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Under The AfPak Volcano


AUTHOR:  Pepe ESCOBAR


Part 1
Welcome to Pashtunistan



There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
- Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower

PARIS - Something's happening in AfPak, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Beltway think-tanker?

As Washington mashes up the "Taliban" - be they Afghan neo-Taliban or Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) - in Empire of Chaos logic to justify perennial United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops stationed in AfPak, an increasing number of Pashtuns living on both sides of the border have seized the
opportunity and started to look to the Taliban as a convenient facilitator for the emergence of Pashtunistan.

But the Pentagon, make no mistake, knows exactly how to play its New Great Game in Eurasia. Balkanization of AfPak - the break-up of both Afghanistan and Pakistan - will engineer, among other states, an independent Pashtunistan and an independent Balochistan. Empire of Chaos logic is still British imperial divide-and-rule, remixed; and, at least in theory, yields territories much easier to control.

Don't mess with Pashtun nationalism
Tribal Pashtuns (from eastern Afghanistan to western Pakistan) have never given up on being united again. Everyone familiar with AfPak knows the region is still paying the price for the fateful and - what else - divide-and-rule British imperial decision in 1897 to split tribal Pashtuns through the artificial Durand Line. The line remains the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Anyone who ever crossed it at, for instance, Torkham, at the foot of the Khyber pass, knows it is meaningless; people swarming on both sides are all cousins who never stopped dreaming of a pre-colonial, Afghan Durrani empire that straddled a great deal of contemporary Pakistan.

Few have noticed that Pashtuns were recently insisting on a very basic demand - that North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan have its name changed to Pakhtunkhwa ("Land of the Pashtuns"). The demand was shot down this past September by the dominant Punjabis in Pakistan. Pashtun nationalists protested en masse in fabled Peshawar, the NWFP capital. Pashtun national liberation is at fever pitch. Pashtun Guevaras are already issuing a call to arms.

But as much as Washington, now with a little help from its friend/client government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, has been conducting essentially a war on Pashtuns since 2001, this is no monolithic movement. It all goes back to the early 21st-century maxim that virtually every Taliban is a Pashtun, but not every Pashtun is a Taliban. There are significant strands of secular Pashtuns that shun the TTP and its brand of Islamic fundamentalist dystopian dogma, even while the Pashtun masses may see in the TTP the ideal vehicle for the advent of Pashtunistan.

If we follow the money, we see that the TTP in Pakistan is now being financed mostly by wealthy, pious Gulf businessmen and not anymore by Islamabad. The financiers are more interested in jihad than in Pashtun nationalism, and that undermines the legitimacy of the Taliban as vehicles for Pashtun nationalism. At the same time, if the TTP and its Pashtun allies manage to establish full control over a strategic corridor straddling eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, with or without jihadi support, and for example with a partial control of Peshawar thrown in, the public relations coup couldn't be bigger: that means an Islamic emirate for all practical purposes constituted as Pashtunistan.

Other factors apart from the TTP facilitate the drive towards Pashtunistan. The West's economic and aid packages to AfPak are pitiful and never trickle down to the average Pashtun. The "revelation" in the US of what was never a secret in Afghanistan, that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the "winner" of the soiled Afghan presidential election, has been on the Central Intelligence Agency's payroll for years, erased any possibility of Pashtuns believing in anything emanating from Kabul.

United States corporate media dabbles on the Afghan presidential election kabuki (with rice) while ignoring that what passes for US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intelligence is bribing top warlords for on-the-ground "security" (a swell business for them) coupled with bribing the Taliban for a license not be killed by their explosive devices. And bribing itself just won't do; the Taliban, via their former foreign minister, Mullah Muttawakkil, have just refused an American offer of eight permanent NATO bases for six provincial Taliban governorships. They want their Kabuli rice - and eat it too.

Islamabad's military and security establishment, a state within a state, remains an annex of Washington's; Pashtuns see the current offensive in Waziristan as Zardari selling out to Washington - same as "Busharraf", president Pervez Musharraf, before. A Pakistani failed government, this one or any other one, has zero chance to control what are de facto Afghan lands on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line. In 2009 alone, more than two million Pashtuns have been forced to become refugees; there's ample talk of a "Pashtun genocide".

