The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.
More on the question of leaving Afghanistan.
Jezail.org has written this as a follow up on some critical comments we made about a Duran video post and feels that it is necessary to be timely to fill in our comments. We realize that we are imparting a lot of unconventional ideas but they are backed up with a great deal of other professional work by other sources and the author’s own experience in Afghanistan and Washington DC. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to footnote and source most of this although we can. But this is supposed to be journalism, not a dissertation so we post this here with that in mind.
The key consideration for the viability of the Afghan peace deal is not just about firing Bolton, although his absence is definitely a benefit. It is the deals struck with India creating what are often termed US “interests”. The war in Afghanistan went on for as long as it did because it benefitted bureaucrats, policy makers and military professionals as well as the military contractors and civilian contractors. It is a form of largely legalized corruption. Many deals were struck. They were all well represented on K street in one form or another. But the total net worth of those deals could never be greater than any deal with India. Previous career bets were on Pakistan expanding and thriving. They stayed there because China was to be a guarantor of Pakistan through the Belt and Road plan. There were a lot of people in Foggy Bottom who liked the Afghan war because Pakistan was thriving on it. The bribe money from the US alone was fortune. The biggest bribe was for transport of almost all supplies to our troops over land across Pakistan. Many of the same bureaucrats and policy makers were also invested in China. China has thrown them out and the Pakistani future is not as bright as it once appeared. At the same time, Donald Trump made a mercurial change in strategic posture by “making a deal” with India. In fact, many deals have been made and Mr. Trump merely put his prestige bets on them signaling a long over due strategic change for America. The total value of the deals is at about $142 billion. Pakistan is still an economic basket case. There’s nothing quite like money to drain a swamp. Unlike his other diplomatic attempts in Korea and Syria, this deal has a profound economic underpinning. It is the Indian “deal” that makes this Trump move different and jezail.org believes that there is a reason for the two events to happen back to back. We are keeping our fingers crossed that it works. But the devil is always found in the details and those details will not be found in the wording of the “peace agreement” with the Taliban. That is a purely cosmetic document. It basically declares this in the first sentence. The US doesn’t even recognize the entity it is signing with. The real details are in the history and the realities of the Afghan War Americans are being distracted from seeing. That is where we are going.
The question of whether or not America really will get out depends on things never mentioned in the MSM. They are the foreign policies of neighboring countries, India and Pakistan particularly but not exclusively. Words rarely uttered need to be in a serious analysis, “ambitions” and “appetites”. They are the real sources of revenue for K street hardball politics. Then there is the new understanding of how our American government really operates, which is on its’ own without Constitutional authority as many of us now know. The key regional neighbor is Pakistan. They have been profiting from trillions spent on the war as well as keeping the stated adversary, the Taliban, alive. The deal signed in Doha is a smoke screen for an understanding with Pakistan. The reality of what is happening is that Pakistan no longer feels it needs America and America no longer needs them. If that realization seems late, it is because of the underlying motivations of the two country’s leaders and relevant personnel. The American Pakistani relationship was always rife with corruption. But the policy determining corruption has always been the arms trade and not dope.
Appetites and ambitions happen on national, corporate and political levels. They matter. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2002, many people were surprised to find out that America was staying on. The reasons given for this were numerous, ever changing, and barely credible. Roughly speaking, the deliberate failures were due to appetites and ambitions. Jezail.org, having a number of Afghan friends who were former Mujaheddin had local insight into the way policies and programs were really unfolding. For example, we knew, almost immediately, that the efforts made to stand up an Afghan Army were being sabotaged by foot dragging and profoundly less than enthusiastic training on the part of many Americans. The most obvious indicator was that Afghans had liberated themselves from a tough Soviet occupation but, somehow, we couldn’t get them to become more determined soldiers. Jezail.org also had heard from the, then, Interior Minister and now Vice President, Amrullah Saleh, confirming what we were beginning to suspect. The training programs were a sham. So was arming them. Standing up an Afghan Army capable of defending Afghanistan’s borders was exactly not what senior policy makers at Foggy Bottom had in mind. Then we noticed promising American programs and careers, one after another, get crushed by the Pentagon. The Pentagon had its own reasons for deliberately engineered failure. We knew that entire provinces could be held down from the Taliban with a single A-Team of Special Forces or similar outfits. The critical ability was in cross cultural training, a concept that many military officers are not psychologically equipped to embrace. They are building careers around killing people, not understanding them. Yet, there were promising officers who were destroyed because they were turning themselves inside out to prove this cross cultural point and paid with their careers. Look up Maj. Jim Gant. It was very obvious to us after the first couple of years that nobody was in it to win it. Why?
