Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pakistan Military Rescues Mingora-- By Destroying It


Not Mormons, Mingorans-- but they have lots of wives too

According to a BBC correspondent on the ground, "all the buildings and shops in the town square had been completely destroyed." Mingora, population around a quarter million, is the formerly charming capital of the Swat region. Yesterday the Pakistan military drove the last of the Taliban rebels out of the city. They're now fighting in the surrounding hills. Two million people in the region have been displaced by the fighting and there is a refugee crisis in Pakistan now. Fighting has also broken out in South Waziristan ("the fountainhead of extremism"), another Pashtun-dominated region east of Afghanistan and sympathetic to the Taliban-- and, apparently, not shying away from a wider war.
So far, there are just skirmishes in Waziristan but the key U.S. ally plans a full-scale military offensive there this summer, according to Pakistani and Western officials, a fight that is certain to be deadlier than the current operation in Swat valley and with profound international repercussions.

Western leaders have repeatedly said that international terrorist plots are being hatched in Waziristan, while the area provides a sanctuary for Afghan insurgents and al Qaida leaders, possibly including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri.

South Waziristan, a part of the wild tribal territory that lies along the Afghan border, houses Pakistan's public enemy number one, warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who has thousands of armed followers around him. The insurgency across the country is fueled by fighters and suicide bombers sent by Mehsud. North Waziristan is also under the control of a Taliban warlord.

Every report I read from Pakistan features unsubstantiated death counts-- 15 miscreants here, 6 terrorists there. It sounds a lot like a Vietnam War era mindset. General Petraeus, who paid a secret visit to Islamabad on Tuesday is talking up the ability of the Pakistanis to successfully contain the rebellion. While terming it "a tough fight, he says the country is fighting for it's existence and making progress.
"They (Pakistani army) are doing it because of the threat that the Taliban poses to them and to their country, not because of American interests. The people have come to recognise the Taliban for their repressive practices," Petraeus said.

The Pakistani army is fighting the militants "because the Taliban has come to represent a threat to the very existence of their state."

In fact, Gen Petraeus said: "They very much want to be seen as not fighting our war. They'll take certain assistance, but by no means anything that directly affects the combat operations. There is a fierce pride in their own ability. And a good bit of that is justified."

Gen Petraeus said the Pakistani army currently seems to be determined on their own to carry out this fight against the Taliban. "And we see every reason to expect that they are going to continue to do that," he said.

"We've provided some other logistical supplies and other assistance. We've provided economic assistance," he said.

Yes, $12 billion-- $9 billion of it in military aid-- since 2002. And where is it? Mostly in the pockets overseas bank accounts of corrupt politicians and in a costly and tragic nuclear weapons program that is one of the world's most serious existential problems. More Cheney-Bush ineptitude and catastrophic "leadership." I would be nice to see Obama taking U.S. policy in this part of the world in a different direction.

I was in shock this morning when I started reading what I thought was a book review by former U.S. Ambassador (to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon-- all the cushy posts) Ryan Crocker. I was so astounded that he could be writing what I was reading that I went to recheck. And sure enough, it was Ryan Croken.
History doesn't repeat itself; we repeat it, and we are only doomed to do so if we don't apprise ourselves of it. For this reason, I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald's new book, Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story. Thirty years in the making, this deeply researched book is bursting with overlooked facts and unauthorized insights. Through their erudition, prescience and passion, Gould and Fitzgerald have provided us with an urgent and necessary history, one that pierces through the haze of misinformation that has, for far too long, obscured the guiding light of an authentic past.

The timeliness of this book cannot be overstated. As the US government, still without a clearly articulated strategy, calls for a heavily militarized escalation of forces into a conflict that cannot be resolved through military means, we would be well advised to arm ourselves with the wisdom of the historical record. As it now stands, President Obama is being led into the graveyard of empires by the same misguided philosophers of war that helped spawn this disaster in the first place. It's time for new, empowered, alternative voices to rise up from an informed American public and enter the fray.

...After the Soviet collapse, a "victorious" United States abandoned the country it had just helped turn into a haven for violent extremism. America's sole objective had been achieved, and it foolishly believed that it had no real strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the mujahedin forces - steroidal with US-supplied military technologies - fought against the Afghan government, and then against one another, until the Taliban finally rolled into Kabul and took power. The Taliban, brainwashed in Pakistani madrassas indirectly constructed with US tax dollars, had more in common with the virulent pan-Islamism of al-Qaeda than with Afghanistan's traditionally moderate society. They brought a brutal, medieval agenda to Afghanistan, and provided sanctuary to a non-native terrorism that would eventually find its way back to American shores.

In this manner, the development and rise of the Taliban was a direct consequence of America's intentional destabilization and radicalization of Afghanistan. Yet, despite the shock-value and enormous pertinence of this story, it remains in the margins of our national narrative, even after the events of 9/11. This gaping hole in our national consciousness, aside from being unfaithful to the past, has set us on a course for disaster in the future. As Sima Wali, Afghan refugee and author of the book's introduction, writes, "the void of accurate historical information on the origin of [the Taliban] has resulted in a succession of dangerous, counterproductive policy initiatives from Washington. The consequences of these initiatives have negated any chance for a successful restoration of an Afghan republic, opened Afghanistan to cross-border raids from Pakistan while at the same time providing a platform for the resurgence of Taliban."

And... the book comes complete with the kinds of recommendations to President Obama that I wouldn't expect to hear from Ryan Crocker-- but were not unlike what I was hearing this past week from Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who had just come back from a trip to Afghanistan.
1.) Stop bombing innocent civilians. It's unconscionable, and it makes terrorists out of the people whose support we need. 

2.) Stop destroying the poppy harvest. This also alienates Afghan civilians, as many of their lives depend on the sale of poppies. Create financial incentives for farmers to grow other crops, and consider purchasing the rest of the poppies for the legal manufacture of pain relief medications, of which there is currently a worldwide shortage.

3.) Get serious about reconstruction efforts and the effective deployment of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Gould and Fitzgerald interviewed an aid worker in Afghanistan who said that the US would have been more successful if we had just flown over the countryside and dumped money out of the window. Afghanistan needs schools and streets to function. Apportion more money for these purposes and less for weapons. Fire corrupt and inept private contractors.

4.) Bring fresh voices to the table. There are some disturbingly familiar faces in President Obama's circle of advisers. The very same people who led the crusade to arm terrorists and destabilize Afghanistan 30 years ago should not be in charge of disarming terrorists and stabilizing Afghanistan today. Ditch the coterie of failed thinkers who - through their hegemonic delusions and addiction to war - have led us to this ledge.

5.) Realize that what is good for the people of Afghanistan is also good for the people of the United States. As Gould and Fitzgerald explain: "Cosmopolitan and friendly, [Afghans] are beautiful, funny, proud and smart. Think of them that way and how they can be helped to make the country safe again." All actions should emanate from an understanding of this basic principle.

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At 7:43 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

That's too bad.

In other news Dick Cheney continues to save the Republican party:)

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