Update on Afghanistan – New Year’s day 2011

We know nothing about events outside of our own perimeters and are of course thus dependent on media reports. This update looks at three different news accounts centered on the Haqqani network in Pakistan at the end of 2010.

The starting point is a New York Times article. The article posits a tenuous temporary ‘victory’ as stated in a classified portion of Obama’s year end review of its war strategy in Afghanistan. The claim is that the ‘deadliest Taliban network’, the Haqqani network, has not carried off a major attack in Kabul for over half a year. The article goes on to provide a sliver of background on this network:

“the Haqqani family, whose patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a legendary guerrilla fighter in the Central Intelligence Agency-backed campaign to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. His son Sirajuddin now runs the group’s daily operations from his haven in Pakistan, and he has made aggressive efforts to recruit foreign fighters from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Central Asia.”

It adds:

“The Haqqani network is considered a part of the Afghan Taliban, and is a key ally and protector of Al Qaeda’s top leadership, whose members are believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s remote border regions. American and other Western intelligence officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, shields the Haqqanis in exchange for the network’s attacks against Pakistan’s archrival, India, in Afghanistan.”

The article gives the Haqqani network ‘credit’ for the 2008 attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul as well as the Indian Embassy plus the suicide bombing of the CIA Kohst site. The Obama administration sees several reasons for the weakening of the network, including a six-fold increase in Special Operations raids, the number of American forces in eastern Afghanistan have increased to 37000, and that 99 of 112 CIA. drone strikes in Afghanistan have been ‘directed at’ North Waziristan, a center for Haqqani operations.

Juan Cole writes:

“Fact: CIA director Leon Panetta admitted that there are only 50-100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan! The US is mainly fighting two former allies among the Mujahidin whom Ronald Reagan dubbed “freedom fighters” and the “equivalent of America’s founding fathers:” Gulbaddin Hikmatyar and his Hizb-i Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani and his Haqqani Network. These two organizations, which received billions from the US congress to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, are more deadly and important now than the ‘Old Taliban’ of Mulla Omar. The point is that they are just manifestations of Pashtun Muslim nationalism, and not eternal enemies of the United States (being former allies and clients and all). Hikmatyar has roundly denounced al-Qaeda.”

Note that al-Qaeda is not mentioned as a major threat in Afghanistan whereas two Pashtun groups, who R. Reagan admired, are and are Pashtun Muslim nationalists as opposed to ‘holy’ enemies of the West.

And this take from Firedoglake:

“Telling the story in a series of anecdotes is how Vietnam could look like a victory on the reporting sheets of the commanders on the ground without never approaching that. You have to get a bigger picture. And for every Haqqani victory – so tenuous that the military refuses to even call it a victory, and has come up with dozens of alternative explanations for their lack of major attacks in Kabul – there are scores of replacements willing to die to oust the occupiers. And there’s no sense that the Haqqanis even want to hold Kabul – their goal is to sustain a presence in their own land. Why would you even consider the import of a small, lonely victory, in that environment? Why would you consider it a victory over a network that can still do this?”

To conclude, LSW cites a Juan Cole post:

“The incident set me thinking about all the impostures of that war, which are legion. Let us begin with the frankly dishonest discourse about it of both our twenty-first century presidents, who maintain that the US is fighting “al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan. But there is no al-Qaeda to speak of in that country, if by the term one means the mainly Arab Pan-Islamic International that sees Usama Bin Laden as its leader. US forces in Afghanistan are fighting disgruntled Pashtuns, for the most part. Some are from Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Islamic Party. Others from the Haqqani family’s Haqqani Network. The Reagan administration and its Saudi allies once showered billions of dollars on Hikmatyar and Haqqani, so they aren’t exactly eternal adversaries of the US. Some insurgents are from the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar. Still others are not so much terrorist cartels as tribes and guerrilla groups who are just unhappy with poppy eradication campaigns, or with the foreign troop presence (they would say ‘occupation’), or with how Karzai has given out patronage unequally, favoring some tribes over others. The insurgency is almost exclusively drawn from the Pashtun ethnic group.

So the war is not about al-Qaeda.”

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