Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Mashing Our Monster
WASHINGTON — Everyone thinks the Bush diplomacy on Iraq is a wreck.
Some people do. Not everybody...
It isn't. It's a success because it was never meant to succeed.
Picked right up on that, didn't you?
For the hawks, it's a succès d'estime. (If I may be so gauche as to use a French phrase in a city where federal employees are slapping stickers over the word "French" on packets of French dressing and on machines dispensing French vanilla yogurt at the Capitol. Seeing this made me long for the cold war, when you could eat your Russian dressing in peace and when Jackie Kennedy brought France to heel with élan, brains and charm, rather than scattershot embargos and inane suggestions in the capital L' Enfant planned that we disinter our war dead in France.)
Kinda like referring to the Japanese is Japs, or the Germans as Krauts in WWII, isn't it? No doubt Jackie Kennedy could have brought the Krauts to heel with élan, brains and charm, but we had to rely on killing them. Luckily, we don't have to do that to the Frenchies and Fritzies today...
Sure, the Bushies might be feeling a bit rattled right now, with the old international system and the North Atlantic alliance crashing down around their ears.
Thought you picked up on the fact that it wasn't meant to succeed, Mo? I think they kicked over the traces intentionally. If the UN had been worth keeping, they'd have kept it. But since it was rotten, it broke...
But you can't transfigure the world without ticking off the world.
Especially not those parts of the world that hate you. Sad, but true...
It's not a simple task, carving new divisions in Europe, just as Europe is moving past the divisions that led to the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
Unless they were only pretending to, or trying to convince themselves they had. Y'see, if they had, then the EU wouldn't have split, would it?
The Bush hawks never intended to give peace a chance. They intended to give pre-emption a chance. They never wanted to merely disarm the slimy Saddam. They wanted to dislodge and dispose of him.
If he's dead, he won't bother us anymore, will he?
The president's slapped-together Azores summit is not meant to "go the last mile" on diplomacy, as Ari Fleischer put it. If Mr. Bush really wanted to do that, he'd try to persuade some leaders who disagree with him; he'd confront the antiwar throngs in London, Paris or Berlin and not leave poor, exhausted Tony Blair to always make the case. The hidden huddle in the Azores is trompe l'oeil diplomacy, giving Mr. Blair a little cover, making Poppy Bush a little happy. Just three pals feigning sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya," as the final U.S. troops and matériel move into place in the Persian Gulf and the president's "Interim Iraqi Authority" postwar occupation plan is collated.
There were four, not three. There was no campfire. "Kumbaya" is probably the last thing they'd ever think of singing. And there's no acute on materiel.
The hawks despise the U.N. and if they'd gotten its support, they never would have been able to establish the principle that the U.S. can act wherever and whenever it wants to — a Lone Ranger, no Tontos.
They despise the UN for being ineffectual. Ineffectual is what got us 9-11 — remember back when you were wearing long red gloves, in the anthrax scare, Mo?
Cheney, Rummy, Wolfy, etc. never wanted Colin Powell to find a diplomatic solution. They hate diplomatic solutions. That's why they gleefully junked so many international treaties, multilateral exercises and trans-Atlantic engagements.
... because they weren't working and everybody was too polite to point that out. So somebody said, "Okay, Colin, give it a whirl. If it doesn't work, to hell with them, and we'll do something that doeswork...
They blame the popular Mr. Powell for persuading Bush 41 to end Desert Storm with Saddam still in power, so that the Army would not look as if it was slaughtering the retreating Iraqi Republican Guard. Once the war stopped, American troops could not intervene to help Shiite Muslims rising up in the south, a rebellion encouraged by Bush 41. Saddam massacred the rebels. Mr. Powell embodies what the hard-liners want to root out of the American psyche: an "enfeebling" caution, bred by Vietnam, about sending American troops to impose American values.
Mr Powell represents a willingness to try and work through the system. If the system had worked, he'd have been a hero. Because it didn't work, he'll be one of those who discard it and try to build something else that does work...
We'll soon know if the hawks' ambitious foreign policy experiment has a miraculous result, or an anarchic one.
In about 30 hours, in fact...
The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that a classified State Department report debunks the hawks' domino theory and expresses doubt that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster democracy.
Since it's in the LA Times it must be true. We can forget about everything that's been done that contradicts the debunkery...
And Don Van Natta Jr. of The New York Times reveals that Al Qaeda is using rising anger among young Muslims about the plan to overthrow Saddam to recruit and groom a new generation of terrorists.
They've been trying to do that all along. They were trying to do that before 9-11. They were trying to do that before the first attack on the WTC. What's so different about yesterday afternoon?
It's not easy to superimpose morality with certainty.
It's be nice if somebody gave all of us some certainty, but there ain't no such thing. The best you can do is a strong "likely."
As Roger Morris, the author of a Nixon biography, wrote in The Times last week: "Forty years ago, the C.I.A., under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein."
Oh, it did not. Maureen, do you believe everything you read?
And America is not known for its long attention span or talent for empire building. As Bob Woodward reports in his book "Bush at War," a month into the bombing of Afghanistan, when the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif fell, Mr. Bush turned to Condoleezza Rice, in a moment straight out of "The Candidate," and asked: "Well, what next?"
He probably had some ideas when he said that, but Maureen likes to pretend he's clueless. Cheeze, I'm glad this gal doesn't make policy.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Fidel Goes to China
BEIJING (AP) - As Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, China was in the throes of an ultimately catastrophic push toward converting all private farms to communes. Yet while the Cuban leader stuck doggedly to his communist guns, China over the past decades junked such dreams of utopia and transformed a vast, agrarian state into one of the world's chief market economies. For the 76-year-old Castro, who last visited China seven years ago, the difference was bewildering. ``I can't really be sure just now what kind of China I am visiting, because the first time I visited, your country appeared one way and now when I visit it appears another way,'' Castro said Thursday in a meeting with the head of China's legislature, Li Peng. ``You can say that every so often your country undergoes great changes.''
It's called prosperity, Fidel. You wouldn't know what that is...
China and Cuba are two of the last remaining one-party communist states, but the similarity just about ends there. Cuba muddles on with a planned communist economy still reeling from the loss of Soviet subsidies. Meanwhile, China has become aggressively mercantile, growing into the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Its cities are littered with new high-rises, their streets clogged with vehicles.
Impressive, what junking the Five Year Plan approach does, isn't it?
Castro was briefed on China's economic reforms by Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, the country's No. 2 economic official, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It paraphrased Castro as saying ``China's future was certain to be prosperous.''
And Cuba used to be...
No other details - including whether they discussed the possibility of applying Chinese-style reform in Cuba - were immediately released.
My guess is "no." Implementing capitalism -- which is what China's got -- means admitting he's been screwing around for the past 44 years....
China and Cuba ran along parallel communist tracks for years after Castro took power. China undertook first the Great Leap, which created a famine that killed an estimated 30 million people, and then the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's convulsive last attempt at perpetuating his revolution. Their histories began to diverge, though, as China embarked on reforms after Mao's death in 1976. Beginning in the 1980s, the planned economy was steadily dismantled, setting the stage for today's relative prosperity - even while the Communist Party maintained its stranglehold on political power.
Demonstrating, lest we forget, that the form of government can be irrelevant, as long as the citizenry has a measure of individual liberty. An oligarchy, which is what they rightly have now, can work just as well as a repubic. It just offers more opportunities and temptations for abuse. Compared to the U.S., or to Taiwan, or to Japan, the Chinese are still regimented. Compared to China in the throes of the Great Cultural Revolution they're free as little birdies.
The basis of that growth - foreign investment totaling hundreds of billions of dollars and the emergence of a dynamic private sector - remain largely alien concepts in Castro's Cuba. China now provides hundreds of millions of dollars in economic credits to Cuba, as well as some direct aid. Castro's talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin earlier this week focused on economic ties and concluded with the signing of an economic cooperation agreement and Chinese aid package for Cuba. Castro met later Thursday with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who praised Castro's leadership and ``insistence on Cuba's national sovereignty and people's independence in complicated and ever-changing times.''
He's being indulgent of his poor relations. I wonder if Fidel cringed?
He spoke also with Vice President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wen Jiabao. Hu and Wen are expected to take over as China's president and premier, respectively, at the annual legislative session beginning next week.
Fidel's got a little problem here, and he's probably too old and set in his ways to do anything about it. It must cut the old man to the quick to see the empirical evidence of his failure.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Holding peace in contempt
By Molly Ivins
Originally published February 25, 2003
AUSTIN, Texas -- Before we all work ourselves into such righteous snits we can't even talk to one another anymore, let's see what we can agree on. Wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein does not make anyone a bloodthirsty monster or a tool of the oil companies. Being worried to death about the consequences of invading Iraq does not make anyone unpatriotic or in favor of Saddam Hussein.
Sweet reason? From Molly? Okay, where's the hook?
Whether it's better to kill the snake or leave the snake alone, that is one question. But the question we're stuck on now is whether there's a better choice. Some of us think containment can work, and the reason we think so is because it already has. More Iraqi weapons were destroyed by U.N. inspectors in the '90s than were destroyed by the gulf war. Why not see if it will work this time? What about a U.N. resolution saying, "Any place Saddam Hussein doesn't let the inspectors go into gets bombed immediately"?
Depends on the type weapons destroyed. Tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces weren't on the inspectors' destruction lists. While the "gets bombed immediately" resolution might sound good to Molly, it's doubtful it'd ever pass. If it did pass, it's doubtful the Frenchies, Fritzies, and Arabs would let it be implemented without at least eight weeks of hollering debate, during which time anything of interest would be moved out.
The president did an unfortunate disservice to the cause of reasonable debate Feb. 18 when he said of the worldwide demonstration against the impending war: "Some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree." Painting the antiwar movement as pro-Hussein gets us nowhere.
Ummm... They're not conspicuously anti-Sammy. Ramsey Clark, in fact, thinks he's just a dear...