So it would be so much easier, and infinitely less bloody, for Washington to adopt the Pentagon line all the way: let's pull another Yugoslavia; let's Balkanize; let's restore the Afghan Durrani empire.

The second coming
A rough beast, its hour come at last, Pashtunistan is already being born.

To start with, those "cousins" on both sides of the border are all tribal Pashtuns, mostly rural. They follow the same conservative religious rituals, enshrined by the ultra-reactionary South Asian Deobandi school of Sunni Islam and propagated by a vast network of made-in-Pakistan madrassas (seminaries). Their business is thriving, as can be attested by a visit to Spinbaldak, in southern Afghanistan, on the way between Kandahar and Quetta; the big fish thrive on smuggling and the narco-trade, and everyone else thrives on transportation or the timber business. The cash flow, in and out, is massive, especially out of remittances from Pashtun workers toiling around the Gulf and beyond.

Politically, the Pashtuns are represented by parties such as the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI). Diplomatically, they are very well connected to the Persian Gulf and to most of the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries. From a military point of view, they are represented by myriad Taliban groups, not only the TTP. And strategically, they perform a delicious irony: a rural, ultra-religious, nationalist movement fighting tooth-and-nail a corrupt, urban-based government as if they were a post-colonial fantasy of the noble tribal savage - a la Rousseau - fighting the colonialist West.

This may not be what leftist, relatively secular Pashtun intellectuals had in mind; they maintain that the Punjabi-infested security agencies control both the Taliban and the Pakistani army, and they would rather get rid of both. A nationalist group such as the Pashtun Awareness Movement believes Pashtuns themselves should get rid of the Taliban, not the Pakistani army under the boot of the Pentagon. As for the predominantly Pashtun Awami National Party, which is in power in NWFP and has to compose somewhat with Islamabad, its dream of a more balanced Pashtunistan is still a long way away.

There may be only one thing missing for Pashtunistan to come of age: a passport. It's not hard to see who will profit from it.

Part 2
Breaking up is (not) hard to do



PARIS - "The horror ... the horror." General Stanley McChrystal, the Pentagon supremo in Afghanistan, is being massively sold in the US as a Zen warrior - a 21st-century stalwart incarnation of the "best and the brightest". But he may be a warrior intellectual more like Colonel Kurz than Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. He led an elite death squad in Iraq and, for all of his Confucius-meets-counter-insurgency social engineering schemes, still appears not to understand what Pashtuns are really all about.

McChrystal remains bemused about why, in Afghanistan, most young Pashtuns decide to become Taliban. Because Kabul is immensely corrupt; because the Americans have bombed their houses or killed their families and friends; because they can improve their social status. They simply won't sell out for (devalued) American dollars. Their infinite drive is geared towards throwing the occupiers out - and re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, governed by sharia law. In this sense, McChrystal's soldiers are the new Soviets, no different from the Red Army that waged war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

McChrystal - with all his "secure the population" talk - cannot possibly level with the American public about the Taliban. Afghans know that if you don't mess with the Taliban, the Taliban don't mess with you. If you're an opium poppy grower, the Taliban just collect a little bit of tax on it.

Conquering Pashtun hearts and minds Westmoreland, sorry, McChrystal-style is a no-win proposition. There's nothing McChrystal's non-Pashto speaking soldiers can say or do to counteract a simple Taliban-to-villager one-liner "we're in a jihad to throw out the foreigners".

As for the Taliban/al-Qaeda nexus, the Taliban nowadays simply don't need al-Qaeda, and vice-versa. Al-Qaeda is closely linked with Pakistani outfits, not Afghan, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. If McChrystal wants to find al-Qaeda jihadis, he should set up shop in Karachi, not in the Hindu Kush.

