26 January 2009. A World to Win News Service. The occupiers of Afghanistan, led by the U.S., have announced that they will present their new strategy soon. While they may not reveal all the elements of their strategy, some aspects are apparent in what they are already doing.
For some time now the U.S. has exerted increasing pressure to compel its allies to send more troops, especially into the war zones. This pressure as well as the failure of the U.S. and Nato forces to gain the control of the country gave rise to opposition to the previous American strategy from European countries and in particular the British, who warned that simply increasing the number of invaders on the ground cannot stop the situation from deteriorating. The alternative they presented involves negotiating with the Taleban and other Islamic opposition forces, and strengthening the puppet government and its army. Making use of tribal leaders and their militias has been another important element of discussion among the occupiers for a long time.
At the same time, when General David Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq, became the head of all American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of October, this provoked speculation that the U.S. was going to try to duplicate the same strategy he implemented in Iraq, one that did achieve some success in limiting the initiative of the Islamic insurgents called Al-Qaeda in Iraq. However, General McKiernan, the U.S commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, stressed the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, and concluded that one word he would not use in regard to Afghanistan was ‘’surge'’. ‘’What is required is a ’sustained commitment’ to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.’ (Associated Press, 19 September 2008)
Whatever the differences may be among the occupiers, it appears that the framework of the new strategy is constituted by a blend of different elements. It would include the U.S.‘s preferred aspect, a big increase in the number of soldiers, combined with a series of other measures the U.S. has previously resisted.
1 - A massive troop increase
Despite the opposition and controversy around this issue (see AWTWNS 19 January 2009), Washington is determined to multiply the number of troops in Afghanistan. This aspect seems to be the most important feature of the ‘’new strategy'’. And despite opposition from several European countries, the U.S. will continue to pressure its allies to send more troops and lift their restrictions on the movement of their forces so that they take part in the fighting in the war zones. In December, Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that in the course of the next year or so around 30,000 more American troops will join the occupier forces in Afghanistan. With these forces as well as the 3,000 recently sent, the total number of occupation soldiers will be nearly 95,000. Actually, taking private military companies into account, there will be over 100,000. This is more than three times the number of troops who first invaded the country in 2001.
The phrase ‘’sustained commitment'’ used by General McKiernan in September and General Petraeus in January confirms that U.S. is preparing for a long-term occupation. Some American military and government officials are talking about decade or even decades of involvement in Afghanistan.
What would be the result? Would the big troop increase and the planning for a ‘’sustained'’ occupation solve the imperialists’ Afghanistan problem or would it simply bog them down in a deadly war? Among the many issues at stake in this conflict, the most important are how such measures might actually strengthen the opposing forces, how it might shape the rivalry among the imperialists, and also how it might provide opportunities for other reactionary states in the region. Other questions include the possible increase in logistical problems and number of vulnerable points for the occupation forces, and the overall impact of the huge cost involved. What is certain is that the people of Afghanistan and the region will suffer more oppression and brutality at the hands of the invaders and the consequences of this occupation. An intensified and prolonged invasion could create more instability and pave the way for more meddling by countries other than the occupiers. As a result, Afghanistan will likely remain a playing field for what the British colonialists called ‘’the great game'’. However, the situation could also provide opportunities that revolutionary forces in Afghanistan, depending on their development, could seize.
2 - Involving the other countries in the region
Another element of the new strategy will be the involvement of the neighbouring countries, in particular Pakistan, Iran and India, as well Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that sided with the West and financed the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Pakistan and Iran have a very especial importance in this regard, but from opposite points of view. Pakistan was assigned by the West to intervene in the affairs of Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded. It was the main sponsor of the Taleban when they seized power and it supported them all throughout their reign. The Taleban continued to enjoy the support of at least a section of the Pakistani army and intelligence services even after the 2001 U.S. invasion, when they began to fight American and Nato forces. It is hard to imagine that Washington was not aware of this. But it continued to support president/general Pervez Musharraf as a special ally in its ‘’war on terror'’.
Pakistan could not simply withdraw from meddling in Afghanistan after the U.S. installed the Hamid Karzai regime, or maybe it should be said that it could not sit idly by, because of that regime’s complicity with India. Pakistan considers its influence in Afghanistan an important factor in its contention with India, so it was no surprise to see Pakistan desperately seeking to influence developments in Afghanistan and subvert any situation that would give India influence there. However, the implications of its meddling go much further.
