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global threats « Previous | |Next »
April 30, 2009

There is no mention of Afghanistan or the global war on terrorism in the Nicholson cartoon below. It falls under 'whatever'. But is it a global threat?

The current rhetoric from Canberra is that Afghanistan is the base for global terrorism. Afghanistan stands for an insecure world and that means we Australians cannot be safe. So fighting the Taliban (who are not mentioned) becomes the equivalent of fighting al Qaeda, and the war there is designed to prevent more bombings of Australia in places such as Bali.

However, who takes this guff seriously? The Defence Minister even sounds as if he is going through the motions when he's spinning these talking points for domestic consumption and trying to sell it as an exit strategy.


The reality, of course, is that Australia is increasing its commitment in order to fufill its insurance obligations to the US, since the increase in personnel will make no military difference. So why don't the Canberra politicians just come clean and say that the real reason for the deployment is loyalty to the US?

As Hugh White says on Lateline:

I think the chance of this [additional deployment to Afghanistan] making any real difference to the situation there is pretty low and I think really it's best to look at it as a political strategy by the Prime Minister to address the very deep problem he has over supporting the US on Afghanistan rather than a serious attempt to change the facts on the ground... for allies like Australia, because we supported the United States in going into this endeavour, our credibility as a US ally is tied up with trying to support them there.

White points out that though everyone talks as if getting a decisive result in Afghanistan was a really high priority, nobody is putting in the kind of effort - the numbers of troops, the scale of the civilian effort, the diplomatic effort that's really necessary to make a difference.

If success is defined as establishing in Afghanistan a stable and effective Government that can permanently deny the country to the Taliban, then the US is losing the war. The hawks are all for defeating the Taliban even as the Karzai regime is staggering to its end. The US's counter insurgency operations are not providing security to the civilian population, let alone defeating the Taliban. The Americans are still trying to find a military solution to an issue which is essentially political in nature. All that means the Afghan Taliban entering the Afghan government.

Pakistan remains focused on defending the state against long-time rival India and is not well-prepared for a counter-insurgency campaign. The Taliban are deeply entrenched in Pakistan’s west and Pakistan's analysis is that Pakistan’s problems come from the U.S. failures inside Afghanistan, and its strategy is to split the Taliban.

Even if the Pakistani doesn't become a failed state, anti-Americanism and Taliban influence may continue to grow within the Pakistani population and within key institutions -- including the military. For the Americans, the greatest concern regarding Pakistan's future is the possibility that its nuclear arsenal might fall into the hands of anti-American terrorists.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:37 AM | | Comments (7)


the public justification for the Australian deployment is now on the need to prevent future terrorist threats to Australia, which could emanate from an Afghanistan back in extremists' hands.

Who are the extremists? The Taliban? They are fighting a civil war.

yeah the old-line mujihadeen (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, et. al.) are fighting the U.S./NATO presence in Afghanistan. They are the ones who may enter the Afghan Karzai government. They will only join the Kabul government if U.S. and NATO forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan

However, they -the old-line mujihadeen--- appear to be very different from the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar . The war is a jihad for them--- a war of liberation against the foreign (US/NATO) occupation army. However, they are also associated with the Pakistan Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud.

It is unclear whether the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban have different primary goals in that the Pakistani Taliban wants to destabilize the Islamabad government, whilst the Afghan Taliban want to force Western troops out of Afghanistan. Or have they closed ranks in response to the surge in American troops in Afghanistan?

Perhaps we could just refer to everybody who isn't like us as "Them".
It would save a lot of time trying to categorize everybody.

Graham Usher in Taliban v. Taliban in The London Review of Books points out that the US has problems with Pakistan. He says:

So what does it mean to be ‘anti-Pakistan’? The short answer is pro-India, in practice if not intent. Insurgents in the tribal areas are deemed anti-Pakistani if their actions advance the perceived goals of India in Afghanistan. They are pro-Pakistani as long as they don’t attack the Pakistani state or army, even if they launch attacks against Nato forces in Afghanistan, Islamabad’s supposed allies in the ‘war on terror’. Indeed, the Afghan Taliban is considered an ‘asset’, a hedge against the day when the US and Nato leave, but also a counter to India’s expanding influence in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army supports the Afghan Taliban insurgency.

the trouble is everybody in that part of the world has a different definition of "Them".

Perhaps they would all like to buy some cheap uranium then.
Uranium sales could come in handy for our economy.

Australia's contribution is obviously a token gesture and Rudd doesn't appear to really have the stomach for it. It's interesting to compare Rudd's reluctance with Howard's enthusiasm for any mess our good buddies in the US care to enter into.

If it's about addressing a perceived global threat, I'd be more worried about Pakistan and Afghanistan developing the sort of capacity for mass violence that would nudge India. At least an ongoing, low level pain in the neck for the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is keeping them occupied at home.

None of it will matter by next week anyway, since we're all about to be killed by swine flu. Apparently.