Over the summer of 2009 alone, 20,000 US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, practicing the iron dogma of "clear, hold and build", were able to secure only a third of desert Helmand province. The Taliban control at least 11 provinces in Afghanistan. It's easy to do the math on what it would take to "secure" the other 10 provinces, not to mention the whole country until, well, 2050, as the British high command has been speculating. No wonder Washington is drowning in numbers - rife with speculation that McChrystal wants 500,000 boots on the ground before 2015. If Confucian McChrystal doesn't get them, goodbye counter-insurgency; it's back to a devastating hell from above drone missile war.

If you break it, you control it
The Pentagon as well as NATO will never be cheerleaders for a strong, stable and really independent Pakistan. Washington pressure over Islamabad will never be less than relentless. And then there's the return of the repressed: the chilling Pentagon fear that Islamabad might one day become a full Chinese client state.

Think-tankers in their comfy leather chairs do entertain the dream of the Pakistani state unraveling for good - victim of a clash within the military of Punjabis against Pashtuns. So what's in it for the US in terms of balkanization of AfPak? Quite some juicy prospects - chief of all neutralizing the also relentless Chinese drive for direct land access, from Xinjiang and across Pakistan, to the Arabian Sea (via the port of Gwadar, in Balochistan province).

Washington's rationale for occupying Afghanistan - never spelled out behind the cover story of "fighting Islamic extremism" - is pure Pentagon full spectrum dominance: to better spy on both China and Russia with forward outposts of the empire of bases; to engage in Pipelineistan, via the Trans-Afghan (TAPI) pipeline, if it ever gets built; and to have a controlling hand in the Afghan narco-trade via assorted warlords. Cheap heroin is literally flooding Russia, Iran and Eastern Europe. Not by accident, Moscow regards opium/heroin as the key issue to be tackled in Afghanistan, not Islamic fundamentalism.

As for those think-tankers, they do remain incorrigible. Last week at a Rand-sponsored Afghanistan bash in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, former president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, , Zbigniew Brzezinski, the man who gave the Soviets their Vietnam in Afghanistan, announced that he had advised the George W Bush administration to invade Afghanistan in 2001; but he also told then Pentagon supremo, Donald Rumsfeld, that the Pentagon should not stay on "as an alien force". That's exactly what the Pentagon is right now.

And yet, Zbigniew believes the US should not leave Afghanistan; it should "use all our leverage" to force NATO to fulfill the mission - whatever that is. Not surprisingly, Zbigniew couldn't help revealing what the heart of the "mission" really is: Pipelineistan, that is, to build TAPI by any means necessary.

China, India and Russia may agree that a regional - and not an American - solution to Afghanistan may be the only way to go, but still can't agree on how to formalize a proposal which would be offered in the cadre of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Li Qinggong, the number two at the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, has been a key voice of this proposal. Washington, not surprisingly, wants to remain unilateral.

It all harks back to a 1997 Brookings Institution publication by Geoffrey Kemp and Robert Harkavy, Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East, in which they identify an "energy strategic ellipse" with a key node in the Caspian and another in the Persian Gulf, concentrating over 70% of global oil reserves and over 40% of natural gas reserves. The study stressed that the resources in these zones of "low demographic pressure" would be "threatened" by the pressure of billions living in the poor regions of South Asia. Thus the control of the Muslim Central Asian "stans" as well as Afghanistan would be essential as a wall against both China and India.

So all along the watchtower, the princes of war keep their view. That spells balkanization all along. It's full spectrum dominance against the Asian energy security grid. The Pentagon well knows that AfPak is the key land bridge between Iran to the west and China and India to the east; and that Iran has all the energy that both China and India need. The last thing full spectrum dominance wants is to have the AfPak theater subjected to more influence from Russia, China and Iran.

There could not be a more graphic illustration of empire of chaos logic in action than the AfPak theater. While the McChrystal show amuses the galleries, what's really at stake for Washington is how to orchestrate a progressive encirclement of Russia, China and Iran. And the name of the game is not really AfPak - even with all the breaking up and balkanization it may entail. It's all about the New Great Game for the control of Eurasia.


Source: http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KK06Df01.html & http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KK06Df01.html

Original article published on Nov. 6 and 7, 2009

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