The answer is simply that as many military careers as possible were to be made for by the Pentagon. Huge swathes of Army officers wanted Afghan military time on their resumes or they would be less competitive than officers who had been there. Everybody wanted to get in on the act. Major David Sterling, who formed the SAS in the Desert War in North Africa observed the same problem. It resulted in a disastrous raid on Tobruk. SAS raids depended on being light operations, able to make on-the-spot decisions and plan changes. The kinds of wars the Pentagon likes have no room for this kind of efficiency. Pentagon ambitions went unchecked resulting in Marine regiments in fire bases, similar to Khe San, lobbing shells at God-knows-what all day long. Entire regiments and larger replaced 12 man A-teams. When generals see young Army captains achieving things unimaginable to them, they want to get a piece of, what is for them, glory. The Afghan War grew to an impossible size and it became self sustaining before it got out of the planning stage. What is particularly contemptible about it is that there is no way that a great many officers didn’t know this was happening. They had to. But they chose to ignore it as well as the logistical fallacy of shipping most of the Army’s supplies over land through Pakistan. Pakistan’s role in all of this was also self sustaining. As jezail.org has maintained for at least a decade, this was not an accident. This was and is deliberate blatant military malpractice that was engineered to be self sustaining by setting up unreachable goals, foot dragging and outright sabotage. If they even came near stated goals, the goal posts would be moved with new mission statements. Like the Afghan elections, the war was a rigged game. If it wasn’t rigged to fail, it was certainly rigged to never succeed. When your taking casualties from Taliban fire, what’s the difference?
On a corporate level, there are two separate areas of responsibility. They are the TAPI pipeline and the military industrial complex. Other industries were lured in as well as were herds of NGO’s but the key driving corporate appetites were the pipeline and the arms industry. The pipeline was originally a project of a disgraced former American Ambassador, Robin Raphel, who moonlighted as a lobbyist for several clients who she brought together. One client was a pipeline consortium that wanted to build an energy pipeline through Afghanistan. They were known by their consortium name, UNOCAL, but it was chiefly the Union Oil Co. of California. They failed to get the newly installed Mujaheddin government to give them the necessary rights to get the project rolling. The government of Pakistan, then under the presidency of Benezir Bhutto, was sold the idea that energy from Turkmenistan could be piped through war torn Afghanistan to Pakistan and ostensibly from there to India. It’s an idiotic idea but its’ key salesperson, Raphel, although a stentorian speaker, is universally described as being cunning but less than intelligent. Like many globalists, she is a skilled bureaucratic in-fighter. During the Clinton presidency, she persuaded Bhutto to back an obscure group of Pashtun chauvinists to overthrow the newly installed Mujaheddin government in Kabul because they refused to sign an agreement for the TAPI pipeline. The effort worked hand in glove with the Saudi effort to preach Wahabism through their Madrassas for Afghan refugee children. Soon, children were learning to count grenades instead of apples. They used the same teaching materials the CIA had given out in a previous decade. Interestingly, in 1996, Mrs. Clinton showed up to be squired around Pakistan by Raphel who knew Bill Clinton from his days at Oxford. So the person of Raphel was, in one person, a living embodiment of a corporate consortium called UNOCAL and the United States Government. To this day, the Taliban want to be the guarantors of the TAPI pipeline and have said so as recently as a year ago.
