Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s news conference to sum up the high-level meetings week at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 25, 2021

SEPTEMBER 27, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s news conference to sum up the high-level meetings week at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 25, 2021

https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4867149

Question: Which opportunities and risk factors does the new Taliban’s Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan present? Does Russia fear that the presence of Taliban could somehow feed Islamic extremism in the region? If so, what can be done?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, Afghanistan is now on everyone’s mind. We believe, and we did believe from the outset, that what has happened there is a reality. Unfortunately, the hasty pull-out, let’s call it this way, by the United States and other NATO countries of their troops was carried out without any consideration of the consequences. As you are aware, many weapons were left behind in Afghanistan. We all need to see to it that these weapons do not serve any unconstructive purposes.

The reality on the ground is based on statements made by the Taliban who proclaimed their commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda, not to project instability on their neighbours. They committed themselves to respecting women’s rights and to creating an inclusive government. You know all this. What matters the most at the moment is that they fulfil their promises.

The first step to form a transitory government structure fails to reflect the whole gamut of the Afghan society in its ethnic, religious and political diversity. We remain engaged with the Taliban, and these contacts have been continuing for several years now. We are doing this, inter alia, within the expanded troika of Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan. Only recently, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani representatives travelled to Doha, and after that they visited Kabul where they engaged with the Taliban, as well as with representatives of the secular authorities. I am referring to former President Hamid Karzai and former Head of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah. These contacts primarily focused on the need to form a genuinely representative government structure. The Taliban claim to be moving in this direction, and the current architecture is only temporary. What matters the most is to make sure that they keep the promises that they made in public. For us, the top priority is precisely what you just mentioned: it is unacceptable that extremism spills over into neighbouring countries, and the terrorist threat must not persist on Afghan soil. We will do everything we can to support the Taliban in their determination, as you have said, to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups, and to try to make sure that this determination paves the way to some practical progress.

Question: Does Russia consider easing or lifting its national sanctions against the Taliban members who become part of the new Afghan government in order to facilitate contacts with them? What position will Russia take during UN talks on easing or lifting sanctions against the Taliban?

Sergey Lavrov: As things stand at the moment, nothing is restraining or hindering our contacts with the Taliban. Moreover, the UN Security Council sanctions, as set forth in the corresponding resolutions, are not preventing us from engaging in such contacts. On the contrary, UN Security Council resolutions stipulate the need to advance a political process, and without working together with the Taliban this is impossible.

We have been engaged in contacts with this movement for some years now, and these contacts have been primarily geared towards ensuring the safety ofr Russian nationals, facilitating intra-Afghan reconciliation and political process. I have not heard any suggestions within the UN Security Council about the need to ease or lift international sanctions at one of the forthcoming meetings. There is no need for this for us to be able to engage with the Taliban movement at this stage.

We all expect the Taliban to honour all the good-minded promises they made. For this reason, we will see whether the terrorist and drug trafficking threats are actually eliminated.

Question: The UN Secretary-General has warned of disastrous consequences of a putative economic collapse in Afghanistan. What do you think about the idea to unfreeze Afghan assets held by international organisations?

It appears from your remarks that your policy is to judge the Taliban by their deeds. In what way does the Taliban ideology differ from that of other Islamic groups in other parts of the world, such as the groups in Syria, which you are opposing and showering with bombs?

Sergey Lavrov: Syria, as you may know, is where the seat of terrorism is located. Practically the entire Syrian territory has been liberated, but the so-called de-escalation zone in Idlib province is under the sway of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an offspring of Jabhat al-Nusra. All the UN Security Council resolutions point out the nature of these terrorist organisations. I see no problem here from the point of view of destroying the terrorists in Syria.

We are holding talks with our Turkish partners, who signed with us, a couple of years ago now, a special agreement whereby they undertook to fight terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone and to separate them from armed groups that are not terrorist ones and to cooperate with the Turkish military. In just a few days from now, President of Russia Vladimir Putin will have yet another meeting with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The presidents will thoroughly analyse how this commitment is being implemented. It is being implemented at a rather slow pace. This is obvious.

As for the Taliban and comparisons between them and other groups, we cannot divide the terrorists into good guys and bad guys. There is a sufficient number of exemptions from sanctions imposed on the Taliban. This has been made on purpose to enable [the international community] to have a dialogue with them. It means that the UN Security Council recognises the Taliban as an inalienable part of Afghan society, which, for Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are not. This is what makes the difference.

We will induce those who have seized power in Kabul following the flight of the foreign contingents to behave in a civilised way.

We have mentioned the unfreezing of the assets. We think that this matter should be given a practical consideration from the positions you have mentioned in quoting the UN Secretary-General.

Question: The Taliban Government have decided on the candidacies for their ambassador to Russia. Will Russia be prepared to issue an agreement to people proposed by the Taliban?

Sergey Lavrov: We have no information of anyone applying to us for an agrement. Serving in Moscow today is the ambassador appointed by the previous government. No one is urging an international recognition of the Taliban. We will proceed precisely from this principle if and when we receive a request regarding the appointment of a new ambassador.

Question: We have heard US President Joe Biden’s statement. He said that the period of relentless war has ended, and that the era of relentless diplomacy has been ushered in. Do you believe this?

What about Russia’s diplomatic property? Has there been any progress?

Even some of the members of the delegation had problems with their visas, let alone the fact that there was a danger that the Russian delegation would not be allowed into the UN General Assembly because of the vaccination requirements, with vaccines that were approved in the United States. Are they just trying to annoy us whenever they can?

Sergey Lavrov: I do not think that this is an attempt to annoy us in any way. Most likely they are just a bit at a loss over the resumption of in-person UN General Assembly meetings. I cannot blame the New York authorities for being overly cautious. This is a serious event, and a lot of people come here from all around the world. There are quite a few different variants of the virus already, so safety measures do not hurt.

It is another question, as you have so rightly put it, that we do not accept any attempts to discriminate against vaccines that are not registered in the United States but have proven time and again to be effective. Sputnik V is a case in point. Several EU countries, for example, Hungary and Slovakia, have approved our vaccines, and this should serve as an example for other EU and NATO members.

As for visas for our delegation, apart from the epidemiological situation, the delay in the granting of visas was obviously caused by political considerations. We have seen through this. A number of our employees have yet to obtain their visas, including State Duma members who are part of the delegation. We will see to it that the UN Secretariat leadership fulfils its duties as to ensuring compliance with all the provisions of the agreement between the UN and the United States, the headquarters host country. Instances of flagrant violation of this agreement and repeated failures to comply with the UN headquarters host country commitments have been piling up, including the confiscation of diplomatic property, as you have just mentioned. The UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country has said that this is unacceptable and wrong. The Secretary-General should have launched arbitration proceedings against the actions by the United States several years ago. We had a meeting yesterday, and I reminded him of this fact. I was glad that his Legal Counsel, Miguel de Serpa Soares, was present at this meeting, since it is his duty to initiate these steps. They have been long overdue.

United States President Joe Biden said that the United States will no longer use force to change regimes abroad. “Never say never,” as the saying goes. We have seen how the Donald Trump administration pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal that was concluded by the Barack Obama administration. Now that talks on fully restoring the JCPOA to settle the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme are underway, one of the questions the Iranians are asking the Americans is whether the agreement to restore this plan can include a clause binding future administrations to respect it? The Americans say that they cannot do this, since this is how their system works. International law is one thing, but their law is a nose of wax, and can be twisted about any way they so desire.

United States President Joe Biden said that an era of “relentless diplomacy” has been ushered in. This means that the Americans will seek to impose on other countries what they deem right for them by other means. This could include colour revolutions. They do not require any use of force, but are equally destructive. Just look at Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, our neighbour.

We want the United States to make the next step and move beyond the commitment not to use force for reshaping other countries by actually refraining from doing this altogether. They must recognise that we are all different. We have different cultural, civilisational roots, but we share the same planet and must respect each other.

Question: According to our information, preparations for Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria’s Nuland’s visit to Moscow are underway. Where do these talks stand at this point? Can you give us a timeline for the visit? What does Moscow expect to receive in response to the temporary lifting of restrictions from someone who is on Russia’s black list?

Sergey Lavrov: If you have sources of information that let you know about this, I encourage you to ask them this question. The Foreign Ministry and the US State Department are working on a number of contacts. This is not the only matter under discussion.

When both parties decide on a date for contact to take place in order to discuss a specific issue, we will make a corresponding announcement.

Question: I have a question about the JCPOA. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that swift action is needed, because we are running out of time. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said yesterday that they were ready for that. They appear to be receiving mixed signals from the United States, but they should come up with an agreement soon. You were involved in making this deal happen. As a negotiator, have you any idea what will happen if the United States does not return to the agreement and Iran continues its nuclear programme? What is the worst-case scenario?

Sergey Lavrov: Iran is not doing anything illegal, because it is complying with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and an additional protocol to a comprehensive safeguards agreement. Iran is not complying with most of its obligations included in the JCPOA which are now not binding, because the Americans have destroyed the agreement.

The issue is about restoring it in full so that Iran has no reason to make exceptions to its commitments. The IAEA, including in the person of its Director General, is in contact with the Iranians. They have a complete picture of what is happening there. They are not being denied access to the work that Iran is doing as part of its nuclear programme. The IAEA has no reason to believe that the 2015 findings to the effect that there were no signs of the nuclear programme being re-oriented towards military needs have become outdated. They have no reason to revise these findings. They speak about this explicitly.

Of course, we want the talks on the full restoration of the JCPOA to resume as soon as possible. But, first, the government in Iran has just been formed. They say they will need a week or two (hopefully not more) to put together their negotiating team. There have been personnel changes. Second, when the United States withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran, for over a year, had been conscientiously complying  with its commitments under this document in hope that the United States would come to its senses and return to the deal. Of all people, our counterparts in Washington are not in a position to say that time is up. Indeed, it was carried out by the administration which is now gone, but this is the legacy of the current administration, especially since the JCPOA is its brainchild. It is only fair that it deliver bold action in addressing all related issues.

There are also sanctions that the US has illegally imposed on Iran, allegedly for violating the JCPOA. But the sanctions concern not just Iran. They have also imposed sanctions on everyone who carry out legal trade with Iran, including the supply of military products, which are no longer subject to a ban. These sanctions must be lifted as part of the reinstatement of the JCPOA. And Iran’s trading partners across all areas of commercial exchange must not be affected by America’s unilateral move.

Question: Will Iran’s economy collapse if the JCPOA is not restored?

Sergey Lavrov: We are not even considering scenarios like that. There is serious hope and cautious optimism that we will be able to achieve a result. At least everyone wants it, including the United States and Iran.

Question: The calm in the northwest of Syria has changed with Russia’s intense airstrikes in recent weeks, particularly ahead of the summit between President Erdogan and President Putin. Why is Russia stepping up its attacks just ahead of this summit?

And another question on Syria as well. Is there an agreement or consensus between Russia and the US following the meeting between the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and US National Security Council Coordinator Brett McGurk, which took place in Geneva? Thank you.

Sergey Lavrov: We are using force in northwestern Syria in conformity with the requirements contained in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which provides for an uncompromising struggle against terrorism in Syria.

I have mentioned that there was a special agreement on Idlib between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Our Turkish colleagues have committed themselves to separating the normal and sensible opposition forces from the terrorists. This should have been done long ago. So far, this has not happened. There is slow progress, but the threats of terrorism from the militants in the Idlib de-escalation zone are constantly renewed. These people are attacking the positions of the Syrian army and have repeatedly tried to launch strike drones to attack the Russian Khmeimim Air Base.

Our Turkish friends are well aware that we will not put up with this behaviour and with these militants’ attitude to the role performed by the Turkish military in the Idlib de-escalation zone. We will have detailed discussions as part of preparations for the presidential meeting. The September 29 summit will focus on ways to achieve what we have agreed upon and prevent the terrorists from ruling the roost.

As for contacts with the US regarding the right bank of the Euphrates, they are held periodically. We draw their attention to the fact that the US presence in Syria is illegitimate, to the outrageous situation in the 55-kilometre zone called Al-Tanf, which they have occupied, and to the situation at the Rukban camp located in the US-controlled territory. This is a long story.

The contacts taking place between the foreign ministries and the security councils are mostly about the fact that the Americans are present [in Syria] illegally, illegitimately, but they are there.  This is the reality. Given their tendency to fire all their guns with or without reason, we are negotiating the so-called deconflicting mechanism with them.   It is working. Let me draw your attention to the fact that it is functioning despite the legal bans on contacts between the militaries imposed by the US Congress. Not so long ago, the heads of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff officially announced that this was unreasonable and that the bans on military contacts should be lifted. I think this will do good both to the deconflicting process in Syria and our further arms dialogue as a whole.

Question: Turkey has expressed concerns about the voting in Crimea in the recent State Duma elections. This is despite the fact that Russia has provided humanitarian assistance for COVID-19 to Turkey, as well as military cooperation. My question is: could you address the imbalance, what is your analysis of the imbalance in relations?

Sergey Lavrov: Turkey was not the only one to voice “concerns” or “denounce” the vote in Crimea. I can give you two explanations for this “commotion.” First, five years ago, when the previous State Duma elections were held, no one made any statements of this kind, at least not that strong. Had this been the case, I would have remembered it, but no such thing occurred.

However, now they are pouncing on this issue, including the hectic efforts to convene the so-called Crimea Platform in Kiev, and all the commotion around the election. I think that this is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Kiev, under President Vladimir Zelensky’s leadership, has shamefully failed to honour its commitments under the Minsk Agreements on overcoming the intra-Ukrainian conflict in the east of the country. It is obvious. The adopted laws have been a de-facto obstacle to granting southeastern Ukraine the status required under the Minsk Agreements.

We drew the attention of our German and French colleagues, as well as the European Union to the fact that their “clients” are negating UN Security Council resolutions, because it was the Security Council that approved the Minsk Agreements. Unfortunately, they are all bashfully looking the other way, while President Vladimir Zelensky understood that all he needed to do was divert attention from his own failures and the fact that the Minsk Agreements were sabotaged. Therefore, they are now playing the Crimean card.

A lack of professionalism in foreign policy is the second reason why they are doing this. Professionals know all too well that the Crimea question is closed once and for all.

Question: My second question is regarding Mali. France has expressed concern about the presence of military contractors from Russia in Mali. They are now being joined by their European allies speaking about this concern. My question is: what is Russia’s position on this?

Sergey Lavrov: I have heard these questions. Foreign Minister of France Jean-Yves Le Drian, and EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, have raised them with me.

Mali currently has a transitional government. Those authorities are undertaking efforts to restore the constitutional order, prepare elections and return to civilian rule. The elections are scheduled to take place in February under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.

Mali’s transitional government has emphasised its commitment to international obligations and is combatting terrorism. It has called upon a private Russian military company because, to my understanding, France intends to substantially reduce its military presence there, and these troops were tasked with fighting terrorists entrenched in the north, in an area called Kidal. But they did not succeed, and terrorist are still in control there.

The Malian authorities considered their own capabilities insufficient without support from abroad, but those who had promised to eliminate terrorism in this country decided to draw down their presence. So they went to a Russian private military company. We have nothing to do with this. This activity is legal and consists of a relationship between the host country, which is a legitimate government recognised by everyone as a legitimate transitional structure, on the one hand, and those offering their services as foreign experts.

Let me emphasise that apart from private military companies, the Russian state has been making its own contribution to ensuring Mali’s defence capability and combat readiness for eliminating the terrorist threat and other threats. We do this by supplying military equipment as part of our assistance. We also work within the UN Security Council to devise the best approaches to further peacebuilding efforts.

I do not see any reason to question this. Yesterday I had a meeting with Mali’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, who talked to the press on this matter. There are no questions here. In fact, the problem lies elsewhere. Our colleagues from the European Union, as Josep Borrell told me, are asking us to stop working in Africa altogether, because this is “their place.” It would be better for the EU and the Russian Federation to align their actions in fighting terrorism not only in Mali, but in the Sahara-Sahelian region in general. Claiming that “they were there first, so we must leave” is, first, an insult to the Bamako government that has invited its foreign partners, and second, it is not the way to treat anyone.

Question: Shortly before the Russian parliamentary elections, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to refuse to recognise the results of the vote. Did you discuss this with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell? Will the EU recognise the results of the Russian State Duma elections?

Sergey Lavrov: We have not heard any assessments from the European Union proper because the European Parliament is not a body that determines EU policy. I spoke about this with Josep Borrell; I quoted some of the assessments made during his remarks in the European Parliament, including the absolutely unacceptable statements that the European Union distinguishes between “the regime” in Moscow and the Russian people.

He made some rather awkward and vague excuses. It was quite obvious that he realised the phrasing was lame at the very least. I hope that was just a phrase, not the idea. This happens. Sometimes we let something slip only to regret it later.

We have no information about anyone officially rejecting the results of our elections, which have just been announced.

Question: France calls for a review of the recent nuclear submarine deal between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to verify its compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). What is your opinion on this matter? What do you generally think of this new triple alliance, which has created such a stir and runs counter to the partnership agreements in NATO and beyond?

