By M K Bhadrakumar
Public corruption in Afghanistan is taking curiouser and curiouser turns. A vexatious choice arises: Betraying your country to a foreign intelligence agency - is it an act of corruption? By moral and ethical standards, it appears so. By legal standards, no doubt, it is the highest form of corruption and deserves the maximum punishment.
Those accused usually perish in long, interminable solitary confinement - or fade into oblivion after a spy exchange. In the latter category, they often go on to become alcoholics as they walk into the sunset of life and the guilt of corruption begins to eat into the vitals of their conscience, which can be regarded as the highest form of God's wrath.
However, in Afghanistan, where the bizarre can become the order of the day, the United States holds the supreme power to both spawn corruption and, then, well, go through the motions of punishing it. Arguably, this must be one of the highest forms of self-flagellation known to mankind - outside of Shi'ism, that is.
Karzai spurns tough love
Take the burnt-out case of Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council in the government headed by President Hamid Karzai.
The New York Times has made the sensational revelation that Salehi was almost nabbed by the Afghan agency tasked with an anti-corruption drive a month ago, but had to be summarily allowed to go scot-free at the personal intervention of the president. Salehi, quite expectedly, had been trained by the Americans with the noble objective of what has come to be known as "capacity-building" of Afghan state organs.
Salehi has apparently been working as a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent for donkey's years, either betraying the functioning of the presidential office or corrupting Karzai's policies by injecting careful doses of American thinking into them from time to time, thus rendering invaluable service to the US-led war and Washington's regional strategies. Not only that - the CIA used him also as a sort of cashier to disburse its payments to its other agents in Afghanistan.
Salehi's case file has now become a celebrated instance of the battle of wits between Karzai and the Barack Obama administration as it approaches a qualitatively new level of ferocity. To such an extent that at one point Karzai threatened to disband the entire US-trained anti-corruption task force and the standoff threatened to knock the bottom out of the Obama administration's AfPak strategy. It even prompted Washington to post-haste dispatch to Kabul one of the key figures in the highest echelons of the US foreign and security policy establishment, John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee of the senate.
Washington let it be known through media leaks that Kerry's mission to Kabul was to do some "tough-talking" to Karzai, which indeed has been happening with an alarming frequency in recent years as part of the US's "tough-love" approach to the indomitable Afghan leader who has begun holding his political ground with an increasing tenacity that threatens to dilute American overlordship of the war itself.
But tough love is a highly complicated act to perform. We do not know what transpired between Karzai and Kerry in the presidential palace last week. There could be more than one version of the rendezvous as the two also, according to American media reports, are great friends and get along splendidly.
At any rate, no sooner had Kerry left Kabul at the conclusion of his mission, Karzai took to the media and virtually tore into the American case file on Salehi and the entire sordid business of what constitutes corruption in Afghanistan.
Karzai made three points. First, Salehi was treated shabbily by the US-trained task force, that its acts were completely out of proportion to the charge against him, namely, that he allegedly accepted a gift of a US$10,000 car for his son for some services rendered. Surely, it was a modest gift as it could only have been a basic model of a very small car, which the status-conscious Afghan elites do not usually use. A reconditioned Nissan Micra imported from Dubai, perhaps?
It's a proxy war
But that was not the point. Karzai was finger-pointing that when there are probably much bigger sharks in the Afghan pond, the US-led drive chose to make a horrible example of Salehi because the idea was not so much as to crack down on corruption as to discredit the presidential palace itself.
It seems anti-corruption officials last month charged into Salehi's house in the wee hours of the morning, handcuffed him and tried to take him away. The worst part was that he was treated like a petty criminal in front of his family members and neighbors, which is an abominable thing of humiliation to happen to any Afghan with high social standing.
Two, Karzai challenged the US-led anti-corruption agency and ordered that it must work within Afghan laws and that it should be a "sovereign" Afghan body. In short, Karzai showed the Americans the door and said he intended to exercise his presidential prerogatives as the elected leader of a sovereign country and the US cannot behave as if Afghanistan were a vassal state.
