When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
I was born in the mid 1950's' – a time when a great many British people resolutely clung to the delusion that we still possessed an empire. Indeed, I can even remember the large Mercator projection maps: brass-tacked to classroom walls, with huge swathes of pink, that circumscribed just how much of the world that, 'Belonged to us'. A lot of the history that we were taught back then dealt with the honorable way in which we had acquired these geographical possessions, the 'civilizing' influence that we brought to the ignorant tribes people of our far flung frontiers and the benignly paternalistic manner in which we had administered our, 'Great family of nations'.
As I got older, however, I began to learn of other historical viewpoints and narratives. And, as I acquired more and more knowledge of this hidden history, it dawned on me that virtually everything I had been taught as a child was – for want of a better word – bollocks.
We were not, for instance, told of the massacre: perpetrated by British troops, at Amritsar. Nor were we informed that it was the introduction of concentration camps: where the families of Boer insurgents were imprisoned and died in their thousands from cholera - not British derring-do - that won the day in South Africa at the turn of the last century.
Then we have British adventurism in Afghanistan: which first began in 1839 and continued – with wars and 'policing' operations – for nearly a century. Here again the colorful tales of brave British officers disguise a darkly disgusting episode in British military history. In the 1930's' the Royal Air Force pioneered the use of chemical weapons delivered by aerial bombardment. These bombs, full of mustard and phosgene gas, were not dropped on military formations besieging a beleaguered Afghan population. Nor were they dropped to spread civilization and democracy among a stubbornly backward people. They were dropped on Afghan villages: on defenseless civilians, for not paying their taxes to the crowned head of the British Empire.
(NB. Winston Churchill: at the time, advocated the complete extermination of these uncooperative Afghan tribes people – whom he considered to be savages.)
It has long been said that, 'The first casualty of war is the truth.' And this was as true then as it is now. We have also been advised: 'Those that do not learn from the mistakes of history, are doomed to repeat them.' Both of these statements have relevance here. Because we are now – yet again – embroiled in another epic adventure in Afghanistan.
So the question I want to ask here is: after a decade of deployment, and thousands of – mainly Afghan – lives lost, why are we no nearer to a solution of the 'Afghan problem'? Is it because Afghanistan always has – and will forever be – the graveyard of militaristic, imperial ambitions? Or is it, perhaps, because we haven't been told the truth? That the stated reasons: as set out by both Bush and Blair, for us being there are not the real reasons behind our intervention in Afghanistan?
Let's take a closer look.
George W Bush delivered his first statement on the military operation in Afghanistan: on October 7 2001, with these words, 'On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against AL-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.' He went on to explain that he had given an ultimatum to the Taliban: that they should, 'Close terrorist training camps... (and) hand over leaders of the AL-Qaeda network, ' more than two weeks earlier – which would place the communique's delivery in mid September - within days of the 9/11 attack.
Ten days into the bombing campaign the Taliban communicated that they would be prepared to hand over Osama bin Laden if the American and coalition forces suspended their military actions and provided proof of his involvement in the World Trade Center atrocity. Bush declined this offer and, to date (September 2011), over 2,500 coalition soldiers have been killed whilst 2,777 Afghan civilians died in 2010 alone. It has been estimated that an average of 8 Afghans: and many of these are children, are killed every day in Afghanistan.
So why didn't Bush seize the Taliban's offer with both hands and bring the war to an end? Could it be that there was no evidence linking AL-Qaeda to 9/11? After all, the FBI has never sought bin Laden's arrest in connection with the event. And furthermore the, 'Conclusive evidence,' promised by Condoleezza Rice has never – to this very day – been presented.
One can only conclude that Bush's refusal to accept the Taliban's overture on bin Laden – whether or not he was actually guilty of the 9/11 attack; and whether or not the Americans could prove it – indicated that the apprehension of the Saudi dissident was never the real issue. This leaves us only one other possible motive: regime change. The Americans: with the Brits and their other coalition partners dutifully in tow, invaded Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban.
Now getting rid of the Taliban: and their particularly brutal brand of Islamic fundamentalism, might seem a perfectly reasonable undertaking for the western powers to embark on. That is until you factor in the willingness of America and Britain et al to, 'Constructively engage' with regimes such as that in Bahrain where policemen: along with soldiers from Saudi Arabia, are beating up schoolgirls as young as twelve with rubber hoses and dragging wounded protesters from hospital beds - many of the latter - never to be seen again.