Sergey Lavrov: This deal, signed immediately after the flight from Afghanistan, inevitably raises questions from the parties to these alliances. Probably, in addition to a commercial grievance, France is also thinking how reliable these alliances are and how this has increased the relevance of Europe’s strategic autonomy? These are big questions for the Western camp, and they have to address them.

We are not going to interfere in these matters. Yet, we might feel the consequences of what is happening there. This may affect our relations with the European Union, may spur the EU’s interest in cooperating with us, in using the obvious geopolitical and geostrategic advantages of being on one huge continent, especially since the global growth centre is shifting towards Asia.

I have discussed this with many participants here who represent the European Union and who do not like what is happening. Especially when the EU says they should “push back against, constrain, and engage” with Russia. I asked Josep Borrell how they were going to “engage with us,” exactly. Do you know what he answered? “Get out of Mali.” That is all there is to this policy, to this triad. That’s what it is worth. I am being honest. I do not think there is a violation of any ethical norms here because they are also talking about this publicly. I am just giving examples to illustrate their way of thinking.

As regards the Non-Proliferation Treaty, this matter is being discussed a lot on the sidelines in Vienna. The IAEA is responsible for the non-proliferation regime and for ensuring that nuclear research is not diverted to military needs. For a submarine, uranium must be enriched to 90 percent. This is weapons-grade uranium. We will probably have to ask for an IAEA expert review.

A similar attempt to develop such submarines by a non-nuclear country was made a few decades ago. The project was eventually scrapped then, and that settled the whole matter. But now, this deal has been signed. If the IAEA confirms it is in line with nuclear safety and non-diversion to military needs, there will be a queue for such submarines.

Question: In the lead up to the high-level week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a warning that the world might be drawn into a new vastly more dangerous cold war if the US and China fail to mend their completely collapsed relations. He called for the avoidance of a new confrontation at any cost, and also warned that it would be more dangerous than the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States and dealing with its aftereffects would be much more difficult. What does Russia have to say to these statements?

Sergey Lavrov: Make no mistake, we had this issue on our radar screen even before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres mentioned it. We see that tensions in China-US relations are escalating. We are aware of who is “playing the first violin” in this not too pleasant turn of events. This worries us. Confrontational schemes do not help the people of our planet to live a normal life: be it the recently announced Indo-Pacific Strategy, which explicitly proclaimed containing China, including in the South China Sea, one of its main goals, or QUAD that was formed as part of these strategies, or, by the same token, the purported AUKUS “triple alliance,” the purpose of which is to help Australia contain the “Chinese threat.”

Yesterday and today, I met with a number of ministers representing ASEAN member countries and asked them how things were going. Talks are underway between China and ASEAN to draft a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea. Things are not moving fast, but this is the most reliable way to ensure freedom of navigation and everything else that worries our Western partners to the extent that they keep holding provocative and non-provocative naval manoeuvres and creating anti-Chinese geopolitical schemes. We stand for mutually respectful relations between the great powers that never escalate into a nuclear war. The presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden, confirmed the unacceptability of this at the Geneva summit. Any kind of war between nuclear powers is unacceptable, because the risks of it escalating into a nuclear conflict are enormous. Humanity has not come up with anything new in this regard. We must talk and strive to find a compromise and get along. As President Trump put it, we must “make a deal.” This is the right expression to use not only in business, but in politics as well. Politics is needed to create a proper environment for normal life, rather than for someone to promote their ambitions, so that everyone agrees that they are “the coolest guy on Earth.” This is obvious to normal people. Great powers must act responsibly with regard to their people and the rest of humanity.

President Putin proposed holding a UN Security Council permanent members’ summit. The pandemic has delayed this work. We have resumed it now. We aim to come to an agreement with our partners from China and the three Western permanent members of the UN Security Council on specific issues which will then be included in the agenda, and on the format of discussions (we may start out online). Talks are the only way to resolve the issues at hand. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council must set an example to other countries.

Question: In connection with the withdrawal of foreign contingents – official and informal mercenaries – from Libya, disputes arose about over whether it would be better to withdraw them only after the elections, upon receipt of an official request from a new government. Some say this should take place before December 24 to ensure fair and legitimate elections. The spokesman for the Presidential Council said today that you highlighted two points at a meeting with Mohammed al-Menfi: the need for a settlement between the Libyan parties and the withdrawal of foreign troops. Does Russia think it should be done before or after the elections?

Sergey Lavrov: Before or after the elections is not a critical matter. Most importantly, the final document of the second International Conference on Libya held in Berlin in June reads as follows: all foreign armed people must leave Libya. Our Turkish colleagues made a reservation saying they had been invited there by the legitimate leadership in the person of the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj. However, the other part of Libyan society – the Tobruk Parliament – is no less legitimate. Both of these bodies were created under the Skhirat Agreement. The legitimate parliament along with the legitimate Libyan national army invited armed personnel, whom they have on their payroll, to come and join them from abroad. Concurrently, there were people who can be referred to as mercenaries. People are being transferred from Syria (to both sides), Chad and other African countries.

From the outset, the moment it came up in our discussions, we said that we were in favour of doing this. Considering that foreign military forces are on both sides of the Libyan confrontation, we must make sure that they move out in small groups and simultaneously, so as not to create a military advantage on one side at any point in time. A ceasefire has been observed in Libya for over a year now. No one should be tempted to think that they can return to military methods and try to use force to resolve that country’s problems.

Question: Is Russia facilitating the withdrawal of troops from Libya?

Sergey Lavrov: They should deal with this in their 5+5 commission. We are ready to help, but if they continue to address non-priority matters, there will be no elections on December 24, 2021. They have just adopted the legislative framework for the elections. Then the Parliament voted on the legitimacy of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s Government of National Unity. They need to be pushed towards an earnest discussion about how to live on. There are already speculations about whether the current leaders can run for office (reportedly, there was an agreement that they would not participate, but they want to). Our colleagues in the Secretariat are trying to create artificial difficulties when it comes to the format of the UN presence in Libya. They had better concentrate on fulfilling what we agreed on a year ago now. Nobody expected this. They should not be trying to change this to promote someone’s interests or advance hidden agendas.

Question: At what stage are the US-Russia strategic stability talks at the moment? As for nuclear weapons, what is Russia’s reaction to the recent missile launches in North and South Korea? What could work as an incentive for Kim Jong-un to return back to the negotiating table?

Sergey Lavrov: I heard that Pyongyang is sending signals about North Korea’s interest in normalising relations with South Korea. We have always stood for a direct dialogue between the North and the South. However, it was not always supported by the previous US administration, which wanted to control the process. I hope that in the new situation, the Biden administration will be ready to make more constructive steps to encourage the resumption of normal contacts between North and South Korea.

Missile launches don’t help. We noticed that this time, Seoul tried not to over-dramatise. I think this is the right thing to do. Once we begin to resort to public condemnation and strong rhetoric, this significantly reduces our incentives for diplomatic, professional, and calm dialogue. The final agreement can only be reached through confidential and quiet negotiations, rather than mutual recriminations through loudspeakers.

As regards the strategic stability talks with the United States, the first round took place in July. The second is due next week.

Question: As the UN General Assembly is meeting in New York, the Southern District Court in New York has again denied Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko’s appeal. He continues to be held in American dungeons, as does Viktor Bout. There have been occasional reports in the media about their possible exchange for Americans. Whose court is the ball in? How realistic is the exchange scenario?

Sergey Lavrov: It is difficult to make any predictions or promises on behalf of the United States. We have tried many times to change our citizens’ situation by invoking the Council of Europe Convention on Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The United States is a party to this Convention, just as we are. They categorically refuse to hear anything, including our arguments that both Yaroshenko and Bout (as well as a number of others) have been actually lured into a trap by provocations. They have been literally kidnapped, which is against the law. In Bout’s case, the Thai laws were violated – not all procedures were followed; with Yaroshenko, it was Liberia’s. There was also a case where they took Roman Seleznev in the Maldives in a gangster manner – they just put him on an aircraft and he was flown away. Nobody knew anything. Such methods of provoked attacks on our people are being used to achieve something. Either to persuade them to cooperate, or for some other reason. This is unacceptable.

About prisoner exchanges – Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden touched upon this matter in Geneva, among other things. They agreed that the respective Russian and US security services in charge of this matter will try to negotiate some mutually acceptable options. So far, we haven’t come to any agreement. The United States is only interested in getting its citizens back and does not seem to take our interests very seriously. They are interested in Paul Whelan, who is convicted of espionage. He was caught red-handed. This crime cannot be even compared with the reasons Yaroshenko and Bout got their sentences in excess of 20 years in prison. We are ready to talk. There are other American citizens as well. For some reason, they are not of interest to the administration in Washington. But talking is always better than not talking.

Question: On the JCPOA, the United States wants to discuss [inaudible] the Middle East. Will this be included into the JCPOA?  And on Syria, why doesn’t Damascus allow the UN to have humanitarian trips there? I know that there is a compromise made in the UN Security Council, but it does not seem to make sense. Does Syria or Damascus think that UN workers are Trojan horses?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the JCPOA, all we want is for it to resume without any preconditions. Attempts to add them as a requirement to expand the talks to include the Iranian missile programme or to discuss Iran’s “behaviour” in the region, as our Western colleagues say, have no future. This is like comparing apples and oranges. The agreement on the nuclear programme is a separate subject. If there are any concerns as to someone’s behaviour, Iran’s regional partners are not the only ones to have such concerns. Teheran has its own misgivings regarding them, which is totally normal for any region of the world.

The Persian Gulf countries engage in far-reaching foreign policy activities far beyond their regions. This must be taken into consideration. In this connection, we noted that many years ago Russia drafted a Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf region suggesting a dialogue inspired to some degree by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This included discussing confidence-building measures, military transparency and attending each other’s exercises, as well as engaging in positive joint projects. Political scientists from the region and other countries have already discussed this topic. In August 2021, we updated our collective security approach for the Persian Gulf region and released it as an official UN General Assembly and Security Council document. We believe that it is at a forum of this kind, and we hope that we will succeed in convening it, that we need to discuss concerns over the presence of missiles in this region, since Iran is not alone in this regard, and what kind of policies various parties follow. The conflict in Yemen is a case in point in terms of exposing the interests of Arab countries and Iran. There is a need to reach agreements. We believe that this forum should reach beyond the Gulf region. You cannot separate Iraq, Egypt and Jordan in terms of their engagement in shaping a new common platform for constructive dialogue. The Arab League, and the five permanent members of the UN Security must all be involved. Probably, the European Union will also be interested. We believe this approach to be concrete and realistic, at least I had the impression that our colleagues were interested in it. Yesterday, I met with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and they are interested in this topic. We agreed to make it a priority as we resume our ministerial contacts.

As for humanitarian aid to Syria, yesterday I had a lengthy conversation on this topic with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. We cannot be satisfied with a situation where double standards are being used in the most flagrant and blatant manner. There are six million refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, or maybe even more. In November 2020, Russia and 20 other countries helped Damascus hold a conference on refugees. It focused on creating conditions that would enable refugees to return home, which is what most of them want. The fact that the United States did everything to intimidate those who were expected to attend this conference in Damascus, and the fact that the UN did not take part in the conference was a real shock for us. In fact, the UN representative in Damascus was the only person representing the UN as an observer. At the time, I wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying that this amounted to a failure to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that provides a framework for the UN’s activity on the Syrian track. It clearly stipulates efforts to facilitate humanitarian deliveries and creating conditions that would enable refugees to return to Syria.

Early in 2021, the European Union held an annual conference on Syrian refugees in Brussels, without the Syrian Arab Republic, but co-chaired by the EU and the UN Secretary-General. How perplexing. Not only was Syria not present, which is already a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, but the funds collected at the conference went towards paying for the accommodation of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, instead of being used to restore infrastructure in Syria. For this reason, I ask those of our friends from the media who worry about ordinary people in conflict zones, to note that initiatives of this kind make a mockery of international humanitarian law.

We adopted the compromise resolution in July. It is true that it extends the so-called cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism for another six months, with deliveries primarily coming from Turkey to the Idlib de-escalation zone. However, considering that the West clings to this mechanism that has not been agreed with Damascus and runs counter to the international humanitarian law, we have every reason to believe that there is some kind of hidden agenda there. We do not get any information on what is in the lorries heading to the Idlib de-escalation zone. The UN swears that they inspect every lorry, but there is no way this can be verified. Even more so, no one knows how this aid or whatever these boxes contain is distributed in the Idlib de-escalation zone, or whether terrorists from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other unacceptable structures benefit from this aid.

Unless specific measures are taken to unblock humanitarian aid deliveries through Damascus, as required under international humanitarian law, we will put an end to this untransparent cross-border activity. Moreover, since the adoption of the resolution requiring that aid be sent into Syria through Damascus as well, there was only one convoy, and even it was far from complete. About half of the supplies that had been waiting to be delivered for almost a year could not reach their destination. The convoy organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent back in April 2020 remained where it was. Those who care about the starving population must, first, appeal to the Western countries that can influence this situation, and second, reach out to the UN leadership so that it complies with the relevant resolution. Apart from purely the humanitarian aspects, on assisting Syria and humanitarian deliveries, this resolution calls for the so-called early recovery projects, including water supply, electricity, housing, schools and healthcare. This must be done, and the UN Secretariat knows this. Syrians currently face so much hardship. Throughout the Syrian crisis the UN Secretariat did little to create conditions facilitating the return of refugees. However, the UN Security Council Resolution is there. It has been adopted unanimously, and has to be carried out.

Question: Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinians would withdraw their recognition of the State of Israel, if Israel did not cease its occupation within one year.  This will lead to chaos in the Middle East. What can the Russian Federation as a friend of the Palestinians and a country maintaining good relations with Israel do to avoid this scenario? After the Palestinians lost faith in the efficacy of the peace process, do they have the right to defend themselves and resist the occupation?

Sergey Lavrov: All right, let’s talk about the Palestinian-Israeli problems. These problems are certainly grave ones. They were not helped by the “casting about” we observed during the previous US administration. I am referring to both their recognition of the Golan Heights and the attempts to promote what was actually an annexation inscribed in the context of the efforts to create a quasi Palestinian state. What is important here is that the Biden administration has confirmed its commitment to the two-state approach. But the Israeli prime minister is not confirming this commitment, although there are politicians in Israel and in the Israeli parliament, who have different views on how to ensure security of the Jewish State without living under constant strain and hitting targets threatening Israel. [According to them], the alternative is to come to an agreement and build a stable and peaceful life through a two-state safe and prosperous coexistence in keeping with the principles of a settlement endorsed by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. The current Israeli leaders are maintaining contacts that mostly boil down to keeping security in the Palestinian territories.

We believe that it would be a major mistake if the processes in the region – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc. – make us forget about the Palestinian question. After all, it is the outgrowth of this planet’s longest-lasting modern conflict, a conflict that other powers sought to settle through the creation of two states. One state was established in no time, but the other state is still to be created.

I believe that the decision approved by the Arab League at the initiative of the King of Saudi Arabia almost 20 years ago now was a wise decision. I am referring to the Arab Peace Initiative, which said that the Arab countries would normalise their relations with Israel immediately after the creation of a viable Palestinian state conforming to all the UN-defined criteria. That was quite a specimen of statecraft. But the Trump administration attempted to turn everything upside down. The Abraham Accords promoted by a number of Arab countries were based on the logic that the first thing to do was to normalise relations between the Arabs and Israel, with the Palestinian problem to be considered afterwards. We welcome any kind of normalisation between any states. Not at the expense of Palestine in this case. It is gratifying that all the signatories of the Abraham Accords, including Bahrain, the UAE, the Sudan, and Morocco stressed that they were fully committed to the UN decisions on the Palestinian problem. This is where we should stand.

You asked whether they have the right to fight. They will not ask [for anyone’s permission]. The unregulated state of the Palestinian problem is the gravest factor feeding radical sentiments on the Arab “street.”  The extremist preachers are saying that their people have been wronged, that they were promised a state of their own 80 years ago but it was a deception. Young people, particularly uneducated ones, are highly sensitive to this sort of propaganda. But my Israeli colleagues get offended when I explain to them this aspect of the Middle East situation and the impact of the lack of a settlement of the Palestinian problem is exerting on stability in the whole of the region. They say I am wrong and that the problem is not very serious. But this is a shortsighted approach.

This is the reason why we are supporting Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas’ proposal to convene an international conference. But we are confident that it must be thoroughly prepared, for which purpose we would like to resume the activities of the Quartet of international intermediaries consisting of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations and to recruit for joint work, for example, the foursome of Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Bahrain – that have relations with Israel.   Probably Saudi Arabia, the author of the Arab Peace Initiative, should be invited as well. This makes 4+4+1+2 (Israel and Palestine). If some parties believe that it is still too early to meet in this format, we are ready to offer our territory as a venue and support any other invitation for Israel and Palestine to meet for direct talks. The important thing is to avoid procrastination. We will seek to support this approach in every way we can.

