“The Understandable National Allergy to Foreign Occupation.”

Michael Skinner 12 March 2012

The story that a lone “rogue” American soldier murdered sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women, dominates headlines around the world.

Some news sources report a group of laughing and apparently drunken American soldiers were the murderers

Most news reports agree the murderer(s) set fire to eleven of the bodies including four girls younger than six.

Few if any journalists, however, observe that burning the bodies of most of the massacre victims compounds the humiliation of Afghans, because Moslems consider burning a body is harama – it’s a sacrilegious desecration.

Blood stains and charred remains inside a home where US soldier murdered Afghans. Photo: Allauddin Khan / AP

New York Times journalist David Sanger predicts this horrific massacre might embolden Taliban leaders to end peace negotiations.

After all, Sanger argues the Taliban have few reasons to negotiate with an occupying force they know is leaving in 2014 anyway. He suggests that after every atrocity committed by the occupiers, the Taliban increase their capacity to “appeal to the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation”.

The fact that a New York Times reporter writes a phrase like “the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation” is itself remarkable. Military oversight of media is so complete that the words “invasion” and “occupation” are verboten for any journalist who hopes to maintain relationships with official sources. “International intervention” is the euphemism military spin-doctors invented to describe the battlefront of the Global War on/of Terror in Afghanistan.

The “national allergy to foreign occupation” is hardly surprising considering Afghan history and the past decade plus of occupation. After listening to Afghans during my visits to Afghanistan, I think it’s a good bet that many are equally allergic to the Taliban, the Karzai government, and the foreign occupation forces.

What is lacking, however, are viable alternatives to both the Talban and Karzai regimes. While resistance organisations including Maoists and women’s groups exist, these organisations lack sufficient resources and influence to counter the power of either the Western backed Karzai regime or the Taliban.

Is the massacre the product of an insane murderer, or systemic insanity?

Many journalists echo the ideas New York Times journalist William Yardley wrote yesterday. Yardley acknowledges that individuals within the US military have committed war crimes throughout the occupation. But he contends individual war criminals are merely a few bad apples.

Among the worst of the bad apples is Sgt Calvin Gibbs, the ringleader of a “rogue” Army unit. In November, the US Army convicted Gibbs of murder and other crimes.

The evidence military prosecutors used to convict Gibbs showed that he and a dozen members of the unit he led, staged combat situations so they could kill Afghan civilians for sport. Some of the soldiers photographed grisly trophy pictures using the murder victims as props. They also removed victims’ body parts to keep as souvenirs.

The horrific murders that Gibbs and the men of his unit committed, and the latest massacre, as well as a video of US soldiers urinating on dead Afghans, and the recent burning of Qur’ans are the most notorious stories of late.

Nonetheless, officially sanctioned attacks cause “collateral damage” that kills and maims civilians, and destroys homes, farms, other property, and the means for Afghans to make their livelihood. No one officially recorded Afghan civilian deaths before 2007; almost 12,000 civilians were killed between 2007 and the end of 2011.

Afghans are displaced from their homes at an average of 400 people per day. 730,000 Afghans have been internally displaced, since 2006, and foreign forces military offensives caused most of the displacements.

Night-raids of private homes, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and torture of detainees are ongoing problems.

As justifiably angry Afghans are with the supposed bad apples, it is not merely a few bad apples who turned Afghans against the foreign occupation.

The systemically induced insanity of war.

Yardley’s article, among many other commentaries, suggests the few bad apples in the military may be victims of battle-induced traumatic stress. There might be a grain of truth to this assessment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illness is a growing problem for military personnel. Substance abuse as well as domestic abuse and other social problems are on the rise among military personnel and their families.

One report claims an American veteran attempts suicide every 80 minutes, a current service member attempts suicide every 36 hours, and successful suicides among serving US personnel have increased from 160 per year in 2001 to 309 in 2009. [see the full report here]

The psychological stress military personnel suffer during their tours of duty is an indisputable fact.

