Sunday, November 29, 2009

McChrystal's El Salvador in Afghanistan and/or Obama's peace talks with Taliban and Hekmatyar?

And the strange case of Bashir Noorzai

The latest news from Afghanistan is that McChrystal's new counter-insurgency strategy involves embedding US Special Forces with local Afghan militias. For some reason McChrystal has made this a purely US operation, with ISAF and NATO having no part in it and being given little information on it. Is this an El Salvador death squads option for Afghanistan like the ones Reagan inflicted on Salvadoran's and the one's Bush inflicted on Iraqis and which Obama hasn't seemed to end? Let's hope not, but if not the secrecy with allies is strange.(1)

The "Noorzai" referred to by McChrystal's predecessor in the Guardian article as the man McChrystal wanted to hand out the money to potential Afghan militia leaders would seem to be Arif Noorzai, an Afghan government minister (2). Bashir Noorzai, the former head of the same clan, was arrested on charges of heroin trafficking in the US in 2005 and jailed in April 2009 according to Reuters (with no explanation for why he spent 4 years in jail before being tried)(3) - (5). Now it may be hard to find anyone with any influence in Afghanistan who isn't involved in the heroin trade, but this makes NATO governments' claim that they've sent troops there to end the heroin trade even more ludicrous - and provides another reason to move to legalisation of Afghan poppy crops for the production of medical opiate painkillers, something already allowed in Britain (6).

Having said that Bashir Noorzai's trial seems to have been highly political.The US gives massive military aid and political support to the Colombian government, whose President Uribe is known to be deeply involved in the drugs trade in Cocaine (7). Bush and Clinton both backed Uribe - and Hillary Clinton is Obama's Secretary of State. So if the Bush and Obama administrations both want Bashir jailed it can't really be because he's involved in drugs trafficking. Peter Dale Scott also quotes Pakistani investigative journalist Ahmed Rashid's book 'Descent into Chaos' which revealed that during the 2001 invasion "the Pentagon had a list of twenty-five or more drug labs and warehouses in Afghanistan but refused to bomb them because some belonged to the CIA's new NA [Northern Alliance] allies." (8)

Reuters reported that:

In sentencing him, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin noted Noorzai's history and his circumstances in coming to the United States were "unusual" but said he could not "second guess" the U.S. government on whether they should have arrested him."They are foreign policy considerations," said Chin. (8)

The Times article from May this year mentions Obama's envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke "has met Daoud Abedi, an Afghan-American businessman close to Hekmatyar, and the US administration will fund an Afghan government department to conduct negotiations with Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban."(9)

This sounds like an attempt at peace negotiations, but knowing the history of US interventions, US government thinking and looking at McChrystal's report to Obama this suggests Obama is trying to use military force - possibly including El Salvador style death squads - to pressure the Taliban and Hekmatyar to make a peace deal. How likely is that to work? Would the US make peace while under attack by regular and irregular enemy forces? (10)

Hekmatyar was backed by the Us as one of the Mujahedin warlords fighting the Soviet invasion, but went onto the State Department's "most wanted" list of terrorists after he was allegedly involved in organising the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which, like September 11th seemed to involve a surprising number of warnings before the attack being ignored by the upper ranks of the FBI and government). He is certainly as extreme in his views and actions as any Taliban (11), (12).

However handing out money to bribe Afghans to change sides is likely to be far more effective than fighting them to try to get them to surrender. Pakistani investigative journalist and author Ahmed Rashid recounts in his book 'Descent into Chaos' that it took only millions of dollars to bribe some Taliban commanders to change sides or stay neutral in October 2001, while US airstrikes mostly just killed civilians. The current war costs millions each day. The question is whether handing out money to clan leaders and warlords, as the Bush admin-istration did in larger amounts than it provided to Karzai's government, will just make the warlords stronger and any chance for an elected government that could provide legal protection to Afghans weaker. (14)

(1) = Guardian 22 Nov 2009 'US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan',

(2) = Times 10 May 2009 'Karzai in move to share power with warlord wanted by US',

(3) = Reuters 11 Sep 2008 'Accused Afghan drug lord goes on trial in New York',

(4) = Reuters 11 Sep 2008 'Accused drug lord in U.S. called Taliban backer',

(5) = Reuters 30 Apr 2009 'Afghan tribal leader gets life in prison in NY',

(6) = Herald 03 Sep 2008 ‘UK farmers allowed to cultivate poppies for morphine’,
(2) = Herald 03 Sep 2008 ‘UK farmers allowed to cultivate poppies for morphine’,


(8) = Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York: Viking, 2008), page 320

(9) = See (5) above

(10) = See (2) above

(11) = COMISAF’s Initial Assessment – Lt. General William McChrystal 30 Aug 2009,

(12) = Rashid , Ahmed(2001) Taliban , Tauris,London ,2001 - Chapter 14

(13) = Bovard, James (2003) ‘Terrorism and Tyranny : Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil’, Palgrave MacMillan, N.Y & Houndmills, U.K, 2003, paperback edition, Chapter 3, especially pages 32-38

(14) = Ahmed Rashid (2008) ‘Descent into Chaos : How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia’, Allen Lane (Penguin books), London, 2008, Chapter 8, pages 125-144 of hardback edition and chapter 4 (page 76) of hardback edition

1 comment:

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