West’s Imperial Lust in Afghanistan

Historians through ages have regularly bemoaned Afghanistan’s tragedy as a victim of its geography. Its location as the gateway to India left it prone and vulnerable to the imperial lust of invading conquerors.

There is, however, a major difference between conquering invaders of the past centuries-from Alexander down to Imperial Britain-and those western powers that have been in occupation of Afghanistan since the end of 2001. The past invaders didn’t seek to occupy Afghanistan for the sake of it; they merely used its land corridor to make incursions into the South Asian sub-continent. The only exception to the rule was imperial Britain that tried to occupy it for good because it feared its rival imperial power, Russia, would do it if it didn’t. However, three wars spanning 80 years-later, even that British Empire that otherwise boasted that the sun never set on it gave up its incontinent lust to keep Afghanistan in its imperial bondage.

But the 48-countries-strong armed forces of occupation that have been keeping, or trying to, Afghanistan in their thrall for the past nine years think they will be able to re-write history by fashioning Afghanistan they way they desire it and thus disproving the old historical maxim that no outside power has ever been able to subdue the valiant Afghans.

The 48 armies making up the US-Nato-and like-minded countries’ military presence in Afghanistan believe that they are there not as a force of invasion or occupation but rather to prevent Afghanistan from ever again used as a launch-pad for terror activities in US or anywhere else in the western world. They have been calling themselves, accordingly, as an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help the Afghan government created by them according to their own choice-and convenience, more than anything else-to combat the menace of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They basically think they are in Afghanistan on a ‘humanitarian mission’ to protect and insulate its people against the depredation of the Taliban who had ruled Afghanistan with an iron hand before the cataclysm of 9/11 paved the way for western armies to swoop over the land.

But despite all the sophisticated fire-power at the disposal of this 150,000-strong force-and state-of-the-art weaponry and logistics at its command-this formidable force hasn’t, quite, been able to accomplish its mission of removing the cancer of the Taliban and cleanse the country of their continued presence. After 9 long years, there’s precious little for this huge occupation force to show by way of tangible accomplishments. The Taliban are on rebound. They are resurgent and the western armies have been put on to the back-foot because of their inability to keep the Taliban in check despite tall claims to the contrary routinely made by their leaderships.

ISAF, as the world knows, is basically a handmaiden of US, whose concerns in the wake of 9/11 for security of its homeland had forced its 28 Nato allies, and 20 other like-minded countries, to respond to Washington’s call for arms and men. Under George W. Bush the mission to teach the Taliban a lesson and make them run under the fierce onslaught of this formidable army of occupation was rushed because that warrior-president was anxious to settle scores. The Americans make up the largest contingent-of more than 100,000 soldiers- in ISAF and have, by virtue of it, been dictating policy on war and peace in Afghanistan to its minions and ‘allies.’

President Obama, taking a realistic assessment of the war front-and its impact on the American people-had announced last year that US would start withdrawing its army-in stages, of course, and spread over an unlimited period-with effect from July 2011, even though the Pentagon and its top military brass felt unhappy over their commander-in-chief announcing a timetable which they thought would only help the ‘enemy.’

It seems, however, that in keeping with his now-familiar flip-flop on policy issues and matters of importance, Obama is having serious second-thoughts about his strategy on Afghanistan. And true to esprit de corps that should, logically, be prevailing among the allies contributing to the American war effort and objectives, other western countries and leaders are also on the same page with Obama about a serious policy review on Afghanistan. Birds of a feather, in this case too, seem determined to flock together.

The Nato leaders assembled in Lisbon, Portugal, for two days-November 19 and 20-to take stock of the situation on ground in Afghanistan and devise a common strategy to serve their common interest.

The choice of Lisbon as venue of the summit may have been entirely coincidental but conveyed, as emphatically, the imperialist thrust of this latest western venture in neo-colonialism. Portugal, in the halcyon days of empire-building by maritime-wise- powerful European nations, had taken the lead in implanting the imperialist flag in far off African and Asian colonies.

Lisbon has produced, at the end of two days of intense deliberations, a new resolve by 24 member states of Nato to prolong their ‘mission’ in Afghanistan up to 2014 which according to the Taliban enemy, is a clear admission of the occupation force’s inability to subdue its quarries and prevail upon it on the battle field.

However, even this new deadline, four years hence, is not the bottom line to many a hardened imperialist involved in the game. The joint statement still attaches a caveat: this will be the date to taper off the combat mission if the security environment so permits. Old masters of the imperialist game like Britain, with its capital of experience of Afghanistan at the peak of the 19th century ‘Great Game’ still fresh at its disposal, spelled out unambiguously that combat activity will not, for certain, come to an end in 2014. David Cameron, the newly-anointed scion of the imperialist legacy, proudly and unabashedly informed the world media that his country will not be disappearing from Afghanistan for many more years after 2014.

