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Correspondence with Deputy Major Asher Craig on Slavery Education in Bristol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 11:23pm in

Asher Craig (below) is Bristol’s deputy mayor from communities, which takes in public health, public transport, libraries, parks, and events and equalities, and the Labour councillor for St. George West.

Councillor Asher Craig

I sent an email to her on Tueday this week, 7th July 2020, expressing my concerns at a brief interview she had given to BBC News Sunday night, and which had been repeated that morning on Radio 4. This was about Edward Colston and the legacy of slavery in the city. The Beeb had dispatched Lisa Mzimba to Bristol to investigate this lingering issue, and sound out local people about their opinions on it. One of those he spoke to was Asher Craig. And her comments frankly annoyed me, because they appeared to show that she was unaware that the city had tackled slavery and produced books and exhibitions about it, and that there was now a gallery devoted to it at the M Shed museum on Bristol’s docks. She kindly replied to me, and I include this with my email in this article, as well as my own comments on this.

I’m very well aware how sensitive racial issues. Please don’t anyone troll her or send her abusive or threatening messages. There’s far too much of this on the net as it is, and I don’t want to stoke up more of it or increasing racism instead of trying get rid of it.

Craig had declared that Bristol had covered up its history of slavery, and that she wanted to see a museum of slavery opened here. She also said that the council was introducing a new curriculum, which would educate children about this aspect of the city’s past. This also concerned me, as I feel very strongly that western slavery needs to be put into its global context. Slavery has existed in many societies right across the world, including Africa and Islam. It was Black African kingdoms who sold the slave to us, rather than White Europeans raiding Africa directly for slaves, although that had also gone on. Furthermore, in the 16th and 17th centuries the Barbary pirates of Muslim north Africa raided Europe for slaves. Ships from Bristol were also attacked and their crews enslaved. I am concerned that these aspects of the slave trade should also be taught in order to avoid teaching a view that is equally racist but against Whites, that racism and slavery is something that only Whites do to people of colour.  And anti-White racism has also existed in Bristol alongside hatred of Blacks and other people of colour.

I therefore sent Deputy Mayor Craig the following email:

Dear Madam,

This morning Radio 4 broadcast a brief interview you did with the BBC’s news presenter, Lisa Mzimba, about the current controversy surrounding Edward Colston’s statue and the need to confront the city’s participation in the slave trade. You, like many people, feel that it has been insufficiently addressed and more needs to be done to tackle racism. Unfortunately, you made several statements which were factually incorrect and suggest that there are areas about Bristol’s education system and the various displays the city’s museums have put on to address this, of which you are unaware.

Firstly, you claimed that the city has covered up its involvement in the slave trade. This is myth, and I am shocked that it is still circulating. I understand that it comes from an incident in the 1970s when a member of Bristol’s Black community telephoned the city council whether there was anything available about the city and the slave trade. The person answering the call denied that Bristol ever took part in the trade. Obviously that is clearly wrong, and it is understandable that after this many of Bristol’s Black citizens would feel that the city was engaged in a cover-up.

However, educational materials produced at the time for teaching the city’s history in schools do cover the slave trade. The book Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey (Bristol: George’s Booksellers 1975) discusses the slave trade on its page on 18th century trade. 13 years ago there was also a book published about Bristol in 1807, which was specifically brought out to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. While this was a work of general history, it made a point of discussing the city’s participation in the slave trade. The book was available from the Central Library among other venues. The Central Library has also published a booklet of materials they hold on slavery. This was published by the Reference Library, and titled Bristol 1807: A Sense of Place – Our City in the Year of Abolition. It had the subtitle, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: A Reading List. The local branch of the historical association also published a booklet,Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery, by Peter Marshall.

In the 1990’s the City Museum presented an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, about Bristol and the slave trade, which coincided with the drama of that name then showing on BBC television, based on the book of the same name by Philippa Gregory. This exhibition has now ended, but there is an entire gallery devoted to the subject at the M Shed. I realize that a gallery or exhibition is not the same as the museum you wish to be built, but it does show that the local council has addressed this issue.

You also said that you had created a curriculum for schools across the city that would cover this and other aspects of Black history. I’d be very grateful if you could tell me whether this includes the participation of African states in the slave trade, and their resistance to its abolition. As I’m sure you’re aware, the slave trade was not simply a case of White Europeans kidnapping Black Africans. Many African states, such as Dahomey and Mali, had slavery long before the appearance of White Europeans in Africa. Europeans were largely confined to ghettos in some of these states’ cities, and it was these African states that led the raids and obtained the slaves, which they then sold to Europeans.

The slave trade was also not confined to White Europeans either. There was also the Arab and Indian slave trades, which saw people from central and eastern Africa enslaved and then exported to India, Afghanistan, Arabia and other countries. It was partly to suppress this slave trade that the British empire first made treaties with Imam of Muscat, who was then the region’s suzerain, and then invaded this part of Africa.There was also the Turkish slave trade, which saw Black Sudanese enslaved and transported north to Egypt and the other states of the Maghreb.Moroccan slave trade only ended in 1911, because the British empire actively opposed its conquest by the other European powers.

I realize that this goes beyond merely local history, but it is important to avoid perpetuating a simplistic view in which slavery in only something that Whites ever did to Blacks. You have made it very clear that you wish to stamp out racism. However, in my experience racism is far from being confined to Whites. There has been anti-White as well as anti-Black racism in Bristol’s schools, as well as vicious ethnic hatred between Asians and the BAME community. As difficult as this, I feel very strongly that this also needs to be addressed.

I would also like to know what you are doing to cover the subject of the White Bristolians, who were also enslaved. As you know, Bristol’s participation in the slave trade actually predates that of the transatlantic slave trade.The city sold English slaves abroad in the 11th and 12th century centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Bristolian seamen were also kidnapped and enslaved by the Barbary pirates. Five of Bristol’s ships were captured in one year. While the enslavement of White Europeans was obviously minuscule compared to that of the Black Africans enslaved – 2 1/2 million compared to 12 1/2 million, nevertheless it occurred and is, I believe, partly responsible for modern prejudices towards Islam.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me what you are doing to address these issues, and look forward to your reply

Yesterday I got this reply from her.

Thank you for your email.

I am very much aware of the history of slavery in this city and the resources & educational materials you refer to in your email.

It’s a pity that my interview was edited because if you had heard my full response you would not have sent me such an email.

The One Bristol curriculum will tell the full truth not the half truths of history we were all taught in school. It will celebrate our black history from Africa, Caribbean, UK but will also expand to look at the wider local history of poor white working class communities. The History Commission the Mayor is putting in place will  also I form our work going forward.

We have to start somewhere and we’ve always known that the burning platform, I’m sure you’d agree, is eliminating racial hatred & discrimination which is deeply embedded in this society.

Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing. We work inclusively not exclusively which I’m afraid is the centuries old way of white men in power.

It’s possible that the appearance of ignorance on her part was caused by the Beeb’s editing. I think if you challenged them, the Corporation would probably tell you that it was all for time. But considering their shenanigans in trying to present as biased a view of the Labour party as they can get away with, I’m not sure you can completely discount malice. I doubt it in this case, however, as by and large the broadcast media has presented Black Lives Matter sympathetically. I am very much aware that there are glaring exceptions to this from the usual crowd of right-wing shills. There is a problem with the broadcaster’s own ignorance of Bristol’s history. An ITV report on the pulling down of Colston’s statue recited some of the old myths including that about Black Boy Hill. This is supposed to be named after a slave, but the 1990’s exhibition at the City Museum showed that this probably wasn’t true, and that it was most likely named after a race horse owned by Charles II.

Councillor Craig’s statement that the history curriculum would include that of the White working class is interesting, and a positive step if that is the case. However, I’m not impressed her comment about White men. It’s been true of western society,  but in nearly all societies across the globe power has been in the hands of elite men. And most societies have been extremely nationalistic as well as hierarchical, excluding other ethnic and social groups from power and privilege. I’ve met people, who have been really shocked at how racist some non-Western nations, like China, can be.