Karzai has meanwhile issued a decree that the Afghan private militias that masquerade as "security agencies" and which are funded and engaged by the US and other Western countries by way of outsourcing aspects of the war are to be disbanded and merged with the Afghan security forces under the Interior Ministry within this year. These agencies provide guards or escort duties, gather field intelligence or even undertake controversial errands that are beyond the pale of the law.
Karzai in effect hit the Americans below the belt. The fact remains that the Americans have been engaging in a quaint form of warring in the Hindu Kush by increasingly subcontracting the war to American contractors. No one speaks about it, but this has inevitably led to massive corruption as the Pentagon patronizes its favorite American contractors, and evidently, it is all pork.
Like in the case of the Iraq war, the Afghan war also stinks and the US Congress is finally examining how billions of dollars have been spent by the US in the Hindu Kush since the invasion in late 2001.
Karzai understands perfectly well that the current "anti-corruption" drive by the US's AfPak officials is a clever move to pass the buck to the Afghan side and blame the latter for all the colossal wastage of financial resources for the war provided by American taxpayers when congress comes up with its report and the fur starts to fly.
Unsurprisingly, Karzai is not willing to be made the fall guy. A third point he made, therefore, is that he is not even in charge of the gravy train running through the Hindu Kush. Afghan officials have pointed out that only a small portion - less than 20% - of the international aid flow into Afghanistan is routed through the Kabul government, whereas the remaining 80% is handled directly by the donor countries.
This acrimony as to who holds the aid strings is actually as ancient as the hills. The Americans have never questioned the veracity of Karzai's claim, which is backed by UN officials, too. But why has it erupted with such ferocity?
The heart of the matter is that Karzai seems to suspect that an invidious US attempt is on to replace him. He would have certainly noted that the New York Times devoted a full-page article on the Afghan war recently, a key portion of which virtually demanded the Obama administration to have a rethink over Karzai's continuance in office.
Karzai is a sophisticated politician and knows what the US did in Vietnam when if faced defeat in the war. The US simply kept replacing its South Vietnamese ally in Saigon's presidential palace. Karzai has indeed become a political hurdle for the US. He is far too assertive to be a faithful ally and there is no certainty that he would mature into a Nuri al-Maliki, the premier in Iraq.
Most important, he insists on piloting the search for a political settlement and is increasingly showing a propensity to build a regional consensus involving Iran, Russia, India, and others. He threatens the US's monopoly of the war and the peace process.
In essence, Karzai has concluded that the US and Pakistan have worked together to throttle his initiative to open a line to the moderate Taliban who are open to reconciliation.
The recent disclosures by the New York Times regarding the "capture" of Mullah Baradar in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in January testify to the fact that it was a joint CIA-Inter-Service Intelligence operation. And the best claim the Americans can put forth on their performance is a preposterous explanation that they are dumb creatures and the smart Pakistanis used them as a doormat and that they were really not quite clued in on what was afoot when they swooped down on the No 2 in the Quetta shura and nabbed him in his hideout.
Karzai doesn't think the CIA comprises such imbeciles as not to know who they are dealing with when they collaborate with Pakistan's formidable ISI in a major field operation.
What is more ominous than all this is the secret meeting held by US officials in Bonn last month with some of Karzai's allies from the erstwhile Northern Alliance, with the duplicitous intent of prising them away from their political tie-ups with the Afghan leader. In short, to tear apart the spider-like web of political deals that Karzai has been astutely making to broaden and deepen his support base in anticipation of the time when he will sit down face-to-face with the Taliban.
The supreme irony is that the US has been instigating Karzai's Northern Alliance allies belonging to non-Pashtun ethnic groups by portraying the Afghan leader as an appeaser of the Taliban and tapping into their visceral fears of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
Karzai has reason to suspect that the game played by the US's AfPak officials is extremely devious as it happens just before the Afghan parliamentary elections due on September 8. Karzai is pinning his hopes on getting a parliament elected with which he can work in harmony, unlike the previous legislative body that was under the influence of the American Embassy in Kabul.
