|Wars and Empire Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. (v.sito)|
|Editing and Design: Lidija Rangelovska, A Narcissus Publications Imprint, Skopje 2003, First published by United Press International UPI|
It is hard to articulate, let alone justify hatred. It is, by definition, irrational and one is immediately suspected of intellectualizing that which is really visceral and counterfactual. It is politically incorrect to hate, an insensitive and "primitive" "gut" reaction. Hating is widely decried as counterproductive.
Collective hatred is reserved
to "hate figures" designated by the media and the elite and
rendered obnoxious and abominable by ceaseless indoctrination, often
tinged with falsities. One hates a Hitler or a bin Laden. One is exhorted
in most Western media to merely disagree with the United States, or
to criticize Americans - but never to hate them.
Mercifully, larges swathes of humanity - being less synthetic and fake - are still prone to the unbridled expression of their emotions. One of the most frequent and all-pervasive sentiments among them seems to be anti-Americanism - a spectrum of reactions ranging from virulent aversion, through intense dislike, to vocal derision.
The United States is one of the last remaining land empires. That it is made the butt of opprobrium and odium is hardly surprising, or unprecedented. Empires - Rome, the British, the Ottomans - were always targeted by the disgruntled, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed and by their self-appointed delegates, the intelligentsia.
Yet, even by historical standards, America seems to be provoking blanket repulsion.
The Pew Research Center published last December a report titled "What the World Thinks in 2002". "The World", was reduced by the pollsters to 44 countries and 38,000 interviewees. Two other surveys published last year - by the German Marshall Fund and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations - largely supported Pew's findings.
The most startling and unambiguous
revelation was the extent of anti-American groundswell everywhere: among
America's NATO allies, in developing countries, Muslim nations and even
in eastern Europe where Americans, only a decade ago, were lionized
as much-adulated liberators.
"People around the world embrace things American and, at the same time, decry U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, pluralities in most of the nations surveyed complain about American unilateralism."- expounds the Pew report.
Yet, even this "embrace of things American" is ambiguous.
Violently "independent", inanely litigious and quarrelsome, solipsistically provincial, and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites, the United States, is often perceived as trying to impose its narcissistic pseudo-culture upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold and corrupted by vacuous materialism.
Recent accounting scandals, crumbling markets, political scams, technological setbacks, and rising social tensions have revealed how rotten and inherently contradictory the US edifice is and how concerned are Americans with appearances rather than substance.
To religious fundamentalists, America is the Great Satan, a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a cesspool of immorality and spiritual decay. To many European liberals, the United states is a throwback to darker ages of religious zealotry, pernicious bigotry, virulent nationalism, and the capricious misrule of the mighty.
According to most recent surveys by Gallup, MORI, the Council for Secular Humanism, the US Census Bureau, and others - the vast majority of Americans are chauvinistic, moralizing, bible-thumping, cantankerous, and trigger-happy. About half of them believe that Satan exists - not as a metaphor, but physically.
America has a record defense spending per head, a vertiginous rate of incarceration, among the highest numbers of legal executions and gun-related deaths. It is still engaged in atavistic debates about abortion, the role of religion, and whether to teach the theory of evolution.
According to a series of special feature articles in The Economist, America is generally well-liked in Europe, but less so than before. It is utterly detested by the Moslem street, even in "progressive" Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Everyone - Europeans and Arabs, Asians and Africans - thinks that "the spread of American ideas and customs is a bad thing".
Admittedly, we typically devalue most that which we have formerly idealized and idolized.
To the liberal-minded, the United States of America reified the most noble, lofty, and worthy values, ideals, and causes. It was a dream in the throes of becoming, a vision of liberty, peace, justice, prosperity, and progress. Its system, though far from flawless, was considered superior - both morally and functionally - to any ever conceived by Man.
Such unrealistic expectations
inevitably and invariably lead to disenchantment, disillusionment, bitter
disappointment, seething anger, and a sense of humiliation for having
been thus deluded, or, rather, self-deceived. This backlash is further
exacerbated by the haughty hectoring of the ubiquitous American missionaries
of the "free-market-cum-democracy" church.
Americans everywhere aggressively preach the superior virtues of their homeland. Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life" (1949-1961) warned against this propensity to feign omniscience and omnipotence: "Life (the magazine) must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all, or a Peeping Tom."
Thus, America's foreign policy - i.e., its presence and actions abroad - is, by far, its foremost vulnerability.
According to the Pew study, the image of the Unites States as a benign world power slipped dramatically in the space of two years in Slovakia (down 14 percent), in Poland (-7), in the Czech Republic (-6) and even in fervently pro-Western Bulgaria (-4 percent). It rose exponentially in Ukraine (up 10 percent) and, most astoundingly, in Russia (+24 percent) - but from a very low base.
The crux may be that the USA maintains one set of sanctimonious standards at home while egregiously and nonchalantly flouting them far and wide. Hence the fervid demonstrations against its military presence in places as disparate as South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.
In January 2000, Staff Sergeant
Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent
acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the
basement of her drab building in Kosovo, when her father went to market
to do some shopping.
His is by no means the most atrocious link in a long chain of brutalities inflicted by American soldiers overseas. In all these cases, the perpetrators were removed from the scene to face justice - or, more often, a travesty thereof - back home.
Americans - officials, scholars, peacemakers, non-government organizations - maintain a colonial state of mind. Backward natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, their systems of governance and economies inherently inferior. The white man's burden must not be encumbered by the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence. Hence America's fierce resistance to and indefatigable obstruction of the International Criminal Court.
notwithstanding, the USA still owes the poorer nations of the world
close to $200 million - its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations,
usually asked to mop up after an American invasion or bombing. It not
only refuses to subject its soldiers to the jurisdiction of the World
Criminal Court - but its facilities to the inspectors of the Chemical
Weapons Convention, its military to the sanctions of the (anti) land
mines treaty and the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty,
and its industry to the environmental constraints of the Kyoto Protocol,
the rulings of the World Trade Organization, and the rigors of global
intellectual property rights.
Despite its instinctual unilateralism, the United States is never averse to exploiting multilateral institutions to its ends. It is the only shareholder with a veto power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), by now widely considered to have degenerated into a long arm of the American administration. The United Nations Security Council, raucous protestations aside, has rubber-stamped American martial exploits from Panama to Iraq.
It seems as though America uses - and thus, perforce, abuses - the international system for its own, ever changing, ends. International law is invoked by it when convenient - ignored when importune.
In short, America is a bully. It is a law unto itself and it legislates on the fly, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgates at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent and malignant mixture of supremacy and contempt.
But why is America being singled out?
In politics and even more
so in geopolitics, double standards and bullying are common. Apartheid
South Africa, colonial France, mainland China, post-1967 Israel - and
virtually every other polity - were at one time or another characterized
by both. But while these countries usually mistreated only their
own subjects - the USA does so also exterritorialy.
Even as it never ceases to hector, preach, chastise, and instruct - it does not recoil from violating its own decrees and ignoring its own teachings. It is, therefore, not the USA's intrinsic nature, nor its self-perception, or social model that I find most reprehensible - but its actions, particularly its foreign policy.
America's manifest hypocrisy, its moral talk and often immoral walk, its persistent application of double standards, irks and grates. I firmly believe that it is better to face a forthright villain than a masquerading saint. It is easy to confront a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Mao, vile and bloodied, irredeemably depraved, worthy only of annihilation. The subtleties of coping with the United States are far more demanding - and far less rewarding.
