воскресенье, 15 февраля 2009 г.

Nato is deeper in its Afghan mire than Russia ever was

Jonathan Steele

Saturday 14 February 2009

Two decades after the Soviet withdrawal, ever more resources are being poured into a war with scant chance of success

Twenty years ago tomorrow the last Soviet units left Afghanistan after a nine-year intervention that took 15,000 soldiers' lives. As they crossed the river Oxus I was in the air above them, the only foreign journalist to fly to Kabul that day.

Russian friends in Moscow, where I was this newspaper's correspondent, doubted my sanity, convinced a bloodbath was bound to follow the Soviet exodus. I disagreed. The secular regime under Mohammed Najibullah that the Kremlin left behind had a firmer base than many outsiders realised, thanks in part to support from Kabulis who feared chaos and blood-letting if the mujahideen won the civil war.

Two decades later the ironies of America's war in Afghanistan are telling. When Richard Holbrooke, the new US envoy to the region, visited the country this week he may not have been aware of the Soviet anniversary. But the US-led intervention is already almost as long. At this stage of their war the Russians were preparing to leave. Now the US and Nato want to get further in, and if Barack Obama's plans for 30,000 extra US troops are met, along with efforts to get more from Nato, coalition forces will almost equal the 115,000 troops the Russians had at their peak.

Western casualties are considerably less, but Nato has been no more successful. Like the Russians, the western alliance mainly occupies Kabul and provincial capitals. The countryside is vulnerable to attack or in the hands of the resistance - a mixture of Islamic fundamentalists, Pashtun nationalists, local tribal chiefs and mullahs, and Arab jihadis - just like the mujahideen who confronted the Russians. The difference is that the west and Pakistan supported and armed them in the 1980s. Now, using the profits of heroin-running, they are self-sustaining and harder to control.

Nato faces tougher challenges than the Russians. Twenty years ago the Taliban did not exist, suicide bombing was not in vogue, and the Afghan army and police were more effective. Kabul under Soviet rule was an oasis of calm, where girls went to school and unveiled young women attended university. The mujahideen fired occasional rockets into the city but caused too little damage to upset normal life. Note the contrast with today's siren-screaming armoured convoys and western offices hidden behind high walls and sandbags, and still the Taliban were able to attack three government buildings a few days ago.

The Soviet invasion violated international law and was condemned by the UN. But its goals were more modest than the US's in 2001. Moscow was not seeking regime change. It was trying to prop up a regime under threat from a mounting civil war. Although western hawks claimed the Kremlin planned to advance through Afghanistan to seize warm water ports in the Gulf, the true aim was limited. Moscow wanted to defend an allied government, contain the mujahideen (who were getting CIA support before Soviet troops invaded), and prevent Afghanistan becoming a pro-western bastion. This was shortly after the US was expelled from Iran and the Kremlin feared Washington wanted Afghanistan as its replacement.

Getting out was easier for Moscow than it will be for the US. International negotiations in Geneva gave the Kremlin the face-saver of "parallelism". The peace terms were that the Russians would leave when aid to the mujahideen ceased and an intra-Afghan dialogue was launched. This disguised any appearance of defeat. It even provided a good chance for the Afghan government to continue after Soviet troops withdrew. In fact, it lasted three more years.

The causes and consequences of the Soviet withdrawal and Najibullah's eventual fall have led to some of the phoniest myths of the cold war. Claims that US-provided Stinger missiles forced the Russians to give up and that this humiliation provoked the Soviet Union's collapse are nonsense. Moscow's ally Najibullah fell four months after the USSR died, when the Kremlin's new ruler, Boris Yeltsin, cut fuel supplies to the Afghan army and Abdul Rashid Dostum, the leading Uzbek commander, defected to the mujahideen. Until that moment, they had not captured and held a single city.

Another myth is that the west "walked away" after the Russians left. If only it had. Instead Washington and Pakistan broke the Geneva agreement by maintaining arms supplies to the mujahideen. They encouraged them to reject Najibullah's repeated efforts at national reconciliation. The mujahideen wanted all-out victory, which they eventually got, only to squander it in an orgy of artillery shelling that left Kabul in ruins and produced the anger that paved the way for the Taliban. If western governments are now paying a high price in Afghanistan, they have brought the disaster on themselves.

The Taliban will not drive Nato out militarily. The notion that Afghans always defeat foreigners is wrong. The real lesson of the Soviet war is that in Afghanistan political and cultural disunity can slide into massive and prolonged violence. Foreigners intervene at their peril.

