Arbusto Negro and the AfPak War


May 11, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

Many Americans voted for Obama because he promised to end the war in Iraq. He promised to remove our troops in 18 months but he never said “all the troops”.

Obama seems to be slipping out of any commitment for withdrawal anytime soon since the pressure is off: fewer US troops are being killed in Iraq, no US reporters are stationed there, and America has just lost interest now that it has the loss of jobs and mortgages to worry about. He needs a new focus for our “war against terror”.

Why a new focus you ask? Because us taxpayers will not continue to see 50% of our federal budget spent for war in a time of economic depression unless someone can keep convincing us that there’s a really serious threat out there to our comfortable lifestyle. So, he must demonstrate that America defends the New World Order, maintains the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, keeps the oil flowing, prevents any serious challenge to our global hegemony, and delivers us from terrorists.

Afghanistan was the obvious choice for a new theater of war. With a mere blink of the eye, the news purveyors inside the Pentagon and the editors of these ‘insider’ stories at the major media outlets shifted gears from the Iraq conflict while continuing to emphasize the key ingredients: the need to defeat Islamic fundamentalism, to kill Al Qaeda terrorists, and to build democratic institutions. Same old story but this time it’s in Afghanistan. However, when Obama looked around Kabul, he realized he’d have a hard time selling it on the Evening News Shows since those Afghanis had:

No threat to our Homeland
No oil resources to protect
No Iranian fundamentalists across the border
No turbaned terrorist faces to showcase
No easily defined battle lines and no measure of military success
No organized military to maintain law and order on our behalf

Our hand-tailored President Hamid Karzai just hopped a flight to Washington for a “Trilateral” conference with Obama and President Zardari of Pakistan. Patrick Cockburn commented in Counterpunch 5/06/09 that if ”the President’s motorcade had headed for the southern outskirts of Kabul, he would have soon experienced the limits of his government’s authority. It ends at a beleaguered police post within a few minutes drive of the capital. Drivers heading for the southern provinces nervously check their pockets to make sure they are carrying no documents linking them to the government. They do so because they know they will soon be stopped and their identities checked by black turbaned Taliban fighters who sometimes take the traveler’s cell phone and redial numbers recently called. If a call is answered by a government ministry, or even worse, by a foreigner, then the phone’s owner may be executed on the spot”.

The Taliban is hard to define and often hard to admire but it has never been the caricature that Fox and CNN developed. Member of Parliament Daoud Sultanzoy of Ghazni Province told Cockburn that: “Security has not deteriorated because of what the Taliban has done, but because people feel the government is unjust. It is seen as the enemy of the people, and because there is no constitutional alternative to it, the Taliban gain”.

Support for the Taliban is not very high, but it has increased since 2006 when their rebellion effectively resumed with aid for Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency, the ISI – Inter Services Intelligence – which supports the Taliban in Afghanistan and allows them refuge in the Pakistani mountains. ISI advises them not to fight to the end but to wait until the US loses interest in Afghanistan. “A withdrawal of Pakistani support and a denial of safe refuge would be a crippling blow to the Taliban but is not likely to happen. President Zardari may want to do it, but policy on the Taliban is decided by the Pakistani military” which continues to have little stomach for fighting fellow Moslems. Counterpunch 5/07/09.

The NYTimes published 5/05/09 an interview with a Taliban “logistics tactician” who described how free movement across the porous AfPak border, ready recruitment of Pakistani men, the cooperation of Afghani villagers, and the ability to disrupt supply lines at will and then to retreat inside Pakistan where the US forces are forbidden to pursue made their task easy and their patience inexhaustible. The only US weapons that seemed able to penetrate their defenses were the American drones now extensively employed over Pakistan with merely perfunctory complaints from the Pakistani President.

Given all of this, it’s small wonder that Obama is changing wars once again. He wants to make Pakistan into his first priority war zone but he cannot appear to be abandoning Afghanistan to the opium farmers. Someone coined the phrase AfPak last week and a war in Pakistan certainly has more cachet on the Evening News:

Lots of WMDs
Plutonium producing reactors
Needs stable government
The Pakistanis already have a large land army
A well-organized militia of turbaned fundamentalists
A thirst for oil and gas
Positioned on the pipeline route from the Middle East to South Asia
A corrupt and easily-bribed government
Not perceived as a threat to our Homeland, given all the Pakistanis already working here

Were Pakistan to fall into the hands of the local Taliban, and if they gained access to the Nukes, this could be a threat to the stability of the entire Indian Subcontinent. So, U.S. President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attempt to hammer out a common strategy to battle the growing Jihadist insurgency in South Asia when they sit down for a trilateral meeting at the White House this week.

Karzai’s demands for this meeting are relatively straightforward. The embattled Afghan leader is facing re-election in August, and now has both a Tajik former warlord and a Hazara former mujahideen commander by his side as vice-presidential running mates to take advantage of a deeply fractured opposition. (I guess we can forget about ‘democratization’ for the moment.) He faces a stream of criticism from White House officials for leading a thoroughly corrupt regime and exaggerating civilian losses caused by U.S. and NATO attacks. Stratfor 5/05/09. He also would like Pakistan to no longer provide safe haven to their tribal brothers from the Afghan side of the Durand Line but this seems unlikely.