This self-proclaimed champion of human rights has aided and abetted countless murderous dictatorships. This alleged sponsor of free trade - is the most protectionist of rich nations. This ostensible beacon of charity - contributes less than 0.1% of its GDP to foreign aid (compared to Scandinavia's 0.6%, for instance). This upright proponent of international law (under whose aegis it bombed and invaded half a dozen countries this past decade alone) - is in avowed opposition to crucial pillars of the international order.
Naturally, America's enemies and critics are envious of its might and wealth. They would have probably acted the same as the United States, if they only could. But America's haughtiness and obtuse refusal to engage in soul searching and house cleaning do little to ameliorate this antagonism.
To the peoples of the poor world, America is both a colonial power and a mercantilist exploiter. To further its geopolitical and economic goals from Central Asia to the Middle East, it persists in buttressing regimes with scant regard for human rights, in cahoots with venal and sometimes homicidal indigenous politicians. And it drains the developing world of its brains, its labour, and its raw materials, giving little in return.
All powers are self-interested - but America is narcissistic. It is bent on exploiting and, having exploited, on discarding. It is a global Dr. Frankenstein, spawning mutated monsters in its wake. Its "drain and dump" policies consistently boomerang to haunt it.
Both Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega - two acknowledged monsters - were aided and abetted by the CIA and the US military. America had to invade Panama to depose the latter and plans to invade Iraq for the second time to force the removal of the former.
The Kosovo Liberation Army, an American anti-Milosevic pet, provoked a civil war in Macedonia two years ago. Osama bin-Laden, another CIA golem, restored to the USA, on September 11, 2001 some of the materiel it so generously bestowed on him in his anti-Russian days.
Normally the outcomes of expedience, the Ugly American's alliances and allegiances shift kaleidoscopically. Pakistan and Libya were transmuted from foes to allies in the fortnight prior to the Afghan campaign. Milosevic has metamorphosed from staunch ally to rabid foe in days.
This capricious inconsistency casts in grave doubt America's sincerity - and in sharp relief its unreliability and disloyalty, its short term thinking, truncated attention span, soundbite mentality, and dangerous, "black and white", simplism.
In its heartland, America is isolationist. Its denizens erroneously believe that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is an economically self-sufficient and self-contained continent. Yet, it is not what Americans trust or wish that matters to others. It is what they do. And what they do is meddle, often unilaterally, always ignorantly, sometimes forcefully.
Elsewhere, inevitable unilateralism is mitigated by inclusive cosmopolitanism. It is exacerbated by provincialism - and American decision-makers are mostly provincials, popularly elected by provincials. As opposed to Rome, or Great Britain, America is ill-suited and ill-equipped to micromanage the world.
It is too puerile, too abrasive,
too arrogant - and it has a lot to learn. Its refusal to acknowledge
its shortcomings, its confusion of brain with brawn (i.e., money or
bombs), its legalistic-litigious character, its culture of instant gratification
and one-dimensional over-simplification, its heartless lack of empathy,
and bloated sense of entitlement - are detrimental to world peace and
America is often called by others to intervene. Many initiate conflicts or prolong them with the express purpose of dragging America into the quagmire. It then is either castigated for not having responded to such calls - or reprimanded for having responded. It seems that it cannot win. Abstention and involvement alike garner it only ill-will.
But people call upon America to get involved because they know it rises to the challenge. America should make it unequivocally and unambiguously clear that - with the exception of the Americas - its sole interests rest in commerce. It should make it equally known that it will protect its citizens and defend its assets - if need be by force.
Indeed, America's - and
the world's - best bet are a reversion to the Monroe and (technologically
updated) Mahan doctrines. Wilson's Fourteen Points brought the USA nothing
but two World Wars and a Cold War thereafter. It is time to disengage.
European intellectuals yearn for the mutually exclusive: an America contained and a regime-changed Iraq. The Chinese are more pragmatic - though, bound by what is left of their Marxism, they still ascribe American behavior to the irreconcilable contradictions inherent in capitalism.
The United States is impelled
by its economy and values to world dominion, claimed last week an analysis
titled "American Empire Steps Up Fourth Expansion" in the
communist party's mouthpiece People's Daily. Expansionism is an "eternal
theme" in American history and a "main line" running
through its foreign policy.
The contemporary USA is actually a land-based empire, comprising the territorial fruits of previous armed conflicts with its neighbors and foes, often one and the same. The global spread of American influence through its culture, political alliances, science and multinationals is merely an extrapolation of a trend two centuries in the making.
How did a small country succeed to thus transform itself?
The paper attributes America's success to its political stability, neglecting to mention its pluralism and multi-party system, the sources of said endurance. But then, in an interesting departure from the official party line, it praises US "scientific and technological innovations and new achievements in economic development". Somewhat tautologically, it also credits America's status as an empire to its "external expansions".
The rest of the article is, alas, no better reasoned, nor better informed. American pilgrims were forced westward because "they found there was neither tile over their heads nor a speck of land under their feet (in the East Coast)." But it is the emphases that are of interest, not the shoddy workmanship.
The article clearly identifies
America's (capitalistic) economy and its (liberal, pluralistic, religious
and democratic) values as its competitive mainstays and founts of strength.
"US unique commercial expansion spirit (combined with the) the
puritan's 'concept of mission' (are its fortes)", gushes the anonymous
The paper distinguishes four phases of distension: "First, continental expansion stage; second, overseas expansion stage; third, the stage of global contention for hegemony; and fourth, the stage of world domination." The second, third and fourth are mainly economic, cultural and military.
In an echo of defunct Soviet and Euro-left conspiracy theories, the paper insists that expansion was "triggered by commercial capital." This capital - better known in the West as the military-industrial complex - also determines US foreign policy. Thus, the American Empire is closer to the commercially driven British Empire than to the militarily propelled Roman one.
Actually, the author thinks aloud, isn't America's reign merely the successor of Britain's? Wasn't it John Locke, a British philosopher, who said that expansion - a "natural right" - responds to domestic needs? Wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who claimed that the United States must "constantly acquire new land to open up living space" (the forerunner of the infamous German "Lebensraum")?
The author quotes James
Jerome Hill, the American railway magnet, as exclaiming, during the
US-Spanish War, that "If you review the commercial history, you
will discover anyone who controls oriental trade will get hold of global
wealth." Thus, US expansion was concerned mainly with "protecting
American commercial monopoly or advantageous position." America
entered the first world war only when "its free trade position
was challenged," opines the red-top.
American moral values are designed to "serve commercial capital". This blending of the spiritual with the pecuniary is very disorienting. "Even the Americans themselves find it hard to distinguish which matter is expanding national interests under the banner of 'enforcing justice on behalf of Heaven' and which is propagating their ideology and concept of value on the plea of national interests."
The paper mentions the conviction,
held by most Americans, that their system and values are the "best
things in human society." Moreover, Americans are missionaries
with a "manifest destiny" and "the duty and obligation
to help other countries and nations" and to serve as the "the
beacon lighting up the way for the development of other countries and
nations." If all else fails, it feels justified to "force
its best things on other countries by the method of Crusades."
American history is re-cast as an inevitable progression of concentric circles. At first, the United States acted as a classic colonial power, vying for real estate first with Spain in Latin America and later with the Soviet Union all over the world. The Marshall Plan was a ploy to make Europe dependent on US largesse. The Old Continent, sneers the paper, is nothing more than "US little partner".
