a mid-2011 deadline for withdrawal after sending 30,000 more troops into a war with ambiguous goals against an enemy with snug safe havens located in a neighboring country.

The only ones who think this was a good idea are either partisan to the extreme or on Obama’s staff. But didn’t Obama run on a platform of continued military involvement in the Afghanistan / Pakistan region? Again, voters should have known what they were getting. If they did not read up on this – shame on them – it’s their responsibility to be informed.

And shame on the American taxpayers for hardly weighing the Afghanistan war when casting their votes in the recent mid-term elections. They primarily voted for pro-war Republicans who will now try and expand the footprint in Afghanistan and are committed to defeating both Al Qaeda and the Taliban by killing and capturing every last one of them, and they make no secret about their wish for indefinite or infinite occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to keep the terrorists on the run. Which is supposed to keep America safer somehow.

The fact of the matter is Afghans need to be given the opportunity to create their own government and choose their own leader via Afghan custom. One alternative to accomplish this is through a series of jirgas perhaps held in neutral countries. Meanwhile, the Afghans want U.S. forces out of their country. However, they want U.S. taxpayer money to fund a localized counterinsurgency effort, but one that is led by Afghans. And they require furthur investment to rebuild their nation that was destroyed by several administrations that U.S. taxpayers put in power.

Americans have spent a ton of money and spilt a ton of blood purportedly on behalf of the Afghans. The biggest tragedy certainly is that U.S. soldiers have fought and died for a corrupt regime in Afghanistan, but the fact of the matter is, said government was installed by the U.S. It’s time to stop the bleeding and to cease funding President Hamid Karzai’s reprobate cabal and somehow allocate dollars in a way that actually benefits the Afghan people. It’s the least the U.S. – and its taxpayers – could and should do.

(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History.)

NOTE:This is a cross post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rats at the Dike

By Anwaar Hussian

It is with deep anguish that one pens what one must pen. There is no pleasure in writing this piece.

Frank Lautenberg, the oldest senator in the United States senate, once said, “One thing I have learned in my time in politics is that if one of the parties is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless.”

On the Pakistani political scene, it is shamelessness and spinelessness all around. With a vile determination and barbarous statecraft, the so called Pakistani leaders have taken turns over the decades to assault the body and spirit of this blighted nation. They have plundered and ravaged it, tore its fabric, blemished it with hideous scars until now when it has become this broken, mournful land swaying like a drunkard in the wind.

Thanks to the bunch of pygmies that have been running the show in Pakistan since its birth, the country is now virtually on the brink of disaster. Perhaps like a leviathan out of the ashes, it can still rise up on its wobbly knees to the challenge but the chances are dim. And that is because Pakistan, gasping for life breaths as it already is, will have to do that with these leaders weighting it down from the throat downward, sucking its lifeblood all that while.

The irony is that the Pakistani leadership, by and large, knows it. They know it not by being some kind of visionaries but by that innate hyena like sense that tells them that the prey is about to fall. They know it by those eerie howls on moonlit nights that they find themselves and their kith and kin baying involuntarily to invite each other to the carcass. They know it by that sudden urge to join the frenzy, that monstrous perversion written indelibly on their genetic code.

That much is what they know.

What we know is something entirely different. Though telling it to them is like throwing water on a duck’s back, for they sit secure in their accepted littleness, one must jot it down nonetheless. Perhaps, if time allows, another crop of our national leadership will heed these words.

What we know is that we do not need leaders like these leading us out of these dire straits. It is impossible in fact. For no one has ever heard of the looters ultimately leading the caravan they had been robbing all along to its final destination.

What we know is that there are three individual values that all national leaders must possess i.e. moral courage, competence, and commitment. That these three values are considered essential for building the trust which must exist for the leadership of a nation. And that all these are alien to the aggressively selfish dwarfs going around as Goliaths in Pakistan.

What we know is that for the nation its leaders’ moral courage is much more important than their physical courage for it is this form of courage that will make them stand firm on their values, their ethical principles, and their convictions. That it takes special courage to support unpopular decisions and to make it difficult for others to do the wrong thing. That the ‘others’ may push them to offer a ‘slightly’ unscrupulous solution as the easiest or most expedient way. That we expect them not to do that; to stand up for their beliefs and what they know is right. And that if they believe they are right after sober and careful judgment, they should hold their position and keep on coming. What we also know is that such fine distinctions are foreign to their wicked nature. They consider these to be an affront to their ancestral creed.

What we know is that a duty is a legal or moral obligation to do what should be done without being told to do it. That duty means accomplishing all the tasks to the fullest of one’s ability. That it requires willingness to accept full responsibility for one’s actions. That if one lies or tells a half-truth to make one’s own self or one’s party look good, it may be called being loyal to the leader and the party, but in fact it is being dishonorable and unethical, neglecting one’s duty to the nation that has the first claim on that office. That, to put it in even simpler terms, a leader just cannot truly do his duty without being honorable. What we also know is that these ‘leaders’ laugh in our faces for holding such ‘idiotic’ ideals, calling it a babbling gossip.