What the Europeans are trying to say is not that they think Mr. Hussein is harmless -- we've got near-universal agreement that the man is a miserable jerk, including, as near as one can tell, from most Iraqis. The difference is over how to handle him, and the United States has put itself in the unfortunate position of looking as though we'd rather go to war, unprovoked, than work at a way to defang Mr. Hussein peacefully. It is this bellicosity that is so unbecoming to us and so troubling to many of our allies. Why this disdainful dismissal of a peaceful alternative?
Maybe Molly should have a quick peek at why the Iraqis, especially those outside the country, don't like Sammy. Even without WMDs, he's still a bloody-handed dictator who represents a danger to life and limb, not to mention dignity and bank account, of everyone else in the country. The only people who might be safe from him are his two sons, who're chips off the old block. Even if Sammy disarmed today and played by the international book of rules, his citizenry would still be stuck with him.
It seems to me quite reasonable that friends might differ over whether Mr. Hussein is better handled by invasion or by containment. Why this should lead to our throwing around names likes "Euroweenies" and "EUnuchs" is beyond me.
For approximately the same reason Bush and Co. are compared to the Third Reich every three days or so, only with more basis in fact.
Timothy Garton Ash, a British writer, put his finger on an important aspect of American anti-Europeanism: "The most outspoken American Euro-bashers are neoconservatives using the same sort of combative rhetoric they have habitually deployed against American liberals," he wrote. Precisely.
Either that, or people who're disgusted by the excesses of American leftism tend to become neoconservatives, and thery're tired of shutting up and taking what the lefties dish out without response. The lefties don't appear to like the fact.
Richard Perle, chair of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board, goes around Europe behaving as though he thought he were on Crossfire, and Donald Rumsfeld is just as bad. Crossfire combatants are not noted for their diplomacy. Using the language of right-wing radio talk-show hosts, complete with macho posturing, is reassuring to no one.
Whereas telling Eastern Europe to shut the hell up is...
Mr. Bush once described something as "the language of diplomatic nuanced circles." One could wish he were rather more practiced in it. It is not reassuring to be told we are going to war because he "has already seen this movie" and is bored by it. Far be it from me to discourage blunt speaking, but issues of war and peace are not aided by displays of petty impatience. There is something deeply unserious about it.
What Molly's missing here, probably because she wants to, is the fact that the Bush team is actually engaged in some pretty intricate diplomacy, building a coalition not only of the willing, but also of the hesitant and the fearful, even while fighting off diplomatic countermoves from the Frenchies and, to a lesser extent, the Fritzies and the Arabs. The Arabs, in particular, are in disarray, and Chirac has managed to lose it so severely on at least one occasion that it'll take him years to mend those fences.
It is this flip, cavalier streak in our foreign policy, the contemptuous dismissal of peaceful alternatives, that is making some Europeans conclude this administration is dangerous. What your momma told you about flies and honey is still true. Why not try persuasion instead of bullying? For that matter, why not see if the inspections work before we go racing into this "preventive war"?
Do you think another twelve years should be enough? Or should we give them more?
The diplomatic situation continues to deteriorate. Not to use the language of "diplomatic nuanced circles," Turkey held us up for a bigger bribe. The Bush administration has made a complete hash of North Korean policy. On Feb. 5, the deputy director of the North Korean foreign ministry, Ri Pyong-gap, told The Guardian: "The U.S. says that after Iraq we are next. But we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S." Great, just what we worried about when Mr. Bush first announced this pre-emptive war doctrine -- it's catching.
The North Koreans didn't become our enemies because they went onto the Axis of Evil list; they went onto the Axis of Evil list because they're our enemies. They announce this on a near daily basis in their press. Molly's not paying attention...
In Africa, they think the United States is trying to sabotage the United Nations because it is now headed by Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian. Even Nelson Mandela said, "Both Bush as well as Tony Blair are trying to undermine an idea [the United Nations] that was supported by their predecessors. Is this because the secretary-general is now a black man? They never did that when secretary-generals were white."
Slinging the race card was pretty over-the-top of old Nelson. He also managed to color Annan's predecessor a darker shade, and to imply that Iraqis are, if not black, then certainly very dark. The race card was also flung when we went into Afghanistan, another war that Molly opposed, implying that the mostly-just-as-white-as-Molly-is Afghans were, ummm... brown. Or maybe black. It's entirely possible to regard Kofi as a paragon of ineptitude without taking his skin shade into consideration at all. If one closes one's eyes, he's just as ineffectual as when they're open.
Look, the rest of the world is deeply worried about the possibility that this war could set off a holocaust. That is not a concern that should be treated with contemptuous dismissal.
Neither is the possibility that Sammy and/or his allies will visit another attack on this country on a par with 9-11. Bin Laden declared war on us. Only the stupid work hard at forgetting that fact. And bin Laden makes common cause with Sammy, even though he regards Sammy as an infidel. If Bush is wrong, and Sammy isn't as much of a threat as he thought, the Iraqis are still freed of an oppressive dictatorship and they can start spending their oil money on groceries instead of building the Fourth Largest Army in the World® and gobbling up Kuwait. If Molly is wrong, and Bush takes her advice, and Austin is wiped out in a smallpox plague, it'll be a bit late to say "Whoops. Y'shouldn't have listened to me."

Monday, October 21, 2002

The Saudi way
Khalid Hasan, The Friday Times
Saudi Arabia has been above criticism in Pakistan for two reasons. Saudi Arabia is the land of Islam’s birth and seat of its holiest places. Two, the Kingdom has remained a good friend of Pakistan, helping it tide over its financial difficulties and generally being supportive on all major issues, including Kashmir. Saudi governments and the Saudi way of life has almost never been subjected to critical analysis, nor has the Saudi interpretation of what Islam is and what Islam is not been questioned for fear of causing offense.
Loosely translated, that means that Arabia is revered as the birthplace of Islam, and the Saudis are revered because they have a really big checkbook and they support Muslim countries against all comers, regardless of right or wrong.
However, after the events of September 11, the focus on the Kingdom and how it interprets Islam has come under sharp and sometimes hostile scrutiny in the West. This may also be the time for us to take an objective, dispassionate look at the austere version of our religion that the Kingdom promotes at home and what it has spent many years and hundreds of millions of dollars on promoting abroad. The Saudi view of Islam is based on what is known as Wahabism, an interpretation of Islam that al-Qaida and the Taliban have offered as spiritual justification for their actions. It is these strident, intolerant, violent voices that appear to have set the current Islamic agenda, an agenda whose costs are now being borne by the entire world of Islam, including Muslims living in other countries
Wahhabism is an interpretation of Islam that takes it to a logical extreme. That's unpleasant enough, but it's their country, and they're free to screw it up any way they want. Islamism, the export version, takes it up at that point and then takes it to illogical extremes.
Had all the enemies of Islam, past and present, got together to work out the most effective way to harm Islam, do injury to its followers and tarnish its image, they could not have come up with a more deadly, a more successful scheme than the World Trade Centre attacks of 11 September 2001.
He's called that one right. Had the Saudis after 9-11 been sympathetic and cooperative, horrified at the idea of such large-scale terrorism perpetrated against innocent people, our relationship with them would still be good. Instead, they were arrogant and blustering, giving every indication of having a dirty conscience, and we took the attack as Islam's true colors. Too bad for the Sufis and the Islmailis and all the other Muslims who aren't nutbags; they let the wahhabis present themselves as true keepers of the faith, and we're taking them at their word...
Nothing has been the same since and nothing will be same for the foreseeable future for Muslims. Those who reside in the West, and in such a normally tolerant country as the United States, have witnessed with growing dismay the erosion of what was once the American way of life. Being a Muslim is in itself reason enough to be suspect in a given situation.
He's got a distorted view of the U.S. He's been reading entirely too many accounts in the Islamic press. Such incidents as there have been have been minor, with nothing organized. Given the same situation with Westerners in a Muslim country, there'd have been blood flowing in the gutters...
Sometimes the hostility is palpable, at other times subtle. At times, it may be only imagined, but that things have changed for Muslims since that fateful day in September is a fact of life and a very sad and unpleasant fact of life A friend of mine in Virginia who was running a small business selling laptop computers has said that his sales fell in the wake of 9/11 and have never really recovered. Some said their bank credit facilities had been curtailed. Others said they had lost customers. Muslims have had problems when out looking for house rentals. School children have borne the brunt of this assault and have had to put up with taunts and insults. Many Muslims have lost their lives or suffered serious physical assault and injury. The recent increase in shockingly unseemly attacks on Islam’s most revered figure are something that was almost unheard of before 9/11. Muslims can only protest through their ineffective organisations, but these protests have little or no impact. Some of those making these attacks are President George Bush’s close political allies and supporters. The Washington Post newspaper asked the President recently to publicly distance himself from these men. He has done no such thing so far and is not likely to. The general attitude is summed up in the saying: Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.
He's distanced himself from the domestic buttheads sufficiently for most domestic consumption. Falwell and Robertson and their by-products have been dismissed by most people, including most conservatives, as not bright enough to discuss the problem without drooling. On the other hand, the Saudi imams have been spraying spittle and venom in full force, non-stop, since well before 9-11. Monkeys and apes and hate-thy-neighbor are weekly staples of Friday sermons. Most of us think Bush has been entirely too gentle with the Saudis — and maybe with Muslims in gentle. Islam has shown itself demonstrably not to be a religion of peace, unless it's the peace of the grave.
And all these indignities have been brought upon Muslims and all this harm done to them because of the contorted thinking of those who claim to be waging ‘jihad’ for the greater glory of the religion by which they swear and in whose name they operate. While the Saudis may have always acted out of the goodness of their hearts and for their love of Islam and its timeless message, the fact is that they have funded organisations and patronised groups that have an extremely narrow and intolerant understanding of Islam.
He might want to rethink that "goodness of their hearts" stuff. To us, it looks like a program directed at world domination and the destruction of our civilization...
They are unaware of the contribution made by Islam to the flowering of world civilisation and culture, of science and medicine, of art and literature. Their concept of Islam is based on ignorance and a lack of understanding of the true nature of this great civilising and intellectually liberating force.
