When I read this article from AlterNet, my mind immediately went back to Iraq. With Trump saying “We are not nation-building again. …”, what I heard was one nation, the US, justifying the rape and pillaging of another, Afghanistan.
The upsurge of the Taliban has nothing to do with the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan. It does, however, have a great deal to do with the entry of al-Qaeda fighters of various stripes from Pakistan into its ranks. But even al-Qaeda is not central to the Taliban’s surge.
That surge can only be explained by the slow desiccation of the Afghan government in Kabul. Despite billions of dollars of aid, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world (31%) and half of Afghanistan’s children are stunted with a third of the population suffering from food insecurity.
The collapse of humane aspirations for the Afghan people certainly fuels the insurgency and the violence, making it harder to build state and social institutions to tackle these key problems, which once more fuels the war. This cycle of chaos could only be ended if regional powers agreed to freeze their interventions in Afghanistan and if the Afghan state would be able to robustly build up the infrastructure to feed and educate its citizens.
Trump’s comment that he is against ‘nation-building’ shows how little he understands war, for the only antidote to this endless American war in Afghanistan is for the people to reconcile around a believable mandate for human development rather than violence and corruption. No such agenda is on the table.
Late in July, before Trump made his recent announcement, one of Afghanistan’s most hardened leaders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, held a press conference in his home in Kabul. Hekmatyar, who was a key CIA and Pakistani ally in the 1970s and ’80s, said that ‘neither the Afghan government nor foreign troops can win the war. This war has no winner.’ This is remarkable coming from Hekmatyar, who was known as the ‘Butcher of Kabul’ for his role in the siege of that city after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan (more Afghans died in that civil war than in the mujahedeen’s war against the communist government and their Soviet ally). He has called for negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban.
U.S. General Nicholson painted the Taliban as ‘a criminal organization, more interested in profits from drugs, kidnapping, murder for hire,’ but nonetheless called upon them to join a peace process. It is clear that whatever the U.S. thinks of the Taliban, they have positioned themselves to be a major political force in Afghanistan in the near future. This is why Nicholson and Trump have begun to distinguish between the Taliban (which should be in a peace process) and ISIS/al-Qaeda (which have to be destroyed). That al-Qaeda is now a key ally of the Taliban should sully this simplistic thinking. But it has not.
Negotiations seem far off in Afghanistan. The Taliban is well positioned to increase its bargaining power as its legions expand across the country. Surrendered Taliban leader Zangal Pacha (Amir Khan) recently left the fight in Nangarhar province with six fighters. He said that a foreign intelligence service—most likely that of Pakistan—has been egging the Taliban onwards to take more territory. Attacks on tribal elders and public welfare projects are being urged, largely to squeeze Kabul’s hold on the provinces and to strengthen the Taliban’s claim to being the natural rulers of Afghanistan. Pakistan has long wanted a friendly government in Kabul and it has seen the Taliban as its instrument. Whether the U.S. will once more turn a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s role in the Taliban is to be seen. History does repeat itself, particularly when it comes to geopolitical hypocrisy.
Rachel covered it in two segments. In the first, she explains what she thinks Trump means and who is tasked with investigating the opportunity and bringing it to fruition.
In the second, she speaks with the former Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan about Trump’s initiative.
When I first read this article, my thoughts went back to Iraq and the 2003 invasion by the US and the UK and allies, Australia and Poland. Wikipedia describes the rationale for the invasion as follows:
“According to U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition mission was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.””
However, in the years since, it has been generally acknowledged that oil was the goal. Some of the first heavy fighting was around Basra in the south east by Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, an area rich in oil. In his 2003 book, General Wesley Clark described talking to a senior military officer:
““As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.””
So when I hear Trump saying that the US is not into nation building, and saying that it will mine the mineral resources, particularly lanthanum, to pay for the war, it is déjà vu!