Now, with the demise of the USSR, bemoans the columnist, the United States exhibits "rising hegemonic airs" and does "whatever it pleased", concurrently twisting economic, cultural and military arms. Inevitably and especially after September 11, calls for an American "new empire" are on the rise. Iraq "was chosen as the first target for this new round of expansion."
But the expansionist drive has become self-defeating: "Only when the United States refrains from taking the road of pursuing global empire, can it avoid terrorists' bombs or other forms of attacks befalling on its own territory", concludes the opinion piece.
What is China up to? Is this article a signal encrypted in the best Cold War tradition?
Another commentary published a few days later may contain the public key. It is titled "The Paradox of American Power". The author quotes at length from "The Paradox of American Power - Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone" written by Joseph Nye, the Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense:
"Hard power works through
coercion, using military sticks and economic carrots to get others to
do our will. Soft power works through attraction ... Our attractiveness
rests on our culture, our political values and our policies by taking
into account the interests of others".
As it summarizes Nye's teachings, the tone of the piece is avuncular and conciliatory, not enraged or patronizing:
"In today's world,
the United States is no doubt in an advantageous position with its hard
power. But ... power politics always invite resentment and the paradox
of American power is that the stronger the nation grows, the weaker
its influence becomes. As the saying goes, a danger to oneself results
from an excess of power and an accumulation of misfortunes stems from
lavish of praises and favors. He, whose power grows to such a swelling
state that he strikes anybody he wants to and turns a deaf ear to others'
advice, will unavoidably put himself in a straitened circumstance someday.
When one indulges oneself in wars of aggression under the pretext of
'self security' will possibly get, in return, more factors of insecurity
... Military forces cannot fundamentally solve problems and war benefits
no one including the war starter."
In an interview he granted to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, last week, Shen Jiru, chief of the Division of International Strategy of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, reiterated his conviction that "the United States aims to create a unipolar world through the Iraq issue."
Mirroring the People's Daily, he did not think that the looming Iraq war can be entirely explained as a "dispute on oil or economic interests." It was, he thought, about "the future model of international order: a multipolar and democratic one, or the US strategic goal of a unipolar world." China has been encouraged by dissent in the West. It shows that the "multipolar international community is an "inevitable" momentum of history."
Why this sudden flurry of historiosophic ruminations?
According to Stratfor, the strategic forecasting consultancy, "for Beijing, the only way to stymie the fourth phase is through promoting multilateralism; barring that, China must be prepared to confront the United States in the future, and U.S. history can give some guidance ... Thus, Beijing continues to focus on the concept of multilateralism and the legitimacy of the United Nations as the best ways to slow or even disrupt U.S. expansionism. At the same time, Beijing is preparing to face a future confrontation with the United States if necessary."
When its economy matures,
China wants to become another United States. It has started emulating
America two decades ago - and never ceased. Recent steps include painful
privatization, restructuring of the banking system, clamping down on
corruption and bad governance, paring down the central bureaucracy,
revamping the military and security apparatus and creating mechanisms
for smooth political transitions.
China plans to send a man to the moon. It invests heavily in basic science and research and development. It is moving gradually up the manufacturing food chain to higher value added industries. It is the quintessential leapfrogger, much of its cadre moving straight from the rustic to the plastic - computers, cellular phones, wireless and the like.
Ironically, it could never
have made it even this far without its ostensible foe. Thousands of
bright Chinese students train in the United states. American technologies,
management, knowledge, capital and marketing permeate Beijing's economic
fabric. Bilateral trade is flourishing. China enjoys the biggest share
of the world's - in large part American - foreign direct investment
flows. Should the United states disintegrate tomorrow - China would
Afghan Myths - An Interview with Anssi Kullberg
Anssi Kristian Kullberg is presently employed as a researcher for the Legal and Country Intelligence Service, Western and Central Asia Desk, at the Finnish Directorate of Immigration. This interview represents his personal views only and not those of his employer. On Black Tuesday, 11th September, he was in Kyrgyzstan, on his way to the notorious Ferghana Valley, in a reconstruction of the late Finnish Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim's intelligence expedition to Turkistan and China in 1906-1908.
Q: Was the Taliban the creation of Pakistan? Can you tell us about its formation and how was Russia involved in it?
A: The Taliban was not a creation of Pakistan, although Pakistan was among several states that contributed to the genesis and development of this peculiar movement. It is true that the Taliban (which was established only as late as in 1994 as a religious movement) had a significant influx from Pakistani madrassas. But the Taliban is not only an extreme religious movement, but also an ethnic Pashtun one. The Pashtuns are a bit less than half of Afghanistan's population, but in Pakistan there are 16 million resident Pashtuns plus 3 million as refugees. There are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan nowadays. The "Pakistanis" involved in Afghanistan are in fact Afghans.
The role of the Pakistani Islamist opposition in the formation and support of the Taliban is widely recorded. But more important are those who made it a military power. This is where Russia enters the game, too. In order to understand the Taliban, we must recall the background situation in Afghanistan ever since the events in 1970s.
The Taliban is not monolithic. Even less so is the Northern Alliance. Neither were the Afghan communists united. This was made evident by the internal power struggles following the ousting of King Zahir Shah in 1973. Daoud was overthrown and killed by communists in 1978. But the communists were divided into the Khalq faction, favored by China, and the Parcham faction, favored by the Soviet Union. In 1978 it was the Khalq faction that took over, but their more moderate leader Nur Mohammed Taraki was overthrown and killed by the hardliner Khalq communist Hafizullah Amin. In 1979, the Soviet Spetsnaz murdered Amin and replaced him with the Parcham follower Babrak Karmal, who was close to the KGB. Then the Soviet army invaded.
The communist secret service Khad (KhAD), whose leaders were Karmal and Sayid Mohammed Najibullah, was actually an Afghan branch of the KGB. It had been preceded by the communist secret services of Taraki and Amin (AGSA, KAM), but from 1979 onwards this organization of terror was instructed and trained by the KGB. The culture of terror and the horrible persecution of the civil population continued without a pause from the communist takeover up until the overthrowing of Najibullah's regime in 1992 when Massoud liberated Kabul. Western minds seem to implicitly suppose that when the Cold War was over, the communists and the structures they had created just suddenly disappeared. This is a recurrent fatal misperception especially of the Americans.
According to Professor Azmat Hayat Khan of the University of Peshawar, when Ahmad Shah Massoud's mujaheddin liberated Kabul in 1992, and Najibullah gave up power, the communist generals of the army and of Khad agreed to prolong the Afghan civil war in order to discredit President Burhanuddin Rabbani's mujahid government and prevent Afghanistan from stabilizing. The Uzbek communist General Abdurrashid Dostum continued the rebellion against Rabbani and Massoud in Mazar-i-Sharif, massively backed by the Soviet Union and later by Russia and Uzbekistan. Another rebellious general was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Most of the ethnic Pashtun Khalq army generals as well as those of the Khad defected to Hekmatyar's troops. A decisive role was the one played by General Shahnawaz Tanai, the communist commander of the artillery, who defected to Hekmatyar's side as early as in 1990. Later in 1995, when Hekmatyar's rebellion was losing strength, Tanai defected to the Taliban. So did many other communist army and Khad officers.
was Tanai's defection that provided the Taliban with Soviet artillery,
Soviet air force, Soviet intelligence and Soviet technical and military
knowledge. The American Anthony Arnold argued already then that Tanai's
moves were a KGB-inspired provocation. The former KGB General Oleg Kalugin
said that it was Moscow who trained most of the terrorists the US is
As regards the Taliban, it was nothing special when they took over Kandahar in 1994. Kandahar was a Pashtun city and the strict interpretation of Islam the Taliban propounds is not so much based on the Qur'an but on the narrow-minded social norms of an agrarian Pashtun village. Mullah Omar is often described as having the background of a relatively simple-minded rustic mullah, although he was also politically active in Mohammed Nabi Mohammadi's Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami (Revolutionary Islamic Movement), which later opposed the Taliban.
