Page 1 of 2 REBRANDING THE LONG WAR, Part
1 Obama does his Bush impression
By Pepe Escobar
The "lasting commitment" Washington war-time summit/photo-op between United
States President Barack Obama and the AfPak twins, "Af" President Hamid Karzai
and "Pak" President Asif Ali Zardari was far from being an urgent meeting to
discuss ways to prevent the end of civilization as we know it. It has been all
about the meticulous rebranding of the Pentagon's "Long War".
In Obama's own words, the "lasting commitment" is above all to "defeat
al-Qaeda". As an afterthought, the president added, "But also to support the
democratically elected, sovereign governments of both Pakistan and
Afghanistan." To have George W Bush's man in Kabul and former premier Benazir
Bhutto's widow defined
as "sovereign", one would be excused for believing Bush is still in the White
In yet another deployment of his impeccable democratic credentials, Karzai has
just picked as one of his vice presidential running mates none other than
former Jamiat-e-Islami top commander and former first vice president Mohammad
Fahim, a suspected drug warlord and armed militia-friendly veteran whom Human
Rights Watch deplores as a systematic human-rights abuser. Faheem is Tajik;
Karzai is Pashtun (from a minor tribe). Karzai badly needs the Tajiks to win a
second presidential term in August.
Possibly moved by the obligatory "deep regret" expressed by Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, Karzai refrained from throwing a tantrum in Washington
concerning the latest "precise" US air strike in ultra-remote Farah province in
western Afghanistan which, according to local sources, may have incinerated
over 100 Afghans, 70% of them women and children. Context is key: it was the
inept, corrupt, dysfunctional Karzai administration - monopolized by warlords
and bandits - which made so much easier the return of the Taliban in full
Obama's opium war
By now it's clear that the upcoming, Pentagon-enabled, summer surge in the "Af"
section of Obama's war in AfPak will be deployed essentially as Obama's new
opium war. In a spicy historic reversal, the British Empire (which practically
annexed Afghanistan) wanted the Chinese to be hooked on its opium, while now
the American empire wants Afghans to stop cultivating it.
The strategy boils down to devastating the Pashtun-cultivated poppy fields in
southern Helmand province - the opium capital of the world. In practice, this
will be yet another indiscriminate war against Pashtun peasants, who have been
cultivating poppies for centuries. Needless to say, thousands will migrate to
the anti-occupation rainbow coalition/motley crew branded as "Taliban".
Destroying the only source of income for scores of poor Afghans means, in
Pentagon spin, "to cut off the Taliban's main source of money", which also
happens to be the "main source of money" for a collection of wily, US-friendly
warlords who will not resign themselves to being left blowing in the wind.
The strategy is also oblivious to the fact that the Taliban themselves receive
scores of funding from pious Gulf petro-monarchy millionaires as well as from
sections in Saudi Arabia - the same Saudi Arabia that Pentagon supremo Robert
Gates is now actively courting to ... abandon the Taliban. Since the Obama
inauguration in January, Washington's heavy pressure over Islamabad has been
relentless: forget about your enemy India, we want you to fight "our" war
against the Taliban and "al-Qaeda".
Thus, expect any Pashtun opium farmer or peasant who brandishes his ax, dagger,
matchlock or rusty Lee-Enfield rifle at the ultra-high tech incoming US troops
to be branded a "terrorist". Welcome to yet one more chapter of the indeed long
Pentagon war against the world's poorest.
You're finished because I said so
As for the "Pak" component of AfPak, it is pure counter-insurgency (COIN). As
such, His Master's Voice has got to be Central Command commander and surging
General David "I'm always positioning myself for 2012" Petraeus.
Enter the Pentagon's relentless PR campaign. Last week, Gates warned the US
Senate Appropriations Committee that without the approval of a US$400
million-worth Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capability Fund (itself part of a
humongous, extra $83.5 billion Obama wants to continue prosecuting his wars),
and under the "unique authority" of Petraeus, the Pakistani government itself
could collapse. The State Department was in tune: Clinton said Pakistan might
collapse within six months.
Anyone is excused for believing this tactic - just gimme the money and shut up
- is still Bush "war on terror" territory; that's because it is (the same
extraordinary powers, with the State Department duly bypassed, just as with the
Bush administration). The final song, of course, remains the same: the Pentagon
running the show, very tight with the Pakistani army.
For US domestic consumption purposes, Pentagon tactics are a mix of obfuscation
and paranoia. For instance, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, about
Pakistan, "This is not a war zone for the US military." But then Admiral Mike
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - who's been to Pakistan twice in
the past three weeks - says the Taliban in AfPak overall "threaten our national
interests in the region and our safety here at home".
He was echoing both Clinton and Gates, who had said that the Taliban are an
"existential threat" to Pakistan. Finally, Petraeus closes the scare tactics
circle - stressing in a letter to the House Armed Services Committee that if
the Pakistani Army does not prevail over the Taliban in two weeks, the
Pakistani government may collapse.
That unveils the core of Pentagon's and David "COIN" Petraeus' thinking: they
know that for long-term US designs what's best is yet another military
dictatorship. Zardari's government is - rightfully - considered a sham (as
Washington starts courting another dubious quantity, former premier Nawaz
Sharif). Petraeus' "superior" man (his own word) couldn't be anyone but Army
Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kiani.
And that's exactly how Obama put it in his 100-day press conference last week,
stressing the "strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation" and
reducing Zardari to smithereens ("very fragile" government, lacking "the
capacity to deliver basic services" and without "the support and the loyalty of
their people"). Judging by his body language, Obama must have repeated the same
litany to Zardari yesterday, live in Washington.
The money quote still is Obama's appraisal of Pakistan: "We want to respect
their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests,
huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and
that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state."
Pakistani "sovereignty" is a joke; Pakistan is now openly being run from
Washington. "We want to respect their sovereignty" does not mean "we" actually
will. Obama and the Pentagon - which for all practical purposes treat Pakistan
as a pitiful colony - would only be (relatively) comfortable with a new
Pakistani military dictatorship. The fact that Pakistani public opinion
overwhelmingly abhors the Taliban as much as it abhors yet another military
dictatorship (see the recent, massive street demonstrations in favor of the
Supreme Court justices) is dismissed as irrelevant.
The Swat class struggle
In this complex neo-colonial scenario Pakistan's "Talibanization" - the current
craze in Washington - looks and feels more like a diversionary scare tactic.
(Please see The
Myth of Talibanistan, Asia Times Online, May 1, 2009. ) On the same
topic, a report on the Pakistani daily Dawn about the specter of Talibanization
of Karachi shows it has more to do with ethnic turbulence between Pashtuns and
the Urdu-speaking, Indian-origin majority than about Karachi Pashtuns embracing
the Taliban way.
The original Obama administration AfPak strategy, as everyone remembers, was
essentially a drone war in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) coupled
with a surge in Afghanistan. But the best and the brightest in Washington did
not factor in an opportunist Taliban counter-surge.
The wily Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the
Enforcement of Islamic Law), led by Sufi Muhammad, managed to regiment Swat
valley landless peasants to fight for their rights and "economic
redistribution" against the usual wealthy, greedy, feudal landlords who
happened to double as local politicians and government officials.
It's as if the very parochial Taliban had been paying attention to what goes on
across South America ... Essentially, it was the appropriation of good old
class struggle that led to the Taliban getting the upper hand. Islamabad was
finally forced to agree on establishing Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic jurisprudence) in
the Swat valley.