They have drawn Pakistan itself into the war and regionalized the conflict. A sister organisation to the Afghan Taleban has arisen in Pakistan and is very active there. So the occupiers have come to the conclusion that Pakistan is already entangled in Afghanistan and there cannot be a solution to the Afghan Taleban problem without dealing with Pakistan as well. The two concerns have become inseparable. General Petraeus reflected this when he said, ‘'’Afghanistan and Pakistan have, in many ways, merged into a single problem set, and the way forward in Afghanistan is incomplete without a strategy that includes and assists Pakistan,’ and also takes into account Pakistan’s troubled relationship with rival India.'’ (Associated Press, 8 January 2009)
It also appears that any new occupation strategy would recognise that Iran is also an important player in Afghanistan. However, Iran is a different story. In fact, with the overthrow of the Taleban, the Islamic Republic of Iran extended its influence in Afghanistan. Tehran already had friendly relations with some of the warlords of the Northern Alliance and in particular influence on some of the Shia forces in Hazarajat (central Afghanistan). After the occupation, Iran established good relations with Karzai’s government. But the U.S., which had declared Iran a member of the ‘’axis of evil'’ and has been trying to isolate its regime, was not pleased with the benefits that Iran enjoyed as a result of the occupation. Washington has been vigorously trying to sideline the Islamic Republic of Iran and prevent it from playing a major role. Moreover, U.S. officials have been accusing Iran of arming the insurgents and fuelling the disturbances in Afghanistan.
However, following recent talks about the necessity of involving neighbouring countries in finding a solution for the U.S.’s Afghanistan problem, it emerged that Iran may very well be allowed into the game. This is also evident from a recent Petraeus speech on the issue. ‘’The United States and its partners may one day have common purpose with Iran, another Afghanistan neighbour, in stabilizing and remaking that country,'’ he told a conference of the United States Institute of Peace, a government-financed research organisation. (Associated Press, 8 January 2009) ‘'’Like the United States, Iran is concerned about the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the resurgence of extremists there. It doesn’t want to see Sunni extremists or certainly ultra-fundamentalist extremists running Afghanistan any more than other folks do,’ he said, while acknowledging that the United States and Iran have ’some pretty substantial points of conflict out there as well.”’
Another aspects of this dimension of the occupiers’ new strategy concerns the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which had friendly relations with the Taleban and were the only countries besides Pakistan to recognize the Taleban regime.
3 - Engaging tribes in the war
Engaging tribes in the Afghanistan war and pitting them against the Islamic insurgents appears to be another dimension to the new strategy. American forces have already tried out such an approach in Iraq under the command of General Petraeus when his soldiers teamed up with the Awakening Councils, former Sunni insurgents from tribal areas. The U.S. literally bought some of the tribal leaders in order to fight on its side as part of a loose coalition or at least spy on the Sunni insurgent groups. When this approach appeared to be successful, the U.S. expanded it in early 2007, hiring local tribesmen and former insurgents to work for the invaders as armed guards in neighbourhoods in the capital and elsewhere.
General McKiernan at first denied any intention of employing this approach in Afghanistan. ‘'’I don’t want the military to be engaging the tribes,’ he said. Given Afghanistan’s complicated system of rival tribes and ethnic groups and the recent history of civil war, allying with the wrong tribe risks rekindling internecine conflict, he said. ‘It wouldn’t take much to go back to a civil war.’ He also added, ‘Tribal engagement in Afghanistan is also vital… but it must be carried out through the Afghan government and not by the U.S. military.”’ (Associated Press, 19 September 2008) But it can be said that an ‘’Afghanization'’ of the U.S. ’s Iraq approach is going to be used here.
In fact, it has already been deployed on a trial basis in some places. It is on the verge of being implemented in Wardak, just outside Kabul, where the Taleban are said to be present in 80 percent of the province. According to U.S. and Nato officials, if it is successful there they intend to expand it to other areas in the south and southeast where the Taleban are strongest. The American army is planning to buy the local shuras or councils of tribal leaders with money, resources and weapons. In return, these councils are to commit themselves to refraining from giving food and shelter to the insurgents, at a minimum, and where possible to do the fighting for the occupiers by arming their tribes.
According to Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defence minister, ‘’They intend to set up local militias of 100 to 200 fighters in each provincial district, with the fighters being drawn from the villages where they live. (Wardak has eight districts.) To help ensure the dependability of each fighter, the Americans and Afghans are planning to rely on local leaders, like tribal chiefs and clerics, to choose the militiamen for them. Those militiamen will be given a brief period of training, along with weapons like assault rifles and grenade launchers, and communication gear.'’ (International Herald Tribune, 24 December 2008)
This plan has caused deep concern among many people, even within the Afghan government. They fear it could plunge the country into a civil war, with the main result being the brutalisation of the local population. Even Karzai said that arming militias would be a “disaster”. It is ironic that for years his government has intended or at least pretended to disarm the militias, tribes, and local commanders, and now they are doing the opposite. Such an approach is not unprecedented in Afghanistan. The British and even the Soviets also used it. According to a report, ‘’One tribal leader from Wardak province said that while the Taleban were deeply unpopular in his province, people were worried that local militias could make the situation worse.'’ (IHT, 24 December 2008) At best, this approach would move toward reviving Afghanistan’s traditional form of rule. As an Afghan official clearly admitted, ‘’The only way you can bring peace and stability to this country is to revive the traditional rule of people within the community in governance and security.” (Barna Karimi, deputy minister for policy, at the Interdependent Directorate of Local Governance, Reuters, 22 December 2008)
Consequently, even the hypocrisy about liberating women that was so central to the invaders’ promises is fading away. Even too much talk about ‘’empowering'’ women is in contradiction to the current surge in empowering tribal leaders , local clerics and commanders (who are sometime, although not always, the same people) and the ‘’traditional rule of people within the community'’ – the hateful and widely hated oppressive social relations they represent and enforce.
