[ Editor’s note: Seth Ferris takes us on a magical mystery tour of Afghan politics, expat NGO’s, intense corruption, the Afghan drug trade and how that all ties into bombing hospitals to get in the news when nothing else works. He has a long lead in to set up his theme so you will have to work your way through it.
The same goes for the Pentagon’s explanation as to who and what was to blame for the Kunduz hospital tragedy which was not just a bombing, but a Puff the Magic Dragon unloading everything it had into the facility like over half an hour. They recently put out their 4th revision, where “confusion in the ranks” about what they could and could not do was the cause.
You just can’t make this stuff up. After all the years we have been there, we are still struggling with what the rules of engagement are, with highly trained Special Forces operatives? Afghanistan is a black hole that you would want to turn over to your worst enemy and watch them die a slow painful death for which their is no cure. It is called stupidity… Jim W. Dean ]
– First published … May 11, 2016 –
Hitting hospitals changes the visibility game and the balance of power for funding between competing agencies.
Back in 2010, a civil servant rang a community organisation, NGO, in the UK asking to meet with one of its representatives. Now there is a hospital bombing in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
How could these two things possibly be connected? Read on.
If you want to know how Western governments work, and why, go to that hospital armed with this article and see if it makes sense to the unfortunate victims of this latest illegal adventure and spree of hospital bombings in Afghanistan and Syria.
Rogues in law
The call was made by a senior official at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was very interesting because the caller went out of his way to say how much he admired the community organisation concerned, and wanted to consult it about government policy in Afghanistan.
This organisation had been founded in 1980, soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, by an Afghan who had been working in the UK temporarily. He came from a distinguished nationalist family, and was thus undesirable in the eyes of the new regime.
While Afghanistan was news, the organisation prospered. It obtained significant funding from major donors and employed two full-time staff. It offered summer holidays, music and sports groups and a programme of celebrations, and was active in every body relevant to the welfare of its clients, like health and housing forums. It also founded several new bodies to fill gaps in provision, and nobody had a problem with it representing the Afghan community.
Then, more and more Afghan refugees entered the UK some objected to the fact that the man who had founded it was the face of the community. As usually happens, some people thought they were as good as him and should therefore have an organisation, and prestige, of their own.
The founder wasn’t being paid for his work, but had contacts all over the world, as everyone else wanted if they thought they had something to say.
Therefore these newer arrivals built such organisations, sometimes using illegal means, by spreading different stories about the original one. According to these unsubstantiated stories, the existing organisation was exclusively Pushtoon or exclusively non-Pushtoon, nationalist or communist, anti-woman or anti-hijab or simply stealing money.
These individuals often found local funders keen to promote them for their own reasons, regardless of the bigger picture. Soon there was an array of alternative organisations, some of which did good work and some of which simply milked the system for personal gain.
In some instances there were cases of blatant fraud, or so-called “welfare organisations” providing no services whatsoever. But if the first organisation complained, no one would listen on the grounds that they were also a community organisation and must therefore be the same.
If one was criminal, the other must also be criminal because it also involved Afghans.
Such conduct is known as “racial profiling” in Western countries, and is illegal, but even those at the highest levels of government and the law were able to get away with it to protect more compromised organisations, who were thus easier to manipulate when the time came.
Inevitably, the newer organisations found corrupt grant officers who would further their private political interests through the funds they were managing. In time, all the first organisation’s funding went to others and everyone forgot about it.
The founder went into his office every day and sat and took calls from his old friends. No more staff, no more money, no more clients. When anyone wanted to speak to Afghans, they called their patsies, who had to keep the gravy train going by agreeing because they knew how they had got on it in the first place.
Now the civil services were ringing up. Why had they suddenly rediscovered this organisation’s existence, and want to consult it over what the UK government was doing?
Freedom of mis-speech
Governments consist of a lot of people: ministers, junior ministers, civil servants, advisors, other functionaries. It is very rare for all these stakeholders to agree all the time.
If one disagrees with the majority line it routinely lobbies internally to try and change it, and build a case for the continued funding of its staff in the process.
There was a lot of public concern about the war in Afghanistan in 2010. Pressure was being put on government to pull troops out.
