AFGHANISTAN – PAKISTAN – TALIBAN

Anna Balletbò.  WILSON WOODROW CENTER (Florence, 22-23-24 September 2010-09-16)

When, on the 7th of October 2001, U.S. and British forces started the operations to invade Afghanistan, a country of 30 million inhabitants, to try to overthrow the Taliban, little thought had been made in relation to what would happen the day after the victory. Indeed, on the 7th of December 2001, Kandahar, the last stronghold of the Taliban, fell and today, almost nine years after the “allied” victory, we still do not know what to do.

Vietnam’s experience seems not to have helped much and, in the end, in armed conflicts, resistance is more powerful than apparent success, and the Taliban resistance has been woven into the neighboring Pakistan.

When Cameron, the British Prime Minister, uttered the famous phrase about Pakistan “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in fact, to promote the exportation of terror, whether it is to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world”, the commotion was tremendous.

Cameron’s words, certainly unfortunate, especially considering his visit to India, the eternal enemy of Pakistan, are not the only ones spoken in this sense. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit in July to Pakistan, publically expressed Washington’s distrust towards its ally, claiming that someone within the Pakistani government was aware of the hideout of Al-Qaeda’s chief, Osama Bin Laden, in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

The leaks of documents on the Internet page “Wikileaks” showing that Pakistani intelligence Services (ISI) secretly help to instigate the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has rung alarm bells.

And the truth is that the reason why this war is becoming endless may be in Islamabad. While, on the one side, it receives a billion dollars a year from Washington for his help against Al-Qaeda, on the other, it seems to help the Afghan insurgency in secret.

When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan’s backyard, Pakistan acted as a spearhead of the U.S. in its fight against the axis of evil. Their intelligence services were put at the service of the CIA for training, arming and directing the Afghan mujahedeen, with Osama Bin Laden in charge. Pakistan played a key role in the armed resistance that turned Afghanistan into the Russian Vietnam and, in return, the army of Pakistan received logistical and financial support from the U.S. But, above all, Pakistan began to look to its neighbor Afghanistan as its own territory, acting as a referee in their internal affairs.

Therefore, with the departure of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and the breakout of the Civil War in the country, Pakistani leaders felt abandoned by the U.S. and had to straighten out the situation in their own way, trying to bring some stability to a country devastated by war.

Pakistan decided to ask the Taliban to bring order, even if it was based on establishing a kind of Islamic Emirate. And the Pakistani intelligence services closed their ties with the Taliban and consolidated their hegemony in the area.

We see that Pakistan, a friend of the U.S. since the 1950s, brings up suspicion and distrust from the 90’s. The State Department should know the cost of embracing and then despising allies to its convenience. Pakistani leaders, and specially the security forces, felt neglected and abandoned by their guard, who cut military aid by threatening them with sanctions over Pakistan’s nuclear program.

In practice, what happens in Afghanistan is a remnant of the Cold War. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the American empire lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I remember that during the first presidential campaign of George W. Bush, he was asked the name of the Pakistani Prime Minister in a television program and failed to respond. (Perwez Musharraf)

The serpent’s egg is incubated and for several months Pakistani forces have launched attacks against the Pakistani Taliban, allied with the Afghan Taliban because they have begun to threaten the current Pakistani government. However, the Pakistani armed forces are reluctant to seriously attack the Afghan Taliban, as the West has asked, because they want to take advantage of their position and because the Afghan Taliban will be an important strategic bargaining tool when Western troops leave the country.

Thus, just as the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained about Pakistan’s double play, Taliban Afghans also complain about the dual role Pakistanis play when they feed them with one hand and arrest them and kill them with the other.

A final point which is worth bearing in mind, is that it is impossible to build a democratic system based on corruption. As the analyst William R. Polk explains, Warlords control ministries and even entire provinces. One of them, the power in the shadow of Kandahar, is President Hamid Karzai’s step-brother, and nothing happens in that province without his approval and without him receiving a bribe. Another former Interior Minister, dismissed for corruption, has been moved to a position from which, according to an editorial in The Guardian, he is in charge of the opium industry.

The backhander is the official standard and without this bribe there is no receipt. Not only Afghans pay bribes; the delivery of millions of dollars in cash to rural leaders is a common practice among U.S. and NATO soldiers. The comment made by General David Petraeus, the new commander in charge in Afghanistan: “Money is my best ammunition in this war”, does nothing but confirm this reality.

Corruption shapes the vision that Afghans have of their own government and it is one of the issues highlighted by the Taliban in its campaign to gain support and, what is even more important, many observers recognize that there is no corruption in the areas Talibans control. This factor may prove to be decisive in defeating the Western forces in the country.
In the table that I have the honor of presiding, we will hear interesting views on the conflict and whether it has or has not a medium-term solution, but you will please allow me that, taking advantage of my position as President, I will point out that we should also put on the table another central element in the conflict: Pakistan strategic rivalry with India, which exceeds any pressure from the West on Islamabad to end with their support for the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan as a nuclear power, like India, has major strategic concerns and fears Indian’s influence in its backyard. If we want to set the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban against each other, we cannot forget Pakistan’s geo-strategic concerns in relation to India. The conflict spreads through many borders and any solution must involve not only Afghanistan and Pakistan but also India, Iran and China.

It is not easy.

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