Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Taliban Phenomenon - 20

S Turkman wrote:

Qyoting anything that is not true is same as telling a lie. Now Aamir is quoting another false propaganda news item without confirming any facts. The article "War Is Peace" by Arundhati Roy, October 18, 2001 is nothing.


Dear Sir,

For you kind perusal,


The US and the Taliban: a done deal By Pierre Abramovici

The Taliban invented

But first stability had to be restored to Afghanistan. During the civil war fighting in 1995 the first substantial numbers of Taliban appeared, "invented" by the Pakistani ISI and perhaps funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia. Unocal and its Saudi partner Delta Oil may have even played a major role in buying off local commanders. Security in Afghanistan was apparently their sole purpose.

On 26 September 1996 the Taliban took Kabul. Michael Bearden, a CIA representative in Afghanistan during the war against the USSR and currently the CIA’s unofficial spokesman, recalls how US viewed the situation at the time: the Taliban were not considered the worst: they were young and hot-headed, but that was better than civil war. They controlled all the territory between Pakistan and Turkmenistan’s gas fields, which might be good as it would be possible to build a pipeline across Afghanistan and supply gas and energy to the new market. Everyone was happy (5).

Unocal’s vice-president, Chris Taggart, barely bothered to pretend Unocal was not backing the Taliban; he described their advance as a positive development. Claiming that Taliban seizure of power was likely to help the gas pipeline project, he even envisaged US recognition of the Taliban (6). He was wrong, but no matter: this was the honeymoon between the US and the "theology students". Anything goes where oil and gas are involved. In fact, in November 1997 Unocal invited a Taliban delegation to the US and, in early December, the company opened a training centre at the University of Omaha, Nebraska, to instruct 137 Afghans in pipeline construction technology.

The political and military situation showed no improvement, leading some in Washington to consider support for the Taliban and the oil pipeline a political mistake. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott warned in 1997 that the region could become a centre for terrorists, a source of political and religious extremism and a theatre of war (7). An important new factor was influencing Afghanistan’s internal affairs and external relations: Osama bin Laden had sought refuge in Afghanistan after leaving Saudi Arabia. On 22 February 1998, with the support of the Taliban, he launched al-Qaida, a radical international Islamist movement, from Afghanistan. He also issued a fatwa authorising attacks on US interests and nationals.

During a visit to Kabul on 16 April 1998, Bill Richardson, the US representative to the UN, raised the question of Bin Laden with the Taliban. They played down the problem. Tom Simons, ambassador to Pakistan, said that the Taliban assured him that Bin Laden did not have the religious authority to issue a fatwa. But on 8 August 1998 bombs destroyed the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans. The US responded by launching 70 cruise missiles against Afghanistan and strikes on Sudan. Bin Laden became US public enemy number one, although it was more than six months before an international arrest warrant was issued. Having failed to capture Bin Laden, the US hoped to negotiate with the Taliban to have him expelled from Afghanistan. But the attacks did collateral damage: Unocal announced that it was abandoning the Afghan gas pipeline.

In 1997 the Six plus Two Group was set up, made up of Afghanistan’s six neighbours (Iran, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) with Russia and the US. The group acts under the auspices of the UN and its special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi , a very experienced Algerian diplomat who took the post in July 1998. After the military and political failure of its earlier missions, the UN has again become crucial in the region.

There were several diplomatic initiatives in the region in 1998, then on 12 March 1999, following Iran, the US moved closer to Russia on Afghanistan. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth went to Moscow. Very little divided the Russians and the Americans, including the role they envisaged for Teheran. According to Inderfurth, Iran as Afghanistan’s neighbour could help end conflict. Iran could play a positive role and the Six plus Two Group could provide a structure. Inderfurth saw the irony: Afghanistan was an area where Russians and Americans could work together to end a war in which the Russians were involved, openly supporting the Northern Alliance.

A new diplomatic game

The first signs of current concerns also appeared in 1998. They included initiatives by factions close to supporters of former King Zahir Shah, who was ousted in 1973 and lives in exile in Rome. In a report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed "the Loya Jirgah (grand assembly) as an informal, time-honoured method of settling disputes, advocated by leaders of non-warring Afghan factions." He suggested encouraging "the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan to maintain useful contacts with them" (8). Other initiatives were taken around the UN, including a meeting of 21 countries influential in Afghanistan (9).

