From the times of Alexander The Great, to the lethal Russian military machine, to today's conflict, Afghanistan has the same types of geographical factors that have kept invaders out and those that have attempted to invade it, to come to regret it. The Afghans have always fought well against invaders using the high ground in strategic areas to their advantage, making any advancing enemy pay dearly for their encroachment. Winters are especially treacherous as the snow obstructs much of the lines of communications, passage through the mountain passes which make much of the country difficult if not impossible to get through. The Afghans are excellent guerilla fighters, and have not lost a war yet, weather it was the British who were chased out three times in less than 100 years or the Russians who lost a brutal war in the 1980's, Afghanistan is a nation that resists any type of foreign invaders and always teaches them a hard lesson. While it is true that governments can be installed in the capitol and be recognized on the world stage, no one has been able to conquer the outlying areas for any length of time. The terrain, weather and people will not allow it.
America's war against terrorism is a war that will not result in the end of terrorism. It will not result in the reduction of terrorist acts against America, It will foment hatred against the US in much to the world and will swell the ranks of Osama bin Laden and create a thousand more where he came from. Even if the US is able to remove the Taliban from power, Islamic extremists in Pakistan and in other nations in the region will retaliate against the US. In Addition, this war is very destabilizing to Pakistan, whose President will now, as long as he sides with America, will be in grave danger of being toppled by more extremist elements. In short, this war is doomed to fail and was never designed to succeed in the first place in supplanting the nebulous concept of 'terrorism'. Indeed, the region that now is part of a large buildup of American troops is a mineral and oil rich area of the globe that has several studies by major oil companies underway (and most already concluded), to exploit those resources via pipelines. Some have been proposed through the regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan, others through Iran and even others through the treacherous region of Afghanistan. Yet it is the Afghani Route that seems to hold the most promise for the US. Unocal, has proposed the pipeline that would run through Turkmenistan (suddenly an ally in the US War) and Afghanistan. The destruction of the world Trade Center was a perfect provocation that has allowed the US to establish, according the US Administration, 'a long term presence in the region'.
Other interests have their eye on another extremely valuable commodity located in the region, namely opium. Opium is a primary crop in Afghanistan and it has provided Islamic militants, Pakistani Generals and CIA contract personnel billions of dollars of revenue that wound up in their hands, using a now infamous bank, BCCI. The Taliban, under international pressure had banned the growing of poppies and was quite successful in enforcing this ban, The only recognizable opium cultivation going on in Afghanistan during the latter part of the Taliban;s reign was by the groups that now make up what is called the 'Northern Alliance', America's new ally in its war on terrorism.. Afghanistan is responsible for, according to some estimates, up to 75% of the worlds opium supply. Thus, the ban enforced by the Taliban caused a reduction in the world wide availability of heroin. The region is a potential Gold mine in both oil and drugs. Yet the two main factors hindering western exploitation of these resources (oil and opium) for their own interests are the difficult terrain and Islamic fundamentalism.
When describing the region where Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Turkestan and Kyrgystan (often cynically dubbed Jihadistan), one must always keep in mind the influence of Russia, who still views this region as very much its own back yard, The term used by Russia to describe this is the 'near abroad'. Russian influence since the fall of the Soviet union has waned considerably, but it is far from non-existent. Russia continues to wield influence from everything from future oil pipeline routes to economic assistance. Russia has attempted to pressure these newly independent nations in order to gain military and economic integration. These calls were usually, rebuffed and caused some to draw closer to the Ukraine in reaction, as it was seen as a balancing influence in the region to Russia's constant machinations to increase its influence. This was natural, as Russia has resisted the Ukraine's independence and views it with reservations. Thus, others in the region viewed Ukraine as a bulwark against any idea of a reconstituted Soviet Union, whatever form that may take. Ukrainian independence was supported by the US, as any further integration with Russia was seen as a threat to US interests and could possibly re-ignite a drive to a Soviet resurrection.
Today, the US National Security Adviser has stated that now, Russia is now our most important strategic partner in the region in this war against terrorism. This is a radical realignment of global alliances, all in China's backyard, is a fundamental shift in global power that appears, at least on the surface, to leave China out in the cold. Yet, Bush is trying to bring China into closer relations with the US. China's tone has changed, as it now sees the US beginning to enter into its sphere of influence with a powerful strategic partner, Russia. This may be the most important development of this 'new world' we live in since September 11. It is a shift that cannot be ignored, even if it turns out to be temporary, it will influence the world scene for years to come.
