Divide and Kill: the New Mantra for Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan, to date, has been a very expensive proposition for U.S. Together with the other war that a crusading George W. Bush in his blind frenzy of revenge and empire-building, launched against Iraq, the U.S. treasury has been set back, already, to the tune of much more than a trillion dollars. Some saner and-not-bound-to-the-establishment-coat-tails-economists argue that the final toll of the two wars may well reach 3 trillion dollars, when all the bills are in.

The human toll to the western invaders of Afghanistan stands, to this day, at around 1585, and counting, for the armies of U.S. and 35 of its Nato allies. This casualty figure could easily escalate to between 300 and 500 a month in the next few weeks and months as an un-repenting and war-mongering U.S. beefs up its boots on ground in Afghanistan by 30,000 additional troops under the Obama-sanctioned surge. A Pentagon spokesman in Washington, General Berry McCaffrey, seemed to be mentally preparing the American public to stomach this expected spike in American casualty figures while talking to the media at the beginning of February

Of course U.S. and its western allies don't give a hoot to the havoc this ongoing war on their soil-now in its 9th year and showing no ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel-has been unleashing for the Afghan people. The casualty figures for the Afghan civilian population range from one dismal estimate to another but could safely be said to hover at more than 50,000 killed and maimed.

Likewise, the U.S. and its western allies in Afghanistan-displaying for the whole world the mentality that spawned the age of western colonialism and imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries-never give any credit to an ally like Pakistan, where the establishment has been standing in the frontline of the war with its western mentors despite the robust disapproval of such a course from the people of Pakistan. In the process, Pakistani military casualties have mounted to much more than the toll suffered by the western armies in Afghanistan.

According to General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Pakistani army chief-who was invited to Brussels at the end of January to talk to Nato commanders at their annual conclave-the Pakistan army has lost nearly 2300 of its soldiers and officers, to date, in the fight against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan in the past 2 years; more than 6,000 have been injured. The blood spilled included that of a lieutenant general, two major generals, and three brigadiers.

This is not to mention the recurring Pakistani travail and nightmare of 'visitations' by un-manned Drone attacks in their tribal area, day after day and night after night, in which a mounting toll of civilians is becoming hard to explain for a government still firmly tethered to U.S. but becoming ever more unpopular, because of it.

Apparently, all these nuances of a war that seems to be heading nowhere are too subtle to be appreciated or understood by the empire-dreamers in Washington, and some of their side-kicks in places like London. Their ranks have, obviously, received a hefty boost from the co-opting of an idealistic President like Barack Obama who had entered the Oval Office, a year ago, with an agenda of idealistic 'change' in the format and conduct of American foreign policy.

However, the same idealist has quickly fallen from his pedestal to join the ranks of the neo cons that had encircled and corralled his ignoble predecessor, George W. Bush, completely. The trigger-happy cabal of neo con 'visionaries' have apparently bamboozled Obama to kowtow to their agenda of 'conquering' the world, if not fully then at least partially.

Perhaps no other president in recent American history has forsaken his high principles, and idealism, with such alacrity, in his eagerness to pander to the rightist radicals who still haven't stopped baying against him. Just look at his latest decision to sell lethal weapons-gun-ship helicopters and 'patriot' missiles, among others-to Taiwan in a deal worth more than 6 billion dollars: Obama has done so knowing how provocative this would be to China, and provoked it has Beijing, for sure. But Obama seems determined to rub further salt into the Chinese wounds by consenting to receive the Dalai Lama, a renegade to Beijing, at the White House. The Chinese sensitivities in the two matters are, apparently, of little concern to Obama.

Not content with showing not one but two red rags to Beijing, Obama is talking tough, to appeal to the neo con galleries, on trade issues with China. This is tentative and amateurish of a president who, only weeks ago, went to Beijing and talked of turning a new page in relations with a robustly productive economic power that China is today.

One might make some concession to Obama on the war in Afghanistan, about which he was insistent, even as a candidate for the White House, that he could win it for U.S. He repeated this belief in his long State of the Union address to Congress on January 27.

The latest tack in the Obama strategy on Afghanistan seems to be hinged on adopting a two-pronged policy. In simple language it amounts to using both carrots and stick to realize the Obama dream of ending the Afghan involvement-without yet indicating a departure date-on a victorious note.

The stick in Obama's two-pronged approach has already been unveiled, with the intended deployment of 30,000 fresh troops. The carrots were wrapped in the latest policy announcements by both military commanders and civilian aides of Obama to the effect that his administration was now publicly committed to seeking a dialogue with the much-maligned Taliban, who show no sign of being browbeaten by the Americans and their western allies.

The 140 years-old Lancaster House of London was the venue of an international conference on Afghanistan, last January 28, a day after Obama reiterated that he was determined to win the war there, called by Washington and its allies to search for a consensus on how to end the conflict. It brought foreign ministers and other dignitaries of 70 countries currently involved, directly or indirectly, in Afghanistan.

But the Lancaster House conference was a ruse. It was just a choreographed and orchestrated assembly of well-dressed and articulate diplomats and leaders determined to stay on the right side of U.S. in Afghanistan.

The real decision-to use the carrots with the aim of dividing the Taliban-had already been taken by Washington and London, representing the current neo-imperialist power and its bosom ally still being nostalgic about its own glory days when Pax Brittania ruled the world.