Can Obama rein in the Pentagon?
Karzai estimates that he would have to carry the parliament along as representing the collective opinion of the Afghan people in any political settlement. If Karzai's plan for the parliamentary elections succeeds, thanks to his broad-ranging alliance with non-Pashtun groups, and he gets a parliament with which he can work so as to evolve a national consensus, it would lethally damage the US's entire strategy to control and prescribe the contours of any Afghan settlement.
The core issue is, as reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post last week pointed out, that all indications are that the US has no intention of vacating its military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the foreseeable future. And it is only through a pliant regime in Kabul that the Pentagon can hope to negotiate a favorable status of forces agreement. The issue is of fundamental importance to the US's regional strategy of "containment" of China, Iran and Russia and doesn't allow any scope for compromise.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Selig Harrison, a renowned scholar and author of Out of Afghanistan, touched on the huge political dilemma facing Obama - how to leave Afghanistan without "losing". He pointed out that it was only by the US agreeing to a "neutral" Afghanistan that the war could be brought to a conclusive end.
But Harrison foresees that Obama will have a tough fight on his hands within his own camp in Washington as he inches toward a political settlement in Afghanistan. He wrote:
The biggest obstacle to the accord is not likely to come from Pakistan, but from a Pentagon mindset in which the projection of US power is viewed as a desirable end in of itself. Some of the 74 US bases in Afghanistan, including the airfields, are designed solely for counter-insurgency operations and might be expendable in a neutralization accord.Conceivably, the benefit of the doubt could be given to Obama that he is either not in the loop about Pentagon thinking or that he is "yet to address" the future of US bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Harrison is inclined to feel that the latter is the case.
But the mammoth airfields at Bagram and Kandahar are projected to grow in the years ahead - ambitious new construction projects continue at both bases, despite Obama's pledge to begin withdrawing troops from the country in the summer of 2011. Furthermore, congress is considering funding requests, totaling $300 million, to establish new bases at Camp Dwyer and Shindand, close to the Iranian border, and Mazar-i-Sharif, near Central Asia and Russia. Aware of Afghan opposition to "permanent bases", Pentagon and White House officials now speak of "permanent access", which would guarantee the use of these bases for intelligence surveillance operations.
In either case, it is Obama who will finally call the shots and decide whether the Pentagon will still use Afghanistan to "further its global power projection goals long after the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a distant memory", Harrison estimates with a profound sense of the history of the 30-year Afghan conflict.
In sum, Karzai has an epic fight on his hands. He either pulls back his Afghan instincts of pride, self-respect and fierce independence and strikes a Faustian deal, or he treads on the Pentagon's global strategy. It could be a fatal choice either way for him.
Ironically, Karzai's best hope is that Obama refuses to be an "establishment president" and lives up to the promise he held out at the time of his election campaign. But the rhetoric of 2008 is now history. What matters in the hurly burly of politics is the "here" and the "now".
The outcome of the US Congressional elections in November could prove to be a watershed event in Karzai's tumultuous political career as much as it could be for Obama's meteoric appearance on the world stage as a man of peace.....
Why the US needs the Taliban.....
By Ramtanu Maitra
Since Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf made his much-acclaimed visit to Camp David and met US President George W Bush on June 24, new elements have begun to emerge in the Afghan theater. US troops in Afghanistan are now encountering more enemy attacks than ever before, and clashes between Pakistani and Afghan troops along the tribal borders have been reported regularly.
On July 16, speaking to Electronic Telegraph of the United Kingdom, US troop commander General Frank "Buster" Hagenbeck, based at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, reported increased attacks over recent weeks on US and Afghan forces by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other anti-US groups that have joined hands. He also revealed some other very interesting information: the Taliban and its allies have regrouped in Pakistan and are recruiting fighters from religious schools in Quetta in a campaign funded by drug trafficking. Hagenbeck also said that these enemies of US and Afghan forces have been joined by Al-Qaeda commanders who are establishing new cells and sponsoring the attempted capture of American troops. One other piece of news of import from Hagenbeck is that the Taliban have seized whole swathes of the country.