But apart from Mullah Mohammed Omar and some other leaders who seem to have truly religious backgrounds (and no other education), the Taliban's military and intelligence are dominated by Soviet-trained communists.
Tanai, there is for example the late first Taliban military commander
and one of its founders, "Mullah Borjan", whose real name
was Turan Abdurrahman, a prominent communist military officer. Many
Taliban "mullahs" have no religious training at all. They
are former communist military and security agents who have grown up
beards and adopted new names and identities replete with the title "mullah".
The Taliban artillery commander was the former Soviet Army's Afghan
military intelligence officer Shah Sawar. The Taliban intelligence service
chief Mohammed Akbar used to head a department of the Khad. And the
Taliban air force commander Mohammed Gilani was a communist general,
Perhaps because of this immensely influential influx into the Taliban, their interpretation of Islam is quite alien for most of the world's Muslims, but closely resembles the interpretation of Islam that the communists and Russia have traditionally espoused in their anti-Islamic propaganda.
decisive strengthening of the Taliban took place in 1995-1996, when
it was seen as a "stabilizing" force in Afghanistan. This
was a great fallacy based on the Taliban's success in Kandahar, which
was indeed their "home field". Anywhere else the Taliban did
not bring about stability, but quite the opposite. Among those with
a rising interest in the Taliban forces, were all the main players:
Russia and its satellite regimes in Central Asia, the US, Pakistan,
and Saudi Arabia. At the initiative of the Turkmen dictator Saparmurat
Niyazov, the Russian energy giant Gazprom, headed by the then Russian
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the US firm Unocal, contracted
to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, circumventing Iran
and crossing the Afghan territory that the Taliban had supposedly "stabilized".
For Pakistan, it has been a traditional national interest to secure
energy supplies from Central Asia, since it is sandwiched between two
vehemently hostile great powers, India and Iran. For Russia, this was
seen as a way to control Central Asian energy resources and to extend
its influence towards the Indian Ocean. Two Saudi Arabian oil companies
were also involved.
During the same years, the Taliban received sizable armed support. It did not come mainly from Pakistan. Financial succor came from Saudi Arabia. But the most decisive increase in the Taliban's strength came from Russia: the defections of the Khalq and Khad generals directly into the Taliban's leadership, vast amounts of Russian weaponry in several mysteriously "captured" stashes, including a very suspicious "hijacking" and escape of a Russian jet loaded with weapons that ended up in the hands of the Taliban's ex-communist leaders. With these new weapons, the Taliban marched on Herat in 1995, and finally managed to capture Kabul in 1996.
Najibullah was hanged, but Najibullah's hanging by his former Taliban-turned protégés seems to have camouflaged the actual developments in the Afghan power struggle.
had an interest to cut the strong ties between Massoud's mujaheddin
and the Tajik opposition that Russia had crushed since it attacked Tajikistan
in 1992 and backed the communists into power there. The old provocateur
Hekmatyar was by then defeated and had finally given up his fight -
after losing his men and arms by Tanai's defection to the Taliban -
and accepted a seat in the government in compensation. Since Hekmatyar
was finished, a new Pashtun force was needed in those years. Taliban
was a rising force that various external players tried to exploit by
infiltration, support and manipulation.
When the Cold War was declared over by the West, it did not stop elsewhere. After 1989 the West really lost interest in Afghanistan and until some months before his death Massoud was trying to appeal to it in vain. The West was uninterested, but others were. Pakistan, of course, was interested in the goings on in its unstable neighbor. Saudi Arabia was financing and supporting dangerous Sunni fundamentalist groups, and later the Taliban. The Saudis also provided them with their own Saudi fanatics that had become troublesome at home. Iran was supporting its own agents within Afghan Shia groups. And the Soviet Union and later Russia continued to provide massive armed support to the last communist dictator of Afghanistan, Najibullah, and later to the notorious General Dostum.
The Russian principle was "divide and rule", with the basic idea of keeping the West out and assuring that the region would not strengthen so that the Soviet empire could return once it has regained its military might. Because of this stratagem, Russia has supported the Tajiks of the Northern Alliance through Tajikistan - only sufficiently to form a buffer zone against the Taliban, but without being able to gain substantial victories or to intervene in Tajikistan. Moreover, Russia has been arming and supporting the Uzbeks under the command of Dostum and General Malik who later defected to the Taliban's side. This support has been directed through Uzbekistan and still continues - ironically, with the West's full blessing. Less known has been the Russian support directed through Turkmenistan to the Taliban, and to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that is said to threaten Karimov's rule there.
Q: What was and is the role of the CIA in all this? Was Pakistan's ISI the CIA's long arm? Was bin Laden a CIA agent?
A: A chronic feature of American intelligence policy seems to be historical amnesia and inability to see the complex nature of conflicts and local relationships. This was also manifested during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. British intelligence and part of the Pakistani intelligence community clashed with the US already during the Cold War period, because they wanted to support Ahmad Shah Massoud, the "Lion of Panjshir". It was Massoud and his mujaheddin who finally, after getting Stingers from the British, managed to make the war too expensive for the Soviets, forcing them to retreat in 1989.
Meanwhile, the CIA was incompetent enough to be dependent on the Pakistani intelligence services that, especially in Zia ul-Haq's period, favored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a pompous figure who claimed to have extensive contacts throughout the Islamic world. He indeed had some contacts, including with Osama bin Laden, but he was considered to be a KGB provocateur by Massoud and many others, and was never of any help in the Afghan independence struggle.
Instead of fighting the Soviet occupants, Hekmatyar preferred to fight other Afghans, and to conspire with suspicious Arab circles imported by his contact bin Laden to Peshawar. The Stingers that the CIA had provided to Hekmatyar, were not used to liberate Afghanistan. Instead, Hekmatyar sold them to Iran, and they were later used against the Americans in a well-known incident.
When the Soviet troops moved out, Hekmatyar pursued a bloody rebellion against the legal Afghan government, devastating the country along with another rebel general, Dostum. (Though they were not aligned.) In 1993, Hekmatyar supported the KGB general and spymaster Haidar Aliyev's coup in Azerbaijan and, in 1994, Hekmatyar was involved in supporting pro-Russian Lezghin terrorists in the Caucasus. Hekmatyar is still active. He lives in Teheran, and has recently finally revealed his true colors by siding with the Taliban.
As far as I know, Osama bin Laden was never a CIA agent. However, there are relatively plausible claims that he was close to Saudi intelligence, especially to the recently fired intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faizal, until they broke up.
