A Warning To The War-Weary. See What Your Peace Will Bring
"First, a massacre campaign will start. The human cost in this country will easily be up to two million people killed, at least. It will not be big news for Afghanistan. We are used to tragedies, throughout our history. But the cost for you will be bigger."
The ousted Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh issued that warning in this recent interview. In the recent din and hopeful chatter about an impending NATO-backed Afghan exit strategy midwifed by a Karzai peace pact with the Taliban, Saleh's warning has gone almost completely unnoticed. This is exactly the way Afghan president Hamid Karzai and U.S. president Barack Obama would want it.
It is one thing for a nameless Afghan police commander to warn that a precipitous NATO withdrawal would reduce Afghanistan to such an abbatoir that "this time there will be so much blood you will smell it from as far away as London." It is quite another thing when such a warning comes from Amrullah Saleh. Until two months ago, when Karzai sacked him to shut him up, Saleh was the head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, a post h'ed held with distinction since 2004.
This would not be the first time for Saleh's warnings to go unnoticed.
In 2001, Saleh was the youthful intelligence chief for the great anti-Taliban guerilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. On September 9, 2001, Saleh contacted Richard Blee, the head of the CIA's Al Qaida unit, with the heartbreaking news that Massoud had just been assassinated by an Al Qaida suicide-bomb squad posing as a team of French journalists, and disaster was imminent. For years, Massoud's forces had been warning the Americans of the coming conflagration. For weeks, Blee had been briefing the White House about a gathering cloud of evidence that Al Qaida was preparing for an attack on American interests. Blee took note of Saleh's warning, but the CIA failed to put two and two together. U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Cold War hawk who'd been intimately complicit in America's horrible bungling in Afghanistan, connected the dots easily. "Something terrible was about to happen," Rohrabacher reckoned. That terrible thing unfolded only two days after Saleh's call.
In 2006, after a Taliban suicide bombing attack in Kabul left two American soldiers and 16 Afghans dead, Americans began to pay attention to the alarming rise in suicide-bomb attacks in Afghanistan. Over the previous two years, 162 suicide bombings had caused the slaughter of more than 1,200 people. An NDS investigation directly linked the September, 2006 suicide bombing at the US embassy to a chain of command leading straight back to Pakistan. At the time, Saleh said no one should be surprised: “Every single bomber we arrest is linked to Pakistan in some way. The training, provisions, explosives, technical equipment, are all being manufactured in Pakistan, and the CIA knows this.”
In a 2008 interview with Der Spiegel, Saleh was even more candid. "Islamabad is providing the militant groups with ammunition and training," he said. He provided several specific examples and dismissed the standard American excuse about "rogue elements" in the Pakistani military, pointing instead to culprits in "the army leadership and the Pakistani establishment. We have piles and piles of evidence to support this." He went on: "For years we discretely passed intelligence information about training camps, addresses, telephone numbers and names of terrorists groups on to Pakistan. But they didn’t act. There was no meaningful response. We have arrested many suicide bombers shortly before they could kill themselves and others. They frankly told us how they have been trained in Pakistan, and by whom."
If you relied on the histrionics that have played out in the western press over last month's WikiLeaks stunt, you could be forgiven for thinking that the depths of Pakistan's complicity in Afghanistan's agonies and in the death toll among American soldiers was unknown until it was revealed by the foppish WikiLeaks webmaster Julian Assange. Take this July 26, 2010 ABC News headline, for instance: WikiLeaks Data Seem to Show Pakistan Helped Attack American Troops. One half expects to tune in to ABC News any day now and hear this: "We interrupt our regular newscast for this urgent bulletin: President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas."
Back in 2008, Saleh was still hopeful. The last thing Afghanistan's neighbours wanted to see was a sovereign and democratic republic flourishing in the region, but Afghans were building one anyway, in spite of the violent reaction. "We are experiencing the resurrection of Afghanistan, and that is something magnificent," he said then. But now, Karzai 's purges have reduced his inner circle to the most reactionary elements he could possibly draw from his fellow Pashtuns without inviting an immediate overthrow attempt. Karzai's cabinet has been emptied of anti-appeasement democrats and reformers. Afghanistan is now fracturing along ethnic lines.
Nowadays, Saleh is spending his days trying to mobilize what he hopes will be a non-violent, grassroots movement against the capitulation so favoured in Washington, London and Brussels. It's a last-ditch, last-chance effort. Prepare for the worst, Saleh says now. "Democracy is dying." But in the NATO countries, where the establishment view tends to favour any old peace-deal exit strategy no matter how cockeyed, absurd or unlikely, a compliant news media has been almost entirely (and happily) oblivious to all this.
The approaching storm is something that Afghans, however, have had no trouble noticing at all. Saleh is no clairvoyant, and he is hardly alone. He is among a growing force of Afghan democrats, secularists, women's rights leaders, ethnic leaders and reformers who are now resigning themselves to a fight and girding themselves for whatever may come.