Bristol has also been an ethnically diverse city for centuries. The latest issue of the Postscript bargain books catalogue contains a book on this aspect of the city’s history. Written by Madge Dresser and Peter Fleming, two of the history lecturers at the University of the West of England, it titled Bristol: Ethnic Minorities and the City 1000-2001 (Phillimore 2009). The blurb for it runs

Over the past thousand years, Bristol, as one of England’s most important ports, has been a magnet for migrants. From medieval Jews to 21st-century asylum seekers. This pioneering study examines the activities of the various ethnic groups who have settled in the city. Investigating how the survived economically, how they dealt with social dislocation and discrimination, and how they constructed identities for their communities, it offers insights into the wider history of the city and the nation.

Dr Dresser was one of those involved in the creation of the 1990s slavery exhibit along with several others. I think one of them might have been Dr Mark Horton of Bristol University and then Time Team fame. Dresser teaches 18th century history and the slave trade at UWE, and has published a book on how the city continued slaving after its formal abolition, Slavery Obscured. If the city is putting together a commission to produce a multicultural approach to the city’s history, then it almost certainly will contain her.

As for Craig’s statement ‘Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing’, apart from showing a certain tetchiness – she obviously doesn’t like being pulled up on her history by a member of the public – it remains to be seen if the council does know what it’s doing. They won’t be short of experts, with real insights into these issues from the city’s universities.

It’ll be very interesting to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever Happened to Basic Standards at Newspapers?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 4:32pm in

It’s just like the Ukraine story that failed to impeach Donald Trump. Anonymous sources tell major newspapers that second hand or thirdhand source is based in the intelligence community, which is tasked with lying, that Russia may be paying bounties to the Taliban in order to kill United States troops in occupied Afghanistan. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but why pay attention to a story that has no evidence or sourcing?

Lee Camp: How the Media Used the Bounty Scandal to Stop the ‘Threat’ of Peace in Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 12:20am in

This is not a column defending Donald Trump.

Across my career, I have said more positive words about the scolex family of intestinal tapeworms than I have said about Donald Trump. (Scolex have been shown to read more.)

No, this is a column about context. When The New York Times reports anonymous sources from the intelligence community say Russia paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers, context is very important.

Some of that context is that Mike Pompeo said, “I was the CIA director – We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses.” So we know for certain that U.S. intelligence agencies lie to you and me. We saw it with WMD, and we might be seeing it again now.

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

We could talk about the context of the fact that the Taliban does not need to be paid to kill American soldiers because their entire goal for the past twenty years has been to kill American soldiers. Paying them a bounty would be like offering the guy sleeping with your wife twenty bucks to sleep with your wife.

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

We could talk about the fact that the U.S. has been funding the Taliban for years! Yes, we fund them, sometimes arm them, and then fight them. This is barely a secret. So for all intents and purposes, the U.S. does the same thing our corporate media is now accusing Russia of doing (with no proof).

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

No, the context I’m referring to is how our military industrial complex (with the help of our ruling elite and our corporate media) have stopped Trump from pushing us toward the brink of peace. …Yes, the brink of peace.

Now, I’m not implying Trump is some kind of hippy peacenik. (He would look atrocious with no bra and flowers in his hair.) No, the military under Trump has dropped more bombs than under Obama, and that’s impressive since Obama dropped more bombs than ever before.

However, in certain areas of the world, Trump has threatened to create peace. Sure, he’s doing it for his own ego and because he thinks his base wants it, but whatever the reason, he has put forward plans or policies that go against the military industrial complex and the establishment war-hawks (which is 95 percent of the establishment).

And each time this has happened, he is quickly thwarted, usually with hilarious propaganda. (Well, hilarious to you and me. Apparently believable to people at The New York Times and former CIA intern Anderson Cooper.)

I know four things for sure in life. Paper beats rock. Rock beats scissors. Scissors beat paper. And propaganda beats peace. All one has to do is look at a calendar.

Trump has essentially threatened to create peace or pull U.S. troops out of a war zone in three countries – North Korea, Afghanistan, and Syria. Let’s start with Syria.

April 4, 2018: President Trump orders the Pentagon to plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

This cannot be allowed because it goes against the U.S. imperial plan. So what happens within days of Trump’s order?

April 7, 2018: Reports surface of a major chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria.

What are the odds that within days of Trump telling the Pentagon to withdraw, Bashar al-Assad decides to use the one weapon that will guarantee American forces continue attacking him? Assad may not be a chess player, but I also don’t think he ate that many paint chips as a kid. And sure enough, over the past two years we’ve now heard from four whistleblowers at the Organization for The Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) saying the so-called chemical attack didn’t happen. (Notice that the number “four” is even bigger than the numbers “one,” “two,” and “three.”)

But establishment propaganda beats peace any day and twice on Sunday. The false story succeeded in keeping America entrenched in Syria.

 

The DPRK

Let’s move on to North Korea. As you surely know, Donald Trump “threatened” to create peace with the hermetic country. Simply saying he would attempt such a thing sent weapons contractor stocks tumbling—one of the many reasons peace had to be stopped.

Feb 27, 2019: Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un meet in Vietnam.

The summit fails, and reports begin emerging that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton succeeded in napalming any progress.

March 15, 2019: Pompeo and Bolton deny derailing North Korea nuclear talks.

From The Nation, “There were reports from South Korea that the presence at the talks of John Bolton, Trump’s aggressively hawkish national-security adviser, helped torpedo the talks.“

But just destroying the peace talks wasn’t enough. The American people needed some good, solid propaganda to reassert the idea that Kim Jung Un was a dastardly bloodthirsty dictator.

March 30, 2019: The New York Times reports North Korea executed and purged their top nuclear negotiators.

Yes, apparently Kim Jung Un must’ve fed his top diplomats to his top alligators. Then, two months later we learn…

June 4, 2019: The fate of the North Korean negotiator “executed” after the failed summit “grows murkier” with new reports that he’s still alive.

One would have to say that his being alive does indeed make the report that he’s dead “murkier.” Within the next day or two it becomes quite clear the diplomat is very much in the land of the living. But the propaganda put forward by The New York Times and many other outlets has already done its job.

Far more people saw the reports that the man had been murdered than saw the later retraction. And to this day, the Times has not removed the initial article saying he was executed. Exactly how wrong does propaganda have to be, to warrant an online deletion? Dead versus alive is a pretty binary designation.

And now we get to the outrage du jour, and it’s a bombshell!

 

Bounties!

May 26, 2020: Pentagon commanders begin drawing up options for an early Afghanistan troop withdrawal, following Trump’s request.

June 16, 2020: “President Donald Trump confirmed in public for the first time his administration’s plans to cut the U.S. military troop presence in Germany from its current level of roughly 35,000 to a reduced force of 25,000.” – ForeignPolicy.com

June 26, 2020: The New York Times reports Russia paid the Taliban to attack U.S. troops. (According to anonymous sources from an intelligence community that proudly admits they lie to us all the time, sometimes just to amuse themselves.)

So when this story first came out, I thought, “You know, Trump has been stopped from withdrawing troops in the past by ridiculous propaganda that seems to land like a giant turd right after he announces his intentions. Maybe I’ll check what happened in the days preceding this jaw-dropping story.”

So just days after Trump goes against the military industrial complex and against the ruling establishment by announcing he’ll be withdrawing about a third of our troops from Germany, and just weeks after announcing an early withdrawal from Afghanistan, a seemingly mind-blowing story drops about Russia paying the Taliban to kill American troops.

This serves to remind everyone what a threat Russia is (so we better put more troops in Germany!) and serves to keep us in Afghanistan (because screw those Russian-funded Taliban!).