Osama first appeared in the Afghan War theater either in 1979, or, at the latest in 1984. But at the beginning he was first and foremost a businessman. He served the interests of those who wished to construct roads accessible for tanks to cross through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. This might also explain his characteristic opportunism - quite atypical for a self-proclaimed warrior of faith.
jihadists surely want to portray him as a religious fighter or Muslim
hero, but this is not the true picture, but, mostly, a myth created
by the Western media. This is where Arab, Pakistani and Indonesian teenagers
learn that Osama is a fighter in a universal struggle of Islam against
But bin Laden never fought the Soviets to liberate Afghanistan. For most of this period, he was not even in Afghanistan. He was managing an office in Peshawar, and the only credible claim about him being in a battle has been made by the former CIA official Milton Bearden concerning a minor skirmish that took place in spring 1987.
Bin Laden's first significant contact in Peshawar was the Palestinian Professor Abdullah Azzam, whom bin Laden has later described as his mentor. Azzam was an Arab idealist, who wanted to concentrate on the liberation of Afghanistan, and who wanted to support Massoud, whom he correctly regarded as being the right person to uphold. Bin Laden disagreed. He wanted to support the disloyal Islamist fanatic Hekmatyar. As a result, Azzam and his son were blown up in a car bomb in 1989, and consequently, bin Laden took over his organization and transformed it into Al-Qaida (the Base).
Already before these events, he started to transform the agency by flooding it with his Arab contacts from the Middle East. These Arabs were not interested in liberating Afghanistan as much as in hiding from the law enforcement agencies of their own countries, most of all Egypt's.
Russia attacked Tajikistan, bin Laden and his folks were by no means
interested in liberating Tajikistan from a new communist yoke. Instead,
bin Laden left Afghanistan and dispersed his terrorist network, directing
it to act against the West.
It is bizarre that a man claiming to be an Islamic fundamentalist supported the invasion by the Arab socialist (and thereby atheist) Iraq against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both with conservative Islamic regimes.
Al-Qaida's supported all causes and activities against the West: the US, Turkey, Israel, and any pro-Western Muslim regime like Pakistan. Robbers on the island of Jolo in the Philippines qualified for Al-Qaida's support although they hardly knew anything about the Qur'an. They were immediately they were portrayed as "Islamic fighters". Even the strictly atheist anti-Turkish terrorist organization PKK has been welcomed. At the same time they definitely have not supported Muslims advocating Turkish-modeled moderate independence, like the Chechens, the original Tajik opposition or the Azeri government under President Abulfaz Elchibey.
As concerning Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, I think it would be gross underestimation of a potential regional great power and its British colonial traditions of military and intelligence to describe it just as an arm of the CIA or of the Islamists.
These are widespread myths. The ISI is neither the hero nor the villain of this story. I think the ISI is interested simply in the national interest of Pakistan, which consists of four main elements: security against the hostile strong neighbors India and Iran, security against the instability and uncontrolled forces ravaging Afghanistan and infiltrating Pakistan through the large Pashtun population, the conflict over Kashmir, and Pakistan's own international status.
Afghanistan is an historical buffer zone in the ancient Great Game of Central Eurasia. It is the gateway through which Pakistan's enemies can attack or destabilize it, and it is equally the buffer that stops these enemies. Pakistan's is interested in regional stability while its enemies seek to use any instability against it. There is a great divide within Pakistan between Pakistani nationalists and internationalist Islamists. Pakistan is relatively democratic compared with its neighbors - even including India, considering its treatment of minorities and the Kashmir issue. It, thus, has the problems of a democracy. Pakistan has quite free and critical press, local administration and intellectual opposition, the Islamists included. It is not, and has never been, an Islamist dictatorship like Saudi Arabia.
Q: Can you chart the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban?
A: The policy of the ISI was strongly correlated with developments in Pakistan's leadership. The main divide concerning the ISI's Afghanistan policies did not concern religious issues as it did the ethnic question related to the political and military aspirations of the Pashtun people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Actually one of the greatest dangers to Pakistan's national existence would be the emergence of the idea of Greater Pashtunistan, splitting Pakistan in two.
This was an idea favored and agitated by the pro-Soviet Pashtuns - many of whom are now influential in the Taliban. The Pakistani researcher Musa Khan Jalalzai noticed this and described these people as "enemies of Pakistani interests".
India and Iran would like to split Pakistan and destroy it, and Russian geopolitics is still based on a "final thrust to the South". Iran and India equally fear that Baluchistan, Kashmir and Punjab would finally be united under Pakistani rule. Incorporating Pashtunistan, Pakistan has the potential to become a South Asian superpower with plausible expansionist chances. Yet this has never really been an aspiration of Pakistan. Like Turkey under Ataturk, Pakistan under such leaders as Ayub Khan and now Pervez Musharraf has been introverted in its nationalism and based on constitutional and national ideas similar to those of present day Turkey and France.
During the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq the policy turned more Islamist, and during this period the ISI strongly supported Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar proved disloyal and finally defected to Iran. During Benazir Bhutto's government, support has shifted to the Taliban. This was decided by the Interior Minister Nasirullah Babar. It is history's irony that the first female prime minister of Pakistan helped to strengthen the misogynist Taliban regime.
ISI started to get disillusioned and disappointed with the Taliban during
the thoroughly corrupt "democracy" continued under Nawaz Sharif.
There have been rumors that the ISI wished to influence the Taliban
and to empower "a third force" among the more moderate Taliban
leaders to take over it. It is in connection with this that Shahnawaz
Tanai actually defected to Pakistan, and the ISI was dealing with the
former communists who were so powerful within the Taliban.
Luckily for Western interests, General Pervez Musharraf took over. This takeover was the best event in Pakistani history as far as the West is concerned, although it was sadly ignored in the West during the Clinton administration. Musharraf was portrayed as a military dictator and a supporter of the causes of the Taliban and of an alliance with China (all sins of his predecessors). Musharraf is profoundly pro-Western, secular in mind and pragmatic in foreign policy. He in fact tried to form constructive relationships with all the neighboring countries (Iran, India and Afghanistan). His peace initiatives in Kashmir were stalled by Indian arrogance, and the West turned a cold shoulder to its old ally, which has been a source of great bitterness in Pakistan, especially since the West has been very inconsistent in choosing when to support Pakistan and when not to. But during the Musharraf reign, human rights and the position of women in Pakistan have improved considerably.
Constructive relations with whomever rules Afghanistan have been Realpolitik for Pakistan.
Although Musharraf, immediately after seizing power, started to undermine the support for the Taliban, he could not remove the recognition given to the Taliban government, as there was no other Afghan government - the Rabbani government having been ousted and categorically hostile to Pakistan, partly for legitimate reasons. Pakistan has been trying ever since to construct new anti-Taliban alliances, as well as trying to find intra-Taliban frictions to exploit. But the West should be very careful and measured in its pressure on Pakistan. The Taliban is really not under Pakistan's thumb, and never was.
I think the ISI first saw the Taliban as a potential instrument. Then it saw it as a threat that had to be infiltrated and controlled. Then they saw it as a burden. Surely the ISI wished to control and contain the Taliban, but their success has been rather doubtful (as has been others'). Many analysts have paid attention to the fact that Afghan as well as non-Afghan adventurers like bin Laden, have always been very talented at exploiting the surrounding states as well as both superpowers.