So, in a region of the world with huge opium farms and massive untapped oil reserves, we are waging a long term campaign to stop, not a nation or group of nations but a poorly and often subjectively defined concept, a concept called terrorism. While this sounds noble and good and largely laudable, it must be remembered that Afghanistan is a country that the US cannot win a long protracted ground war in, short of the use of nuclear weapons which would substantially depopulate the country. Such a course of action would quite possibly open up the the US President to war crimes proceedings.
Who is Bin Laden And What Is Al Qaida?
In short, Osama Bin Laden is a radical Muslim fundamentalist with enormous financial resources from a legitimate construction business. These resources along with some very adept people around him have made him a formidable terrorist in the eyes of the US. The attack on the US Embassy in Kenya, the attack on the USS Cole, the attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and of course the attack on the World Trade Center show a high degree of sophistication and a consistent ability to 'reach out and touch somebody' on a global scale. His organization seems to exist for the sole purpose of killing Americans. America's entry into Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war and subsequent long term troop commitment are a particular sticking point in the mind of Bin Laden, as he looks upon this as a type of sacrilege. The official history of Bin Laden, however somewhat suspicious when it comes to his all-too-vocal anti-Americanism. It seems as though he and his cohorts during the Afghanistan war received billions in aid from the US and was a willing partner in implementing US policy. His vehement anti-Americanism is perhaps a little suspect and may very well be at least partly a ruse to help explain his actions, which could very well be, at the behest of others.
Bin Laden in the product of an interesting and almost paradoxical background. Having been brought up in one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia, his adherence to radical fundamentalist Islam makes him a folk hero to many, not just in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the Islamic World. Thus, many in the Muslim world look to him as a kind of savior from what they view as Western/Zionist domination. Bin Laden's appeal and influence is not reserved for the mid-east only. During the high point of the Balkan conflict, his network was used to bring in Arms to the Bosnian Muslims by none other than the US Government. Hence, it is somewhat less than genuine to hear American leaders show their much too convenient contempt for a man who they have used on more than one occasion for their covert wars.
Undoubtedly Bin Laden sees an attack on America as a way to attack the the main sponsor of the house of Saud, the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. By destroying America, the house of Saud would fall without its American Sponsor, and in his way of thinking, remove those defilers of Islam's holy shrines. His organization, A Qaida, or 'The Foundation' or 'Base', is a shadowy network of individuals who seem to be recruited more for specific tasks and operations rather than being employed as regular 'members'. This makes tracking his organization that much more difficult as he probably only has a few hundred or so actual Al Qaida members. He uses Nigerians, Palestinians, Saudi's Syrians and many other nationalities including many from Southeast Asia in his global network. These factors add to the difficulty in tracking him and his networks down. He has stated his goal as being the establishment of Islamic rule in Islamic lands and to cleanse them of Western influence and to rid the Arabian Peninsula of American/Western influence. This, simply stated, is the primary goal his organization. He has sent trainers in the 'arts of terror' to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Sudan and Yemen, according the the US State Department, but almost certainly to many other countries as well. Because of this, Al Qaida can call upon people world wide to attack US interests.
Did Al Qaida Hit The Twin Towers?
The information passed out by the Government and dutifully reported without any objective criticism by the mainstream media is unconvincing. That is not to say that middle easterners were not involved, but that any evidence linking these men to Osama Bin laden and that he ordered these attacks simply has not been offered. Any real substantial connection between the two is highly circumstantial and hardly conclusive. That is not to say that this evidence is not existent it only means that the US Government, perhaps for good reason has refused to release this information for the world to see. It is interesting to note that it was widely reported that telephone intercepts between Bin Laden and his mother were picked up providing perhaps one string of evidence that would be rather conclusive, if he alluded to these attacks. This information has dropped off the radar screen after President Bush became angry at the release of classified information by congressmen. What the information was was not revealed, but such a sensitive intercept would certainly a be closely guarded secret.
Despite this information, which may just as easily be wartime propaganda, any other evidence linking these attack to him simply has not been made public. It is difficult to fathom the wanton destruction that the US Government is now inflicting on Afghanistan without so much as a scintilla of hard evidence and to chase a terrorist that for years was on, at least indirectly was the CIA payroll and has ties to the Bush family1.
Who Created the Taliban?
In short, Pakistan and the US, in order to give Afghanistan 'stability'. It was thought that once the Taliban gained power, many of their more extreme religious beliefs would be moderated. This has not proven to be true and now the Taliban are truly the regional 'Frankenstein'. US aid has wound up paying for the Taliban and its military and social excesses. It was US aid that armed the Taliban when they took power and US aid that assisted them in the Opium cultivation. The US consorted with, funded and aided these terrorists and now conveniently wants them removed.