Hagenbeck's statements were virtually ignored in Washington. Also ignored were a number of similar statements issued from Kabul by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cabinet colleagues. On July 17, presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin spoke to the Pakistani newspaper The News of the Afghan government's concern over the volatile situation on its border with Pakistan. Ludin urged Pakistan to "take steps" to prevent the Taliban fighters from crossing over to launch terrorist attacks against Kabul. "We will take it seriously to confront it," he warned. "So our expectation is for all those involved in the war against terror to take serious steps," Ludin added, clearly addressing the Bush administration.
A week later, on July 24, in an article for The Nation, a Pakistani news daily, Ahmed Rashid, the well known expert on the Taliban and Afghanistan, quoted President Hamid Karzai, during an interview at Kabul, as saying: "As much as we want good relations with Pakistan and other neighbors, we also oppose extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism coming into Afghanistan from outside. We have one page where there is a tremendous desire for friendship and the need for each other. But there is the other page, of the consequences if intervention continues, cross-border terrorism continues, violence and extremism continue. Afghans will have no choice but to stand up and stop it."
Among Americans, only the special envoy of the US president to Afghanistan and a good friend of President Karzai, Zalmay Khalilzad, has shown any concern about the recent developments. Khalilzad has little choice but to keep up a bold front to the Afghans, telling them how his bosses in Washington are doing their best to rebuild Afghanistan, and attributes the present crisis to the security situation. Like everyone else, Khalilzad has little in reality to offer and, given the opportunity, falls back on what "must be done" and "should be done". At a July 15 press conference at Kabul, Khalilzad said every effort has to be made by Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by the Taliban elements. This "should not be allowed", he said. "We need 100 percent assurances [from Pakistan] on this, not 50 percent assurances, and we know the Taliban are planning in Quetta."
What is happening? Both Hagenbeck, who boasts to the media about the high quality of his intelligence, and Khalilzad, who is unquestionably in a position to know, have stated that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are being nurtured, not in some inaccessible terrain along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border but in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province where the Pakistan Army and the ISI have a major presence. Yet, President Bush and his neo-conservative henchmen have remained strangely quiet, allowing Pakistan to strengthen the Taliban in Quetta, and, as a consequence, re-energize al-Qaeda - the killers of thousands of Americans in the fall of 2001.
Recall for a moment: Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, no other terrorist was portrayed by the United States as more dangerous than al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and no other Islamic fundamentalist group was presented to the American people as more despicable than the Taliban. Within a month the United States invaded Afghanistan to "take out" the Taliban, al-Qaeda and bin Laden, while the world lined up behind the new anti-terrorist messiahs from Washington, providing it the necessary moral and vocal support. Why, then, is Washington now weakening President Karzai and allowing the strengthening and re-emergence of the Taliban?
Karzai shared with Ahmed Rashid his belief, like that of the average Afghan today, that the answer to that question lies in an understanding reached between the United States and Pakistan during Musharraf's visit to Camp David, that Afghanistan could be, in effect, "sub-contracted" to Pakistan. Karzai also told Rashid that Musharraf's critical remarks about the Karzai regime during his visit to the United States reminded him of the pre-September 11 days when Pakistan was fully backing the Taliban and exercising ever-more-strident control over Afghanistan. Musharraf had said, among other things, that the Afghan president does not have much control over Afghanistan beyond Kabul. But, Karzai added in the interview with Rashid, no matter what the outsiders are planning or plotting, as of now, "I want nobody to be under any illusion that Afghanistan will allow any other country to control it." Is Karzai overreacting? Most likely, he is not. He has seen the writing on the wall. It is arguable whether the Taliban's return to power is inevitable, but there is little doubt that under the circumstances it is very convenient for the US.
Bowing to realities
To begin with, it was clear from the outset that the United States never really wanted to be in Afghanistan. It was basically a jumping-off point for the "big enchilada", the re-shaping of the Middle East's politics and regimes. The Afghan reconstruction talk was mostly wishful thinking. For anyone familiar with present-day Afghanistan - its security situation, the drug production and trafficking, its destroyed infrastructure, its rampant illiteracy and poverty - its reconstruction by foreigners is either a dream or a string of motivated lies.