What we know is that national leaders must put the nation’s welfare ahead of their own interests. That they must resist the temptation to put self-gain, personal advantage, and self-interests ahead of what is best for the nation. That as leaders, in fact, they must be the greatest servants. That their offices and position are not personal rewards. That they earned them so that they can serve their nation. What we also know is that for cherishing such standards, right now they are silently saying ‘go climb a pole’ and suggesting that we read their lips.

What we know is that whether they like it or not, they are on display at all times. That their actions say much more than their words. That the nation watches them carefully and is likely to imitate their behavior. That they must accept the obligation to be worthy role models and that they cannot ignore the effect their behavior has on the nation. That they themselves must be willing to do what they require of their countrymen. What we also know is that in their midnight congregations, when the truth serum rages wildly through their veins, they damn us for holding close such values and bawl out their midnight howls to show their contempt for us.

After having written all these lines, I now have in my mind’s eye the mug shots of the Zardaris, the Makh-Dooms, the Nawazes, the Hotis, the Raisanis, the Fazl-ur-Rehmans, the Adbullah Shahs, the countless feudal landlords and the many Generals of my unfortunate country. It instantly brings to my mind what Edmund Burk once said, “By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.”

Here is a whole rat pack at the dike. How much time does Pakistan have?

(The writer is a free lance writer & a blogger).

NOTE:This is a cross post.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pakistan heads down China road

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has visited China on several occasions since taking office in September 2008, but these visits have been more ceremonial than of substance, in part because his Washington-backed government had gravitated so close to the United States orbit that even the Chinese envoy in Islamabad publicly complained.

The Pakistani military establishment's pro-China lobby, highly influenced by now retired General Tariq Majeed, frowned on this tilt towards the US, and was especially upset that the Americans were allowed to establsh a naval base in Ormara in Balochistan province, and that US defense contractors were given a free rein in the country. However, the post-Pervez Musharraf-era army was
weak and didn't have much choice except to turn a blind eye.

This situation continued until 2009, by which time the army had regained its influence in the corridors of power and had begun to prevail over the country's decision-making process.

Hence, Zardari's scheduled visit to China on November 11 takes on a special significance. Notably, he has not sought the counsel of his pro-US envoy in Washington, Husain Haqqani, who has consistently advised Zardari to keep his distance from Beijing. Instead, the president on Monday held a long meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani.

Zardari will attend the opening ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, as well as meet with his counterpart Hu Jintao and senior officials.

On the surface, the leaders will discuss the Washington-opposed plan for a fifth Chinese-built nuclear reactor in Pakistan. However, the underlying emphasis will be on new moves on the grand chessboard of South Asia.

"This is a time of strategic uncertainty," a senior Pakistani strategic expert told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. "Although there is a strategic alliance between the US and Pakistan, the recent visit by United States President Barack Obama to India, which aimed to benefit the American economy, was revealing of how economic and strategic ties between India and American will be in the future: when push comes to shove, the Americans will stand with India, not with Pakistan."

This does not mean that Pakistan, guided by the military, is instantly going to fall into China's arms and abandon the US, but it is certainly considering adjusting its current alignments.

"While the US has provided all sorts of financial and economic assistance to Pakistan in return for its services in providing NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] a passage to Afghanistan and for fighting militancy in the tribal areas, America didn't support Pakistan in regional conflicts with India," the expert said.

"The US intervened to help resolve disputes between India and Pakistan, but in the end the formulas that emerged from Washington were aimed at creating a situation for dialogue and engagement - trade relations without any resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

"The only [US] goal was that Pakistan-India trade would resume and that would give the Americans a corridor from India into Afghanistan, and finally that dispensation would take India, geographically, into America's strategic loop in South Asia and facilitate India's role to work as an American strategic partner in Afghanistan and all the way up to Central Asia," the expert said.

A changing world
From January to November 5 this year, there were 15 major militant attacks in Pakistan, a dramatic drop from 209 incidents in the same period of the previous year. According to the Canadian Press, the chronology of events shows that the first half of the year was marked by a visibly anti-state insurgency, as was the case in previous years. The frequency of attacks and the dynamics of conflict visibly changed after September [1].

Only two major attacks have occurred since then. These included suicide bomber strikes against a Sunni mosque in Darra Adam Khel in northwestern Pakistan on November 5, in which at least 67 people were killed during Friday prayers. There was also a Taliban suicide attack on a Shi'ite procession that killed 65 people in the southwestern city of Quetta on September 1, beside two other minor incidents against shrines in Karachi and Pakpattan.

