Saturday, April 19, 2008

Are We Getting Squeezed Out of Afghanistan?

The United States and NATO have committed a fundamental blunder that will likely doom the mission to Afghanistan. Put simply, the high water mark was achieved in 2001 when the Taliban regime was driven from power. It's been steadily downhill since then but few have noticed.

Have you even heard of the United National Front? It's a new political movement whose ranks include people like this: former Commerce Minister Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, speaker of the lower house Younus Qanuni, Minister for Energy and Water Ismail Khan, communist-era Minister (Sayed) Mohammad Gulabzoy, and military aide to President Hamid Karzai Rashid Dostum. Former communist party leader turned MP Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi was added to the list along with First Vice President Zia Mas’ud, former Afghan Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Mustafa Zahir, the grandson of Afghanistan’s former king.

The UNF is a warlord's paradise and is rising up to form a shadow government to that of Hamid Karzai. Most of its membership was formerly known - by us at least - as the Northern Alliance, our onetime allies in driving out the Taliban. So long as these two sides were at each others' throats that arrangement worked for us. But that was then, this is now. From

"A number of of these individuals formerly served together in the disastrous government of the early 1990’s, committed grave war atrocities against civilians and have all fought each other at least once. When regional expert Syed Saleem Shahzad was asked whether this unsavory rogue’s gallery poses a security threat to the current administration he answered, “Of course it is. There are old traditions in Afghan society to switch sides and sometimes the alliances are very odd. One should recall that Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan (Rabbani) and Massoud were once ally of the Taliban against Hekmetyar when the Taliban movement emerged.” Most of the core members had numerous chances to redeem themselves, reform and fulfill promises and failed each time; giving observers and analysts no choice but to doubt the sincerity of this new alliance."

The UNF is now negotiating with the Taliban. From Asia Times Online:

"...former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the top NA commander from Panjshir, Mohammed Qasim Fahim (who also holds the position currently as a security advisor to President Hamid Karzai) have been meeting Taliban and other opposition groups (presumably, the Hezb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) during recent months for national reconciliation. ...these meetings have involved "important people" from the Taliban.

Indeed, Fahim (who was the chief of intelligence under the late Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Rabbani (who belonged to the original "Peshawar Seven" - mujahideen leaders based in Pakistan in the 1980s) would have old links with Hekmatyar and top Taliban leaders like Jalaluddin Haqqani. Rabbani told AP that the six-year war must be resolved through talks.

"We in the National Front and I myself believe the solution for the political process in Afghanistan will happen through negotiations," he said. Rabbani added that the opposition leaders would soon discuss and possibly select a formal negotiating team for holding talks with the Taliban. He found fault with Karzai for not pursuing dialogue with the Taliban. "I told Karzai that when a person starts something, he should complete it. On the issue of negotiations, it is not right to take one step forward and then one step back. This work should be continued in a very organized way."

One key demand of the National Front is a new constitution providing for elected provincial governors which is widely seen as a vehicle for decentralizing power and restoring the rule and influence of Afghanistan's warlords. That would even further undermine the country's already wobbly national institutions including the police and army.

Here's another thing to consider. If the National Front and the Taliban strike a deal, Karzai is the odd man out and our 10-year lease on Afghanistan's civil war is effectively over, a lost cause. I suppose we could declare victory and leave but that victory would have to be framed by other interests at play. These interests include China, Russia, the other "stans" and Iran.

Our supposed ally, Pervez Musharraf, is now eager for another alliance to get involved in Afghanistan, the SCO or Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members and Iran and Pakistan as "observers". Musharraf gave his SCO endorsement while in Beijing and it's known that Pakistan is seeking full membership in the alliance.

Every member of SCO has a direct interest in Afghanistan. China wants a pipeline across Afghanistan to access Iran's natural gas. Iran and Russia are in talks aimed at co-ordinating their natural gas resources. Iran is looking for membership in the SCO. China has already tied up Afghanistan's huge copper fields in the north and is building a railway to access the ore. Afghanistan's United Front has garnered the support of key SCO states.

Step by step, NATO, the US and Karzai are being marginalized, shoved to the sidelines.

NATO's half-hearted committment to Afghanistan at the recent Bucharest summit has created an apparent power vacuum which the SCO and others are looking to fill. Karzai's and NATO's inability to crush the Taliban has left the National Front willing to cut a power-sharing deal with the insurgency.

We botched this from the outset. Nobody bothered to learn the history of this place. If they had, they would have known that we didn't have seven years much less ten to achieve what we wanted in Afghanistan. When Bush decided to go play in the sandbox of Iraq, he pretty much wrote the final scene for Afghanistan.

We're still there swatting away at an insurgency to defend what we make ourselves believe is a viable, central government in Kabul, a government that is actually virtually terminal. We don't have a Plan "B" but others do.


Susan said...

Great post, as was the one on privacy. This post seems to identify the beginning of a new cold war with the west vs. the east - and here we are with our finger in the dike!

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks Susan for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the post. It is a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion.


LeDaro said...

I agree with Susan. Afghanistan is a lost cause and privacy is the thing of the past.