Look, I’m not saying Trump is a hero or a great guy or even a man who wants peace. I’m not even saying he’s a man. He very well may be a giant blood-sucking leech in a human skin suit. (A poorly tailored human skin suit.)

All I’m saying is the timing doesn’t add up. Either these landmark stories that destroy every chance of peace are false (in fact we’ve already proven two out of three of them are false), or peace has exceedingly, ridiculously, laughably bad timing.

Feature photo | Abdullah Abdullah, right, President Ashraf Ghani’s fellow leader under a recently signed power-sharing agreement, holds a meeting with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad aimed at resuscitating a U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 20, 2020. Credit | Sapidar Palace via AP

Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of the weekly comedy news TV show “Redacted Tonight With Lee Camp” on RT America. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.

This article was published with special permission from the author. It originally appeared at Consortium News.

The post Lee Camp: How the Media Used the Bounty Scandal to Stop the ‘Threat’ of Peace in Afghanistan appeared first on MintPress News.

Here’s the President’s Daily Brief

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 10:59pm in

June 30, 2020 Today’s big story was the increasing spread of the coronavirus across America. Yesterday, Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC) said in an interview that the virus is spreading too fast and too … Continue reading

The post Here’s the President’s Daily Brief appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Time to Derail Nuclear Treaty Talks?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 4:01pm in

So, the kerfuffle of the moment is the claim that Russia paid a bounty to the Taliban for each killed American GI.

The sources are unnamed intelligence community members. No proof is provided beyond their anonymous word.

Intelligence communities never lie and certainly never anonymously and with no proof.

Sigh.

Meanwhile, the US and Russia had just begun talks to extend the New Start nuclear treaty. That treaty was to reduce the number of active nuclear launchers by half. Presumably, an extended treaty would reduce nuclear launchers or weapons further.

This is a good thing.

But it is not what a lot of people in the US military industrial complex want. Nor do they want Trump to leave Afghanistan, which he keeps talking about doing (though I doubt he will, even the possibility is anathema to the permanent state).

I think it is unlikely that Russia offered a bounty for US soldiers, but I don’t much care. US soldiers shouldn’t still be in Afghanistan, and if you want to talk hard realpolitik, Russia has interests in Afghanistan which far exceed those of the US. The US, which funded the Mujahideen to kill Russian soldiers (whether there was a bounty or not), is in no position to get all high and mighty about their occupying troops coming under attack by insurgents supported by another Great Power.

Whatever happened, further decreases in nuclear weapons, which are capable of wiping out all life on Earth, matter more.

Russia is a state which has done many evil things and is doing evil things today. Likewise, the US is a state which has done many evil things and is doing evil things today. Putin is a bad man (though, a competent one). Trump is a bad man (though largely incompetent–except not at campaigning).

Irrespective of the fact that both states have done bad things, including to each other, it is paramount that they reduce nuclear weapons, and that we avoid a nuclear war between these two states. We are not substantially safer than we were in the Cold War; they still have enough nukes to kill us all.

But also, don’t believe US intelligence agencies without hard proof, and certainly don’t believe anonymous sources.

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Russian Military Intelligence Put Bounties on American Soldiers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/06/2020 - 1:07am in

This evening, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both broke extraordinary news. Months ago, American intelligence officials concluded that during peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, a Russian military intelligence group offered to Taliban-linked fighters bounties for killing American troops. They paid up, too, although it is unclear which of the twenty US deaths happened under the deal. But this wasn't breaking news for the National Security Council. Continue reading

The post Russian Military Intelligence Put Bounties on American Soldiers appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

What Happens Next in Afghanistan? The Neo-Taliban

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 31/05/2020 - 1:00am in

The Taliban is on the move – Kabul stands in the line of fire ...

            I shouted the text of my latest story on the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, irritated. “Why don’t you just go to Kinko’s and email it to us?”

I stood shindeep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mudbrick walls. I was on a street but it was 2001 so there wasn’t any pavement there—or anywhere else in the country. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn’t been blown up, no phone lines, no running water, no sewers.

No Kinko’s.

Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera’s viewfinder for the first time in their lives. There weren’t any mirrors.

Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.

Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.

The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11 they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. “What were we trying to do here?” General Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under Bush and Obama, recalled asking. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

On February 29th the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.

They called it a peace agreement. But it didn’t guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn’t), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.

Under the Doha agreement the Taliban will now negotiate terms with the Afghan government that the U.S. installed in early 2002. The expectation is that the Taliban will recognize the regime of President Ashraf Ghani and lay down their weapons. It’s far more likely that they will wait for Ghani’s NATO protectors to leave. Vietnam again: this is “peace with honor.”

This fig leaf allows us to withdraw with our pride intact. And that’s fine. 58% of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan think the latter conflict was a waste. They’re right. We were never going to win. President Trump gets credit for ending America’s longest war.

So what happens next?

The Taliban will grant us a grace period of relative calm while we turn our focus to other issues and places. Ultimately they will seize power with surprising speed and ferocity. This, dating back to the First Afghan War against the British from 1839 to 1842, is the way of Afghan guerilla warfare: wait, observe, probe, swarm.

Then the Taliban will be back in Kabul.

But they won’t be the Taliban—not the Taliban with whom we went to war in 2001. The Ur Taliban are dead and gone.

The bearded fighters to whom the Trump Administration has turned over the future of Afghanistan are not your father’s Taliban. South Asia experts call these fellows the “Neo Taliban.” Formerly based in the former Tribal Areas of Waziristan in western Pakistan along the Afghan border, Afghanistan’s Neo Taliban are a pastiche of radical volunteers and recruits from jihadi hot spots throughout Asia: Kashmir, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, eastern Iran and Pakistan proper. Many of these young men were orphans of the refugee camps and madrassas that sprung up around the Afghan diaspora of the 1990s and post-9/11 era. Modern and tech savvy, they carry smartphones to coordinate attacks, often on motorcycles. They earn money from kidnapping and the drug trade.

The original Taliban who ruled 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 were a simpler, indigenous, more homogenous breed. Veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance, they began as vigilantes against bandits and rapists. Befitting the devastated hellscape of the failed state they terrorized with the whip-wielding goons of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, they were ascetes. When American soldiers entered the abandoned home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were surprised to discover that the Taliban head of state had lived modestly, even primitively.

The Neo-Taliban are nominally religious but their primary devotion is to leveraging their power into income. They are far more interested in making money than in policing women’s hijabs. They are not feminists. They would oppress women. But they wouldn’t be as thorough or ruthless as the Taliban of the 1990s.

I returned to Afghanistan nine years after I covered the war for the Voice. The difference was staggering. The U.S. and NATO occupation has radically modernized the nation’s infrastructure.

High-tension power lines run alongside smooth new highways. Conditions remain primitive in the countryside but even smaller cities have electricity most of the day. Formerly ubiquitous donkey carts have been replaced by cars, wells by water pipes, empty skies by billboards advertising soft drinks and candidates for parliament. Stores bustle, homes and big buildings are constantly going up. There are credit cards, banks and ATM machines, guarded by AK-toting private security guards in flak jackets. There are fewer dropped cellphone calls in Afghanistan than in Los Angeles.

If and when they take over, the Neo-Taliban won’t want to destroy this nascent, violence-prone, bustling capitalist state. They will seek to control, protect and tax it.  

Afghanistan under the Neo-Taliban will look something like other Islamic developing nations in the region like Pakistan or Bangladesh. Political and financial corruption will be endemic. Out in the sticks, away from the eyes of the few foreign journalists still in the country, there will still be an occasional stoning. Overall this new regime will be more modern, more corrupt and, to Western eyes, more tolerable than the Taliban who blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

There still aren’t any Fedex Offices (formerly Kinko’s) in Afghanistan. But there are plenty of cybercafes—and at least one for women only.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Afghanistan invasion is the war crime

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 9:53pm in

The allegations of Australian special forces (SAS) soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan have been around for years. But the Four Corners footage showing an Australian soldier executing Dad Mohammad, an unarmed father, leaves no doubt. The images were sickening.

