Afghanistan: the Helmand huff

“It is better to be torn by a loin than to be loved by a jackal.” : Pashto proverb

Helmand has been a graveyard of foreign forces. Kipling advised in 1898, “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle an’ blow out your brains An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier..” The British Defense Secretary Ainsworh has warned of the expected casualties! Helmand hardcore heeds its horrid history!

by I. M. Mohsin

The foreign forces appear to be pursuing confusing tactics to tame the enemy. Till about two months back, Karzai was a “cheat” and US and its allies had to find an aggressive way-out of the Afghan quagmire. Though the US manpower losses are nominal, the history of the area proves that far more pernicious prospects lie in store than in the case of Vietnam, with all its awful baggage. As the new strategy recommended by the General staff was adopted by the Administration, there was huffing and puffing in the government circles in US etc. The Afghans heard, with mixed feelings, of new reinforcements to the US troops. Other countries have their problems in adding to their military stre-ngth. Predictably the Taliban threatened more attacks on the occupation forces, while the status quo milieu welcomed it. Pakistan questioned this development for two reasons. First, that it would lead to more bloo-dshed on both sides; the Afghan civilians, who have been subjected to indiscriminate bo-mbings would be affected more, like their brothers on the Pakistani border. Second, that as the Taliban experience disproportionate bombing etc, they will tend to seek refuge in the mountainous hideouts on our side.

The AfPak border is a much worse delineation as compared with the Mexican border, which also has a poor history. At many points there is no formal boundary; a wall, pillar or check post. Till now Pakistan has no surveillance equipment worthy of mention despite having been a partner of the US’ “war on ter-ror” launched by George W. The NATO forces deployed on the other side of border should be much better equipped in principle but they also appear to have no clear policy. As tradition rules the roost, the people on either side have enjo-yed the right of passage for routine purposes, and even the British Empire put up with this anomaly handled by their ‘political administration’. Besides, the border did not matter at all when the US and Pakistan were helping these brave people to force out the Soviet forces.

Millions of our Afghan brothers were accommodated in and around Peshawar, Kohat, etc to facilitate their regular contribution to the then, profusely praised/projected by the CIA, ‘jihad’.

In the mid-eighties, it was awesome to see how the CIA would propagate Islamic traditions among the Muslim combatants related to the coveted status of jihad in Islam. Our interaction revealed that the Americans were being fed in this propaganda by scholars mainly from the Middle East who were doing all this in good faith. No wonder, the cold war CIA was a very professional organization which suffered loss of status and in terms of manpower after the US became the only superpower. Following 9/11 It was given a final raw deal by the neocons following it remains a conundrum till this day despite the 9/11 Commission report and the research done by some Americans. 9/11 also remains a big question-mark for the people in Asia while the Afghans, generally, hold it to be a US trick to destroy their country. The Taliban hold it be staged to punish them for refusing to oblige UNOCAL, now merged in Chevron, which was dying to get a pipeline project from Central Asian countries through Afghanistan and Pakistan to beat the Russian efforts to capture a sellers’ market. The enthusiasm of our American frie-nds, including the former Ambassador to Pakistan Oakley, in trying to persuade the Taliban regime to clinch the deal was worth noticing. As the oil industry in the US is one of the dem-ons, which protects the stakes of the, generally, rich families, including the Bushes, even the Administration of Bill Clinton was making sensible gestures to bail out their oil-giant. Unfortunately, the Brazilian company, called Bridas, spoiled the show by offering a higher bid which induced the Taliban to deliberate more on this issue. As the US Presidential election 2000 came on, they waited for the results to come.

Tables were turned on them as Bush won, thanks to Jeb Bush and Florida scandals overlooked by the US Supreme Court, leading to the armag-eddon in New York and subsequent massacres in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter took up the challenge with their own timeline. Gen Mchrystal, like Gen Petraeus, is a very well-read officer. On taking over command, he rightly condemned the approach of his predecessors in Afghanistan.

Insisting on ‘winning the hearts and minds of the people’ by providing them viable security, no matter what is the cost, and sincere implementation of reconstruction programs to alleviate sufferings of the people who are subjected to death and destruction over the last 30 years. In pursuance of the same, he is planning to launch attacks on Helmand where, as usual, the ‘enemy’ holds sway. Forces have been rushed there amid lot of fanfare despite the fact that the security situation all over the country remains murky. The Taliban, being in a defiant mood, have reacted accordingly. No wonder they are also getting ready while saying, as the Pashto proverb goes, “it is better to be torn by a loin than to be loved by a jackal.”

The upshot of all such moves is that the local population is seriously disturbed about their security. Many are migrating to other areas to escape more suffering. Being an internally displaced person poses many challenges but the Pashtuns dislike it as a fall-out of war. So such sabre rattling by foreign troops would alienate the people even further.

The above dimension also runs counter to the scheme of things formulated in the London Conference recently. While Karzai is going around trying to win over his “disenchanted bro-thers”, his mentors are, perhaps, unconsciously, working at a tangent. It runs counter to the spirit of Defence Secretary Gat-es’ recent statement accepting that the Taliban are a part of Afghan ‘political’ spectrum.

Helmand has been a graveyard of foreign forces. Kipling advised in 1898, “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle an’ blow out your brains An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier..” The British Defense Secretary Ainsworh has warned of the expected casualties! Helmand hardcore heeds its horrid history!

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