The weeks before and since Christmas have seen and acceleration of efforts to achieve a peace settlement in Afghanistan. What is interesting is that the countries that have an important stake in there being a peaceful Afghanistan are driving this process: Russia, China, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics adjoining or proximate to Afghanistan.
Officials from these countries have met in Moscow and Astana and are due to meet again in Moscow on 5th February 2019. They are meeting with Taliban officials, Afghanistan Government representatives (although not in an official capacity) and in the case of the Moscow talks, a representative from the United States embassy.
The United States has had separate talks with Taliban officials in Qatar, and on 25 January announced an agreement in principle on two crucial and linked elements: that foreign forces would be withdrawn within 18 months from the signing of a ceasefire agreement; and a pledge by the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a basis for attacks by Islamic extremists on the United States.
That latter element was at the insistence of the Americans. The reasons for it, from the American perspective, are historic. The Americans have claimed, ever since the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, that they were carried out by al Qaeda militants directed by Osama bin Laden from his base in Afghanistan.
That this claim was bereft of any evidence worthy of the name did not deter the United States and its coalition allies from attacking Afghanistan in October 2001 and remaining there to this day. We now know that the decision to invade Afghanistan was made in July 2001.
The link between “9/11” and the invasion of Afghanistan was not only a false one, but it ignored the actual history of US involvement with Afghanistan. An understanding of the history is important to an evaluation of whether the current negotiations for a settlement of the conflict are likely to succeed or not. It also explains the long-standing concerns of Russia, China and the “stans” of Central Asia.
The parallels with the Vietnam War are also instructive, bearing in mind that American involvement in that country began with its refusal to implement the terms of the 1954 Geneva peace accord, and not with the false flag operation of the Gulf of Tonkin in 1965.
Contrary to the official version which has been relentlessly propagated by the mainstream media, United States involvement in Afghanistan did not begin with the October 2001 invasion. Its origins can be placed at least as far back as 1979 under the auspices of Operation Cyclone.
That project, essentially controlled by the CIA and partially financed by Saudi Arabia, trained Mujihideen in Pakistan for infiltration into Afghanistan with the purpose of destabilizing the socialist government then in control of Kabul.
It was this destabilization that prompted the Soviet intervention in December 1979. President Taraki (until 14 September 1979) had requested Soviet assistance on several occasions, which President Brezhnev had refused. The media portrayal of Mujihideen being formed to resist the Soviet “invasion” is an inversion of historical reality.
The significance for the present day is that those terrorists trained in Pakistan were intended for infiltration not only into Afghanistan, but also China’s Xinjiang province (which has a significant Muslim population) and the “stans” of the then Soviet Union, which are overwhelmingly Muslim in religious affiliation.
Operation Cyclone’s objectives remain a key feature of the United States foreign policy in the region to the present day.
The geopolitical situation in the region has changed radically since the 1980s. The Soviet Union ceased to exist nearly 30 years ago. China has risen to be the world’s number 1 economy on a parity purchasing power basis. In the last five years China has embarked on a massive infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, that has a strong initial focus on Russia, Central Asia and Pakistan, with extensions to Europe, Africa and Latin America.
It is not by coincidence that the Shanghai Corporation Organisation, (SCO) which formed in 2001, with its original members being China, Russia and four of the Central Asian “stans” had a primary focus on security issues.
SCO’s full membership has expanded to incorporate India and Pakistan and with several associate members, including Iran and Turkey, and security remains a central focus although cooperation is now expanding into other areas such as trade, technology and military cooperation.
The American led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 created a refugee crisis that is barely acknowledged. There are currently about 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and about 2.5 million in Iran. American support for the MEK terrorist group, which operates in Pakistan and Iran, is an ongoing major concern for those two countries.
The Taliban and the neighbouring countries therefore have legitimate reservations about the United States commitment to controlling terrorism in Afghanistan following a putative ceasefire or withdrawal of troops. The latter was also stated by President Trump in respect of Syria, but the opposite appears to be the case.
According to at least one recent report, United States troops were used to free ISIS fighters from a Taliban prison, killing all of the guards, and then ferrying the prisoners by helicopter to another destination.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sepko, has detailed the waste, embezzlement, fraud and abuse (including widespread civilian casualties) by the forces supported by the US. Mr Sepko commenced reporting in 2008 and nothing has improved in the 11 years since then. If anything, the situation has deteriorated.
The asinine claims by “coalition” members about transiting Afghanistan to a “more secure and peaceful future” collapse in the face of reports such as those from SIGAR. The UN Drug Agency also confirms that Afghanistan is the source of 93% of the word’s heroin.
That trafficking could not be sustained without the active involvement of US forces (and their allies). The role of illicit narcotics in financing US clandestine operations is well documented, although the western mainstream media refuse to discuss it.
Even the New York Times, in an op-ed on 1 January 2019 opined that Afghanistan was a lost cause from the point of view of America’s professed objectives such as a military victory and “leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy.” Afghanistan was described as a “vestigial limb of empire” and that it was “time to let it go.”
But democracy was never the real motive, any more than Afghanistan being responsible for “9/11”. Afghanistan’s resources, its geographical centrality viz a viz the Eurasian heartland, and the opportunity it provides to “contain” Russia and China and disrupt the China-Russia led Eurasian renaissance have always loomed larger in America’s calculations.
While the negotiations are therefore to be welcomed, it would probably require a helicopter rooftop evacuation, as in Saigon in 1975, to finally kick the Americans out.
James O’Neill is a barrister at law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at [email protected]
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