We can add to this the CIA's track record for actually creating: using classic destabilization techniques, monstrous regimes such as Pinochet's in Chile, the Duvaliers in Haiti, Videla in Argentina (estimated to have murdered 30,000 people), the Shah of Iran (whose Savak secret police rivalled the Gestapo in their brutality) and many others. As far as the west is concerned being a murderous dictator has never been enough of a reason to exclude anyone from a place at the top table.
With the Taliban there is, too, another dimension. The strategic location of the land that they so tenaciously occupy is of incalculable importance to America and its coalition partners. Afghanistan straddles the preferred route for proposed oil and gas pipelines that will connect the hydrocarbon deposits of the Caspian Sea Basin: the Earth's last great repository of largely untapped fossil fuel, with the sea.
This route is preferred because the only other options available will take the pipelines through Kazakhstan and Russia to Europe, or through Iran. Neither of these options is acceptable to America. There are several reason for this. The country through which the pipelines are eventually built will earn billions in transit fees. This country will also have a degree of control over the flow of the oil and gas which, in turn, would give it more geopolitical 'clout' in the global power politics arena.
Ultimately - what America fears most in this unfolding scenario - is Iran becoming the preferred option. Iran has already rejected the US dollar as first reserve currency. Iran no longer accepts the dollar in payment for its oil. If the Central Asian oil: flowing through an Iranian pipeline, were to be sold for anything other than the US dollar - with the euro being the most likely alternative – then the value of the dollar would collapse on the foreign exchange markets and America's military presence around the world would become unsupportable. The American Empire would then fall.
So America has reasons enough to get involved. The questions we need answering now are: for how long – and it what way - has America been involved in this situation?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: security adviser to the Carter administration, has admitted that American involvement with the Afghan Mujahadeen – the extreme Islamic fundamentalist movement that would eventually give rise to both AL-Qaeda and the Taliban – goes back as far as 1979. This was before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in support of the pro-Russian communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai. He has even – quite candidly – stated that the purpose behind the administration's support for this group was to draw Russia into an unwinnable Vietnam style conflict. Brzezinski also claims – with no small amount of pride – that it was this policy that eventually led to the breakup of the Eastern-Bloc and the end of the Cold War. 'Some stirred-up Moslems,' was – he thought – a small price to pay for this historic achievement.
These, '...stirred-up Moslems,' included jihadist fighters from across the Arab world and Central Asia. Among them was a rich young ideologue with connections to Saudi Arabian royalty: Osama bin Laden. With funding and arms supplied by America, the UK, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – the Mujahideen fought the Russians to a standstill and forced them to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. Three years later Boris Yeltsin cut-off supplies of aviation fuel to the Afghan communists and: as a consequence of losing their air power and defections by prominent military commanders, the Najibullah regime finally fell in 1992.
So America and the west had succeeded in humiliating, by proxy, Russian power and prestige on the world stage. In the process, however, they had also created a vast reserve of of highly motivated Moslem warriors. Fortunately, for the western powers and their allies across the region, this body of radicalized fundamentalists: that the CIA kept track of using a database entitled Al-Qaeda, was split into several factions that would - from 1992 onward - wage war upon each other. This situation lasted until 1996 when the Taliban: originally proteges of Pakistan's intelligence service and the CIA, first emerged as a dominant force.
We must now – at this point – widen our focus to include the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan. It was here: in 1992, that Bridas – an Argentinian oil exploration and extraction company – struck oil in a big way. Bridas was not, however, allowed to develop a monopoly franchise in Turkmenistan for very long. In April 1995 the United States government blocked financing for a proposed pipeline that would have taken the Iranian route from Turkmenistan to Turkey. In that same month Turkmen officials first met with representatives of the Unocal (Union Oil of California*) Corporation in Texas. By October of 1995 Unocal: leading partner in the CentGas Consortium – that included Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia and GazProm of Russia – had effectively out-maneuvered Bridas and signed contracts with President Niyazov of Turkmenistan. The first of these was for a natural gas pipeline and, later, for an oil pipeline that would take the Afghan route to a tanker loading port in Pakistan. That was the Turkmenistan leg of the enterprise taken care of.