But this part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had its own agenda, regardless of what the government it served wanted. It wanted the troops to stay there, and wasn’t getting enough support from the newer Afghan organisations to achieve this.
So suddenly, it had changed tack — the original organisation was the real representative of the community, the others “johnny-come-latelies” who were exploiting intra-community prejudice and the funding system. If it presented the organisation in this way, it could build a case within government for keeping those civil servants in jobs, and getting better ones by doing the bidding of their minister.
The biggest problem they were facing was not the counter arguments themselves. It was that everyone was tired of hearing about the conflict. The US stayed in Vietnam despite all the protests against that war, which defined a generation, but had to leave when everyone had just got tired of it.
The civil servants didn’t just want support for their position, they wanted news stories, something to make the conflict real again, and thus interest people enough to listen to their argument.
After excluding this organisation for so long, and promoting others at its expense, this section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was coming running just to ensure more people were killed. It didn’t like being told that that was not what an Afghan community organisation was there to help it do.
But even then it didn’t give up, the same civil servants mysteriously appearing at functions and meetings the organisation was represented at, paying new compliments, objecting to the fact they would soon be sent back to other departments, at lower grades, to do work which would not win them so many friends.
Bombing Hospitals is News
Fast forward to 2016. More and more we are all getting tired of seeing yet more news of war and atrocity in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Death and conflicting ideologies aren’t news anymore. The plight of the refugees fleeing the conflict arouses some interest, but by definition they then become those most distrusted of things, “immigrants,” and compassion is swamped by the usual scare stories of what we are to do with them and how many of them are genuine.
Bombing hospitals is news.
Here the victims are helpless innocents we haven’t heard about, not the conflict parties everyone is sick of hearing the names of. Clearly, a force which wants to win a propaganda war doesn’t bomb hospitals. But a force which wants attention does: and attention on the conflict, not a resolution to it, is what a lot of Western stakeholders in it most desire, regardless of the consequences.
It is highly likely that elements within Pakistan, intelligence services, covertly participated in the hospital bombing in Kunduz. Was this to protect its political and drug interests? According to an October 15, 2015 article in the New York Times , Taliban’s New Leader Strengthens His Hold With Intrigue and Battlefield Victory about the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour:
“If the boundaries between the Taliban and opium and heroin traffickers in Afghanistan are now blurred, that is in no small part because of Mullah Mansour. He was among the first major Taliban officials to be linked to the drug trade, according to a 2008 United Nations report, and later became the Taliban’s main tax collector for the narcotics trade — creating immense profits for the Taliban as opium and heroin exports soared.”
Godfather of Taliban
Another article by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on October 9, 2015, Pakistan Supports Taliban in Afghanistan sited, “The Pakistani army has been described as the ‘Godfather’ of the Taliban. That might understate its influence. Pakistan was the base for the American-supported Mujahedeen as they battled the Soviet Union in the 1980s. After the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States withdrew almost as quickly, and Pakistan entered that strategic void.
“Why does Pakistan support the Taliban? Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, whose book ‘Magnificent Delusions’ is an essential guide, explains that ‘Pakistan has always worried that the natural order of things would be for Afghanistan to come under the sway of India, the giant of the subcontinent.’
“It pushed forward the Taliban, a group of young Pashtun jihadis schooled in radical Islam at Pakistani madrassas (“Talib” means student) …. Hence the Pakistani army came to believe that that it could only gain leverage in Afghanistan through religious zealots.”
The strategic value of Kunduz is clear from both a logistical standpoint and diplomatic one.
“Kunduz is essential to the Taliban’s drug economy, an old base of Pakistan’s spies. Connected in the west to Mazar-e-Sharif, to Kabul in the south and bordering Central Asian nation Tajikistan in the north, Kunduz is a transport hub used to smuggle drugs through Central Asia to Europe. Controlling Kunduz city therefore, meant hitting a jackpot,” according to Anchal Vohra in his October 15, 2015 article, Is Kunduz the victory ISI wanted for puppet Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor?
In an exclusive interview with Vohra on CNN-IBN, “the Afghan Defence Minister Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai said over the last two years, the presence of Taliban, and foreign fighters like Uighurs, Chechens, terrorists of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Punjabis from Pakistan has become more concentrated in the area. This happened after Pakistan carried out the operation in North Waziristan.”