The other key corporate appetite was that of military contractors. Pakistan, from its’ birth was buying weapons from the US. Tanks, bombers, fighters, helicopters, training and support went to contracts with well known US suppliers. If an export version of a weapon didn’t come with some bit of nuclear delivery wiring Pakistan wanted, ways were found to get it to them. There are always other layers of secret deals with former spies and congressmen. Pakistan also spent a good deal of money on lobbyists including Paul Mannefort. In the mid sixties, Pakistan was considered to be the hottest developing economy in the region. That period was highly influential for American diplomatic thinking. Then, two things happened. They got themselves in a war yielding a never ending state of tension with India and they became a military dictatorship. The economy for the Pakistani people suffered but the military slice of the budget increased dramatically. There came to be an unspoken understanding. America would support the Pakistani military in their unending hostilities with India, and Pakistan would be our front line in South Asia for the Cold War. Weapons were lavished on Pakistan. By the 1980’s they had American nuclear technology in their hands. An investigation into how the Pakistanis acquired American nuclear technology was stopped by the CIA. Apparently, no one at STATE bothered to do a cost benefit analysis. Years later, when auditors went to Pakistan to look at some of the finances of US/Pakistani relations, they were gunned down in the street by “unknown assailants”.
What was well known by everybody in Pakistan was that the entire thing was paid for by the US taxpayer and later dope money. It was a common source of humor in the Peshawar bazaars. USAID money was flowing as well as tons of black budget money in the 1980’s. All kinds of well funded NGO’s were popping up. Some had their own C-130’s. The Smuggler’s bazaar, just down the road from the Khyber Pass was awash with Soviet and other COMBLOC consumer goods that their own people could not buy. Refrigerators, stoves, blenders, cameras were all well represented. It was like being in an out door big box store.
A cab driver joked with me one day: “Thank God for Nigeria!”
I asked, “Why?”
“Because they are the only people on the planet more corrupt than we are. They take the heat off of us!”
We both laughed.
Everybody involved joked about Pakistani corruption. No one said a word about American corruption. Bill Casey, head of the Reagan era CIA, once remarked, “when the truth comes out about this, we’re gonna come our smellin’ like a rose.” Funny thing: when, in the 1990’s, a Pakistani bank, BCCI, was exposed for clearing dope money as well as CIA funds going to the Mujheddin, no one ever mentioned that the bank was set up by the CIA. Billions of dollars went through that bank. American corruption was huge. But the BCCI story disappeared after it was claimed to be a Pakistani thing.
Pakistan was always odd in that a “developing country”, a phrase more polite than perhaps how President Trump would put it, could afford the weapons it was buying. The helicopter gunships used to massacre Bolochi civilians were not free and came from the US. The maintenance on those helos was performed by American contractors. The training for the pilots was done in the US. When a deal was struck between the US and Chinese Polytechnologies to buy folding stock AK rifles for the Mujaheddin, a funny thing happened. The Pakistani Army traded up their old sten guns, Lee Enfields and FN’s for new AK’s. They even sported new British Bull Pup rifles as well. Once, I was sat down on a park bench with a CIA officer who, among other things, told me that they factored in a 27% (or some figure like that) for every middleman in the arms pipeline. I was floored. Imagine if that happened with an oil pipeline. Curiously, everybody pointed at Afghan corruption as they always do. I’ve seen what passes for Afghan corruption. It does exist. But I would liken it to so much squabbling over what is left. The real corruption was American, followed by Pakistan. The line between corporate corruption and government corruption was extremely blurry. In my time on the hill in the 1980’s, I was aware of money coming out of Congressman Charlie Wilson’s office to other offices on the Hill. But there were other avenues as well. There were several investigations into Pakistani nationals giving money to US politicians which made it to the news but nothing substantial happened in the way of prison sentences, etc. Well disguised kickbacks still come to Washington from Pakistan. It has long been an institution in Washington.
There was a central logistical fallacy of the covert supply of weapons to the Mujaheddin. It is echoed in our present logistical chain for US forces in Afghanistan. US. supplies went over land through Pakistan to be disbursed by the Pakistani ISI. This fact has been glossed over continually. It is part of the misdirection used to keep citizens in the dark about what went on during “Charlie Wilson’s War”. In fact, there was a long established doctrine in the US military with regard to the methodology of covertly delivering arms to combatants in an insurgency. American covert weapons supply is almost always done by air delivery. A key reason for this is to make sure that weapons get to the people who are actually doing the fighting. It gives intel officers a way to have command leverage on the ground and it cuts out a lot of corruption. Bill Casey was parachuted into Nazi occupied France as were many weapons bundles. The secret war in Laos was supplied by air. At the same time as the Afghan War against the Soviets was cooking, Col. Ollie North was shipping weapons to the Contras by air. It was a classic CIA air delivery system. All of it was carried out by former CIA employees. But Afghanistan was supplied by this leaky, corrupt over land pipeline. Why?