Most importantly, while what we have just discussed depends on many factors (some depend on Israel, some on other members of regional organisations), there is one matter that depends on no one but the Palestinians themselves. I am referring to Palestinian unity. Attempts were being made to restore it a couple of years ago now. Certain agreements seemed to be reached and a circle of elections was announced. But eventually nothing came of it.  The lack of rapport between Ramallah and Gaza carries a negative charge. If the Palestinians restored their unity, it would be easier and more effective for them to talk to Israel at future negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once said that he did not know who to hold talks with, when it was unclear whom Mr Abbas was representing.  It looked like he had Ramallah alone, while Gaza was controlled by other people. These matters have a strong influence on any attempts to achieve major political results. The Palestinians are unwilling to restore unity. But we are actively working with all the Palestinian factions. I repeatedly invited them to Moscow. During the discussions they agree they should reunite, but later it all somehow goes amiss.

Question (retranslated from English): This week, the European Commission accused Russia of engaging in hacker attacks against European politicians and media representatives, in particular, German politicians and officials, in the run-up to tomorrow’s election in which they are participating. What is your response to these accusations? Do you have any expectations regarding the outcome of elections in Germany?

Trevor Reed’s family believes he was unjustly indicted and sentenced to an unreasonably long term. Could you comment on these statements as well?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already covered Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, for that matter. Paul Whelan was arrested on espionage charges. He was caught red-handed. Trevor Reed was arrested for attacking and hitting a police officer several times. I am not sure how many years in prison people in the United States would get for violent attacks against a police officer. I think, many. Konstantin Yaroshenko and Viktor Bout were simply lured by deception into a deal where they used an aircraft for some purpose, which got them implicated into a case of arms and drug smuggling. They were sentenced to over 20 years in prison without having hurt anyone or having any intention to violate international rules for trading in particular types of goods. So, our US colleagues need to be consistent, if they are offended over someone being arrested here. The same standards should be applied to all situations. In the case of an attack on police officers, see what is happening at the trial on the “Capitol attack.”

With regard to the accusations advanced by the European Commission, we are willing to review the facts, but they simply will not give us any. We are being unfoundedly charged with the alleged poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in London in 2007. They have not yet provided a single piece of evidence, but closed the process to the public and made it “official,” meaning that the judges can now consider secret materials behind closed doors. Now, they want to do the same with the process regarding the woman who died in Salisbury in the context of the Skripal case. They also want closed hearings on the causes of her death in order to avoid disclosing some secret documents. Nobody is making them available to us, but they blame us for everything. As with the Skripal case, they are also blaming us for the Malaysian Boeing case. The court in The Hague ruled that they had reason to believe the United States, which stated it had satellite images to prove that Russia had done it. But they did not show these images to anyone. The Dutch court considers this normal. They believe whatever the Americans say. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said “trust me” in one of his films, and Ronald Reagan added “but verify.” So, we want to conduct verification. In the case of the MH17 flight, we provided the data from the radars and much more. The Ukrainians refused to share the data from their radars. Allegedly, they “went dead” during the crash. They refuse to provide the exchange between the air traffic controller and the pilots. This speaks volumes. And much more.

We’re being accused of interfering  in the US elections. I discussed this matter with my colleagues on many occasions, in particular, with former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He once said they had irrefutable evidence of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections, and I asked him to show it to me. He said they would not let us see it and that we should contact our special services for they would know what it was all about. That was all that was said. Is that okay?

The same goes for cyber attacks. The US authorities accused us (President Biden brought this issue up at a meeting with President Putin) or, rather our ransomware hackers, of attacking a meat processor and a fuel pipeline in the United States demanding them to pay ransom. Nobody showed us any evidence. President Biden, however, said their data show it is not the Russian Government that is doing this, but some people who are based in  Russia.

We let them know that most (about half) of the hacker attacks on our resources over the past year were carried out from the United States. Some originated in Germany and other countries. We have sent 45 official inquiries to our US colleagues indicating concrete facts that needed investigation. We received nine replies. We have received about 10 official inquiries and answered every one of them. I am heartened to know that the Americans agreed to move away from sporadic accusations and complaints and to begin systematic work on this matter after President Putin discussed this issue with President Biden in Geneva. The services that deal with cyber security have established dedicated communication channels. We hope that things will get going now.

With regard to the election in Germany, we wish every success to all its participants.

Question: Last week, the preliminary results of an investigation conducted by Justice Department special counsel John Durham into “Russiagate” were made public in the United States. The indictment mentioned one of the probe’s initiators. It is not the first paradoxical situation reported in the United States. American officials are overturning the US accusations against Russia.

The paradox is that the sanctions adopted against Russia have not been lifted despite the refutation. What is Moscow’s position on this score and what are its American partners saying?

Sergey Lavrov: You have answered your own question. It was unreasonable to do this before pondering the matter or investigating the situation. And it is a pity that after the situation was clarified they have not retraced their steps so as not to harm our bilateral relations. This is what American manners are all about. We have become accustomed to this. We will never ask for the sanctions to be lifted. The “limit” has been exhausted by neighbouring Ukraine, which continues making requests, unable to get its bearings of what is happening.  We are not going to act in this manner.

We do not have any other partners [in the US]. However, dialogue is gradually taking shape in some spheres, such as strategic stability and cybersecurity, which gives hope that we will bit by bit develop dialogue based on mutual respect at least in some spheres of international relations.

Question (retranslated from English): My question concerns Palestine. Many people say that Palestinian settlements are occupying too much land, that there are already half a million settlers. Do you think it’s time for the international community to settle the problem by creating one state for two peoples? Could you comment on this please?

As you are aware, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said just two days ago now that at least 50,000 Yemenis are starving and millions need humanitarian aid and food. Do you think that the international community, which includes Russia, has let the Yemeni people down by failing to put sufficient pressure on all the conflicting parties, including Saudi Arabia?

Sergey Lavrov: I would not say that the international community is not doing enough to convince the conflicting parties to sit down at the negotiating table not only to exchange accusations but also to come to some agreements.  There are a number of factors involved here, which are, regrettably, absolutely subjective and have to do with the desire of certain individuals to remain in power as long as possible, which is having a negative effect on the negotiating process and the possibility of compromise. I will not go into any details right now, but Yemen is indeed a country with the world’s largest humanitarian disaster, which was pointed out long ago, when the conflict had only just started and was in the hot phase.

We are involved through our Embassy. Our ambassador to Yemen is currently working from Riyadh, where a group of ambassadors are acting together to support the process and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen. I hope that everyone will gradually come to see the futility of trying to put off the necessary agreements.

As for the [Palestinian] settlements, we have always condemned the settlement policy, saying, just as you have so rightly pointed out, that this would create facts on the ground that will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. I have heard about the one state solution where all people would have equal rights. I believe that this is unrealistic. Many academics say that this, if this should happen, will undermine the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. But if equal rights are not granted to everyone in Israel, it might become an apartheid state.

I am quite sure that the two-state solution is the only option. I would just like to point out that many people in the Israeli political elite share this same view and believe that this option must be promoted more actively.

Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Part 1 is here

The 20th anniversary summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, enshrined no less than a new geopolitical paradigm.

Iran, now a full SCO member, was restored to its traditionally prominent Eurasian role, following the recent $400 billion-worth trade and development deal struck with China. Afghanistan was the main topic – with all players agreeing on the path ahead, as detailed in the Dushanbe Declaration. And all Eurasian integration paths are now converging, in unison, towards the new geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm.

Call it a multipolar development dynamic in synergy with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Dushanbe Declaration was quite explicit on what Eurasian players are aiming at: “a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on universally recognized principles of international law, cultural and civilizational diversity, mutually beneficial and equal cooperation of states under the central coordinating role of the UN.”

For all the immense challenges inherent to the Afghan jigsaw puzzle, hopeful signs emerged this Tuesday, when Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah met in Kabul with the Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov, China’s special envoy Yue Xiaoyong, and Pakistan’s special envoy Mohammad Sadiq Khan.

This troika – Russia, China, Pakistan – is at the diplomatic forefront. The SCO reached a consensus that Islamabad will be coordinating with the Taliban the formation of a government also including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

The most glaring, immediate consequence of the SCO not only incorporating Iran but also taking the Afghan bull by the horns, fully supported by the Central Asian “stans”, is that the Empire of Chaos has been completely marginalized.

From Southwest Asia to Central Asia, a real reset has as protagonists the SCO, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), BRI and the Russia-China strategic partnership. The missing links so far, for different reasons – Iran and Afghanistan – are now fully incorporated to the chessboard.

In my frequent conversations with Alastair Crooke, one of the world’s foremost political analysts, he evoked once again Lampedusa’s The Leopard: everything must change so everything must remain the same. In this case, imperial hegemony, as interpreted by Washington: “In its growing confrontation with China, a ruthless Washington has demonstrated that what matters to it now is not Europe, but the Indo-Pacific region.” That’s Cold War 2.0 prime terrain.

With very little potential to contain China now that it’s been all but expelled from the Eurasia heartland, the fallback position had to be a classic maritime power play: the “free and open Indo-Pacific”, complete with Quad and AUKUS, the whole set up spun to death as an “effort” attempting to preserve dwindling American supremacy.

The sharp contrast between the SCO continental integration drive and the “we all live in an Aussie submarine” gambit (my excuses to Lennon-McCartney) speaks for itself. A toxic mix of hubris and desperation is in the air, with not even a whiff of pathos to alleviate the downfall.

The Global South is not impressed. Addressing the forum in Dushanbe, President Putin remarked that the portfolio of nations knocking on the SCO’s door was huge, and that was not surprising at all. Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now SCO dialogue partners, on the same level with Afghanistan and Turkey. It’s quite feasible they may be joined next year by Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Serbia and a cast of dozens.

And it doesn’t stop in Eurasia. In his meticulously timed address to CELAC, Xi Jinping no less than invited 33 Latin American nations to be part of the Eurasia-Africa-Americas New Silk Roads.

Remember the Scythians

Iran as a SCO protagonist and at the center of the New Silk Roads restores it to a rightful historic role. By the middle of the first millennium B.C., Northern Iranians ruled the core of the steppes in Central Eurasia. By that time the Scythians had migrated into the Western steppe, while other steppe Iranians made inroads as far away as China.

Scythians – a Northern (or “East”) Iranian people – were not necessarily just fierce warriors. That’s a crude stereotype. Very few in the West know that the Scythians developed a sophisticated trade system, as described by Herodotus among others, linking Greece, Persia and China.

And why’s that? Because trade was an essential means to support their sociopolitical infrastructure. Herodotus got the picture because he actually visited the city of Olbia and other places in Scythia.

The Scythians were called Saka by the Persians – and that leads us to another fascinating territory: the Sakas may have been one of the prime ancestors of the Pashtun in Afghanistan.

What’s in a name – Scythian? Well, multitudes. The Greek form Scytha meant Northern Iranian “archer”. So that was the denomination of all the Northern Iranian peoples living between Greece in the West and China in the East.

Now imagine a very busy international commerce network developed across the heartland, with the focus on Central Eurasia, by the Scythians, the Sogdians, and even the Xiongnu – who kept battling the Chinese on and off, as detailed by early Greek and Chinese historical sources.

These Central Eurasians traded with all the peoples living on their borders: that meant Europeans, Southwest Asians, South Asians and East Asians. They were the precursors of the multiple Ancient Silk Roads.

The Sogdians followed the Scythians; Sogdiana was an independent Greco-Bactrian state in the 3rd century B.C. – encompassing areas of northern Afghanistan – before it was conquered by nomads from the east that ended up establishing the Kushan empire, which soon expanded south into India.

Zoroaster was born in Sogdiana; Zoroastrianism was huge in Central Asia for centuries. The Kushans for their part adopted Buddhism: and that’s how Buddhism eventually arrived in China.

By the fist century A.D. all these Central Asian empires were linked – via long-distance trade – to Iran, India and China. That was the historical basis of the multiple, Ancient Silk Roads – which linked China to the West for several centuries until the Age of Discovery configured the fateful Western maritime trade dominance.

Arguably, even more than a series of interlinked historical phenomena, the denomination “Silk Road” works best as a metaphor of cross-cultural connectivity. That’s what is at the heart of the Chinese concept of New Silk Roads. And average people across the heartland feel it, because that’s imprinted in the collective unconscious in Iran, China and all Central Asian “stans”.

The Revenge of the Heartland

Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal, is among the very few top scholars who are analyzing the process of Eurasia integration in depth.

His latest book practically spells out the whole story in its title: Europe as the Western Peninsula of Greater Eurasia: Geoeconomic Regions in a Multipolar World.

Diesen shows, in detail, how a “Greater Eurasia region, that integrates Asia and Europe, is currently being negotiated and organized with a Chinese-Russian partnership at the center. Eurasian geoeconomic instruments of power are gradually forming the foundation of a super-region with new strategic industries, transportation corridors and financial instruments. Across the Eurasian continent, states as different as South Korea, India, Kazakhstan and Iran are all advancing various formats for Eurasia integration.”

The Greater Eurasia Partnership has been at the center of Russian foreign policy at least since the St. Petersburg forum in 2016. Diesen duly notes that, “while Beijing and Moscow share the ambition to construct a larger Eurasian region, their formats differ. The common denominator of both formats is the necessity of a Sino-Russian partnership to integrate Eurasia.” That’s what was made very clear at the SCO summit.

It’s no wonder the process irks the Empire immensely, because Greater Eurasia, led by Russia-China, is a mortal attack against the geoeconomic architecture of Atlanticism. And that leads us to the nest of vipers debate around the EU concept of “strategic autonomy” from the US; that would be essential to establish true European sovereignty – and eventually, closer integration within Eurasia.

European sovereignty is simply non-existent when its foreign policy means submission to dominatrix NATO. The humiliating, unilateral withdrawal of Afghanistan coupled with Anglo-only AUKUS was a graphic illustration that the Empire doesn’t give a damn about its European vassals.

Throughout the book Diesen shows, in detail, how the concept of Eurasia unifying Europe and Asia “has through history been an alternative to the dominance of maritime powers in the oceanic-centric world economy”, and how “British and American strategies have been deeply influenced” by the ghost of an emerging Eurasia, “a direct threat to their advantageous position in the oceanic world order”.

Now, the crucial factor seems to be the fragmentation of Atlanticism. Diesen identifies three levels: the de facto decoupling of Europe and the US propelled by Chinese ascendancy; the mind-boggling internal divisions in the EU, enhanced by the parallel universe inhabited by Brussels eurocrats; and last but not least, “polarization within Western states” caused by the excesses of neoliberalism.

Well, just as we think we’re out, Mackinder and Spykman pull us back in. It’s always the same story: the Anglo-American obsession in preventing the rise of a “peer competitor” (Brzezinski) in Eurasia, or an alliance (Russia-Germany in the Mackinder era, now the Russia-China strategic partnership) capable, as Diesen puts it, “of wrestling geoeconomic control away from the oceanic powers.”

As much as imperial strategists remain hostages of Spykman – who ruled that the US must control the maritime periphery of Eurasia – definitely it’s not AUKUS/Quad that is going to pull it off.

Very few people, East and West, may remember that Washington had developed its own Silk Road concept during the Bill Clinton years – later co-opted by Dick Cheney with a Pipelineistan twist, and then circling all back to Hillary Clinton, announcing her own Silk Road dream in India in 2011.

Diesen reminds us how Hillary sounded remarkably like a proto-Xi: “Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road. Not a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections. That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan and India.”

Hillary does Pipelineistan! Well, in the end, she didn’t. Reality dictates that Russia is connecting its European and Pacific regions, while China connects its developed east coast with Xinjiang, and both connect Central Asia. Diesen interprets it as Russia “completing its historical conversion from a European/Slavic empire to a Eurasian civilizational state.”

So in the end we’re back to…the Scythians. The prevailing neo-Eurasia concept revives the mobility of nomadic civilizations – via top transportation infrastructure – to connect everything between Europe and Asia. We could call it the Revenge of the Heartland: they are the powers building this new, interconnected Eurasia. Say goodbye to the ephemeral, post-Cold War US unipolar moment.

Eurasia takes shape: How the SCO just flipped the world order

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With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia.Photo Credit: The Cradle
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SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and cross-posted with The Cradle

Part 1 of 2 on Eurasia

With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia.

As a rudderless West watched on, the 20th anniversary meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was laser-focused on two key deliverables: shaping up Afghanistan and kicking off a full-spectrum Eurasian integration.

The two defining moments of the historic 20th anniversary Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan had to come from the keynote speeches of – who else – the leaders of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

Xi Jinping: “Today we will launch procedures to admit Iran as a full member of the SCO.”

Vladimir Putin: “I would like to highlight the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed today between the SCO Secretariat and the Eurasian Economic Commission. It is clearly designed to further Russia’s idea of establishing a Greater Eurasia Partnership covering the SCO, the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).”

In short, over the weekend, Iran was enshrined in its rightful, prime Eurasian role, and all Eurasian integration paths converged toward a new global geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm, with a sonic boom bound to echo for the rest of the century.

That was the killer one-two punch immediately following the Atlantic alliance’s ignominious imperial retreat from Afghanistan. Right as the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, the redoubtable Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, told his Iranian colleague Admiral Ali Shamkhani that “the Islamic Republic will become a full member of the SCO.”

