Puppets Turning Against Puppet Masters

November 18, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in International Relations, Political Economy, World Politics | Leave a comment
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If the failure of President Obama to wrest any meaningful concessions from the major economies at the G-20 summit in Seoul underlined the incoherence of US economic policy–with many economists admitting that a weaker US dollar would not increase employment–Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s sharp criticism of US military policies underline the incoherence of its occupation of Afghanistan.

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As the almost decade-long occupation has failed to pacify the insurgency which is, in fact gathering such steam that NATO forces are transporting Taliban leaders to Kabul to meet with the Karzai regime to negotiate a cease-fire, the US commander in Afghanistan escalated night-time raids to about 200 a month–more than 6 times the level 18 months ago. Whereas US Special Operations forces were carrying out an average of 5 raids a night as recently as last July, in the three months before November 11, they were conducting an average of 17 raids a night leading to the death or capture of 368 ‘insurgent leaders’ and the death of 968 ‘other insurgents’ and the capture of an additional 2,477 according to NATO sources. ”Many Afghans see the raids as a flagrant, even humiliating symbol of American power,” some New York Times correspondents reported, “especially when women and children are rousted in the middle of the night.”

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Finally, last Saturday, in an interview with the Washington Post, President Karzai sharply criticized the massive increase in night-time raids and said that US and NATO failure to respect the sanctity of Afghan homes was fuelling the insurgency. Karzai turning against his US patrons is ironic since he was parachuted into the Afghan presidency precisely because he was seen as a complaint figure. And indeed, in his first appearance as the Afghan Interim President before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we sat like a minor provincial satrap while the Senators sat on an elevated platform and quizzed him as one would an errant schoolboy

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But as the occupation continues, for his own survival he recognizes that he has to assert some autonomy from the incoherent military policies of the Occupation forces. Though he holds office only at the pleasure of the United States–his recent “electoral” win was questionable and in any case the Afghan armed forces are no match for the insurgents–he knows that the US cannot forsake him as they have no other ‘leader’ in the wings to take over. Thus, last April when he was pressured by the US to reform his administration, he even brazenly threatened to “join” the Taliban!

What is perhaps more surprising, given Karzai’s earlier protests against US policies, is that General Petreus could only respond by registering his “astonishment and disappointment” at Karzai’s pointed criticism. What is astonishing about noting that the killing of civilians, the rousing of women and children in the dead of the night, the violation of the sanctity of private homes is a humiliating reminder of the powerlessness of the Afghans, and that continued humiliations fuels the insurgency?

Appearing before the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles who served two terms as ambassador to Afghanistan, said that army commanders who told their superiors that the military strategy was not working were told to make their reports more optimistic and that the Afghan government was much less popular in the country’s south than the Taliban who were seen as ”a fairer, more predictable alternative than a corrupt and predatory government.”

Afghanistan is not merely a military quagmire from which a face-saving exit is now almost impossible, but it is also turning to be a bottomless money pit. One recent audit found that between 2007 and 2009, the Pentagon, the US Agency for International Development, and the US State department gave $18 billion to some 7000 contractors and that they cannot account for much of this money or to whom it was given! Other reports show that police stations, hospitals, schools and other buildings that were to have been constructed were so badly built that they are unusable. Louis Berger, a New Jersey construction firm, was assessed a fine of $69.3 million in fines for overbilling the government for things like a music system in its Washington DC offices for money that were to have been for reconstruction in Afghanistan!

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