Four Corners’s interview with Braden Chapman, a former SAS signals intelligence officer, was just as chilling. Chapman said that destroying people’s homes and infrastructure, blowing up private cars and shooting dogs were regular occurrences; adding that the Taliban, “usually weren’t doing the same”.

He went on to say that planting radios and weapons on bodies
to justify killings was a regular practice. 

In an interview last year the son of an Afghan man allegedly
killed by SAS soldiers in 2012 told the ABC, “Our civilians were killed; they
killed our elders… wherever they have conducted raids, they have slaughtered
people standing.”

The AFP has interviewed Australia’s most decorated
living soldier and former SAS member Ben Roberts-Smith over allegations he
kicked a handcuffed Afghan prisoner off a cliff in 2012. Roberts-Smith is
also under investigation for the summary execution of an Afghan in 2009. 

These atrocities are just the tip of the ice-berg. Australian troops have been part of the imperialist invasion of Afghanistan since US President George Bush began the “war on terror” in 2001. The invasion of Afghanistan quickly expanded into the war on Iraq.

There are still about 300 Australian Defence Force members
and defence civilians deployed in “Task Group Afghanistan”, including a small
contingent of Australian Special Forces supporting NATO’s “Special Operations
Component Command.”

In 2019, the US dropped 7423 bombs and munitions on
Afghanistan, an eight-fold increase since 2015. And the civilian casualties
keep rising.

According to UN figures, in the first half of 2019, 717
civilians were killed by government forces, including the US, a 31 per cent
increase from a year earlier.

For successive Australian governments, Australia’s
involvement is an integral part of its imperialist relationship with the other
“Five Eyes” countries, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK.

There are 2500 “deployment-ready” US troops stationed at the
Robertson Barracks in Darwin, one of the US bases scattered across Australia
actively supporting US bombings.  

The killing of innocent Afghan civilians by SAS soldiers is
part of a wider atrocity—the war crime of Australia’s imperialist intervention
in Afghanistan and the Middle East. 

The post Afghanistan invasion is the war crime appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Think, Don’t Hoard: How to Survive the End Times

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/03/2020 - 12:35am in

Image result for afghanistan 1999

It feels like the end times. A mysterious invisible killer stocks the land. Wild rumors abound. The government is useless. There’s no sense that anyone knows anything, much less is in charge. Could America become a failed state?

Yes, but not yet. Yes, but not because of coronavirus. Late-stage capitalism will ultimately destroy the current sociopolitical governmental system, not COVID-19. A vaccine will come online either later this year or early next year; that will be the beginning of the end of this scourge. Before then, many if not most Americans will have contracted the disease and recovered from it. Businesses will reopen. People will go back to work. The stock market will resume its climb.

In the meantime, many of us are wondering: how would/will we survive in an apocalyptic scenario without a somewhat benevolent government to run things?

I have good news for you: it is possible. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

I know because I have seen it.

For decades Afghanistan was the epitome of a “failed state,” a nation whose government is no longer able or willing to supply essential services to its citizens. The 1978 CIA-backed overthrow of a Russian-supported regime prompted the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, which was followed after withdrawal by a brutal, grinding civil war partly resolved by the victory of the Taliban in 1996. They ruled until 2001 but didn’t built much infrastructure before being themselves driven out of power by the United States after 9/11. I was there under the Taliban, long before the U.S. and NATO began reconstruction in the mid-2000s.

Afghans were utterly dependent on themselves. Not only did the Taliban government fail to provide services like mail delivery and garbage collection, the Taliban made people’s lives miserable through arbitrary edicts and a psychotic religious police force that beat Afghans in the streets willy-nilly.

Try to imagine, if you can, what it would be like to live in a country that didn’t have a single inch of paved road, just muddy ruts. No one has a phone. There are no newspapers. Radios and televisions are banned, which is fine because you have no electricity and no stations are broadcasting.

Inside your house, there’s no running water. You have to walk to a communal well if you are lucky enough to have one nearby that isn’t polluted. There’s a good chance that a local thug controls the well and forces you to pay for water. It gets blazing hot in the summer, but there’s no air conditioning. It’s freezing cold in the winter but there’s no heat. You could burn some wood but you can’t find any because everyone has already chopped down all the trees.

Under the Taliban you can’t send your daughter to school. But you can’t send your son either because there probably isn’t a local school at all. No one has work as we know it. You exchange odd jobs in a 100% unemployment economy where cash has stopped circulating; everything relies on barter.

There is a certain freedom. Without a public records office you don’t need a deed to move into an empty house. But of course you can’t sell it if you leave. There’s no DMV so if somehow do you acquire a car you can drive it regardless of your age. On the other hand, if someone steals it, there’s no police to report it to.

If you did get that car, you probably would only want to drive it around your neighborhood. If you tried to drive to a different town, you would almost certainly be robbed and killed.

Sounds like it would be impossible to survive, right? But millions of Afghans did. Some of them even had children. Life went on. How? It’s almost unfathomable for us Americans, so accustomed to our creature comforts, to imagine.

Not that they could have afforded to anyway, but Afghans did not hoard. Situations in which survival is precarious require you to be nimble. That includes being able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. If you manage to accumulate some possessions, you want something highly portable: cash (in Afghanistan, that meant US dollars), jewelry, gemstones. A year’s worth of toilet paper weighs you down.

I have met more than my fair share of survivalists in the United States. Typically their instinct is to hunker down on a remote plot of land, stockpile weapons and supplies, fortify a perimeter and arm up to fend off potential marauders. They are foolish. When the crap hits the fan, the best armed man will not be able to fight off a dozen invaders. It’s smarter to pack up and go if your area turns into a battle zone.

What you really need to stock up on are two items: personal relationships and IQ points. Both make the difference between life and death.

Good friends welcome one other into their homes. If one home is lost, they can squeeze together into a second one. A good friend might have a skill or a possession that you might need—they can stitch up a wound or drive you somewhere in their car.

You make yourself useful in a failed state by exactly the opposite means you would use in ours. In the United States in 2020, it pays to have excellent skills in one or two areas, to be the best at what you do in your specialty. Not in Afghanistan in 2000. Dangerous places work best for people who are renaissance men and women, those with a wide variety of skills. Learn to do a lot of things fairly well. Shoot a gun, drive a car, cook, sew. Translate a foreign language, ride a motorcycle, fish, hunt. You can sell those skills to people who don’t have them.

Most of all, stay sharp and think nimbly. Hone your instincts. Watch for changes that might affect you and the people you care about. Prepare to drop everything you are doing at a second’s notice and take off if need be. We are all descended from people who lived this way. Those who didn’t died. Survival is in your DNA.

I don’t think you’ll need raw survivalism for the coronavirus apocalypse. But it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

How the New US-Afghanistan Peace Deal Rekindled a “Business Friendly Taliban”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2020 - 6:34am in

President Trump, who is up for re-election this year, has added another “peace” deal to his credentials, a deal that the president, his re-election campaign and his supporters have promoted as proof that Trump is willing and able to resist the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its ceaseless push to keep the U.S. embroiled in “forever wars.”

Yet, not unlike the much-criticized Israel-Palestine “peace” deal that was recently released by the Trump administration, there is more to the U.S.-Taliban “peace” deal than meets the eye. Indeed, while the deal will reduce and perhaps eventually even end the U.S.’ official military presence in Afghanistan, there is little indication that it will end the bloodshed or the country’s “shadow” economy that is awash in profits from the illegal drug trade and illegal mining.

Particularly telling is the fact that the CIA’s ever-growing presence in Afghanistan, which expanded during the Obama years and has continued to expand under Trump, will remain even as U.S. troops are set to begin to leave. Furthermore, many of the specifics of the deal — such as what the Taliban must do in order to ensure that the U.S. continues to withdraw troops — are remarkably vague, meaning that U.S. troop withdrawal could easily be paused or outright canceled at the Trump administration’s whim at any point during the 14-month timetable for withdrawal that has been established.