At first the CIA claimed that covert air supply could not be done, too dangerous. So we hired a former CIA pilot and sent him into Afghanistan to make a report. He did and he reported that it was very possible given the mountain ranges that could mask a plane from ground based radar. There were also multiple methods of delivery available from landing to LAPSE drops. We held a conference in 1985 in which a much respected figure in the field of covert war, Dr. Edward Luttwak outlined the many possibilities for air supply and the operational details that were all well within the CIA’s area of capabilities. So they changed their story and, get this: The CIA then claimed that they could not deliver to Afghanistan by air because they could not violate Pakistani sovereignty. Yes, the CIA claimed that they were worried about Pakistani sovereignty. This was a story they stuck to for many years. Given the consideration they gave to every other country whose sovereignty they violated, that seemed quite a stretch. Given that they have no problem listening in on allied foreign leaders’ phone calls, routinely carry out acts of war against many other countries in the world, we knew this was a lie. But the Congress bought it and Pakistan came to be the quartermaster of an American covert supply operation. It was, on its’ face, a shockingly stupid idea. It was this operation that first put Ossama Bin Laden on America’s payroll.
It left us wondering how it ever came to pass that a debtor fascist Islamic kleptocracy could dictate to the CIA terms to let them distribute and rip off a multi million dollar arms pipeline?
The answer was the arms trade. Even then, the death merchants were calling the shots in US policy. It has to be remembered that Congressman “Good Times” Charlie Wilson from Texas was holding critical keys to the money in the Congress from his Appropriations committee seat. Charlie was a bought and paid for politician working for General Dynamics, whose headquarters was just down the road from Charlie’s district. The Pakistanis got what they wanted because they were buying expensive weapons from the US like F-16’s and helicopter gunships and they could afford it with USAID money and a variety of other aid and loan packages extended to them over the years. American politicians got what they wanted and it usually came straight from Good Time Charlie’s office. It had been going on for so long that STATE people regarded the grants, board memberships, jobs and payments that they were getting as an entitlement. If you go to the right conferences, you’ll hear them say it. It became an institution. Even after the Congress began to become skeptical of the arrangement, some time after 2002, ways were alway found to feed and arm Pakistan. The Congress would vote to end funding Pakistan’s military and the money would slip through as a rider on some bill no one was paying any attention to. This is how the appetites of the military industrial complex have been fed for decades. Money flowed from the US, went to Pakistan and they bought US made weapons, hired trainers and other contractors. Washington facilitators were compensated with post government service contracts, grants, jobs and favors. It still goes on to this day. It has become a self perpetuating institution and there are more than a few congressional liaison offices who know that their job is to lie to the Congress. It became an important element that made the glue that kept the United States wallowing in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. American troops are still supplied by an overland route through Pakistan which we pay for and is the source of 50% of the Taliban budget. That figure comes from the Taliban. If you really don’t know how over a trillion US bucks disappear, you can start there. The money buys bullets for the very people we are fighting. There is nothing secret about this. It’s simply never discussed and treated as an irrelevant detail for wonks to fret over.
Foreign policy professionals see presidents and politicians come and go but have to deal with their areas of expertise continually. Some pols are smarter than others, some more knowledgable than others. At Foggy Bottom, none are deemed to be smarter than the bureaucrat at his or her desk. So, when a new administration sweeps in, it becomes a mission to educate, shape or corral that elected official into what has been the long planned objectives of Foggy Bottom. If it isn’t that way, it would be like having to throw all one’s efforts away every four to eight years. This carries with it the loss of career advancements and stunting ambitions every four or eight years. Bureaucrats have to be patient planners. They are deeply allergic to leaders who they see as impetuous. So the ship of state has become very difficult for presidents to steer. Many give up or don’t bother trying. All have to make compromises. This state of affairs is not new and is only highlighted by the Trump presidency. What is new is that civil servants are now openly contradicting the US Constitution claiming that they and not the White House determine foreign policy. What Mr. Trump may have done is to create an incentive for Foggy Bottom to change its’ policies and tilt toward India and away from Pakistan because the volume of business between the US and India has been increased dramatically and will likely improve as US-China relations deteriorate.
