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  June 18, 2008

Does the Afghan war matter to the US?

Ahmad: Permanent bases and strategy towards China long-term US objectives in Afghanistan (1/4)
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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.

As the Taliban offensive expands in southern Afghanistan, retaliatory actions by NATO and Afghani forces become increasingly likely. On Sunday, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops across Pakistan’s border in quote “hot pursuit.” Amid a general uproar in Pakistan over Karzai’s comments, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani retorted that Pakistan will defend itself at any cost. The Real News Network's Senior Editor Paul Jay discusses the geopolitics of the region with Senior News Analyst Aijaz Ahmad.


REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): As the Taliban offensive expands in southern Afghanistan, retaliatory actions by NATO and Afghani forces become increasingly likely. On Sunday, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, threatened to send troops across Pakistan's border in, quote, "hot pursuit." Amid a general uproar in Pakistan over Karzai's comments, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani retorted that Pakistan will defend itself at any cost. The Real News senior editor Paul Jay discusses the geopolitics of the region with senior news analyst Aijaz Ahmad.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Thank you for joining us for our interview about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the geopolitics of the region. Aijaz, recently, with the American bombings in Pakistan, Karzai's threat to send Afghan troops across the Pakistani border in hot pursuit of the Taliban, there's been some real news coming out of this region, but it's not breaking through in the American news. Does the Afghan war actually matter to America anymore?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: It does very much, both in the short term and in the long term. And what you are saying about these stories never becoming headlines in the United States is absolutely right. For example, the immediate fact that you are talking about, that there were these bombings—for the first time, the United States bombed Pakistan's own military base, and personnel of the Pakistan army were killed. Now, this should be in major news, but it's not major news. This is very striking, that what is major news about Afghanistan never gets discussed. For example, a very important thing very much in the news today with respect to Iraq is this agreement that the Bush administration's trying to sign with the al-Maliki government which gives the United States the right to have bases in Iraq in perpetuity, which creates a situation in which the Iraqi courts don't have any—

JAY: Jurisdiction.

AHMAD: —yes, any jurisdiction over American soldiers and so on and so forth. Now, never has it been discussed in the US media, and even in most of the scholarly journals, that the United States actually did sign such an agreement with the Karzai government in Afghanistan in 2005, three years ago.

JAY: So they have a deal for bases in Afghanistan.

AHMAD: In perpetuity. That never became big news in the United States.

JAY: Which is of great strategic importance, given the relationship to Pakistan, to Iran, but also to the issue of China.

AHMAD: Well, it's such a big news elsewhere. Indians were disturbed because they see Afghanistan as essentially an extension of South Asia and their own sphere of influence. The Central Asian republics were disturbed, and so much so that Azerbaijan actually asked the United States to withdraw its bases. But above all, as soon as that agreement was signed, for the first time in the history, Russia and China undertook military exercises in each other's territories. And this tremendous expansion and intensification of the Shanghai Cooperation Council, in which Russia and China are the leading forces, but then which includes the Central *Asian [inaudible] and so on.

JAY: *So this is all about what's being talked about as the encirclement of China.

AHMAD: Yes, and the Chinese attempt to break out of that encirclement by integrating itself more, both economically and militarily, with Russia, Central Asia, and so on.

JAY: And with Pakistan.

AHMAD: And Pakistan.

JAY: There's a major Chinese port on the Pakistan-Iranian border.

AHMAD: That's right, the Gwadar Port. So that is being intensified, that relationship. That is an old relationship. But in a certain way, you could say that the intensification of the Shanghai Cooperation Council in the military direction is very much a reaction to the kind of bases that the United States is seeking in Afghanistan. Those bases have not been built in a very spectacular way so far, precisely because the reaction to it from Russia and China was so great that the United States sort of backed off.

JAY: We've heard two options for the United States in Afghanistan. One is to participate in some kind of negotiations with the Taliban. The other is for a massive assault on the Taliban in cooperation with the Pakistan army. But neither of these two courses are really being pursued. There's this low-level fighting. Is it because the Americans aren't capable of more? Or is this what they want?

AHMAD: The first option, I think, the time is gone for, actually, negotiations with the Taliban. The time to negotiate with the Taliban was when they were weak, that is to say, soon after the invasion, when they were in disarray. Today they control virtually as much territory as the Karzai government does. Secondly, I think the resistance from the Karzai government and many other of those tribal forces will be far too great for a real settlement with the Taliban, because the structure of power in Afghanistan has changed completely. Now drug lords are inside the government, outside the government, and so on, and a stable government in Afghanistan of that kind is actually not in their favor. I think that time is gone. So far as the other option, the pincer movement, is concerned, that is what actually a part of the Pakistani establishment is willing to do.

JAY: And in part 2 of our interview, let's discuss what are the possibilities for this kind of increased military action on the Pakistan-Afghan border. Please join us for part 2 of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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