AN AFGHANISTAN UDATE
"Following the outrage of 11 September, we pursue those responsible for it in Afghanistan. It is clear the Taliban are unraveling. But they are not beaten yet or Al Qaida yet hunted down. We must continue until they are. We must use the territory gained in and around Maza-e-Sharif to get supplies and food to refugees and the starving inside Afghanistan. Let us show we are as committed to alleviating human suffering as the Taliban are to creating it....After the conflict, we must make good our promise to help bring in a broad-based Afghan government, representative of all peoples, including the Pushtoon (sic) and enable the reconstruction of that sorry land to take place". Tony Blair, "Speech by the Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor's Banquet", 12 November 2001 in www.number10.gov.uk.
"A huge amount has been achieved. The case against Bin Laden and the Al Qaida network was carefully and patiently put together. Their guilt established, and ultimatum was issued to the Taliban. Once it was ignored, the US-led coalition put together a targeted bombing campaign, first destroying the terrorist training camps, then the Taliban's military infrastructure, then hitting their front lines before, more swiftly than we had dared imagine, the Taliban fell. The joy with which their fall was greeted nailed the lie that ours is a war against Islam. It showed, on the contrary, that the long-suffering people of Afghanistan also wanted rid (sic) of the Taliban and the terrorists they harboured for so long. The formation of and the transition to, an interm government has been swift and extraordinarily smooth given the complex and volatile reality of Afghan politics". Tony Blair, "PM's New Year's Message", 30th of December 2001 in www.number10.gov.uk.
"For year Afghanistanwas ruled by the Taliban. For years it nurtured the Al Qaida terrorist network. For years it lived off terror and the drugs trade, a failed state purveying religious and political extremism, with its people ground under by the heel of the fanatic. What erupted on the streets of New York on September 11 was not an attack on America alone. It was an attack on us all....Fortunately, in this case, the world stood firm. America took the lead, but it led a coalition of extraordinarily wide international proportions. Countries queued up to help. We acted with care, under the clear and courageous leadership of President Bush. The Taliban are gone as a government. Al Qaida's network has been destroyed in Afghanistan, though without doubt a residual capability remains, and we should still be immensely vigilant. The Afghan people feel liberated not oppressed". Tony Blair, Speech given on 7 April 2002 in www.number10.gov.uk.
In the Bush and Blair years, one of the leitmotif's of the daring duo's modus operandi, has been, that while the former, makes all of the major decisions, usually after pro forma (if even that) consultation with his British ally (and indeed sometimes after pro forma consultation with his own Department of State...), upon the latter has devolved the duty of rallying support for whatever decision Bush the Younger has decided upon. In that respect, and perhaps that respect only, Blair has indeed been an equal 'partner' of his American counterpart. While Bush goes off, and, decides upon Allied policy, Blair, our modern-day, pocket-size Gladstone, makes speeches full of soaring rhetoric, and great idealistic content to sell the same to the International Community, speeches which however, bears little or no relationship with the policies that his American 'partner' is in actuality carrying out. Afghanistan, we have a perfect example of this in play from the fall of 2001 to the present. With the downfall of the Taliban, after a short and sharp military campaign, many were the shouts of 'hurrah', at the seemingly victorious campaign. And, many were the promises of humanitarian and economic assistance to the war ravaged country. Blair's being merely the formost among many. We were promised and told again and again, that the United States and its allies would never allow a repeat of the situation which took place with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan 1989-1990: when the USA, washed its hands of the entire country, and in essence left it to the tender mercy of Pakistan's powerful, imperium et imperium, the Inter-Service Intelligence (hereafter ISI). The Taliban regime being of course the brainchild of the ISI.
