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Howard's End: Playing The "Great Game" Badly


By Maree Howard


“Given the ever-changing network of tribal loyalties, and indeed the survival of various warlords, the prospects of a broad spectrum government do not look good. As one commentator said, "They hate one another with an intensity that is hard to believe ... the only thing they hate more are outsiders trying to run their lives and their country; indeed, the most unifying event in the 150 years since the British in their red coats marched up the Khyber Pass was the Soviet invasion". ASIA TIMES (Nov. 16)


The West is fighting a war on the other side of the globe. To determine how soon we will extricate ourselves from that regional tar pit, we need to consider how we got into it.

The United States government in 1945 was not deeply involved in Islamic politics. It regarded the Middle East as Great Britain's legitimate sphere of interest. Large U.S. oil companies were involved peripherally, but the U.S. government was not.

The problem with Great Britain's spheres of interest is that Great Britain withdrew, 1948-53, and left the U.S. holding the bag in the Middle East. It is still holding it. Now it is in the process of picking up the bag that Britain dropped in the Indian subcontinent in 1949. What was known for two centuries as "the Great Game," the U.S. has been playing since 1979.

Step by step since 1948, the U.S. government has walked deeper into the tar pits of Islamic politics. The CIA keeps betting on the wrong side. Then marches in deeper.


A blowback is a covert spy operation that blows back producing negative results that were unforeseen.

In 1953, the CIA engineered the overthrow of Iran's Premier Mossadegh, who was perceived by the CIA as a potential ally of the Soviet Union. Specifically, as the CIA's official history begins, "By the end of 1952, it had become clear that the Mossadeq government in Iran was incapable of reaching an oil settlement with interested Western countries; . . . " (The NEW YORK TIMES published the summary of the official history produced by the CIA:

Mossadegh had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, and the British were furious, despite his offer to British Petroleum of 25% of the profits. The British government froze Iran's assets (which Carter mimicked in 1979) and imposed an international economic blockade (which Bush-Clinton-Bush have done to Iraq). As we have all yet to learn, this didn't work. Mossadegh remained in power.

The CIA's coup replaced Mossadegh with the young Shah of Iran, who ruled from what became known as the Peacock Throne. In 1954, the Iranian government granted oil rights to new partners. Among the portion set aside for foreign owners, British Petroleum got 40%, American firms got 40%, and other partners got 20%. The Shah established a pro- Western tyranny that rested on a brutal secret police force, the SAVAK. In 1979, Khomeini toppled the Shah's secular government, and he established a Shi'ite Islamic theocracy, which is still in power. The Iranian Islamic revolution was so anti-U.S. that they invaded sovereign American soil (the embassy) and kidnapped foreign policy staff.

It is worth noting that the head of the CIA in 1953 was Allan Dulles. His brother, John Foster Dulles, was the Secretary of State. Their uncle, Robert Lansing, had been Secretary of State under Wilson after Bryan quit in protest. It was Wilson and Lansing who brought America into World War I, and whose representatives at the Versailles Peace Conference were part of the process that re-drew the map of the Middle East because the Ottoman Empire had been defeated in 1918. Their grandfather had been Secretary of State under Benjamin Harrison. John Foster Dulles in private law practice had long represented major American oil firms. It was all very cozy.

Saddam Hussein, a secular Islamic political leader in a nation with a large minority of Shi'ite Muslims, began a war in 1980 against Iran. To get even with Khomeini after 1979, the U.S. government during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war sent Iraq at least half a billion dollars of American technology, despite the fact that he was a client of the Soviet Union. There were about a million casualties in that war. On the day after the truce was signed in 1988, Kuwait started to increase oil production, forcing down the price of oil. The U.S. continued to supply Iraq with technical aid, 1988-90. He invaded Kuwait eight days after the U.S Ambassador told him that the U.S. had no opinion on such an invasion. Here was another case of blowback.

Beginning in the year of Khomeini's revolution, 1979, on Iran's other border, the CIA funded an anti-Shi'ite rebellion in Afghanistan. This was designed to lure the Soviet Union into an invasion. The Carter Administration launched this policy in Afghanistan, which de-stabilized the country. Zbigniew Brzezinski has described how the Carter Administration planned this.

The Iranian revolution was one result of this policy, which cost Carter the election of 1980. Then Reagan-Bush got the credit for toppling the Soviet Union after the Soviets retreated, beaten, from Afghanistan. This was a another case of blowback -- political blowback.