However, few writers acknowledge the never-ending stress suffered by Afghans who have lived in an incredibly stressful state of perpetual war, since 1978.[i]

Numerous journalists and commentators criticize the lack of sufficient PTSD treatment for military veterans here in Canada and elsewhere. But no one wants to imagine an entire nation of Afghans traumatised by war for generations. Is it possible to treat an entire nation for PTSD? Can we even call it PTSD when what we are seeing is ongoing traumatic stress disorder with no foreseeable end to the trauma?

Misplaced faith in the mythology of the “Good War”

The Sunday morning killing spree began in Belanday a village in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province.

Belanday is one of several communities Canadian Forces Major-General Jon Vance chose, in 2009, to serve as a so-called “model village”. Vance hoped that if he could win the hearts and minds of the residents in the “model villages”, he could spread this successful model throughout Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, what is most likely to spread from Belanday is more bloody warfare

Postmedia News journalist Matthew Fisher quotes Canadian Forces Maj-Gen Vance’s reaction to the massacre in Belanday:

If it happened there, this will be shocking to the people of Belanday, as you can imagine, but I think that they can recover. One bad actor cannot spoil the reputation of the whole. I believe that to be true.

It may be wishful thinking on the part of the general to hope Afghans will buy the “one bad actor” story, but Jon Vance seems regularly prone to wishful thinking.

The one time I met the general was at York University during one of Vance’s cross-Canada propaganda tours promoted by the Canadian Forces. To introduce his talk, to a small group of academics, Vance played an overly long feel-good video composed primarily of photographs depicting smiling Afghan children posed with Canadian soldiers. The video was set to the music of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me”.

I told the general it was ironic he chose “Have a Little Faith in Me” as the soundtrack for his video. Those of us in his audience were sceptical academics who ask questions to which we seek answers based on evidence not faith. I asked why he thought the knowledgeable academics present, some of who had visited Afghanistan, should “have a little faith” in his fanciful story that all is well in Afghanistan and with Canada’s participation in the Global War on/of Terror. I asked the general whether he had any hard evidence to back his appeal for faith in his mission. The general appeared dumbfounded that anyone would question his authority and his appeal to faith. He was unable to back his appeal with significant evidence.

A concrete idea of what Major-General Vance believes is found in his writing.

In 2005, Vance wrote a chapter in the military textbook, The Operational Art: Context and Concepts. There he argues Canadian foreign policy is “more concerned with the political advantages of being seen to participate” in US-led missions, and that Canadian strategy centres upon “protecting Canadian interests rather than pursuing them.” In other words, according to Vance, the Canadian Forces purse Canada’s interests by supporting the pursuit of whatever interests American forces pursue.

Vance’s idea that Canada is subordinated to the US as it was subordinated to the UK in previous centuries, is highly problematic; indeed, his is a mythical account of the how Canadian Forces support Canadian foreign policy. This idea leads to the excuse that Canada must follow the US into its wars.

The reality is that Canada is a subdominant imperial state. The US is undeniably the dominant state in global affairs often acting as a bully to get its way. Canada plays a supporting subdominant role to the dominant bully not because Canadian decision-makers have no other choices, but instead because the US and Canada pursue mutual interests that revolve around globally expanding capitalist social relations and maintaining America’s “global primacy” .

Unfortunately, I have insufficient time or space to analyse Vance’s mythology in detail here. For counterarguments see Yves Engler’s, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt (with a foreword by Noam Chomsky), Todd Gordon’s, Imperialist Canada, and the chapters of various authors including myself collected by editors Greg Albo and Jerome Klassen in their upcoming book, Empire’s Ally: Canadian Foreign Policy and the War in Afghanistan.

It suffices to state the idea that the battlefront of the Global War on/of Terror in Afghanistan is somehow a better or more just war than the other battlefronts in Iraq and elsewhere is a myth.

I expect “the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation” in Afghanistan might soon become an epidemic.


