WRITING in a well-known American daily a former CIA agent suggests that Washington should press Kabul to sign a deal that would allow Afghans linked with the heroin trade to be tried in the United States.
This is hardly the only one in the long list of priorities as the US stratagem for the occupation of Afghanistan gradually unfolds. The one-day conference in The Hague last month should be viewed in the context of an attempt to legitimise that agenda, concealed in the more honourable sounding excuse of fighting terrorism and bringing democracy to Afghanistan. Or so think the Americans! With UN chief Ban Ki-moon attending, the talks received the holy sacrament from that new-fangled mythical divinity qualified by political propaganda witchdoctors as the ‘international community’. At the same time the presence of Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Akhoondzadeh, guarantees, once again in the White House’s fantasies at least, Tehran’s compliance with the idea of US subjugation of Afghanistan.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) comprising 62,000 men, led by Nato and a theoretically European army, is in practice under the command of a US general, as are America’s own, soon to be 60,000-strong, Operation Enduring Freedom troops.
At Nato’s 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg (France) and Kehl (Germany) earlier this month, the organisation’s independent role in Afghanistan was seriously put into question by Europe’s, especially France’s, reluctance to join the American mantra of investing greater resources in men and material to fight a so-called common enemy.
Not withstanding the extremely violent riots in Strasbourg during the summit, an undeniable expression of the common folks’ disapproval of the continuation of Nato, it was more than evident by the end of the ceremonies that Afghanistan was already proving to be the iceberg on which the titanic alliance is bound to wreck, were the American plans pursued to their ultimate detail.
The Europeans are aware of this, and the most they promised at the conclusion of the summit was the addition of a few thousand police trainers and troops on the limited mandate of assuring security during the Afghan elections, come August; though this evidently falls far short of Washington’s expectations to turn the operation into a full-fledged ‘surge’, Iraq fashion! The star feature of the sixth dec ade rejoicings in Strasbourg and Kehl was of course France’s return to Nato’s fold as full member after more than 40 years of absence. The French can hardly be adverse to the idea of reaching out to Afghanistan but, unlike the Americans, they seem to believe in a ‘civilian surge’ rather than an all-out military operation. That amounts mostly to helping the Afghans in their bid to create more viable political, legal and security structures and very little by way of a bellicose scenario that the Americans seem to favour and have already put into motion in Pakistan’s Frontier zone.
Washington’s sudden change of heart vis-à-vis Tehran should neither be construed as an intention to put an end to mutual tensions nor to establish peace, as the White House would want everyone to believe. The Americans dominate the three Nato bases already set up in Afghanistan’s Herat province which is geographically, historically and culturally a zone of Iranian influence. It is easy to understand those bases will be used to repel any Iranian initiatives if and when the complete US occupation of Afghanistan takes shape.
There can be no doubt that America’s insistence on implicating Nato in extra-European crises is specifically related to Afghanistan. On the contrary the Europeans, especially the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, seem to believe there is no logic in making the Atlantic military alliance do the job of the UN and that if Nato has to be kept going, it should essentially be a European force fighting for European causes.
That Nato has outlived its utility and that its resuscitation will serve only American efforts to legitimise the occupation of Afghanistan, is clearly understood by everyone in Europe. The alliance’s 60th anniversary also coincides with the 20th year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Europeans tend to agree that while the alliance may still have some remote or indirect relevance linked to security in Eastern Europe, such as the short-lived war eight months ago between Georgia and Russia, the conquest of a far-out country like Afghanistan conceivably does not fall into its precinct.
Despite assurances at the summit, Russia too justifiably remains uneasy over Nato’s self-portrait as a gentlemen’s club of western democracies. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the alliance has in fact expanded into the former Soviet-bloc region, including the Baltic area, and is now offering memberships to Ukraine and Georgia.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressively underlined Moscow’s discontentment in Brussels recently in these words: “We don’t understand why Nato is expanding. We don’t understand why this military structure is being moved closer and closer to our doorstep.” This, in Moscow’s eye, is no sign of friendship; and Afghanistan incidentally happens to fall next to the Russian area of influence. While there is unspoken comprehension of the real US intentions in Afghanistan, not everyone in Europe agrees that all Afghans who want the Americans out of their country are necessarily the Taliban or Taliban sympathisers. The Dutch, who have lost a smaller fraction of men, mainly in suicide bombings, compared with the British or the Canadian contingents, have maintained a softer attitude from the beginning and have concentrated essentially on helping out the Afghan civilians in remote villages.
To sum up, uneasiness is widespread among the civilian populations of European nations, first, over the very continuation of Nato as a war machine and, second, over its increasingly fast shaping up as an occupation force subservient to American designs in Afghanistan. That feeling is best elucidated by Gen Daniel Fata, a senior Pentagon official during the Bush administration:
“Though no European country wants to be the first to leave Afghanistan, many would be happy to be the second, third or fourth.” ¦ The writer is a journalist based in Paris. ZafMasud@gmail.com