Daily Archives: June 29, 2013

We should have talked to Taliban a decade ago, says top British officer in Afghanistan


The west should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, after they had just been toppled from power, the top British commander in Afghanistan has told the Guardian, barely a week after the latest attempt to bring the insurgent group to the negotiating table stuttered to a halt.

General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, said Afghan forces would need western military and financial support for several years after western combat troops head home in 2014. And he said the Kabul government may have to accept that for some years it would have only shaky control over some remoter parts of the country.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, he said: “Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future,”

Acknowledging that it was “easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight”, Carter added: “The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other.”

But he believed the police and army had been shaped into sustainable institutions that were strong enough to protect a critical presidential election next year, and guarantee stability for the majority of the country after the western withdrawal.

The US and Afghan governments are pushing hard for negotiations to end a conflict that has dragged on for more than 12 years. But critics have long argued that the west could have struck a deal with moderate Taliban leaders after ousting the group from power in 2001, perhaps saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

One academic who studies the Taliban said the group tried to reach out to their own and the US governments until 2004, and would have made major compromises. “There would not have been too much negotiating to be done, even, in 2001 or 2002, because the Taliban’s senior leadership made their approaches in a conciliatory manner, acknowledging the new order in the country,” said Alex Strick von Linschoten, author of An Enemy We Created.

Today the insurgent group dominates swaths of the country, and seems ambivalent at best about negotiating ahead of the departure of foreign troops. Underlining how challenging efforts to broker peace talks are, the latest efforts collapsed in diplomatic farce last week.

The Taliban opened an office in Qatar which was meant to be a formal base for meetings and was welcomed by Washington, but the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, shut down the process after Taliban spokesmen presented the villa as a de-facto embassy for a government-in-exile.

Carter said he was confident that Nato’s handover of security to Afghan forces, finalised last week, would eventually bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

“What the opponents of the Afghan government now realise is they are likely to be up against capable Afghan security forces who are going to be here in perpetuity and therefore that old adage that ‘We have the clocks but the Taliban have the time’, has now been reversed,” he said.

“They are now up against security forces who have the time, and they are also Afghan forces … for those reasons I think that there is every chance people will realise that talking is the answer to this problem,” added Carter, who previously served as the top Nato officer in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s birthplace.

With a potential political solution far off, 2013 has been a year of heavy violence. Civilian casualties are rising and a string of high-profile attacks have hit Kabul including an assault on the airport and an audacious raid into the heart of the heavily fortified diplomatic and military zone.

These assaults were unlikely to let up before western troops left, as the Taliban tried to position for possible talks, and wage a campaign to claim credit for a the western exit, Carter said, although troops were actually leaving on a timetable set by the Afghan government and Nato in 2010.

“First of all, people like to negotiate from a position of strength, and secondly I think the opponents of Afghanistan would like to appear to compel the international community’s withdrawal,” Carter said. “I don’t think it’s surprising that we are seeing spectacular attacks in Kabul and a continuance of attacks elsewhere.”

The strength of the insurgency meant Kabul would not control all of the country for some years to come, said Carter, who previously described Afghanistan’s likely post-2014 situation as “stable instability”.

“There will be parts of Afghanistan which will not necessarily be as closely linked to central government as others … there will therefore be some local political solutions which won’t in any way threaten central government,” Carter said. “That phenomenon may go on for a while.”

Nato only began the buildup of Afghanistan’s police and army in earnest in 2009, and the rapid pace of expansion towards a target of 350,000 meant the police and army would need help for years to come, particularly in highly skilled areas such as bomb disposal, medical evacuation and logistics.

“The security forces will need continuing development because they have been built very quickly,” Carter said. One major roadblock for now was the lack of planes and helicopters, critical to dominating a large, mountainous country with poor and often deadly roads. “The plan to field the airforce … is designed to give them more capability every year, but probably not to be fully fielded until 2017-18.”

But he said their institutions were now sustainable and overall he was optimistic about Afghanistan’s future, as long as the US and its allies came through on promises of financial and military support.

“When you see how this country has developed in the last 10 to 12 years, it’s a completely different place, and people have completely different expectations,” he said. “We owe it to all of those who have invested a great deal of effort in what we have been doing here since 2001 to see it through.”

Is there a civil war in Syria?


After almost two years of fighting in Syria, it is incorrect to call the struggle a “civil war.” True, large numbers of Syrians took to the streets in March 2011 to demand changes in their government, similar to the crowds that were seen in Tunisia, Egypt and other nations during the “Arab Spring,” and this quickly moved to armed confrontation. What keeps this from being a real civil war, however, is the complete takeover of the opposition movement by foreign imperialist powers.

It is no secret that U.S. imperialism has been hostile for decades to numerous governments around the world. Countries that established socialism have been targeted for destruction ever since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Nations that established some measure of independence, economic and political, under bourgeois nationalist regimes also have been in the crosshairs.

Since the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. and its NATO allies have aggressively sought to install compliant governments in one country after another with the goal of controlling the resources and working classes of the entire world in pursuit of ever greater profit. Syria fits into this pattern.

U.S.’s long history of regime change

The imperialists first dismembered Yugoslavia piece by piece, turning one nationality against another with bribes, diplomatic support, weapons and military advisors. They even used fascist elements in Croatia and Albania. A vicious 78 days of U.S.-NATO bombing in 1999 finally broke the back of this formerly peaceful, prosperous and ethnically diverse socialist state. What remain now are weak, fragmented ministates, under the thumb of the Western powers and Wall Street exploitation.

It took two invasions and years of violent U.S. occupation to shatter Iraq, the most economically advanced, secular, majority-Arab nation. Iraq’s oil wealth, formerly nationalized to benefit Iraqis, has been opened up to imperialist control. The occupation regime provoked the various ethnic and religious groups to battle each other. The widespread destruction of the country goes unrepaired and there is still no stable government.

