- (july 2012)
No winners in Afghanistan.
Despite a rash of suicide bombings, Taliban warlords have sent messages that
they would rather have peace than an all-out civil war after the Western
troops depart from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Minority ethnic political
leaders are vying for influence in the future government, not arming their
militiae for war. And the politicians already in power are much more interested
in making money out of corruption and drug trafficking than in shooting each
other. As dysfunctional as it can be, Afghanistan is experiencing a little
economic boom (its growth rate is higher than China's) and many of the old
fighters are more interested in finding ways to benefit from it than ways
to kill their rivals.
President and Western puppet Karzai is the stumbling block to a real
reconciliation, but word on the streets of Kabul is that he is ready to give up
as soon as he finds a friendly successor, his main worry being that he does not
want to end up like former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who has to live in exile lest he gets arrested by the new government, or, worse, like Mubarak (in jail).
Common sense is beginning to prevail over ideological and military
All parties, except maybe the most fanatic Islamists, are beginning to agree
on one thing: there can be no winner in Afghanistan.
It will be hard for the USA to claim victory because the Taliban
are actually stronger than they were a few years ago, and then spread to (and
de facto control) even large regions of Pakistan. The USA can claim victory
against Al Qaeda, since it has killed many of its leaders (starting with Osama
bin Laden) and greatly reduced its ranks (although Al Qaeda has simply
migrated to more hospitable regions, like Somalia, Yemen and Mali).
However, the USA has not been able to capture the leader of the Afghan Taliban,
Mullah Omar, the very man that, in a sense, was responsible for the whole war:
had he simply delivered a criminal (Osama bin Laden) to the USA, chances are
that George W Bush would have forgotten that distant country with such a hard
name to pronounce for a Texan baseball fan. The reason why the USA did not catch
Mullah Omar is the same reason why it could not catch Osama for such a long
time: they fall when they are not useful to the cause anymore.
Saddam Hussein was hated by
everybody, and was found relatively quickly. Osama, on the other hand, was
viewed by many (most?) Muslims as fighting for a good cause. In and around
Afghanistan people knew the truth about Al Qaeda's methods and goals, but in
Pakistan he was considered a hero and much more respected than the local
politicians. And he was revered by ordinary people in the Middle East, North
Africa and as far as the Philippines. Then the Arab Spring came, and Osama's
brand of militant Islam became obsolete: dictators were deposed not by
suicide bombings but by Twitter and Facebook. Osama became a distant relative
of freedom fighters, and, all in all, an embarrassing one. Instead, his friend
Mullah Omar is still very much popular in his region. Like Osama, Omar has
built charisma by remaining alive despite the hunt of the USA. And his Taliban
have managed to restart the civil war. The world at large thinks that the
Taliban are kicking out the USA from Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar reaps the
benefits. Therefore no wonder that he is still safe and sound somewhere in
However, he cannot claim victory either: most of Afghani remember the terror
regime of the Taliban years and would not accept a new Taliban regime.
He will have to compromise with his archenemies of the former Northern Alliance
or remain in exile. He also knows that the USA has a long memory and has a way
of killing its enemies many years after the fact, and this might motivate him
to remain at large for the rest of his life. Not quite a victory.
That leads to the source of Afghanistan's civil war: Pakistan, a country torn
by four competing power centers
(See The implosion of Pakistan).
It is easy for the USA to blame Pakistan for not fully cooperating in the fight
against the Taliban, but Pakistan can easily respond that 1. Pakistan has lost
many more people than the USA in this war; and 2. The USA will eventually leave
the region, whereas Pakistan will
still need to coexist with the Taliban (its own and the
Afghans) and with Al Qaeda and the many other Islamists on its soil long
after the USA will have forgotten where Afghanistan is.
Pakistan does not necessarily love the Taliban, but it certainly doesn't
trust the USA.
In fact, nobody does: outside the West and its marching millions
the USA is much more famous for abandoning countries than for invading them.
Everybody has learned from history that the USA eventually leaves (Lebanon,
Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and
then the countries of the region have to clean up the mess.
Afghans don't trust the USA either. Many are reluctant to fully endorse the
anti-Taliban campaign knowing that some day the Taliban might regain power.
None of the neighbors trusts the USA. They all calculate that the USA will
leave and what will happen next. They cannot leave their region like the USA
will do. It is telling that Iran, the arch-enemy of the USA in the Middle East,
has rarely attacked the USA for occupying Afghanistan, and rarely done anything
to hurt USA soldiers in Afghanistan: Iran was the most determined enemy of
the Taliban, and it is one country that really does not want them near its
border ever again. Nor does Russia. Nor does China.
However, the risk that the Taliban conquer the whole of Afghanistan is quite
low. They are despised by vast segments of the population. They have mortal
enemies among the non-Pashtun minorities. They have only their enthusiasm
to fuel their insurgency, as no major power is arming them (unlike, say,
Assad of Syria who is armed by both Iran and Russia).
They can still be very deadly, of course, but mostly through suicide bombers and guerrilla attacks, each of which has typically a different story to tell.
On june 20 a suicide bomber (probably from the Haqqani Network, based in Pakistan) killed 21 people in the eastern city of Khost; and this one targeted the military and the USA.
On june 22 Taliban fighters attacked a lakeside hotel north of Kabul killing 18 people; and this was probably meant as a message to the central government.
On july 14 a suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding in northern Afghanistan killing 23 people, and this one targeted a leader of the Uzbek minority (Ahmad Khan Samangani).
This is not quite a linear Vietnam-style story of rebels fighting the USA
but rather a demonstration of widespread chaos.
The most likely outcome will be to split Afghanistan into what used to be the
Northern Alliance (bordering on the former Soviet states and Iran) and a
Taliban-controlled southeastern region bordering on Pakistan. De facto this
will create a buffer Islamic state between the pro-Western Afghanistan and
(mostly pro-Western) Pakistan, a state straddling two countries, southeastern
Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.
Not quite a victory for Pakistan that de facto will have to surrender power
to the Taliban (for mysterious reasons, however, the Pakistani public opinion
is more likely to accept a loss of sovereignty to the Taliban than to the USA).
As for Russia, China, India and Iran, they would all accept this buffer state
as long as it is not on their borders.
In any event, none of them is willing to do what
the USA did (invade Afghanistan and try to rebuild the nation). None of them
will be a winner because they would still have to live with an unstable failed
country very near their territory (much nearer to them than to the USA), with
the risk that this country raises the next generation of Islamic fighters
(who would have much stronger reasons to attack Russia, China, India and Iran
than the USA, given the Russian genocide in Chechnya, the Chinese ethnic
cleansing of East Turkestan, India's occupation of Kashmir and Iran's hated
Shiite brand of Islam, all of them much worse sins than whatever a fanatical
Muslim can pin on the USA in 2012).
The women in that Taliban-controlled region will get their nose chopped off or
will be stoned in public in the name of Allah whenever the tribal elders
feel so inclined, but the rest of the world will quickly forget the whole big
mess... until, of course, the next religious fanatic blows
up a few airplanes or, worse, explodes a dirty nuclear device downtown New York.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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