In fact of course contrary to Blair (and Bush's for that matter) then made contentions that the Taliban were merely a remnant, to be watched out for, the contrary was in fact the case. Beginning in the spring of 2003, Taliban fighters commenced small scale infiltration back into Afghanistan from bases in neighboring Pakistan, where many of the tribes, in the North-West Frontier Province, sympathetic to their fellow Pashtun's, assisted the Taliban exiles. Assistance which was both aided and abedded by the still powerful and autonomous ISI. (see: "Taliban fighters infiltrating back into Afghanistan from Pakistan", by Owais Tohid, 5 May 2003 in www.eurasianet.org). With the massive shift in American money, fighting men and resources from Afghanistan to the coming war against Iraq, beginning in the late Winter of 2001-2002, it could be argued that it was merely a matter of time, when the Taliban would re-commence the struggle against the pro-western Karzai government in Kabul. Beginning in the Spring of 2004, and, being repeated each and every year since, Afghanistan has seen increasingly powerful military offensives by the Taliban, in the south west of the country bordering Pakistan. Notwithstanding which, until the spring and summer of 2006, it was possible, just possible to ignore the Taliban threat, and, its de facto backing by the ISI. However with the strength of the summer offensives, in which in particular British and Canadian troops, less than full prepared for it, were pounded by human wave, Taliban attacks, no one can any longer claim that Afghanistan faces merely a 'residual' element of the latter. The Taliban's growing influence being aided by the twin failures of the Kabul government: to truly establish its own legitimacy, notwithstanding nominally 'free and fair' elections, and, the massive growth of narcotics in the countryside as the only means of livelihood, for much of the population.
According to the foremost American academic expert on Afghanistan, Barnett Rubin, the situation in the country is almost bleak:
"In the past year, a number of events have raised the stakes in Afghanistan and highlighted the threat to the international effort there....Although it suffered a setback in the south, the Pakistan-based, Taliban-led insurgency has become ever more daring and deadly in the southern and eastern parts of the country, while extending its presence all the way to the outskirts of Kabul....Even as NATO has deployed its forces across the country---particularly in the province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold that produces some 40 percent of the world's opium---the Taliban have shown increasing power and agility" (see: Barnett R. Rubin in "Saving Afghanistan", Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007 p. 59-60.
As per Central Asian expert Ahmed Rashid, notwithstanding the 35,000 plus NATO and American troops in the country, the Taliban's spring offensive could be the worst yet:
"The Taliban last year fought positional warfare, trying to hold ground and hold territory, in three provinces: Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar....The danger this year is that they may try and launch heavy guerrilla attacks---with perhaps 200 men at a time---not just in three provinces but perhaps in six or seven provinces. Even in Western Afghanistan. If they do that NATO is going to be very stretched. That restricts NATO's ability to counter a widespread Taliban offensive" (see: www.eurasianet.org)
Indeed, according to the latest reports, already the Taliban has seized some frontier posts and territory from the fledgling Afghanistan army. With an estimated 6000 fighters, who increasingly, borrowing from the Iraqi insurgent copy book, use suicide attacks, the Taliban do indeed seem to be able to stretch thin the relatively sparse NATO forces. So of whom, are not allowed by their home governments to be deployed in districts where fighting is likely to take place. A matter of some contention with those governments (USA, UK, and Canadian especially), who are most engaged in the fighting.
What is the prognosis than for patient Afghanistan? According to Barnett, the Americans and their NATO allies must do some of the following: one, increase the size and robustness of their forces in the country; two, increase economic assistance, so that the rural population can be carefully weened off, the narcotics trade as their only means of livelihood; three, scale-back forceful measures in a futile attempt to destroy the poppy crop. Using force in an attempt to stop poppy cultivation has shown little good and much harm both in Afghanistan and elsewhere; three, and, perhaps most important, Washington must, repeat must lean, both diplomatically and indeed even militarily (in terms of armed incursions over the border) on Pakistan, to rein in the ISI, and, stop the aiding of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, in its territory. As Rubin commments:
"The strength and the persistance of the insurgency cannot be explained solely by the sanctuary the Taliban enjoy in Pakistan. But few insurgencies with safe havens abroad have ever been defeated. The argument that poverty and underdevelopment, rather than Pakistani support, are responsible for the insurgency does not stand up to scrutiny: northern and western Afghanistan are also plagued by crime and insecurity, and yet there is no coordinated antigovernment violence in those regions". See: Rubin, op. cit. p. 71.
Will the Americans, et. al., take the measures urged by Rubin and other area experts, before it is too late? Or is it the case, that having switched too quickly from Afghanistan to the upcoming war in Iraq, the USA, squandered its only opportunity to make a true success of Afghanistan? Only time will tell.