There were other blowbacks from Afghanistan, with the rise of the Afghan opium trade being a big one in the mid- 1990's. The country is now dependent on the export of opium for most of its foreign exchange. This is unlikely to change.

Another blowback has just resurfaced. At least fifteen years ago, libertarian adventurer Dr. Jack Wheeler, who was living with Mujahadin fighters in Afghanistan, warned that the CIA was giving too much money to a fanatical anti-American, anti-Christian mujahadin warlord named Hekmatyar. Well, as they say about Freddy Kruger, he's back! Back from Iran.


The Northern Alliance (United Front), the U.S. military, and the United Nations think that they are about to put together a stable nation. They are as blind now as they were in 1985. The old players are back on stage -- armed and dangerous.

Kabul had barely been evacuated by the Taliban a week ago when the following report was published in Asia (Nov. 16). This report is worth reading because you won't see anything like it in your local newspaper -- at least not until this next phase of the Afghan war cannot be covered up any longer.


KARACHI - With the dramatic political and military changes in Afghanistan over the past few days it is becoming evident that a new war is beginning in which Afghanistan will be divided among Pastun and non-Pastun warlords, with the Taliban fighting a guerrilla war against the latter, and against any foreign troops that might join them.

This scenario sees the emergence of the warlords and jihadis of the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviets in the 1980s as a new and powerful force against the United States and its allies and the non-Pastun Northern Alliance.

According to well-placed sources, under an accord reached in Pakistan two weeks ago between the Taliban and the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, a fundamentalist faction of the mujahideen led by Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister in Afghanistan in pre-Taliban days, Hekmatyar's troops have taken control of most of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. "We asked the Taliban leaders to leave these places, and they left, and now many of their commanders have melted into our forces," Hizb sources claimed.

These Hizb sources said that fighters under many of their former commanders, including the famous Kashmir Khan and Mutiullah, had taken control of Kunar province in the northeast of the country, and that Hekmatyar was expected to arrive soon from exile in Iran to take command.

Hekmatyar is a hard-line Muslim responsible for destroying much of Kabul in the post-Soviet (1989-1996) civil war. He was overthrown when rival militia leader Burhanuddin Rabbini assumed power. Hekmatyar was the strongest force during the years of Soviet occupation, largely because his party was the main benefactor of the seven official mujahideen groups recognized by Pakistan and US intelligence agencies for the channeling of money and arms. . . .

The sources said that another area of Afghanistan is under the control of another faction of the Hizb-i-Islami led by Maulvi Yunus Khalis. The 80-year-old Pashtun leader had been living in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, but he is now said to be in the Jalalabad area to command forces against the Northern Alliance.

A spokesman for the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan in Pakistan, Gharat Bahir, has stated categorically that the group would not tolerate a monopoly of the Northern Alliance in Kabul, nor the return of former monarch Zahir Shah as head of state "at any cost". "Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country in which Pashtuns represent 67 percent [sic] of the population. Any government in the future should comprise a proportionate representation of all of them," he said.

He added that the Hizb-i-Islami has an Islamic relationship with the Taliban, and that if they become engaged in a struggle against US forces, the Hizb-i-Islami (Hekmatyar) will be with them.

Large numbers of the two Hizb factions melted into the Taliban when they took power in 1996, while others left for Pakistan and Iran. With this it was considered that both factions were in disarray. Even when, after the US bomb attacks on Afghanistan began and Hekmatyar extended his unconditional support to the Taliban, few believed that he had retained enough support to control the eastern areas, as he does now.

Under the Taliban's present strategy, says a Taliban source, they have vacated a number of areas, including Jalalabad, Logar, Paktia and Kunar, under agreements with local commanders and tribal leaders opposed to either the Northern Alliance or Zahir Shah. They will not launch any attacks on major cities such as Kabul, but they will defend their areas at all cost. . . .

Behind the resurgence of the Hizb-i-Islami is believed to be the hand of Pakistan, which is bent on ensuring that there is a strong representation of pro-Pakistan elements (political and military) in any future Afghanistan setup.

Hekmatyar was among the founding fathers of a campaign to set off an Islamic revolution in Afghanistan. He and Ahmed Shah Masoud, the assassinated leader of the Northern Alliance army, were engineering students at the University of Kabul when they joined with their teacher, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in a campaign to oust the monarchy of Zahir Shah and bring about an Islamic revolution. All three and their associates were influenced by the Islamic movements of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, as well as by the writings of Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan. . . .