Now, after a half-hearted effort that lasted for almost 18 months, the Bush administration has come to realize that it is impossible to keep Pakistan as a friend and simultaneously keep the Northern Alliance-backed government in power in Kabul. The "puppet" Pashtun leader in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, does not have the approval of Pakistan and the majority of the rest of the Pashtun community straddling both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. So, either one has Pakistan as a friend with an Islamabad-backed Pashtun group in power in Kabul, or one gets Pakistan as an enemy. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind how the Bush administration would act when confronted with such a choice.
Secondly, look at the Northern Alliance (NA) allies. The best ally of the NA is Russia, the Bush administration's key contestant for supremacy in Central Asia. In the 1980s, the United States spent billions of dollars to get Afghanistan out of the Russian orbit. It is ridiculous to believe that the Bush administration would act differently now to protect the NA and Karzai. Much better is to have Afghanistan sub-contracted to Pakistan and keep the Russians at bay, than to yield ground to Moscow, who is hardly friendly to Pakistan.
Thirdly, the NA, and particularly the Shi'ites of the Hazara region of Afghanistan, are close to Iran. Iran is building a road which will connect the Iranian port of Chahbahar to the city of Herat in central Afghanistan and link up with Kandahar in the southeast. While this is going on, some neo-conservatives in Washington are screaming for Iranian blood. Even if the Bush administration is not quite willing right now to spill that blood, it is nonetheless a certainty that Washington will be more than eager to see the Iranian influence in Afghanistan curbed. If the NA-backed Karzai government stays in power for long, Iran would most definitely enhance its influence. The Taliban do not want that and they have sent a message recently by slaughtering the Shi'ites in Quetta with the full knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. Besides being anti-Russia, the Taliban are also anti-Shi'ite, or anti-Iran. This added "virtue" of the Taliban has not gone unnoticed in the corridors of intrigue-makers in Washington.
Finally, there is the India factor. A minor factor, it does, however, come into play in calculating the pluses and minuses of the resurgent Taliban option. The Bush administration wants closer relations with India - not on New Delhi's terms, but on Washington's terms. Indian activity in Afghanistan has increased multifold since the Karzai government came to power in the winter of 2001. These developments are being eyed suspiciously by Islamabad. While Washington would not make a federal case out of it, it surely does not like to see India forming a strategic alliance with Russia and Iran in Afghanistan. Washington would rather like to break such an alliance quickly, particularly if its ally, in this case Pakistan, wants such an alliance broken. Significantly, a well-connected relative of Musharraf, Brigadier Feroz Hassan Khan, formerly at the Wilson Center and now a fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, addressed these issues directly in a recent publication.
Not just whistling in the dark
In the January issue of Strategic Insight, a publication for the Center for Contemporary Conflict, Khan observed: "In Iran, President Khatami is moving in tandem and cooperation with Pakistan in supporting the Karzai government as manifest in the recent visit to Pakistan. However there are hardliners in Iran who would want to continue with the old game of supporting warlords and factions and consider Pakistan as rival vis-a-vis Afghanistan, and who are still suspicious of the Saudi role. Iran is pitching its bid, by constructing a road from Chahbahar Port in the Persian Gulf through Iran's Balochistan area to link up eventually with Kandahar in the hope of 'breaking the monopoly of Pakistan'. Afghanistan is currently sustained primarily through the Karachi-Quetta/Peshawar routes - Bolan and Khyber passes respectively - which has provided Afghanistan with trade and transit with the outside world for centuries."
Furthermore, Khan pointed out, "Russia remains involved with the major warlords [of Afghanistan]. One such warlord, Rashid Dostum, was recently on a shopping spree for arms and equipment from Moscow. Russia believes it has its own experience and expertise in Afghanistan and must reestablish its interests. Given the history, Pakistan is very uncomfortable with this development."