[i] Since 1978, four periods of war blend into one:

1) The anti-socialist jihad, when American backed anti-socialist mujahedeen fought Soviet backed government forces, which, after Christmas Eve 1979, were directly supported by Soviet occupation forces (1978-1992).

2) The internecine first civil war, when after one mujahedeen force seized Kabul to institute the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, rival mujahedeen factions fight one another and the governing forces (1992-1996).

3) The second civil war is fought, between the Taliban, which emerged in 1994 and by 1996 governed most of Afghanistan, and several of the rival mujahedeen factions and the government, which during the fall of Kabul in 1996, joined forces to form the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan aka the Northern Alliance to govern parts of Northern Afghanistan (1996-2001).

4) The Global War on/of Terror, which began when US-UK led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces invade Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. After the Bonn Agreement of 20 December 2001, the occupation is administered by the combat forces of the US led OEF coalition and a UN led International Security Force (ISAF) initially conceived as a “complex peace operations” force. On 11 August 2003, NATO forces assumed command of ISAF. The Obama administration placed both the OEF and ISAF forces under the command of one American general, in 2009, eliminating any differences that might have still existed between the OEF and ISAF forces.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Read Michael Skinner’s academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

[I wrote this article on 21 September 2011. I thought I should repost it here as background to my previous post regarding the Afghan peace negotiations.]

What kind of Peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them?

Michael Skinner 21 September 2011

Yesterday, 20 September 2011 was the tenth anniversary of George Bush’s declaration of a Global War on Terror. Whether the symbolism was intentional or not, an as yet unidentified assassin killed the leader of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rabbani’s latest title and the news published in Western media, since his assassination, might lead us to believe he was a benign perhaps even pacific elder statesman overseeing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Afghan and international human rights observers allege Rabbani among many other warlords committed just about every crime defined by the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law including abductions, prisoner abuse, mutilation and torture, forced labour, disappearances, pillage and looting, as well as rape and sexual violence.

Burhanuddin Rabbani

Nevertheless, Rabbani, along with all the alleged criminals holding key positions in both the current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the opposing Taliban organisations were granted legal impunity in 2010.

During the anti-socialist jihad of the 1980s, which was financed by the US government, Rabbani led a Tajik faction of mujaheddin. His faction was the first to invade Kabul in 1992 to topple the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led government.

The former PDPA government – best described as brutal and paranoid – had, nonetheless, legislated numerous progressive initiatives to improve the plight of Afghan women in particular. In fact, it was legislation to institute the universal education of boys and girls that sparked the anti-socialist jihad that began March 1979, which the administration of US President Jimmy Carter decided to fund a few months later.

When Rabbani seized power from the PDPA in 1992, he immediately instituted the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The consequences were catastrophic for all Afghans, but most notably for Afghan women. American propaganda would have us believe the repression of women’s rights began when the Taliban seized power from Rabbani in 1996. Rabbani had, however, already done most of the dirty work during his four years in power.

From 1992 to 1996, Rabbani clung to power in Kabul, while rival mujaheddin factions bombarded the city with artillery and rocket fire. During these four years, 80 percent of Kabul was destroyed and all the warring parties committed some of the most egregious war crimes.

The Rabbani faction holding Kabul and the four rival factions besieging the city achieved no more than a bloody stalemate after four years of brutal warfare. The Taliban were able to seize the advantage and war-weary Afghans grudgingly accepted the new regime, which had at least imposed some order upon the chaos of civil war.

Rabbani meanwhile fled to northern Afghanistan, where he cobbled together an alliance with some of his former mujaheddin warlord rivals. They called their alliance the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. Western media sanitised the United Islamic Front to rename it the Northern Alliance.

Rabbani’s United Islamic Front/Northern Alliance, of course became famous as the frontline forces that seized power in Kabul, during the Operation Enduring Freedom invasion of Afghanistan. Rabbani then handed power to the transitional national government headed by Hamid Karzai.

Warlord rather than peacemaker is thus the accurate description for Berhanuddin Rabbani.

