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COMMENTARY
Washington's Afghan plan unravels
By Ramtanu Maitra

In recent weeks, two major incidents along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have laid bare the new complexities in the area. And a large part of the blame for these two incidents lies with the United States's duplicitous role in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The first of the two incidents occurred on July 4, a Friday afternoon at the Jama Masjid-o-Imambargah Kalaan Isna Ashri, a Shi'ite mosque in Quetta in the western Pakistani province of Balochistan bordering Afghanistan. On that holy Muslim day, while the Shi'ite faithful were offering their prayers, three killers, apparently including a suicide bomber, attacked the mosque: 53 were killed and 57 injured. This is not the first time the Shi'ite community has been at the receiving end of such a vicious attack from presumed Sunni killers in Quetta. Less than a month ago, on June 8, 13 trainee police personnel, all belonging to the Shi'ite community, were slaughtered in the same town, which, incidentally, is a major headquarters of the Pakistan army.

The second incident occurred three days later, on July 7, when about 2,000 Afghan demonstrators, protesting the Pakistan army's alleged occupation of Afghan territory in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, climbed the Pakistan embassy walls in Kabul and broke windows and furniture. Pakistan promptly closed the embassy. In all likelihood, the embassy will be opened shortly, but the bad blood developed between Islamabad and Kabul, both virtual client states of the United States, will continue to bring death and mayhem for some time to come.

Fiascos waiting to happen
The Quetta killings were orchestrated by either the Sipah-e-Sahaba or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, both virulent Sunni killer gangs fortified by the Taliban militia, al-Qaeda members and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents. It is rather well known that al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants have been avoiding the US dragnet by hiding in Balochistan and in Pakistan's tribal agencies (FATA) bordering Afghanistan. The Balochi Shi'ites, most of whom immigrated ages ago from the Hazara region in central Afghanistan, have been providing the Americans and the Pakistanis intelligence about al-Qaeda and Taliban militia in the province. That led to a number of arrests of al-Qaeda operatives. But while their intelligence was accepted, neither the Americans nor the Pakistanis saw it necessary to provide the Shi'ite sources with adequate security.

It is certain that more killings will ensue, likely precipitating full-fledged sectarian violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis in already-troubled Pakistan that may, sooner or later, embroil the keeper of the Shi'ite faith - Iran. Indeed, some in Washington, particularly the neo-conservatives thumping to "take out" the Iran regime, would like to get Tehran involved in the brawl. This crude layer of the American political mainstream hopes that such action by Tehran would provide the "smoking gun" to justify a regime change in Iran to the hapless American populace.

The stoning of the Pakistan embassy in Kabul was yet another incident waiting to happen. The fact is that under the guidance of its Afghan-born expert, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Bush administration has been pursuing a policy that will not only set Pakistan and Afghanistan on the road to confrontation, but also threaten to tear down the already-stretched fabric of Pakistani society.

The ABCs of the Afghan campaign
To repeat the ABCs of this situation: the key players in Pakistan on whom the US is relying to eradicate Taliban extremists are the very individuals who created the Taliban. By supporting President General Pervez Musharraf in his power grab in 1999 in a coup under the pretext of replacing a "fundamentalist" with a "moderate", Washington did manage to buy off a small section of the Pakistani army personnel. These switched from being pro-Taliban to become pro-American. Needless to say, Musharraf is one of them. Since then, Washington has dumped money on Pakistan, looked away from its enriched uranium-for-missile deal with North Korea, and suppressed information about the on-going support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda militia by a section of the Pakistan army and the ISI.

The results are plainly visible. First, two Pakistani provinces - Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) - are now under fundamentalist control and Islamic laws, reminiscent of the Taliban-imposed so-called Dark Age laws, are being put in place in the NWFP. Second, the bordering tribal agencies, where Islamabad's writ never ever reached, have become the hideouts of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. These areas border eastern and southeastern Afghanistan, where most of Afghanistan's major cities are located. The fabled Kabul-Kandahar road runs parallel and close to the borders.

From these hideouts, and with the help of the intelligence provided by the Pakistan army and the ISI, the anti-American and anti-Kabul elements carry out sorties and ambushes. When Americans used their muscle to force the Pakistan army to comb that area jointly, the chiefs of at least one tribal agency, the Mohmand agency, announced their opposition to the joint combing. Promptly, the NWFP provincial assembly, now under the control of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) - also known as Musharraf Mullahs and Army - endorsed the Mohmand tribal chiefs.

More recently, when Musharraf was touring abroad for 18 days in late June appeasing Western leaders, Pakistan's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Mohammad Aziz Khan, identified America as Pakistan's number one enemy. In a public speech in Rawalkot in the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir Khan declared, "All the defeats and setbacks that the Islamic world has suffered have been due to disunity and splits in Muslim ranks, because of the presence of and tolerance of these elements that most of our [jihadi] movements came to nought." Khan, once the most powerful commander in the Pakistan army, is close to the mullahs, and it is likely that he will be fired. But that may not be the end of the story, for such a move could spell doom for Musharraf himself and the rest of the pro-American Pakistani "moderates" in the army.