Dushanbe revealed itself as the ultimate diplomatic crossover. President Xi firmly rejected any “condescending lecturing” and emphasized development paths and governance models compatible with national conditions. Just like Putin, he stressed the complementary focus of BRI and the EAEU, and in fact summarized a true multilateralist Manifesto for the Global South.

Right on point, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan noted that the SCO should advance “the development of a regional macro-economy.” This is reflected in the SCO’s drive to start using local currencies for trade, bypassing the US dollar.

Watch that quadrilateral

Dushanbe was not just a bed of roses. Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, a staunch, secular Muslim and former member of the Communist Party of the USSR – in power for no less than 29 years, reelected for the 5th time in 2020 with 90 percent of the vote – right off the bat denounced the “medieval sharia” of Taliban 2.0 and said they had already “abandoned their previous promise to form an inclusive  government.”

Rahmon, who has never been caught smiling on camera, was already in power when the Taliban conquered Kabul in 1996. He was bound to publicly support his Tajik cousins against the “expansion of extremist ideology” in Afghanistan – which in fact worries all SCO member-states when it comes to smashing dodgy jihadi outfits of the ISIS-K mold .

The meat of the matter in Dushanbe was in the bilaterals – and one quadrilateral.

Take the bilateral between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese FM Wang Yi. Jaishankar said that China should not view “its relations with India through the lens of a third country,” and took pains to stress that India “does not subscribe to any clash of civilizations theory.”

That was quite a tough sell considering that the first in-person Quad summit takes place this week in Washington, DC, hosted by that “third country” which is now knee deep in clash-of-civilizations mode against China.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a bilateral roll, meeting the presidents of Iran, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The official Pakistani diplomatic position is that Afghanistan should not be abandoned, but engaged.

That position added nuance to what Russian Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs Bakhtiyer Khakimov had explained about Kabul’s absence at the SCO table: “At this stage, all member states have an understanding that there are no reasons for an invitation until there is a legitimate, generally recognized government in Afghanistan.”

And that, arguably, leads us to the key SCO meeting: a quadrilateral with the Foreign Ministers of Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi affirmed: “We are monitoring whether all the groups are included in the government or not.” The heart of the matter is that, from now on, Islamabad coordinates the SCO strategy on Afghanistan, and will broker Taliban negotiations with senior Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders. This will eventually lead the way towards an inclusive government regionally recognized by SCO member-nations.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was warmly received by all – especially after his forceful keynote speech, an Axis of Resistance classic. His bilateral with Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko revolved around a discussion on “sanctions confrontation.” According to Lukashenko: “If the sanctions did any harm to Belarus, Iran, other countries, it was only because we ourselves are to blame for this. We were not always negotiable, we did not always find the path we had to take under the pressure of sanctions.”

Considering Tehran is fully briefed on Islamabad’s SCO role in terms of Afghanistan, there will be no need to deploy the Fatemiyoun brigade – informally known as the Afghan Hezbollah – to defend the Hazaras. Fatemiyoun was formed in 2012 and was instrumental in Syria in the fight against Daesh, especially in Palmyra. But if ISIS-K does not go away, that’s a completely different story.

Particular important for SCO members Iran and India will be the future of Chabahar port. That remains India’s crypto-Silk Road gambit to connect it to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The geoeconomic success of Chabahar more than ever depends on a stable Afghanistan – and this is where Tehran’s interests fully converge with Russia-China’s SCO drive.

What the 2021 SCO Dushanbe Declaration spelled out about Afghanistan is quite revealing:

1. Afghanistan should be an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful state, free of terrorism, war and drugs.

2. It is critical to have an inclusive government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society.

3. SCO member states, emphasizing the significance of the many years of hospitality and effective assistance provided by regional and neighboring countries to Afghan refugees, consider it important for the international community to make active efforts to facilitate their dignified, safe and sustainable return to their homeland.

As much as it may sound like an impossible dream, this is the unified message of Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and the Central Asian “stans.” One hopes that Pakistani PM Imran Khan is up to the task and ready for his SCO close-up.

That troubled Western peninsula

The New Silk Roads were officially launched eight years ago by Xi Jinping, first in Astana – now Nur-Sultan – and then in Jakarta.

This is how I reported it at the time.

The announcement came close to a SCO summit – then in Bishkek. The SCO, widely dismissed in Washington and Brussels as a mere talk shop, was already surpassing its original mandate of fighting the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism and extremism – and encompassing politics and geoeconomics.

In 2013, there was a Xi-Putin-Rouhani trilateral. Beijing expressed full support for Iran’s peaceful nuclear program (remember, this was two years before the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the JCPOA).

Despite many experts dismissing it at the time, there was indeed a common China-Russia-Iran front on Syria (Axis of Resistance in action). Xinjiang was being promoted as the key hub for the Eurasian Land Bridge. Pipelineistan was at the heart of the Chinese strategy – from Kazakhstan oil to Turkmenistan gas. Some people may even remember when Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was waxing lyrical about an American-propelled New Silk Road.

Now compare it to Xi’s Multilateralism Manifesto in Dushanbe eight years later, reminiscing on how the SCO “has proved to be an excellent example of multilateralism in the 21stcentury,” and “has played an important role in enhancing the voice of developing countries.”

The strategic importance of this SCO summit taking place right after the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok cannot be overstated enough. The EEF focuses of course on the Russian Far East – and essentially advances interconnectivity between Russia and Asia. It is an absolutely key hub of Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership.

A cornucopia of deals is on the horizon – expanding from the Far East to the Arctic and the development of the Northern Sea Route, and involving everything from precious metals and green energy to digital sovereignty flowing through logistics corridors between Asia and Europe via Russia.

As Putin hinted in his keynote speech, this is what the Greater Eurasia Partnership is all about: the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), BRI, India’s initiative, ASEAN, and now the SCO, developing in a harmonized network, crucially operated by “sovereign decision-making centers.”

So if the BRI proposes a very Taoist “community of shared future for human kind,” the Russian project, conceptually, proposes a dialogue of civilizations (already evoked by the Khatami years in Iran) and sovereign economic-political projects. They are, indeed, complementary.

Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal, is among the very few top scholars who are analyzing this process in depth. His latest book remarkably tells the whole story in its title:  Europe as the Western Peninsula of Greater Eurasia: Geoeconomic Regions in a Multipolar World. It’s not clear whether Eurocrats in Brussels – slaves of Atlanticism and incapable of grasping the potential of Greater Eurasia – will end up exercising real strategic autonomy.

Diesen evokes in detail the parallels between the Russian and the Chinese strategies. He notes how China “is pursuing a three-pillared geoeconomic initiative by developing technological leadership via its China 2025 plan, new transportation corridors via its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, and establishing new financial instruments such as banks, payment systems and the internationalization of the yuan. Russia is similarly pursuing technological sovereignty, both in the digital sphere and beyond, as well as new transportation corridors such as the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic, and, primarily, new financial instruments.”

The whole Global South, stunned by the accelerated collapse of the western Empire and its unilateral “rules-based order, now seems to be ready to embrace the new groove, fully displayed in Dushanbe: a multipolar Greater Eurasia of sovereign equals.

Another Look at 9/11: Ask Not ‘What Happened?’ but ‘Who Did It?’

See the source image

Philip Giraldi

September 16, 202

The evidence of Israeli involvement is substantial, based on the level of the Jewish state’s espionage operations in the U.S., Phil Giraldi writes.

The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 last Saturday has raised many of the usual issues about what actually happened on that day. Were hijacked airliners actually crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or was the damage in New York City attributable to explosives or even some kind of nuclear device? These are fundamental questions and the so-called “Truthers” who raise them have been inspired by their reading of the 585 page 9/11 Report, which is most charitably described as incomplete, though many would reasonably call it a government cover-up.

I have long believed that unless one actually sees or experiences something first hand the description of any event is no better than hearsay. The closest I came to “seeing” 9/11 was the panicked evacuation of a CIA office building, where I was working at the time. Another related bit of 9/11 narrative also came from two close friends who were driving into work at the Pentagon when they each independently observed what appeared to be a large plane passing over their cars and striking the building. I consider the sources credible but was it an airplane or a missile? And I was not there to see it with my own eyes, so I am reluctant to claim that my friends actually saw something that in retrospect might have been misconstrued.

Critics of the physical and engineering aspects of the accepted narrative certainly have a great deal of expert evidence that supports their case. The way the towers fell as well as the collapse of Building 7 nearby are suggestive of something other than the impact of an airliner near the top of the structure, but I am no expert in the science of the matter and have avoided expressing a view regarding it.

Apart from what happened, I have always been more intrigued by “Who done it?” I found the 9/11 Report to be conspicuously lacking in its failure to cover possible foreign involvement, to include the Saudis, Pakistanis and the Israelis. Indeed, President Joe Biden has taken steps that have resulted in the declassification and release of 16 pages of the notorious 28-page redaction of documents relating to any possible Saudi role. The document consists of interviews with Saudi student Omar al-Bayoumi, who reportedly helped support several hijackers.

The Saudis are being sued by 9/11 survivors, but it is unlikely that anything really sensitive will ever be exposed, as explained by investigative journalist Jim Bovard. Indeed, the documents released last Saturday did not demonstrate that the Saudi government itself played any direct role in 9/11, though it is clear that wealthy Saudis and even members of the Royal Family had been supporting and funding al-Qaeda. It is also known that that Saudi Embassy and Consulate employees in the U.S. had funded the alleged hijackers.

Friends who were in CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time of 9/11 tend to believe that the Saudis were indeed supporting their fellow citizens while in the U.S. but were likely not knowledgeable regarding any terrorist plot. They observed, however, that there was considerable evidence that Israel knew in advance about what was impending and may have even been instrumental in making sure that it succeeded.

The evidence of Israeli involvement is substantial, based on the level of the Jewish state’s espionage operations in the U.S. and also its track record on so-called covert actions simulating terrorist attacks designed to influence political decision making in foreign countries. But, of course, in reporting on the 9/11 tragedy no one in the mainstream media did pick up on the connection, inhibited no doubt by the understanding that there are some things that one just does not write about Israel if one hopes to remain employed. That is true in spite of the fact that the Israeli angle to 9/11 is without a doubt a good story, consigned to the alternative media, where it can be marginalized by critics as a conspiracy theory or the product of anti-Semitism.

In the year 2001 Israel was running a massive spying operation directed against Muslims either resident or traveling in the United States. The operation included the creation of a number of cover companies in New Jersey, Florida and also on the west coast that served as spying mechanisms for Mossad officers. The effort was supported by the Mossad Station in Washington DC and included a large number of volunteers, the so-called “art students” who traveled around the U.S. selling various products at malls and outdoor markets. The FBI was aware of the numerous Israeli students who were routinely overstaying their visas but they were regarded as a minor nuisance and were normally left to the tender mercies of the inspectors at the Bureau of Customs and Immigration.

The Israelis were also running more sophisticated intelligence operations inside the United States, many of which were focused on Washington’s military capabilities and intentions. Some specialized intelligence units concentrated on obtaining military and dual use technology. It was also known that Israeli spies had penetrated the phone systems of the U.S. government, to include those at the White House.

All of that came into focus on September 11, 2001, when a New Jersey housewife saw something from the window of her apartment building, which overlooked the World Trade Center. She watched as the buildings burned and crumbled but also noted something strange. Three young men were kneeling on the roof of a white transit van parked by the water’s edge, making a movie in which they featured themselves high fiving and laughing in front of the catastrophic scene unfolding behind them. The woman wrote down the license plate number of the van and called the police, who responded quickly and soon both the local force and the FBI began looking for the vehicle, which was subsequently seen by other witnesses in various locations along the New Jersey waterfront, its occupants “celebrating and filming.”

The license plate number revealed that the van belonged to a New Jersey registered company called Urban Moving Systems. The van was identified and pulled over. Five men between the ages of 22 and 27 years old emerged to be detained at gunpoint and handcuffed. They were all Israelis. One of them had $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock and another had two foreign passports. Bomb sniffing dogs reacted to the smell of explosives in the van.

According to the initial police report, the driver identified as Sivan Kurzberg, stated “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” The five men were detained at the Bergen County jail in New Jersey before being transferred the FBI’s Foreign Counterintelligence Section, which handles allegations of spying.

After the arrest, the FBI obtained a warrant to search Urban Moving System’s Weehawken, NJ, offices. Papers and computers were seized. The company owner Dominick Suter, also an Israeli, answered FBI questions but when a follow-up interview was set up a few days later it was learned that he had fled the country for Israel, putting both his business and home up for sale. It was later learned that Suter has been associated with at least fourteen businesses in the United States, mostly in New Jersey and New York but also in Florida.

The five Israelis were held in Brooklyn, initially on charges relating to visa fraud. FBI interrogators questioned them for more than two months. Several were held in solitary confinement so they could not communicate with each other and two of them were given repeated polygraph exams, which they failed when claiming that they were nothing more than students working summer jobs. The two men that the FBI focused on most intensively were believed to be Mossad staff officers and the other three were volunteers helping with surveillance. Interestingly, photo evidence demonstrated that they had been seen “casing” the area where they were seen celebrating on the day before, indicating that they had prior knowledge of the attack.

The Israelis were not exactly cooperative, but the FBI concluded from documents obtained at their office in Weehawken that they had been targeting Arabs in New York and New Jersey. The FBI concluded that there was a distinct possibility that the Israelis had actually monitored the activities of at least two of the alleged 9/11 hijackers while the cover companies and intelligence personnel often intersected with locations frequented by the Saudis.

The dots were apparently never connected by investigators. Police records in New Jersey and New York where the men were held have disappeared and FBI interrogation reports are inaccessible. Media coverage of the case also died, though the five were referred to in the press as the “dancing Israelis” and by some, more disparagingly, as the “dancing Shlomos.”

Inevitably, the George W. Bush White House intervened. After 71 days in detention, the five Israelis were inexplicably released from prison, put on a plane, and deported. One should also recall that when the news of 9/11 reached Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pleased, saying that “It’s very good. Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” It will “strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.” And, of course, it was conveniently attributable to Israel’s enemies.

The possible role of Israel in 9/11 was first explored in book form in 2003 by Antiwar.com editorial director Justin Raimondo in his The Terror Enigma, a short book focusing on Israeli spying and inconsistencies in the narrative that bore the provocative subtitle “9/11 and the Israeli Connection.”

Currently, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 has inspired some others to take another look at the possible Israeli role. Ron Unz has recently completed an exhaustive examination of the evidence. He observes that 9/11 and its aftermath have shaped “the last two decades, greatly changing the daily lives and liberties of most ordinary Americans.” He asks “What organized group would have been sufficiently powerful and daring to carry off an attack of such vast scale against the central heart of the world’s sole superpower? And how were they possibly able to orchestrate such a massively effective media and political cover-up, even enlisting the participation of the U.S. government itself?”

Ron Unz answers his question, concluding that there is “a strong, perhaps even overwhelming case that the Israeli Mossad together with its American collaborators played the central role” in the attack. His argument is based on the noted inconsistencies in the standard narrative, plus an examination of the history of Israeli false flag and mass terrorism attacks. It also includes new information gleaned from Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman’s recent book Rise and Kill First: the Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.

To a certain extent, Unz relies on a detailed investigative article written by French journalist Laurent Guyenot in 2018 as well as on an argument made by an ex-Marine and former instructor at the U.S. Army War College Alan Sabrosky in an article where he records how “Many years ago I read a fascinating discussion of the ‘tactics of mistake.’ This essentially entailed using a target’s prejudices and preconceptions to mislead them as to the origin and intent of the attack, entrapping them in a tactical situation that later worked to the attacker’s strategic advantage. This is what unfolded in the 9/11 attacks that led us into the matrix of wars and conflicts, present (Afghanistan and Iraq), planned (Iran and Syria) and projected (Jordan and Egypt), that benefit Israel and no other country — although I concede that many private contractors and politicians are doing very well for themselves out of the death and misery of others. I am also absolutely certain as a strategic analyst that 9/11 itself, from which all else flows, was a classic Mossad-orchestrated operation. But Mossad did not do it alone. They needed local help within America (and perhaps elsewhere) and they had it, principally from some alumni of PNAC (the misnamed Project for a New American Century) and their affiliates within and outside of the U.S. Government (USG), who in the 9/11 attacks got the ‘catalytic event’ they needed and craved to take the U.S. to war on Israel’s behalf…”

Economist and author Paul Craig Roberts has also been motivated by the anniversary to review the evidence and concludes “Circumstantial evidence suggests that 9/11 was a scheme of George W. Bush regime neoconservative officials allied with vice president Dick Cheney and Israel to create a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ that would generate support on the part of the American people and Washington’s European allies for a Middle Eastern ‘war on terror’ whose real purpose was to destroy Israel’s enemies in the interest of Greater Israel… This is the most plausible explanation, but, if true, it is not one that the U.S. and Israeli governments would ever acknowledge. Consequently, we are stuck with an official explanation long championed by the presstitutes that no one believes.”

Yes, an implausible explanation that no one really believes for the greatest national security disaster in America’s twenty-first century. And Israel gets yet another pass.

