President Obama’s highly anticipated new strategy for what the Pentagon now calls AfPak – Afghanistan and Pakistan – is full of grey areas. Most extra troops will be deployed to poppy-growing areas, not to fight al-Qaeda, the President’s stated number one objective. The President talks about building trust – but as the US cannot trust the Pakistani ISI, the Pakistani people don’t trust the US or even their own government. Pepe Escobar argues there are many more strategic issues at play than meets the eye – and the President and his team’s spin.
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BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: What we want to do is to refocus attention on al-Qaeda. We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are going to make sure that they cannot attack US citizens, US soil, US interests, and our allies’ interests around the world. In order for us to do that, we have to ensure that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can serve as a safe haven for al-Qaeda.
PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Washington, we got a problem. Why do you need a surge of 17,000 troops deployed against the Taliban in the poppy-growing province of Helmand in the south, and not in the east and southeast in Afghanistan, plus 4,000 advisers to train the Afghan army, if you actually need to fight no more than 200 or 300 al-Qaeda roaming in Afghanistan plus another 400 maximum in the Pakistani tribal areas? And, by the way, they’re not Afghans; they’re mostly Arabs with a few Uzbeks, Chechens, and Uyghurs thrown in. Anyway, the puppet in Kabul, he loved Obama’s plan to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban, especially because it involves the improbable hunt for the good Taliban mixed with special ops inside Pakistan. The puppet in Islamabad, well, he loved it too, but his foreign office diplomats definitely didn’t. AfPak has got to be 2009’s prime theater of the absurd. It took The New York Times and usual American officials something like 13 years to discover that the Pakistani ISI, their CIA, helps the Taliban, and this while the CIA, alongside with the ISI pals, they are compiling a mega hit list in the Pashtun tribal areas inside Pakistan. So maybe this is what CENTCOM’s supremo general David Petraeus means by trilateral love affair.
MAN: It’s also important that this be trilateral. And, in fact, as Richard explains frequently, the intelligence services of these two countries, which have had quite a bit of enmity between them, they also have to cooperate. And we’re going to work together, all of us, to try to foster that cooperation as well.
ESCOBAR: Dependent on Petraeus’ preferred pal is Pakistani army’s chief general, Ashfaq Kayani. He loved what is not in Obama’s presentation of the surge—the drone war over Pashtun lands. As for the Pakistani people, who have no say in all of this, they see it as a charade and al-Qaeda as a threat to the US and not to Pakistan.
OBAMA: What we want to do is say to the Pakistani people: you are our friends, you are our allies, we are going to give you the tools to defeat al-Qaeda and to root out these safe havens, but we also expect some accountability, and we expect that you understand the severity and the nature of the threat. In addition what we want to do is to help Pakistan grow its economy, to be able to provide basic services to its people, and that, I think, will help strengthen those efforts. If the Pakistan government doesn’t have credibility, if they are weakened, then it’s going to be much more difficult for them to deal with the extremism within their borders.
ESCOBAR: So Obama is selling all this basically as nation-building based on trust. But the US cannot trust the ISI and the Pakistani government, while the Pakistani people, they cannot trust the US. Now, take a look at this manual prepared by US Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC—one more wonderful Pentagon acronym for us to memorize. It’s all spelled out. This is a US war against, yes, Pashtuns who are funded by drug-smuggling and US allies in the Gulf—they don’t say that, but they are US allies in the Gulf—who are trained and assist by, yes, the ISI, with some, in fact, marginal al-Qaeda assistance. Al-Qaeda’s a detail. The Americans don’t understand al-Qaeda. They have a pan-Islamic agenda, while the various groups we call the Taliban are in a war against foreign occupation. On page 10, they finally admit that Karzai in Kabul is supported by a lot of warlord militias involved in crime, narcotrafficking, and smuggling. The key thing here is not terrorism; it is the control over the very, very lucrative poppy-heroin manufacturing and smuggling routes. Then there’s the stark admission by a former Taliban that they are not the real enemy. If Kabul was not so corrupt, incapable of providing security for ordinary Afghans, most Pashtuns would not even be Taliban. Well, no wonder the Obama administration, they will love to get rid of Hamid Karzai. So this is not exactly about terrorists, is it? In Asia they know it. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which groups China, Russia, and the ‘Stans of Central Asia, they’re all neighbors of Afghanistan. They met in Moscow last week to discuss Afghanistan ahead of the NATO meeting in the Hague this week, privileged by the US. And this is how Asia sees it. And that’s one of the key issues that are absolutely taboo for Obama to touch upon. They don’t want US military bases in Central Asia. And no wonder Iran, which is currently observer and soon a full member, said the SCO is no way to solve the whole mess in Afghanistan, and not NATO. At least 40 percent of Afghans, they are either Shiites or they speak Dari, which is a Persian language. So the ties with Iran are very, very close. Well, at least Holbrooke admits it.
MAN: The door is open for Iran to participate in international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. Those must involve all the neighbors, including India, China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, plus our NATO allies.
ESCOBAR: And if Holbrooke is clever, he should immediately buy dinner for legendary mujahid Ismael Khan, the Lion of Herat.
VOICEOVER TRANSLATION: Naturally, if there was friendship between Iran and America, it will not only benefit these two countries; it will help the region and very directly affect Afghanistan.
ESCOBAR: Did Obama’s strategic reviewers read this report? Well, apparently not. It states, and I quote, “The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single-most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.” So would you buy a used car—I’m sorry, war, from people like Mullen, Petraeus, McKiernan? Well, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who’s seen them all since Kennedy, he wouldn’t. They resemble all too closely the gutless general officers who never looked down at what was really happening in Vietnam. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of that time have been called, not without reason, a sewer of deceit. So what if this has nothing to do with terrorists but, number one, Cold War mentality in action, a Vietnam-style surge expanding the war, then to Cambodia and now to Pakistan? The US empire of bases, close surveillance over Russia and China, and block Russia from a route to the Middle East via Pakistan. And last but not least, the energy wars. And this is what it’s all about. I’ll show you here in my non-digital, non-CNN magic map. Look, this is the 7.6 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, the TAPI pipeline. It goes from here, Turkmenistan, crosses Herat to east of Iran (that’s where Ismael Khan’s territory is), crosses this very, very long Taliban-controlled area in the Helmand and [inaudible] provinces, crosses Balochistan in Pakistan, and goes to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea. So is AfPak the Pentagon’s AIG—bail them out, don’t let them fail? Would it be Obama’s Vietnam? Whatever it is, it’s not about terrorists. Not really. Follow the money, follow the energy, follow the map.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.