Another distorted myth is propagated by India. It is that the Kashmiri secessionism is terrorism and a Pakistani creation. This is very far from reality. More than 80% of Kashmiris would probably prefer independence, but at the same time they reject the Islamist model. There are several small but media-visible Islamist groups operating in Kashmir, or at least proclaiming the Kashmiri cause. But these people are not really interested in Kashmiri independence. They are interested in jihad. Such Islamists appear wherever there is a war (during Bosnia's struggle for independence and in the Albanian civil war, in Chechnya, Kashmir and so on).
Their "help" is usually just an added burden to the ones they purport to help, since they are seldom fighting for any liberation. These "professional" jihadists also seem to be more common in internet cafes and among Arab diasporas in the West than in places where Muslim nations face real oppression.
We must remember that Musharraf cannot possibly surrender to India in the Kashmir dispute. This would not only be political suicide, but it would not end the Kashmir conflict - quite the contrary. It would mean importing the Kashmiri conflict into Pakistan, and against Pakistan. What happened in Afghanistan, with millions of refugees flooding to Pakistan, should not happen with Kashmir. This would be an outright catastrophe for both Pakistan and India, let alone the Kashmiri people. Therefore it is the most crucial interest of the West to prevent India from escalating the Kashmir conflict and turning Kashmir into another weapon against Pakistan's stability.
Q: The "Arab" fighters in Afghanistan - are they a state with a state, or the long arm for covert operations (e.g., the assassination of Massoud) for the Taliban? Who is the dog and who is the tail?
A: The dog and tail can get very entangled here. Everybody is exploiting everybody, and finally all organizations and states are tools which consist of individuals and used by them. The Arabs in Afghanistan are indeed Arabs. There are also lots of "Pakistani" volunteers on the Taliban side, but these are mainly Pashtuns, that is, Afghans.
The mentioning of Chechens, Uighurs and so on is more designed to satisfy the propaganda purposes of Russia and China. There are less than one million Chechens and they have a very harsh war going on in Chechnya. Chechens who choose to go to Afghanistan instead must be quite unpatriotic.
Arabs form the hard core of Al-Qaida. They are the Egyptian, Syrian,
Iraqi etc. professional revolutionaries and terrorists who have gathered
around the figurehead of Osama bin Laden.
Many of these share the same old background in Marxist-inspired revolutionary movements in the Middle East. Ideology and facade have changed when green replaced red, but their methods as well as foreign contacts have mainly remained the same. This is why they are much more interested in attacking the West and pro-Western Muslim regimes than in supporting any true national liberation movements. Even if they try to infiltrate and influence conflict outcomes in the Balkans, the Caucasus, East Turkistan and Kashmir, they are set against the nationalist and secular - and usually pro-Western - policies of the legitimate leadership of these secessionist movements. So the people whom Al-Qaida may support and try to infiltrate are usually exiled or otherwise opposition forces acting in fact against the idea of independence. This has been the case in Chechnya, Dagestan, Bosnia, Kashmir and so on.
And this has been the case in Afghanistan as well. Osama bin Laden and his Arabs never contributed to the actual Afghan national liberation struggle. Instead they acted against it by infiltrating Afghan circles and turning them against each other.
Their jihad is not intended to defend the Muslims against infidel oppressors, but to cause chaos and destruction, in which they apparently hope to overthrow Muslim regimes and replace them with the utopia of Salafi rule. It is not hard to see how this set of mind was inherited from the communist utopian terrorist movements that preceded the present Islamist ones. They had the same structures, the same cadres, the same leaders, the same sponsors and the same methods.
The Arabs in Afghanistan have feathered their nests, though. Osama bin Laden and his closest associates have all married daughters of Afghan elders - from different factions and tribes - and their sons and daughters have, in turn, married the off-spring of eminent Afghan leaders. This is how they secured their foothold in Afghan social networks - something neither the West nor Pakistan succeeded to do. When issues are reduced to family relationships, it is not to be expected that the Afghans would hand over the Arabs to the West or to Pakistan. Al-Qaida is not only fortifying itself physically, but also socially. At the same time their cells and countless collaborating agencies - some of whom are clearly non-Islamist, and some of which are government agencies of certain hostile states - are hoping to escalate this "war against terrorism" and to exploit it for their own purposes.
Q: Do you believe that the USA had long standing designs to conquer Afghanistan and used the September 11 atrocities as a pretext?
A: I would rather say that somebody else had long standing designs for a major conflict in which it was necessary to get the US involved. Those who wiped out Mr. Massoud a couple of days before the terror strikes in the US probably knew that the terrorists will be hunted in Afghanistan.
is clear that the US, among many others, has long desired to overthrow
the Taliban, and I see nothing wrong with it. Afghanistan was the easiest
target, because the Taliban was not internationally recognized (except
by three countries at the beginning of the war), and because there was
nobody strong enough to really side with the Taliban.
There was no special need to demonize them, as they seemed to have done a good job demonizing themselves. The West was more concerned with the blowing up a couple of Buddha statues than with the thousands of victims of the Taliban's tyranny and of the civil war that continued to rage in Afghanistan all this time totally ignored by the Western media until the US got involved again. The US can, of course, be blamed for hypocrisy, as always, but the truth is that getting the US involved has greatly helped those in Afghanistan who had hoped for decades to overthrow the Taliban.
It is also quite surprising that even Musharraf's Pakistan seems to have actually benefited from the present course of affairs, since terrorism has given Musharraf the pretext of openly siding with the West, and abandoning all remnants of Pakistan's tolerance of the Taliban.
I would be inclined against any conspiratorial depiction of the recent
events that would blame the US for all that happened. The US had to
react, and Afghanistan was a logical target. In this sense, the US did
what the terrorists wanted. But they did so in a much more moderate
way, and after much longer preparations than their enemies had probably
hoped for. One reason is that in the Bush administration there seems
to be significantly more foreign political expertise than in the Clinton
administration that hastily bombed a couple of targets, including a
factory in Sudan, but always failed to respond to the real challenge.
In the long run, the threat posed by terrorism will not be defeated by military operations and not in Afghanistan. What can be done there is just the removal of the Taliban regime and helping to construct a stable and recognized Afghan government. It is important to give security guarantees to Pakistan and to support the development that is transforming Pakistan into a strong and relatively stable pro-Western Muslim country that can play a similar role in Central and Southern Asia as Turkey does in the West and Middle East. At best, this could even encourage a Musharraf to rise in Iran, which would yield ultimate benefits to Western interests in Asia.
But then, terrorism must be fought by other means.
This means that Western intelligence must rise to the level of the Cold War to face challenges by terrorist organizations as well as by colluding governments.
The West must also resist Huntington's vision coming true, since this is exactly what the terrorists want: a clash of civilizations. And we must keep in mind that there are also many others who would like to see a worldwide conflagration between the West and Islam.
Q: What is the geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is not so significant in itself, if we only consider
economic interests. Of more importance are some countries situated near
Afghanistan, especially those in Central Asia and Azerbaijan.
Afghanistan is also a traditional buffer zone, since its landscape is hard to penetrate for tanks and modern armies. It has prevented the expansion of the Eurasian Heartland Empire towards Eurasia's southern rim lands for centuries. It has protected the areas included in Pakistan and India today, but on the other hand, turning Afghanistan into a politically or militarily active area was used to destabilize Pakistan, or Central Asia, in order to alter the status quo, whatever it was.
