The American’s have the watches, the Taliban have the time, so went a saying familiar around the halls of government in Afghanistan.
Trying to understand the motivation of the war being fought by the Taliban has seemingly bewildered all who take a position on the matter. But the answer is simple. The Taliban are not pursuing world domination, they simply want to return to control of Afghanistan as a religious state. They did so for five years prior to the US invasion in 2001 which took place less than 3 weeks after 9/11. The Americans were on face value, after bin Laden however the long term objective was and has been to this day to remove the Taliban.
Under normal international law, there is a process of extradition. Australia has now been going though this legal process for several years on a couple of case, one in India and another in Israel. At the time, the Taliban required the US to provide a legal basis to hand over bin Laden. They weren’t that concerned about him other than what amounted to due process. That was not how things transpired.
The Americans invaded, the Taliban leadership were routed and the US put the rest of the world under pressure to insert an interim government while bin Laden had fled to the hills around Tora Bora near the border with Pakistan.
The Taliban themselves had initially evolved during the aftermath of the Russian occupation when the country was without a government, heavily divided along ethnic lines the country descended into civil war. Warlords, independent of any central government ran small fiefdoms that took control of the various regions with civil war raging on several fronts.
At their onset, the Taliban was in fact a popular revolt by religious students against the criminal excess of the warlords, many of whom had initially been funded and armed by the US in the insurgency against the Russian backed Afghan government were now running rampant.
On the appointment of an interim government, many of the former warlords were reinstalled as provincial governors since they controlled the biggest regional militia at the time. It was only after some years that these militias were largely disarmed and disbanded and incorporated into a national army.
Since then, with varying shifts in the approach, the US led coalition has been pursuing the Taliban cells as they re-emerge throughout regional Afghanistan. The truth is, they never really went away, they just blended into the society.
When Karzai was President, he was known colloquially as the Mayor of Kabul rather than the President since that was about the only territory the Afghan government had fully under its control.
As international forces move out of a zone, the Taliban quickly move back in and frequently dominate whole regions of the country. The Taliban are not winning the war but they still have the time.
Which brings us to the announcement this week by President Ashraf Ghani after several high casualty incidents over the past weeks, he is now prepared to recognise the Taliban as a political party in exchange for a ceasefire, an outcome that all the military might of the US and coalition forces have not been able to facilitate to date.
The objective, now seen by both sides to be of advantage to Afghanistan is the construction of the $10 billion Caspian Sea Gas pipeline that will transcend Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, a project that was originally commenced in March 1995 by a conglomerate partnership led by American firm Unocal when a memorandum between Turkmenistan and Pakistan was signed. While Mullah Omah leading the Taliban offered support to bin Laden, the American firm withdrew in December 1998.
It was around this period that Dick Cheney, who at the time was the President of American contracting giant Halliburton and later to become Vice President of the US, made a statement regarding the Caspian oil and gas, that the oil and gas was worthless unless it was moved and the only economic and political option was through Afghanistan.
9/11 became the catalyst for the Americans to launch a unilateral invasion of Afghanistan, pulling in the Coalition of the Willing including Australian forces in a mission ostensibly to pursue bin Laden. A few days prior to 9/11 the US energy information administration reported that “Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from central Asia to the Arabian sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan”
But while the oil and gas were the major objectives, selling this as the reason to invade to the American public was unpalatable and required a justifiable option, much like the arguments of Weapons of Mass Destruction were the excuse to invade Iraq. That option became the eradication of Islamic terrorism, the emancipation of Afghan women among other things and at times the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
Australia bought into the invasion in early 2001. While stationed in Jalalabad during 2002 on an early development project, the Australian military were still active and finally withdrew in December 2002.
At a cost of the lives of some 40 Australian military personal and a financial cost of some $7.5 billion, Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan has brought little benefit to either to Australia or Afghanistan. This hardly equates to the $2 trillion and the total 3407 coalition lives lost, however it is significant in the sense that it could have been achieved at a much earlier stage, simply by accepting the Taliban as a political party of the country.
Although the leadership might have moved to Quetta, the general movement remained where they were, in the towns and villages throughout the occupied area. The underlying purpose of the Taliban was to pull the country into becoming an Islamic state, which, in the absence of any semblance law and order at the time was to any observer, possibly the most logical option had it not been so brutal. Many Arab states still operate on a similar precept with impunity and for the most part, the world didn’t really concern itself other than for the brutality for the five years leading up to the invasion. As General Smedley Butler, a decorated former General of the US marines was to say in his retirement
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
The serving generals of the American and even Australian army, if they could be honest may possibly even make a similar statement about the purpose of their service in places like Afghanistan.
In the meantime, the pipeline will go through, profits will be made, the Taliban will return to the halls of power, the Afghan people in the villages will retain a strict Islamic culture and life will go on and Muslims throughout the world will have to bear the brunt of anti-Islamic sentiment and propaganda for years to come. For Australia, the only outcome is that our soldiers have died, our treasury raided, our rights have been decimated in the process and our community divided simply to serve the interests of American corporations.