This indicates that from September the violence become sectarian, or centered on tribal disputes. The attacks by the Taliban and al-Qaeda that played havoc in Pakistan in 2009 have virtually come to a halt.

Asia Times Online has documented the development of ceasefire initiatives between Pakistan and the militants (See Vultures are circling in Pakistan September 28, 2010). These were brokered with various main groups and at present only fringe groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are left to carry out attacks, and even these are sectarian in nature.

On the other hand, attacks against Afghanistan-bound NATO supply convoys in Pakistan have increased dramatically, to the extent that they have become almost daily.

The "understanding" between the security forces and militants has reached the stage where militants have pledged they will release all prominent prisoners without demanding a high price. These include former Inter-Services Intelligence official retired Colonel Ameer Sultan alias Imam (known as the "Father of the Taliban") and Aamir Malik, the son-in-law of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, retired General Tariq Majeed.

During Pakistan's recent strategic dialogue with the US in Washington, Islamabad was directly urged to come out with a comprehensive action plan against the powerful Haqqani network in the North Waziristan tribal area. The network is a key player in the Taliban-led insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

However, army chief Kiani is a fervent believer in dialogue with the network and sees it as a guarantee for peace in the future. The Americans have tried their level-best to reach out to the Haqqanis - Jalaluddin and his sons Sirajuddin and Naseeruddin - and the Taliban, but their talks to start talks have collapsed. This has been confirmed by Saudi and other officials involved in the process. Asia Times Online was the first publication to break the news of the failure, (See Taliban peace talks come to a haltOctober 30, 2010.)

Washington is still pressing Pakistan, though, to mount operations in North Waziristan, and is even prepared to use a stick if necessary. This could be done through international institutions in which the US has influence, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank and the United States Agency for International Development.

The IMF's assistant director for the Middle East and Central Asia Department, Adnan Mazarie, recently warned that if these bodies stopped their credit lines to Pakistan, it would go into default. The IMF is now warning that if Pakistan does not implement a "credible and irreversible plan to implement power sector reforms", aid will be cut off.

China means business
Last Sunday, Pakistan's Daily Dawn reported that Pakistan had set aside all competitive international bidding for the induction of power plants in the country and had decided to award a contract, without bidding, to a Chinese company for the construction of 1,100 megawatt hydropower project in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, at an estimated cost of US$2.2 billion.

Approximately 10,000 Chinese workers are engaged in 120 projects in Pakistan and total Chinese investment - which includes heavy engineering, power generation, mining and telecommunications - stood at $15 billion at the end of this year, up from $4 billion in 2007.

One of the most significant joint development projects of recent years is the major port complex at the naval base of Gwadar in Balochistan province. The complex, inaugurated in December 2008 and now fully operational, provides a deep-sea port, warehouses and industrial facilities for more than 20 countries.

China provided much of the technical assistance and 80% of the funds for the construction of the port. In return for providing most of the labor and capital, China gains strategic access to the Persian Gulf: the port is just 180 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz through which 40% of all globally traded oil is shipped.

This enables China to diversify and secure its crude oil import routes and provides the landlocked and oil- and natural gas-rich Xinjiang province with access to the Arabian Sea. With China formally in command of Gwadar port operations, it would, along with Pakistan, gain an important regional and strategic advantage.
Pakistan's marriage of convenience with the US that began after September 11, 2001, with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the launch of the "war on terror", has endured some rocky times.

Informed opinion in strategic quarters in Pakistan is that in the second half of next year, American aid packages, in the wake of the beginning of the US troop drawdown in Afghanistan, will be reduced or even stopped, and the US's relations with India will bloom.

Pakistan wants to be ready for such a development, and is using China as a hedge.

1. On August 23, three bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan kill at least 36. On July 9, a pair of suicide bombers kills 102 people and wounds 168 in the Mohmand tribal region. On July 2, twin suicide bombers attack Pakistan's most revered Sufi shrine in Lahore, killing 47 people and wounding 180. On May 29, two teams of seven militants attack two mosques of the Ahmadi minority sect in Lahore, killing 97. On April 19, a suicide bomber apparently targeting police at a conservative Islamic party rally in Peshawar kills 23. On April 18, two burqa-clad suicide bombers attack refugees lined up to register for food in Kohat district in the northwest, killing 41. On April 5, a suicide bomber attacks a rally of an anti-Taliban political party in Lower Dir district, killing 45. On March 13, two suicide bombers targeting army vehicles in Lahore kill more than 55 and wound more than 100. On February 18, a bomb tears through a mosque in the Khyber tribal region, killing 29 people and wounding 50 more. On February 5, two bombs targeting the Shi'ite Muslim minority sect in Karachi kill 33 and wound 176 and on January 1 a suicide bomber drives a truckload of explosives into a volleyball field in Lakki Marwat district, killing at least 97 people.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
NOTE:This is a cross post from Asia Times Online.