Regarding oil, Afghanistan again forms a bridge or a barrier. As long as Iran is regarded as a hostile country by the US, Afghanistan forms an oil transport route from Central Asia to Pakistan. As long as there is war in Afghanistan, it remains a barrier preventing the countries of the Caspian Sea from benefiting from their oil. Wars in the Caucasus have exactly the same outcome. While this is the case, only Russia and perhaps China will have access to and hegemony over the energy resources in the vast Eurasian heart-land.
I think this is the main geopolitical importance of both Afghanistan and the Caucasus. It is the question of Russia monopolizing the geopolitical heartland, first and foremost. Considering the colossal weight of geopolitics and geopolitical thought in present Russian security thinking, these implications cannot be overestimated.
Can Turkey be drawn into the conflict and, if yes, what effect will
this have on Iran, Central Asia, and NATO?
A: It seems Turkey has been drawn into it already. Or rather, Turkey has volunteered to be drawn into it. Iran and Russia, of course, share a very hostile attitude towards any expansion of Turkish influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Turkey and Pakistan, on the other hand, may finally find each other after a long period of mutual hostility. They both share a similar geopolitical importance as potential guardians of the West. They are among the most important rim land nations, to borrow a phrase from classical geopolitics. This means that they are also the most important barriers on the way of a heartland empire to aspire to sole Eurasian hegemony.
Turkey has sought to advocate its interests in Central Asia, where most of the Turkistani nations are ethnically Turkic (that is, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Uighurs, while Tajiks are Persian). At the beginning of the 1990's Turkey tried to play the ethnic and linguistic cards and the Central Asians were quite enthusiastic to embrace "the Turkish model" - that is, a Western orientation and secular state. But the Central Asian states are still dominated by communist nomenclatures with strong ties with Moscow.
economic problems and generally overly cautious foreign policy have
greatly undermined its capacity to advocate its own and Western interests
in Central Asia. Moreover, the Central Asian dictators have interpreted
the "Turkish model" in most peculiar ways, being often closer
to the Chinese model than the Turkish one.
think Turkey is again trying to prove how pro-Western it is and how
loyal it is to NATO. The West has usually been much less loyal to Turkey.
When it comes to NATO's influence in Central Eurasia, once Afghanistan
is pacified and US presence probably strengthened through Uzbekistan
(though it is one of the notoriously disloyal allies of any Western
interest, much resembling the role played by Saudi Arabia), it is time
to come to Georgia's rescue again. The West had better not be too late
in coming to the aid of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which are both under
serious Russian pressure right now. If the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline can
be completed, then it could be time for a major reform in Iran as well.
Causing trouble is sometimes a profitable business. The Taliban is, to a large extent, the creation of Pakistan. Yet, it stands to benefit greatly, economically as well as politically, from the destruction of the Taliban at the hands of the anti-terror coalition. In the process, its autonomous and contumacious intelligence services keep supplying the Taliban with food and weapons. The government denies either knowledge or responsibility but the border remains porous, to the economic benefit of many.
The self-appointed President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, said a few months ago that Pakistan was "on the road to economic recovery". This was incompatible with a simultaneous official reduction in the economic growth target of country (from 4.5% to 3.8%). But, in May, Pakistan's debt was being rescheduled with the blessings of the IMF (which contributed 200 million US dollars to the effort) and the World Bank (in the process of approving $700 million in soft loans). Yet another Paris Club rescheduling seemed imminent.
Two months later, talk was in the air about a multinationally-managed natural (non-liquefied) gas pipeline from Iran to India, through Pakistani territory. "The Economist" (July 14, 2001) estimated that "... the pipeline might yield Pakistan anything from $250m to $600m a year in transit fees".
There was cause for this optimism.
To their credit, Musharraf's skilled economic team of technocrats went where their predecessors feared to tread. They imposed a highly unpopular and much protested against sales tax on all retail trade. Musharraf threatened to imprison tax evaders and debt defaulters and backed his threat with (constitutionally dubious) arrests. The immediate result was that tax collection (by the outlandishly corrupt tax authorities) increased by c. $800 million in the 12 months to June 30, 2001 (the end of the Pakistani fiscal year) - though mostly from import inhibiting exorbitant customs and indirect taxes.
Funds, doled out by corrupt bank managers to defunct enterprises and used to roll over bad loans - were suddenly recalled. The hitherto symbolic prices of oft-wasted and oft-stolen oil, gas, and electricity were gradually increased and subsidies to state-owned utilities (such as cotton mills) decreased. This brought about a belated wave of painful restructuring and Pakistan's shambolic and patronage-based industries almost evaporated. Serious privatization is on the cards. The phone company is up for grabs and all privatization proceeds (optimists put them at $3 billion, realists at a billion dollars less) are earmarked to pay off foreign debt. The budget deficit stabilized around 5% of GDP (compared to 6.5% the year before), aided by a cut in defence spending (which reached 6% in 1997 but deteriorated ever since compared to India, whose defence spending increased by 40% in the same period). Despite growing energy costs, inflation was tamed, down to 4% (2000) from 8% (1999).
Yet, tax revenues are still less than 17% of GDP and less than 1.5% of all taxpayers bother to file tax returns of any kind. In other words, these largely cosmetic measures failed to tackle the systemic failure that passes for Pakistan's economy. Reform - both economic and political - was still sluggish and half-hearted, Pakistan's current account deficits ballooned (to $3 billion in 1999), the geopolitical neighbourhood roughened, and the world economy dived. Pakistan's imminent economic collapse looked inevitable.
Then came September 11. Weeks later, US sanctions imposed on Pakistan since 1990 and 1998 (following its nuclear tests) were waived by President Bush and he rescheduled $400 million in Pakistani debt to various agencies of the US administration. The predicted wave - which has yet to materialize - of 1.5 million Afghan refugees - was worth to Pakistan $600 million in US aid alone ($150 million of which were already disbursed).
The IMF - ostensibly an independent organization bent on economic reform and impervious to geopolitical concerns - swiftly switched from tentative approval (the second tranche of the almost twentieth IMF loan was approved in August, before the attacks) to unmitigated praise regarding Pakistan's economic (mis)management. The $200 million it so reluctantly promised in May and the $1 billion a year (for a period of 2-3 years) Pakistan was hoping to secure in August gleefully mushroomed to $2.5-3.5 billion in October. The rupee shot up in response. Debt forgiveness is discussed with Pakistan accorded a status of HIPC - Highly Indebted Poor Country - which it, otherwise, doesn't deserve, on pure macroeconomic grounds.
On September 10, each citizen of Pakistan, man, woman, and infant, owed only $300 in external government debt. This represented a mere 60% of GDP per capita (or 53% of GDP) in 1997. On that same year, Pakistan's GDP per capita was 25% higher than India's, average GDP growth in the two decades to 1997 was 5.7% p.a. (India - 5.8%), and it was rated 3.4 (India - 3.7) on the economic freedom index. After a dip in 1999 (3.1%) - growth picked up again to 4.5% , fuelled by bumper cotton and wheat crops in 2000. Pakistani citizens had as many durables as Indians. Definitely not an HIPC, Pakistan is an emerging middle-class east Asian country.
Admittedly, though, the picture is not entirely rosy.