And also on a healthy dose of self-interest. To a midieval mind, surrounding yourself with two or three layers of buffer states is a pretty good defense...
It may be instructive to take a look at how the Saudis view religion. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy - a contradiction in terms - which offers no legal protection for freedom of religion. All citizens are to be Muslims under the law. Public worship of other faiths is forbidden, though their followers may do so in private, but not always is this permitted. There are seven million foreigners in a population of 17 million, including 0.9 million Pakistanis, 1.5 million Indians, 1.0 million Bangladeshis, 0.8 million Filipinos, 130,000 Sri Lankans and about 1.1 million Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese.
Even when the House of Saud falls, we won't consider the War on Terror over until there's freedom of religion in Arabia — not only for "people of the book," as the Koran calls for, but also for Ba'hais, Buddhists, Taoists, animists, and atheists.
Practices contrary to the teaching of the 18th century reformer Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab are discouraged, such as observing the birthday of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and visits to the tombs of revered Islamic figures. Anyone spreading a contrary interpretation of Islam or Islamic practices is dealt with strictly, sometimes in prison. All mosque imams are on state payroll and foreign imams are forbidden from leading Friday prayers, which the government describes as part of its “Saudization” plan to replace foreign workers with Saudi citizens.
They've got enough "holy men" running around not to need to import any...
There is discrimination against women. Their testimony in the Kingdom’s courts does not carry the same weight as that of a man. Women may not marry non-citizens without government permission and men must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to marry women outside the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Women cannot marry non-Muslims, while men can marry Christians and Jews. While women have to demonstrate legally specific grounds for divorce, men may pronounce divorce without cause. If divorced or widowed, a woman may keep her children up the age of seven if they are boys, and nine if they are girls. Thereafter, the custody goes to the husband or his family.
We'll also be able to tell the War on Terror is over when you can go out and have a few beers at a titty bar in Mecca. I doubt if I'll live to see the day, but my kids might. I plan on leaving a small bequest in my will to be spent only for that purpose...
The majority of the world’s Muslims and Muslim states do not follow these practices. Is theirs then not the way which is truly representative and is that not the message which should be going out to the world?
Unfortunately, Muslims states have been severely influenced by the wahhabis, and it's doubtful they'll be able to revert to previously tolerant forms of Islam. After the war crests, there will probably be a net decline in the numbers of Muslims, and there will be a certain decline in the numbers of antilibertarian Muslims. Our ideals — freedom to do what a person wants as long as it doesn't physically hurt someone else — will eventually kill Islamism and possibly Islam with it, just as it has killed Communism and Fascism.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Gelaev: The Bio
When the Kremlin and the military need a boost in their Chechnya campaign, there is one Chechen warlord who seems to magically ride to the rescue time after time -- Ruslan Gelayev.
Do tell? That's mighty nice of him...
Gelayev inexplicably pulled his fighters out of Grozny when the military told rebels to withdraw from the Chechen capital in January 2000, paving the way for the city's recapture by federal forces. Until Gelayev left, the rebels could have indefinitely held off federal troops, according to military experts.
"Ruslan! Get outta town now, or we'll kill you all!"

In a baffling decision that handed the military a stunning battle victory later that year, Gelayev stayed put in his hometown of Komsomolskoye on the Chechen plains despite an order by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov to move his men into the mountains. Federal forces surrounded the village and killed several hundred rebels before Gelayev managed to escape with a handful of his men.
"Well, there was this Rula Lenska film festival they wuz runnin'..."
Last month Gelayev ordered 150 of his fighters to move into Ingushetia -- precisely when Moscow needed fresh evidence of Chechen rebels crossing into Russia from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to justify threatened strikes. Seventeen Russian soldiers died in an ensuing battle near the village of Galashki late last week.
And almost half Ruslan's force...
Chechens who know Gelayev, 38, call him a sharp, independent-minded man with simple ways. They expressed doubt that he works hand in hand with Russian forces, but said perhaps he is unwittingly being manipulated by the secret services. "Gelayev is a clever man, but he is a peasant and his mentality is that of peasant," said Shamil Beno, who served as foreign minister under first Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. Gelayev is narrow-minded and would not consent to assisting Moscow, he said.
"He ain't a traitor. He's jest stoopid..."
Sharip Asuyev, a Chechen journalist who has interviewed Gelayev several times, agreed. "I don't think he plays games with the Russian secret services," he said. "But it is quite possible that they use him without his knowledge."
"Hey, Ruslan! Over there! Is that Elvis?"
"Huh huh. Where?"
"(Har har. Got 'im again!)"

A fighter in Gelayev's group told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Gelayev was wounded in the Galashki fighting.
"Don't kill him, Volodya! They might get somebody who ain't a screw-up!"

Gelayev is thought to be currently hiding in Chechnya. "Gelayev is the most independent of all warlords, and he acts separately from rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev," said Alexei Malashenko, a Chechnya expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center.
"Duh. Ain't nobody tells me what to do. Huh huh."
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told Georgian television last year that Gelayev was "noble" and "an educated man with common sense." He echoed the statement last month, saying he had seen no proof that Gelayev was a terrorist and that he considers him an "educated person." Subsequent attacks by Gelayev's men against Russian troops on Chechnya's border with Georgia only increased the Kremlin's resolve.
And didn't help Shevardnadze's case one little bit...

Saturday, September 14, 2002

EXCLUSIVE: The last battle
Part 1: Exit Osama, enter Hekmatyar
By Pepe Escobar
Oh, boy! More stuff by Pepe...
ASADABAD, eastern Afghanistan - It's 7am in dirt-poor, semi-devastated Martyr's Square in this town in the heart of Kunar province. The sun is already shining high and the big, brash American anti-terrorist show is in town.
Pepe doesn't like the big, brash American anti-terrorist show...
And what a show it is. Nine vehicles, ranging from Humvees to Toyota HiLux vehicles customized with machine guns, carrying as many as six soldiers each, all engineered to raise serious hell, take possession of the square. The whole town is watching. A commando group climbs up the rickety stairs to the balcony of the Istiqlal - the only hotel in town and whose unbelievably filthy washrooms are crammed with graffiti of the new jihad against America - and engages in a search-and-destroy operation against two "culprits", as the local Pashtuns put it: this Asia Times Online correspondent and his companion, Pashto-speaking, Peshawar-based journalist Majeed Baber.
Oh, no! They're coming to get Pepe! Quick! Hide him!
The Special Forces are relatively polite - but firm. Identity documents are checked and then digital still photos and video footage is erased - under severe vigilance. Next time, the cameras will be confiscated. Although the whole process is totally illegal, all is justified in the name of the "tense" security situation. Scott, one of the soldiers, is a little more affable than the others, who share a uniform blank, psychopath-style gaze. Scott confirms on the record - and he will be the only one to do so - that the real mission is "to get Hekmatyar", the former Afghan premier and famed mujahideen warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Party).
Damn, Scott! It was supposed to be a surprise! But you've got to forgive the poor guy. He hasn't got the patented psychopath-style gaze down yet...
Scott argues the footage and photos might fall into the wrong hands. "They might see how many we are, what we are doing." As if "they" didn't know already. Some intelligence information is exchanged and the show departs with a bang to look for the bad guys. Later, the whole town will keep coming back to ask in utter perplexity, "What were the Americans telling you? Have you done anything wrong?"
"They" might very well not know already. Toldja, it's supposed to be a surprise...
Make no mistake. This is it. One year after September 11, this is the ultimate frontline, the last, crucial battle in the new Afghan war - as the best Pakistan-Afghanistan insiders have been predicting for months. Or maybe the battle is just beginning. The fact is that now between 300 and 400 American Special Forces - according to different estimations of local Pashtun commanders - are now based in Kunar in hot pursuit of the newly-promoted number one "dead or dead" enemy in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan: Hekmatyar, the Pashtun leader and the only premier in history with the dubious distinction of shelling his own capital, Kabul, in mid-1992, causing the death of as many as 25,000 people, until his bases were destroyed by the Taliban in early 1995.
The Talibs destroyed his bases, which implies he's not invincible. We destroyed the Talibs, which implies we can destroy Hek, too...
Even though the war against terrorism costs roughly US$1 billion a day, Osama bin Laden has not been found. Ayman "The Surgeon" al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two, has not been found. Taliban supremo Mullah Omar - who escaped from B-52 bombing last November on the back of a Honda 50cc motorcycle - has not been found. So the new bogeyman is Hekmatyar, who is gathering forces for his new jihad to drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan.
Chances are Binny is titzup. Chances are nearly as good Ayman is titzup. And the Ex-Potentate, Protector of the Faithful is riding around on a motorbike somewhere in eastern Afghanistan hollering at people to straighten their turbans...
Scores of international journalists are gathering at the Tora Bora to "commemorate" September 11 - perhaps hoping to shoot a bin Laden video in one of the myriad caves in which he was reputed to have hidden before escaping well before the advancing US troops arrived. Asia Times Online, instead, is trying to confirm privileged information according to which Hekmatyar is hiding somewhere in Kunar; former mujahideen leader "Professor" Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf - renamed by his Arab patrons Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf - has been to Kunar; and bin Laden and al-Zawahiri may or may not have recently been in Kunar.
We know Sayyaf is the Soddies' inside man in the Northern Alliance. We know Kunar is chock full of indignant Pashtuns. Maybe Pepe should have gone to the Tora Bora commemoration instead...
The American Special Forces - housed in a huge compound that used to be the local jail on the outskirts of Asadabad - have been camped since the end of June; in the beginning they were less than a dozen, now they're hundreds, but still they haven't found what they are looking for. The search - for Hekmatyar, for al-Qaeda, for supporters, for clues in the middle of ever-shifting alliances, for escape routes - is a complex puzzle. There's only one way to go - and it is to criss-cross information volunteered by all the major players. What we find is a dizzying web of political, military, tribal and religious friction.
Ay! 'Tis stuff beyond the ken of mere westerners. Those orientals, they're just too inscrutable for us to ever understand...
