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Afghanistan: The Strategy’s Not Working

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Veterans Today

What the Afghans Want

Nearly a year into the Obama administration’s new AfPak strategy the only thing that is clear is that it’s not working. Little has changed except the severity of the insurgency. General Petraeus has shifted back to a confused mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency (that failed the first time); backing “reconciliation” talks with Taliban leaders while pounding them with overwhelming firepower in the hopes of getting a better deal at the bargaining table.

Matthew Green of the Financial Times doesn’t believe the conditions exist for reconciliation given that, “The Taliban and allied Haqqani network, hunkered down in Pakistani havens, believe they can outlast the west.” According to David Ignatius at the  Washington Post, this “strategy” derives from the idea “that wars in tribal societies are inevitably a mix of talk and shoot,” and “With Petraeus in the political-military driver’s seat, he can steer a process to push the disparate Taliban groups toward a political settlement.”

Never mind that the same basic approach of bomb and talk proved useless in Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese knew the U.S. would have to give up and go home for domestic political reasons just like the French had before them. The only difference between the two was the delusional conviction that the U.S. had a workable technological solution when it was actually fighting a war in didn’t understand.  Neither has Washington caught up with the fact that General Petraeus’s strategy of making back-channel deals with insurgents as he did in Iraq simply disintegrates in favor of Al Qaeda and fractured tribal politics once the pressure of American firepower is withdrawn. Then there is the issue of Pakistan’s support for the very same extremists that the U.S. is trying to defeat. Can Petraeus really hope to work with Pakistan as an ally while still overcoming their assumption that they have a right to control Afghanistan’s internal politics and foreign policy?

In the minds of Washington’s most influential Beltway pundits, General Petraeus’s strategy of ushering in Taliban factions and despised rebel leaders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for reconciliation into the government of Hamid Karzai is a stroke of genius because it gets the U.S. out of a bad jam. In reality, it is a plan that will ultimately make the administration’s current predicament and its frustrations with the corrupt Karzai government seem like a walk in the park.  From 1973 to the present, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been nurtured and supported by a host of outsiders including Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and China whose ultimate goal is to reshape the ethnic-political and religious structure of Central Asia. But despite that support, his failure resulted in civil war and the creation of a Taliban movement from Pakistan that outdid Hekmatyar’s extremism with new levels of violence.

Reconciliation itself isn’t the problem. Giving reconciled criminals a legitimate place in the Afghan government – who are paid by foreign interests, are directed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and have never been held to account for their crimes against the Afghan people – is the problem.

As Khalil Nouri of the New World Strategies Coalition,  an Afghan-American organization seeking to implement a de-militarized tribal solution to the conflict puts it, “If this is the reality, then can reconciliation work? The Answer is ‘NO’ it will never work in the long term; first the country has not healed from its past 35 years of war, the ethnic divide has widened and has complicated the path to nationalism, and there is not a unifier figurehead to calm the country down.”

Nouri believes that the only solution that will work before NATO withdraws its troops is a traditional Afghan tribal council (Jirga) free of the kind of outside interference that brought Hamid Karzai and the warlords to power in 2002. The irony remains that today’s crisis occurred not because the Jirga failed, but because the will of the Jirga was overridden by the political desires of the Bush administration.

Nouri foresees that if this “All Afghan Jirga,” is assembled by Afghans for Afghans it can return Afghanistan to a stable state by creating a traditional government that is acceptable to all Afghans regardless of their tribal or ethnic affiliations.

According to Nouri, “The Taliban will succeed in ruling neither the country, – proven by their reign from 1996 to 2001 – nor the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. Nor will the Northern Alliance’s endeavor bear any fruit. Afghans who brainstorm together on how to coexist in an “All Afghan Jirga” can neutralize the warlord’s grip on power by restoring memories of a time when Afghanistan’s own political process enabled the people to live in harmony and peace.”

As the U.S. and NATO countries attempt to force-fit another ill-considered solution onto a tribal Afghanistan plagued with social unrest by ushering the “Taliban Elite” into Kabul for Peace Talks, it might do well to recall that western nations were once tribal too and are now in an advanced stage of suffering from what the 1960s pop guru and social prophet, Marshall McLuhan referred to as “re-tribalization.”

McLuhan spoke in a 1969 Playboy interview. “As man is tribally metamorphosed by the electric media, we all become Chicken Littles, scurrying around frantically in search of our former identities, and in the process unleash tremendous violence. As the preliterate confronts the literate in the postliterate arena, as new information patterns inundate and uproot the old, mental breakdowns of varying degrees–including the collective nervous breakdowns of whole societies unable to resolve their crises of identity–will become very common.”

As domestic protests grow over the failure of globalist economic policies within the same western countries that seek to impose their will on Afghanistan, the time may have come to accept that whatever the outcome of the latest effort to make “peace” with the Taliban, it will not succeed until the Afghan people are allowed to make their own choices through a system of their own choosing and not someone else’s.

Source Veterans Today  Copyright © 2010 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved


Breaking the Chain of Institutional Thinking

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Thinking outside the box? No! Throw the Box Away!

By Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald   

Largely as a result of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” the traditional framework of the East-West political dialogue has broken and fallen entirely under the spell of the extremists on both sides. Since much of the West’s relationship was based on Cold War and Neo-colonial relationships to begin with it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it finally broke. Yet nothing new and as powerful has come along to replace it. Now what we see is confusion in the West as declining powers like the U.S. attempt to rig the international system to ensure some role in a future where they cannot control events as they had. The U.S. failure in Afghanistan is largely due to an inability to switch its thinking from the Cold War to a multi-polar world while it had the authority and power to do so. Instead, as the result of manipulation by right wing and neoconservative intellectuals, the U.S. simply substituted Islam for communism and went on with an aggressive strategy as before.

It hasn’t worked and the evidence mounts that a political, economic and or military catastrophe approaches for which the West is not intellectually prepared. By continuing to support Pakistan’s military the U.S. works against its own interests in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. By backing rigged elections with pre-selected candidates that the Afghan people don’t want and by continuing its war on political Islam through predator drones and special operations, the West commits itself to a fight it cannot win. Western intellectual circles have known this for some time but it would now appear as evidenced by the controversy surrounding the recent release of recommendations made to the Obama administration by the Afghanistan Study Group that the consequences of current policy are finally sinking in. As the next stage of recommendations is formulated it is imperative that genuine new thinking gets into the process.

Breaking this chain of institutional thinking is essential to solving the Afghan problem. But most suggestions to “think outside the box” aren’t really intended to create new thinking as much as they are to try and maintain the same old thinking with a different approach. What is needed now is a wholly different way of thinking and a whole new group to do it. To do this the issue of Islam needs to be moved off center stage where the current acrimony has been intentionally focused and replace it with another model that incorporates ideas, histories and enduring beliefs that link humanity together in a common struggle and a better life for all.

 Resetting the clock in Washington and Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s tribal system has strong ties to Islam, but the center of tribal life is not the Mosque but the secular local community center. The political Islam of today’s Taliban extremists is neither native to Afghanistan nor is it consistent with the traditions of the Pashtun tribal code known as Pashtunwali. As stated by Selig Harrison in his extensive document  Pakistan, the State of the Union, “The coexistence and interaction of the ancient tribal code with religious traits is a very interesting phenomenon that is indispensable for understanding the Pashtun national culture. On the one hand, it explains the inevitable and ritualistic religiosity of the Pashtun, and on the other hand it explains the futility of efforts to inject religious fundamentalism in Pashtun social and political culture as it stands in contradiction to Pashtunwali. In fact, the Islamic identity of the Pashtuns is only one thousand years old whereas Pashtunwali is reportedly five thousand years old.”

 According to Vartan Gregorian in his 1969 study, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, prior to the British military invasions of the mid-19th century, the Afghans were not hostile to the European powers. In 1809, Scottish statesman and historian Mountstuart Elphinstone and his “retinue of some 400 Anglo-Indian soldiers were well received by the Afghans.” So too were others in 1810, 1815, and 1826, when Sunni Afghans were reported to have expressed an open tolerance toward Christians. British explorer Charles Masson “was well treated by Muslim religious men and Afghan tribesmen.” Of his stay in Kabul in 1832, he reported that a Christian was respectfully referred to as a “Kitabi” or “one of the Book.”

Renowned adventurer and East India Company political officer Alexander Burnes wrote home in May of 1832, “The people of this country are kind hearted and hospitable. They have no prejudice against a Christian and none against our nation.”  Burnes argued correctly that the strong Afghan Amir, Dost Mohammed, “could keep the country together and resist Russian or Persian encroachment, but a country split into feudal principalities and tribes would invite Russian intrigue aimed at picking them off piecemeal with no great difficulty.”  Yet, his argument and the goodwill of the Afghan people were lost when London acquiesced to the conquest of Afghanistan through what is known as the “Forward Policy,” setting the stage for three Anglo-Afghan wars, an endless low-intensity conflict, and a century and a half of political instability.

For centuries prior to the current era, Afghanistan set itself apart as a crossroads of trade and as an example of moderate Islam. It must do so again today not only for the sake of its own people, but as an example of the kind of moderate and progressive Islam the world will lose by allowing the forces of extremism to set the public agenda and rule.

Europe and the United States have a responsibility to Afghanistan. But public opinion is badly informed and disconnected from Afghan culture while governments remain encumbered with colonial mentalities that will deal only with their own vital interests and dismiss any chance for a restoration of Afghan society.

A new and shocking departure from the existing narrative is needed to change the tone of the Afghan crisis and reorient the world’s thinking, but efforts to think outside the box must also be subject to the reality that the box itself is no longer of any value in solving the problem.

 Source Boiling Frogs Post


Norman Solomon Praises Crossing Zero

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

“After several decades of facile and destructive answers from Washington policymakers, the authors deploy a phalanx of incisive questions about U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result is a book that shatters the key myths promoted by American news media and the last six presidents. Crossing Zero is a searing expose of distortions that have fundamentally warped U.S. perceptions and actions in the ‘AfPak’ region. Fitzgerald and Gould provide crucial antidotes to poisonous assumptions and bromides of conventional wisdom that continue to delude the USA into further lethal follies. This book deconstructs and dismantles a deadly formula of ignorance and deceit.”

 – Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death


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