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.

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1 Comment

  1. Very well documented, and you definitely had your sources right. Good job!

    Reply

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