4 - Negotiating with the Taleban
Another important dimension in the new strategy would be an attempt to draw the Taleban and other Islamic insurgents into negotiations. Diplomatic moves in that direction have been underway for two years now, but they have been stepped up over last several months by the Afghan government as well as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This could have been a reaction to a growing chorus of European diplomats, Nato commanders and Afghan government officials, Karzai in particular, who argue that the war cannot be won militarily and call for talks with the regime’s fundamentalist opponents. So far, the U.S. has opposed this, at first on the grounds that their position is so strong that they don’t need to do this, and now on the grounds that they are not in a strong enough bargaining position. This could change. At a summit (jirga) of 50 leading political figures from Pakistan and Afghanistan held last October to discuss ‘’developing peace and security in the region'’, one of the main decisions, according to Abdullah Abdullah, the former Afghan foreign minister who took part, was to form a smaller committee to open talks with the Taleban and other opposition groups in both countries. At the end of the October the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution that “dialogue must now be the highest priority”. (Guardian, 27 October 2008)
Some people have hinted that they are willing to drop the preconditions they had previously set for negotiations with the Taleban. Rustam Shah Mohmand, a participant in the Jirga and a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, said, ‘’The two governments had to drop current conditions that they would only negotiate with those who disarmed and accepted the constitution…You talk to people who are battling you. You can’t talk to only those willing to lay down their arms.'’ (Guardian, 27 October 2008)
At the same time, it was reported that an effort to facilitate the talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taleban had taken place in Saudi Arabia in late September or early October. High Afghan officials close to Karzai participated. Reports said that an active Taleban representative took part, although two Taleban spokesmen later denied that. Whatever the truth of this particular matter, it is clear that the Afghan and Pakistani governments are seeking some sort of negotiation to use in parallel with other means in order to defeat or contain the Taleban. Both the U.S. and the Taleban may be reluctant to publicise such moves, but it is very unlikely that either side is completely uninvolved. The U.S. has been under pressure to show flexibility from its allies, the Afghan government and some of its own experts, diplomats and even military leaders. The American ambassador in Afghanistan, said to have played a role in this respect. ‘’NATO diplomats say there has also been a steady shift in the United States’ position over how to deal with the Taleban, much of it thanks to the American ambassador in Kabul, William Wood, who has argued the case back in Washington for more flexibility.'’ (IHT, 30 October 2008)
As for the Taleban, despite their public denials, their claims that they ‘’did not take part'’ in the meeting in Saudi Arabia and that they are ‘’not yet ready for negotiation'’, the Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal confirmed that the meeting did take place, and it’s hard to imagine that such a meeting could have taken place without them. According to a report in Shola Jawid, organ of the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, reprinted in AWTWNS (25 February 2008), low-level negotiations with the occupiers have been going on as far back as 2007, and before that there were unofficial talks between the Taleban and the government and even directly between the Taleban and some occupation forces. Also, Taleban spokesmen have confirmed reports that they are increasingly distancing themselves from Al-Qaeda, which could be interpreted as a signal to pave the way to the negotiating table.
However, no one, at present believes that such negotiations can end the war soon. There is still a long way to go. Neither side wants the war to end until it has an indisputable military advantage. Right now, both sides want to negotiate only insofar as it will help them fight. So this will not be a main or even serious facet of the overall strategy, at least for the time being.
An overall view
In addition, the occupiers have already modified their plans in some major ways. They have created a more unified overall military command, made plans to double the size of the Afghan army (from 65,000 to 130,000) and tried to strengthen the regime’s ability to govern. There have been numerous reports indicating that its soldiers have not been trained or paid adequately. They are usually given brief instruction and sent out to act as cannon fodder as quickly as possible.
There has also been talk about giving more importance to rebuilding the country, an issue that has never been taken seriously, tackling the drug production and establishing better relations between the occupiers and the people to ‘’win hearts and minds'’. There is a big question about whether such measures could be effective under the circumstances of a military occupation, and even the imperialists themselves do not pay them much attention. None of these issues can be expected to play an important role in the main body of their so-called new strategy.
The chief elements of this so-called new strategy are already in effect and may be formally announced now that the new U.S. president Barack Obama is in place.
The most important point about the new strategy is that its aim is to complete an invasion and oppress the people of Afghanistan in the interests of the global imperialist system. This aim is against the interests of the people all over the world. There is no doubt that every aspect is extremely reactionary and that its implementation will be combined with deception and conspiracy against the people. Of course it is not impossible that imperialists may achieve some success in containing the Taleban and advance in their efforts to control more of the country, because despite their fight against the occupiers the Taleban are generally hated by the people. The people have already experienced their kind of rule and their brutality, and certainly they don’t crave a return to it.
The main elements of this new strategy are the same factors that have been the cause of instability, reactionary wars and the oppression and misery of the people over the last three decades and longer. They mean an intensification of the occupation.