Masoud and Hekmatyar were both projected in the Western media as charismatic leaders, but after 1986 when Hekmatyar refused to meet with then US president Ronald Reagan -- and called US policies in the Middle East tyrannical -- he was essentially blacklisted by the West.

However, he remained a favorite leader with the ISI, and continued to receive the lion's share of arms and money from them. However, when Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, a legacy of dictator General Zia ul-Haq, was removed from the ISI by the Benazir Bhutto government, the ISI's Afghan policies changed, which upset Hekmatyar, and he retired to Iran.

But he maintained his good ties with the Jamaat-i-Islami and with Gul, said to be one of the main forces behind the reemergence of the Hizb in Afghanistan.


The U.S. President wanted bin Laden, dead or alive. But bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan. The President issued an order to the Taliban to turn him over, "or else." Meanwhile, he pretended to put together the anti-Taliban coalition that had been in existence since last March, at the latest.

The President has supported the Northern Alliance, Pakistan's enemy, and then he persuaded an unelected military dictator, General Musharraf, to join the coalition. How he did this, we don't know yet -- probably with promises of who knows how many billions of dollars of American taxpayers' money.

We're all about to learn the truth of Islamic politics: nobody stays bought for long.

Getting these tribes to co-operate will tax the abilities of every United Nations peace-keeping representative. (The only things that these U.N. bureaucrats ever have taxed are their abilities.)

A loose alliance of warlords is replacing the Taliban's warlords in the cities. But the Taliban is closely associated with the majority tribal population in Afghanistan, the pashtuns.


Unity is running low. The United Front is in the process of sticking it big-time to the United States and the United Nations. Basically, it's "thanks, guys, now get out of our way." Peace-keeping U.N. bureaucrats are going to show up a day late and a dollar short. Getting Muslim warlords with guns and ammo to step aside regionally will not happen without America's military presence. The Alliance is presenting a fait accompli.


KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 16

Three days after capturing this capital from the Taliban, the Northern Alliance is increasingly assuming the functions of a new administration, to the alarm of Western powers seeking to promote a broad-based government to end the country's recent history of civil war and factional feuding.

The alliance has taken over the former Taliban radio station and has begun to broadcast its own announcements on Radio Kabul. The alliance has also taken over key offices, moving staff into the defense, interior and foreign ministries and attempting to run the government.

By seizing the levers of power, the Northern Alliance risks establishing a fait accompli. That would present problems for international diplomats as they seek to create an authority that includes all of Afghanistan's political and ethnic groups, avoiding a repetition of the civil war that killed 50,000 people in the early 1990s. Western leaders, who have struggled to put together a new government for Afghanistan, were growing increasingly frustrated. The Northern Alliance is led by many of the same men who ruled Afghanistan before the Taliban drove them from Kabul in 1996, and most countries still recognize the alliance's political leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, as the legitimate Afghan president.

But the United States, Pakistan and other supporters of the U.S.-led military campaign have said the alliance cannot simply reclaim power, but rather must become part of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government that would replace the Taliban.

The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the Northern Alliance was obstructing urgent efforts to arrange a meeting on the country's political future. He said the alliance and other Afghan parties "while directing the fighting, are very busy in Kabul." He added, "We will go only as fast as the Afghans are willing to go. Unless we have answers and expressions of readiness to meet from the Afghans, obviously we cannot meet." A planned U.N. flight to Kabul carrying Brahimi's deputy was postponed because of what a spokesman described as "difficulties in insuring the United Nations aircraft."



With the withdrawal of Taliban forces from the cities, it was tactically possible for the United States to cease bombing. High-level bombing was used against the cities to drive out the Taliban. That military goal was achieved on the day Ramadan began.

The President's decision to continue bombing has now placed the United States into the category not only of heathen invader of Muslim soil but also an unholy defiler of the Muslim calendar. Politics in the Islamic world is inescapably mixed with religion. The politics of envy is already basic to Middle Eastern politics. Now the element of an unholy war has been mixed into this witch's brew. Bin Laden repeatedly called for a jihad, and now he has it.