Now, Afghan 'fighters' are located throughout the world aiding various Islamic causes.
Here is a (very) short list:
The FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) which has been responsible for many terrorist attacks in Algeria is top heavy with Afghan Fighters and those who have been trained there. The GIA and its leadership is also very much infiltrated by Afghan Fighters.
Rifai Taha Musa has is closely linked to Osama Bin Laden, according the the US State Department, is a leader of Gama'at Al Islamiyya (Islamic Group), Egypt's largest and most notorious Terrorist Group. Musa attempted to lead some anti-American attacks of which other leaders objected. In 2000, he appeared with Bin Laden in a video. These actions against Americans caused a split. Gama'at Al Islamiyya usually targets government officials, Coptic Christians and opponents of its own brand of extremism.
Maohmud Abouhalima was wanted for the terrorist attack on the WTC on 1993. He is also an Egyptian Afghan Veteran who is now serving a 108 year sentence in Leavenworth. The ties between Egypt and bin Laden's group of Afghan extremists appear to be deeper than that the relative dearth of terrorist attacks in Egypt would lead one to believe.
Egyptian 'Afghan fighters' were known particularly for their skill and 'courage' during the the Afghan war.
In the mid 1990's Pakistan and Egypt signed an extradition treaty to allow the repatriation of Afghans wanted in connection terrorism. The Pakistani's acquiesced in order to remain off of the US State Departments Terrorist list which would have banned them from receiving US economic aid. This resulted in the arrest and deportation of Ramzu Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 WYC bombing attempt. Many other fugitives went to Iran to avoid extradition.
Yet, while Pakistan has assisted in tracking down known suspects under pressure from Egypt, Algeria and the US, it has supported the Taliban from its inception with arms and intelligence. This nexus extends to the drug trade which helps fund the Taliban. This is all done with the blessing and help of Pakistan's ISI and Army. The US is not immune to criticism at this juncture because it appears that much of the equipment shipped to the Taliban during its war for the seizure of power was actually supplied by the US. The US's thinking at the time was to get a stable regime in place to allow Unocal to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. Any spoils could be shared with the Taliban and would cause them to guard the pipelines with their troops, as it could have become a potentially great source of revenue for them. Yet by any stretch of the imagination the Taliban were terrorists of the worst order, terrorizing Muslims as well international aid and relief workers.
There are several terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. Some of these groups have close ties to the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. When General Massuod, Commander of The Northern Alliance, stated that several Taliban prisoners had reported that both the Harakat ul Mujahedeen (HUM) and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) were both affiliated with the Taliban, it was a confirmation of what was long suspected. Each of these groups are involved in the struggle for Kashmir. They each adhere to Wahhabiism and the Deobonbi school of fundamentalist Islam. It must be noted the the HUM is not formally engaged in violence in Kashmir. Close links exist between these two groups and the HUM's close links to Pakistan's ISI is cause for concern. These informal links have lead many to charge that the Pakistani Government is really behind some of the terror attacks in Kashmir.
In any event it is very important to note that it can be clearly argued that the Taliban are a Paksitani Political/Religious party that gained power in Afghanistan, with US Help and encouragement.
Many Afghan fighters go to Yemen where they can get assistance from Al Islah or the Islamic reform Party, which has strong holds not connected with the Government in the northern regions of Yemen. This area is not fully under Government control and thus, the terrorists operate without hindrance. HAMAS and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad both have offices in Yemen. However, Yemeni freedom fighters' grievances do not appear to be directed against US and or Western interests.
The Region: Its Leaders And Its Problems
Tajikistan is a Muslim nation on the the border of Afghanistan. Its population comprises about 80% Sunni Muslims. Having fought a brutal civil war after the break-up of the Soviet Union, many rebels fled the capital and removed themselves into Afghanistan after militias loyal to the de-facto Government retook the capitol. Many Afghan mujahedeen assisted these exiles in attacks and raids during this turbulent period. The elections that later installed Rakhmanov were not certified as being free or fair and were preceded by acts of political oppression such as , closure of opposition newspapers, journalists being arrested, and 'disappeared', and opposition leaders being incarcerated. Many Tajik fighters no doubt sympathize with the goals of their Mujahedeen brothers and are not at all keen at having the 'infidel' US Military operating en-masse in their region of the world.
