Gwynne Dyer: Imperfect Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause

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      “We have to recognise that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it’s not America’s responsibility to make it one,” said President Barack Obama last May.

      No, it isn’t, and Afghanistan is a strikingly imperfect society in almost every respect: politics, economy, security, and human rights. But it isn’t entirely a lost cause, either.

      President Hamid Karzai, who was given the job of running Afghanistan after the United States invaded in 2001 and subsequently won two deeply suspect elections in 2004 and 2009, finally left office on Monday (September 22), although he didn’t move very far. (His newly built private home backs onto the presidential palace.)

      On the way out, he took one last opportunity to bite the hand that fed him for so long.

      “The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners,” he said. “Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war.”

      The U.S. ambassador, James Cunningham, said that “his remarks, which were uncalled for,...dishonour the huge sacrifices Americans have made here,” but they were, of course, true.

      Karzai’s remarks, though undiplomatic, are just common sense. The United States did not invade the country to bring democracy, prosperity and feminism to the long-suffering Afghan people. It did so because some of the senior planners of the 9/11 attacks had been allowed to set up camps there by members of the Taliban regime who shared their religious ideology.

      You could argue (and I would) that luring the U.S. military into the quagmire of a long guerrilla war in Afghanistan that would drive millions of Muslims into the arms of al-Qaeda was precisely what Osama bin Laden was hoping to achieve with the 9/11 attacks. The United States simply fell into the strategic trap that he laid.

      Even so, and despite all the rapidly changing reasons for “staying the course” in Afghanistan that Washington deployed in later years, the original and abiding motive in Washington was the perception, accurate or not, that who rules Afghanistan is a matter of great importance for the national security of the United States.

      Over 1,400 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan (together with 400 British soldiers, 150 Canadians, and sundry others), and they all basically died for a particular U.S. official vision of how American security might be best be assured.

      How else could the 13-year U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan possibly be justified to the American people?

      As to whether the long occupation was also in Afghanistan’s interest, that depends very much on the stability and success of the two-headed potential monster of a government that is now being created in Kabul.

      Karzai has handed over the reins of power to two very different men, after five months of bitter disagreement over which one of them had really won last April’s presidential election. It was not as blatantly rigged as either of the two elections that maintained Karzai in the presidency, but it was still pretty dodgy.

      In the first round of voting, when there were 11 candidates, the leader was Abdullah Abdullah, with 45 percent of the vote, and the runner-up was Ashraf Ghani, with only 31 percent. In the second round, Abdullah Abdullah’s vote actually dropped two points to 43 percent, while Ashraf Ghani’s almost doubled to 56 percent. The age of miracles truly is not past.

      Even more suspiciously, the number of people voting in some of the districts that supported Ashraf Ghani tripled between the first and second rounds of voting. So Abdullah Abdullah cried foul, and the inauguration of a new president was endlessly postponed while the ballots cast were “audited” by an electoral commission that had been chosen by Hamid Karzai.

      Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.

      There was never going to be a clear answer to the question of who really won the election, and so after months of drift and delay a deal was struck. Ashraf Ghani, a former senior official at the World Bank, will be president. Abdullah Abdullah, a former resistance fighter during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and later foreign minister under Karzai, will nominate a “chief executive officer” who will act more or less as prime minister.

      It is, in other words, a traditional Afghan carve-up, with a proportional slice of power for every one of the country’s ethnic groups. Ghani will ensure that Pashtuns get the biggest share of the good jobs, and look after the Uzbeks as well. Abdullah will take care of the Tajiks and Hazaras. But compared to your average Afghan warlord or Taliban fanatic, both men look pretty good.

      Indeed, Afghanistan’s government and nascent democratic system might actually survive and prove to be fit for purpose. After three decades of Russian and American occupation, a significant minority of Afghans (certainly several millions) have been exposed to many examples of how post-tribal societies run their affairs.

      Afghanistan is still a tribal society, so this carve-up of power on an ethnic basis may be a better option for the country than winner-takes-all politics.

      And if the United States and its allies do not abruptly cut off the foreign aid that keeps the whole show on the road, post-occupation Afghanistan may at least avoid a rerun of the disastrous civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal and the sudden ending of Soviet subsidies in 1992.



      I Chandler

      Sep 25, 2014 at 12:53pm

      Dyer: "Ashraf Ghani’s almost doubled to 56 percent. The age of miracles truly is not past."

      Is General Dostum a miracle man? Just like Florida in 2000? or LBJ? LBJ's ballots were often cast in alphabetical order. I'm sure General Dostum didn't kill as many people though:

      Dyer: "How else could the 13-year U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan possibly be justified to the American people?"