Of course, that 14-month window expires well after the 2020 election, likely shielding Trump’s re-election efforts from any potential fall-out over a deal that contains few specifics in its current form as well as several “secret” annexes, which will ensure that a continued CIA presence and a sizable contingent of U.S. “counter-terrorism” forces may remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.

In addition, Afghanistan’s “war oligarch” class, who grew rich from the corruption that has marked post-invasion Afghanistan, have praised this accord. This is notable given that these oligarchs, many of whom currently live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have opposed and railed against U.S. troop withdrawals in the past. Adding to the oddity is a push in Western mainstream media to describe a post-invasion Afghanistan as “open for business.”

Yet, it is the illicit economic activity of Afghanistan, namely its opium trade, that will likely define whether this new deal is ultimately successful, as Afghan opium is a major source of revenue, not only for the Taliban but also for the CIA — and thus of major interest to both parties. It is hardly surprising then that the deal contains an annex pertaining to future CIA operations in Taliban-controlled areas.

The myriad factors in play regarding this latest “peace” deal suggests that there are several motives behind its recent signing and promotion. While the deal certainly plays into the hand of Trump’s reelection aspirations, rekindling the Taliban’s old alliances with the UAE and Saudi Arabia at the expense of their ties with Iran is another possibility as are efforts to bring Afghanistan into the fold of several U.S.-backed Central Asian infrastructure projects that seek to stymie the success of similar projects promoted by U.S. rival states in the region.

Whatever the exact motivations behind the current deal are, its long-term success will be determined by long-standing U.S. business, government and intelligence interests in the country and whether or not the Taliban will pose obstacles to those interests, not by any real desire to bring home U.S. troops and wind down American “forever wars” abroad.

 

Landmark agreement or election year theater?

The “landmark agreement”  signed by the U.S. and the Taliban on February 29 was not a final deal but a preliminary agreement on which U.S. officials are not authorized to publicly comment and the specifics of which have not been publicly released.

Yet, just a few days after it was signed, the U.S. bombed the Taliban in alleged retaliation for attacks for which no one claimed responsibility, which is quite possible given the factional nature of the fighting in Afghanistan and the Taliban itself. There is also the fact that some of the country’s deadliest armed groups are paramilitaries created and backed by the CIA and the CIA’s control over the actions of said groups is alleged to have “waned” in recent years, making them essentially rogue death squads. However, the U.S. has asserted these attacks were committed by the Taliban.

The Taliban easily could have committed these attacks without technically having violated the deal, however, given that the “peace” deal does not “obligate the Taliban to abstain from any specific actions after an initial week of Reduction in Violence” that ended last weekend, according to CBS News. In other words, the “peace” deal does not include a ceasefire but instead holds that a ceasefire will be negotiated as part of “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government based in Kabul. That government is currently led by former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, whose government has forged increasingly close ties with the CIA, and whose recent reelection was marred by fraud. Notably, Ghani’s main political rival who claims to have won the recent election was recently targeted during a mass shooting that took place last week and also followed the signing of the “peace” deal.

Ghani CIA

Bush’s Treasury Secretary John Snow, left, and now-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after a meeting in Kabul, Sept. 18, 2003. Natacha Pisarenko | AP

Though many are understandably relieved that the U.S. appears to be ending its 19-year long presence in Afghanistan, there is much about the deal that deserves scrutiny. For instance, the deal doesn’t call for complete troop withdrawal, but instead the reduction of U.S. troops from around 12,000 to around 8,600 over the next 135 days. Those 8,600 troops, about the same number of troops that remained following Obama’s limited Afghanistan troop withdrawal, “will continue to fight terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS,” according to The Hill. A report in The Los Angeles Times claims that the U.S. will move forward with a complete withdrawal in 14 months, but only “if Al-Qaeda and other terror groups do not reemerge there.”

This distinction deserves considerable scrutiny since the U.S. government is currently backing al-Qaeda forces in Syria’s Idlib province and in Yemen, while ISIS was not only intentionally allowed to emerge by the Obama administration, but has ties to the intelligence apparatus of both the United States and its main Middle East ally Israel.

It would be as simple for al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Idlib, who are currently fighting a Syrian and Russian military offensive, to be relocated to Afghanistan as it would for the U.S. to call off its troop withdrawal and justify its indefinite presence in the country, which boasts massive mineral wealth and an important geostrategic location critical to regional energy flows. President Trump’s statement following the inking of the deal that “If bad things happen, we’ll go back,” reveals that the door to axing the much-touted troop withdrawal remains open. Also boding poorly for this aspect of the deal is the fact that U.S. media are already speculating that Friday’s mass shooting in Kabul that targeted the Afghan president’s main political rival was the likely work of ISIS.

In addition, Time reported last month that those 8,600 troops are actually to remain indefinitely as part of a semi-permanent “counter-terrorism” force and that Taliban leaders would not agree to that demand in public, but would do so in private. Journalist Pepe Escobar, writing in the Asia Times the day before the deal was signed, asserted that the Taliban will only allow this “sort of face-saving contingent to remain for a few months, and then a very small contingent … to protect the US embassy in Kabul.” Escobar further claims that the U.S. will ultimately reject the removal of troops during the 14-month timetable for tentative withdrawal, thus reigniting the U.S.’ seemingly eternal quagmire in Afghanistan.

Notably, the day the deal was signed, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the U.S. would “not hesitate to nullify the agreement” if the Taliban didn’t honor its commitments, which thus far involve not allowing “al-Qaeda and other terror groups to re-establish a presence on Afghan territory” and to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist whose recent re-election win remains strongly contested.

The Los Angeles Times further noted that the U.S. government reserved the right to call off troop withdrawal if the Taliban “refuses to negotiate in good faith,” another vague tenet found in the recently signed peace deal. However, Trump, as Commander-in-chief, could theoretically choose to withdraw troops, even if future talks aimed at cementing the specifics of the deal collapse.

The most underreported aspects of this new “peace” deal are arguably the most important. Just days before the agreement was signed, both Time and Pepe Escobar reported on the fact, citing a total of five Afghan and U.S. officials between them, that the deal contained four “secret” provisions or annexes. While three of those provisions found their way into the press coverage that followed the deal’s official signing, one did not. That provision specifically discusses how the CIA will remain in Afghanistan and lays out how they will operate in Taliban-controlled areas.

Though underreported, that aspect of the deal should not come as a surprise, as last August, the Trump administration was considering an expansion of the CIA’s presence in the country once military troops begin to be withdrawn as part of a provisional agreement with the Taliban. Though the LA Times reported that the final deal called for the withdrawal of troops as well as “tens of thousands of contractors and ‘nondiplomatic’ personnel,” it asserted that this “would seem to include” CIA officials, but that report declined to mention the reporting of either Time or Escobar and the provision pertaining to the post-deal continuation of CIA activities in Afghanistan.

Overall, despite the fact that many of the details of the deal are vague and/or not publicly available, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that this so-called “historic peace deal” will actually bring peace to Afghanistan. Yet, upon looking further into who negotiated the deal, who supports it and why, more reasons to be skeptical — if not outright cynical — quickly emerge.

 

The oily past of the U.S.’ top negotiator

Supporters of the President have since suggested that the deal’s rejection by prominent neoconservatives — including former National Security advisor John Bolton and Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY), among others — was proof that the deal would be effective in ending the U.S.’ longest war in its history as it had angered some of the U.S.’ most notorious and influential war hawks.

Yet, such claims fail to note that Trump’s top negotiator with the Taliban and the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is himself a neoconservative and a founding signatory of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), the defunct yet still controversial neoconservative think tank whose former members first rose to prominence during the George W. Bush administration.

