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Vol. 74/No. 5      February 8, 2010

Imperialists’ war plan:
bribe, divide Taliban
(front page)
Washington is preparing a program of economic and political incentives to encourage desertion in the ranks of the Taliban in Afghanistan and eventually draw its leadership into negotiations. The move is becoming a prominent part of U.S. war strategy, which also involves the arrival of 30,000 troops designed to wrest control of a larger swath of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

At the same time, a major impediment to the imperialists’ war effort remains the sanctuary its major Taliban adversaries enjoy in Pakistan, where Washington recently stepped up its campaign of drone strikes to an unprecedented pace.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai is expected to present a plan to begin a “reconciliation” process with the Taliban at an international conference on Afghanistan in London January 28. The office of Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, announced the plan January 22.

The course assumes a degree of integration of the Taliban into the Afghan government at some point. According to Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of NATO intelligence in Afghanistan, the Taliban have appointed their own “shadow governors” in 33 out of 34 Afghan provinces who act to support the insurgency and disrupt government functioning at a local level.

The incentives package is initially directed at rank-and-file Taliban combatants and lower-level commanders, U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates explained at a January 22 press conference in Pakistan. This, Gates said, is intended to help shift the relationship of forces in Washington’s favor and eventually force the Taliban leadership to accept its terms for an end to the war.

At the same time, fighting has intensified over the last year, with mounting casualties on both sides and 2,412 civilian deaths, a record in the war. The United Nations attributed nearly 70 percent of the civilian deaths to the Taliban and said those caused by U.S.-led forces declined from 2008.

Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, predicted another bloody year for 2010 in an interview with the Times of London January 25. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Financial Times January 25 that any moves to reduce the currently expanding U.S. force, which may begin sometime after July 2011, would be “largely over-matched by increases in Afghan security capability.”

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, an international forum where Washington, its imperialist allies, and the Afghan government hash out plans for Afghanistan, announced January 21 its decision to increase the combined Afghan police and military forces—both afflicted with Taliban infiltration and high rates of desertion—from 190,000 to 305,000 over the next two years.

Off the battlefield, both sides are engaged in a contest to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan population. McChrystal recently said he intends to issue a directive to cut back on frequent night raids of Afghan villages, which have sparked protests over civilian casualties and other transgressions. About 500 protesters chanted slogans against the U.S. and Afghan governments January 21 following a night raid they say killed four civilians, including a 13-year-old boy.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, central leader of the Afghan Taliban and former head of the Afghan government, issued a new code of conduct last spring, according to the New York Times. His directive bans suicide bombings aimed at civilians, burning down schools, and disfigurement. It outlines rules for treatment of prisoners and executions and urges Taliban to live in harmony with local populations. According to Afghans quoted in the Times, in some areas the Taliban have changed their behavior in line with the new code.

Meanwhile, Washington has carried out an unprecedented barrage of aerial drone strikes in Pakistan—11 in a period of 20 days—following a suicide attack against a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, December 30 that killed seven U.S. agents.  
Washington’s quandary in Pakistan
Washington’s war effort is complicated by the fact that the Pakistani government has shown no inclination to oppose the main Taliban factions fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, in particular the Afghan Taliban headed by Mullah Omar and allied forces led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, both of which operate from bases in Pakistan. Close alliances with these forces have in the past served as Islamabad’s main source of leverage in its contest with the Indian government over influence in Afghanistan.

In his January 21-22 visit to Pakistan, Gates praised the Pakistani offensive operations against the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. He announced Washington would provide Islamabad with unarmed Shadow drones and said past U.S. policy in the region is responsible for a “trust deficit” between the two countries. At the same time he stressed Washington’s desire that Islamabad expand its war against other Taliban and armed Islamist groups. “There is no such thing as some of those extremist groups being good and some of those extremist groups being bad,” he said.

Shortly after his arrival however, the main spokesman for the Pakistan Army, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, announced there would be no further military operations against Taliban groups for at least the next year.  
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