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    South Asia
     May 8, 2009
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 House.

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 force.

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.

Continued 1 2  


The Myth of Talibanistan
(May 1,'09)

The mother of all cockfights
(Apr 17,'09)

The secrets of Obama's surge
(Apr 2,'09)


1.
Why suicide bombers are back in Iraq

2. Muqtada comes in from the cold

3. The world melts, China grows

4. India looks on as the East integrates

5. The correct recovery paradigm

6. Hamas feels the heat from Syria

7. BOOK REVIEW: Predicting the death of Islam

8. US debt on default path

9. My friend is my enemy in Thailand

10. China-India equation still uncracked

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, May 6, 2009)

 
 



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