[For a detailed history of the events leading to 9/11 read: Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001; and Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.]

Building peace in Afghanistan?

Peace scholars don’t regard every peace as equal. They describe two different kinds of peace: negative peace, which is a condition merely without warfare; and positive peace, which researchers Tasier Ali and Bob Matthews describe as “a condition of stable and widening shared values”.

Ali and Matthews observe peacebuilding can be a top-down process driven by governments. Or peacebuilding can be a bottom-up process resulting from the “attitudes and socio-economic circumstances of ordinary people”. The actions undertaken by groups, organizations, and smaller communities that compose a society drive this bottom-up process.

In a few cases in recent decades, the negotiation of the conditions of peace leading to post-conflict peacebuilding resulted from a combination of both top-down and bottom-up processes. In most cases, however, it is the men-with-guns who determine the conditions of peace in an exclusively top-down process. The current peace negotiations in Afghanistan, which may have been irretrievably derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, conform to the model of men-with-guns dictating the conditions of peace.

Negative peace is preferable to warfare, but only if it facilitates the conditions for building positive peace. However, the “shared values” of the warlords on all sides who were, until yesterday, negotiating peace in Afghanistan are a great cause of concern for many Afghans and international human rights activists.

The Taliban are radical Islamists intent on isolating Afghanistan from the rest of the world. The former United Islamic Front warlords who dominate the Karzai government are radical Islamists intent on profiting from their relationship to Western states and corporations. The negative peace currently under negotiation between these two sides is not likely to establish stable and widening shared values to liberate most Afghans.

Many people both inside and outside Afghanistan believed the rhetoric of the North American and European leaders who backed the dual Operation Enduring Freedom and International Security Assistance Force military interventions in Afghanistan. Many people believed the goal of the invaders was to liberate Afghans and especially Afghan women.

However, to understand the current geopolitical and economic context, it is instructive to examine the long history of Western intervention in Afghanistan.

In 1840, an officer of the British East India Company wrote in the company’s official report regarding its invasion of Afghanistan in 1838-1839: “I trust, under Divine Providence, the event may not only cause the regeneration of Affghanistan (sic); but may, in future times, be attended with great commercial advantages to Great Britain”.

The wealthiest and most powerful states of the world are still pursuing “great commercial advantages”. Today, these advantages include: re-opening a New Silk Road as a modern network of transportation, communications, and energy transmission infrastructures to connect China to Europe and India to Russia; exploiting Afghanistan’s great wealth of strategic and commercially important mining resources; and opening new markets, which among many potentially profitable markets include equipping, training, and maintaining the Afghan army, air force, and security services.

Who gets to participate in the negotiation of peace in Afghanistan will determine how these “great commercial advantages” are distributed. Currently, the men-with-guns are the ones divvying up Afghanistan’s wealth in a top-down process that includes few Afghans. This process may have been fatally derailed by Rabbani’s assassination, but it was seriously flawed even before his death.

What kind of peace would Afghans choose if the conditions were not chosen for them? That’s not for anyone else to say, but I suspect they would negotiate a more equitable deal for themselves than if the peace process is left only to the men-with-guns.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can read Michael Skinner’s blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/ and academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Negotiating Peace or Pacification for Afghans?

Western news media report the tempo of Afghan peace talks, which have been on and off since at least 2009, accelerated in recent weeks.

Less reported in Western media and largely ignored in Canada, are trilateral negotiations recently begun between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Outsiders can only speculate about the issues on the negotiating tables in both sets of secret negotiations.

Nonetheless, if we look at the facts of the past decade of the Global War on/of Terror within the context of the past centuries of imperial warfare we have a good idea of what negotiators are likely discussing.

The peace negotiators?

It’s unlikely the men-with-guns sitting at the negotiating tables are fretting about how to liberate Afghan women. It is a safe bet their various quests for wealth and power from local to global levels trump concerns for human rights.