Not only that, Khalilzad was also a key figure in the CIA-backed Operation Cyclone under the Carter administration and later the Reagan administration, where he personally helped greatly expand the controversial program. That operation created, armed and financed Afghanistan’s Mujahideen forces, which included the very individuals who would go on to create both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is one of the longest and most expensive covert programs in the history of the CIA and also involved Saudi and Pakistani intelligence.

In addition, Khalilzad, at the time Operation Cyclone was ongoing, was also the executive director of the Friends of Afghanistan, a “support group” for the Mujahideen, and is also a long-time member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), long labeled a CIA cut-out by critics.

Notably, the Taliban’s own top negotiator of this new “peace” deal, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, was among those trained and armed as part of the Mujahideen force created during Operation Cyclone.

The fact that the main negotiators on both sides have ties to this disastrous CIA-backed operation has gone largely unmentioned in media reports on the recent peace talks and the more recent peace deal. One obvious reason for leaving this out would be the fact that the existence of the Taliban itself resulted from neoconservative foreign policy and out-of-control intelligence agencies, with many of those tied to Operation Cyclone remaining powerful and influential in American politics, Khalilzad among them.

US Taliban Peace Deal

Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and the Taliban ‘s Abdul Ghani Baradar, sign the US-Taliban peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020. Hussein Sayed | AP

Adding to these oddities regarding the background of the deal’s negotiators is the fact that Khalilzad himself was also, for years, an open supporter of the Taliban. As the Institute for Policy Studies has noted:

[Khalilzad] had been an early supporter of the Taliban during the brutal internecine fighting that accompanied the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. And he remained in touch with the fundamentalist forces after they trounced opposing warlords and took power in Kabul in 1996.”

In addition, the Los Angeles Times noted in 2002 that:

Just 10 days after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 1996 and began its vicious crackdown, Khalilzad argued in a Washington Post opinion piece that the U.S. should try to work with the mullahs and form a broad-based government that included other factions….On the opinion page, Khalilzad argued: “The Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran–it is closer to the Saudi model.”

We should use as a positive incentive, the benefits that will accrue to Afghanistan from the construction of oil and gas pipelines across its territory,” he added. “These projects will only go forward if Afghanistan has a single authoritative government. (emphasis added)”

This position was not exclusive to Khalilzad, as others in the U.S. government at the time hoped to use the Taliban to create a “second Saudi Arabia” in Afghanistan and the Clinton administration, from 1994-1996, offered covert support to the Taliban through Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Khalilzad’s ties to the Taliban continued well after they took power and he was a key fixture in efforts by the Clinton administration and a consortium led by the U.S. energy company UNOCAL (now a subsidiary of Chevron) in negotiating a $1.9 billion pipeline deal with the Taliban. The project was backed by both the Clinton administration and the U.S. intelligence community because the pipeline would “help free the new nations of Central Asia from dependence on Russia, avoid alternate routes across Iran and bring needed energy to Pakistan and India.”

In 1997, UNOCAL officials hosted Taliban officials on a luxury multi-day trip in Texas and facilitated their meeting with top U.S. government officials. At the time, Khalilzad was a special advisor to UNOCAL and was part of the effort to court the Taliban during their U.S. visit.

The UNOCAL-Taliban negotiations began to fall apart by 1998, and that year UNOCAL executive John Meresca told Congress that “… we have made it clear that construction of our proposed pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company (emphasis added),” suggesting that the U.S. government’s decision to not officially recognize the Taliban was an insurmountable hurdle and that, to advance, the Taliban would need to alter their policies in order to receive U.S. recognition or instead be replaced by a more moderate faction that could be officially recognized by the U.S.

After these events, the Taliban turned to UNOCAL’s competitor in the pipeline effort, a consortium led by the Argentine company Bridas, whose main partner was a Saudi company closely tied to Prince Turki Faisal Saud, then-head of the Saudi intelligence service. In contrast to UNOCAL, Bridas “indicated readiness to finance the project and start construction without formal Western or U.N. recognition of the Taliban government,” according to a 1998 article in the Washington Post. The Bridas proposal would also service the local Afghan market while the UNOCAL proposal would not.

Once negotiations with UNOCAL had collapsed completely, U.S.-backed regime change in the country began to be openly discussed and, as M. Reza Pirbhai noted in an October 2009 article, “it was only when absolute control of that oil was challenged that the Taliban regime was openly discredited” by the U.S. government. The Bush administration attempted to renew talks with the Taliban over the pipeline, but this too collapsed by mid-2001, just months prior to the September 11 attacks. Canada’s Globe and Mail would later note that after the pipeline deal was scrapped:

Washington was furious, leading to speculation it might take out the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban, with good reason, were removed — and pipeline planning continued with the Karzai government. U.S. forces installed bases near Kandahar, where the pipeline was to run. A key motivation for the pipeline was to block a competing bid involving Iran, a charter member of the ‘axis of evil.’”

Some have asserted that UNOCAL was a factor in the U.S.-backed appointment of Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s “interim president” after the U.S. ousted the Taliban from Kabul following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after September 11. This was because Karzai was not only a former CIA-backed Mujahideen fundraiser but also a UNOCAL consultant and it was reported that Khalilzad had lobbied for Karzai to be given that position. Nine days after Karzai was appointed to lead post-invasion Afghanistan, Khalilzad — linked to both the Mujahideen, several U.S. administrations and UNOCAL — became Bush’s special envoy for Afghanistan, a position he recently regained under Trump.

Though the UNOCAL-Taliban deal fell through, its successor — the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) — has been under construction for the past several years, with construction on Afghanistan’s section beginning in 2019. At the time, the Taliban vowed to protect the TAPI project and had previously announced their support for TAPI as early as 2016. Though Chevron and Exxon-Mobil were originally poised to lead TAPI, much of its funding has come from the Saudi-dominated Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Asia Development Bank (ADB), whose ownership is dominated by Japan and the United States. Notably, TAPI’s regional competitor is the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline that is backed by Russia.

Khalilzad’s history with U.S. government and corporate negotiations with the Taliban, along with the Taliban’s pro-business shift with respect to TAPI, strongly suggests that the glue holding this “peace” deal together is largely based around economic incentives for the Taliban so that TAPI and other U.S.-backed Central Asian projects can move forward in a “peaceful,” or at least less violent, Afghanistan, while thwarting projects like IPI that are backed by U.S. rival states.

Indeed, given that the U.S. government backed the Taliban in the past when it aligned with its business and geopolitical interests and only sought to fight them when those interests were threatened, it would make sense that any deal — negotiated by Khalilzad nonetheless — would involve rekindling those past shared business interests, whether related to oil or pipelines or another lucrative resource, of which Afghanistan has many.

Though it’s unclear what the Taliban may have been promised in terms of potential incentives or streams of revenue, the fact that Afghan oligarchs that have long opposed the withdrawal of U.S. troops have now decided to back the recently inked “peace” deal may offer some hints.

 

Afghanistan is “open for business”

The day the U.S.-Taliban peace deal was signed in Doha, the Washington Post ran an article which noted that “peace in Afghanistan will take more than an accord. History shows that economic growth and better job opportunities are necessary to rebuild stability after war” and goes on to expound upon likely investment opportunities in a post-peace deal Afghanistan. That article was written by Elizabeth Hessami, a law professor and former World Bank researcher focused on Afghanistan, with a self-described “strong interest in Mining Law and Governance particularly in relation to the gemstone industry.” Other articles published soon after the deal was signed have similarly promoted Afghanistan’s “economic integration” into regional infrastructure projects following the deal.

Though it should be obvious that economic growth would aid any post-deal political stability in Afghanistan, the fact the U.S.’ falling out with the Taliban and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan itself was motivated in no small way by economics rather than the Taliban’s ideology or politics, suggests that part of the motivation behind the peace deal was to allow for the growth of economic activity and natural resource exploitation that would favor the interests of companies based in the U.S. or in allied countries.

