Hidden agenda & “deal” with Taliban
Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq
On September 11, 2001, nineteen years ago, humanity at large witnessed one of the most gruesome and heinous crimes in history. The wanton attack on twin towers of World Trade Centre of New York, symbolizing the financial might of United States of America, shocked the entire world. In the wake of this ghastly event, for nearly two decades, occupation of Afghanistan by foreign forces, led by America, wide scale bombing killing innocent civilians besides combatants, attacks by Taliban and other resistant groups, and numerous incidents of terrorism, not only in the country of conflict, but in various parts of the globe changed the world beyond imagination. In the name of “security” and “war on terror”, international and national laws underwent marked amendments snatching civil liberties of even peace-loving citizens. Although a handful of terrorists, their financiers and supporters have “hidden agendas” and “masked faces”, but controlled and influential media in United States (US) and elsewhere, portrays a distorted picture without actually exposing them.
On February 29, 2020, in Doha, capital city of Qatar, US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signed a “deal” with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo as a witness. In a speech, Pompeo urged the militant groups: “Keep your promises to cut ties with al-Qaeda”. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said that he hoped Afghanistan could now emerge from four decades of conflict, adding “I hope that with the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan the Afghan nation under an Islamic regime will take its relief and embark on a new prosperous life“. Both the parties after signing the “deal” avoided to call it a “peace deal” or “peace accord”.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in a report of September 7, 2020, said that the “deal” paved the way for the next stage of the process (talks between the Taliban and Afghan government or “intra-Afghan negotiations”). The report says that these talks will revolve around an actual “peace deal”. It means uncertainty still prevails regarding “peace” in Afghanistan as many political groups and social activists have expressed their reservations about the “deal”. They claim that the “deal” will ultimately lead to recapturing of government in Afghanistan by Taliban.
The BBC in its report of February 29, 2020 noted:
- “Within the first 135 days of the deal the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600, with allies also drawing down their forces proportionately.
- The move would allow US President Donald Trump to show that he has brought troops home ahead of the US presidential election in November.
- The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged, when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.
- The US will also lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group”.
The “deal” before the forthcoming presidential elections in USA has given basis to President Donald Trump, nominated for second term by his party, to make tall claims of achieving “historic and landmark” development towards “peace” in Afghanistan and fulfilling his promise of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. After the “deal”, speaking at the White House, President Trump claimed that the Taliban had been trying “to reach an agreement with the US for a long time”. He said: “US troops had been killing terrorists in Afghanistan “by the thousands” and now it was “time for someone else to do that work and it will be the Taliban and it could be surrounding countries“. He further said: “I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show we are not all wasting time,” and added: “If bad things happen, we will go back with a force like no-one’s ever seen.”
In Kabul, soon after the “deal”, a very strong reaction came from various circles, especially 28-year-old activist, Zahra Husseini, who told AFP that she feared “the deal could worsen the situation for women in Afghanistan”. She said, “I do not trust the Taliban, and remember how they suppressed women when they were ruling“. According to her, “Today is a dark day, and as I was watching the deal being signed, I had this bad feeling that it would result in their return to power rather than in peace“.
The “intra-Afghan negotiations were to begin in March this year, but were held up for months by wrangling over a prisoner exchange plan. As per report by BBC of September 7, 2020, talks between Taliban and the Afghan government “are now set to begin in Qatar this week, aiming to put an end to two decades of war and the loss of thousands of lives”.
The report by BBC international while saying that “coalition ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 and forces were there only to train Afghan forces”, admitted that despite US continued its own, scaled-back combat operation including air strikes, Taliban “continued to gain momentum in 2018 and were active across 70% of Afghanistan”. It says according to the US-Taliban deal, all US forces “will leave by May 2021, if the Taliban fulfil their commitments on al-Qaeda, and begin talks with the government”. It adds: “The withdrawal, in other words, is not contingent on a settlement being reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Ahead of elections later this year, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly signalled his interest in bringing home American forces as soon as possible. He has already promised to reduce the number to 5,000 by November, the lowest levels since the invasion began in 2001”.
It is worthwhile to recall that without admitting and investigating massive security lapses, George W Bush decided to attack and occupy Afghanistan in 2001. It was alleged that the Taliban regime was adamant to protect the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden—once a staunch supporter of Western-sponsored “holy war”against Soviet infidels and later killed on May 2, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by US Navy Seals and CIA operative, according to statements of then President Barack Obama and Vice-President, Joe Biden, now candidate for 2020 elections against Trump.