In Hekmatyar America has a formidable foe, as the Soviets found out to their cost in their Afghanistan adventure in the 1980s. He issued an anti-American fatwa in June, and last week he reconfirmed a jihad against "American invaders" and the "persecution of Pashtuns". His Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan now runs the show and Hekmatyar can count on hundreds of loyal and very experienced commanders - such as Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, the former number one military commander of the Taliban. Al-Qaeda is collaborating with Hezb-i-Islami, but only in a supporting role.
That's all stuff we knew or guessed before. As pointed out above, the Talibs crushed Hek, we crushed the Talibs - why on earth would Pepe think Hek would crush us?
The Hezb-i-Islami - 75 percent of it made up of Pashtuns - is the most revolutionary and disciplined of all the Afghan Islamist parties. It's nothing remotely similar to a bunch of turbans roaming around in pick-up trucks, as often the Taliban were.
So why'd the Talibs beat the crap out of them?
The Hezb is a modern organization. Recruitment and promotion is based on skill and merit - and not on social roles or how well one can recite the Koran. Hezb leaders have all been educated in Afghanistan - not in Pakistani madrassas (religious schools). Hekmatyar is a radical Islamist. During the anti-Soviet jihad his party was the absolute favorite of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, where Islamabad helped the Hezb control 250 schools - from which 43,500 students graduated. These students are the core of the party's new generation, and they make up most of the soldiers of Hekmatyar's conventional military force, the Lashkar-i-Isar (Army of Sacrifice).
And stuff the Talibs beat them up and threw them out. Tusk. Tusk.
During the anti-Soviet jihad, Hekmatyar received tens of millions of dollars from Libya and Iraq. And prior to Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990, the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments and private donors had provided as much as a billion dollars to Hekmatyar. The Hezb was also the darling of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Islamic conservative wahhabis from Saudi Arabia. It was also the favorite of moderate Pakistani generals and - the icing on the cake - the operations wing of the US's Central Intelligence Agency.
It also wasn't the one that was beating up the Russers. That was Masood and his half-starved Tadjiks and Uzbeks...
This went on until late 1989, when Bush senior's administration realized that the USSR was collapsing - and Afghanistan lost its strategic importance. When the priority was to "kill Russians" - according to the crude lingo of the times - the US gave free reign to the ISI to distribute cash and weapons in Afghanistan, with no American supervision. The lion's share always went straight to Hekmatyar and Sayyaf.
While Masood did the fighting, leave us not forget. But Pepe's argument here is that Hek is a creature of the Merkins and we're about to reap what we've sown...
It is fair to say that practically every Pashtun tribe or clan had or has a branch or faction with a link to Hekmatyar. So it is no wonder that the man is now skillfully playing the ethnic card. In his most recent audiotaped address to people all over the Pashtun belt to the east of the country he asks rhetorically why only Pashtuns are being bombed, arrested or killed by the Americans. Hekmatyar touches the right chord in any tribal Pashtun heart when he says that Pashtuns have been humiliated by Americans searching their houses without any warning, confiscating their weapons and - an unpardonable sin in Pashtunwali, the tribal code of honor - physically searching their women.
Tough. The Pashtun areas are the ones that are crawling with al-Qaeda and Talibs - and Hekmatyar supporters...
Pashtuns in Kunar and Nangarhar are convinced the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance was behind the killing of Haji Abdul Qadir - the only Pashtun vice-president in President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul. Portraits of Qadir are ubiquitous in Nangarhar while not a single Karzai portrait is to be seen. Karzai, although a Pashtun, is widely despised as an American puppet and a hostage of the powerful Northern Alliance ministers, such as commander Mohammed Fahim, the Afghan Defense Minister. Karzai's own security service is totally infiltrated by experienced Hezb-i-Islami operatives, possibly why he now relies on US bodyguards for his personal protection.
Strangely enough, the Merkins started out not really knowing much about the ethnic differences in Pakland. To most of the current crop of intel analysts and decision makers there wasn't much difference between a Pashtun and anybody else. 'Twas the Pashtuns themselves, through their love for the Talibs and their consistent bad faith, who accentuated the differences...
Haji Matheullah Khan Safi is the core commander of Kunar. In theory, he is working with the Americans. He says that he used to speak English - but adds, emphatically, that "with this war I forgot everything". According to him, the Americans have been in Kunar for at least two months. "When they got here, we had problems with local commanders in different checkposts. Now this is finished. The province is under a single administration."
And the significance is...?
Haji Matheullah is the first to tell what will be a recurrent story of how a group of high-ranking Arabs escaped from Jalalabad after the city fell to the Northern Alliance on November 12. "There was a huge compound full of Arabs. The most important escaped to Kunar." The Arabs were helped by Hezb-i-Islami people, by Haji Roohullah (a Kunar wahhabi rising star, recently arrested and now in American custody at Bagram air base on the outskirts of Kabul) and Kashmir Khan (a high commander close to Hekmatyar whom some define as a gangster). "There were only nine Arabs at the time. But one of them was severely injured, died, and was buried near Asadabad. The eight that remained arrived in Daish and then the valleys of Shigal. There were at least four important people among them - maybe Abu Zubaida." Zubaida, an al-Qaeda strategist, was later arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March.
Gosh. That's inspiring. I just can't figure why the Merkins are hounding these poor people looking for al-Qaeda sympathizers...
Haji Matheullah cannot or is not willing to confirm a now famous meeting in the beginning of August between Hekmatyar, Sayyaf and other key people that took place in Kunar. "It is not easy for Sayyaf to get into this area. But everyone knows their thinking is the same." He comments with a Pashtun proverb. "If you don't eat the onion, you don't smell." And then he adds, "Some activities in this area might confirm that Hekmatyar could be in the remote mountains northeast of Asadabad." A few minutes later, though, comes a new twist: "If all the people are thinking that Hekmatyar is in Kunar, he may well be in Kunar. And if Hekmatyar is in Kunar, Osama and al-Zawahiri may be as well, because they are all in contact."
Or at least Hek bruits it about that they are. The thought that Binny and Ayman are backing him lends a certain cachet of invincibility to his move. If they're both dead and decomposing, who's to say him nay, unless the bodies are found?
We talk about how Hekmatyar - by satellite telephone, on the BBC Pashto service - announced that he supported a new jihad against the Americans, launched in Gardez and Khost, in Paktia province. "Are you sure it was a sat-phone, or tape?" He then switches to attack mode. "We did the jihad 20 years ago against the Russians, for the stability of the country and for the sake of Islam, and then we gave Kabul to these people - Hekmatyar, [Rashid] Dostum, [Burhanuddin] Rabbani, Sayyaf. What did they do to Kabul and the country? They destroyed Kabul, they destroyed the country and now they want it again."
Sounds like the more reason to support the Karzai regime. We know the old crew didn't work. But that's reason, and we're talking about Pashtuns, and Pepe's doing the reporting...
The situation in Kunar is increasingly tense. Two weeks ago, two missiles hit the American compound in Asadabad. Haji Matheullah finally fires on all cylinders and admits fighters, numbering about 500, are probably hiding in the mountains. "It takes 48 hours to get there, by walking. We heard they bought a lot of new weapons, RPGs, rocket launchers." The route they most likely took is from Nawaqui, a village on the Pakistani border. On the Pakistan side lies the region dominated by the fierce black-turbaned Sufi Muhammad, who sent thousands of madrassa students in a jihad against the Americans last October. Most were killed or captured and Sufi Muhammad is now languishing in a Pakistani jail.
That's certainly an indication we should be scared to death of him and his 500 schoolboys fighters...
Haji Matheullah notes that the Americans in Kunar don't have helicopters. Anyway, that would not help: "These people could stay in the mountains during the whole winter. They collected food. They have a lot of money. They have support from Pakistan, across the border. The only way for the Americans is to go there on foot, through the mountains and jungle."
Yes, where no westerner dare go. Afghanistan is death to westerners. Only Pashtuns can live there, y'know...
Kunar still holds a lot of sympathy to Wahhabism. "Twenty years ago, the Arabs got here and started their aid to widows, orphans, kids. There was a lot of money. When people saw what we call 'load, coat and boot', they converted to Wahhabism. The sheikhs, they wanted to spread Wahhabism all over Afghanistan, starting from Kunar. For this reason, the region still has a lot of relations with the Arabs."
Does that mean they'd all convert to Christianity if the Merkins came in and did the same? How about Judaism? How about agnosticism? They seem to be for sale to the highest bidder...
What Haji Matheullah is actually saying is that in the community there's still a lot of support for al-Qaeda. That's why people in Kunar are so incensed by the arrest of Haji Roohullah. But at the same time he is also saying that "the common people support Americans, they think they are helpful". The characteristically Pashtun twists and turns of the conversation are spiced up: "Afghans never liked foreign invaders." And then comes the punchline. "Afghanistan has problems with Pakistan and China. The Americans want to finish the influence of neighbors on Afghanistan. They [Americans] created a nightmare for us. When they create light, they can go."
Nope. Doesn't make any sense to me, either...
Haji Amanullah is the man responsible for Asadabad's security. But, significantly, he is still a military Hezb-i-Islami commander. This flagrant contradiction requires extreme diplomacy. His basic judgment of the American presence is "if they want to stay long, for security reasons, and if they do not disturb the people, they are welcome. But if they continue to search houses, scare people - the people's temperament won't stand them for any more than three months."
But if they disturb people for security reasons... There's no point to that statement, either. Maybe the Merkins should just hang around and shoot any Chinese or Paks or Samoans who walk by...
The security commander confirms that at the beginning of July Hekmatyar visited Kunar, and then went north into Nuristan. He was in touch with local commanders, "But people in Kunar told him they could not guarantee his safety. He might be in Xinjiang [western China]." But this is extremely unlikely as Beijing - ultra-sensitive towards the Muslim Uighur region in western China - would know it right away. In once again a characteristically indirect Pashtun manner, Haji Amanullah finally implies that Hekmatyar is alive - and in the region.
Meaning Haji Amanullah has no idea where the hell he is...