Nato is in a cleft stick and the idea that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is the "right war" is a self-deluding trap. A military "surge", the favoured Obama policy, may produce short-term local advances but no sustainable improvement, and as yesterday's Guardian reported, it will cost the US and Britain enormous sums. Pouring in aid will take too long to win hearts and minds, and if normal practice is followed, the money will mainly go to foreign consultants and corrupt officials. Talking to the Taliban makes sense under Najibullah-style national reconciliation. But the Taliban themselves are disunited, with a host of local leaders and generational divisions between "new" and "old" Taliban. Worse still, since the war spilt into Pakistan's frontier regions, there are now Pakistani Taliban.

What of the better option, a phased Nato withdrawal? It will not produce benefits as clear or immediate as the US pull-out from Iraq. Most Iraqis never wanted the US in the first place. They know the destruction the invasion brought, have stepped back from sectarian war, and now have a government which has pressed Washington to set a timetable to leave. In Afghanistan the risks of a collapse of central rule and a long civil war are far greater.


• This article was amended on Saturday February 14 2009. 'Western casualties are considerably less, but Nato has been more successful' should have said 'Western casualties are considerably less, but Nato has been no more successful'. This has been changed.


7 комментариев:

Chernevog комментирует...

What experience and history teach is this -- that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.

George Wilhelm Hegel

Chernevog комментирует...

The events in Afghanistan were part of a plan that initially developed in Britain, in order to foment a rebellion in the Central Asian states of the Soviet Union. This goes back to the 1950's. MI-5 was trying to foment a fundamentalist rebellion in the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union, trying to find some charismatic, fundamentalist Muslim leader to start it. Agents infiltrated the Muslim Brotherhood, as an effort to turn this group from being a relatively peaceful Muslim social support group, to one that would use violent means to cause rebellion in what was part of the Soviet Union. It was sort of a reverse of what the early government of the Soviet Union did in Central Asia when they used elememts of muslim belief as a form of propaganda in the same Republicans, to convince them that they should rise agaist the western powers in a jihad.

Russia and the west have been involved in a struggle over Afghanistan and Iran ever since the "Great Game" period of the mid 18th Century. British command of sea also meant controlling nations that came down to the sea, or bordered those that did.

The U.S. for some reason unfathomable to me had to pick up the Pax Britannica, and there have always been two distinct groups here. Isolationist and globalists.

This is not unrelated to the events in the region today. Even in Iraq, it was the British who severed off Kuwait from what was then Mesopotamia in 1899,so they would have a port that had access to oil for their navy, and this led Iraq to attempt to reverse the situation in the early 1990's.

Afghanistan made a great leap from the 13th to the 15th Century when the relatively moderate socialist government took over, under Hafizullah Amin. The nation made large steps towards westernization during this period, but the cold war obession with anti-communism.

Still, monarchy seems to have best suited Afghanistan, as its longest period of stability was under Zahir Shah, between 1933 and 1973.

fucoid комментирует...

thanks for the perspective, lastochka

Chernevog комментирует...

It an interesting analysis, but it doesnt deal with earlier Ruissian and Soviet involvement in Afghanistan that precedes the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Even back into the tsarist period when Russia seized Afghan territory south of the Oxus, near Panjdeh in the 1880's.

Then the early Soviet government gave a million gold rubles, arms, ammunition and a few aircraft in around 1919 during the third Anglo-Afghan War. Again in 1924,the Soviets gave more military aid, small arms and aircraft to Afghanistan, and Afghan officers started getting their military training in the U.S.S.R.

In 1956, the Soviet Union and Afghanistan started regular military cooperation and after this all Afghan officers were trained in the U.S.S.R. with billions of dollars in economic aid being sent to Afghanistan between 1955 and 1978.

The problems that Russia had starting in the late 1970's really started much earlier in the 20th Century.

The Afghani people have been extremely conservative religious Muslims for over a thousand years.

Between 1975 and 1978, as the PDPA government started imposing Soviet style reforms on a very traditional and conservative people, and as factions within the PDPA government began dividing on factional grounds, pro Islamist groups started rebellions simulaneously in different areas of the country. The Jamaiat Islami Party attempted to overthrow the government starting north of Kabul.

Soon open rebellion in opposition to what were seen as un-Islamic reforms spread throughout the country.

There are historians who beleive that the Afghani rebellion against the pro-Soviet government was what inspired the Iranians to rebel against the Shah and extablish an Islamic state of their own.