The problems of puppetry
If Musharraf has turned out to be an American puppet, it was not, perhaps, intended. His switch from being a pro-Taliban to pro-American and anti-Taliban - a move made to receive protection from Washington - made him a puppet. By contrast, Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, was always an American puppet. He knows better than most that he had virtually no credentials to take up the job that was handed to him by a group of bullying Americans at the UN-organized international conference in Bonn at the close of 2001.

Nobody knows better than Karzai the problem of being a puppet of Washington. Karzai, who is referred to as the "mayor of Kabul" by cynical Kabul residents, was wholly at the mercy of the Americans from the time he was made leader. The US provides him an inner core of bodyguards, and he remains as distant from the Afghans as he was the day he was sworn in. Meanwhile, Americans are out there "fixing" things.

One of the things that the Americans "fixed" is drug production. During the Taliban days, opium production had reached a peak of 5,000-plus tons. In 2001, with the warehouses filled to the ceiling with raw opium, the Taliban wanted to show how "good" they were, and stopped poppy cultivation in the territories they controlled - about 95 percent of the country. The opium price soared, and the Taliban regime and its Pakistani benefactors made huge profits. At the same time, the Taliban, citing their efforts to end the venal drug trade, sought recognition as the legitimate Afghan government.

Following the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and subsequent removal of the Taliban from power, competing agencies within the US government set about to prove their worth (with some individuals intensely involved in lining their pockets with the drug money) by adopting policies to "short-cut" the process of Afghan reconstruction. One of these short-cuts involved a deal with the warlords. The deal was to allow the warlords to grow poppy, so that these warlords could buy arms and recruit militia to strengthen their ranks. In return, they would not only provide the Americans with the intelligence on where the al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding, but would also provide the Americans with fighters.

What came of this approach? The first thing that happened is that poppy fields and the poppy growers took over Afghanistan. In the year 2002, about 3,750 tons of opium was harvested. In cold cash, this translates conservatively into anything between US$5-6 billion for the warlords.

The second thing that the policy did was further weaken Karzai, who was running from pillar to post to get some cash to show some "improvement" in living conditions in Kabul to justify his and the Americans' presence, and he was deprived of revenue. The warlords claimed - and the American operatives endorsed their claims - that they needed the money to bolster their anti-Taliban militia and help the Americans find al-Qaeda members. As a result, the Afghan warlords, who were virtually eliminated by the Taliban, are now stronger than ever. In a few more years, these warlords will be strong enough to kick out their American benefactors and American puppets.

As if these developments do not portend a bad enough future for the immediate region, Washington felt compelled to introduce another. By pressurizing the Pakistan army to comb the border areas to ferret out the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Americans have given Pakistani troops a free hand to occupy Afghan territory and maintain control of the Taliban and al-Qaeda operations. According to area expert Ahmed Rashid, the Afghan government and the US have been frustrated by Pakistan's reluctance to reign in elements of the Taliban and al-Qaeda Islamic militant units. These militants use Pakistan as a safe haven from which to launch raids against US and Afghan troops. United Nations officials and heads of aid agencies say that the security situation has worsened and that aid and reconstruction is blocked in southern Afghanistan, or one third of the country, because of increasing Taliban activity.

Humpty Dumpty had a fall
According to reports, the mob that attacked the Pakistan embassy in Kabul was well organized. They were carrying sledge hammers, sticks and stones - an indication that there was a plan to attack the embassy and it was not a decision made on the spur of the moment. Pakistan's ambassador to Kabul, Rustam Shah Mohmand, even accused the Karzai government of inciting the mob. He said, "We hold the Afghan government squarely responsible, not only for negligence, but for stage-managing the show, for creating the environment in which such an attack could take place."

Prior to this, Musharraf, while in the US, criticized the Afghan leader for his limited control over Afghanistan and for having a government which was not fully representative of the ethnic mosaic that represents Afghanistan. The Karzai cabinet has a large number of Panjshiri Tajik and Uzbek representatives, but only a handful of the Pashtun community - the largest community in Afghanistan. It is also well known that Pakistan, being close to the Pashtun-dominated Taliban militia, would like to interact with the Pashtuns, and not with the Tajiks or Uzbeks.

Musharraf's statement in the US did not go well with Karzai. The American puppet in Kabul said that he was seeking clarification from the virtual American puppet in Islamabad concerning his statements that Karzai's government was unable to extend its authority into Afghanistan's provinces. On the same day, Karzai issued a tough statement accusing Musharraf of interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs.

The Humpty Dumpty of the US war on terrorism has taken another fall, and it is not at all clear that the divisive forces in Washington will be able to put it together again.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact
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Jul 15, 2003



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