Light at the End of the Afghan Tunnel?
Is it finally light at the end of the Afghan tunnel, or an oncoming express train?
Total confusion erupted last week as the US, NATO, the UN and the Kabul government all issued differing views on new plans to end the nine year Afghan war by bombarding Taliban with tens of millions in cash instead of precision bombs.
One thing is clear: the US and its NATO allies are losing the war in Afghanistan in spite of their fearsome arsenal of high-tech weapons and war chests of billions of dollars.
Lightly-armed Pashtun tribesmen are living up to their legendary reputation of making Afghanistan the graveyard of empires.
So Washington and London, both in dire financial straits, say they are now ready for a possible peace deal with the Pashtun Taliban and its nationalist allies. But, in spite of a $1.4 trillion deficit, President Barack Obama is asking Congress for an additional $33 billion more for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
If you can't bomb them into submission, then try buying them off.
A conference was held in London last Thursday to raise tens of millions of dollars to try to bribe lower-level Taliban to cooperate with the western occupation and/or lay down its arms.
Bribery is a time-honored tool of war. But it's not the answer in Afghanistan. The bloody Afghan conflict can only be ended by genuine peace negotiations and withdrawal of all foreign troops.
US commanders in Afghanistan admit they have lost the military initiative. The resistance is steadily gaining ground. Obama's increasing US and allied troops to 150,000 won't be enough to defeat Taliban. By year end, US and NATO forces will only equal the number of Soviet forces committed to Afghanistan in the 1980's.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, without whose cooperation the US cannot wage war in Afghanistan, is in turmoil. The US is infiltrating Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp mercenaries into Pakistan to protect US military supply routes north from Karachi to Afghanistan, and to operate or defend US air bases in Pakistan.
US mercenaries are also reportedly being used to assassinate militants and enemies of Pakistan's US-installed government, and to target Pakistan's nuclear installations for future US action. This, and increasing attacks by US killer drones, have sparked outrage across Pakistan and brought warnings of creeping US occupation.
US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are like a man trying to fix a chimney on the roof of a burning house.
As Pakistan burns, so will Afghanistan. Seventy-five percent of all US and NATO supplies for Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. This past weekend, for the first time, NATO supply convoys were attacked by militants in the port of Karachi.
Washington lacks the men, money, and understanding to deal with chaotic Pakistan — never mind chaotic Afghanistan.
Washington, London, Ottawa, Berlin and Paris share the same problem: their war propaganda has so demonized Taliban as terrorists and woman abusers that western politicians are petrified to deal with the tribal movement, and risk being accused of sending soldiers to their deaths in a futile war. The far right will howl "appeasement," "giving in to terrorism," and "betraying our boys."
These advocates of permanent war and torture should be ignored. Afghans have suffered over 3 million deaths in 30 years of wars. They desperately need peace, political stability, and rebuilding, not the current western-installed puppet regime of thieving war lords, drug mafias, and thugs of the old Afghan Communist Party.
The best thing we can do for our western soldiers is to get them out of the Afghan morass before they die in this pointless war, or get stuck there for decades.
The west can't "win" in Afghanistan. In fact, Washington cannot even define what victory means. The intelligent, straight-talking American ambassador to Kabul, former general Karl Eikenberry, as well as VP Joe Biden, insist it's time to start peace talks. We should heed their sensible advice.
The US and its allies need a face-saving way out of Afghanistan. Real peace talks are the answer. Not the ruse long proposed by US Gen. Stanley McChrystal to try to bribe away low-ranking Taliban and so split the Afghan resistance.
This stratagem worked to a degree with Sunni tribesmen in Iraq, but is unlikely to succeed with the proud Pashtun tribes who value honor more than money. Theirs is an antique concept most westerners cannot understand.
Taliban, an anti-Communist religious movement, knew nothing about al-Qaida's plans to attack the United States. That plot was hatched in Europe, not Afghanistan. Many members of the anti-Communist Taliban and its allies Hisbi Islami and the Haqqani group were former allies of the west and were hailed by President Ronald Reagan as "freedom fighters."
After 9/11, Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the enraged United States without proper evidence of his guilt because he was an honored guest and hero of the anti-Soviet jihad.
Taliban chose war with the US before betraying a guest. Such men are not to be easily bought.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.
Copyright © 2010 Eric Margolis