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Christian Parenti is a correspondent for The Nation and author of "The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq" (New Press, 2004).
He received a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics in 2000 and he has been a Soros Senior Justice Fellow and a Ford Foundation Fellow at...
On the economic front, things were even worse. The Bush administration actually forgot to request any money for Afghan reconstruction in its initial 2002 budget. The final budget did allot $300 million to development, but for a population of 28 million people with such a devastated infrastructure, that was hardly a start.
Another key mistake in forming the Afghan state was the U.S. agreement to “pay the army.” Unlike Iraq—which had a real army but which Paul Bremmer foolishly fired—Afghanistan had only warlord militias. Once the U.S. agreed to maintain these armed bodies, graft ran wild: the number of alleged troops controlled by each Northern Alliance “commander” accelerated rapidly.
“Suddenly [former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim] Fahim was claiming that he had 20,000 and then, no, it was 50,000, or 70,000, or whatever number you could come up with,” said a British intelligence contractor. “That became an awful lot of $30 a month per man going into somebody’s pocket. And you can be damned sure the boys with the [AK-47s] weren’t getting much of it.”
Ridiculous shakedown schemes like that set the tone and soon the Afghan government had 32 huge dysfunctional ministries—all-subsisting on foreign aid. In fact, these ministries are so dysfunctional that despite all the graft and theft and leakage of funds, many ministries actually have 30 percent of their funds unspent. In other words, the chaos at the ministries is so deep they can’t even steal their full allotment of aid money.
But why blame the Afghans? After all, they take their cues from their overlords. The Defense Department has admitted that it cannot keep track of the billions of dollars it has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Government Accountability Office concluded that the U.S. seemed to have little idea of how many contractors were in the two countries or what they were doing.”
Corruption is only part of the issue—the warped political theater of the Bush administration misshaped what development did happen.
“Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad screwed it up,” says Mary Louise Vitelli, a U.S. consultant to the Ministry of Mines and Industry (one of the five Afghan government ministries that control power generation). “Instead of rebuilding Kabul’s three hydro plants, he wanted 500 girls schools, because that looks good. So now Kabul is still without power.” Also, Kabul’s power stations were Soviet built, so their repair would have mostly likely meant contracting Russian firms— not something Team Bush likes to do.
True, Coca-Cola has opened a bottling plant in Kabul and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development has erected a largely unused five-star hotel in the capital. But in more important ways, Afghanistan’s reconstruction is stalled out. The result has been joblessness, hunger and growing political rage that is now being harnessed by an array of Islamic guerrillas.
The connective tissue for all the Afghan guerrilla groups is Pakistan, its radical Islamist parties and its intelligence services. While the insurgents are fueled by internal dynamics, they also receive external stimulus from across the border. One reason Pakistan aids the Afghan insurgents is that Political Islam - a view of Islam as a revolutionary political vehicle and sharia as a solution to social problems - has considerable traction in Pakistan. In 2002, a coalition of six Islamist parties, the Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), became the second-largest group in Pakistan’s Parliament. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency is heavy with Islamist fellow travelers who have long-standing personal and political links to the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami and Al Qaeda. Since June, Pakistan has had a de facto truce with pro-Taliban tribal forces on the Pakistan side of the border.
A formal truce was signed on Sept. 5, which allowed Afghan insurgents to continue using Pakistan as a base. A month later, U.S. military spokesman Col. John Paradis announced that insurgent attacks had tripled in eastern Afghanistan along its border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal agency.
Pakistan continues to destabilize Afghanistan for several reasons: part of the issue is ethnic politics. In 1893, Afghanistan agreed to a frontier with British India called the Durand Line, after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who forced it upon Abdur Rahman, the so-called “Iron Emir” of Afghanistan. The Durand Line’s main political impact has been to divide “Pashtunistan,” leaving what is now a population of 28 million Pashtun speakers dispersed between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns make up 40 percent of the population and have ruled the country ever since its creation in 1749. In Pakistan, Pashtuns are a large and poor minority. The last thing Pakistan wants is for the Pashtun minority within its borders to link up with or become the tools of a strong neighboring Afghanistan ruled by Pashtuns.
The other factor in Pakistani thinking about Afghanistan is India. As long as massive India threatens Pakistan, Pakistan wants Afghanistan to remain pliable so as to provide “strategic depth” or fallback room in case of a major land war with India.
Pakistan’s support for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar dates back to 1975 when the ISI supported the young radical against the nationalist government of Daud Khan. With the Communist coup in 1978 and Soviet invasion of 1979, Pakistan’s support for Hekmatyar and other Afghan guerrillas increased: CIA and Saudi money was managed by the Pakistani ISI. After the mujahedeen finally took Kabul in 1992, the country went into meltdown after four years of chaos and warfare. Pakistan backed the Taliban, who managed to subdue most of Afghanistan by 1996.
With the attacks of 9/11, discussion of Pakistan-Taliban relations turned on how Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf would soon be forced to ditch his Pashtun clients so as to serve the new U.S. agenda. Such a change of course would gain the general many concessions, but it would undermine the perpetual structural agenda of keeping Afghanistan weak.
So after 9/11, Musharraf played two seemingly contradictory roles: one as America’s indispensable ally, the local broker in the war on terror. The other was the traditional role of destabilizing and dominating Afghanistan.
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