Taliban danger

SEPTEMBER 12, 2021

Taliban danger

by Batko Milacic for the Saker Blog

During the 20 years of Afghan occupation, which was initially quick and successful, the Americans and their allies failed to give Afghanistan anything. The impression is that successive US administrations initially had no strategy to pacify the country. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the country’s secular regime, abandoned by the Russians, held out for three years and collapsed only after being completely deprived of all assistance from Moscow. The allied international forces were still in the country when the government of President Ghani, which they controlled, left the capital at the mercy of the Taliban. Why?!

When Russians were in Afganistan, they not only fought, but taught the Afghans, sending one of them into space and building hospitals, roads and factories. Therefore, the Afghans, who fought on the side of the country’s last truly secular government, knew what they were fighting for.

What did the soldiers of the current Afghan army, let alone ordinary Afghans, have to die for? For the president who stole so much money that it didn’t fit into his plane? For kickbacks from US arms manufacturers who supplied Afghanistan with the equipment, all of which was inherited by the Taliban? Maybe for freedom and universal human values, which had allegedly been promoted for 20 years by numerous NGOs that squandered the money of American and European taxpayers?!

Ordinary Afghan people lives by the same rules as their distant ancestors; they don`t understand the advantages of Western culture. Two decades of US rule have cost Afghans nearly a million lives. They faced killings of civilians “by mistake,” cleansing of villages, forced prostitution and humiliation. And a small sliver of “Europeanized Afghans,” supporters of women’s rights, religious tolerance and freedom, are just as alien to ordinary Afghans as are the arrogant US military. Therefore, some Afghans greet the Taliban as liberators, while others have learned to tolerate them and believe that life will not get any worse than it is now!

However, there are still others, who have no other choice than to fight! These are representatives of ethnic minorities. Nine percent of the country’s population are ethnic Uzbeks, and 27 percent – Tajiks. Pashtuns make up 42 percent of the Afghan population and they are the main source of the support for the Taliban`s. The Pashtuns are backed by neighboring Pakistan, and provide most of the volunteers for the militants. As for the Tajiks and Uzbeks, they were the main pillars of the secular state. Their leaders, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Sr. and Marshal Dostum, fought the Taliban throughout the initial period of their rule. They are less religious and not all of them are willing to spend the rest of their lives living according to strict Sharia law. Fully aware of this, the Taliban were all set not to repeat the mistakes they made in 1996-2001. The ethnic minorities must not only submit; they must be deprived of any chance to rebel. Given the fact that the country’s new rulers are divided into several groups, this goal was even easier to achieve. For example, the Haqqani Network, which is even more radical than the Taliban themselves (impossible as it may seem), and has in its ranks a large number of Arabic-speaking immigrants from ISIS and al-Qaeda, has sent out its militants to Panjshir and other northern provinces, while the Taliban still pretended to negotiate with them.

Panjshir is a small mountain valley in the north of the country, which has never really submitted to any conqueror. The passes leading to it are easy to block, and the terrain of the province itself is very conducive to guerrilla warfare. At the same time, routes go through the province to China and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, making it an important logistics hub. In addition, the sparsely populated valley (around 100,000 inhabitants) is rich in minerals, including emeralds, which actually allowed Massoud Sr. to hold out there for five years. This is why the Taliban are so eager to nip the local resistance in the bud. The only reason they needed negotiations was to improve their image in the world. In Washington, they have already been recognized as a “different” Taliban, not those who are responsible for the attacks on and killings of civilians. Well, you demonstrate to the outside world your flexibility and readiness for dialogue, and, who knows, maybe one day they will also give you diplomatic recognition! Naturally enough, Ahmad Massoud Jr. and Amrullah Saleh (also an ethnic Tajik), who had declared himself the legitimate head of Afghanistan, had no desire to leave the autonomy, give up their ability to maintain self-defense units and exercise real control over part of the government. Meanwhile, the “Haqqani Network” has already put the defense capability of the “lion cub of Panjshir” to the test.

The rest we know from news reports. After the Taliban and their allies suffered their first setbacks, drones suddenly appeared in the air, flown by Pakistani operators. According to numerous reports, Pakistani special OPs helped the Taliban break into the valley, resulting in videos from its center and from the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud being posted online on the morning of September 6. The “Lion” announced the continuation of the resistance and went into the mountains. Fearing for their life (and with good reason too) most of the local civilian population left with him. Well, the pro-Soviet forces in Afghanistan once also controlled the valley, while Massoud Sr. fought and eventually defeated them in the surrounding mountains. There is a big difference though. The best anti-guerrilla tactic is to deprive the militants of any support – in other words, “scorched earth” or genocide. With Panjshir completely cut off from the outside world, the Taliban simultaneously solve two problems – they will get rid of the disloyal population by killing them or squeezing them out to Tajikistan, and reward their supporters by handing them the houses and property left behind by the escaped local residents, thereby ensuring their loyalty and creating a formidable base against Massoud’s supporters. All of this comes as very good news for Pakistan, which has given the Taliban full control over the country and received access to the resources of the potentially very rich Panjshir.

Massoud Jr., who represents Afghanistan’s eight million Tajiks, will apparently be forced to fight to the bitter end. However, it looks like he will not be getting any outside help now that the White House has apparently decided to leave the region completely and has clinched some kind of secret deals with the Taliban or their patrons from the neighboring countries. How else to explain the position of Dushanbe? The Tajik authorities obviously ignore the situation, refusing to support their fellow country folk. Have the Americans allegedly guaranteed the Central Asian republic security against the Taliban if Dushanbe does not interfere in the process of Afghan unification? But how can one believe an old fox telling the sheep that the wolf will not touch them? All the more so, if the wolves have just bitten the red-haired deceiver?

A much similar situation has developed in Uzbekistan – the country that Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and a graduate of Soviet military schools, who is considered a man of great courage, has fled to. However, this brave man with all his associates, including loyal fighters, has crossed the Uzbek border and disappeared. Unusual behavior for a combat-hardened general who fought for 35 years and never accepted Islamists. What was he promised? Security for the Uzbek minority? Or was he simply bought out? Or blackmailed? In any case, the last hero of all wars disappeared from the media radar without firing a single shot.

The information vacuum will allow the Taliban to quickly take control of the whole country. The world media will not write about the millions of victims of ethnic and religious cleansing simply because it will know nothing about that. If the “young lion of Panjshir” and Saleh do not receive real support in the coming days, they are doomed, along with their compatriots. Back in 1975, the world was blissfully unaware of the insane atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, who killed a third of their own population, simply because there was no one to write about this in a country shuttered from the outside world. In 2021, they will also try to hide the death of several million people, if only this is what Washington wants. And the White House does want a dialogue with the Taliban, forgetting about the victims of September 11, forgetting about the terrorist attacks across Europe and the hundreds of young men and women who died for “democracy” in Afghanistan. But what will the Taliban do after they crack down on Afghan minorities? Will it be peaceful construction? No, because radical Islam presupposes an eternal struggle against infidels in the name of a global caliphate and constant expansion. Its supporters have no need for music, literature, cinema – all these wonderful things created by mankind. They go to God through blood and violence, and they will go beyond their immediate neighbors. With a solid base and money from the sale of resources to China and Pakistan, the new Afghan authorities will become a unifying center for all like-minded Islamists – the holdovers from al-Qaeda and ISIS. As for the Taliban’s promise to get rid of the sprawling drug industry, which, during the 20 years of US occupation spiked from 120 tons a year to a whopping 10,000 tons, it is hardly credible. Indeed, why destroy what can be sold to infidels with profit and then be spent on a “holy war” bombing peaceful American and European cities. This is exactly what the Western world will get if it fails to figure out (and fast!) how to check the triumphant advance of terrorism from Afghanistan. True, judging by its escape from Kabul, the world policeman now urgently needs to talk this over with Moscow and Beijing. Otherwise, a new 9/11 may not be too far off.

Pakistan will face consequences of its actions in Afghanistan, warns ex-Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

September 11, 2021

Pakistan will face consequences of its actions in Afghanistan, warns ex-Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

https://www.wionews.com/world/exclusive-pakistan-will-face-consequences-of-its-actions-in-afghanistan-warns-ex-iran-president-mahmoud-ahmadinejad-411375

Story highlights

Speaking to WION’s Executive Editor Palki Sharma, Ahmadinejad stressed that the handing over of power to Taliban is part of a ‘satanic plot’ by the western powers led by the US. India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China and regional countries will face the consequences of the re-emergence of Taliban, he said on WION’s Afghanistan Dialogues programme. He urged Pakistan to join efforts by Iran and India to resolve the crisis.

Amid reports that Pakistan had helped the Taliban quell the resistance in Panjshir, Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Islamabad that it will be haunted by its actions in near future in which he foresaw the militant group threatening Pakistani government and sovereignty.

Speaking to WION’s Executive Editor Palki Sharma, Ahmadinejad also stressed that the handing over of power to Taliban is part of a ‘satanic plot’ by the western powers led by the US.

Afghan Protests: Foreign-Financed Color Revolution Or Genuine Grievances?

9 SEPTEMBER 2021

By Andrew Korybko

Source

Afghan Protests: Foreign-Financed Color Revolution Or Genuine Grievances?

Regardless of whether one sympathizes with those protesters’ causes or not, it should be acknowledged that these disturbances could greatly destabilize Afghanistan at one of its most sensitive moments in modern history amid its historic political transition back to de facto Taliban rule following the West’s withdrawal last month after nearly twenty years of occupation.

Taliban vs. Protesters

The Taliban claimed that the latest protests against its de facto rule are financed from abroad, but the case can also be made that they’re at the very least partially driven by genuine grievances, even if some of the latter are being externally manipulated through information warfare means. Those participating in the recent unrest are concerned about women’s rights and Pakistan’s alleged role in their country. The Taliban, which is still recognized as a terrorist group by many countries including Russia even though the Kremlin also pragmatically engages with it in the interests of peace and security, dispersed their demonstrations and then decreed that anyone protesting must first have prior authorization. Even so, the protests continue in some cities.

A “Culture Shock” For Liberal Women

Addressing these two protest motivations in the order that they were introduced, the first arises from the precedent established the last time that the Taliban was in power from 1996-2001. Unlike then, however, the group nowadays allows women to study (albeit in gender-segregated classrooms though they intend to eventually introduce separate classrooms and even facilities), work in certain professions, and leave the house without being accompanied by a male family member. It only wants them to wear the hijab the whole time they’re outside their homes and no longer participate in sports due to the group’s interpretation of Sharia. Nevertheless, this is a “culture shock” for some women who were used to living under more liberal standards.

The Two Dimensions To Anti-Pakistani Protests

Regarding the second one about Pakistan, this narrative is the result of two factors. Firstly, Islamabad has close ties with the Taliban, though the Pakistani Ambassador to Russia recently clarified that this doesn’t mean that his country controls them. There are consultations on various issues such as the ones that Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence Faiz Hameed held during his latest visit to Kabul, but the Ambassador said that they didn’t concern the acting government’s composition. This, however, didn’t stop some from speculating that Pakistan pulls the Taliban’s strings, which provoked anti-Pakistani hostility among some Afghans.

The second factor has no factual basis whatsoever unlike Mr. Hameed’s public visit to Kabul that was exploited for provoking anti-Pakistani protests through information warfare means, and that’s the claims that Pakistan militarily participated in the Taliban’s Panjshir operation. Indian media shared fake news footage and images purporting to be proof of this claim, which regrettably succeeded in misleading the Iranian Foreign Ministry into later giving credence to these false accusations. The impact on Afghan society was to push those who already disliked Pakistan for whatever reason into taking to the streets to protest against it and the Taliban.

No Foreign Actor Wants To Stop The Taliban

These dual demonstrations are especially dangerous at this sensitive moment in the country’s political transition. The Taliban has zero-tolerance for what it deems to be illegal protests so those who are participating in them know very well the harsh response that they’re destined to receive irrespective of however much some outside observers might feel that these consequences are morally unjustified. The fact of the matter is that no foreign actor has the capabilities or political will to stop the Taliban from suppressing these demonstrations, though the media’s coverage of this can still be taken advantage of to promote ulterior agendas.

Ulterior Agendas

Firstly, the external encouragement (whether through foreign financing or simply political support) of these protests is intended to provoke a self-sustaining cycle of unrest whereby the Taliban’s suppression leads to more demonstrations and so on and so forth until the situation becomes more destabilized. This could especially be the case if some of those who are on the receiving end of the Taliban’s harsh anti-protest responses are representative of ethnic, regional, and/or religious minorities whose fellows might then intensify their anti-Taliban activities in response up to the point of once again taking up arms against them.

The second agenda is to delegitimize the presently unrecognized though de facto acknowledged Taliban-appointed interim authorities. This serves the purpose of justifying unilateral sanctions against it such as the formal ones that the US has as well as the informal ones recently imposed by the IMF and World Bank. It could also discourage the US’ Western allies in Europe from more pragmatically engaging with the group if their decision makers are flooded with images (however possibly decontextualized) of it violently dispersing female-led protests and/or those organized by ethnic/regional/religious minorities against Pakistan.

Clarifying The Uncomfortable Optics

These observations lead to a deeper analysis of the complex dynamics that are being discussed, specifically the reason why Western countries might react that way in response to such optics (whether accurately reported or misleadingly so) as well as the role that foreign fake news has in generating socio-political unrest. About the first, for as painful as it is for Westerners to see women being beaten by the Taliban for protesting against the group, it must be acknowledged (though not necessarily approved of) that Afghanistan has different cultural and legal traditions. Still, it’s inaccurate at this moment in time at least to believe that women are being beaten for not wearing hijabs or because of their gender.

They’re on the receiving end of the de facto authorities’ force because they’re participating in illegal protests that they didn’t voluntarily disperse after first being warned to do so by the Taliban. Men who participate in other illegal protests are also beaten for the same reasons too. At the risk of being accused of so-called “whatabouttism”, this actually isn’t much different from what happens in practically every country across the world, including Western ones. Regardless of how strongly one might feel about their personal interpretation of whatever they believe to be fundamental human rights, there objectively exist different such standards whether one supports them or not and they aren’t always compatible with others’ no matter what liberals say.

Exploiting “Proselytizing” Tendencies

Westerners tend to be more “proselytizing” of their worldview than others, though that’s not to deny that some Islamists for example also feel the same way about their own interpretation of everything. The point being made is that the repeated expose to footage and images of someone on the receiving end of the (in this case de facto) authorities’ use of force for what the civilizationally dissimilar foreign audience is made to believe is their expression of fundamental human rights (e.g. to protest and/or not wear a hijab in Western eyes, or to agitate for more mosques in a secular country and/or wear the hijab where it’s banned in Islamist eyes) is going to provoke a negative reaction from them that can be manipulated for strategic purposes.

The aforesaid could include imposing/prolonging sanctions like in the Western case or boycotting a certain countries’ companies in the Islamist one. It’s up to each individual on a personal level to decide whether these responses are justified, but it’s nevertheless important to acknowledge the cause-effect relationship and how that could be taken advantage of by others for certain strategic ends that the sincerely passionate participants might not even consciously aware of. In the Afghan case, these relate to isolating the Taliban-appointed acting authorities by refusing to recognize them and/or imposing/prolonging sanctions, the latter of which can actually worsen socio-economic tensions if this leads to a cutoff of much-needed humanitarian aid for instance.

Fake News Can Provoke Real Violence

Regarding the role that foreign fake news has in generating socio-political unrest, this exploits the targeted audience’s preexisting political triggers in order to provoke a more intensified round of identity conflict per the basics of Hybrid War theory that could easily lead to kinetic conflict as was earlier explained. Anyone anywhere can believe whatever they want about Mr. Hameed’s public visit to Kabul, but holding the Pakistani intelligence chief to a different standard than the American one who traveled there late last month to also meet with the Taliban by only speculating that the former played an allegedly pernicious role with regard to the acting government’s composition very strongly suggests an ulterior motive behind pushing such a narrative.

There’s also no denying that Indian media propagated fake news purporting to prove that Pakistan militarily supported the Taliban’s Panjshir operation, which whether intended or not served to reaffirm the weaponized narrative that Islamabad allegedly backs the Pashtun-majority Taliban at the expense of Afghanistan’s other groups such as the influential Tajik minority that the “Panjshir Resistance” claimed to represent. Targeted infowar audiences in long-running conflict zones such as Afghanistan’s usually already have very deeply held convictions about the wars that they’ve suffered from so sometimes it only takes a minor spark, including from fake news, to provoke them into taking tangible action against their opponents, both real and perceived.

From A Color Revolution To An Unconventional War

This could take the form of protesting and/or picking up arms against them. While only the first of these two has thus far taken place vis-a-vis Pakistan inside Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal context, it might very well turn out to be the case that the self-sustaining cycle of destabilization provoked by weaponized protests such as these triggering forceful reactions from the Taliban could lead to those on the receiving end undergoing the transition from Color Revolution protesters to Unconventional Warfare fighters exactly like Hybrid War theory predicts. The result could be that they’d then once again fight against the Taliban or possibly even consider carrying out acts of terrorism against neighboring Pakistan, both of which would further destabilize the region.