By manipulating bloodlust for retribution and fear that Islamic terrorists threatened global security, the leaders of the US and its closest allies co-opted many people to support the unilateral and illegal American-British-led invasion of Afghanistan, on 7 October 2001, which was the first salvo of the Global War on/of Terror.

Special Operations Forces of the Anglo-quintet of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were the only “coalition of the willing” ground forces that fought in the invasion of Afghanistan named Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Afghan military force these Anglo-American Spec Ops forces advised was known in the West as the Northern Alliance – a euphemistic name invented to disguise their Afghan name: the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.

The United Islamic Front aka Northern Alliance was a coalition of mujahideen factions led by Berhanuddin Rabbani.

Thanks to his alliance with America’s anti-socialist crusade, during the 1980s, Rabbani was finally able to overthrow the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, in 1992, to institute the first Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

However, the leaders of rival mujahideen factions within the anti-socialist jihad, who were also American allies, violently opposed Rabbani’s leadership.

The rival mujahideen leaders subjected Afghans to 4 years of bloody civil war, from 1992 to 1996. The rival mujahideen armies obliterated Afghan social order and most of the state infrastructure using weaponry leftover from the previous decade-long American-Soviet proxy war supplemented by new weaponry supplied by an array of interested states.

In 1994, the Taliban emerged amid the chaos of this civil war to violently consolidate control of most of Afghanistan and institute the second Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in 1996.

Rabbani with several of his former mujahideen rivals retreated to a corner of northern Afghanistan to form the United Islamic Front, which served as a rump government opposing the Taliban led government.

The Taliban and the United Islamic Front aka Northern Alliance differ little in their disrespect for what might be called liberal Western values. Their significant difference is that the leaders of the United Islamic Front proved more willing than the Taliban to cut deals with American leaders to accept inclusion into the liberal/capitalist economic system, while continuing to reject liberal social values.

The participants who determined the fate of Afghans at the Bonn conference of 2001 rewarded the mujahideen of the United Islamic Front for their alliance with the US and its small coalition of the willing. The Karzai regime remains in power thanks to the military power of the US and NATO missions protecting it.

These are the three parties of men-with-guns negotiating the Afghan peace – the US, the Taliban, and the Afghan government led at present by Karzai whose days seem numbered as he increasingly bristles against American control.

Until he was assassinated on 20 September 2011 – symbolically the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush’s declaration of the Global War of Terror – Berhanuddin Rabbani was the chief peace negotiator for the Karzai led Afghan government. The negotiations faltered after Rabbanni’s assassination, but have regained momentum since.

At best the men-with-guns will negotiate what liberal peace researchers call a “negative peace” meaning simply the absence of war. This is not the “positive peace” the invaders of Afghanistan promised Afghans – a peaceful society in which all Afghans and especially women and girls would experience both “freedom” and “security”.

Pacification – coercing/persuading Afghans to accept capitalist order.

Different from what liberal academics describe as “negative/positive peace” is what the critical theorist Mark Neocleous calls “pacification”. Neocleous argues pacification is a form of police power designed to “secure the insecurity of capitalist order”.

This capitalist order is an imperial order imposed by the US and its closest allies – an empire Ellen Wood describes as an “Empire of Capital”.

The Empire of Capital is American led, but it relies on the mutual interests of the wealthiest most powerful capitalist states to augment and legitimize its overwhelming global power.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations promoted “freedom” and “security” as objectives of the Global War on/of Terror. What these leaders of the Empire of Capital usually leave unsaid, however, is that their definition of freedom is freedom for investors to move capital globally and their definition of security is a security that secures the interests of investors at the expense of everyone else.

Afghan National Police Kabul photo: Michael Skinner

What negotiators are most likely hashing out during the Afghan peace talks is not how to secure the human right of Afghans, but instead how to pacify the Afghan population. In other words at issue in the negotiations is the question of how to coerce/persuade Afghans to accept “capitalist order” while distributing power and wealth among the men-with-guns.

