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Junaid: US troops may be able to control Kandahar for a time, but cannot control the countryside

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Afghanistan, the battle for Kandahar is on. That’s receiving strangely little attention in the American media. Joining us from England, from Essex, is Muhammad Junaid, who’s a research scholar studying the Pashtun nation. Thanks for joining us, Junaid.

MUHAMMAD JUNAID: Thank you very much.

JAY: So you’ve been talking to people who are coming and going from Kandahar. What are you hearing? What’s going on on the ground there?

JUNAID: Yes. Apparently, the American and NATO forces have started to secure Kandahar now by establishing 13 check posts around it and controlling the inflow and outflow of people and goods from and to it. We have to look at these steps in the context of the last six months and one year, and also in the context of geography. If you look at it over the last six months, the main aim of the US and the American troops was to somehow force the Pakistani military and the government to flush out all the Taliban from Waziristan. However, due to lack of resources or due to some strategic reason, Pakistani army was not able to do that, and they didn’t do it. The main reason behind that was that the tip of Waziristan is only 65 miles away from Kabul, which is the center of all activity for the government and the army in Afghanistan. So the NATO and American forces could not go in huge number towards Kandahar, as it is more than 500 miles away.

JAY: But they’re afraid that if all the troops are down in Kandahar, it leaves Kabul exposed.

JUNAID: Yes, it does. And there is, you know, also—the famous bases are, you know, also there, and it’s the main place. So if Kabul is taken or, you know, if it is hurt badly, then it’s a very big shame for all of the people there, for all the NATO and Americans. However, now they have started to secure it.

JAY: Now, by “secure it”, you mean secure Kandahar.

JUNAID: Yes, secure Kandahar—.

JAY: Yeah, we hear that they’re doing Baghdad-style security, like retinal scans and issuing new identity cards to everyone.

JUNAID: Exactly. What they want to do is, you know, allow those people to have Kandahar life who are comparatively subdued, who do not oppose the military and the Karzai government, at least by taking up arms, whoever it is, the Taliban or anybody. They have also deployed a militia force, if you remember. And a few weeks ago, if you remember, Taliban took responsibility for a suicide bombing in a marriage party where more than 40 people were killed. According to my sources, that marriage party belonged to that militia, a militia force which was being supported by the American forces. But that militia cannot look after itself against Taliban, because they’re too much into war and too seasoned for them. In my opinion, they will be able to control the inflow and outflow of people and goods in [western] Kandahar, which is not a very big deal. However, they will be hurt to some extent in doing that. The real challenge will come when they have to keep a sustainable lock on that city and subdue people for a long term. And another challenge will come when they have to flush Taliban out of the nearby villages. And then, when they extend their mission to the desert surrounding Kandahar and to the raw lands, that will be the biggest challenge, which will see a lot of blood if they try to do that.

JAY: So the civilians are caught in the middle of all this. You’ve got the US forces saying they’re not going to kill civilians—or do everything they can not to. The Taliban issued a statement a few weeks ago saying that they’re going to try not to kill civilians. But the truth is this could be very bloody, and it’s civilians that are going to bear the bloodiness of it.

JUNAID: Yes, because, you know, it is a guerrilla war. So we should, you know, remember a few things. I mean, Taliban will be—in the end, you know, will be ready to give up Kandahar as a major base of activity, yes. However, they will not be ready to give it up without, you know, claiming some blood, or maybe a lot of blood. It has happened, you know, in many places in history that whenever a city is going to be taken over, what happens is they leave a few people back, a few warriors back, who just, you know, try to create havoc. And in that, the worst target is the common people who have nothing to do with war. The military can look after itself. The suicide bombers and those people who are left behind are basically on a mission to kill as many as possible, and die themselves, and the common people are the target now.

JAY: Now, what difference has General Petraeus made now that he’s in charge? When McChrystal was there, apparently US troops were complaining that McChrystal was tying their hands and not letting them fight because—out of fear of collateral damage, killing civilians. We hear Petraeus has actually relaxed–things there now on this side. What difference has Petraeus made?

JUNAID: Well, I mean, you know, the military policies are never, you know, leaked. However, in the last three months, you can clearly see what happened. I mean, yesterday I read a news that 11 people were killed in a funeral, and before that, there were people, you know, in large numbers killed in Shighnan District, if you remember, more than 50 which were claimed. So, surely, things have been relaxed by Petraeus, and the military’s, you know, using its heavy hand now, and there will be, you know, civilian casualties, as it seems. It will be bloody.