(*NB. Unocal was owned by the Carlyle Group: an immensely wealthy investment trust. It is worth noting that at the time the two biggest investors/shareholders in this group were the Bush and Bin Laden families. Go figure.)
Then, in 1996, Unocal hired two notable Afghans as consultants. The first of these was Zalmay Khalilzad: at the time a Rand Corporation (the California based think tank with Pentagon connections) program director. Khalilzad was educated at the University of Chicago and had worked for Paul Wolfowitz: a neocon insider and Deputy Secretary of Defense under George W Bush, in both the Reagan and Bush senior administrations. Khalilzad would go on to become a member of the National Security Council and 'special envoy' to Afghanistan under George W.
The second of these notable Afghans was Hamid Karzai. Karzai's American connections go back as far as the 1980's' when he helped facilitate arms shipments: from the Americans to the Mujahadeen, whilst based in Quetta, Pakistan. He had also spent a lot of time in America - where his family owned a chain of restaurants. Karzai would – as we all now know – eventually become president of Afghanistan.
(Union Oil of California also had another 'notable' consultant: advising them on how to conduct business in Central Asia throughout this period – Henry Kissinger.)
Next Unocal went on to assiduously court the goodwill of the Taliban leadership in an effort to promote the Afghan leg of their pipeline project. They were helped in this by a visit from the Assistant Secretary of State: Robin Raphel*, to Kandahar in late 96. Raphel espoused the classic, 'Constructive engagement,' rationale as a way of deflecting the growing concern over the Taliban's human rights record.
(*Affectionately nicknamed 'Lady Taliban' by the print media.)
Then, in 1997, they opened an office in Kandahar* through which they could channel funding to the group which was – at the time – still fighting for supremacy over the factionalized remnants of the Mujahadeen. It wasn't until August of 1998, for instance, that the Taliban managed to bring the route - over which the pipeline's were to be constructed - under their direct control.
(*NB. This office was situated, remarkably, directly across the road from the compound owned by Osama bin Laden.)
However, for further progress to be made - and financing secured to begin construction - it now became imperative that the Taliban be internationally recognized as the legitimate government of a pacified Afghanistan. This was were it all began to go a little bit pear shaped.
On August 20 1998 the US launched cruise missile strikes against alleged AL-Qaeda training camps: located in Helmand and Khost Provinces, in retaliation for the truck-bomb attacks against their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 13 days earlier. At the time the Clinton administration put out a rather bizarre statement saying: (it understood the camps to be: author) 'Not supported by any state.' One can only imagine that: despite the missile strikes on Afghan territory, Clinton still hoped to do business with the Taliban on the pipeline issue.
In September of 98 the Taliban were recognized as the legitimate government in Afghanistan by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates. Whether or not the US had a hand in this is unclear. From here on, though, the relationship between them and the international community would head in only one direction: downhill.
The Taliban had already: prior to 1999, been the target of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. These were, however, primarily aimed at ending the Afghan civil war. But, after America unilaterally imposed sanctions in July of that year, this changed. The UN resolutions now cited human rights abuses and culminated: on October 15, with resolution 1267 which imposed sanctions directly on Osama bin Laden, AL-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The next milestone – on the road to war – came on October 12, 2000 with the attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. Responsibility for this atrocity was first attributed to Sudan: with frozen Sudanese assets being released to the families of the sailors killed and injured in the explosion. But eventually – after a lengthy investigation that: according to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, didn't turn up any 'definitive evidence' – the blame then devolved upon Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.
Calls for bin Ladens arrest were now, understandably, getting ever more strident. But what those making these calls didn't know was that US State Department officials had already met with representatives of the Taliban: in public and in secret, on numerous occasions. It is thought that at least 20 such meetings took place in the three years before 9/11. The position that the Taliban adopted at these meetings never wavered. They repeatedly requested clear-cut evidence that bin Laden was guilty of the crimes he was accused of. If such evidence had been provided they would then have handed him: and his lieutenants, over to a third party, neutral nation. All of this was reported by the Washington Post on Monday, October 29, 2001.