The new diplomatic game began with the full meeting of the Six plus Two Group on 19 July 1999 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), the first time representatives of the Taliban and members of the Northern Alliance were to sit at the same table. The Taliban, in control of 90% of Afghan territory, refused to allow the Northern Alliance to be represented. As expected, the meeting was a failure, but from then the Group provided the channel for most diplomatic initiatives.

Washington refused to abandon hope that the Taliban would surrender Bin Laden, and continued to maintain contacts and encourage processes directed to a political solution. With US blessing, a meeting to promote the Loya Jirgah was arranged by Zahir Shah and held in Rome, 22-25November 1999. The UN Security Council had adopted a resolution calling upon the Taliban to extradite Bin Laden, and imposing limited sanctions.

On 18 January 2000 Spanish diplomat Francesc Vendrell replaced Lakdhar Brahimi, who, dispirited by the lack of progress, had resigned. Two days later, Karl Inderfurth went to Islamabad to meet Pakistan’s new leader, General Pervez Musharraf. He also met two senior Taliban representatives and demanded: "Give us Bin Laden". In return, he offered to regularise relations between Kabul and the world.

Although Washington denied it, the Taliban, internationally condemned for policies towards women, attitudes to human rights and protection of Bin Laden, were still in talks with the US. On 27 November the Taliban deputy minister of foreign affairs, Abdur Rahman Zahid, gave a lecture at the Washington Middle East Institute, calling for political recognition of the Taliban regime and intimating that the Bin Laden affair could then be settled (10).

On 30 September 2000, on an Iranian initiative, there were fresh negotiations in Cyprus. Among those present were supporters of the former "butcher of Kabul", Islamic extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had enjoyed the backing of the US and Saudi Arabia against the USSR, but was now in exile in Iran. The Northern Alliance established contacts with the pro-Zahir Shah Rome delegates. On 6 April 2001 those contacts resulted in an initial joint meeting between the Rome process, in favour of a Loya Jirgah under the auspices of the former King, and the Cyprus process sponsored by the Iranians. Though disagreeing with the pro-Iranian element, the other factions agreed to further meetings. The discussions continued.

On 3 November 2000 Vendrell had announced that the Taliban and the Northern Alliance had jointly considered a draft peace plan under the auspices of the Six plus Two Group (11). That coincided with a hardening of attitude within the Taliban as a result of international sanctions. In the spring, tension erupted in the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas. Meanwhile the Six plus Two Group had begun a new, and final, stage — so the Americans thought. A sub-group was secretly set up, supposed to be more effective, of diplomats or specialists with the most up-to-date experience of the region. The delegates’ foreign ministries secretly managed its work. Meetings were held in Berlin, with only the US, Russia, Iran and Pakistan present.

The delegates included Robert Oakley, former US ambassador and Unocal lobbyist; Naiz Naik, former foreign minister of Pakistan; Tom Simons, former US ambassador and the most recent official negotiator with the Taliiban; a former Russian special envoy to Afghanistan, Nikolai Kozyrev, and Saeed Rajai Khorassani, formerly the Iranian representative to the UN.

Winning the jackpot

At the first meetings in November 2000 and March 2001, to prepare for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, the participants discussed a political undertaking to give the Taliban a way out. According to Naiz Naik, the group wanted to respond to what the Taliban would say about their international approach, a broad-based government and human rights. Naik said the idea was that "we would then try to covey to them that if they did certain things, then, gradually, they could win the jackpot — get something in return from the international community".

According to the Pakistanis present at the meeting, if the Taliban agreed to review human rights issues within two or three years and accept a transitional government with the Northern Alliance, they would gain massive (financial and technical) international aid to rebuild the country. According to Naik, the objective was to restore peace and stability, and secure the pipeline. It might, he said, be possible to persuade the Taliban that once a broader-based government was in place and the oil pipeline under way, there would be billions of dollars in commission, and the Taliban would have their own resources — the "jackpot" indeed.