Only a few months ago I spent an afternoon in Kabul in conversation with the influential Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqiq. At the time, he was reluctant to add his voice too loudly to the rising chorus against Karzai's entreaties to the Taliban. We must bide our time, Mohaqiq told me. "We must do all we can for peace," he said. It took only a few weeks for Mohaqiq to decline an offer to play a prominent role in Karzai's "peace jirga," the June sham designed to establish the fiction that his British-backed peace-talks gambit enjoyed broad political support in Afghanistan. The other day, Mohaqiq was no longer hesitantly reticient about where everything is headed: "The new political path that Karzai has chosen will not only destroy him, it will destroy the country. It's a kind of suicide."
The prospect of a bloodbath following a betrayal of Afghan's democratic revolution was already weighing heavily in the thoughts of former Afghan president Berhanuddin Rabbani last year, in the wake of the disastrous, fraud-plagued election that put Karzai back in office. By last September, not a few of the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek leaders who'd handed in their guns and committed themselves to the cause of Afghan democracy were seriously thinking about rearming, Rabbani told me in February. The "peace jirga" Karzai was planning would be a sham, Rabbani predicted, because it would be unrepresentative and dominated by Karzai's handpicked allies. And as things turned out, so it was.
A return to the savage obscenity of full-scale civil war is by no means an unlikely reaction to any deal Karzai might strike with the Taliban, no matter how hearty a blessing the British, the Americans, the Japanese or the Iranians might grant it, Rabbani said. “As I read history, when a nation’s problems become this complex and they are not solved, that could result in violence and revolutions and other unwanted things. Water is very soft, but if you put it under pressure, it will explode.”
Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main challenger in the 2009 presidential race, was one of Saleh's fellow lieutenants under Massoud's command. Abdullah is now Afghanistan's de facto opposition leader, and for some long while, mostly unnoticed, Abdullah has been offering warnings to anyone who will listen, along the same lines we are now hearing so explicitly from Saleh. You can't betray the cause of Afghan democracy for the sake of comforting Tehran or Islamabad, or for placating the Taliban, or for pleasing establishment opinion-makers and their placard-waving supporters in the streets of NATO cities. It just can't be done.
“This is the key,” Abdullah told me in February. “We cannot survive without it. If we don’t have the least political assurances, the safeguards, then what is the choice for me, for example, as a person? Forget about elections candidates and so on. How can I fight for my rights? Which way? The Taliban way? Violence is the only option left if you don’t have other options.”
I met again with Abdullah in June, in the days following Karzai's "peace jirga" and Saleh's ouster. Abdullah was not a broken man. He was not quite resigned to what was starting to look an awful lot like the inevitable: An Anglo-American abandonment of Afghan democracy in favour of some sort of half-baked but less troublesome Popolzai khanate, with long-bearded Talibs among its most privileged courtiers and mandarins. But when I asked him whether he still wanted soldiers from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other such countries to fight and die for Afghanistan, given the risk that this was where it was all going, Abdullah went quiet. He looked away, and went stiff. It took him a minute or two to compose himself and offer an apologetic "yes," while tears welled up in his eyes.
There is still time. There is still hope. But to be coldly realistic, popular revolutionary violence against a degenerated Afghan state and in defence of Afghan democracy - the least best option, the necessary evil - may yet prove the only way forward for Afghan democrats. The one other possibility, if things continue on in this way - and if Afghans suddenly get lucky - would be a relatively bloodless coup.
In any event, if it comes to that sort of thing, the crowd-pleasing politicians in the western democracies who committed brave soldiers to the 43-nation ISAF alliance in Afghanistan all those years ago will then face several inevitable and uncomfortable questions. Do we support Afghanistan's democratic insurrection, or do we support the Taliban-backed government in Kabul that we helped cobble together in our hour of cowardice? Should we just supply arms to a reconstituted Northern Alliance and just hope it all goes away? Are the dreams and hopes of these incorrigible Afghans really more important to us than amicable relations with Pakistani generals and Iranian mullahs?
Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman who saw that "something terrible was about to happen" after Saleh's urgent appeal to the CIA came to nought in the days before 9-11, is still an obstreporous and slippery character, but these days he's a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Owing to the backsliding direction President Obama is taking things, Rohrabacher has now pulled his support for the continued engagement of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Last month, in just another development the entire western media almost completely failed to notice, Rohrabacher and several fellow congressmen, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials met in Berlin with several key Afghan opponents of truce-talks with the Taliban. Among the Afghans at the meeting were Mohaqiq, former Afghan vice-president Ahmad Zia Massoud (the brother of the murdered Ahmad Shah Massoud), and Faizullah Zaki, an Afghan parliamentarian and senior aide to the gruesome Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum.
It is just as Abdullah said. "This is key." There is no way forward, no way out of this, except through the struggle for Afghan democracy. With no other options, "violence is the only option." The consequences of capitulation are just as Rabbani said. "As I read history. . . violence, and revolutions, and other unwanted things."
You can't read history any other way.
Terry Glavin is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist.