Asia-Pacific, Headlines

AFGHANISTAN: NATO Supporting Insurgents? Not Exactly

KABUL, Oct 29 2009 (IPS) - The U.S. and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) have spent billions of dollars, sacrificed hundreds of lives and worked for years to fight insurgents and foster democracy in Afghanistan.

Though it now appears that the western appetite for continuing this endeavor may be waning, some – in the U.S. at least – would like to increase their country’s commitment to Afghanistan, by increasing the U.S. force size by as many as 40,000 more soldiers.

Despite this U.S. history of sacrifice for Afghanistan, there are some – perhaps many -here who are extremely mistrustful of the coalition’s motives, and even go so far as to accuse the U.S. and its allies of materially supporting Taliban and other insurgent groups.

Two weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai claimed that insurgents were using helicopters to insert fighters into northern Afghanistan and Noor-Ul-Haq Ollumi, head of the Afghan House’s National Security Committee, seconded the statement. The insinuation was that because insurgents are thought to not have helicopters, they must have been getting them from someone whom does.

U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry denied that such airborne insertions were taking place, saying that since U.S. soldiers were actively trying to secure Afghanistan, helping insurgents would be counterproductive.

Last week, a series of stories in The London Times alleged that the Italian intelligence service paid off insurgents in Sarobi district, near Kabul, and Herat province in western Afghanistan, not to attack their soldiers. The Times reported that Italian intelligence service paid “tens of thousands of dollars to Taliban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet.”

An anonymous NATO commander was quoted in that story, saying, “It was payments of tens of thousands of dollars regularly to individual insurgent commanders. It was to stop Italian casualties that would cause political difficulties at home.” Both the Italian and Afghan governments strenuously deny the allegations, though a Taliban commander as well as two Afghan military officials, in a follow up story by The Times, corroborated the account.

Given the rift created between NATO countries over the story, the possibility that this is a Taliban intelligence operation should not be disregarded either.

Hervé Morin, the French defense minister, said the idea that an army might pay Taliban insurgents not to attack them would breach established military doctrine. “I have no reason to question the word of the Italian Government,” Morin says.

Canada has also been forced to deny similar reports. A foreign wire service quoted an Afghan Army source as saying that Canadian soldiers in Kandahar province had made payments to insurgents.

“With the number of casualties we’ve been getting, had we paid these guys they wouldn’t be holding up their end of the bargain,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Lemay, a spokesman with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command.

Nevertheless, revelations such as these do not exactly endear the NATO coalition to the Afghan people. Double-dealing with insurgents while touting the success of the Italian military – as The Times also describes – strikes people as dishonest because that’s exactly what it is.

Further, Afghans find it hard to believe that the U.S. and NATO cannot defeat insurgents despite having impressive arsenals, air-power, satellite technology and endless resources with which to fight. Rather than beating the insurgents and securing Afghanistan, the coalition has withdrawn from key areas such as eastern Nuristan, leaving them in the hands of insurgents, who will soon be reinforced by others from across the nearby Pakistan border.

The U.S. also knows very well – as does everybody – that Pakistan is a crucial and sizable haven for Afghan insurgents, yet the U.S. rewards Pakistan by handing them a multi-billion dollar aid package.

And though the U.S. talks the talk of democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, they have supported many governments in Pakistan that have subverted that country’s rule of law and imprisoned journalists there.

To Afghans who cannot square the circle of these contradictions, the allegations and intimations, such as those made by President Karzai and The Times, are viewed at face value: A coalition country was assisting the insurgency, therefore the coalition has sympathies with the insurgents and does not want the best for Afghanistan. Any positive contributions that the coalition has made to this country are then viewed skeptically.

This puts NATO countries in the difficult position of having to be even better than the ideals they espouse and comport themselves with the utmost adherence to fair-play, transparency and respect for Afghan cultural traditions.

Afghan officials also have a role in this. It is not enough for them to merely finger-point at coalition missteps, but rather they must demonstrate that they have the resolve to deal firmly with governments in Islamabad and Tehran and insurgents here at home, while establishing a skilled, transparent and corruption-free government.

Until these challenges can be met, every half-baked theory – from the coalition helping insurgents, to Karzai conspiring with foreign governments against the Afghan people – will be met with nods of belief, rather than the sceptical derision they deserve.

*IPS and Killid, an independent Afghan group, are partners since 2004.

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