|Occupation politics stymie
By Sreeram Chaulia
Fresh revelations from unnamed quarters of the United
government that Mohammad Zia Salehi, an
allegedly corruption-tainted aide of Afghan President Hamid
Karzai, is a recipient of payments from the United States
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have turned the spotlight
on the gap between the rhetoric and the realities of foreign
While Washington has made "good governance" in Afghanistan a
pillar of its revamped war strategy, it is evident that the
needs of prosecuting a highly unpopular war are defeating
According to a report in the New York Times, Salehi - the
administrative head of Afghanistan's National Security
Council who is said to have leveraged connections to the
escaped anti-corruption proceedings - has been on the
CIA payroll "for many years".
The same account cites a US official defending the general
practice of American intelligence agencies paying Afghan
officials "even if they turn out to be corrupt or unsavory".
Such tactics are apparently imperative because Afghanistan
is "a tough place" and the US needs intelligence through any
means, however destabilizing the impact of an occupying
power systematically nurturing kleptocrats.
A parallel drama of US and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) forces relying on brutal de facto local
militia "authorities" for convoy security and ancillary
functions, even though such shady Afghan allies are
obstacles to ushering in the rule of law, has also been
The magnified political status attained by notorious
small-time private army bosses like Matiullah Khan in
Uruzgan province is the result of their selection by NATO as
partners for oiling the Western war machine.
Figures like Khan and Salehi are bankrolled by the US on
ostensible grounds of pragmatic necessity in a
quicksand-like war where legally mandated entities and
agencies for specific sectors like security and intelligence
are either unable to deliver or cannot be depended on.
American handlers of Afghan money launderers and drug
kingpins have no compunctions in maintaining these
relationships since all is fair in a war in which the US
military is under pressure to notch up some concrete
successes to justify the "surge".
Filling the pockets of unscrupulous Afghans and elevating
their unconstitutional weight in the nation's fragmented
polity may not even be fetching the touted benefits that the
US Army and intelligence agencies claim. Loyalty is one
phenomenon that the US has not found in this war, as many of
its Afghan backdoor sources and confidants are known to also
have affinities with the Taliban.
The double-agent and double-crossing predicaments
confronting the Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan is one
principal reason why they have failed to zero in on the
highest-value al-Qaeda targets despite nearly a decade of
Candid acknowledgements about wheeling and dealing with
Afghan devils, for whatever they are worth, by insiders in
the US security apparatus also demonstrate how different
sections and sub-layers of the American state are working at
cross purposes in Afghanistan.
General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in
Afghanistan, accords maximum priority to battling corruption
in the Karzai regime. The Washington Post contends that
Petraeus has "intensified efforts to uncover the scope and
mechanics of the pervasive theft, graft and bribery in the
The Major Crimes Task Force, which briefly arrested Salehi
in July as part of a wider investigation into the siphoning
of billions of dollars by presidential staff members and
bureaucrats for patronage and political alliances, was
itself created with the assistance of US intelligence, drug
enforcement, justice, and
A large congressional constituency in the US also champions
the "war on graft" in Afghanistan as the best formula for
defeating the Taliban. Cognizant of the political backlash
from war-weary voters, American lawmakers have increasingly
turned to the "governance" track as a less costly but more
lasting intervention that could stabilize Afghanistan. Some
anti-corruption members of congress have even voted to
partially freeze US aid to Afghanistan unless Karzai's
robber baron state mends its ways.
These people, who desire to fix Afghanistan's severe
maladministration, belong to a "nation-building" school of
thought that assumes the American goal to be shoring up and
cleaning fledgling institutions. Grandiose dreams of
remaking Afghanistan anew as a haven of moderation and
democracy that is answerable to the masses are, however,
being undermined by the "operations men" in uniform and
mufti (civilian clothes) whose ultimate mandate is to
beat back Taliban advances by hook or crook.
Dovetailing this pronounced divide in strategy is the
current airing by top military brass of disagreements with
Obama administration on a schedule for
withdrawal from Afghanistan. Petraeus' comments that he did
not take charge of the war simply to oversee a "graceful
exit" have been followed by the oblique critique by General
James Conway, the commandant of the US Marine Corps, that
Obama was "talking to several audiences at
the same time" by drawing up an early plan for bringing
troops back home.
The impression that the US president opposes prolonging the
occupation gained adherents after the deposed General
Stanley McChrystal's controversial job-costing barb that
Obama "didn't seem very engaged" in the war effort. Some
observers are even counting the scant number of times Obama
utters the word "Afghanistan" in speeches in comparison to
"health care" or "financial regulation", insinuating that
his resolve to keep on fighting is weak.
Internal schisms within branches and bureaus of the US state
over how to wage the war and when to pull out have reached
an advanced stage.
Government figures tattle before the press
with the aim of scuttling agendas of their colleagues who
represent rival coteries. The outcome of this shadowboxing
and scandal-planting is a war theater with its own "friendly
fire" wars among the CIA, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the Pentagon, the State Department and the
Blaming Obama for sitting inactively on a badly divided
house or for lacking warrior spine are superficial reactions
to the policy mess that prevails. The deeper problem facing
the US in Afghanistan is that long military occupations
intrinsically open up cracks of doubt, inconsistency and
contradiction inside the invading power's political system.
Empire's effects inevitably boomerang onto the home turf.
The resultant second thoughts and policy confusion not only
demoralize occupying armies but also destroy the potential
of occupied societies to construct accountable institutions
of their own.
As Afghanistan struggles to emerge with a viable state
structure that meets people's expectations, routinely
castigating Karzai and greedy politicians is reductionist
and at best a partial explanation. The sins of occupation
must be counted.
Sreeram Chaulia is associate professor of world
politics at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat,
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