Fast forward to November 30, 2015 when “Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met … amid heightened tensions over Kabul’s accusations that Islamabad aided the Taliban in their brief capture of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in late September.”
The big looser if these talks are to continue and be successful are the drug lords and those within the WHO and other organisations working covertly to undermine peace in the area and who seek to promote the drug trade by utilising tensions, bombings and conflict to control the area. A statement issued by the Pakistan government late on November 30th said Ghani and Sharif had discussed the negotiations while they were in Paris.
“Both leaders agreed to work with all those who would enter such a process as legitimate political actors and act, alongside the Afghan government, against those who refuse to take the path of peace,” the statement said.
Even now, May 2016. the US is still urging Pakistan to do something, take action against the Taliban. This born again group has only increased in strength over the last five months through the growth of the Taliban support organisation, the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a one-time ally of the United States during the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets when the CIA became sponsor of foreign fighters.
“I warned them that we were creating a monster,” Selig Harrison from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars explained how the CIA “made a historic mistake in encouraging Islamic groups from all over the world to come to Afghanistan.”
The US provided $3 billion for building up these Islamic groups, and it accepted Pakistan’s demand that they should decide how this money should be spent.
Who benefits from drug business?
Who gets what out of the drug business under any settlement is what ultimately may be what negotiations are all about, at least behind the scenes.
But the US knows all about the drug business. It is happy to continue sponsoring it to supply its own chosen combatants as well as enemy ones. This is how it funds its rat lines, covers the cost of covert operations, etc.
The Taliban deals drugs to murder the infidels who take them; the US deals them to murder Muslims who reject them.
The Pakistan and Taliban drug operations only work because there are also key US links in the same chain; both use NGO and developmental networks funded by USAID and various development banks to provide the funding to plant and harvest the crops. That is why the Afghan conflict has gone on so long and will continue.
When we talk about “American” involvement in Afghanistan, or anywhere else, we are actually talking about two things. There is the Department of Defense, which pursues the official line, at least in theory. But there is also the CIA, which acts independently of the DoD and is effectively free of any scrutiny whatever.
It is this overlap of activity and jurisdiction which has led to the US arming both ISIS and its opponents in Syria: both these competing agencies are following their own script, serving their own masters, even though they are ostensibly serving the same government. Then too, there is USAID, which has a mind and not so hidden agenda of its own, and at times, it runs its own foreign policy.
The planes used in the bombing belonged to the DoD. However, it is known from a former operative that the CIA was mapping the area in the days before the attack, and had drawn a circle round the hospital.
The story being promoted by the DoD is that the attack was supposed to hit a Taliban HQ 400 metres away, but the pilots were given the wrong co-ordinates. When, and by whom? As pilots are usually directed during flight, it was someone with access to their radio frequencies, which would be promptly be changed if they fell into the wrong hands.
It is very likely that the hospital and its patients were the casualties of exactly the same internecine war which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Civil Servants were trying to get a community organisation to wage for it.
Every Western government involved in Afghanistan has the same problem selling the war to its weary public, and all engage in the same internal subterfuge when developing policy, as the memoirs of retired ministers invariably testify. The US bombed itself, not the Kunduz hospital, which probably explains why military vehicles were soon clearing up the scene.
Government by the people, whoever they may be
The DoD wants funding, the CIA wants funding. Different departments of every Western government want funding, regardless of what it is for. When all they can use to ask for it is tired arguments everyone has heard, about a subject people have lost interest in, they don’t get it.
Hitting hospitals changes the game and the balance of power between competing agencies. We can rail at possible culprits all we like, but nothing will ever be done.
It never could be, because no government is ultimately responsible for atrocities such as the latest hospital bombing.
It is individual parts of governments, acting unofficially to pursue their own agendas, which every government can and will disown, by ruining a few sacrificial careers, if the finger is ever pointed too closely for comfort, at least for the US and its partners.
You could equally blame the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion created the cottage industry of arming terrorists and creating Afghanistan-related jobs and careers. But it was nothing to do with the Taliban using the hospital as a base, or pilots letting bombs go too soon.
Its target was probably a faceless official whose name will be known to very few — but as ever, the rest of the planet just has the misfortune to get in the way of the larger scheme of things.