Of course, the Khan's treatise would not have been complete without pointing to the devious role of the Indians in Afghanistan. He said: "India is a major proactive player now. It is providing well-coordinated military supplies to the Northern Alliance thorough the air base in Tajikistan. This includes weapons, equipment and spare parts aimed at strengthening those elements that had become the sworn enemies of Pakistan during the Taliban's rule. Fear in Pakistan is that despite Afghanistan's changed policies, some elements still hold a grudge against Pakistan and would be willing to do India's bidding. This would bring the India-Pakistan rivalry into the Afghan imbroglio."
It is safe to assume that Khan, who has an extensive background in arms control, disarmament and international treaties, and who formulated Pakistan's security policy on nuclear war, arms control and strategic stability in South Asia, is not merely whistling in the dark.
The terms of convenience
Now the question remains, what might Pakistan be expected to deliver in return for the Bush administration granting it control over Afghanistan once more? In the real world, Pakistan can help the United States significantly. It has already agreed not to provide nuclear technology to Islamic nations. Musharraf may have to give the United States control of its nuclear research facility, among other things. More important will be to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States and send two brigades of Pakistani troops to Iraq to help out the beleaguered US troops there. The arrest of Osama would surely justify the US mission to Afghanistan, and could set the stage for America's eventual withdrawal from that country. Another likely item on the agenda is Pakistani recognition of Israel.
Would this new arrangement of "sub-contracting" (to use Karzai's apt term) Afghanistan to the Pakistan-Taliban combination complicate the already complex situation any further? Probably not. It was evident in October 2001, when the United States went pell-mell into Afghanistan with the help of the Northern Alliance, that America's hastily-organized arrangement there was unsustainable. It was clear that no matter what Islamabad says, or how much pressure is brought to bear on it, Pakistan has absolutely no reason whatsoever to agree to such an arrangement.
Washington came to appreciate the non-sustainability of this arrangement when Musharraf, in a sleight of hand, brought the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal - the MMA, also known as "Musharraf, Mullahs and the Army" - to power in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan. At that point, Karzai's tenure as president of Afghanistan shrank abruptly, and Washington deemed it time to give up the "Marshall Plan for Afghanistan" and settle for next best - Taliban rule in Afghanistan under Pakistani control, once again.....
By Sreeram Chaulia
Fresh revelations from unnamed quarters of the United States government that Mohammad Zia Salehi, an allegedly corruption-tainted aide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is a recipient of payments from the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have turned the spotlight on the gap between the rhetoric and the realities of foreign military occupation.
While Washington has made "good governance" in Afghanistan a pillar of its revamped war strategy, it is evident that the needs of prosecuting a highly unpopular war are defeating this objective.
According to a report in the New York Times, Salehi - the administrative head of Afghanistan's National Security Council who is said to have leveraged connections to the president and escaped anti-corruption proceedings - has been on the CIA payroll "for many years".
The same account cites a US official defending the general practice of American intelligence agencies paying Afghan officials "even if they turn out to be corrupt or unsavory". Such tactics are apparently imperative because Afghanistan is "a tough place" and the US needs intelligence through any means, however destabilizing the impact of an occupying power systematically nurturing kleptocrats.
A parallel drama of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces relying on brutal de facto local militia "authorities" for convoy security and ancillary functions, even though such shady Afghan allies are obstacles to ushering in the rule of law, has also been playing out.
The magnified political status attained by notorious small-time private army bosses like Matiullah Khan in Uruzgan province is the result of their selection by NATO as partners for oiling the Western war machine.
Figures like Khan and Salehi are bankrolled by the US on ostensible grounds of pragmatic necessity in a quicksand-like war where legally mandated entities and agencies for specific sectors like security and intelligence are either unable to deliver or cannot be depended on.
American handlers of Afghan money launderers and drug kingpins have no compunctions in maintaining these relationships since all is fair in a war in which the US military is under pressure to notch up some concrete successes to justify the "surge".
