With global attention focussed on uprisings in the Islamic East, US officials have quietly announced plans for permanent military bases in Afghanistan. This flies in the face of earlier assertions that the US and its allies have no intention of staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. Such denials were clearly intended to pacify irate publics in the West that are fed up with the never-ending war in which the sons and daughters of ordinary people are being sacrificed for the benefit of the rich and powerful.
On February 19, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that any decision on a permanent US military presence in the country must be made by Afghans and must take into account the concerns of neighbouring countries, especially Iran, Pakistan and China. He said several American officials had talked about establishing permanent bases, presumably without even consulting him. While Karzai did not rule out the possibility of such bases, he insisted any such decision must be made in the context of Afghans assuming greater authority in the country that is currently in the throes of an insurgency, which is getting stronger by the day. According to the International Council on Security and Development, 90% of Afghan territory is now under the control of or in the grip of insurgents. This hardly augurs well for foreign occupation troops or the Karzai government. But this has not deterred the US and its NATO allies from pressing ahead with plans for permanent bases.
Last December, an agreement for the pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, via Afghanistan and Pakistan was signed without fanfare or publicity despite its immense significance. Interestingly, the Western media too paid little or no attention to this development. The pipeline that goes under the acronym TAPI –” standing for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India –” will transport gas from Turkmenistan. For years, the Americans had denied that the war in Afghanistan had anything to do with Central Asian gas or oil deposits; this lie has now been exposed. Why the Western media would skip this very important news is quite revealing. Working as mouthpieces for Western commercial interests, they do not want their people to know what their governments and militaries are up to in Afghanistan.
The announcement about military bases completes the circle. If the pipeline were to be built, it would need protection from sabotage. So far, the Americans have failed to pacify the crucial Helmand and Qandahar provinces that would serve as transit routes for the pipeline. It is also in these provinces that military activity is most intense. Qandahar also happens to be the home base of both the Taliban and Karzai. And not without reason, the Americans and their British allies are trying desperately hard to talk to the Taliban –” or anyone who pretends to be a member of the Taliban –” in order to get a deal.
The latest in this long saga was the British attempt last month to bring Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, to London for talks. Mullah Zaeef was handed over by the Pakistanis to the Americans soon after 9/11 and shipped to Guantanamo Bay. He was brutally tortured at Gitmo for four years before being released. Mullah Zaeef has insisted throughout that he is not a member of the Taliban although he sympathises with their mission, as would any Afghan, and that he was not authorized to discuss anything about the future of Afghanistan with anyone. He told the British and anyone who would listen that they should talk directly to the Taliban leadership.
But it is obvious that the British, working in conjunction with the Americans, want to open channels with the Taliban. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Defence Secretary Robert Gates have also called for dialogue with “moderate” Taliban. Whether the Taliban are willing to talk to them is a different matter. They have made clear that there cannot be any talks unless all foreign troops leave Afghanistan. The Americans are now talking about an “honourable” exit. Presumably, the talks with Zaeef were part of this effort.
What the conflicting reports indicate is that while the Americans have lost the war, they still want to stay in Afgha-nistan, hence the desperate attempts to strike a deal with the Taliban. They have even hinted that they would be prepared to accept a power sharing agreement with the Taliban in Kabul, to which the latter have responded that it is none of America’s business to determine who should rule Afghanistan.
The inability of American officials to grasp reality is costing them dearly and will continue to do so. Consider this: it took 2,520 days for the war to take 500 American lives; it took 627 days for it to take the next 500. Thinking of establishing permanent military bases in Afghanistan would be like committing suicide. They would provide rich targets for the Afghans.
In any case, the Afghans would not allow military bases on their soil. Their history bears witness that they have never tolerated foreigners. They are not about to make an exception for the Americans.