JAY: I mean, the truth of this is there is simply no way for the American forces to achieve their objective without using some kind of strikes against—particularly when they get to villages in Kandahar. But when they start fighting in the countryside, there’s no way for them to distinguish who’s Taliban and who isn’t. They’re going to wind up having to kill a lot of civilians, or they’re not going to take any of this territory. Is that not true?

JUNAID: This is very true. First of all, they cannot differentiate. Secondly, we also have to know, okay, it is not Taliban, actually, who are—you know, who are the main force fighting, although we see only Taliban. But it is not Taliban. There are multiple factors. I think there is Russia, there is China, there is Iran. Even there is North Korea. There are reports that North Korea, you know, supplied some missiles to Taliban. So US has a lot of enemies. And then there are—you know, I think every country would hate US, you know, to have permanent bases in Afghanistan. There are so many enemies for America to tackle, and the face of it looks like Taliban, but there are so many enemies and everybody’s, you know—.

JAY: So what you mean by that is the forces fighting the Americans have a lot of places to go for money, for arms, for different kinds of support.

JUNAID: Yes. They are being actively supported, as the news comes. And the media, you know, puts it only to the drug money, that, you know, there is only—the Taliban are, you know, supported by drug money. But that’s—you know, it doesn’t have, you know, enough roots; drug money is not enough. You need to have, you know, a lot of weapons. You need to have, you know, sanctuaries to live in. And those sanctuaries are being provided, you know, in Pakistan regions to some extent, which are ungoverned and which are ungoverned since two centuries [inaudible] and, you know, the other countries, China and Russia.

JAY: Well, we’re told that, you know, through Wikileaks—and of course most of us knew this anyway—that Pakistan has been accused by the Americans of playing a double game here. And especially with the flooding now, Pakistani troops are all caught up in trying to deal with the effects of the flooding, hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. But aside from that, is there any evidence that Pakistan is getting support or direction one way or the other with the Afghan Taliban fighting the Americans?

JUNAID: Well, because—you know, I belong to Peshawar. And, you know, what I will tell you is the media is very weak on, you know, its historical memory of the events. Let me, you know, tell you why would there be elements inside Pakistan and probably within ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] or old ISI guard who will be, you know, hand in glove with the Taliban to some extent. It will be natural. Why? Because, you know, when Russia came in to Afghanistan, Pakistani ISI was the main force that was deployed in the front lines to support mujahedin, and the Americans and the rest of the world supported them. It happened. And the ISI somehow, you know, and the Pakistani military, supported them wholeheartedly, to such an extent that USSR was no more and it became a unipolar world. As soon as the Russians were out and the USSR was broken, America was no more seen in Afghanistan; sanctions were slapped on Pakistan; everything went from a strategic ally at one for a decade, things were, you know, 180 degrees suddenly. I personally think, you know, due to the institutional memory of Pakistani army and ISI, they shouldn’t and they wouldn’t give the whole chunk, the whole cake, the 100 percent goal to America, because as soon as they do it, Pakistan will be again in the bad books of America. So they have to keep something [inaudible]

JAY: So as the fighting continues, just shortly, what are you going to be looking for over the next week or two to see what direction this is all going in?

JUNAID: I think, you know, it is slow, it is rather a slow progress. And there will be a skirmish around. People will die. Soldiers will die also. Common people will also die. But I am also afraid that, you know, the media is not allowed to report in a way, you know, they reported on Marja, or, you know, even in operations back then, in the past one decade. You know, most of them have been labeled as a failure. So this operation is not going to be reported in media as the normal one was.

JAY: And just one more question. Is there any evidence that ordinary tribes are picking up arms against the Americans? Or is it all organized Taliban?

JUNAID: Look, if you look at, you know, the history of that place, Afghanis normally do not like invaders. However, they have been subdued for some period of time in the past history. But they cannot be subdued permanently, because at a certain point there is, you know, a cultural clash. There is a cultural clash, because Pashtuns are a majority. There is Tajiks and hazaras, and there is also the fear of Western culture. When those things coincide, they will, you know, surely take up weapons. Some of them would have taken weapons [inaudible] will take up weapons in the future.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Junaid.

JUNAID: Thank you very much.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Muhammad Junaid is a researcher and lecturer at the Institute on Management Studies, University of Peshawar in Pakistan. He holds a Masters degree in Business and IT and contributes regularly to blogs. He is currently doing his PHD in entrepreneurship from University of Essex, UK. His particular topic of interests include the identity of Afghan (Pashtun) entrepreneurs. As a Pashtun himself, he communicates the events in Afghanistan and Pakistan by interpreting them with respect to Pashtun culture.