This is strongly supported by the deal’s inclusion of a U.S. presence during “intra-Afghan talks”, where the U.S. has openly admitted that its presence at those talks will be used to “seek economic cooperation for reconstruction” in a post-deal Afghanistan. The U.S. has had a long-standing interest in — not only pipelines — but Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in mineral wealth and untapped natural gas and oil deposits have also been identified in the country by the U.S. military and State Department. There is also the issue of the illegal opium trade, but that will be discussed in the final section of this report.


An Afghan businessman checks lapis lazuli, a key part of the country’s extensive mineral wealth, at his shop in the city of Kabul. Rahmat Gul | AP

In relation to the deal, it is also worth noting that Afghan oligarchs, many of whom have spent much of the last several years living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), also strongly support it. For instance, Haji Obaidullah Sadekhail, Chairman of Afghan Business Council in the UAE, praised the deal as “a golden opportunity for all the stakeholders to move forward and stop decades long war” while Abdul Wahid, of Momin Oil, said the “Afghan peace deal between Taliban and the US would open up new avenues for businesses and investors.” Another Dubai-based Afghan businessman, Mohammad Afghan, told Gulf News that a post-deal Afghanistan “would offer huge investments in the field of housing, electricity, solar power, agriculture and mineral mining.”

The jubilant tone of the Dubai-based Afghan business community is interesting given that the last time there was a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan their tone was starkly different. For instance, in 2012 Reuters ran an article entitled “Afghans seek shelter in Dubai ahead of pullout” which asserted that “a new class of Afghan war entrepreneurs” were fleeing the potential fall-out from a withdrawal of U.S. troops as well as concern that the Afghan government would crack down on their ill-gotten gains.

At the time, foreign governments with a military presence in Afghanistan, mainly the United States, had tried “to convince an uneasy Afghan population the transition will not be a prelude to international abandonment or an escalation in fighting with the Taliban.” Yet, this class of war oligarchs appears to have no such concerns about this most recent peace initiative from the Trump administration, despite its lack of a ceasefire.

One aspect of the deal that may have endeared this oligarch class to the most recent deal could be that the post-invasion corruption that enriched them in the first place is likely to remain entrenched as long as Ashraf Ghani remains in power, especially as those who oppose Ghani, the U.S. presence or are critical of the corruption of either have been frequently targeted by Afghan intelligence under Ghani’s time as Afghanistan’s president. This, of course, makes accountability for such corruption increasingly unlikely.

Another possibility is the rekindling of ties between the Taliban and its old ally the United Arab Emirates, where many of these Afghan oligarchs live. Prior to the September 11 attacks, the UAE was one of only three countries — the others being Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — that recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s official government. During that period, the UAE invested heavily in the Taliban and the Taliban, in turn, invested in the UAE. The UAE has long been used to launder money for both the Taliban and Afghanistan’s post-invasion “war oligarch” class.

Though those ties ostensibly waned after the UAE officially turned against the Taliban following September 11, the UAE’s ties to the Taliban continued in some very significant ways, explaining in part why the UAE fought so tenaciously to host the Taliban’s embassy which eventually was established in the UAE’s rival state of Qatar.

Much like other aspects of the new U.S.-Taliban deal aim to take U.S.-Taliban ties back to 1996, when the Taliban was seen as a potential “second Saudi Arabia” friendly to U.S. business interests, it appears likely that another motive behind the recent deal is to bring the Taliban back into alignment with its former regional allies — the UAE and Saudi Arabia — and cleave them away from their post-U.S. invasion ties to Iran. This is especially worth considering given the longstanding push by members of the Washington establishment and members of the Trump administration to pursue a war with Iran.

From the U.S. perspective, the rekindling of the Taliban’s old alliances with the UAE and the Saudis would assist the U.S. policy of “Iran containment” and efforts to redirect some of the U.S. military expenditures and troops currently deployed in a pre-deal Afghanistan towards preparations for a potential war with Iran. Yet, some analysts and journalists have argued that any efforts to push Afghanistan to dampen its existing ties to Iran may prove difficult, if not impossible.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if the Taliban will remain satisfied with whatever carrot is on the end of the stick, so to speak, or if they will push for a larger share of profits or even pursue economic agreements with China, which has invested significantly in the country’s mining sector.

Notably, the U.S.’ 19-year military involvement and lack of anything tangible to show for it has given the Taliban a much better position to negotiate from compared to the late 1990s. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Taliban will remain indefinitely satisfied with whatever terms are attached to the recent deal.

It goes without saying that any revenue sharing in relation to these legitimate economic activities are greatly overshadowed by the country’s illegal economic activities, namely its illicit opium trade, which has long been a major source of income for not only the Taliban, but also the CIA. This makes that illicit activity an equally, if not more so, important factor in determining the likelihood of success for this recently signed U.S.-Taliban peace deal.

 

The CIA-backed rise of the Afghan narco-state

During “Operation Cyclone,” the CIA not only oversaw the arming and financing of the Mujahideen but also their cultivation of opium. The fact that the CIA “turned a blind eye” towards the illicit opium trade in Afghanistan during the multi-year program has been characterized as an indirect form of support, even though the CIA had been intimately and directly involved in the global opium and heroin trade decades well before Operation Cyclone even began, going back at least to the late 1940s.

Furthermore, given that Operation Cyclone coincided with direct CIA efforts involving drug-running, such as Iran-Contra, and that then-Vice President George H.W. Bush had been involved in the CIA’s covert role in the global drug trade when he served as CIA director just a few years prior to becoming Reagan’s VP, it is highly likely that the CIA’s decision to let the opium trade flourish in Mujahideen-controlled lands was completely intentional.

Though the role of oil pipelines in motivating the George W. Bush administration’s interest in invading Afghanistan in 2001 has already been discussed, the opium trade was another key factor in motivating the war. Indeed, in 2001, Taliban leadership announced a ban on opium cultivation which saw opium fields in the country drop dramatically. Notably, shortly after September 11 and as the Bush administration put the Taliban in its crosshairs, the Taliban stated that they would reverse the opium cultivation ban were the U.S. to attack Afghanistan. They kept their word.

The ban on opium cultivation at a time when Afghanistan was the world’s largest producer had major impacts on the global opium and heroin trade, a trade in which the CIA has long-standing interests. This likely explains why the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was largely planned by the CIA, marking the first time in the agency’s history that they had planned such a large-scale military operation as opposed to the Pentagon. The CIA’s mark on the plan of invasion was seen right away, as the first U.S. troops to set foot in Afghanistan as the invasion began were from the CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD). Today, the exact number of CIA officials in the country and the exact nature of their activities remain a “closely guarded secret.”


A squad of US Marines with Company B, 1st Tank Battalion patrols a poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan. John M. McCall | DVIDS

Following the invasion, opium production in Afghanistan has grown dramatically. During the ban on cultivation under the Taliban, there were an estimated 7,600 hectares of opium still being grown. By 2017, that number had risen to 326,000 hectares, a 4,000 percent increase from pre-invasion figures. Post-invasion Afghanistan is believed to supply between 85-90 percent of the world’s opium. Over that same time frame, the U.S. has experienced a massive opioid crisis, much of it due to opioid pharmaceuticals manufactured from opium latex and its derivatives.

Numerous reports and videos have since documented how U.S. troops have ended up protecting these opium fields, including mainstream media reports that include rather candid admissions by U.S. military officers. For instance, one Lieutenant General in the Marine Corp told Fox News in 2010 that opium production is just “part of the culture” and that Marines in Afghanistan provide “security” and “resources” to Afghan opium growers. Meanwhile, the U.S. spent over $8 billion on programs to “combat” the very Afghan-grown narcotics its soldiers were guarding, an “anti-drug” program it ended only last year.

Though the U.S. military were acting as de facto opium guardians in Afghanistan, the CIA had been arming and training its own paramilitary forces who would also be the CIA’s ground forces protecting its opium interests. Those paramilitaries began to be cultivated shortly after September 11, when the CIA began “assembling a patchwork alliance of warlord-led fighting groups to topple the Taliban and pursue Qaeda fighters,” according to the New York Times.