Filling the pockets of unscrupulous Afghans and elevating their unconstitutional weight in the nation's fragmented polity may not even be fetching the touted benefits that the US Army and intelligence agencies claim. Loyalty is one phenomenon that the US has not found in this war, as many of its Afghan backdoor sources and confidants are known to also have affinities with the Taliban.
The double-agent and double-crossing predicaments confronting the Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan is one principal reason why they have failed to zero in on the highest-value al-Qaeda targets despite nearly a decade of war.
Candid acknowledgements about wheeling and dealing with Afghan devils, for whatever they are worth, by insiders in the US security apparatus also demonstrate how different sections and sub-layers of the American state are working at cross purposes in Afghanistan.
General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, accords maximum priority to battling corruption in the Karzai regime. The Washington Post contends that Petraeus has "intensified efforts to uncover the scope and mechanics of the pervasive theft, graft and bribery in the Afghan government".
The Major Crimes Task Force, which briefly arrested Salehi in July as part of a wider investigation into the siphoning of billions of dollars by presidential staff members and bureaucrats for patronage and political alliances, was itself created with the assistance of US intelligence, drug enforcement, justice, and police experts.
A large congressional constituency in the US also champions the "war on graft" in Afghanistan as the best formula for defeating the Taliban. Cognizant of the political backlash from war-weary voters, American lawmakers have increasingly turned to the "governance" track as a less costly but more lasting intervention that could stabilize Afghanistan. Some anti-corruption members of congress have even voted to partially freeze US aid to Afghanistan unless Karzai's robber baron state mends its ways.
These people, who desire to fix Afghanistan's severe maladministration, belong to a "nation-building" school of thought that assumes the American goal to be shoring up and cleaning fledgling institutions. Grandiose dreams of remaking Afghanistan anew as a haven of moderation and democracy that is answerable to the masses are, however, being undermined by the "operations men" in uniform and mufti (civilian clothes) whose ultimate mandate is to beat back Taliban advances by hook or crook.
Dovetailing this pronounced divide in strategy is the current airing by top military brass of disagreements with the Barack Obama administration on a schedule for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Petraeus' comments that he did not take charge of the war simply to oversee a "graceful exit" have been followed by the oblique critique by General James Conway, the commandant of the US Marine Corps, that Obama was "talking to several audiences at the same time" by drawing up an early plan for bringing troops back home.
The impression that the US president opposes prolonging the occupation gained adherents after the deposed General Stanley McChrystal's controversial job-costing barb that Obama "didn't seem very engaged" in the war effort. Some observers are even counting the scant number of times Obama utters the word "Afghanistan" in speeches in comparison to "health care" or "financial regulation", insinuating that his resolve to keep on fighting is weak.
Internal schisms within branches and bureaus of the US state over how to wage the war and when to pull out have reached an advanced stage. Government figures tattle before the press with the aim of scuttling agendas of their colleagues who represent rival coteries. The outcome of this shadowboxing and scandal-planting is a war theater with its own "friendly fire" wars among the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.
Blaming Obama for sitting inactively on a badly divided house or for lacking warrior spine are superficial reactions to the policy mess that prevails. The deeper problem facing the US in Afghanistan is that long military occupations intrinsically open up cracks of doubt, inconsistency and contradiction inside the invading power's political system.
Empire's effects inevitably boomerang onto the home turf. The resultant second thoughts and policy confusion not only demoralize occupying armies but also destroy the potential of occupied societies to construct accountable institutions of their own.
As Afghanistan struggles to emerge with a viable state structure that meets people's expectations, routinely castigating Karzai and greedy politicians is reductionist and at best a partial explanation. The sins of occupation must be counted......
Underlying all this is a strong view that the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force cannot impose an endgame. The Taliban are not going to submit to U.S. blandishments for negotiation as a result of any fear of what will happen to them if they don’t. That’s because they are winning and possess the arms, wiles, knowledge of terrain and people and insurgency skills to keep on winning, irrespective of what "wannabe President...Petraeus" does to thwart them.... Besides, the tribes of Afghanistan have demonstrated through the centuries that they have the patience to outlast any invaders....