President Zardari of Pakistan has a sea of troubles: Taliban militants have moved out of their Pashtun strongholds in the Northwest Provinces right into Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland. The growing Talibanization phenomenon in nuclear-armed Pakistan is now dominating the headlines and fears mount that Pakistan’s leadership will continue to be ineffective. U.S. officials have insisted that the Pakistani army push the Taliban back in the Buner and Dir districts around Swat, while Pakistani commanders on the ground acknowledge that trying to move aggressively into Swat would be suicidal. This week, the Pakistani Air Force is bombing villages in Swat while Taliban forces are already preparing for a major counteroffensive. They see the Pakistani military’s moves as playing into their hands. Pakistani troops simply lack the capability and will for a ground offensive. Already this week, at least 500,000 refugees have fled the Swat Valley, situated a mere 100 kilometers from the capital city of Islamabad.

Obama will attempt to boost Pakistan’s confidence when he meets with Zardari and hands him another $1 billion in aid and emoluments. Note that the Taliban are motivated primarily by tribal loyalties that spread across borders, although within the same tribe. Pakistan has dealt with them by alternating between strong-armed tactics and flimsy peace deals in an attempt to confine the rebels into the lawless northwest provinces. Such tactics have thus far backfired: with each new military offensive that displaces a local population, more refugee camps are created from which the Pakistani Taliban can pluck fresh recruits. Stratfor 5/6/09

The Pakistani military simply does not share the US view that the radical Islamist threat should be the top national security priority. They assign higher priority to their eastern front with India where they face a nuclear armed neighbor, an interminable conflict over Kashmir, and now seething anger after the Mumbai massacre last year. Given all of this, they are most reluctant to get themselves pinned down and picked off in the lawless tribal areas of the northwest. Furthermore, military intelligence (ISI) is heavily penetrated by Islamist sympathizers who work on both sides of the insurgency.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are in no mood for reconciliation and insurgencies have long lives in this region that has driven out many occupiers in the past. The militants seem to have the motivation and patience to fight to the end while the United States has neither the luxury of time nor patience. Obama has given a number of subtle — and a few not-so-subtle — hints that he is not about to make his re-election in four years time dependent upon an AfPak war gone sour. His focus has now turned to ensuring that, at the very least, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure. If he finds that nuclear security is threatened, he may just march into Pakistan despite anyone’s fears of foreign boots on their ground armed with large bribes and an even larger arsenal of remote-triggered weapons, drones and special forces with night vision goggles.

The hype and hysteria has already begun: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that Pakistan’s fragile government is facing an “existential threat” from Islamic militants who are now operating within a few hours of the capital. LATimes 4/34/09. “Nuclear-armed militants could also pose a “mortal threat” to the United States and other countries.” State Dept Spokesperson Robert Wood picked up on this phrase on 4 May: “We are facing an existentialist threat from these violent extremists. These violent extremists must be confronted”. The Cable – Stratfor 5/04/09. Not content, Mr. Wood demonized the insurgency as follows: “these violent extremists are not open to dialogue, they are interested only in death and destruction”. He managed to say “Violent Extremists” six times in 10 minutes. (The last time we invaded Kabul, the Taliban were identified as fanatics with long sticks who beat blue veiled women and girls away from schools.) The State Department also seems unaware that an “existential” attitude commonly begins “with a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of the apparent meaninglessness of an absurd world”. They seem to be referring only to the definition of an “existential risk” “that which is both global (affects all of humanity) and terminal”. Wikipedia. Its a shame Hilary did not clarify this for us frightened masses.

Obama described Pakistan’s civilian government at an April 29th news conference as “very fragile” and not having “the capacity to deliver basic services” to its people, or to gain their “support and loyalty.” “We want to respect Pakistani sovereignty but we have huge national security interests”. Obama’s statement was widely interpreted both in Pakistan and within the US political establishment as signaling that Washington is considering sponsoring a military coup. This was underscored by reports citing the chief of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, as saying that if the Zardari government did not demonstrate over the next two weeks that it can crush the Taliban insurgency in the country’s northwest, the US will have to determine its “next course of action.” Such was the outcry in Pakistan that the dutiful Robert Wood was forced to deny Friday that Islamabad faces a two-week “time frame.” Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, denounced the apprehensions voiced in the Pakistani press that less than nine months after the last US-backed dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, was forced to relinquish the Pakistani presidency, Washington is considering supporting a military-led government. “This is journalistic garbage … journalistic gobbledygook,” declared Holbrooke. WSWS 5/05/09

In an interview given to the BBC on Monday May 4th, Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones singled out as the top US concern the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and made a thinly veiled threat against the Pakistani government, saying, “If Pakistan doesn’t continue in the direction that it presently is, and we’re not successful there, then, obviously, the nuclear question comes into view.” He went on the say that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban would be “the very, very worst case scenario” and added, choosing his words carefully but pointedly, “We’re going to do anything we can within the construct of our bilateral relations and multilateral relations to make sure that doesn’t happen.” We were left more than a bit puzzled as to who these rustic Taliban tribesmen intended to shoot the nukes at, what sort of missiles they would ride them in upon, and for what purpose beyond national suicide if aimed at India.

Oh yes, it is the era of Arbusto Negro. It’s a little more subtle than Arbusto Blanco, and its better phrased, but it has the same relentless drive toward total global dominance, the same mission to preserve the world the way we would like it to be.