The Afghani's have rejected most non Islamic rule for centuries.

In any case it is more than obvious that Muslim nations do not take kindly to being in situations where they are in some way expected to live by under non Islamic rule, regardless of how benign or modernizing that rule might seem to the nations that are attempting to do the "modernizing"

Whether it was Russian or American modernizing, the Afghani people who lived outside of the few cities in that country fanatically oppose any external influences.

While Kabul may have been an "Oasis of calm" while there was a Soviet presence, there was open rebellion against the Soviet style government well for years before a single Soviet boot set foot in Afghanistan. Much of the nation was in violent rebellion against the government well before the Soviets arrived, and the arrival of the Soviets didnt do much to change that.

While there was a good deal of hostility to the ideas of the west, the radical Islam that was fomenting in the middle east starting in the 1950's was just as hostile to political ideas like communism and socialism. Western nations like the U.S. and Great Britain attempted to take advantage of the Muslim antipathy to communism and socialism during the cold war. They did this with the mujahaddin.

The Afghanis always drive foreigners out, they simply have a very different sense of time than Europeans do, and essentially they view Russians and Americans as Europeans, at least culturally.

They think more in terms of decades or even centuries, as did the Vietnamese with the French and Americans.

To the Afghani who did not live in the cities, the Russian occupation was much longer than the brief period in the late 20th Century.

The conservative Muslims who lived outside of the cities saw the period from 1920 to 1989 as a single long period when the Russian and Russian allies within their own country attempted to assert non Islamic governance over them, when the British tried to invade them from the subcontinent of India, and now another outsider, the United States, attempts to assert control over them again.

Chernevog комментирует...

To put it simply, historically no imperial based occupations have beaten nationalist insurgencies, and neither have overcome religious based insurgencies. Eventually both overcome external efforts at occupation. Sometimes the time period involved run into decades, rather than years, or even centuries. The Vietnamese saw occupation by other southeast asian nations, by China, by the French and finally by the U.S.

The Afghanis have seen attempts by Tsarist Russia, The British, the Soviets, the British again, and now the U.S. All destined to fail.

Governments then procede to rewrite the history that they failed to make.

fucoid комментирует...

"To put it simply, historically no imperial based occupations have beaten nationalist insurgencies"

it is just that the mode of imperialism has changed. the same victorian colonial powers still rule today albeit through different means.

there is no revolutionary, religious, nationalist class that is suddenly going to win anything, sorry. a nation must align with neoliberalism to 'win' anything and then they are subject to the imf/world bank etc., which is your new proxy occupier.

your idea of winning and losing is 19th century.

Chernevog комментирует...

Not at all 19t century, because the motivations remain the same. Access to the most critical national resources necessary for expansion, and access to the routes by which those resources are moved from one place to markets. Since the middle to end of the 19th Century the one goal was to control the Caspian and Caucasus regions as a counterbalance to control of the Persian Gulf, by hooking up a new energy source to the rest of the world.

At the end of the 19th Century, the invention of oil powered engines for navies put the British navy into a pickle, because when ships were coal powered, Britain had more than enough high quality goal to serve its navy, which made its empire.

While the Caspian region has huge supplies of oil and natural gas, it is also landlocked. Exploiting these energy sources requires not just control of the places it exists, but controlling the land that the pipelines must run over.

If the pipelines go north through Russia, Russia establishes control over the entire Caspian region and both Russia and Europe will have control over an energy source not controlled by the U.S.

If it goes west, from Baku in Azerbaijan and through Turkey, then the U.S. controls is. Thus the recent Russian overtures to Turkey.

If it goes SOUTH through Iran, than U.S. containment of Iran is finished and then the entire Caucasus region becomes a continental extension of Iran.

And if the pipeline goes through Afghanistan to Pakistan, Russia loses control of the Central Asian Republics and the U.S. gains control over those who use it, Primarily its allies in Pakistan and India. This was part of the reason for both Soviet desire to control Afghanistan and the current U.S. attempt.

The old "Great Game" over landed empires has simply become a new "Great Game" over petroleum resources.

Same circus, different clowns

It is still resources and markets.

The British did not desire to have an empire, just to have one. It was always based on economic interests, as it is today, except back then, due to the technologies of communication and tranportation, it wa necessary to have extensions of ones own government in place in the areas being controlled. Now it is more efficient to do so by proxy.

Russia and the United States are still engaged in the same jockeying for control of resources that Britain, the other European powers, and Russia were involved in more than a century and a half ago.