For years, influential commentators demanded that Afghans must reduce their expectations that were initially inflated by the promises of Western politicians. Clearly, the promises of freedom and security for all Afghans will not be fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the war has opened Afghanistan for business.

Throughout the Global War on Terror the war machine generated record profits for investors in the North American-European military/security industrial complex.

The “investment” in war may soon prove to pay even greater dividends as large scale industrial development of transportation, communications, energy transmission, and resource extraction infrastructure takes shape in Afghanistan and throughout the entire region some describe as Greater Central Asia.

What interests could the leaders of the Empire of Capital have in Afghanistan?

More wealth and power!

Since the mercenary military forces of the British East India Company began their incessant march northward, in 1600, the quest for wealth and power has driven the capitalist development that is only now taking root in Afghanistan.

This is not and has never been a quest primarily to establish liberal human rights and democracy. No matter how many people might be deluded by the mythology of good intentions, this is a quest for wealth and power.

Unlike George Bush or Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a few of the smartest liberal intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff and Nialls Ferguson, following in the footsteps of John Locke, do at least acknowledge the fact that imperial leaders seek wealth and power.

Some, like Ignatieff and Ferguson, acknowledge the fact of empire and that imperialism indeed produces many negative consequences. Nonetheless, they argue the benefits of liberal capitalist imperialism outweigh the negative consequences.

The sad truth, however, is that the benefits of imperialism are inequitably distributed.

During my travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan most people I met argued quite accurately that many North Americans and a few Afghans and Pakistanis might benefit from imperialism, but most people do not. Many people suffer horribly.

I met many Afghans and Pakistanis, who Westerners would label as illiterate who, nevertheless, demonstrated impressive political and historical literacy. They understand their own history and how it affects their current place in the world.

In the early 19th century, the leaders of the rival British, Tsarist Russian, and Persian empires used Afghanistan as a buffer zone separating their empires.

After the Russian Revolution and the end of World War One, Russians were pre-occupied domestically and Afghans finally pushed British forces out of Afghanistan to conclude the third Anglo-Afghan War.

Afghans enjoyed a brief respite from aggressive imperial intervention during the interwar period. They established a constitutional monarchy combining elements of the British parliamentary system and Afghan jirga system.

But after World War Two, leaders of the rival American and Soviet empires again used Afghanistan as a buffer zone to separate their “spheres of influence” with disastrous consequences for Afghans.

This purpose as a buffer zone separating rival empires, which Afghanistan served for more than a century-and-a-half, was no longer necessary after the USSR collapsed.

American strategists immediately recognized they could now use Afghanistan for the purpose imperial leaders had recognized for millennia. Afghanistan is a bridgehead for control of the Eurasian supercontinent.

As an added bonus, Afghanistan is incredibly wealthy in natural resources, especially mining resources. Developing these resources will not only be profitable, but will serve various strategic purposes including driving the building of modern infrastructure.

With the collapse of the USSR and the instant evaporation of the existential threat the Soviet system represented, American strategists reconceived the ancient Silk Road as a New Silk Road.

The New Silk Road will serve as a transportation, communications, and energy transmission conduit to re-establish overland connections: south-north between India and Russia, via Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian republics; and east-west between China and Europe, via, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey.

High-speed railways, fibre-optic cables, and pipelines will soon follow the routes once traversed by camel caravans. The question is: who will profit from building, operating, maintaining, and securing this system?

Unfortunately for North Americans in particular, they are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to establishing “comparative advantages” in economic relations in this region.

Nevertheless, North Americans have the capacity to exercise an immense military advantage.

Regional spoilers?

The trilateral negotiations recently begun between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran represent a significant challenge to the wealthiest and most powerful members of the Empire of Capital.

American strategists perceive the leaders of all three states, including the Afghan president the US forces installed in power, as spoilers who may need to be eliminated.

Other regional alliances include: the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which are regional equivalents of the NAFTA; the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Russia organized in response to NATO; and the Russia-China Strategic Partnership.