So can it now be argued that America's intransigence: when dealing with the Taliban on the bin Laden issue, illustrates that they never really wanted him handed over in the first place? That they, in fact, wanted him exactly where he was: in Afghanistan, to give themselves the excuse they needed to invade? And that – most importantly – they wanted all of this prior to 9/11?
The only direct evidence we have for this scenario: that the invasion was already planned and ready to be executed before the twin towers fell, was provided by a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary: Niaz Naik. Mr Naik told BBC correspondent George Arney, that he had been informed by senior US officials: in July 2001 at a conference in Berlin, that military action would begin before, 'The snow falls in Afghanistan,' This story was carried by the BBC News on September 18 2001 but seems to have been buried under the avalanche of media hysteria and accusations that followed the tragedy in New York.
In 2002 a Bush administration official stated that the trans-Afghanistan pipeline was still, 'International project number one.' Union Oil of California will not, however, be taking any further part in this venture. After a court case: that began back in 1996 and was finally settled in 2005, which found the company, 'Complicit,' in the murder, rape and forced labor of Burmese nationals – again in connection with the building of a pipeline – Unocal was merged with the oil giant Chevron*. I should mention that Chevron has, itself, been accused of being complicit in human rights abuses in Nigeria. These charges have, though, been dismissed by courts in the US.
(*NB. Chevron operates in Kazakhstan – from where it exports oil through the CPC pipeline to a tanker loading port on Russia's Black Sea coast. The company can also boast a direct association with the Bush administration. Condoleeza Rice was a director for the corporation: and as such paid several visits to Kazakhstan, from 1991 until 2001 when she left to become George W Bush's National Security Adviser. Prior to her stint at Chevron she held the position of Director of Soviet and East European Affairs at the National Security Council from 1989 to 91 under Bush senior. This period coincided with the Russian retreat from Afghanistan.)
Moving on, it does seem that the trans-Afghan pipelines will eventually get built. Hamid Karzai paid a visit to his counterpart: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, in Turkmenistan* to get the ball rolling in 2006.
(*NB. A country with a truly appalling human rights record.)
More recently, there has even been meetings, held this year*, between Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India to fix the unit cost of the natural gas that will transit through a trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
(*NB. I originally wrote this article in September, 2011.)
But what, in the end, will be the true cost of Turkmenistan's hydrocarbon riches? Shouldn't we be factoring in the the cost - in lives – paid by the Afghan people? Should we not, also, be including the cost – in lives – paid by the coalition forces?
And what about the lives lost on September 11 2001? Did all those people have to die to get the trans-Afghanistan pipelines built?
Finally – we have to ask – for how long are we prepared to go on paying this terrible price? Will we not – ever – find the courage to say: 'No – you cannot have another war,' to Big Money, Big Oil and their attendant merchants of death?
I say enough is enough.
What say you?
2014: during which NATO forces are supposed to begin leaving Afghanistan, is approaching and the Americans are currently negotiating with Hamid Karzai to allow some US forces to remain in Afghanistan for an indefinite period.
(2014 is also the year pencilled-in for the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipelines to begin.)
There are also direct negotiations underway between the Americans and the Taliban: these are being held in Qatar. We have been informed that these concern the withdrawal of American troops next year. But – as stated in the previous paragraph – the Americans do not plan on completely withdrawing from Afghanistan anytime soon. So what are these negotiations about?
Could it be that these discussions are a resumption of the negotiations that were originally conducted between the Taliban and the Unocal Corporation back in the nineties?
If this is the case then what has it all been about? All those lives lost and a decade of war for what exactly? To arrive back at a point in US-Afghan relations that was extant before the invasion?
Is life really that cheap?
The Western Powers are currently preparing for military intervention in Syria. The real reason for this attack is to isolate Iran – it has nothing to do with democracy or to protect Syrian civilians from a despotic regime. Iran possesses the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. It also possesses the second largest natural gas reserves after Russia. This is why an invasion of Iran has already been planned. They want us to pay for Iran's hydrocarbon riches with our blood; with our children's lives.
We must stand now against the warmongers. If we don't millions of people will die.
Please declare for peace. Please sign my e-petition: 'End the Madness', to rid our world of all weapons of mass destruction and put an end to war.
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