Tashkent, is the largest city in Central Asia and Uzbekistan is the most populated 'former Soviet' country in the entire region with about 25 million people. It is a predominantly Muslim (Sunni) country that has Islamic dissidents operating in and near its borders. The main group is the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), this group is on the US State Departments terrorist list. It has been responsible for car bombs and kidnapping and its members may number in the thousands. However, it appears to lack the sophistication and organization of an organization like Al Qaida. The main concern here, for the 'real politick' policy of the US government, is that the IMU or other terrorists, do not target future oil or natural gas pipelines in the region. This is a great concern as Uzbekistan is the Commonwealth of Independent States' largest natural gas producer. In the year 2000, it produced 56.4 Billion Cubic meters, though much of this was for domestic consumption. These reserves have not gone unnoticed by the global energy conglomerates. In 1996 Unocal signed an agreement to develop these resources and export them via pipeline to the west, a pipeline that has yet to be built.
All things considered, Uzbekistan had been considered one of the few Central Asian Republics that had a ray of hope, unlike its neighbors, it had not been racked with militia and sectarian violence and has enjoyed relative peace since the demise of the Soviet Union. This has changed recently as Tashkent has been rocked by a series of bombings conducted by the IMU and calls into question the regimes continuing stability. The factors causing this are typical; repression, economic despair and corruption. Yet today, the Uzbek Leader Karimov has signed an important mutual defense pact with the US, who pledges support for Uzbekistan should the republic come under threat. This now commits US forces to the region for the foreseeable future. The Uzbekistan of the recent past had enormous potential to be a bulwark and become an example to regional governments on how to deal effectively with militant Islam. Unfortunately, the slide towards authoritarianism and repression are leading it slowly to the typical Islamic chaos that appears to be endemic to the region. The danger for Uzbekistan is a slide towards increasing authoritarianism that would fan the flames of radicalism, bring instability and bring an unstable Islamic regime, not unlike the Taliban, to power.
This nation is, in my view a key player in the region and in any future economic/political alliance that will form after the US military intervention, it already produces healthy amounts of natural gas and oil. In addition,it has two pipelines it uses to export it, one goes back to Russia and the other goes through Iran. It produced 154,400 barrels of oil per day (bbd) in 1999 and expects to produce one million/bbd by the year 2010.
Yet this nation is ruled by an autocrat, Niyazov, who is building a cult of personality not dissimilar to that of North Korea's leader worship. This cult goes so far as to address the Niyazov as 'Turkmenbashi' or 'Father of Turkmen'. Niyazov's megalomania now encompasses a new role, not just as political leader but also as spiritual leader. This personality aberration, undoubtedly coupled with some form of mental instability, will have to be dealt with before Turkmenistan can successfully engage the region and the world on modern terms.
Pakistan is a large Country with a huge Islamic population which comprises about 97% of its citizens. Unfortunately, less than 40% of the population is literate. It is a nation with serious internal political problems. Corruption, terror and government drug running are some the more significant internal problems that are part of the Pakistiani political landscape. To add to all of this, the Pakistani government is now allowing a nation that is looked upon with suspicion, if not outright hatred, to conduct operations against, in the minds of many, a folk hero, namely - Osama Bin Laden. These dynamics makes any alliance with Pakistan in our 'war on terrorism' very dangerous not only for our troops but for the stability of Pakistan itself.
During the Soviet war on Afghanistan, US drug enforcement looked the other way at Afghan drug running, which was used by the Mujahedeen (who we supported against the Soviets) as a source of revenue. Additionally, it turned a blind eye to an important conduit of export, Pakistan's ISI. The ISI is a very troubling entity and there is some pretty credible evidence provided by the Times of India and the Wall Street Journal that the former head of the ISI (who suddenly was removed just after the 911 attacks), paid one of the terrorists suspected in the bombing $100,000, just before the attack.
There appears to be great sympathy for the Taliban in general and Osama Bin Laden in particular in Pakistan and this makes a prolonged stay here incredibly dangerous.
Needless to say the US hardly has the moral high ground in this so-called 'war on terrorism'. We are simply using the excuse of Bin laden to expand our sphere of influence into the vast oil and gas resources located in the region. For this purpose, once again the US is willing to turn the blind eye to gross human rights violations, which are certainly a form of terrorism and the drug running that funds terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan is simply geographically convenient in this phase of what increasingly is beginning to look like two concurrent operations that should be named 1) 'Operation Oil Well' and 2) 'Operation US Dictatorship - 2002'.
See also this article on Bush, the Bin Ladens and the war on terror.
1The Carlyle Group has had very lucrative ties with the Bin Laden family for years, Bush's Father, former President Bush sits on the board of the Carlyle Group who had the Bin Laden family as clients before during and after the 911 attacks. Additionally, it was individuals tied to the Bin Laden family that our current President was in the oil business with in Texas many years ago. Click Here for more.