Since 2001, many books (e.g. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001), written by investigative journalists and scholars, provide reliable evidence that the champions of ‘Free World’ have been clandestinely supporting terrorist organisations. The real beneficiary of ‘war on terror’, many authors allege, is the military-industrial complex. The rulers in America and the West are captives in the hands of tycoons of war and oil industries. Arms manufacturers earn billions by selling weapons to different governments, militants, criminals and drug barons.
According to US government figures, between 2010 to 2012, when the US for a time had more than 100,000 soldiers in the country, the cost of the war went as high as around $100 billion a year. It later came down when the US military shifted its focus away from offensive operations and concentrated more on training Afghan forces. According to official figures, between 2016 and 2018 annual expenditure was around $40 billion. According to the US Department of Defense, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until September 2019) was $778 billion and additionally, the US State Department, along with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies, spent $44 billion on reconstruction projects. Besides colossal money spent on the most costly war in history, the USA since 2001, has lost more than 2,300 soldiers with 20,660 injured in action.
According to BBC, “it is difficult to say how many Afghan troops have died—the numbers are no longer published. However, in January 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: “45,000 members of the security forces had been killed since 2014”. Nearly 3,500 members of the international coalition forces were killed since the 2001 invasion. The figures for Afghan civilians are more difficult to quantify. The annual UN report of 2018 said: “more than 32,000 civilians have been killed and around 60,000 have been injured”. The Watson Institute at Brown University says: “42,000 opposition fighters have died”. The same institute says conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost the US $5.9 trillion since 2001”.
It is a matter of record that long before 9/11, America and its NATO allies decided to invade Afghanistan. The 9/11 attack was just an excuse for invading Afghanistan. The real cause was apprehensions regarding Turkmenistan Gas Pipeline Project in which powerful corporate entities had financial interests. It was not the existence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that led to the invasion of Afghanistan, but corporate interests of America and its allies.
George W. Bush appointed former aide to the American oil company UNOCAL, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, as special envoy to Afghanistan nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul. This appointment underscored the real economic and financial interests at stake in Central Asia. Khalilzad was intimately involved in the long-running US efforts to obtain direct access to the oil and gas resources of the region, largely unexploited but believed to be the second largest in the world after the Persian Gulf. As an advisor for Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) that was later purchased by Oil giant Chevron Corporation for $17.9 billion in 2005, Khalilzad drew up risk analysis of a proposed gas pipeline from the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. He participated in talks between the Oil Company and Taliban officials in 1997, which were aimed at implementing a 1995 agreement to build the pipeline across western Afghanistan. So obviously, Khalilzad was also the best “choice” for Trump.
UNOCAL was the lead company in the formation of the Centgas consortium, whose purpose was to bring to market natural gas from the Dauletabad Field in southeastern Turkmenistan, one of the world’s largest energy reserves. Khalilzad also lobbied publicly for a more sympathetic US government policy towards the Taliban. In an op-ed article in the Washington Post, he defended the Taliban regime against accusations that it was a sponsor of terrorism, writing, ”The Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran.” He said, ”We should… be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction. It is time for the United States to re-engage the Afghan regime”.
The ”re-engagement”, suggested by Khalilzad, would of course have been enormously profitable to UNOCAL, which was otherwise unable to bring gas and oil to market from landlocked Turkmenistan. Khalilzad as close confidante of Bush at National Security Council was to report to Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Advisor [later became Secretary of State]. After serving in the first Bush administration from 1989 to 1992, Rice was placed on the Board of directors of Chevron Corporation and served as its principal expert on Kazakhstan, where Chevron enjoyed the largest stake among all the international oil companies. The oil industry connections of Bush and Cheney were playing the dominant role in US Afghan policy but entire Western media was portraying it as a war against “terrorists”!
There were just a few dissident voices like that of Frank Viviano who observed in San Francisco Chronicle of September 26, 2001: ”The hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil. The map of terrorist sanctuaries and targets in the Middle East and Central Asia is also, to an extraordinary degree, a map of the world’s principal energy sources in the 21st century…. It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by many as a war on behalf of America’s Chevron, Exxon, and Arco; France’s TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region”. The reality stated by Mr. Viviano in 2001 was well understood in official Washington, but the most influential corporate-controlled media outlets—the television networks and major national daily newspapers—maintained silence that was politically motivated self-censorship. The sole exception was an article that appeared on December 15, 2001 in the New York Times business section, headlined, ”As the War Shifts Alliances, Oil Deals Follow.”