From the perspective of strategists within the Empire of Capital, these economic, political, and military alliances pose a complex of potential opportunities to expand liberal trade, but also, simultaneously, challenges to the global hegemony of America at the head of an Empire of Capital.

Without a forceful military presence expanding beyond Afghanistan, and lacking economic competitive advantages, North American corporate executives in particular could find themselves on the outside wistfully looking into the Greater Central Asian region as it grows in prosperity.

And American and NATO military strategists fear the growth of the region’s geostrategic importance.

From the perspective of some influential strategists, America and its closest allies are losing an historic opportunity to establish firm control over Eurasia while Russia and China, relatively weak at present, nevertheless, amass power and wealth at a faster rate than the Empire of Capital.

The best-case scenario envisioned by strategists within the Empire of Capital is that the pacification of Afghans will spread prosperity throughout the region and America will remain on top of a hierarchical global order with its closest allies nearby. In this scenario China and Russia would be engaged evermore deeply into the global capitalist system as economic competitors rather than as imperial rivals.

However, many possibilities far worse than this best-case scenario could occur instead.

The media directs our focus toward possible military invasions of Syria and Iran. The campaigns to force regime change in Syria and Iran have little to do with establishing human rights in these states; they are really about redirecting Eurasian based alliances with Russia and China toward global alliances with the Empire of Capital.

Escalating warfare into Syria and Iran would escalate a descent into chaos that would also likely engulf Pakistan and the Central Asian republics. If Russia and China are pulled into this chaos – it is hard to imagine they would not be – the entire world could be engulfed in global warfare as the ultimate conclusion of the Global War on/of Terror.

Perpetuating and even escalating chaos is the fail-safe position for the strategists of the Empire of Capital, however.

If the imperial hegemon cannot maintain its position via greater relative gains of wealth and power, it can force its rivals into a position where they will lose relatively more than the victor.

In the game of warfare, the victor is sometimes the one that gains the most. But more often, the victor is the one that loses the least, or as in the example of Russia versus Germany, during WWII, suffers greater losses, but had greater resources and strategic advantages to begin with.

In any event, investors in the growing military-security industrial complex profit, regardless of how much others lose.

The Afghan paradox.

Afghans are currently increasing the intensity of protests against their occupation by US and NATO forces. (Yes, Afghans have been protesting the occupation for years, but media coverage is rare.)

Afghans attend a protest in Kabul 6 October 2011 to condemn the U.S.-led invasion, which marked its 10th anniversary on October 7. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

At this moment, Western media is portraying Afghan protestors as religious zealots enraged because American military personnel burned Korans. Nonetheless, Afghans have been enraged by numerous atrocities foreign soldiers committed and they have demonstrated their anger toward the occupiers throughout the ten plus years of occupation.

After travelling throughout Afghanistan and listening to the numerous grievances of many Afghans, I can state with confidence that the ongoing protests indicate many Afghans reject imperial control. I suspect many will reject the type of coercive pacification the men-with-guns are likely to negotiate.

While stories about the violence of the war are what reach the headlines, it is clear that many more Afghans resist occupation via many means of nonviolent resistance.

Initially, many Afghans were hopeful for a new life after the Taliban were forced from government, but few have been persuaded by the mythological promises that their pacification within an expanding capitalist world order will be for their own good.

Thus far, military force has failed to coerce most Afghans to cooperate. The struggle continues.

Michael Skinner is a researcher, human rights activist, musician and composer. For a decade he was a National Education Facilitator for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Since 2006, he has been an Independent Researcher and Graduate Fellow at the York Centre for International and Security Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Skinner is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation titled, Peacebuilding, State-building, & Empire-building: The emerging Empire of Capital and its interventions from Central America to Central Asia. Michael Skinner recently returned from his second research trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can read Michael Skinner’s blog at: https://michaelskinnerresearch.wordpress.com/ and academic papers and journalism at: http://yorku.academia.edu/MichaelSkinner/About

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.