As a symbol of Islamic defense of all things holy, a terrorist has now achieved worldwide acceptance by masses of Muslims. This will have enormous impact on the Middle East. Bin Laden, assuming he either evades capture or dies a martyr, will be able to maintain this position unless a non-Pakistani Islamic court convicts him. By aiding the heathens to invade, Pakistan's Musharraf is unlikely to be able to restore Pakistan's former position as the Islamic nation of Islamic strength. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, which has made it into the representative nation in a warrior religion. But Musharraf has lost this position. For as long as he remains in power, Pakistan's legitimacy in the Islamic world will remain compromised.

Arafat, because he is trying to hold together the Palestinian movement without a State, has to compromise. This is what every politician must do. But Bin Laden has not compromised. A martyr's death will secure his legend in the Islamic world. By targeting him as the America's most wanted criminal, the United States has converted him into the Islamic world's most admired hero. His martyrdom or his successful disappearance will cement this positioning.

This looming diplomatic disaster will not be solved by President Bush's White House prayer session with 50 Islamic representatives, which he held last Friday evening to kick off Ramadan. Neither will the attempt to shift the issue of bombing Muslims on Islamic soil during Ramadan to the issue of the Taliban's anti-feminism.


White House Plans Ramadan Public Relations Blitz

By Patricia Wilson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fighting the image war for Muslim support, the White House has launched a public relations blitz to mark the holy month of Ramadan with prayers, a traditional dinner and anti-Taliban messages.

About 50 ambassadors from Muslim countries have been invited to pray in the East Room on Monday evening after which President Bush will join them to break the sunrise to sundown fast with the customary Iftar meal in the State Dining Room.

Officials from the State and Defense Departments and the White House will hold high profile meetings with Muslim leaders and business executives to highlight the Taliban's oppression of women in Afghanistan, as well as conference calls with women editors and publishers.


Dealing with the Islamic world is not like dealing with Congress. Muslims have a time frame longer than the next election, and memories that go back to 711, when the Arabs invaded Spain: the good old days.

Supposedly, we are closing in on bin Laden. But Al- Qaeda is larger than bin Laden. During the last two months, the United States has created an Islamic legend. It has, through its reaction to his (presumed) action, provided him with the action he wanted from the beginning. The jihad has begun, and the Islamic world sees the United States as having started it.


The United States, through the United Nations, is hoping to create a stable democratic government in Afghanistan. Why? Because it wants the oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to run through Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than through Iran.

Even without the new pipeline, the price of oil has been falling. The oil minister of Kuwait says that if the non-OPEC Russians and Mexico don't slow production, oil could go to $10 a barrel. That would create a disaster in Saudi Arabia. The promises of the Saudi ruling family to support the Saudi Arabian welfare state would be shattered.

If you want a revolution, offer a nation wealth, give people a taste of this wealth, and then take it away. In 1973, when OPEC hiked prices, Saudi Arabia had about 20 million people. It now has almost 60 million. Saudi Arabia is now a debtor nation.

Bin Laden has preached revolution in the name of the holy Koran and the holy soil of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has 10,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to keep the ruling family in power and to keep the oil spigots open. This is a replay of its policy in Iran in the 1970's.

How are we all going to get out? There seems no exit strategy.

The lure of a new oil pipeline is very great. The West wants cheaper oil. But the United States government refuses to allow private firms to drill for oil in Alaska. So, America becomes ever-more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. A new Afghan pipeline will secure the near- destruction of oil drilling inside the United States: the effect of lower oil prices. Dependency will increase.


With bin Laden, we have created another Islamic monster. This is the most formidable one we have created so far because of his willingness to become a martyr. Dead or alive, he will continue to inspire Islamic terrorists.

The United States will no doubt get a time of domestic safety. Things will return to what appears to be normal. It will take time for Islamic terrorists to reconnoiter. But things will never be the same as they were before September 11. A very large genie is out of the bottle. The U.S. is hated more than ever by Islamic common people. One of their own has inflicted great damage on it. If he is killled on Islamic soil during Ramadan, they will not forget. They will seek revenge.

Year by year, the prices of weapons of mass destruction keeps getting lower.

America may walk away from Afghanistan once again, as it did after 1990. But even if it does, it will not escape the ghost of bin Laden -- whether he is deceased or a phantom presence. This ghost will be the legacy of the ghost of Woodrow Wilson. U.S. foreign policy experts are still trying to establish Wilson's vision of a New World Order. (If you doubt this, read Robert S. McNamara's new book, WILSON'S GHOST.) Bin Laden's ghost will inspire Muslims to keep this NWO from happening.

I would like to avoid both of these ghosts. I fear that the world will not avoid either.


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