Talk Nation Radio for August 31, 2011
‘Afghanistan is More for Sale Today than 10 Years Ago’Edward Girardet
Part 2 of our continued interview, see part 1
We continue our interview with journalist, author and producer, Edward Girardet on his 2011 book, Killing the Cranes, a Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan, (Chelsea Green Press, 2011).
In this half hour we learn more about bin Laden, his death and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the context of the continuing violence. Then we hear more about the reasons for the violence overall in post US invasion Afghanistan. The US has ignored key social norms in Afghanistan such as the Loya Jirgha process. Also ignored was the Afghan’s long standing mistrust of foreigners, of Arabs, Brits, or Americans, which should have led to extensive though time consuming talks about the meaning of a western presence in Afghanistan. In fact, Girardet explains, much earlier, as the US considered its ‘response’ to 911, there were warnings from aid groups that went unheeded. A major road was therefore built without consultations with any of the Afghans who lived along them. Now those expensive roads built by the U.S. are too dangerous for the US and NATO force to use.
We also hear more about the mistakes relating to the US position on attacking all Taliban members, even moderates, early on. Girardet points out, ‘Had there been a more astute perception about what was going on in Afghanistan at the time the US could have focused on the ones who were closely operating with al Qaeda–the majority were not’ and Afghans were tired of war by the time of the Bush and Cheney invasion. As to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the opium trade, Edward Girardet reflects on the meaning of former V.P. Dick Cheney’s $43 million dollar ‘gift’ to the Taliban (designed to urge them to stop growing poppies). Did they merely use it to manage opium prices?
Killing the Cranes has a section on US support for Osama bin Laden and his support for the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance, as well the changing circumstances between ‘outsiders’ in Afghanistan, the Saudi Arabs who sought to dominate members of the Taliban, and change Afghan society, gaining power as religious militants with growing regional influence. Their money bought alliances, but not strict loyalty within the Taliban, where some grew concerned about what the money was leading them into. And on page 253 of Killing the Cranes, Edward Girardet describes the complex reality of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and money that was being provided to the Taliban. [Some brackets are my own as explanations from the text]:
“It was only from 1987 onward that we began to notice growing numbers of Arabs inside Afghanistan itself. It was as if they had only been dabbling with jihad up till then. Massoud [an Afghan leader, later assassinated] had a few in the north and welcomed them as fellow Muslims. The bulk of the Arabi, [Wahhabi Arab] however, focused on the Pushtun border areas. They did not mix readily with the Afghans, who complained often of their arrogance. The Arabi had their own commanders. The Afghan mujahideen operating directly with them were hired guns. The Arab attitude was that money and weapons could buy everything, including allegiance. “It sometimes amazes me that the Afghans have (tolerated) such attitudes for so long,” said a European aid worker operating in eastern Afghanistan. “Money speaks loudly but it is not in the Afghan character to take this sort of thing lying down.”
On page 254 Girardet describes growing friction between the Wahhabi [a Saudi Muslim extremist faction) and the mujahideen, a friction that was causing rifts within the resistance. “Commanders such as Abdul Haq warned that relations with the Arabs were running the risk of breaking out into open conflict. And, “Something is going to happen and it is best that it happens sooner rather than later, so that Afghans realize how dangerous these Arab Wahhabi are.”
Most of the Afghans Girardet met who “ostensibly embraced Wahhabism did it for cash,” he writes, continuing on page 254: “In many ways, such attitudes set the scene for al Qaeda and other extremist groups to firmly establish themselves in Afghanistan a decade later. The problem with the Taliban in 2001 was that they were never sophisticated enough to see the big picture. On a local or regional basis, some Talib commanders realized that in return for their money, weapons, and satellite phones, the Arabi–who also had ISI support–had the run of the country in order to reinforce their own agendas. In the end, however, the Taliban had no real control over their activities. Until the collapse of the Talib regime, these foreign fighters operated parallel existences by running their own camps, eating out on their own in local restaurants, and conducting their own operations. For the Taliban to simply kick out al Qaeda because of the US and other outside pressure was probably impossible at that late stage of the game.”
There are also fascinating pages about Edward Girardet’s own confrontation with bin Laden who asks him who he is and what he is doing in Afghanistan. Saying he is a journalist covering the region Girardet says, quote “I’ll leave if our Afghan friends no longer consider us their guests, just as I’m sure you’ll leave if they no longer consider you their guests. In return bin Laden says quote: “We are here because of Allah. The Afghans are our brothers of Islam, but we are here to fight all our enemies. Americans, Russians, Israelis”.
In the end, ‘Killing the Cranes’ offers a fascinating exchange between a journalist and a militant about intentions, and identities, and loyalties. More than that, it shows us what we should have known about Afghanistan in 2001, that there were Afghans with power who would have welcomed help in removing al Qaeda from their country. We are left astonished at what Edward Girardet has been trying to tell us over three decades, that the Afghan war was unnecessary, and that the US role has been deeply troubling over several decades and during several administrations. Clearly, there are warnings in ‘Killing the Cranes’ that President Obama and the incoming head of CIA, David Petraeus, would be wise to heed.
Journalist, author and producer, Edward Girardet is the founding director of the Institute for Media and Global Governance in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also the editor of Crosslines Essential Media Ltd (UK) and he has written for a wide variety of publications on humanitarian, media, and conflict issues including the Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, the International Herald Tribune, and The Financial Times. Edward Girardet has also written reports on international aid operations. Previous books include Afghanistan: The Soviet War; Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond; and Populations in Danger, a Médecins Sans Frontières Report, (see this page from Amazon) as well as Crosslines, Essential Field Guide to Humanitarian and Conflict Zones (here).
See also by Edward Girardet, Assassin Nation, Foreign Policy magazine, July 18, 2011 here. ‘After more than three decades of targeted killings, is there anyone left alive who can actually run Afghanistan’? Edward Girardet