Afghanistan: Karzai builds warlord alliance

By Hamish Chitts

On August 20, Afghanistan will conduct its second presidential election under the US-led occupation. Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai is the clear frontrunner in the election, despite a December Gallup poll having found that only 10% of Afghans supported Karzai’s government. Karzai was handpicked by the US to head the Afghan government during the US-led invasion in late 2001.

During the 1980s US-backed war by Afghan Islamists against the Soviet-backed secular leftist People’s Democratic Party government, Karzai was the CIA’s contact in Afghanistan. When the Pakistani-created Taliban emerged in the mid 1990s, Karzai was an initial supporter but then broke with them, refusing to serve as their UN ambassador after they took control of Kabul in 1996. However, in August 1998 he told the Washington Post that “there were many wonderful people in the Taliban”.

The Taliban was driven out of Kabul and other Afghan cities in late 2001 after — as the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the support of local warlords who had previously backed the Taliban regime.

While the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was underway, 16 representatives of Afghan militia factions opposed to the Taliban met in December 2001 in Bonn, Germany, under the auspices of the UN to set up a new Afghan government. According to the US Public Broadcasting Service’s September 2002 Frontline program “Campaign Against Terror”, “In a surprise move, the US arranged for Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun leader whom the US was promoting as a viable candidate for leading the interim administration, to address the opening session of the conference via satellite phone from inside Afghanistan.” By the end of the Bonn conference, on December 5, Karzai had been selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

In an effort to appear independent of his US masters, Karzai has become increasingly outspoken in criticising the slaughter of Afghan civilians by the occupation forces. After a May 4 US air strike in the western province of Farah that killed at least 140 civilians, Karzai told the crowd of mourners: “I have been talking to the foreigners about preventing civilian casualties on a daily basis for the past five years. I tell them ‘terrorism does not live in the houses and villages of Afghanistan … those who wear turbans and Afghan clothing are not necessarily Taliban. Stop bombing them’.”

Karzai’s ‘narcostate’

US President Barack Obama’s administration has responded to Karzai’s criticisms by publicly labelling his government corrupt. In January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Senate: “Afghanistan has turned into a narcostate ... The Afghan government is plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption.” This fact has long been known. The January 9, 2006 Newsweek, for example, reported that Ahmad Wali Karzai, President Karzai’s half-brother, was “alleged to be a major figure” in the opium trade “by nearly every source who described the Afghan network to Newsweek”. Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan has emerged as the source of 90% of the world’s heroin supply. Under the US-backed Karzai regime, opium exports account for 52% of Afghanistan’s GDP

The June 24 New York Times reported that “Karzai has deftly outmaneuvered a once formidable array of opponents, either securing their backing or relegating them to the status of long shots” in the upcoming presidential election. “With the Taliban now stronger than ever — early this month, attacks reached their highest level since 2001 — a Karzai victory could threaten the American-led push to turn the war around...

“Yet there is a widespread perception among Afghans that Karzai is the American favorite. Some American officials express resignation that they may be stuck with him for five more years. Indeed, the Obama administration appears to have begun preparing for that prospect. American officials, for instance, have done nothing to oppose the discussions between Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador here, about Khalilzad’s becoming a senior official in a new Karzai administration.”

Karzai has been increasing his chances for re-election by creating an alliance of warlords. On June 1, the Bloomberg news website reported that “While large parts of the east and south [of Afghanistan] are out of Karzai’s control because of a renewed Taliban insurgency, his political authority over the rest of the country is intact. He’s bought off once-powerful warlords with government positions, and appointed loyalists as governors in each of the 34 provinces.”

The May 10 London Sunday Times reported that “One of Afghanistan’s most wanted terrorists is to be offered a power-sharing deal by the government of President Hamid Karzai as the country’s warlords extend their grip on power. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is on America’s ‘most wanted’ terrorist list, is to hold talks with the Kabul government within the next few weeks. Hekmatyar is the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which has been fighting Nato troops alongside the Taliban … [His group] is expected to be offered several ministries and provincial governorships in return for laying down its arms and agreeing not to disrupt the presidential elections due in August…

“A representative of Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s regional envoy, has met Daoud Abedi, an Afghan-American businessman close to Hekmatyar, and the US administration will fund an Afghan government department to conduct negotiations with Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban. It will be headed by Arif Noorzai, the former tribal affairs minister, and will receive $69m (£45m) of largely US money to offer sweeteners to win over the Taliban.” The Obama administration’s effort to bribe the Taliban is a clear admission that Washington is losing the war.

Growing GI resistance

Growing numbers of US soldiers are seeing through the lies that they are defending democracy in Afghanistan. Organised through Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), soldiers are joining the growing resistance to participating in Washington’s Afghan war. One example is IVAW member and GI Victor Agosto, who has refused to fight in Afghanistan and may face court martial for doing so.

Agosto, who returned from a 13-month deployment to Iraq in November 2007, is based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. On May 19, Agosto was ordered to get his medical records in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan. He refused to do so. “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect”, he told the Inter Press Service on May 21. Agosto had already been questioning his service in Iraq and saw parallels with Afghanistan. “Both occupations fuel the insurgencies in those countries. We are creating ‘terrorists’ and we are killing so many innocent people.” He argues that the wars are both “power plays” whose real intent is to “establish more control and spread US hegemony.”

US Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80% increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press. More than 300 US soldiers fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the Canadian government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding. Others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. Many US soldiers stationed in Europe who refused service in, or in support of, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan have been tried in US military courts in Europe and imprisoned in the US military’s prison at Mannheim. The most well known are Blake Lemoine in 2005 and Agustín Aguayo in 2006-2007.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast — veterans and service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit www.stand-fast.webs.com or phone 0401 586 923.]