      Humanitarianism? War on drugs? It's getting more and more difficult to make up pretexts.
      The US does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose:


      Sep 25, 2014 at 1:31pm

      A nicely written piece, by Gwynne, in closing another sad chapter in the Afghanistan saga. It seems that the Americans are finally going to wash their dirty hands of it. Their rationale for invading the country was to punish Al Qaeda, kill or capture Bin Laden,overthrow the Taliban and "bring democracy" to Afghanistan. After thirteen bloody and costly years we now have "Mission Accomplished"! Do we really? The country is in a political and economic shambles with a divided leadership, rampant corruption and the Taliban knocking on the door to retake control. The Americans are hated by everybody there for what they have done. No doubt Afghanistan, like Iraq, is ripe for more ethnic and sectarian rivalry and violence. Moreover, the whole exercise has been self defeating for the Americans inasmuch as they have spawned more American hating Al Qaeda's in Syria, Iraq and Europe.
      But of course, the whole idea behind the False Flag 9/11 debacle was to justify the "War on Terror", which is profitable for the Military and Defence Corporations, an integral part of the permanent American War Economy, and to establish an all pervasive "Security State" complete with 'militarized" police.

      They manufacture "Terrorist Threats" abroad in order to make their people fearful and thus more easily managed at home and more accepting of corporate imperialist war ventures abroad. This tactic is now wearing thin on the 99% of the American people who will hold their political and corporate masters to account some day. It is the elites who are now afraid of "their own people"! Just as they should be.

      I Chandler

      Sep 25, 2014 at 7:31pm

      Dyer: "US invaded because the planners of the 911 attacks had been allowed to set up camps there by members of the Taliban regime who shared their religious ideology."

      Weren't the 911 attacks just another GLADIO operation? Hmm...The narrative was so simple back then - But the US invaded Iraq after 911 not the KSA,Afghanistan or Germany - Bush didn't so much invade Afghanistan but mostly just bombed some folks with B52s. Afghanistan is Obamas war.

      Funny - There’s suddenly renewed focus on evidence of Saudi involvement in 911 ,now that we're back at it in Iraq against a new foe, - See saudi connections to isis?... nah can't be true after 911:

      Timy Osman

      Sep 25, 2014 at 9:53pm

      "Osama bin Laden was hoping to achieve with the 9/11 attacks."

      Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia:

      You hear only my voice. Your eyelids are getting heavy. As you listen to my voice, you become very relaxed. Your eyes are beginning to close. You feel sleepy, and very relaxed. You feel warm and safe. Your eyes are closing, and you hear only my voice. You are in a wonderful place. You are safe, and you hear only my voice. You are very intelligent. You cannot be fooled. You are a free person. You think for yourself. You are sound asleep, and you hear only my voice:

      19 men armed with boxcutters directed by a man on dialysis in a cave fortress halfway around the world using a satellite phone and a laptop directed the most sophisticated penetration of the most heavily-defended airspace in the world, overpowering the passengers and the military combat-trained pilots on 4 commercial aircraft before flying those planes wildly off course for over an hour without being molested by a single fighter interceptor.

      These 19 hijackers, devout religious fundamentalists who liked to drink alcohol, snort cocaine, and live with pink-haired strippers, managed to knock down 3 buildings with 2 planes in New York, while in Washington a pilot who couldn’t handle a single engine Cessna was able to fly a 757 in an 8,000 foot descending 270 degree corskscrew turn to come exactly level with the ground, hitting the Pentagon in the budget analyst office where DoD staffers were working on the mystery of the 2.3 trillion dollars that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had announced “missing” from the Pentagon’s coffers in a press conference the day before, on September 10, 2001.

      Luckily, the news anchors knew who did it within minutes, the pundits knew within hours, the Administration knew within the day, and the evidence literally fell into the FBI’s lap. But for some reason a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists demanded an investigation into the greatest attack on American soil in history.


      Sep 26, 2014 at 6:33am

      Now would be an excellent time for the US et al to do what they should have done in the first place, buy the Afghan opium crop. Putting the money directly into the hands of the farmers and leaving it to trickle up as money always does. The opium can be widely used for morphine or heroin, and the money will inspire the farmers to grow other crops. Afghanistan used to produce decent wine.


      Sep 26, 2014 at 7:54pm

      "Now would be an excellent time for the US et al buy the Afghan opium crop."

      But then where would the CIA get it's supply of heroin? A few years ago , a CIA plane with 4 tons of illicit cocaine aboard, crashed in Mexico. During the Vietnam war South East Asia produced much.
      Kill the Messenger, a new movie (in theaters next month ) describes how the CIA director and Attorney General allowed drugs to fly into the US. The CIA marveled at the success of its PR team guiding the mainstream media’s hostility toward the story:

      I Chandler

      Sep 27, 2014 at 10:06am

      Dyer:"Even more suspiciously, the number of people voting in some of the districts that supported Ashraf Ghani tripled between the first and second rounds of voting. So Abdullah Abdullah cried foul"

      Where was the NED?

      Eric Margolis writes "Ghani is Washingtons choice for president; Abdullah will act as ‘chief executive,’ a sort newly created role of prime minister sure to break down. To no surprise, they are expected to quickly sign an agreement to keep 25,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan for years to come...Over in Iraq, former pm Maliki, another CIA-installed “asset,” also refused to sign a pact allowing long-term garrisoning by US troops. "

      Margolis also describes why Washington keeps pumping billions into Afghanistan:
      "Because, in keeping with imperial logic and strategy, it remains the best pipeline route to export the oil riches of the Caspian Basin south to Karachi on the Arabian Sea."