Pakistan's external debt - mainly used to finance consumption and to plug holes in its uninterrupted string of unsustainable government budgets - was double India's (as proportion of GDP) and it had only 4% of India's foreign exchange reserves (c. $1 billion, enough for three weeks of imports). Per capita, it had 30% as much as India's foreign exchange reserves. As default loomed, growth collapse to 2.6% in 1995-2000, barely enough to sustain the increase in population. The usual IMF prescription (austerity) served only to depress consumption and deter FDI. Foreign direct investment was identical in both 2000 and 1988 - a meager $180 million (less than FDI in Kosovo's neighbour, Macedonia, with its 2 million citizens to Pakistan's 140 million).
for it, Pakistan has a (largely underground) vibrant though impromptu
private sector which fills the vacuum left by the nefarious public sector.
Many ostensibly public goods - from bus services to schools, from clinics to policing, from public toilettes to farming - are affordably provided by domestic, small time, entrepreneurs often aided by NGO's.
Yet, an economy is more than the sum of its statistics. A failed, feeble, passive-aggressive central government is largely supplanted in Pakistan by criminally-tainted regional political networks of patronage, venality, nepotism, and cronyism. More than 50% of all food aid may be squandered, "taxed" by local functionaries. Teachers pay schoolmasters a portion of salaries not to teach. Maintenance workers, sanitary squads, telephone installers, medical doctors, surgeons, professors in universities, policemen - all demand, and receive, bribes to fulfill their duties, or, more often, to turn a blind eye. Pakistan habitually trails the The UNDP's Human Development Index (which takes into account the quality of life - things like life expectancy, literacy, and gender and income inequalities). This dismal showing is after Pakistan made strides in literacy, life expectancy and decreasing infant mortality.
independence in 1947, Pakistan's GNP has quadrupled and income per capita
has doubled. But it still spends more on defence than on health and
education combined and less than most developing countries. The botched
experiments with "Islamic economy" did not help. Pakistan,
like certain belles, still survives on the kindness of others - remittances
by expatriates and other external capital flows account for 10% of GDP
and 50% of domestic investment. And the main export of this country
is its skilled manpower - despite its surprisingly diverse economy.
Less than one third of Pakistanis bother to vote - a clear and sad statement
The Afghan Trip - The Economy of Afghanistan
I. The Poppy Fields
theorists in the Balkan have long speculated on the true nature of the
Albanian uprising in Macedonia. According to them, Afghanistan was about
to flood Europe with cheap opium through the traditional Balkan routes.
The KLA - denounced by the State Department as late as 1998 as a drug
trafficking organization - was, in the current insurrection, in its
new guise as the NLA, simply establishing a lawless beachhead in Macedonia,
went the rumours. The Taliban were known to stock c. 3000 tonnes of
raw opium. The Afghanis - Arab fighters against the Soviet occupation
of Afghanistan - another 2000 tonnes (their fee for providing military
and security services to the Taliban). Even at the current, depressed,
prices, this would fetch well over 2 billion US dollars in next door
Pakistan. It also represents 5 years of total European consumption and
a (current) street level value in excess of 100 billion US dollars.
The Taliban intends to offload this quantity in the next few months
and to convert it to weapons. Destabilizing the societies of the West
is another welcome side effect.
It is ironic that the Taliban collaboration with the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP) culminated this year in the virtual eradication of all opium poppies in Afghanistan. Only 18 months ago, Afghan opium production (c. 4600 tonnes a year) accounted for 70% of world consumption (in the form of heroin). The shift (partly forced on the Taliban by an unusual climate) from poppies to cereals (that started in 1997) was thus completed successfully.
is not a monolithic entity. It is a mountainous and desert territory
(c. 251,000 sq. miles in size, less than 10% of it cultivated). Administratively
and politically, it is reminiscent of Somalia. The Taliban government
- now recognized only by Pakistan - rules the majority of the country
as a series of tribal fiefdoms. The country - ruined by a decade of
warfare between majority Pushtuns and minority Tajiks and Uzbeks in
the north - lacks all institutions, or infrastructure. In an economy
of subsistence agriculture and trading, millions (up to one third of
a population of 27 million) have been internally displaced or rendered
refugees. One third of all farms have been vacated. Close to 70% of
all villages are demolished. Unemployment - in a mostly unskilled workforce
of 11 million - may well exceed 50%. Poverty is rampant, food scarce,
population growth unsustainable. The traditional social safety net -
the family - has unraveled, leading to widespread and recurrent famine
and malnutrition. The mainstays of grazing and cattle herding have been
hampered by mines and deforestation.
The Taliban regime has been good to the economy. It restored the semblance of law and order. Agricultural production recovered to pre-Soviet invasion (1978) levels. Friendly Pakistan provided 80% of the shortfall in grain (international aid agencies provided the rest). The number of heads of livestock - the only form of savings in devastated Afghanistan - increased. Many refugees came back.
Urban workers - mostly rural labourers displaced by war - fared worse, though. As industries and services vanished and army recruitment stabilized with the Taliban's victories, salaries decreased by up to 40% while inflation picked up (to an annual average of 20-25%, as reflected in the devaluation of the currency and in the price of bread). More than 50% of the average $1 a day wage of the casual, unskilled, worker, are spent on bread alone!
But this discrepancy between a recovering agricultural sector and the dilapidated and depleted cities led to reverse migration back to the villages. In the long term it was a healthy trend.
the collapse of the central state led to the emergence of a thriving
and vibrant private sector engaged in both legal and criminal activities.
Foreign exchange dealing is conducted in thousands of small, privately
owned, exchange offices. Rich Afghani traders have invested heavily
in small scale and home industries (mainly in textiles and agri-business).
In some respects, Afghanistan is an extension of Pakistan economically and, until recently, ideologically. Food prices in Afghanistan, for instance - the only reliable indicator of inflation - closely follow Pakistan's. The Afghan currency (there are two - one issued by the Taliban and another issued by the deposed government in Faizabad) is closely linked to Pakistan's currency, though unofficially so. The regions closest to Pakistan (Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar) - where cross border trading, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, illegal immigration (to Western Europe), and white slavery are brisk - are far more prosperous than the northern, war-torn, ones (Badakhshan, Bamyan). The Taliban uses economic sanctions in its on-going war against the Northern Alliance. In 1998-9, it has blockaded the populous provinces of Parwan and Kapisa.
increasingly important trade partner is Turkmenistan. It supplies Afghanistan
with petrol, diesel, LNG, and jet fuel (thus reducing Afghani dependence
on hostile Iranian supplies). Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, its two other
neighbours, are considered by the Taliban to be enemies. This enmity
results in much higher costs of transportation which price out many
With Pakistan, Afghanistan has an agreement (the Afghan Transit Trade) which provides the latter with access to the sea. Afghanistan imports consumer goods and durables through this duty free corridor (and promptly re-exports them illegally to Pakistan). Pakistani authorities periodically react by unilaterally dropping duty free items off the ATT list. The Afghans proceed to import the banned items (many of them manufactured in Pakistan's archrival, India) via the Gulf states, Russia, Ukraine (another important drug route) and into Pakistan.
IV. The Future
The current conflict can be a blessing in disguise. Western aid and investment can help resuscitate the Soviet era mining (Copper, Zinc) operations and finally tap Afghanistan's vast reserves of oil and natural gas. With a GDP per capita of less than $800, there is room for massive growth. Yet, such bright prospects are dimmed by inter-ethnic rivalry, a moribund social system, decades of war and natural disaster (such as the draught in 1998-9), and intense meddling and manipulation by near and far. One thing is certain: opium production is likely to increase dramatically. And Western users will be treated to ever cheaper heroin and Hasish.