The Free Associator

The Philadelphia Syndicate is a collection of writers, businesses, artists, musicians, and activists based in Philadelphia, with connections to associates around the world via the internet. This publication is produced by members of the Syndicate's private online discussion forum for the purpose of giving exposure to the organization's thinkers to the public.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The One-Eyed Man Was King


(This is part 2 in a three-part review of Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars. You can read part 1 here.)

The second part of Ghost wars begins by recounting tales of CIA intrigue stretching from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Intelligence services apparently preferred a hands-off approach at this time. Most efforts were dedicated to recovering Stinger missiles dating from the anti-Soviet jihad.

An interesting incident occurs just after March 1991, following the Persian Gulf War. Saddam's army, having abandoned literally 100's of tanks and artillery pieces, left some interesting loot for the CIA. The operation as recounted by Coll has the CIA station in Riyadh working with the ISI to transport the tanks and artillery via Kuwait to Karachi, where the ISI then smuggled the Iraqi weapons to Afghanistan for use in the continuing fight against the Communist party stalwart, Najibullah. Most of these weapons went to the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a radical Islamist and our man in Kabul. Another "friend" later turned foe.

Coll also mentions, for the first time in the book, the rising use of drug-trafficking for raising substantial sums of money to fund the ongoing war. Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the future Northern Alliance and U.S. ally, emerges as a figure in the shadowy Tajik route for Russian mafia bound raw opium. Massoud often commands the most respect of the characters in the evolving story of Afghanistan. His reliance on drug money may have been somewhat distasteful but unavoidable, given relative U.S. indifference to the military commander during this time. Hekmatyar was seen as the one with the troops willing to fight. The real Jihadi. Massoud, an ethnic Tajik, wasn't seen as reliable enough. In other words, he would not simply do our bidding.

Out of this rise the Taliban. As Coll puts it:

Afghanistan was indeed about to purify itself. It was about to disgorge a radical Islamic militia as pure and unbending in its belief system as any in the Muslim world since King Saud's antimodern Ikhwan had stormed across the Arabian peninsula seven decades before.

One of the most widely known proponents of the early Taliban was a man named Hamid Karzai. Yes, the same Karzai currently "our guy in Kabul." His connections are generally opportunistic. The Taliban, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, saw themselves as ethnic Pashtun revivalists. They were determined to recreate the glory of Ahmed Shah Durrani, a past king of Afghanistan. They were therefore generally assumed to be pro-royalty. The Karzai clan had been living in exile in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion.

As the corruption of Bhutto's Pakistan worsens, the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. Enter Unocal.

In its short-sighted attempt to make a profit, the company gets Clinton's corporate team on board 100%. Robin Raphel is most often named as the Clinton staffer pushing hard for acceptance of the Taliban in order to win the big oil deal. It is another sickening example of the bi-partisan support for corporate hegemony that has been ongoing for decades.

Part 2 ends with the Clinton Whitehouse developing plans for the capture and/or assassination of Osama bin Laden. There was increasing evidence that the dissident Saudi financier of terrorism was planning attacks against Americans, and that he would like to do them on American soil. This was 1996. The fun was just beginning.


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