In his view the Kunar Wahhabis "got a lot of aid from the Arabs and Osama. They still have a lot of money. But they are not more than 10,000 followers." Haji Roohullah, according to him, was and still is receiving money from Pakistan's ISI.
Meaning they're a little minority, and if they're only in it for the money they'd probably make good Ba'hais, too...
The story of the Arab escape from Jalalabad receives a new, savoury twist in Haji Amanullah's version. "I saw nine Arabs at the time. Commander Saburlal arrested them - and then he helped them to escape. They left all their own vehicles and money." Saburlal was also arrested a few days ago, and is now under American custody at Bagram air base.
Guess Pepe's not the only one Haji Amanullah told the story to, huh?
Raiz Khan Mushwani is only 18. With his boyish good looks and disarming smile he could be a heartthrob in a boy band or a Hollywood television series. But he is the son of Malik Zarin - the number-one core commander of Kunar (so one assumes that Haji Matheullah is in fact number two). Malik Zarin spends most of his time in crucial meetings in Kabul. His son stays in Asadabad . Raiz says that "more than 20 people" are working closely with the Americans. And he, at only 18, is their commander.
Oh, for Chrissake. Talk about seasoned combat leadership...!
Raiz is happy as "the Americans are bringing peace". Americans, he says, "choose their own informers", "have one American Pashto-speaker, an air force soldier named Kay" and are not paying directly for information, "only for expenses". The American morale, according to Raiz, is "fresh, there is no tension". Their commander is one "Captain Ryan, who came from Bagram". Raiz thinks that the Americans will stay for long. They have "no helicopters or tanks, but there is a helipad in the compound". In fact, every night the activity is feverish, for as long as three hours - with surveillance by drones. Raiz confirms that the mission is to get Hekmatyar. Not surprisingly, he does not know where bin Laden could be. "Sometimes, as a joke, the Americans ask me if I know something." Everybody in Asadabad talks about how in a patrolling mission in ultra-sensitive Pech Dara a month and a half ago, four men were shot and killed by the Americans just because they were carrying a Kalashnikov. Another lethal case of cultural misunderstanding. Raiz insists that "the Americans recognized the mistake".
"Gosh, I'm sorry I killed you..."
Gradually, in the Kunar puzzle, emerges the crucial figure of another commander, Khan Jan. Khan Jan is a distinguished Hezb-i-Islami commander, as well as being the mayor of Asadabad. The Americans tried to arrest him and they raided and, according to some, even fired on his house. They think that he meets regularly with Hekmatyar, Raiz admits. "Khan Jan has popular support in the area." As we talk to Raiz, we finally learn that none other than Khan Jan himself is in the same compound. He came to meet Malik Zarin - or Raiz - to complain about heavy-handed American tactics. But Raiz does not want to meet him. He belongs to the Mushwani tribe, while Khan Jan is from the Salarzai tribe. Tribal enmity is deadly - especially now that one of the tribes has been selected to work closely with the Americans. Raiz admits, "It is clear there is a movement among people to fight the Americans." But the "jihad is over", says the son of the most powerful military commander in Kunar - at least for the moment.
My guess is that it will in fact go by tribe. Among these beturbanned Hatfields and McCoys, if the Salarzais support Hek, then the Mushwanis will by Gawd support the Merkins...
The plot thickens. Ahmadullah is a cousin of the crucial character, the Wahhabi superstar Haji Roohullah. He recognizes that Haji Matheullah and Malik Zarin are "well-relationed with the Americans". But he quickly adds, "Zarin is creating problems because he targeted Haji Roohullah and his tribe." He stresses that "people from all over Kunar demand the release of Haji Roohullah because he fought against the Taliban and took over the area. Americans have to tell us what charges they have against him."
Probably the same antics his neighbors are talking about, helping the al-Qaeda killers escape...
Last November, Ahmadullah was fighting against the Taliban alongside Hazrat Ali - the American's favorite commander in Nangarhar province. After he came to the area, Haji Roohullah called him: he needed people to take over Asadabad. Ahmadullah confirms that commanders Sabarlal and Najinuddin Khan, among others, took over Asadabad "under the supervision of Haji Roohullah" and had been ruling the area ever since. But now both Haji Roohullah and Sabarlal are under arrest by the Americans.
Sounds reasonable. What're we missing?
Ahmadullah was an eyewitness to the massive Taliban escape last November. "The Taliban crossed to Pakistan in Marawara" - the direction of Bajaur agency in the Pakistani tribal areas. Hazrat Rahman was another commander at the time in Marawara who supported the Taliban. Ahmadullah saw 48 trucks coming, carrying at least 12 men each, a mix of Arabs and Taliban: "Hazrat Rahman took all their weapons and helped them escape." Then came another convoy of Pakistani Taliban, who also profited from the services of Rahman.
Good old Rahman. This was at the same time the Paks were saying their border was sealed, of course. On the other hand, it was the same time the Talibs were puffing and blowing and saying they were never gonna surrender...
Ahmadullah fiercely criticizes "those people who are collaborating with the Americans" - meaning Haji Matheullah and, most of all, Malik Zarin: he is implying that the arrest of Roohullah is a power game between commanders of different tribes. Ahmadullah also stresses that "we are ideological enemies of the Arabs because they killed our leader in '92, Maulvi Jamil Rahman Salafi." The portrait of Salafi is displayed at most of Asadabad's businesses. One Abdullah, an Egyptian, went to Bajaur agency and shot Salafi in a mosque in 1992 because he was against Arab proselytizing in the region.
I'm confused. It's the Merkins who're against that sort of thing. Oh. They're flatland furriners. That explains it.
Personally, Ahmadullah claims "not to know if Hekmatyar is here". But he assumes that Hekmatyar and Kashmir Khan are working together. Kashmir Khan "disappeared" a month ago and remains one of Hekmatyar's top commanders.
Good to know... This being Afghanistan, he'll probably not put a noose around his neck for it, but tactically it can be valuable piecing together who's who...
Presiding over the Kunar puzzle is the governor of the province, Sayed Muhamad Yusuf. But he is not from Kunar: he is from neighboring Laghman province. He was appointed by Hamid Karzai's central government and spends most of his time asking villagers to support Kabul - an unenviable task, as Pashtun houses are being permanently raided by bullish American soldiers. He insists that "all the nation is behind the Karzai government". The recent assassinations in Kabul and the attempt against Karzai in Kandahar are dismissed as "the usual". "President [John F.] Kennedy was assassinated, General Zia [ul-Haq of Pakistan] was killed."
And in Afghanistan they'll kill everybody in sight if you turn your back...
A long white beard disguises the steely character of Yusuf, a former jihad commander in the 1980s. The governor is playing a tremendously skillful diplomatic game, trying to accommodate the anger of local populations against American methods, the demands of the Americans themselves, and the conflicting interests of powerful and sidelined commanders. He insists that "all the people here are fed up with war. There is no chance of a battle in Kunar."
People like Pepe are looking for that to happen, but the "battles" sound more like the usual intertribal snipings that're common in Pakland. This is an area where blood feud is a national sport...
The governor thinks that the Americans came "under the flag of the UN to create peace in the land of the Afghans. Kunar is too sensitive, a border province, the geographic situation is too important". He does not think that Hekmatyar, bin Laden or al-Qaeda are in Kunar. He says "there's only a 5 percent chance" of Hekmatyar and some Arabs being in the province. He hasn't heard of any eyewitnesses: "The ideal place for them would be Nuristan." This is a huge mountainous enclave between Laghman and Kunar, northwest of Asadabad.
Is Pepe going to go to Nuristan to look? Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment...
The governor recognizes the mesmerizing cultural shock between America gung-ho culture and Pashtun culture. "I asked, why are you doing like this. They said because we receive information in a hurry, we don't want to waste time. But they are not checking anything. I was in a jirga [meeting] and I told the people the Americans are coming to your villages because of your informers. And they are giving bad information." So how do the Americans gather intelligence? "They ask us sometimes. But most of the time they do it on their own. Some teenagers, they told them they had seen Hekmatyar in Dangan. The Americans went there, stayed the whole night. They got into a house, they only saw women and kids." He denies that the Americans armed eastern Afghanistan commanders, although "they did arm commanders in Kandahar".
The eastern Afghanistan commander brought their own arms. They produce Kalashnikov knockoffs locally...
And then, in a slip, the crucial word "invasion" comes up. "The Taliban, they were Afghans, but they always made mistakes. Due to the Taliban we are now facing invasion of these forces." If even the ultra-diplomatic governor commits a Freudian slip of this nature, in the dusty streets and tea houses of Asadabad there is widespread talk about "invasion".
They were happy enough to receive it ten months ago. But this is Pashtunistan, and there is no word for "gratitude" in Pashto...
Ghulam Ullah, the head of education in the province, warns in a soft voice, "We all think Americans came here with the support of the UN. We don't look at them as invaders. But we do not accept Americans as rulers of this country."
Neither do the Merkins...
This sums up half of the popular perception in Kunar. The other half is already involved - surreptitiously for now - in an anti-American jihad.
Tell us how, Pepe. You've been rambling...
"Hekmatyar is not here," the smiling young men answer in chorus when questioned about the whereabouts of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the famed mujahideen warlord busy gathering forces to kick foreign troops out of Afghanistan, a man desperately wanted by the US.
Meaning they don't know if he is or not...
It's 7am in the tiny village of Aman Koot, in Shigal district, and the convoy of the governor of Kunar, Sayed Muhamad Yusuf - packed with dozens of uniformed Kunaris armed with Kalashnikovs - is parked by the side of the dusty, rocky road. The governor is inside a mud-walled compound, addressing a shura (meeting), trying to calm down the locals, all furious with the heavy-handed tactics used by American soldiers in searching houses for "terrorist suspects". The American Special Forces are also on the spot - this time in four customized Toyota Hi-Lux vehicles equipped with machine guns - patrolling the road and combing the surrounding fields, although they are not with the governor. "We're not with anybody. We're Americans," says one of the soldiers. They don't confirm or deny that they are protecting the governor this morning - but they certainly prevent us from getting into the compound to follow the shura, although we have been invited by the governor's people. All in the name of the "tense" security situation. There's an eerie feeling that a missile could zoom in from behind the mountains at any moment. We are less than three hours trekking from the porous Pakistani border.
That "eery feeling" is probably pretty widespread. But Afghan memories are short...
The young men crowded around us are eager to talk because with the Americans there's no dialogue. "It's not possible for us to support Hekmatyar in front of the Americans, now that jihad is finished." The smiling crowd is "very hopeful" for the future: they list as their only problem the absence of a cricket pitch - with all those maize fields and mountains. And they insist that they don't have "any concern" about the Americans: "We welcome them."
Sounds like they welcome them. Where's the grouse, Pepe?
They are not exactly welcomed back by the Americans, though, even if it is their own country. Kids swarm the dusty road. Some soldiers pick up a stick and start shooing them off. No chance for anybody to get even close to one of the Mad Max Toyotas. Two soldiers combing the fields with their precision rifles held high are surrounded by a mini-mob. Kids ask for pens. A few minutes later a local comes with a tin plate full of mutton slices - a characteristic sign of Pashtun hospitality. The soldiers recoil in utter disgust. Some start shouting "Back up!" to no avail. "Zai" - the Pashtun equivalent, would produce a better effect.
Doesn't sound like the Special Forces guys I've known. A recall eating grasshoppers in Vietnam because the locals did, and beetle soup in Laos. Never could learn to like the Vietnamese fermented duck eggs, though. Couldn't get past the smell. How old was the mutton?
We depart following the governor's convoy and soon stop at another dismal village where the four American vehicles are parked in a semi-circle, practically in combat-ready mode. They see us, they radio messages to each other - "Your Asia Times connection is here again." It's all part of a cat-and-mouse game developed over a few days. They know that we are here - and they don't like it. We know where they are and where they're going - and they don't like it.
Pepe's kidding himself here...
Every night, when they patrol Asadabad, Kunar's capital, they point their night vision goggles to the roof of the Istiqlal hotel where we are staying to check whether we're filming them. On a visit to the American compound, in a former prison on the outskirts of Asadabad, we are met at the gate by two soldiers, one of them carrying a pistol in one hand and X-ray goggles in another. The armed soldier is very polite, but absolutely "no quotes", not even a "How's the weather?", unless we are cleared by Bagram air base on the outskirts of the capital Kabul.
That means they're disciplined troops, not blabbermouth local boys...
After a quick stop in the village of Asmar, the crucial part of the governor's day is spent at a jirga (council) meeting in the village of Dangan - reached by an absolutely hair-raising, back-breaking rocky mountain trail. It's the first time ever that a Kunar governor has visited this village - which is not even on the map: that is a measure of the reigning tense situation. The convoy is greeted by a long circuitous line of very young madrassa (religious school) students immaculately dressed in blue. An armed sentry in a watchtower, next to the black-green-red Afghan flag, commands a spectacular view of the lush valley and the surrounding mountains - a landscape that evokes the most pristine mountain valleys in the Panjshir or in Kashmir. Before the jirga, some of the students engage in a heart-warming rendition of an Afghan national poem, whose lyrics say, "We know how to grow flowers in this land, we don't need guns, we need pens." Some elders weep. Then, in a fairytale courtyard naturally protected by trees from the scorching sun, the governor resumes his complex diplomatic ballet, forcefully telling the locals not to spread false information on Hekmatyar's whereabouts. The Hezb-i-Islami supremo is extremely popular in the region.
Pepe keeps saying that. He keep quoting people who like the Merkins. Are we getting Pepe's opinion or the locals'?
On a more environmental mode, the governor insists, "You have to protect your forests from Pakistani loggers." At the capital, Asadabad, the only business is the timber business - all of it controlled by six or seven powerful commanders, all of them with privileged connections with Pakistani companies. In Dangan itself, people diversify, and practically everybody is now back into cultivating poppy. The governor pleads with them not to.
If only because it will tick the Merkins off...
After the governor's speech, the village elder, the green-turbaned Sayed Mehbwob, takes the stage and delivers a blistering performance. Fiery eyes, booming voice and an expressive face straight out of tribal theater, he details to the governor how the Americans are disturbing the peace of his tribe. Later, he spells out to us some of the grievances. According to Mehbwob, two months ago, when the Americans got to Dangan, someone fired an RPG at them. The Americans didn't say who they were looking for. Three days later they came back and "struck the house of Zhulam Khan with mortars for four hours. There were people inside, but mercifully no one was injured."
Hmmm... Cause: RPG rounds. Effect: Four hour shelling by mortars. He doesn't make that connection, does he?
Then, a few days ago, says Mehbwob, the Americans broke into another house at night: "They broke a lot of boxes [Pashtuns keep a lot of their possessions in tin containers]. They checked the clothes of the women. There were only women and children inside the house. Now everybody in the area is afraid. This is against Pashtun tradition."
Maybe they shouldn't fire RPGs at people who come visiting?
Mehbwob confirms that the Shinkai home of the very popular Hezb-i-Islami commander and mayor of Asadabad, Khan Jan, was also raided by the Americans "because they thought he had information that would lead to Hekmatyar". Mehbwob is stinging: "We don't know who they are looking for. Sometimes they say it's Osama [bin Laden], sometimes al-Qaeda, sometimes Hekmatyar, and now they say they are looking for terrorists." Another village elder cuts to the chase. "I think the Americans are foolish. There is tension everywhere in Afghanistan. What are they doing in this area."
He just said what they were doing. Who does he have to ask the question he's just answered? Doesn't seem like it's the Merkins who're foolish...
The head of education in Kunar, the affable Ghulam Ullah, offers a more nuanced perspective. "Kunar is part of a body that has 32 parts. We support the central government. Kabul is recognized by all the world." He sees the war on terrorism being waged "by civilized nations. America is part of a coalition. We see the peacekeepers in Kabul and the American presence in this area in the same way. We do not see them as invaders. The Russians were invaders. We kicked them out. And we are here to help Afghans."
Okay. Thanks for your support... What's Pepe make of all this?
But the Americans may be making serious mistakes, such as arresting the popular Wahhabi leader Haji Roohullah. "Roohullah is a national religious leader." The motto at the office of Haji Roohullah is "Unity is the best policy". The educator, on the arrest of Roohullah, says that "all the tribes have long enmities. One of them is creating problems [he means the Mushwani tribe]. Roohullah was the first to start loya jirga negotiations in Kunar." Ghulam Ullah is absolutely right when he recalls that the Afghan jihad against the Russians in the 1980s "started in Kunar, through the family of Roohullah".
But at the same time, Roohullah picked the wrong side when the Talibs fell. Tough, living with those consequences, isn't it?
Ghulam Ullah is among the few in the region who reject Hekmatyar's ruthless methods: "We have a lot of differences with Hezb-i-Islami. In 1990, we had a parliament in Kunar, a democratic election for the chief of this area ... Roohullah won. The Hezb-i-Islami started fighting because they lost. They killed 12 of Roohullah's supporters. So we have no relationship with Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami or al-Qaeda. Hekmatyar got Osama to north Kabul and then they sent an Egyptian to kill our religious leader, Maulvi Jamil Rahman Salafi. Hekmatyar and Osama were our first enemies. So how can we give them help."
Sounds pretty much like Hek's tactics...
The real sensitive relationship, for Ghulam Ullah, is between Americans and local collaborators: "I'm not blaming Americans, because they don't know our traditions. I'm blaming those working with them. They are kids [a reference to Raiz, the son of pro-American Asadabad commander Malik Zarin, and his army of teenagers]. They want to fill their pockets. And they want to obliterate Pashtun tradition." Last week, Ghulam Ullah met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim in Kabul. He is hopeful. "I'm sure Haji Roohullah will come back soon. But these people who created problems for him must get behind bars." It's unlikely that the Americans will incarcerate their few local partners in Kunar.
In Afghanistan, no one's every guilty...
Back to Asmar, at what the locals call the Capitol building, the governor is reclined in his cushion, surrounded by what amounts to an informal cabinet meeting, with everyone seated on carpets sipping green tea. Someone asks the governor point blank, "Are you going to search these disinformers and put them in jail?" There's no clear answer. At 3pm the charismatic Khan Jan shows up - received with all-around reverence. The governor and Khan Jan launch into an elaborate conversation revolving around the relationship between the commander and Hekmatyar. The governor says, "We have two types of mujahideen in Afghanistan. One of them was boiling tea for the mujahideen who were in the front against the Russians. The other was in fact in the frontline. The Taliban were boiling tea, and then they started creating problems. [Former president Burhanuddin] Rabbani is now creating all kinds of problems for the government. He had support in 1996, not anymore." Khan Jan tells the governor that two days ago he went to talk to the Americans, and they told him that they had intelligence in the area proving that he (Khan Jan) was the problem.
The problem with intel is that the bad guys can feed you false information. The problem for the bad guys is that intel's collated - a piece from one place is matched against a piece from another place, and then both are matched with the transcript of a phone conversation.
The background for the terse exchange, inevitably, is once again tribal enmity. The Americans are working with the Mushwani tribe - to which Malik Zarin, the core commander of Asadabad and his son Raiz, belong. Khan Jan is a member of the Alizai - a sub-clan of the Salarzai tribe. Mushwanis and Salarzais are "brothers" only in name: the atmosphere is more like fraternal hatred. The Salarzai are accusing the Mushwanis of spreading false information to the Americans. Malik Zarin fought against the Taliban. But the Taliban at one time were supported by Malik Zarin's cousin. It soon became a battle of cousin against cousin. Now Salarzais believe that Malik Zarin is exacting his revenge.
And us Merkins don't really care...
The future of Kunar - the last battle of the new Afghan war, and the first frontline of the new anti-American jihad - will be decided by this cast of characters. Haji Matheullah - the number-two core commander - and Malik Zarin - the number-one core commander - plus his 18-year-old son Raiz and his army of teenagers, will keep working with the Americans. The governor will keep his skillful diplomatic balancing act. The local populations remain split between feelings of silent anger or joining Hekmatyar's appeal for a jihad against the American invaders. Khan Jan, mayor of Asadabad, may be working secretly with Hekmatyar. There are no prospects of Haji Roohullah being released from Bagram air base. Hekmatyar may be hidden and plotting in the mountains, 48 hours on foot to the northeast of Asadabad. And the Americans are bound to keep treating the local populations with a total lack of sensitivity.