The Times also noted that:

After the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a new Afghan government, the CIA’s shadowy paramilitary arm, known as Ground Branch, began transforming the fighting groups. Some developed into large, well-trained and equipped militias that initially worked outside the auspices of the Afghan government.”

This policy has resulted in the creation of several such paramilitary groups that remain funded and overseen by the CIA and are active throughout Afghanistan including in the provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar and Maidan Wardak. Some of these groups are now said to be overseen by Afghan intelligence, but given the close coordination between U.S. and Afghan intelligence, this seems to be more of a cosmetic change than one of substance.

Of these groups, arguably the most notorious is the Khost Protection Force (KPF), which has been widely accused of a litany of human rights abuses, including abductions, torture and mass extrajudicial killings. The KPF has terrorized and alienated local populations where they operate by regularly massacring civilians. The KPF’s brutality is so extensive and well-documented that Western human rights groups that often support U.S.-backed paramilitaries elsewhere openly refer to them as a “death squad.”

Many of these CIA-backed groups are active in areas where the opium trade is booming and serve as a way to prevent the emergence of those who would compete with U.S. intelligence for dominance of this lucrative yet illicit trade. One intelligence source, speaking to Pepe Escobar in 2017, noted that the CIA finances much of its external operations using profits from Afghanistan’s opium trade.

One key figure in the growth of some of these paramilitary groups was Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was not only on the CIA payroll to help recruit members for the CIA-led paramilitaries, but also involved in the country’s growing opium trade from the earliest days of the U.S. invasion. He was assassinated in Afghanistan in 2011. As previously mentioned, Hamid Karzai was appointed by the U.S. to govern Afghanistan largely at the urging of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S.’ main negotiator in the recent peace deal.

The CIA also has close ties to Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), and the current administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. For instance, the numerous “hunt-and-kill” night raids that have taken place in recent years almost always involved both the NDS and CIA. Indeed, as Foreign Policy noted last month, “nearly every reported incident [of these raids] was said to have involved the NDS and the CIA, which simultaneously maintains its own force while also supporting its Afghan counterparts in the NDS.” That article further alleged that the NDS is seeking “to turn Afghanistan into a new police state with the help of U.S. intelligence, which is supporting the regime.”

In Ghani’s case, his current Vice President is Amrullah Saleh, a former NDS director with close ties to the CIA, and his administration has enthusiastically supported increased CIA operations in Afghanistan. In addition, Ghani’s defense minister is Asadullah Khalid, another former NDS director with CIA ties who is also known for having his own private dungeon and for overseeing and ordering a litany of human rights abuses.

This model, where the CIA is tied to a country’s massive illicit drug trade, its corrupt yet official government and a network of paramilitaries/death squads it dominates, is remarkably similar to the model that has long been cultivated by the U.S. in South America. In Colombia, for instance, the CIA had direct ties to the Medellín drug cartel and to one of its most notorious members, Pablo Escobar. The CIA has also been involved in the training of numerous paramilitary groups in Colombia that are also involved in the drug trade.

In addition, the Colombian military — which has long been one of the U.S.’ closest military allies in Latin America and a recipient of massive amounts of U.S. military aid — is known to be actively involved in the drug trade, with the UN calling it one of “the biggest heroin and cocaine trading institutions” in the world. In addition, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe is alleged to have been the former head of several narco-trafficking paramilitary groups and his political protege, Iván Duque, is the current president of Colombia. Uribe used U.S. government funds to prevent investigations into his ties to the drug trade.

The influence of the U.S. government and U.S. intelligence among these different powerbrokers in Colombia is crucial to note given that cocaine production in the country continues to reach record highs year-after-year, despite the large amount of money the U.S. spends on ostensibly “combating” the illicit drug trade in Colombia.

Similarly, opium production has grown precipitously in Afghanistan in both U.S.-backed government-controlled areas and in Taliban-controlled areas since the U.S. invasion took place. To think that this trend will change upon the implementation of the recently signed U.S.-Taliban peace deal is to ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

CIA death squad Afghanistan

An Afghan man shows pictures of four brothers on the back of his car killed in a raid by the CIA-trained Unit 02 in Jalalabad, Oct. 1, 2019. Rahmat Gul | AP

Indeed, the Taliban themselves have no interest in tampering down or ending the opium trade, which has become a large portion of their income following the U.S. invasion and the Taliban’s subsequent reversal of the opium ban. In the years since, the Taliban have pressured farmers to grow opium, either exclusively or in large quantities, and demand a tax on that opium, which was estimated by the UN to net them between $22 and $44 million per year back in 2009.

In recent years, the Taliban’s role in the opium trade has become more entrenched and goes far beyond demanding a tax from opium growers, with Taliban members increasingly involved in the transport of opium and even its refinement into heroin and other marketable opium derivatives. As a result, the Taliban has come to lean more heavily on the opium trade than ever before for the financing of their insurgency and other operations.

This is where it becomes important to consider the “secret” annex of the recent deal, whereby terms are defined for the operations of the CIA within Taliban-controlled areas. The Taliban are direct competitors to the CIA-backed opium trafficking in areas not controlled by the Taliban. Whatever the rules that pertain to the CIA in Taliban-controlled areas in this new deal may be, it will inevitably involve a sharing in opium profits for both parties. Yet, not unlike the troop withdrawal aspect of the deal, whether either side intends to abide by these new rules or instead seeks to manipulate them to their advantage to weaken their competitor is anybody’s guess.

 

What lies ahead

In examining the history of the U.S.-Taliban relationship, it becomes apparent that the U.S. was eager to support the Taliban until they presented hurdles to U.S. corporate interests, particularly oil and pipeline projects, and the interests of the U.S. intelligence community, especially with respect to the opium trade. As the war in Afghanistan has dragged on, the Taliban has sent signal after signal that they are willing to be “pro-business”, as seen in their support of the TAPI pipeline, and even willing to share revenue from both legitimate and illegitimate economic activities with the U.S.-backed government of Ashraf Ghani and the CIA and its Afghan paramilitaries.

From the U.S. perspective, returning U.S.-Taliban ties to where they were in 1996 would serve the Trump administration’s interests in Iran containment and its economic interests in Afghanistan. The U.S.-Taliban relationship has always been determined by the group’s convenience to U.S. interests. Thus, efforts to make “peace” with the group will be guided by these very same factors, particularly given that a key player in this long-standing relationship — Zalmay Khalilzad — was the main U.S. negotiator of the deal. After the September 11 attacks, the effort was made to eradicate the Taliban, but since that effort has clearly failed, the U.S. now seeks to make them a business partner.

The ultimate question then becomes, will the deal last? The U.S. has already left several routes open through which they can call off U.S. troop withdrawal on a whim. In addition, the Taliban’s decentralized, factional nature makes their ability to uniformly agree with, and abide by, the terms of the agreement questionable, though not impossible. Yet, if the deal’s “secret annex” regarding the indefinite presence of 8,000 plus “counter-terrorism” forces is not amended, it is hard to imagine many Taliban fighters accepting the presence of such a large foreign military contingent as part of a long-term peace deal, especially given that the expulsion of such troops has long been the group’s core demand.

Regardless of whether the deal sticks or falls apart, it is unlikely that it will lead to a more peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan. Instead, if successful, it will lead to revenue-sharing and power-sharing among different “mafias” including the Taliban, the “fantastically corrupt” Ghani government, CIA paramilitary groups and all the warlords in between. It appears what this deal would achieve in practice, is the consolidation of a dysfunctional narco-state in alliance with U.S. interests, not unlike the model the U.S. has pursued and supported in other countries.

Feature photo | Afghanistan’s Taliban delegation arrive for the agreement signing between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020. Hussein Sayed | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

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