India, an ally in Afghanistan which is vastly more committed than perhaps any other of the US’ “coalition of the willing”, has been looking at the Afghan mess with a cold analytical eye. Whatever the American motive for being in Afghanistan is, India is there for one reason, Pakistan. Initially, they wanted to deny Pakistan the ability to propagate more flavors of violent Islamic Looney Tunes. Pakistan is the sponsor of many already. No serious observer denies this. Pakistan claims to be fighting their own indigenous terror groups but given the map of where the action has been, it is probably better understood as a dope turf war between the Army, deeply involved in opium, and local klans and gangs flying Jihadi colors. It’s a delicate balance for Pakistan to keep their militias as free standing, self sustaining, deniable entities. The author has been in the region with established dopers and has been a guest of several ruling clans (as well as a hilarious hashish smoking afternoon with the commander of the local Frontier Corps and half the barracks.) The entire area is a dope and gun running industry. Loyalties to Pakistan are decidedly soft. The lucrative dope and gun running trades thrive in the legal ambiguity of the region. This is likely to come under greater examination by Pakistan as the US reduces its’ footprint or pulls out. It is an area of very real, if potential, friction. The whole thing could go off in a very bad way for Pakistan.
Pakistan has no intention of scaling back its’ terror operations, much of which depends on a porous border. It is quite simply the most effective foreign policy tool they have ever had including their nuclear arsenal. So to say that they are going to continue with the practice is a pretty safe bet. However, they see Afghanistan as a far better place for the care and feeding of their misguided children. Afghanistan is far better because it is another layer of deniability. That was the point of all of their previous training camps in Afghanistan and before the US invasion. The initial ones were in the Kunar valley and around Jalalabad. The conversation among Pakistani leaders now is likely to decide what parts of Afghanistan to annex, what parts to dominate but leave across a border and what parts to leave to the Taliban. This will be tricky as the vast majority of the border is based on an expired agreement defined by an arbitrary border called the Durand line. Afghanistan never recognized it but the Pashtun tribe, which has always dominated the Taliban has been talking about it more recently. They too have prospered by having a certain amount of ambiguity which benefits the smuggling industry in the region. But the Pakistani understanding of the ambiguity and the Taliban understanding of it may well conflict. Pakistan has been issuing ID cards to Afghans who live on the Afghan side of the border and setting up madrassas which teach Afghan children the Pakistani language, Urdu, not the Pastun language, Pashto. It is one of many signs that Pakistan has ambitions and appetites that may lead to friction with the Pashtuns. This would be a very possible situation for India to exploit. They have tried to before in Balochistan. They failed because of US weapons supplied to the Pakistani military which were more than decisive and the population of Balochistan is widely spread out.
There is already some speculation that the Taliban may now break away from its dependance on Pakistan. The relationship has been deteriorating for years. When the Taliban discovered that the death of their leader, Omar, was kept secret from them and that they had been receiving directives from Pakistan, masquerading as Omar, the relationship began to fray considerably. It has been clear that the Taliban negotiating in Doha have little authority over the Taliban in the field. Without a foreign enemy, the US, the bonds between them will continue to unravel. There is also some speculation that the long simmering dispute over the Durand line will create tension between Islamabad and Quetta. There is still a real problem with the Balochi issue in the south of Pakistan. Jezail.org does not see any of this as serious unless some outside entity chooses to play it – which is possible. Pakistan is very much more easily imploded as a state than many policy makers understand. It would be far easier to implode Pakistan than Venezuela for example.