Obama, whose vacillations on issues of substance are becoming nauseatingly too frequent, desperately tried to be seen still as a man seeking a way out of Afghanistan despite his pathetic foot-dragging, insisted that some token withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would begin in July, 2011, as earlier committed. However, the combat mission will go on for another 3 years, at the very minimum, beyond that now laughable deadline. But, unsurprisingly, in view of his dismal record on keeping his deadlines, there would be few takers of his futile effort to market himself as a man of peace. It seems, increasingly, that Obama hasn’t only owned the Bush wars as his own but is also rapidly veering in the direction of embracing the Bush ‘phobia’ of imperialism, or Pax Americana in the 21st century. In his bid to thwart the neo conservative backlash against him Obama is trying hard to adopt as much of their agenda as possible. However, he’s embarrassing those in the process who had paved the way for him to the White House in the hope of seeing a real ‘change’ in US policies at home and abroad.

On the face of it, the Nato unanimity and consensus on postponing the process of draw-down of combat is an indirect admission of this super alliance’s inability to dent the Taliban resistance against their occupiers. For world and domestic consumptions, however, the change of face is being couched in palatable jargon.

The new mantra of an overwhelming western military presence in Afghanistan is that the local Afghan security apparatus-made up of army and the police-is not ready, yet, and not fully trained to take over the burden of securing the country against the Taliban ‘scourge.’ The combined strength of 200,000 of Afghan army and police is said to be not only half-baked, in terms of its preparedness to deliver, but is also insufficiently equipped. That in itself is an indictment of the puppet Karzai regime in Kabul which has failed to make the best use of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance poured into its coffers by its western mentors over the years. But the indictment applies equally to the mentors themselves; they know little about governance and the interaction of political forces inside Afghanistan. In the case of the Americans, a big chunk of the money is eaten away by private contractors and mercenaries deployed in Afghanistan. Their numbers exceed the strength of the US men in uniform.

The new target in numbers for the Afghan army and police, as enunciated at Lisbon, is to raise them to 306,000 by the autumn of 2011. This target, then, logically presumes that it would still take two to three years to train and equip them fully to live up to the expectations that may be reposed in them.

Cold logic dictates that the new deadline set by Nato, at the behest, clearly, of Washington, should be accepted as such. The made-to-order Afghan leader, President Hamid Karzai, was summoned to Lisbon to put his own seal of approval on the new Nato diktat, which he did without demur. What else could he do? He played strictly according to the guidelines laid down for him and hailed the new pragmatism-which is expediency and political chicanery to most independent observers-of his western supporters and mentors as the most realistic chance for Afghanistan to overcome the huge challenge standing in front of it. He was assured, publicly, by the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that “this process will be completed by the end of 2014.”

But the ink had hardly dried on the ostentatious declaration that IMF-that immutable guardian and protector of western imperial interests in the struggling half of the world-announced that Afghanistan will not be able to support, in terms of financing it, this huge number of army and police from its resources until 2023!

In simple language, it translates as giving the western powers at least another decade to keep Afghanistan at their mercy and in bondage.

All these shenanigans aside, however, the elephant in the room at Lisbon that none of the summit participants wished to talk about, was the issue of a national gas pipeline from the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, through Kandahar, in Afghanistan, and down, finally to the Port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast in the province of Baluchistan.

This pipeline project has been in the works for several years. It’s the very same project the details of which were being negotiated with the Taliban when they were in power until before the 9/11 cataclysm. The Taliban were then considered reliable partners to work with in safeguarding the huge profits that western multi-nationals planned to reap from it.

The pipeline project has already received the formal endorsement of G-8 at their summit in Toronto earlier in summer this year. All these of 8, with the exception of Russia, have their troops involved in Afghanistan. The Asian Development Bank in Manila is the project sponsor and financier. It’s, for all intents and purposes, a done deal.

Washington attaches huge importance to this gas pipeline project in more ways than one. For one, it would reap windfall profits and gains for a number of American companies involved in it. For another-and a major consideration for US enmity against Iran-its completion would then make it unnecessary for Pakistan to work on its bilateral accord with Iran for a natural gas pipeline from Iran to the gas-starved Pakistan. Islamabad has been under enormous pressure from Washington for years-and still is-not to proceed with its deal with Tehran. India will also be a major beneficiary of the Turkmenistan project. A four country summit-India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan-is slated for December this year, under US auspices, at which the formal agreement between these states would be signed to seal the deal.

The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2014, if all goes well in the region around Kandahar. No wonder that all the big guns of Nato are concentrated in and around Kandahar, which has also the notoriety of being the Taliban stronghold.

Any doubts in any minds as to how neatly and smartly the cards are being arranged to marry the imperialist ambitions of a neo-colonialist west with the corporate lust of its multi-nationals? Afghanistan is still the big prize that it was when arch imperialists of 19th century were facing off each other in the then Great Game. History is repeating itself in all of its vicious splendour.