Afghanistan: Funding both sides

Published on Online Journal, by Eric Walberg, June 11, 2010. – Linked with Eric Walberg – Canada.

War junkies popped their champagne corks on 7 June to celebrate the 104th month of US military engagement in Afghanistan, America’s longest war in its history (Vietnam lasted 103 months) … //

… The Yanks and their quislings almost started a war between themselves when US officials forced the Afghans to submit to urinalysis to weed out the dope smokers. Most of the ancops are Tajik who don’t speak Pashtun, and, dressed up and paid by the invaders, are as much the enemy to the Marja residents as the Americans. No wonder the ancops don’t want to patrol or work at night. 

This attempt to build a Western-style police force from recruits who have no use for the invaders except as milk cows pales beside the more “successful” US strategy to support private armies and warlords. They despise the Karzai government and will no doubt spawn the country’s future brutal military dictator who will, as a local leader at arms length from the invader, finally bring the country to heel. He may well be one Matiullah Khan, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, now the head of a private army that guards NATO supply convoys and fights Taliban insurgents alongside American Special Forces. He effectively controls the local government in Oruzgan Province, and has local officials “removed” if they aren’t up to scratch. “What should we do?” he asked the New York Times haughtily. “The officials are cowards and thieves.”

Matiullahs are sprouting up “like grass,” fertilised by huge cash payments from the Americans, loose cannons undermining the local governments which NATO is supposedly trying to strengthen, spreading violence and chaos when thwarted. Matiullah now completely controls the US supply route, opening the highway from Kandahar one day a week, charging $1,200 per truck and “earning” (read: extorting) $2.5 million a month for his ragtag band of mercenaries. He even charges simple Afghans a toll for use of the public road. The Ministry of the Interior pays for 600 of his 1,500 fighters, despite the fact that the force is not under the government’s control. “Matiullah is not part of the government, he is stronger than the government, and he can do anything he wants,” said Essa, a tribal elder in Tirin Kot.

Matiullah’s operation is one of at least 23 private security companies working in the Kandahar area alone, which Karzai’s brother Ahmed, Kandahar’s official warlord, is now bringing together under his control. These mercenaries kill people who refuse to use their “security services” and one Ruhullah has even destroyed entire villages. They bribe the Taliban to allow safe passage, enlist them to do their dirty work, and, like Ahmed Karzai himself, are involved in the opium trade.

In a dispute over territory and cash, Karzai’s cousin Rashid Popal, head of another such private army/ security company, Watan Risk Management and Compass Security, was caught red-handed colluding with Taliban, allowing them to attack a convoy headed for Kabul in which a Afghan driver and a soldier were killed and their truck burned. Within two weeks, and with more than 1,000 trucks backed up, Karzai allowed his dear cousin to resume his “safeguarding.”

“We’re funding both sides of the war,” a NATO official in Kabul said. Matiullah’s US paymaster General Carter said he fears that the legions of unregulated Afghan security companies have a financial interest in prolonging chaos. Well, yes. And is the Pope Catholic?

What seems to be the real US policy in the AfPak region is something along the lines of:

quell the Taliban in AfPak with Pakistan’s help (Pakistan’s defence budge will increase 17 per cent next year, funded largely by the US), keep Afghanistan in a state of low-level war that justifies long term NATO presence and bring Pakistan and India together enough to create a sense of stability in the region under US hegemony.

Either Obama is a very smooth liar or he is being duped by his military with their new HQs and 700 bases. Maybe he’s playing a new kind of “chicken” with them, gambling that they will fail spectacularly due to the creative use of US dollars by both sides in Afghanistan (and Pakistan?), and will have to throw in the towel, letting him proceed to rebuild America without their manic delusions of world conquest. That would make him a devil’s advocate at best. Otherwise, he will join Karzai’s “cowards and thieves” in the history books. (full long text).

(Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at EricWalberg.com).

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