There have been many comments about how the Taliban curtailed the opium industry. It is widely assumed that they simply outlawed opium cultivation and enforced their law. This is not entirely true. They enforced opium cultivation that benefitted the Northern Alliance, their adversary. However, in the south, in areas like Helmand, they bought the opium from farmers who were their supporters. They then stored it in caves in and around Lashkar Gah. The drop in availability spiked the prices and the Taliban had essentially commoditized the opium trade. The fact is that the Taliban were deeply involved in opium production. The Haqqani family were pioneers in it. Whatever the Taliban chooses to do about opium in the future will be far more pragmatic than to simply ban it. That is not an option for them. Opium is, by far, the most important sector of the Afghan economy and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
The Taliban will have their hands full. The civil war between them and the Kabul government is still undecided. That war is about to play out again. The Taliban will almost certainly still enjoy Pakistani support. But will Pakistan really back them to win or will they engineer the war to take slices off of Afghanistan for themselves? We suspect the latter. Pakistan may decide that there are more profits and concessions to be gained by dragging out a Taliban war against the Kabul regime. They have already played that game with the Mujaheddin in the 1980’s, dragging out a war for at least 4 years after Gorbachev announced that he was pulling the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. If so, they will be playing a dangerous game. But supporting and manipulating harsh Islamic military movements is well within Pakistan’s comfort zone. The real rulers of Pakistan are still the Army and the ISI, not Imran Khan or the civilian government. The Pakistani military are authoritarian, expansionists and have appetites accustomed to unlimited American bribes and fat slices of the Pakistani national budget. With American money drying up, will they go cold turkey? Probably not. They are also hubristic gamblers and the combination could suck them in over their heads in Afghanistan. The dream of every swagger stick may well be to have an estate the country, even if it is another country, Afghanistan.
India clearly regrets losing the US as an ally in Afghanistan. They may well pull out themselves. But they may also be happy to see Pakistan get sucked into the notorious “graveyard for empires”. It would probably keep Pakistan preoccupied and off India’s back for some time. But they are not there yet. India is still in a mode of supporting the Kabul regime’s survival as a way to keep Pakistan contained. That has been India’s policy for years. While they are regretting losing the US as an ally, they take the fight in Afghanistan far more seriously than America or its’ european allies. The tension between Pakistan and India will remain unchanged because without it, the military of Pakistan cannot claim as large a slice of the Pakistani budget as they have enjoyed for decades. For India, Afghanistan is always there as a possible way to tie down Pakistan, distract it and suck energy and treasure out of it. Once they realize that the cost of an insurgency is far cheaper than maintaining a counter-insurgency, they may become comfortable with an insurgent challenge to a Pakistani takeover and sucking Pakistan into a role that neither the Soviets nor America could pull off.
For the moment, too many of the regional players are interested in the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative to upset any apple carts. However, Pakistani leadership has a history of punching above their weight and over playing their hand. If they try to exert more control over the border areas, for example, Pakistan could expose themselves to being imploded by an outside player willing to support or expand an insurgency. If they try to enforce or even negotiate their interpretation of the Durand line, a lot could go wrong very quickly. The cost of supporting an insurgency is far below the cost of a counter insurgency and well within the reach of smaller players. We note the success of Iran’s support for Yemen even though Iran is seriously short of funds. Whatever does happen, the next regional move likely will be made by Pakistan. Jezail.org believes that they will make a reach for some previously unobtainable objective. If history is any guide, that reach may be a bit too far.
Will there be peace in Afghanistan? Absolutely not. Will the US really get out? That is certainly a lot more likely with Trump’s latest moves in India and the Doha talks. However the American constituency for the war did not die. Violence in Afghanistan will continue. The war constituency in America has many tools at their disposal to try to provoke fighting between US forces and the Taliban or any number of other mystery Jiahdi zoo denizens. It remains to be seen if they will pull any of those levers.
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Does the author imagined anyone at all got anywhere near the end of his article with it fantastical theories. I would bet him a sizeable sum that no one did. Try editing your verbiage down to 800 words or so and people might read you.
” ….. US “interests”. The war in Afghanistan went on for as long as it did because it benefitted bureaucrats, policy makers and military professionals as well as the military contractors and civilian contractors. It is a form of largely legalized corruption. Many deals were struck. …..”
Of course, this is why the US military will stay in Afghanistan forever, peace deal or no peace deal. They won’t leave, until kicked out by force.