Pepe doesn't make a very good case for this...
The crucial fact is that the post-Taliban Pashtun counterrevolution is already in full swing. And it's once again Pashtuns against Tajiks: the Pashtun belt against a central government in Kabul dominated by the Northern Alliance, where the Pashtun President Hamid Karzai is derided as a mere American puppet.
But nobody's derided him in Pepe's article...
Bacha Khan Zadran is a powerful warlord with a strong military presence in three key Pashtun belt provinces: Paktia, Paktika and Khost. He is openly confronting Kabul, which nominated what the Pashtuns call "a kid", Abdul Taniwal, as the governor of Khost. Kabul is after Zadran. But Zadran's tribe has forcefully asked Karzai to fulfill an earlier pledge and appoint him as head of the three provinces. A few days ago in Gardez, the simple presence of Zadran inside the American compound for four hours started a riot, because the locals thought that he had been arrested.
And then the locals kicked the sonofabitch out of town...
In Kunar, Haji Roohullah's arrest is not reaping any benefits for the Americans. On the contrary.
On the other hand, not arresting him wouldn't have reaped them any benefits, either. So to hell with it, I'm glad they jugged him.
In Nangarhar the Americans have relied since the Tora Bora campaign on the wily Hazrat Ali, a Pachai: the Pachais are derided by the Pashtuns. Americans are only working with commanders recommended by the Northern Alliance. They are being fed bad intelligence, no intelligence, and in the process are being drawn into the tangled web of warlord tribal rivalry. Under these circumstances, "peace" is impossible: US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's recent claims that the security situation in Afghanistan had improved in the past year is nothing short of ridiculous.
Any statement to the contrary is nothing short of ridiculous. The Taliban are out of power. That makes things better by definition...
Hamid Karzai's security services are totally infiltrated by ultra-disciplined Hezb-i-Islami operatives. The 4,800 international peacekeeping soldiers in Kabul are seemingly ineffective. Under their watch, two Afghan ministers have been assassinated in broad daylight and a car bomb exploded last week in Kabul, killing 30 people and wounding 167. An assassination attempt on Karzai was only narrowly averted in Kandahar.
On the other hand, the assassination attempt on Karzai was thwarted and there have been a number of other terror attempts nipped in the bud - to include one yesterday, involving a truck rigged with explosives. A similar intercept was made a month or two ago. Hek's Secret Army of Doom isn't as secret as he'd like to think it is, and some of his double agents are triples...
The US - as did the former USSR - has underestimated the indomitable Pashtuns, at its peril.
Pepe, on the other hand, seems intent on overestimating them. They're too undisciplined to make good soldiers...
Many empires have already paid the price for this carelessness. The American strategy in the Pashtun belt has been the catalyst for re-starting the civil war in Afghanistan. On the night of September 10, eyewitnesses claim to have spotted Gulbuddin Hekmatyar himself not in Kunar, but in the Teraha valley, in Khyber agency (in Pakistan) - on the other side of the Tora Bora. Hekmatyar was deep in a conference with a group of influential mullahs.
The Pak side of the border seems the more likely place to find him...
What the US is up against now is a formidable coalition involved in a jihad to kick out what it sees as foreign invaders. The coalition groups Hekmatyar and the Hezb-i-Islami's "Professor" Sayyaf, with his wealth of Arab connections and sponsorship; Ishmail Khan, the "Emir of southwest Afghanistan", who is very close to Iran; Mullah Omar (still hiding in safety somewhere in Kandahar province) and his formidable former Taliban military commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani; plus vast middle-level support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.
That's about the lineup we expected, with the exception of Ismail Khan and the addition of Rabbani...
At the end of a gruelling day, on the dusty Asmar-Asadabad road, Azad (his name means "free"), a Pashtun villager, definitely not a fundamentalist, stops the car to show us his house perched on a hill. The landscape around is breathtaking, as usual. The American Special Forces are only minutes away - we cross their convoy on our way back. Azad gazes at the classic Afghan panorama and murmurs, almost to himself, "The Americans are here because the world community has made a promise to the Afghan nation. But if they have their own agenda, I'll have to take care of this. Because I am the owner of this land."
To me, unlike Pepe, it sounds like they're giving the Merkins the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Binny in Kunar?

By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times...
Al-Qaeda, "the base", is now extinct. Al-Qaeda has a brand new name: Fath-e-Islam (Victory of Islam). And Fath-e-Islam's leader, none other than Osama bin Laden, is very much alive. But not anymore in Pakistan. Osama has returned to Afghanistan. More precisely, the Kunar province.
Christian Science Monitor had a similar report on August 9th...
Key players in the ultra-complex Pakistan-Afghanistan game had been saying that since the fall of Kabul in November 2001 that "the last battle" in this ongoing war would be in Kunar. The scenario now seems more than likely. The Taliban and the rebranded al-Qaeda have full tribal support in Kunar — where everybody seems to know someone who died from the American bombing of Afghanistan. A Pashtun notable puts the issue succinctly, "If the Americans are serious about grabbing Osama, they will have to put up a fight. On the ground. Man to man. There will be a lot of body bags."
Ummm... Probably not. That's the Pashtun way, as long as they have the other side outnumbered, anyway. If we could get a fix on him, rather than sending in lots of young fellows to do battle with the turbans on the ground it's more likely we'd level everything for a couple miles in either direction and then poke through the rubble. And if everyone knows someone who died in the bombing, guess everyone was pretty closely involved with the Taliban in one way or the other, so my sympathy meters still snoozing...
On August 10, the Daily Ummat, the number one Urdu-language paper in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, published a front-page story filed from Asadabad, Afghanistan (the capital of Kunar). The story did not appear in other Pakistani English-language papers, nor in the international media, for that matter. The story was headlined "Osama spotted in Pakistani area - Dir". Dir, in the northern strip of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is about 80 kilometers from the Afghan border in Kunar province. The story also said that Ayman al-Zawahiri, aka "The Surgeon", was reorganizing al-Qaeda something like 50 kilometers west of Chitral. Chitral, north of Dir, is at the base of the Hindu Kush mountains.
The article wasn't all that ignored. It formed the base for the al-Quds al-Arabi story on Binny being back at the helm...
The story was essentially quoting an Afghan defense ministry source — that is, a source close to the powerful Northern Alliance commander and now Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim in Kabul. Pashtuns and even Tajiks (Fahim is Tajik) comment that in the current scenario, "the Americans in Kabul cannot control Fahim — well, maybe 10 percent of him", according to a Pakistan-Afghanistan insider. Anyway, American military sources, according to the story, were "fearing al-Qaeda may launch full-scale activity in the coming few weeks or months", starting with an attack in eastern Afghanistan.
Fahim probably doesn't feel like he needs controlled. He still controls an essentially independent force, works for a Pashtun because of the political arrangement last November rather than because they've forged any real alliance, and expects the Talibs to make a serious try at a comeback. He probably expects to have to use his independent Tadjik force because he can't rely on the Pashtun forces — and most of his Pashtun fellow ministers...
According to the Afghan defense ministry, al-Qaeda — or Fath-e-Islam — has reorganized and has established training centers in Pakistan; it is trying to get hold of surface-to-air missiles from China; and will launch a series of attacks against the Afghan government. The Afghans add that the Americans believe that these two al-Qaeda training centers enjoy cooperation from China. One of them is identified as being 140 kilometers north of Gilgit - the capital of the Pakistani northern areas — in an area called Markash, close to the Chinese border.
So it would seem Fahim is right to keep his powder dry. And that any American cooperation with the Pashtun forces is going to be suspect...
The story gets some of the facts right. Al-Qaeda has, indeed, been in touch with Hezb-e-Islami (the Islamic Party founded in 1975) and has been assured of the cooperation of its volatile leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ultra hardline Pashtun mujahideen and former prime minister who devastated his own capital, Kabul, with rockets in mid-1992. And al-Qaeda has also extended its network of informers in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar, capitalizing on the unrest the American presence is causing all over the Pashtun tribal belt.
The unrest comes regardless of anything the Merkins do, or don't do. You have to be a two-faced xenophobe to be a card-carrying Pashtun.
But a key Pashtun source, fluent in Pashto, Dari, Urdu and English and acquainted with all the major players in the complex Afghanistan-Pakistan new great game, identifies not a few but a whole collection of holes in the story. Let's call him Haji S. For starters, Haji S dismisses the notion of an al-Qaeda training center in northern Pakistan near China: "This region simply does not accept foreigners. People speak only local languages, like Balti or Brushiski." He points to Afghan-American disinformation trying somehow to involve China, "The Chinese are being accused of harboring terrorists and selling weapons to al-Qaeda. This is serious. The Chinese know they are being encircled."
It also doesn't fit with the overall picture of the terror machine. So let's go ahead and discount China...
As far as the sheik with a US$25 million price tag on his head is concerned, Haji S is adamant: "Osama bin Laden would never have crossed that border. Pakistan has extensive military forces there — in the constabulary, the Bajaur Scouts, paramilitary forces. And now, whatever the Pakistani army knows, is immediately shared with the FBI." This means, according to Haji S, only one thing: bin Laden and the Fath-e-Islam leadership are themselves based in Kunar. "The Americans know it, of course. But they simply cannot get into Kunar. It is full of mountains and the area is religiously ultra-conservative, and 100 percent pro-Taliban."
I'm not at all sure I agree with Pepe's source here, though I'll admit he may know more than I do. Pak might have all the military forces at its disposal there, but Binny's support and encouragement from ISI dind't evaporate after October, no matter how much Perv wanted it to. And I'm positive that ISI and the Pak coppers aren't funneling everything they know to the FBI — there's been enough evidence to the contrary. The operations that have been coordinated in advance through proper channels are the ones that have blown; the ones that have been slapped together at the last moment, usually using the local coppers, have been the ones that worked. Keep in mind that Binny's successor was working from Pakistan, not from Afghanistan, in Faisalabad and Lahore, closer to Qazi and General Gul than to Mullah Omar.