The London conference proclaimed the new mantra for Afghanistan. The word went out from Lancaster House that the allies were setting up a $ 500 million fund, to be disbursed over the next four years, to wean the 'good Taliban' away from the 'bad Taliban.' It was also revealed that an amount of $ 140 million was being authorized to be spent during the current year to give a kick-start to the scheme.

To put cream on their freshly-baked cake, and lend credence to their divide-and-rule mantra, the Americans and their western allies got five top good Taliban leaders off the UN list of undesirable persons who had otherwise had  restrictions and sanctions imposed against their movement and travels. The most prominent name of these five is that of the former Taliban Foreign Minister, Abdul Wakil Mutawakkil.

There can be no doubt that working implicitly behind this 'novel and innovative idea,' according to some sycophants, is the old colonial mindset that has always been faithful to the mantra of divide-and-rule, which was used with callous impunity and abandon in the heyday of western colonialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The architects of this novel scheme, in the Afghan context, are not forsaking the use of the stick, at the same time. Their belief is that the deployment of 30,000 battle-hungry soldiers would make a heavy dent in the Taliban resistance and impel those Taliban factions that are wearing of battle to walk away from their hard-line leaders. They are calling their new strategy a policy of 'reconciliation.'

But this 'reconciliation' is nothing but a thinly-veiled stratagem to go on turning Afghanistan into vast killing fields. On the face of it, the plan looks deeply flawed and easily prone to firing back on its proponents.

There's no guarantee that those who would agree to surrender their arms in return for money will not go back to the Taliban ranks. It's inconceivable that a corruption-infested Karzai government would come up with a fool-proof system to plug all the loopholes that can be seen with naked eyes in the Anglo-American plan.

But even given the improbability of the Taliban factions trashing their guns for money and not going back on their commitment to stay on in the mainstream, others will not be forthcoming to fill the void and whet the numbers of the Taliban ranks.

The option of using maximum force first and only later dangle the carrots instead of wielding the stick, is itself fraught with a high risk. The Taliban have never had a problem of looking for new recruits, which have come to them, voluntarily, after every incident of innocent civilians-in hamlets, villages and towns-killed in indiscriminate use of air power to target alleged terrorists and Taliban sympathizers.

The American and other western troops operating in Afghanistan under the canopy of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) have never been merited with valor or bravery. These soldiers, fighting far from their homes, and on a terrain totally alien to them, don't have their hearts in the mission foisted on them. They loathe the idea of facing the Taliban, one-to-one, on the ground and prefer to unleash ferocious power on their enemy from a safe distance-in the air.

Indiscriminate and lethal use of air power against defence-less civilians is a strategy that has been a source of providing legions of fresh recruits and volunteers to the Taliban; and there's no vouching against it persisting under the new game-plan.

The thinly disguised policy of divide-and-kill-and go on killing at will-is at obvious odds with President Hamid Karzai's more sensible and pragmatic option to integrate the Taliban into the mainstream, from which they have been kept far apart because of the relentless pursuit of war by those occupying the Afghan soil.

Karzai, much as he may be beholden to his foreign patrons and masters for keeping him in power for so long, is, after all, a son-of-the-soil and understands the psyche of the Taliban much better than the Americans and their flunkies. Karzai is sensitive to the Taliban sensitivities, which, as a matter of fact, are the attributes of the Afghan people as a whole.

Karzai knows that the Taliban will neither buckle under pressure nor will they relent under inducements of money or a piece of the pie. They would agree to play ball only if the incentive is honour and not money; if the offer is a place in governance on a footing of equality and not surrender or subservience.

Karzai has been making overtures to the Taliban for quite sometime. Therefore, it can be assumed that his strategy of reintegration of the Taliban into the social and political mainstream of Afghanistan has been fashioned as a consequence of his behind-the-door and secret negotiations with the top leadership of the Taliban, face to face or indirect, over the past so many months.

Karzai's tainted and controversial re-election, late last year, has given him fresh credentials but much weaker than before. As such, in the strictly national context, Karzai has the sense to understand that if he could bring the Taliban back into the national fold, and end hostilities that have soured life for ordinary Afghans for so long, could only lend more weight and prestige to his rule. He used the venue of the Lancaster House to let the participants and the whole world know that he intends to call a national ( Loya) Jirga, soon, to which the Taliban would also be invited, including their top echelons. It's a different matter whether Mulla Omar and his top minions would be inclined to honour the invitation, if extended to them.

What Karzai, or anyone else close to him, is not talking of, publicly, is belated recognition that the end goal of the Karzai regime and its western mentors are not, after all, identical or one-and-the-same.

Working behind the Anglo-American plan is that old-which one would've thought had long been dead-and-buried-imperial mind-set that practiced divide-and-rule with flourish. The reconciliation scheme for Afghanistan unfolded at London, and backed up with dollops of money, is a prescription for staying long in Afghanistan, something that Karzai, the Taliban and ordinary Afghans would find increasingly hard to stomach. It's a ploy doom for failure. After more than 3 decades of bloodshed, suffering and colossal depredation of their land and people, the Afghans, all around, are getting wiser.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2010 on page no. 26

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