The subsequent invasion of Iraq using the bogey of weapons of mass destruction and appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as US Ambassador there proved beyond any doubt that the reality of ‘war on terror’ was nothing but quest for OIL. Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele [The Oily Americans, TIME, May 19, 2003] remarkably exposed the dark side of American oil policy from classified government documents and oil industry memos, involving a pair of Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Afghanistan.
Donald Trump faithfully followed the policy of his predecessors. On assuming power, Trump committed more military operations in the war-ravaged country to please the war industry tycoons though as a candidate he promised to withdraw from Afghanistan, as did Barak Obama. No US President was ever interested in countering terrorism. The US and its allies just launched “oil and war bonanzas” around Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple objectives: ensuring continuous enormous profits for war industry; control over oil and gas rich countries and containment of China by physical military presence in its nearby areas—The Globalization of War: America’s “Long War” against Humanity by Michel Chossudovsky.
The insistence of Taliban to turn Afghanistan back to their era after the “deal” proves that in reality, “peace” is not the aim, but the hidden agenda is to trigger a new wave of terrorism in the region to contain China using what the Western media is portraying as atrocities against Uighur and other Muslim groups by instigating and funding new and old terrorist outfits.
A story in The Washington Post published before the “deal noted: “…local leaders in the border provinces of Nangahar and Konar tell a different story. They say Islamic State forces continue to terrorize villagers in areas under their control, forcibly recruiting boys and banning girls from school. They and U.S. officials say that Taliban and Islamic State forces have continued to fight each other, but that they also fear that some Taliban fighters will join the more ruthless Islamic State forces if Taliban leaders make a deal with U.S. officials.
In a story published in TIME magazine after the “deal”, it was observed: The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan with one goal in mind: ridding the country of the threat of al-Qaeda just weeks after the group killed nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, after nearly 20 years of fighting in which more than 3,500 American and coalition lives have been lost, President Donald Trump is pushing to withdraw U.S. forces on the back of a wobbly peace deal signed with the Taliban. But a U.N. report released on Monday shows the Islamist militant group has failed to fulfill one of the central tenets of the agreement—that it would break ties with al-Qaeda— undermining Trump’s biggest foreign policy win as he seeks re-election in November. Al-Qaeda has 400 to 600 operatives active in 12 Afghan provinces and is running training camps in the east of the country”.
Trump clearly said after the “deal” that the USA had enough of its killing Taliban and someone else was to do this work and “it will be the job of surrounding countries”. It is an open challenge to China and Pakistan, engaged in mega projects to make China’s Belt and Road initiative a success—China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is its flagship project.
United States and its allies, especially India under Modi, have never been interested in uprooting terrorism, rather promoting and funding it. There are certain hidden hands that have been supporting warlords and militants for their nefarious designs to disrupt peace in Afghanistan and create trouble in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan where Gwadar port is developed and managed by state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company China under a 40-year lease granted on April 20, 2017.
The US and its allies, keep on accusing Pakistan of supporting and housing Taliban leadership without any evidence. For the “deal” with Taliban, US asked Pakistan to play its role and it facilitated it. As soon as the deal was signed, the US and India started fresh hostilities towards Pakistan. The recent development of ensuring influence of Israel and India to grow in some Muslim States, where most of Pakistani workers and businessmen are working, is to make things more difficult for Pakistan.
Attacking Pakistan through militants, trained and funded by RAW, CIA and Mossad, is aimed at disrupting CPEC and containing China. It unveils the hidden agenda of US to create conflicts in various regions for benefit of its war industry, grab oil and gas resources, use religion to threaten governments and impose economic policies benefiting multinationals that finance and control their governments.
This also goes a long way in explaining the foreign policy of Pakistan with reference to the region and the gullibility of its rulers from Musharraf to Nawaz, who have been conveniently playing in the hands of the US jeopardising national interests. It is time now for the government in power to counter the hidden agenda of US as is being done by China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and others. Pakistan must also learn from the Chinese how they skillfully play their cards in international diplomatic arena by countering the hidden and nefarious designs of US and its allies without entering into arms conflicts that they try to impose in order to destabilise the countries politically and bleed economically.
The writers, lawyers and authors of many books and articles on terrorism, arms-drugs-trade, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).