Conceptual Review

Reflecting on the insight that was shared in this analysis, which might realistically necessitate the reader reviewing the article one or more times in order to more effectively absorb it all if they weren’t earlier familiar with some of these complex socio-political dynamics, the Afghan protests as a whole are a blend of genuine grievances and Color Revolution plots. The first motivation is relevant to most of those women who are participating in protests under that banner while the second relates to those who are participating in anti-Pakistani protests triggered by foreign fake news reports. This combination severely complicates everything and deserves some further elaboration before concluding in order to remind readers of the analysis’ main points.

Female and anti-Pakistani activists can be genuine and have no direct or conscious connection to foreign forces, but their respective protests are being given positive coverage from abroad by those who have an interest in propagating certain narratives. These are that the Taliban are uncivilized thugs who brutally beat women that don’t want to wear the hijab and that Afghans are supposedly rising up against their allegedly Pakistani-controlled de facto authorities. Both protest movements run the risk of catalyzing self-sustaining cycles of destabilization by continuing to be carried out illegally in contravention of the Taliban’s recent decree. The first can also be exploited to impose/prolong sanctions while the second could lead to intensified identity conflict.

Concluding Thoughts

To wrap it all up, everything isn’t as it seems to most of the protests’ participants and foreign observers alike. Regardless of whether one sympathizes with those protesters’ causes or not, it should be acknowledged that these disturbances could greatly destabilize Afghanistan at one of its most sensitive moments in modern history amid its historic political transition back to de facto Taliban rule following the West’s withdrawal last month after nearly twenty years of occupation. There’s also undeniable evidence of positive media coverage being given by some countries to these disturbances, which could be intended to advance their respective strategic interests as earlier explained. Ultimately, it’s one’s individual choice who to support, why, and to what extent.

The Taliban, 9/11, the Empire, MAGA eastern wet pampers

September 09, 2021

The Taliban, 9/11, the Empire, MAGA eastern wet pampers

by Andrei for the Saker Blog

Most of you must have heard it: the Taliban will organize a major celebration on September 11th to mark the liberation of Afghanistan from the US occupation and the creation of the new Afghan government.  The Russians and the Chinese have been invited.  As are the Pakistanis.  Not sure about Iran (do you know?)?

The Afghan government could be called a “GITMO government” since 5 members are former GITMO hostages and one, the head of security/intel, is still on the FBI most wanted list.

Needless to say, the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11.  As for Bin-Laden and al-Qaeda they were somewhat involved, but only as “patsies”.

But the US government declared that the Taliban guilty and invaded Afghanistan.

Twenty years later, the Taliban are in total control and the US has probably executed one of the dumbest, worst and generally immoral military operation in history.  And 20 years later, the US was totally defeated.  Not by Russia.  Not by China.  Not by Iran.  Not even by Venezuela.  By the Afghans, after 20 years of warfare and trillions spent.

I have to agree with a Russian analyst who recently declared that “no, this is not even a “regular/normal” imperial collapse, this is the worst and most shameful imperial collapse in history”.

I fully concur.

As for what the Taliban will do this Saturday, it can’t even be called “spitting in Uncle Shmuel’s face”.  It’s even more than that.  Maybe we could speak of “urinating into Uncle Shmuel’s face” or some other even ruder metaphor showing both the total and utter contempt in which the Taliban hold not only the USA but the entire AngloZionist Empire AND somehow express the magnitude of the humiliation inflicted upon the USA.

I lack the words to come up with a suitable metaphor.

Can somebody come up with something sufficiently powerful?

Also, and especially for the MAGA folks out there:

CNN has reported that the entire “Ukie plan” to kidnap Russian PMCs was organized by the CIA and botched by the Ukies.  The harcore Ukronazis are now accusing CNN of either being “duped by the FSB” or even for being used by Putin personally.  Or both.

Anyway, what this goes to prove that Trump approved a clear terrorist attack against Russia.  Either that, or he did not even know about it, which might be worse…

And you guys are seriously discussing his possible comeback?!?!

Get real!

I saw an interesting poll somewhere (sorry, don’t remember where exactly) which shows that 49% of US Americans feel safer than on 9/11 20 years ago and 41% feel less safe.

And that is the real outcome of this monumentally evil and stupid Neocon plan.

After 20 years of warfare, pompous self-aggrandizement, many thousands dead and maimed and trillions spent.

Nothing will ever wash off this shame from the awareness of folks in Zone B and even many in Zone A.

Finally, today the Ukronazis shelled the Donbass again, with howitzers and mortars.  They were aiming at a water pumping station, miss and wounded/killed a couple.  Either way, this is a warcrime.  The Russians have declared that they have the designation of the unit which fired and the name of the commander who gave the order.

Which is all very predictable, since 1) US officials just visited the Ukraine 2) the CNN story is a HUGE scandal in the Ukie Rada and 3) Zelenskii is desperate to show that he might still be useful to the USA.

As for the Poles, they are fearing Russian invasion, so they put bared wire (I kid you not!) along their eastern border.  Which remind me of a Russian joke: a man walks down the street minding his own business, when he sees a woman on a balcony screaming “help! he wants to rape me! help!!!” from the top of her lungs.  The man looks up and says, “ma’am, calm down, I have no interest in you whatsoever and you are on the balcony while I am in the street” to which the woman replies, “yeah, maybe, but I can come down!“.

The Russian military is engaged in some large and serious, not fake, military maneuvers: 200’000 soldiers in both Russia and Belarus.  Hence all the wet pampers in eastern Europe (especially in Poland – the “hyena of Europe” always was a cowardly animal).

The Poles have even predicted the date of the Russian invasion: tomorrow (not a joke)

I have terrible news for Poland, the Baltic statelets and the Ukraine: nobody in Russia has any need for you, or your land.  Nobody.  Oh, and, for your information: “defenses” like walls, barbed-wires or even trenches cannot stop a modern military, such crap would not even slow the Russians down.

Summary: both Biden and Zelenskii might get impeached or otherwise removed.  That’s won’t solve anything for the US or the Ukraine, but sheer magnitude of their incompetence and stupidity makes such an outcome quite possible.

Not even in my most wildest and craziest dreams could I ever have imagined such a quick and total collapse of the Empire and of the USA.  I have to pinch myself several times a day, each time I get the news 🙂

Cheers

9/9 and 9/11, 20 years later

September 09, 2021

9/9 and 9/11, 20 years later

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It’s impossible not to start with the latest tremor in a series of stunning geopolitical earthquakes.

Exactly 20 years after 9/11 and the subsequent onset of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), the Taliban will hold a ceremony in Kabul to celebrate their victory in that misguided Forever War.

Four key exponents of Eurasia integration – China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan – as well as Turkey and Qatar, will be officially represented, witnessing the official return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. As blowbacks go, this one is nothing short of intergalactic.

Massoud leaving Bazarak in the Panjshir after our interview in August 2001, roughly three weeks before his assassination. Photo: Pepe Escobar

The plot thickens when we have Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid firmly stressing “there is no proof” Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11. So “there was no justification for war, it was an excuse for war,” he claimed.

Only a few days after 9/11, Osama bin Laden, never publicity-shy, released a statement to Al Jazeera: “I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons (…) I have been living in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.”

On September 28, Osama bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu newspaper Karachi Ummat. I remember it well, as I was commuting non-stop between Islamabad and Peshawar, and my colleague Saleem Shahzad, in Karachi, called it to my attention.

Saudi-born alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in a video taken ‘recently’ at a secret site in Afghanistan. This was aired by Al Jazeera on October 7, 2001, the day the US launched retaliatory bombing of terrorist camps, airbases and air defense installations in the first stage of its campaign against the Taliban regime for sheltering bin Laden. Photo: AFP / Al Jazeera screen grab

This is an approximate translation by the CIA-linked Foreign Broadcast Information Service: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. Neither I had any knowledge of these attacks nor I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people.

“I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed. The United States should try to trace the perpetrators of these attacks within itself; the people who are a part of the US system, but are dissenting against it.

“Or those who are working for some other system; persons who want to make the present century as a century of conflict between Islam and Christianity so that their own civilization, nation, country or ideology could survive. Then there are intelligence agencies in the US, which require billions of dollars worth of funds from the Congress and the government every year (…) They need an enemy.”

This was the last time Osama bin Laden went public, substantially, about his alleged role in 9/11. Afterward, he vanished, and seemingly forever by early December 2001 in Tora Bora: I was there, and revisited the full context years later.

And yet, like an Islamic James Bond, Osama kept performing the miracle of dying another day, over and over again, starting in – where else – Tora Bora in mid-December, as reported by the Pakistani Observer and then Fox News.

So 9/11 remained a riddle inside an enigma. And what about 9/9, which might have been the prologue to 9/11?

Arriving in the Panjshir valley in one of Massoud’s Soviet helicopters in August 2001. Photo: Pepe Escobar  

A green light from a blind sheikh

“The commander has been shot.”

The terse email, on 9/9, offered no details. Contacting the Panjshir was impossible – sat-phone reception is spotty. Only the next day it was possible to establish Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary Lion of the Panjshir, had been assassinated – by two al-Qaeda jihadis posing as a camera crew.

In our Asia Times interview with Massoud, by August 20, he had told me he was fighting a triad: al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Pakistani ISI. After the interview, he left in a Land Cruiser and then went by helicopter to Kwaja-Bahauddin, where he would finish the details of a counter-offensive against the Taliban.

This was his second-to-last interview before the assassination and arguably the last images – shot by photographer Jason Florio and with my mini-DV camera – of Massoud alive.

One year after the assassination, I was back in the Panjshir for an on-site investigation, relying only on local sources and confirmation on some details from Peshawar. The investigation is featured in the first part of my Asia Times e-book Forever Wars.

The conclusion was that the green light for the fake camera crew to meet Massoud came via a letter sponsored by CIA crypto-asset warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – as a “gift” to al-Qaeda.

In December 2020, inestimable Canadian diplomat Peter Dale Scott, author among others of the seminal The Road to 9/11 (2007), and Aaron Good, editor at CovertAction magazine, published a remarkable investigation about the killing of Massoud, following a different trail and relying mostly on American sources.

They established that arguably more than Sayyaf, the mastermind of the killing was notorious Egyptian blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, then serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for his involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Among other nuggets, Dale Scott and Good also confirmed what former Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik had told Pakistani media already in 2001: the Americans had everything in place to attack Afghanistan way before 9/11.

In Naik’s words: “We asked them [the American delegates], when do you think you will attack Afghanistan? … And they said, before the snow falls in Kabul. That means September, October, something like that.”

As many of us established over the years after 9/11, everything was about the US imposing itself as the undisputed ruler of the New Great Game in Central Asia. Peter Dale Scott now notes, “the two US invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were both grounded in pretexts that were doubtful to begin with and more discredited as years go by.

“Underlying both wars was America’s perceived need to control the fossil fuel economic system that was the underpinning for the US petrodollar.”

Deceased Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar in a file photo. Photo: Wikimedia

Massoud versus Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar did welcome Jihad Inc to Afghanistan in the late 1990s: not only the al-Qaeda Arabs but also Uzbeks, Chechens, Indonesians, Yemenis – some of them I met in Massoud’s riverside prison in the Panjshir in August 2001.

The Taliban at the time did provide them with bases – and some encouraging rhetoric – but deeply ethnocentric as they were, never manifested any interest in global jihad, in the mold of the “Declaration of Jihad” issued by Osama in 1996.

The official Taliban position was that jihad was their guests’ business, and that had nothing to do with the Taliban and Afghanistan. There were virtually no Afghans in Jihad Inc. Very few Afghans speak Arabic. They were not seduced by the spin on martyrdom and a paradise full of virgins: they preferred to be a ghazi – a living victor in a jihad.

Mullah Omar could not possibly send Osama bin Laden packing because of Pashtunwali – the Pashtun code of honor – where the notion of hospitality is sacred. When 9/11 happened, Mullah Omar once again refused American threats as well as Pakistani pleas. He then called a tribal jirga of 300 top mullahs to ratify his position.

Their verdict was quite nuanced: he had to protect his guest, of course, but a guest should not cause him problems. Thus Osama would have to leave, voluntarily.

The Taliban also pursued a parallel track, asking the Americans for evidence of Osama’s culpability. None was provided. The decision to bomb and invade had already been taken.

That would have never been possible with Massoud alive. A classic intellectual warrior, he was a certified Afghan nationalist and pop hero – because of his spectacular military feats in the anti-USSR jihad and his non-stop fight against the Taliban.

Jihadis captured by Massoud’s forces in a riverside prison in the Panjshir in August 2001. Photo: Pepe Escobar

When the PDPA socialist government in Afghanistan collapsed three years after the end of the jihad, in 1992, Massoud could easily have become a prime minister or an absolute ruler in the old Turco-Persian style.

But then he made a terrible mistake: afraid of an ethnic conflagration, he let the mujahideen gang based in Peshawar have too much power, and that led to the civil war of 1992-1995 – complete with the merciless bombing of Kabul by virtually every faction – that paved the way for the emergence of the “law and order” Taliban.

So in the end he was a much more effective military commander than politician. An example is what happened in 1996, when the Taliban made their move to conquer Kabul, attacking from eastern Afghanistan.

Massoud was caught completely unprepared, but he still managed to retreat to the Panjshir without a major battle and without losing his troops – quite a feat – while severely smashing the Taliban that went after him.

He established a line of defense in the Shomali plain north of Kabul. That was the frontline I visited a few weeks before 9/11, on the way to Bagram, which was a – virtually empty and degraded – Northern Alliance airbase at the time.

All of the above is a sorry contrast to the role of Masoud Jr, who’s in theory the leader of the “resistance” against Taliban 2.0 in the Panjshir, now completely smashed.

Masoud Jr has zero experience either as a military commander or politician, and although praised in Paris by President Macron or publishing an op-ed in Western mainstream media, made the terrible mistake of being led by CIA asset Amrullah Saleh, who as the former head of the National Directory of Security (NDS), supervised the de facto Afghan death squads.

Masoud Jr could have easily carved a role for himself in a Taliban 2.0 government. But he blew it, refusing serious negotiations with a delegation of 40 Islamic clerics sent to the Panjshir, and demanding at least 30% of posts in the government.

In the end, Saleh fled by helicopter – he may be now in Tashkent – and Masoud Jr as it stands is holed up somewhere in the northern Panjshir.

In this file photo taken on September 11, 2001, a hijacked commercial aircraft approaches the twin towers of the World Trade Center shortly before crashing into the landmark skyscraper in New York. Photo: AFP / Seth McAllister

The 9/11 propaganda machine is about to reach fever pitch this Saturday – now profiting from the narrative twist of the “terrorist” Taliban back in power, something perfect to snuff out the utter humiliation of the Empire of Chaos.

The Deep State is going no holds barred to protect the official narrative – which exhibits more holes than the dark side of the moon.

This is a geopolitical Ouroboros for the ages. 9/11 used to be the foundation myth of the 21st century – but not anymore. It has been displaced by blowback: the imperial debacle allowing for the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to the exact position it was 20 years ago.

We may now know that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11. We may now know that Osama bin Laden, in an Afghan cave, may not have been the master perpetrator of 9/11. We may now know that the assassination of Massoud was a prelude to 9/11, but in a twisted way: to facilitate a pre-planned invasion of Afghanistan.

And yet, like with the assassination of JFK, we may never know the full contours of the whole riddle inside an enigma. As Fitzgerald immortalized, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” probing like mad this philosophical and existential Ground Zero, never ceasing from asking the ultimate question: Cui Bono?


Ed Note:  Pepe Escobar started a new Twitter Stream:  https://twitter.com/RealPepeEscobar

 

Marking the twentieth anniversary of “9/11”

Marking the twentieth anniversary of “9/11”

September 08, 2021

By Zamir Awan for the Saker Blog

President Joe Biden, smartly announced that the US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, marking the twentieth Anniversary of the staged drama of “9/11”. He deviated from the actual deal reached between President Trump and the Taliban in February 2020, which was to complete evacuation before May 2021. President Joe Biden has the right to become a hero and get credit by linking withdrawal with “9/11”. Because he was part of scriptwriting the drama “9/11”. Without going into details, of 9/11, many reports are available describing it as a pre-planned play only.

The US was keeping its eyes on the natural resources and oil wealth of the Muslim world. He needed an excuse to impose a war on Muslim World to achieve its economic and political objectives. President Bush used “9/11” as a false flag operation, and without investigating or compiling any concrete pieces of evidence, he announce the launch of the Crusade against the Muslim world. Maybe it was written in the script already, and he have to perform accordingly. Although, it was never proved that Afghanistan was involved in “9/11”.

A massive media campaign was launched, the unholy media, played a dirty role and spread fake news, fabricated stories, and distorted stories of Muslims. Media is merely a tool for Western powers to malign any country, nation, or individual. Ugly media is one sale or for money ready to serve them, The unholy media, keeping ethics and their conscious out and looking after materialistic gains only. Projected Muslims as terrorists, barbaric, uncivilized, etc.

The BBC broke the news of Weapons of Mass destruction, and after destroying Iraq, they found nothing, and BBC accepted that the news of Weapons of Mass destruction was wrong, Prime Minister of the UK have to apologize later on. Similar tactics were used to destroy Libya. Again, it was BBC, reported, the use of Chemical weapons by Syrian Governments, which could not be verified later on, but the war in Syria has killed millions of innocent people, made millions homeless, economic loss worth hundreds of billions were caused to a poor country like Syria.

