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Afghanistan: it happened once before ...

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 18 May 2009


Sadly the United States and Australia appear unable to learn from history. The US is in the same position in Afghanistan that it worked so hard to lock the Soviets into 20 years ago. Then the recalcitrant, chauvinistic, Pathan tribesmen on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border were with the US, now they are not.

Like the rulers of British India before them, the governing Punjabi elite in Pakistan have long cut deals with “lawless” tribes in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province in order to assert authority.

Causing trauma and creating refugees in Swat will galvanise the local population against corrupt Punjabi administrators. The Taliban in the Swat Valley are from Swat. It is their children, wives, mothers, fathers, relatives and friends who are fleeing Swat. The attack by the Pakistan Army into Swat, known within the region to be a result of US pressure, will prove more destabilising than the activities of the Taliban. The Taliban will gain recruits.

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The Soviet army of occupation in Afghanistan during the 1980’s fostered the same phenomena; cruel and clumsy military operations fed recruits into the Mujahedin and encouraged tribal and military alliances.

Bombing villages and killing women and children in Afghanistan will create further opposition to the US and its allies.

To believe that the growth and militancy of the Taliban in Swat has nothing to do with the US presence in Afghanistan is a failure to understand the galvanising effect of this presence on activists in the region.

Sympathetic elements within the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI, are in likely contact with the Taliban in Swat, in order to try and maintain carefully nurtured networks and to minimise harm through prior warnings of attacks.

The ISI relationship with the Taliban, and the Mujahedin before it, is a complex one, rooted in the geo-politics of the region and access to gas and oil reserves. With regards to the latter the US is not a disinterested party.

Afghan friends recently returned from visiting family in rural areas claim local belief is that the US intends to stay in order to secure oil pipelines through the country to sea ports in Baluchistan on the Gulf.

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With little chance of finding Osama bin Laden or of breaking al-Qaida, what is the US doing in Afghanistan?

If US aims are to defeat the Taliban it will be in Afghanistan for a long time. The Australian media has done little to investigate and unravel the complexities of this conflict and with shameful complacency, acquiesced in the recent increase in Australian troop numbers.

With respect to another place at another time it has been written that:

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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