More recently, the imperialists targeted Libya, another stable country with a high standard of living financed by nationalized oil. The U.S. and NATO armed any and every reactionary group opposed to the Moammar Gadhafi government.

These groups had no common economic or political program, and their militias were incapable of leading a serious struggle inside Libya. Only the massive imperialist air assault in 2011 allowed the ragtag “rebels” to march into Tripoli and seize power.

The results? Libya has no real government. Much of the country is in ruins. Some of the groups Washington armed are now U.S. targets. And the oil resources are now in the hands of private foreign interests.

Afghanistan suffered the same fate. As early as 1979, the U.S. started covertly supplying “rebels” against a pro-socialist government established in a revolution the year before. The Soviet Union then sent military troops to support that government.

Fighting continued until 1992, when the contra rebels overthrew the progressive government. As many as 1 million Afghan people were killed and millions more made refugees. Estimates of U.S. financing of this “civil war” run as high as $40 billion.

From 1992 on, fighting continued in Afghanistan among various “rebel” groups until the Taliban, with Pakistan’s backing, came out ahead. Following the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the U.S. with NATO help invaded and occupied Afghanistan, installing an oil executive as their puppet.

The occupation of Afghanistan continues to this day, yet Washington has been unable to create an effective government, end corruption or establish peace. The U.S. announced the withdrawal of troops by 2014, but now is openly talking about keeping troops beyond that date as the military situation deteriorates. Meanwhile, foreign firms are busy buying up large tracts of Afghanistan rich in mineral deposits originally identified by U.S. Geological Survey crews escorted around the country by U.S. troops.

What about Syria?

The situation in Syria for the past two years parallels the course of events in the struggles recounted above. However the internal struggle in Syria began, U.S. imperialism and its allies were quick to step in and transform it from a civil conflict into an imperialist-directed war for “regime change.”

The motley assortment of Syrian opposition forces include Islamist fundamentalists, Syrian exiles and secular local groups inside Syria. Many are eager to grab up some of the billions of U.S. dollars being funneled to this “opposition.” But they have never constituted a united force, and even before Washington took over the political direction and funds, they could never put forward a unified program for Syria.

After then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cobbled many of these groups together last November, this opposition still fell flat. The capitalist news services have despaired at the weakness of the Syrian opposition even as fighting inside Syria gets bloodier and more widespread.

The opposition represents no major sections of the population, they represent no alternative economic vision, and they don’t agree on the basics of what a new Syrian government might look like.

In an op-ed New York Times piece on Feb. 4 former State Department official Ramzy Mardini wrote that the opposition is not “remotely prepared to assume power. It is facing the prospects of defections and, worse, disintegration. Narrow interests are taking precedence; Islamists are overpowering secularists; exiles are eclipsing insiders; and very few members seem to have credibility on the ground back home.” This is from an anti-Assad specialist who has no major disagreements with imperialist intervention.

The opposition’s weakness does not in itself guarantee that the Syrian government will be able to defeat its military operations. The BBC stresses that “U.S. allies like Qatar and Turkey are arming the rebels with Washington’s tacit approval.” (bbc.com, Feb. 7) How many billions of dollars of U.S. weaponry have already flowed into Syrian contra rebel hands may not be known for years.

In Senate testimony, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified that he supported a plan to directly arm the contras that was pushed earlier by Clinton and then CIA Director David Patraeus, with backing by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (bbc.com, Feb. 7) If rebel military attacks continue to fail, direct U.S. arms shipments will likely be started.

U.S. and NATO troops and anti-aircraft missile batteries already are in Turkey just outside the Syrian border. With bottomless pockets and with foreign mercenaries flooding into Syria to bolster the Syrian contras, fighting may continue and even escalate. Direct bombing attacks and even U.S. troop involvement are not precluded.

What is certain is that the Syrian people, their cities and the modern infrastructure of the country are systematically being destroyed. “The idea of the nation is disappearing amid cycles of sectarian bloodshed. … The fighting has left major cities in ruins and has gutted the nation’s industries. Power failures are common. … Syria’s civil war has settled into a bloody stalemate.” (NYTimes.com, Feb. 9)

The ability of Syria’s government, led by Bashar Assad, to survive this debilitating struggle will depend on the determination of the sectors of the population that oppose imperialism and foreign intervention. This includes broad sections of the nationalist forces, the many and sizeable minorities who are being targeted by right-wing fundamentalist groups, Syrian communist groups, and the Palestinian people settled in Syrian camps, whose cause has been upheld by the Syrian government in its confrontations with Zionist Israel.

Important also is the continued support of Russia and China, which have, so far, refused to isolate Syria’s government. The people of Turkey have repeatedly weighed in with demonstrations against their government’s complicity in the war against Syria.

Is Iran the next target?

It is no secret that the next target for U.S. imperialism is Iran. In 1979, the Iranian people overthrew the CIA-installed dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In retaliation, Washington imposed economic sanctions against Iran and tightened them over the decades.

Now the U.S. and Israel threaten direct military attack. The pretext is unsubstantiated charges that Iran is making weapons-grade nuclear material. Iran insists it is only making lower grade uranium for reactors or research. What the U.S. is really after, of course, is the vast oil wealth that was nationalized after 1979, and to destroy Iran’s ability to oppose imperialism within the region.

Without resistance, the U.S. military, in service to Wall Street’s corporate and banking bosses, will continue to threaten, undermine and attack any and all independent or semi-independent nations around the world. Only a worldwide revolutionary movement can challenge and ultimately end this never ending cycle of bloodshed and destruction. A strong anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movement here inside the U.S. must be a vital component of this movement. The task at hand is to demand an end to the U.S.-led war against Syria.

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