Afghanistan was attacked, and the Taliban were pushed out. Two-decades war, caused two trillion dollars, few thousand American lives, but millions of Afghans innocent citizens were killed, made homeless. Marriage parties were bombed, funerals were bombed, mother all bombs were used, schools were destroyed, hospitals were destroyed, Mosques were destroyed, agriculture, businesses were damaged. The whole society was made suffering.

The US and its close allies were beneficiaries of wars and looted the oil wealth of many Muslim countries. The net losers were the Muslim world, millions were killed, millions were injured, arrested, tortured, made homeless. The economies of Muslim countries were destroyed, Agriculture destroyed, image distorted.

Yet have to leave humiliated. The US is claiming, the safe evacuation of its troops, as its victory, and the Joe Biden administration is trying to get credit. Actually, it was the part of the peace deal, that the Taliban will allow and facilitate the safe exit with face-saving to all US troops. Taliban are responsible people and stick to their words, and did allow safe exit. It is no credit to US-Administration, but credit goes to the Taliban.

In fact, the Taliban has not harmed anyone and pardoned everyone with an open heart. Since 15 August, from peaceful recapture of Kabul to safe evacuation, law and order situation in Afghanistan, the world has witnessed, something different from the narrative which bias Western media was propagating. Taliban are behaving gently, kindly, modestly, and much more maturely, wisely, and smartly.

They have been announcing one by one important figure with their responsibilities in the new set-up. They were vigilant, and watching the response of the international community. They were engaged in diplomatic and political activities and coordinating with the international community. Now the stage has come where they are more confident and already got international recognition informally and are in a position to announce new Government.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday announced 33 members of the “acting” government, saying that it will be led by Mohammad Hasan Akhund while the group’s co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the deputy Afghan leader.

Key figures in the interim govt include Prime Minister, Mohammad Hasan Akhund. Deputy Prime Minister, Abdul Ghani Baradar. Interior Minister, Sirjauddin Haqqani. Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. Defence Minister, Mullah Yaqoob. Army Chief, Fasihuddin Badakhshani.

Finance Minister, Mullah Hidayatullah. Information Minister, Zabihullah Mujahid. Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani will be the acting interior minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi will be the acting foreign minister, political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai will be the acting deputy foreign minister and Mullah Yaqoob will be the acting defense minister, he announced during a press conference in Kabul.

Mujahid himself will be the information minister, Fasihuddin Badakhshani will be the army chief, and Mullah Hidayatullah will be the finance minister.

The heads of various other ministries will be appointed soon, Mujahid added.

“All groups have been represented in the cabinet,” he said. The Taliban spokesperson said Afghanistan had “gained freedom”, stressing that “only the will of Afghans” will be applicable in the country. “After today, no one will be able to interfere in Afghanistan,” he emphasized. Mujahid said that the Taliban had been in contact with various countries and their envoys had visited Afghanistan. In response to a question, the spokesperson said the country will now be called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Mujahid said there was no fighting in Panjshir, the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country and the only province the Taliban had not seized during their blitz across Afghanistan last month. Separately, in a written statement, Acting Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund congratulated Afghans for the “withdrawal of all foreign forces, end of the occupation and complete liberation of the country”.

A caretaker and “committed” cabinet had been announced which will start working at the earliest, he said, adding that the leaders will “work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and Sharia (Islamic law) in the country, protecting the country’s highest interests, securing Afghanistan’s borders, and ensuring lasting peace, prosperity, and development”.

All governance and life in the country will henceforth be in accordance with Islamic law, Akhund said.

“We want to have a peaceful, prosperous, and self-reliant Afghanistan, for which we will strive to eliminate all causes of war and strife in the country, and [for] our countrymen to live in complete security and comfort.”

He also emphasized that the interim government will take “serious and effective steps” to protect human rights as well as the rights of minorities and underprivileged groups within the framework of the demands of Islam.

“All Afghans, without distinction or exception, will have the right to live with dignity and peace in their own country. Their lives, property, and honor will be protected.”

Terming education “one of the most important requirements”, the Taliban leader said it will be the government’s duty to provide a healthy and safe environment to all citizens to study religion and modern sciences.

“We will pave the way for the country’s development in the field of education and build our country with knowledge and understanding,” he added.

He pointed out that the country had been suffering from war and economic crises for the last four decades. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will use all its resources for economic strength, prosperity, and development on top of strengthening security,” he assured.

Talking further about his government’s plans, Akhund said: “It will manage domestic revenue properly and transparently, provide special opportunities for international investment and various sectors of trade [and] will work to fight unemployment effectively. Our ultimate goal will be to get our country back on its feet as quickly as possible, and efficiently perform reconstruction and rehabilitation work in our war-torn country.”

He added that the interim government would reach out to Afghan businessmen, investors, and sensible citizens to ask for their support and help in ending poverty and strengthening the country’s economy.

Talking about the media, he said the government would work towards its freedom, functioning, and improvement in quality. “We consider it our duty to take into account the sacred precepts of Islam, the national interest of the country, and impartiality in our broadcasts,” he added.

Furthermore, the Taliban wanted to have “strong and healthy” relations with all countries based on mutual respect, he said.

“We are committed to all international laws and treaties, resolutions and commitments that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country’s national values,” Akhund stressed.

Akhund said he wanted to give Afghanistan’s neighbors, the region, and the world the message that Afghan soil would not be used against any other country, stressing that there was “no concern”.

“We assure all foreign diplomats, embassies, consulates, humanitarian organizations, and investors in the country that they will not face any problem. The Islamic Emirate is doing its best for its complete security and safety. Their presence is a need of our country, so they should carry out their work with peace of mind.”

Akhund emphasized that “no one should be worried about the future.” He said the country needed the support of its people and assured skilled people, including doctors, engineers, scholars, professors, and scientists that they would be valued.

No one was allowed to destroy, waste, or take possession of the public treasury, including military vehicles, weapons, ammunition, government buildings, and national property, he said.

The Taliban who swept to power last month has been expected to announce a government since the United States-led evacuation was completed at the end of August. They have promised an “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup, though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels. As they transition from insurgency group to governing power, the Taliban have a series of major issues to address, including looming financial and humanitarian crises.

The caretaker Government is all-inclusive, all ethnic groups, religious factions, minorities, Women, etc were given representation. Of course Traitors, CIA agents, Foreign implants, and disloyal with Afghanistan, will be not considered in political setup. Either they belong to Hamid Karzai, or Ashraf Ghani groups, or Dr.Najeeb, Hafizullah Amin, Babrak Karmal, or Noor Muhammad Turkey group, will be out of new government. Both groups were foreign agents, either baked by USSR or the US, are not to be considered for any political role in the future of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has a long history, its uniques tribal society, traditions, and culture, the Western world can not understand their psychic and should not impose any democratic demands. The West should fulfill its moral obligation by paying them the war compensation so that reconstruction of Afghanistan can be made possible. The US spent Two Trillion Dollars to destroy Afghanistan, it is expected only a percentage of this amount should pay for rebuilding Afghanistan.

It is expected that the Taliban will formally announce their Government on September 11, 2021, marking the twentieth anniversary of “9/11”.

Author: Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan. (E-mail: awanzamir@yahoo.com).

What to expect from Taliban 2.0

September 08, 2021

What to expect from Taliban 2.0

A wiser, better-traveled and social media-savvy Taliban will strive to avoid the many dire mistakes of its 1996-2001 rule

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The announcement by Taliban spokesman Zahibullah Mujahid in Kabul of the acting cabinet ministers in the new caretaker government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan already produced a big bang: it managed to enrage both woke NATOstan and the US Deep State.

This is an all-male, overwhelmingly Pashtun (there’s one Uzbek and one Tajik) cabinet essentially rewarding the Taliban old guard. All 33 appointees are Taliban members.

Mohammad Hasan Akhund – the head of the Taliban Rehbari Shura, or leadership council, for 20 years – will be the Acting Prime Minister. For all practical purposes, Akhund is branded a terrorist by the UN and the EU, and under sanctions by the UN Security Council. It’s no secret Washington brands some Taliban factions as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and sanctions the whole of the Taliban as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organization.

It’s crucial to stress Himatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban Supreme Leader since 2016, is Amir al-Momineen (“Commander of the Faithful”). He can’t be a Prime Minister; his role is that of a supreme spiritual leader, setting the guidelines for the Islamic Emirate and mediating disputes – politics included.

Akhunzada has released a statement, noting that the new government “will work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and sharia law in the country” and will ensure “lasting peace, prosperity and development”. He added, “people should not try to leave the country”.

Spokesman Mujahid took pains to stress this new cabinet is just an “acting” government. This implies one of the next big steps will be to set up a new constitution. The Taliban will “try to take people from other parts of the country” – implying positions for women and Shi’ites may still be open, but not at top level.

Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, who so far had been very busy diplomatically as the head of the political office in Doha, will be deputy Prime Minister. He was a Taliban co-founder in 1994 and close friend of Mullah Omar, who called him “Baradar” (“brother”) in the first place.

A predictable torrent of hysteria greeted the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Acting Minister of Interior. After all the son of Haqqani founder Jalaluddin, one of three deputy emirs and the Taliban military commander, with a fierce reputation, has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head. His FBI “wanted” page is not exactly a prodigy of intel: they don’t know when he was born, and where, and that he speaks Pashto and Arabic.

This may be the new government’s top challenge: to prevent Sirajuddin and his wild boys from acting medieval in non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, and most of all to make sure the Haqqanis cut off any connections with jihadi outfits. That’s a sine qua non condition established by the China-Russia strategic partnership for political, diplomatic and economic development support.

Foreign policy will be much more accommodating. Amir Khan Muttaqi, also a member of the political office in Doha, will be the Acting Foreign Minister, and his deputy will be Abas Stanikzai, who’s in favor of cordial relations with Washington and the rights of Afghan religious minorities.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, will be the Acting Defense Minister.

So far, the only non-Pashtuns are Abdul Salam Hanafi, an Uzbek, appointed as second deputy to the Prime Minister, and Qari Muhammad Hanif, a Tajik, the acting Minister of Economic Affairs, a very important post.

The Tao of staying patient

The Taliban Revolution has already hit the Walls of Kabul – who are fast being painted white with Kufic letter inscriptions. One of these reads, “For an Islamic system and independence, you have to go through tests and stay patient.”

That’s quite a Taoist statement: striving for balance towards a real “Islamic system”. It offers a crucial glimpse of what the Taliban leadership may be after: as Islamic theory allows for evolution, the new Afghanistan system will be necessarily unique, quite different from Qatar’s or Iran’s, for instance.

In the Islamic legal tradition, followed directly or indirectly by rulers of Turko-Persian states for centuries, to rebel against a Muslim ruler is illegitimate because it creates fitna (sedition, conflict). That was already the rationale behind the crushing of the fake “resistance” in the Panjshir – led by former Vice-President and CIA asset Amrullah Saleh. The Taliban even tried serious negotiations, sending a delegation of 40 Islamic scholars to the Panjshir.

But then Taliban intel established that Ahmad Masoud – son of the legendary Lion of the Panjshir, assassinated two days before 9/11 – was operating under orders of French and Israeli intel. And that sealed his fate: not only he was creating fitna, he was a foreign agent. His partner Saleh, the “resistance” de facto leader, fled by helicopter to Tajikistan.

It’s fascinating to note a parallel between Islamic legal tradition and Hobbes’s Leviathan, which justifies absolute rulers. The Hobbesian Taliban: here’s a hefty research topic for US Think Tankland.

The Taliban also follow the rule that a war victory – and nothing more spectacular than defeating combined NATO power – allows for undisputed political power, although that does not discard strategic alliances. We’ve already seen it in terms of how the moderate, Doha-based political Taliban are accommodating the Haqqanis – an extremely sensitive business.

Abdul Haqqani will be the Acting Minister for Higher Education; Najibullah Haqqani will be Minister of Communications; and Khalil Haqqani, so far ultra-active as interim head of security in Kabul, will be Minister for Refugees.

The next step will be much harder: to convince the urban, educated populations in the big cities – Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif – not only of their legitimacy, acquired in the frontlines, but that they will crush the corrupt urban elite that plundered the nation for the past 20 years. All that while engaging in a credible, national interest process of improving the lives of average Afghans under a new Islamic system. It will be crucial to watch what kind of practical and financial help the emir of Qatar will offer.

The new cabinet has elements of a Pashtun jirga (tribal assembly). I’ve been to a few, and it’s fascinating to see how it works. Everyone sits on a circle to avoid a hierarchy – even if symbolic. Everyone is entitled to express their opinion. This leads to alliances necessarily being forged.

The negotiations to form a government were being conducted in Kabul by former President Hamid Karzai – crucially, a Pashtun from a minor Durrani clan, the Popalzai – and Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, and former head of the Council for National Reconciliation. The Taliban did listen to them, but in the end they de facto chose what their own jirga had decided.

Pashtuns are extremely fierce when it comes to defending their Islamic credentials. They believe their legendary founding ancestor, Qais Abdul Rasheed, converted to Islam in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, and then Pashtuns became the strongest defender of the faith anywhere.

Yet that’s not exactly how it played out in history. From the 7th century onwards, Islam was predominant only from Herat in the west to legendary Balkh in the north all the way to Central Asia, and south between Sistan and Kandahar. The mountains of the Hindu Kush and the corridor from Kabul to Peshawar resisted Islam for centuries. Kabul in fact was a Hindu kingdom as late as the 11th century. It took as many as five centuries for the core Pashtun lands to convert to Islam.

Islam with Afghan characteristics

To cut an immensely complex story short, the Taliban was born in 1994 across the – artificial – border of Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan as a movement by Pashtuns who studied in Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan.

All the Afghan Taliban leaders had very close connections with Pakistani religious parties. During the 1980s anti-USSR jihad, many of these Taliban (“students”) in several madrassas worked side by side with the mujahideen to defend Islam in Afghanistan against the infidel. The whole process was channeled through the Peshawar political establishment: -overseen by the Pakistani ISI, with enormous CIA input, and a tsunami of cash and would-be jihadis flowing from Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world.

When they finally seized power in 1994 in Kandahar and 1996 in Kabul, the Taliban emerged as a motley crew of minor clerics and refugees invested in a sort of wacky Afghan reformation – religious and cultural – as they set up what they saw as a pure Salafist Islamic Emirate.

I saw how it worked on the spot, and as demented as it was, it amounted to a new political force in Afghanistan. The Taliban were very popular in the south because they promised security after the bloody 1992-1995 civil war. The totally radical Islamist ideology came later – with disastrous results, especially in the big cities. But not in the subsistence agriculture countryside, because the Taliban social outlook merely reflected rural Afghan practice.

The Taliban installed a 7th century-style Salafi Islam crisscrossed with the Pashtunwali code. A huge mistake was their aversion to Sufism and the veneration of shrines – something extremely popular in Islamic Afghanistan for centuries.

It’s too early to tell how Taliban 2.0 will play out in the dizzyingly complex, emerging Eurasian integration chessboard. But internally, a wiser, more traveled, social media-savvy Taliban seem aware they cannot allow themselves to repeat the dire 1996-2001 mistakes.

Deng Xiaoping set the framework for socialism with Chinese characteristics . One of the greatest geopolitical challenges ahead will be whether Taliban 2.0 are able to shape a sustainable development Islam with Afghan characteristics.

The Politically Incorrect Truth About What Really Happened In Afghanistan

By Andrew Korybko

Source

The Politically Incorrect Truth About What Really Happened In Afghanistan

Many Americans might regard their government’s grand strategic objectives in this respect as lacking any morals, ethics, or principles considering that they now largely align with China’s, Pakistan’s, Russia’s, and even the Taliban’s despite the public having been made to think over the years that all four of them are their enemies.

Afghan Ambiguity

Average Americans are struggling to make sense of what just happened in Afghanistan last month since it all unfolded so suddenly. Most realized that the war was lost long ago and had turned into a so-called “endless” one, but few expected it to end the way that it ultimately did. Almost nothing that the Biden Administration did made sense to them, and few have any idea what’s in store for the future there. The purpose of this piece is to explain everything in “politically incorrect” terms in order to help everyone better understand it all.

A Hint Of What’s To Come

Let’s start with the jaw-dropping outcome first and then explain how it came to be. The US is now partially partnered with the same Taliban that it still officially designates as terrorists in their joint struggle against the comparatively greater evil of ISIS-K. America’s post-war plans for the region will also see it relying on China’s Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in order to expand its economic influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia despite officially being in a New Cold War with Beijing.

The “unholy” US-Taliban anti-terrorist partnership isn’t perfect nor what either of those two initially wanted but was forged by shared interests during the last two weeks of the American withdrawal from Kabul. The Taliban protected Americans from those terrorists despite being officially designated by the American government as terrorists themselves because they hoped that Washington would continue providing some level of support for Afghanistan after the war ends, even if only indirectly through international organizations.