The US was still determined to get hold of Bin Laden. According to Tom Simons, if the Taliban surrendered him or entered into serious negotiations, the US would be ready to embark on a major reconstruction project. In Washington, the State Department was resolute. The administration had changed and the oil industry was over-represented within government, starting with President George Bush. The task of negotiating with the Taliban was given to Christina Rocca, the new assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, who knew about Afghanistan, a country she had dealt with between 1982 and 1987, when she worked for the CIA.

On 12 February the US ambassador to the UN gave an assurance that, at the request of Vendrell, the US would develop a continuing dialogue on humanitarian bases with the Taliban (12). The US believed so firmly in the future of the negotiations that the State Department blocked the FBI investigation into the possible involvement of Bin Laden and his Taliban accomplices in the attack on the USS Cole, in Aden (Yemen) in October 2000. They had John O’Neill, the FBI’s "Mr Bin Laden", expelled from Yemen to prevent him investigating further (13).

The third meeting was to take place, again in Berlin, between 17 and 21 July, in the presence of the Taliban representative, foreign minister Mullah Mutawkil, and the representative of the Northern Alliance, foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. In early July, a secret meeting had been held between 21 countries influential in Afghanistan, at Weston Park in the UK. A compromise solution based on the former king was approved, particularly by the Northern Alliance. Naiz Naik explained that it was necessary to tell the Taliban that if they refused to cooperate, the Zahir Shah option would be available. From that point, diplomacy saw Zahir Shah as a possible replacement for the Taliban.

Unfortunately, the plan collapsed. The Taliban first rejected it because of the involvement of Vendrell: he represented the UN, responsible for the international sanctions. And an attempt was being made to get them to talk to parties to whom they objected. According to Naik, at this point Tom Simons referred to an open-ended military option against Afghanistan from bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The locations seemed plausible, as these were countries known to have military cooperation agreements with the US. But was a specific threat made?

Ambassador Simons dismisses this. He was not there in an official capacity and had no authority to issue threats (but would the Taliban have turned up to meet unofficial delegates with no contact with the State Department?) I He merely stated that the US was looking at evidence relating to the USS Cole, pointing out that if the US established that Bin Laden was behind it, there would be military action. It is worth noting that on 5 July, in the belief that the Taliban were taking part in the negotiations, the US was specifically not looking for evidence in relation to the attack on the USS Cole.

The Pakistani delegation reported what had been said to the ministry and the secret services. They, no doubt, informed the Taliban. In late July, Islamabad and Pakistani military circles were buzzing with rumours of war. According to an unofficial source at the French foreign ministry, it is possible that, by exaggerating what Simons had said, the Pakistani secret services were trying to pressure the Taliban to expel Bin Laden. On one last occasion, on 29 July, Christina Rocca held unsuccessful discussions with the Taliban ambassador in Pakistan. The negotiations were at an end. The FBI began to look for evidence against Bin Laden.

A possibility haunts people. What if, convinced the US was going to war, Bin Laden fired the first shot? On 11 September the towers of the World Trade Centre were destroyed by men activated no earlier than mid-August. Three days later, Unocal announced that the suspended proposal for a gas pipeline would remain on ice and it would refuse to negotiate with the Taliban, in the expectation that the Kabul regime would fall. A month later, US bombing began. The Tajiks and Uzbeks "agreed" to provide military facilities to US forces. To combat terrorism, Russia "spontaneously" promised all the assistance necessary to the US, and the anti-Taliban factions finally reached an agreement. All this happened in two months.

On 27 November 2001 US energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, and a team from the Energy Department, went to Novosibirsk, in Russia, to facilitate the completion and opening of the oil pipeline of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) — a link costing eight companies, including Chevron, Texaco and Exxonmobil, $2.5bn. It was, according to Abraham, a fresh start for relations between Russia and the US (14) — and a further foothold for the US in exploiting the vast oil resources of the former Soviet Union.

Hamid Karzai was appointed head of the Afghan interim government agreed at the Bonn meetings. It then emerged that during the negotiations over the Afghan oil pipeline, Karzai had been a consultant for Unocal. Brzezinski must be very amused.

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