Another Pashtun source confirms the analysis of Haji S: "Americans in Kabul are scared. They get bad information all the time. They don't understand that Afghans take the money today and forget about it tomorrow. The Americans came too early, they didn't do their homework."
And the Pashtuns tend to be overconfident, don't they?
American forces in Afghanistan to date seem to have followed a pattern of highly-publicized operations in the wrong places. The latest example happened this past weekend, when hundreds of Special Forces backed by helicopter gunships and planes, and with the help of Afghan government units, encircled the village of Tani, south of Khost, and also advanced to Zormat, the biggest district of Paktia province — an area where anti-American sentiment is as extreme as anywhere else in the Pashtun belt. Locals hate the Northern Alliance's grip on Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul. Zormat is near the area of the huge Operation Anaconda last March — the biggest US offensive in the war so far. Anaconda was basically a failure: most Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters managed to escape to the NWFP. This time in Zormat, the Americans carried house-to-house searches and apprehended a few guns — nothing extraordinary as any tribal Pashtun male has been carrying a gun for centuries. Basically, the Americans found no Taliban and no al-Qaeda. The escape pattern is always the same: Taliban and al-Qaeda — in this last case Chechens — are tipped off by local tribals, hide in the mountains or melt into the local population, cross to the NWFP, and then return.
That tells me that the problem isn't with the intelligence, but with the fact that the weasels are everywhere one turns. It's a problem the G2's and S2's are going to have to learn to deal with...
The commander of the 3rd Brigade Task Force of the 82nd Airborne Division, James Huggins, was forced to admit the failure of this operation in Zormat: "It was clear to me there was advance warning at each of the sites we went to." The "advance warning" always comes from the local population and even from warlords whose alliances lie with suitcases full of dollars, not with the American agenda.
So how do we deal with that? Short of killing the local warlords, anyway? Tough one...
It may be totally un-Hollywoodish for American — and Western — public opinion to digest the fact that these soldiers are being sent on futile missions, and some in the process are being killed for it. But a lot of information about the war simply does not travel — or is edited out by the Western media. Veterans of the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s remember that loads of Russian equipment used to be available in the bazaars of Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. Now anybody can buy night-vision devices, brand new M-16s, fireproof jackets and trekking boots. Where? In the bazaar in Miram Shah, in the NWFP, close to the Afghani Paktia province, where the Americans have a base. The goods are all-American, captured from American casualties.
Or stolen from American supplies...
Pashtuns swear that American casualties are mounting, although for the Pentagon they don't exist. Different sources in Peshawar and Islamabad confirm there are American casualties every week. Even now in the tribal areas there is a lot of talk on what happened in Helmand province last December - when 200 Americans were surrounded in a valley by only 37 Taliban, and many were slaughtered, with some beheaded. A humble porter of Shaheen Cargo confirmed the story at the time: he complained that his shoulders were sore because he had spent the night carrying coffins to a transport plane.
The jihadi press has been reporting large numbers of deaders since before operations began in Afghanistan. There were the 22 or 28 or 32 Americans, including high-ranking officers and women who were captured at Shah-i-Kot, for instance. The stories have been, as far as we know, apocryphal, something like the miracle tales of the early Christians. This guy with the sore shoulders saw it with his own eyes, helped lug the coffins onto the transport plane... Except that we don't do it that way. We simply don't hire local porters to lug coffins onto cargo planes. In fact, I'm thinking back many years, but I can't recall ever seeing a foreign national touch an American KIA, with the exception of medical personnel — not that I'm an expert on the subject, by any means. I could be wrong, but I think this guy worked cleaning the bodies out of the Black Hole of Calcutta, too.
If American forces venture into Kunar they will be against tremendous odds. Kashmir Khan — the most powerful Hezb-e-Islami commander — keeps his base in the mountains of Kunar. Haji S says that "even the Taliban at the time did not disturb him. He is not interested in ideology or politics. He is interested in power." This also means that Kashmir Khan is unbribable by the Americans.
Hokay. No problem. What're the coordinates?
Before the Taliban came to power, adds Haji S, "the provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar were the strongest and most fortified hubs of the Hezb-e-Islami. They were captured from the Soviets. And of course Hekmatyar himself is in Kunar." Hekmatyar allegedly still controls 80-odd Stinger missiles — another major reason preventing an American attack.
Not too sure about this, either. There were at least two Hezb-e-Islami parties, or maybe factions. One did control Nangahar, but it was the Eastern Shura, headed by Yunus Kalis, who was allied with Rabbani, rather than with Hekmatyar. Of course, things may have changed since, then; Kalis is approximately 186 years old, and was nearly as xenophobic as Hekmatyar, but last I checked Hazrat Ali, his commander, was still working with the Merkins, at least when it was to his advantage.
For Haji S, the notion that the Pakistani military would know about the presence of al-Qaeda in Dir and Chitral and do nothing about it is nonsense: "Either the military are conniving with al-Qaeda, which of course is impossible: or they are helpless, which is not the case, not with [Pakistan President General Pervez] Musharraf acting as such a good pal of Bush's." General Tommy Franks, the head of the US Central Command, said at Bagram air base in Afghanistan last Sunday that the war on terror needed to be expanded to the countries neighboring Afghanistan. Pashtun insiders interpret this as an admission of failure to find the Taliban and al-Qaeda where they really are: in Kunar.
They can interpret it that way all they want. What it represents is a realization that we're getting the same nonsense we got when fighting the North Vietnamese in South Vietnam without being able to go into Laos and Cambodia after them. Pakland's government has been demonstrated as being highly not-monolithic ever since 9-11. Hamid Gul's faction remains ensconced in the ISI and they're perfectly happy working hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda and the domestic fundos toward the goal of khalifate. I think Haji S dissembles here, and probably for a purpose.
The Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman, the extremely able diplomat Aziz Khan, took no time to reply to Franks: there's no reason for the US to enter Pakistan to look for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. When asked how Pakistan would act if the US made a formal request for American troops to cross to Pakistan to go after terrorists, Aziz Khan was unflappable, "Why should we suppose that the US would make such a request now that we are at the fag end of the exercise."
The Paks have quite a few other reasons for not wanting to carry out large-scale operations in NWFP, quite apart from ISI-Qaeda-Taliban canoodling. The area bristles with guns — they talk about the American "cowboy mentality"! — and represents one of the world's preeminent centers of ignorance and disease. The terrain is difficult, the people shoot on sight, and the fundo establishment tries to start riots and threatens civil war every time the shakey central government tries to assert any authority there. They're perfectly happy having the area ruled by warlords and mullahs, usually the same thing, and figure the gummint can butt out...
There's the rub. This may be the "fag end" from the Pakistani perspective, but American generals from Tommy Franks down are now increasingly talking of staying in Afghanistan "for years". In Afghanistan, and of course in Pakistan as well, where America is operating its own air bases, in strategic Baluchistan.
This would be a stoopid move on our part. I hope they drop the idea. We should depart as soon as the central government is capable of killing their own bad guys, with an offer of help at a later date if they need it.
The key player to watch in the next few moves in the game is "Engineer" Hekmatyar — as he is known in Afghanistan. The man is back with a vengeance. It is important to remember that during the jihad in the 1980s he always placed the long-term goal of an Islamic revolution above resistance to the Soviets.
That means he was as willing to sell out his fellow jihadis as he was to kill Russers, often even moreso.
And during the Taliban rule starting in 1996 he was patiently waiting for an opening in self-imposed exile in Iran. Haji S insists that Hekmatyar has access to "an unlimited amount of weapons". "And despite the opposition of Hamid Karzai and the Americans, he had 319 members in the loya jirga [grand council] in June [that finalized the current government in Kabul] and he controls four loyal governors. He has installed his own governor even in Kunduz." Hekmatyar is a Kharruti Pashtun who comes from a family of traders settled in a district of Kunduz, in the predominantly Tajik northern Afghan plains.
That's why we've been looking for him. He's a troublemaker and a rocket down his gullet will be the best thing for Afghanistan. I consider him more dangerous to Afghanistan than Binny.
According to Haji S, Hekmatyar's first move in a showdown against the Karzai government could be to block Sarobi, a religiously hardcore strategic bottleneck on the Jalalabad-Kabul road. And that would be only the beginning. Haji S adds that a few weeks ago Hekmatyar said strictly off the record that "Americans won't be here [in Afghanistan] in one-and-a-half years. Two years will be the maximum." Tommy Franks may not be aware of these plans.
That doesn't necessarily mean Gulbuddin's going to throw us out. I hope we don't intend on staying in Afghanistan forever...
Another top intelligence source revealed to Asia Times Online that in the beginning of August a key meeting took place in eastern Afghanistan — more exactly in Kunar. The importance of this meeting can be attested by two subsequent visits to Islamabad this week: US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, next Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. It is known for sure Hekmatyar was one of the key guests at the Kunar meeting. Every intelligence service on the planet is now scrambling like mad to find out exactly who else was there — and what was decided. If they had the answers, they would indubitably unveil the road map for the next two years in the South Asia-Central Asia new great game.
This is a pretty long, meaty article, but Pepe's not really telling us a lot that's new. We knew Hekmatyar was cozying up to the al-Qaeda-Taliban thugs, and we knew the "new name" of al-Qaeda. We knew Kunar was a hotbed of activity by the Bad Guys. And Pepe smokes up enough fundamental facts — which Hezb is in control of Nangahar, for instance, and the facts of al-Qaeda-Taliban presence in the NWFP, not to mention the guy with the sore shoulder — to cast some doubt on some of his conclusions. Dan Hartung referred to him as "US-skeptical" in an e-mail on this article, and his previous reporting hasn't been particularly objective. He seems to have only one source for the story, Haji S, and I suspect Haji S has his own agenda to push.