Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Afghanistan: the Futility of Imposing Freedom Through Force

The existence of "kill teams" in Afghanistan and grisly photos revealing US troops murdering and carving up Afghan civilian's corpses have been published in, of all places, the Rolling Stone magazine. It reports,
During the first five months of last year, a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan went on a shooting spree, killing at least four unarmed civilians and mutilating several of the corpses.

The “kill team” – members of the 5th Stryker Brigade stationed near Kandahar – took scores of photos chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. Even before the war crimes became public, the Pentagon went to extraordinary measures to suppress the photos, launching a massive effort to find every file and pull the pictures out of circulation before they could touch off a scandal on the scale of Abu Ghraib.

The images – more than 150 of which have been obtained by Rolling Stone – portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing innocent civilians is seen as a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the soldiers told Army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”

Resentment against the NATO war in this benighted land can only increase. Afghan writer Malalai Joya wrote in The Guardian, ( Kill teams in Afghanistan: the truth Wednesday 30 March 2011 ).
All the PR about this war being about democracy and human rights melts into thin air with the pictures of US soldiers posing with the dead and mutilated bodies of innocent Afghan civilians.

We believe that the brutal actions of these "kill teams" reveal the aggression and racism which is part and parcel of the entire military occupation.

While these photos are new, the murder of innocents is not. Such crimes have sparked many protests in Afghanistan and have sharply raised anti-American sentiment among ordinary Afghans.

The occupying armies have tried to buy off the families of their victims, offering $2,000 for each one killed. Afghans' lives are cheap for the US and Nato, but no matter how much they offer, we don't want their blood money.

Once you know all this, and once you have seen the "kill team" photos, you will understand more clearly why Afghans have turned against this occupation. The Karzai regime is more hated than ever: it only rules through intimidation, corruption, and with the help of the occupying armies. Afghans deserve much better than this.

However, this does not mean more Afghans are supporting the reactionary so-called resistance of the Taliban. Instead we are seeing the growth, under very difficult conditions, of another resistance led by students, women and the ordinary poor people of Afghanistan. They are taking to the streets to protest against the massacre of civilians and to demand an end to the war. Demonstrations like this were recently held in Kabul, Marzar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Farah.

Naturally, the whole idea that the Afghanistan war is primarily about human rights and democracy is a rationalisation for a war that is crucially about the geopolitics of the New great Game and specifically the construction of the TAPI pipeline, a war aim seldom, if ever mentioned in the mainstream Western news.

The Afghanistan debacle is justified as an exercise in enlightened self interest and "liberal imperialism" when it is founded on the idea that should the country be stabilised sufficient to enable the TAPI pipeline to be built then it will unite the regional powers of Central Asia together to the benefit of the West.

The civilian victims are seen as a price worth paying as when the TAPI is built the economic regeneration of Afghanistan will proceed and then the victims will be forgotten. As Shantie Mariet D'Souza recently outlined the stakes in the Afghanistan War ( Business Standard March 20, 2011 )

Even while consensus eludes the end-game in Afghanistan, and regional rivalry continues to complicate even a remote possibility of establishing peace in this conflict-ridden country, the economic windfall from an oil pipeline may yet help stabilise Afghanistan. The projected gains from the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline still retain the potential to create a win-win deal among regional stakeholders in Afghanistan.

The TAPI project, expected to start in 2012 and be commissioned by 2016, envisages constructing 1,680 km of pipeline with a total gas capacity of 90 million standard cubic meters per day (mscmd).

The proposed pipeline would stretch from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field and travel 1650 km through Turkmenistan (145 km), Afghanistan (735 km) and Pakistan (800 km), before culminating at the Indian border town of Fazilka in Punjab. It would carry 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to consumers.

It is thus not altogether surprising that the US is propounding the project as ‘magic glue’ that will bind the warring factions and their regional proxies into an inter-dependent cooperative framework. The US also hopes that the TAPI pipeline will usher in economic interdependence among competing regional powers, thus making the costs of conflict too high and benefits of cooperation lucrative.

The strategy also fits in with containing and isolating Iran which would be encircled and hemmed in by a pro-US regime in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east.

TAPI will in all likelihood wean India away from the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline from Iran’s South Pars gas complex in the Persian Gulf, one of the largest gas fields in the world. This would not only further isolate Iran, but the resultant interdependence and benefits of cooperation would possibly act as a catalyst for peace between India and Pakistan, narrowing differences between the two nuclear armed rivals in South Asia.

The problem has been that the Taliban has kept up its attacks in key areas such as Helmland, where British casualties continue to increase, as this lies squarely across the route of the TAPI pipeline. No attempt by politicians or the media has been made to explain this basic fact.

Think tanks and leading members of the US government have continually mentioned the TAPI pipeline as a strategic prize, though. D'Souza seems to suggest that it might be possible to get

A major factor, which will impinge directly on the fate of the project, would be political instability, issues of pricing and security considerations in the region. Since the birth of independent Central Asian states, the region has been plagued by political instability as witnessed by various ‘colour revolutions’.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, the near absence of an effective police force, providing security for the pipeline, could turn this project into a lucrative protection-racket or cash cow for insurgents, local warlords or simply more dependence on private security armies and contractors, with little being done to build on Afghanistan national security institutions.

In fact, there is little chance that the TAPI pipeline will have the intended effects of regional stability. For a start the objective is contradicted by the "War on Drugs" which makes opium production profitable and thus funds the Taliban insurgency.

Even in Georgia, the creation of a pipeline transit state has led to politics becoming a corrupt and pathological struggle between clans and interest groups vying for control over the transit fees. Pipelines in danger will always ratchet up the potential for the Western powers being dragged in to protect it.

The reason NATO has "stayed the course" in Afghanistan for a decade now shows how dangerous it is for the West to remain addicted to fossil fuels lying in dangerous and far off lands and to become embroiled in futile and farcical projects to impose freedom by force.

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