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Peace With Taliban? History
Posted by The Agonist on March 13th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

President Obama wants to disengage from the disastrous war on Afghanistan the way he withdrew from the disastrous war on Iraq. Leaving Afghanistan is likely to be as difficult, dangerous and messy as leaving Iraq has been. And it will require accommodating the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future, including Afghanistan’s notoriously corrupt government, because the Taliban are largely from the Pashtun tribe that comprises half of the population.

Can Taliban become a trusted member of a representative government in Afghanistan? That is a very complicated question historically, politically and economically.

First the history: “Turkistan, Afghanistan,Transcaspia (states east of the Caspian Sea), Persia (Iran)…are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominance of the world.” Lord George Curzon. British Foreign Secretary, 1889)

During the Cold War Afghanistan remained independent, accepting aid and arms from both the US and the Soviets. In 1978 a Communist party, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), took over the government and aligned Afghanistan with the Soviets. Religious and tribal leaders led revolts and Carter launched a covert operation to assist them in destabilizing the PDPA (Agence France-Presse 12/12/00). December 1978 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to prop up the PDPA. Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski declared the Soviets had fallen into a trap. (The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books, 1997)

Reagan recruited Islamic extremists, trained them in the US, equipped them with Stinger missiles and other weapons, and sent them to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army. He freed the CIA from the requirement to report known and suspected drug smuggling by insurgents in Central America and Afghanistan. The militants financed their insurgencies by smuggling drugs. Later, the UN and the DEA would name the Taliban as one of the two largest producers of opium in the world, (CIA: The World Factbook) supplying 75% of the world’s heroin (Guardian UK 2/21/02)

“Though Reagan called the rebels ‘freedom fighters,’ few within the government had any illusions about the forces the United States was backing. The mujahidin fighters espoused a radical brand of Islam…and committed horrific human rights violations in their war against the Red Army.” (Salon 9/22/01) Some fighters were further radicalized by religious schools or madrasas in Pakistan. In an interview with BBC (10/4/96), Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto stated that the madrasas had been set up by Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the jihad against Soviet occupation. The US and it’s allies “encouraged the growth of Islamic fundamentalism to frighten Moscow and of drugs to get Soviet soldiers hooked.” (Evening Standard UK 2/20/01)

After the Soviets withdrew, Feb. 1989, Afghanistan fell into anarchy. Some of the fighters became terrorists in Kashmir, others in Iran. The Soviet-installed government collapsed in 1992. The US and Russia agreed that neither would supply aid to any faction in Afghanistan. Although the US committed to support the UN peace efforts in Afghanistan, Congress refused to allocate funds for UN dues or the US share of the peacekeeping expenses. (Foreign Policy in Focus, 12/25/96) The factions supported by the US battled for supremacy. The Northern Alliance, a confederacy of “warlords, patriots, rapists and torturers” became the dominant power. From 1992 to 1996, The Northern Alliance was “a symbol of massacre, systemic rape and pillage.” The Northern Alliance abandoned Kabul leaving 50,000 dead. (The Independent UK 11/14/01)

Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 with support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). “Pakistan’s support for Taliban was backed by the Saudis, the CIA and American oil company Unocal.” (online Resource on Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, 10/21/01) The Taliban’s success was because of military assistance from Pakistan’s ISI. (New York Times, 12/8/01) “Oil industry insiders state that securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan has been supportive of the Taliban, and why the US has permitted its conquest of Afghanistan.” (Daily Telegraph UK 10/11/96) The 9/11 Commission concluded that some diplomats were willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country.

Amnesty International (AI) reported Taliban “targeting minorities such as Tajik and Hazaras (AI news release 5/27/99). CNN (8/15/99) reported Taliban “burning homes, villages and crops to prevent residents from returning.” The Afghans became the largest refugee group in the world. (AP 12/27/98, AI report 11/99, UN 6/9/00) Taliban’s repression of women was denounced by Muslim magazine Crescent International, “the phrase ‘Islamic justice’ is used as a synonym for tyranny;” Physicians for Human Rights, “deliberately…depriving half the population under its control of jobs, schooling, mobility, and health care;” Pakistani newspaper the Daily Star, “Islamic scholars in neighboring Pakistan say the Taliban’s laws reflect tribal traditions more than Islamic tenents;” The Muslim Women’s League, “The Talibans’s insistence on secluding women from public life is a political maneuver disguised as ‘Islamic law;’” the UN, “The Special Rapporteur (of the UN) was informed by scholars that it was a religious obligation in Islam to acquire education and that deprivation of education constituted a disobedience of Islamic principles.” However, the repression of women in Afghanistan had existed before the Taliban.

US political and commercial interests required a stable government in Afghanistan. Because Taliban controlled most of the country, most US aid to Afghanistan went through the Taliban. The last payment, July, 2001, brought the total for the year to $124 million. (Pakistan Observer 10/20/01)The US viewed the Taliban as “anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-western.” US support was also prompted because of the Unocal pipeline project. Many US diplomats “saw (the Taliban) as messianic do-gooders—like born-again Christians from the American Bible Belt.” (Interview with Ahmed Rashid, Azadi Aghan Radio 4/15/00) Senator Hank Brown (R, CO), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South East, said that “The good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan.” In 1997, a US diplomat said “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.” (Taliban by Amad Rashid)

French intelligence analysts, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, in their book Bin Laden, The Forbidden Truth, reported that as late as August 2001, the US hoped that the Taliban would be a source of stability in Central Asia and would enable construction of the oil pipeline.

Major sources for this report are: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, by Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph UK, and The War on Freedom, Tree of Life Publication, 2002, by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development UK.

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