PAKAFUZ

That’s precisely what the US also plans to do, even if not right away, as evidenced by the “New Quad” that it established between itself, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan in late July that’s explicitly premised on promoting regional connectivity. This structure strategically comprises the three countries that agreed in February to build a railway (which can tentatively be called PAKAFUZ after the first letters of each participating country’s name) that’ll eventually connect Central Asia to the Arabian Sea via Afghanistan.

This infrastructure project aligns with the former Trump Administration’s “Strategy For Central Asia 2019-2025” that was unveiled in February 2020 just weeks before the US-Taliban peace deal later that month. It basically calls for using economic means to expand American influence in this broader region with an aim towards lessening those countries’ potentially disproportionate strategic dependence on the US’ Chinese and Russian rivals.

America’s Chinese-Friendly Taliban Guardians

The irony though is that it’ll inevitably result in the US relying on BRI’s CPEC in Pakistan in spite of the ongoing Chinese-American New Cold War, which is too “politically incorrect” of an observation for any American official to say out loud despite it being the strategic truth. Even more shocking for the US public is the fact that the Taliban was always expected from the get-go to guard this project through the US’ plans to incorporate it into the planned transitional government that was supposed to have been assembled before the withdrawal ended.

That plan went awry after former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani‘s ego got the best of him and he refused to resign as the Taliban’s primary political precondition for their participation. Furthermore, the Biden Administration refused to implement any military tripwires during the final months of its withdrawal such as making it clear that it would kinetically respond to any Taliban attacks against Afghan cities while US forces were still in the country. These factors emboldened the group to go on their fateful nationwide offensive.

Biden’s Dilemma

In Biden’s defense, attacking the Taliban under any pretext would have been a violation of the Trump Administration’s deal with the group and would have provoked them to attack the withdrawing American forces, thereby sabotaging the process and probably leading to the perpetuation of the war. While some have since claimed that he should have withdrawn the US’ military equipment that it gave to its Afghan National Army (ANA) allies, that would have caused a panic and precipitated their collapse due a lack of confidence.

Either way, the Biden Administration was in a dilemma, one which was largely attributable to the US’ human intelligence failures there over the past two decades as well as the self-sustaining ecosystem of lies built by members of its permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”). The Pentagon truly (though wrongly) believed that the larger and better-equipped ANA would fight the Taliban and that the Afghan government wouldn’t collapse until the end of the year at the earliest.

The Truth About The Taliban

What it failed to realize this entire time is that the Taliban had successfully rebranded itself as a national liberation movement in the eyes of Afghanistan’s 75% rural majority despite still being designated as terrorists by Russia and others. This resulted in it generating enormous sympathy among many of those very same members of the ANA that were supposed to fight them as well as many of the country’s minorities, the latter of which reconciled themselves with living under their rule after they let minorities join their leadership ranks.

The “politically incorrect” conclusion is that the Taliban already won incomparably more hearts and minds than the US and its proxy government, which also means that the Pentagon unwittingly ended up training many Taliban sympathizers in the ANA who then largely surrendered en masse once the group approached the gates of their cities. That’s why the Taliban was able to seize so much US military equipment. Had the US known what was really happening on the ground this whole time, it would have likely withdrawn it all ahead of time.

The Partial US-Taliban Partnership

Instead, American decision makers (both military and political alike) were oblivious to how genuinely popular the Taliban’s national liberation cause had become among the Afghan people, especially those in the ANA and in the minority-majority northern parts of the country. Even though the Taliban are still officially designated as terrorists by the US, their enemy came to rely on them out of necessity to protect many of those Americans who were caught off guard by their offensive and hadn’t evacuated earlier.

The Taliban ensured that most of them reached the airport safely and thus proved to the American government that its designation of them as terrorists is outdated, especially in light of their shared struggle against ISIS-K. All of these dynamics should have been obvious to any objective observer but the vast majority of those across the world were so surprised at the speed by which everything that they thought about the conflict was flipped upside-down that they weren’t able to accurately assess what was happening.

Too Little, Too Late

Furthermore, the Biden Administration – just like its three predecessors – was never fully truthful with the American people and failed to explain all of this to them ahead of time like it should have done. To the President’s credit, he eventually did broach some of these themes in his recent speeches, but it too little too late to reshape perceptions and reassure everyone that everything was under as much control as it possibly could be given the very difficult circumstances.

He also came off as defensive and therefore potentially untruthful since his explanations occurred only after his administration came under unprecedented pressure. Even if he was upfront about everything right at the start of the Taliban’s lightning-fast nationwide offensive when it became increasingly clear that the “deep state” totally miscalculated the on-the-ground dynamics there, it would have still been too abrupt of an explanation for the American people to accept since they’d been lied to for so long about the war.

The Raw Truth

It’s understandable that folks would find it difficult to understand how the same Taliban that’s still officially designated by their government as terrorists was supposed to become part of an inclusive government prior to the withdrawal’s completion, help the US fight against the comparatively greater evil of ISIS-K, and then defend the PAKAFUZ project for expanding their country’s influence into Central Asia which is ironically partially dependent on their Chinese rival’s BRI investments in CPEC that America is supposed to be opposed to.

This is all too much for the average American to comprehend which is why the “politically incorrect” explanation is being withheld from them even though part of it has gradually been introduced to the public by Biden out of political necessity ever since last month’s fast-moving events. The US is partnering with a group that it still officially regards as terrorists in order to fight against other terrorists and also hopes that the first group guards a planned regional connectivity project through Afghanistan that’s partially reliant on China’s BRI.

Debunking Lies About The Taliban & China

These strategic truths debunk several major American lies. The first is that the Taliban aren’t truly terrorists in the traditional sense that the US public regards this word as meaning otherwise their government wouldn’t ally with it against anyone else, let alone depend on it to protect evacuating Americans and then a regional infrastructure project through post-withdrawal Afghanistan. The second is that BRI isn’t as bad as they’ve been made to believe since its CPEC investments will lay the basis for the US’ future Central Asian strategy.

In fact, PAKAFUZ can be considered as a synthesis of American, Chinese, Pakistani, and even Russian strategic connectivity visions since it serves all of their interests. The US and Pakistan want to expand their economic influence north, China wants to facilitate Islamabad’s plans in this respect since PAKAFUZ is de facto the northern expansion of CPEC, and Russia regards this corridor as its route to the Indian Ocean that it’s struggled for centuries to reach.

Debunking Lies About Russia & Pakistan

Two more lies are therefore debunked through this supplementary observation. The first pertains to Pakistan, which many Americans are resentful of since they consider its reported support of the Taliban as having been the primary factor that ensured their country’s military defeat in Afghanistan. Be that as it may, their government is now economically allying with Pakistan through the “New Quad” and PAKAFUZ in order to expand its influence in Central Asia via post-withdrawal Taliban-led Afghanistan.

The second lie relates to Russia, and it’s that the US will always supposedly seek to “contain” it, yet PAKAFUZ will actually enable Moscow to finally succeed for the first time ever in its centuries-long quest to reach the Indian Ocean. Many American decision makers regarded their 1980s support of the Taliban’s mujahideen forefathers as being partially premised on preventing the USSR from using Afghanistan as a spring board to eventually invade Pakistan for that purpose, yet now their government is facilitating this connectivity goal.

Concluding Thoughts

All of this just goes to show how complicated the realities of International Relations really are. Many Americans might regard their government’s grand strategic objectives in this respect as lacking any morals, ethics, or principles considering that they now largely align with China’s, Pakistan’s, Russia’s, and even the Taliban’s despite the public having been made to think over the years that all four of them are their enemies. It’s little wonder then that these “politically incorrect” truths are still being withheld from them by the “deep state”.

Why the Taliban still can’t form a government

September 03, 2021

Why the Taliban still can’t form a government

Internal Taliban divisions come to the fore as squabbling hinders the formation of Afghanistan’s new Islamic Emirate

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It looked like everything was set for the Taliban to announce the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after this Friday’s afternoon prayers. But then internal dissent prevailed.

That was compounded by the adverse optics of a ragtag “resistance” in the Panjshir Valley that is still not subdued. The “resistance” is de facto led by a CIA asset, former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

The Taliban maintain they have captured several districts and at least four checkpoints at the Panjshir, controlling 20% of its territory. Still, there’s no endgame in sight.

Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, a Kandahar religious scholar, is expected to be the new power of the Islamic Emirate when it’s finally formed. Mullah Baradar will likely preside just below him as a presidential figure along with a 12-member governing council known as a “shura.”

If that’s the case, there would be certain similarities between the institutional role of Akhundzada and Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran, even though the theocratic frameworks, Sunni and Shiite, are completely different.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location in 2016. Photo: Afghan Taliban via AFP

Mullah Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban with Mullah Omar in 1994 and imprisoned in Guantanamo then Pakistan, has served as the Taliban’s top diplomat as the head of its political office in Doha.

He has also been a key interlocutor in the protracted negotiations with the now-extinct Kabul government and the expanded troika of Russia, China, the US and Pakistan.

To call the negotiations to form a new Afghan government fractious would be a spectacular understatement. They have been managed, in practice, by former president Hamid Karzai and ex-head of the Reconciliation Council Abdullah Abdullah: a Pashtun and a Tajik who have vast international experience.

Both Karzai and Abdullah are shoo-ins to be part of the 12-member shura.

As the negotiations seemed to advance, a frontal clash developed between the Taliban political office in Doha and the Haqqani network regarding the distribution of key government posts.

Add to it the role of Mullah Yakoob, son of Mullah Omar, and the head of the powerful Taliban military commission overseeing a massive network of field commanders, among which he’s extremely well-respected.

Recently Yakoob had let it leak that those “living in luxury in Doha” cannot dictate terms to those involved in fighting on the ground. As if this was not contentious enough, Yakoob also has serious problems with the Haqqanis – who are now in charge of a key post: security of Kabul via the so far ultra-diplomatic Khalil Haqqani.

Mullah Yakoob in a file photo. Photo: AFP

Apart from the fact that the Taliban amount to a complex collection of tribal and regional warlords, the dissent illustrates the abyss between what could roughly be explained as more Afghan nationalist-centered and more Pakistani-centered factions.

In the latter case, the key protagonists are the Haqqanis, who operate very close to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

It’s a Sisyphean task, to say the least, to create political legitimacy even in an Afghanistan that is bound to be ruled by Afghans who rid the nation of a foreign occupation.

Since 2002, both with Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani, the regime in power for most Afghans was regarded as an imposition by foreign occupiers validated by dodgy elections.

In Afghanistan, everything is about tribe, kin and clan. The Pashtuns are a vast tribe with myriad subtribes that all adhere to the common pashtunwali, a code of conduct that blends self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance.

They will be in power again, as during Taliban 1.0 from 1996 to 2001. The Dari-speaking Tajiks, on the other hand, are non-tribal and form the majority of urban residents of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Assuming it will peacefully solve its internal Pashtun squabbles, a Taliban-led government will necessarily need to conquer Tajik hearts and minds among the nation’s traders, bureaucrats and educated clergy.

Dari, derived from Persian, has long been the language of government administration, high culture and foreign relations in Afghanistan. Now it will all be switched to Pashto again. This is the schism the new government will have to bridge.

Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war. Photo: AFP

There are already surprises on the horizon. The extremely well-connected Russian ambassador in Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, revealed that he is discussing the Panjshir stalemate with the Taliban.

Zhirnov noted that the Taliban considered some of the demands of the Panjshiris as “excessive” – as in they wanted too many seats in the government and autonomy for some non-Pashtun provinces, Panjshir included.

It’s not far-fetched to consider the widely-trusted Zhirnov could become a mediator not only between Pashtuns and Panjshiris but even between opposed Pashtun factions.

The delightful historical irony will not be lost on those who remember the 1980s jihad of the unified mujahideen against the USSR.

Who profits from the Kabul suicide bombing?

August 27, 2021

Who profits from the Kabul suicide bombing?

ISIS-Khorasan aims to prove to Afghans and to the outside world that the Taliban cannot secure the capital

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The horrific Kabul suicide bombing introduces an extra vector in an already incandescent situation: It aims to prove, to Afghans and to the outside world, that the nascent Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is incapable of securing the capital.

As it stands, at least 103 people – 90 Afghans (including at least 28 Taliban) and 13 American servicemen – were killed and at least 1,300 injured, according to the Afghan Health Ministry.

Responsibility for the bombing came via a statement on the Telegram channel of Amaq Media, the official Islamic State (ISIS) news agency. This means it came from centralized ISIS command, even as the perpetrators were members of ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K.

Presuming to inherit the historical and cultural weight of ancient Central Asian lands that from the time of imperial Persia stretched all the way to the western Himalayas, that spin-off defiles the name of Khorasan.

The suicide bomber who carried out “the martyrdom operation near Kabul airport” was identified as one Abdul Rahman al-Logari. That would suggest he’s an Afghan, from nearby Logar province. And that would also suggest that the bombing may have been organized by an ISIS-Khorasan sleeper cell. Sophisticated electronic analysis of their communications would be able to prove it – tools that the Taliban don’t have.

Visual search query image

The way social media-savvy ISIS chose to spin the carnage deserves careful scrutiny. The statement on Amaq Media blasts the Taliban for being “in a partnership” with the US military in the evacuation of “spies.”

It mocks the “security measures imposed by the American forces and the Taliban militia in the capital Kabul,” as its “martyr” was able to reach “a distance of no less than five meters from the American forces, who were supervising the procedures.”

So it’s clear that the newly reborn Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the former occupying power are facing the same enemy. ISIS-Khorasan comprises a bunch of fanatics, termed takfiris because they define fellow Muslims – in this case the Taliban – as “apostates.”

Founded in 2015 by emigré jihadis dispatched to southwest Pakistan, ISIS-K is a dodgy beast. Its current head is one Shahab al-Mujahir, who was a mid-level commander of the Haqqani network headquartered in North Waziristan in the Pakistani tribal areas, itself a collection of disparate mujahideen and would-be jihadis under the family umbrella.

Washington branded the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization way back in 2010, and treats several members as global terrorists, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the family after the death of the founder Jalaluddin.

Up to now, Sirajuddin was the Taliban deputy leader for the eastern provinces – on the same level with Mullah Baradar, the head of the political office in Doha, who was actually released from Guantanamo in 2014.

Crucially, Sirajuddin’s uncle, Khalil Haqqani, formerly in charge of the network’s foreign financing, is now in charge of Kabul security and working as a diplomat 24/7.

The previous ISIS-K leaders were snuffed out by US airstrikes in 2015 and 2016. ISIS-K started to become a real destabilizing force in 2020 when the regrouped band attacked Kabul University, a Doctor Without Borders maternity ward, the Presidential palace and the airport.

NATO intel picked up by a UN report attributes a maximum of 2,200 jihadis to ISIS-K, split into small cells. Significantly, the absolute majority are non-Afghans: Iraqis, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs.

The real danger is that ISIS-K works as a sort of magnet for all manners of disgruntled former Taliban or discombobulated regional warlords with nowhere to go.

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The perfect soft target

The civilian commotion these past few days around Kabul airport was the perfect soft target for trademark ISIS carnage.

Zabihullah Mujahid – the new Taliban minister of information in Kabul, who in that capacity talks to global media every day – is the one who actually warned NATO members about an imminent ISIS-K suicide bombing. Brussels diplomats confirmed it.

In parallel, it’s no secret among intel circles in Eurasia that ISIS-K has become disproportionally more powerful since 2020 because of a transportation ratline from Idlib, in Syria, to eastern Afghanistan, informally known in spook talk as Daesh Airlines.

Moscow and Tehran, even at very high diplomatic levels, have squarely blamed the US-UK axis as the key facilitators. Even the BBC reported in late 2017 on hundreds of ISIS jihadis given safe passage out of Raqqa, and out of Syria, right in front of the Americans.

The Kabul bombing took place after two very significant events.

The first one was Mujahid’s claim during an American NBC News interview earlier this week that there is “no proof” Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11 – an argument that I had already hinted was coming in this podcast the previous week.

This means the Taliban have already started a campaign to disconnect themselves from the “terrorist” label associated with 9/11. The next step may involve arguing that the execution of 9/11 was set up in Hamburg, the operational details coordinated from two apartments in New Jersey.

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Nothing to do with Afghans. And everything staying within the parameters of the official narrative – but that’s another immensely complicated story.

The Taliban will need to show that “terrorism” has been all about their lethal enemy, ISIS, and way beyond old school al-Qaeda, which they harbored up to 2001. But why should they be shy about making such claims? After all, the United States rehabilitated Jabhat Al-Nusra – or al-Qaeda in Syria – as “moderate rebels.”

The origin of ISIS is incandescent material. ISIS was spawned in Iraq prison camps, its core made of Iraqis, their military skills derived from ex-officers in Saddam’s army, a wild bunch fired way back in 2003 by Paul Bremmer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

ISIS-K duly carries the work of ISIS from Southwest Asia to the crossroads of Central and South Asia in Afghanistan. There’s no credible evidence that ISIS-K has ties with Pakistani military intel.

On the contrary: ISIS-K is loosely aligned with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, Islamabad’s mortal enemy. TTP’s agenda has nothing to do with the moderate Mullah Baradar-led Afghan Taliban who participated in the Doha process.

SCO to the rescue

The other significant event tied to the Kabul bombing was that it took place only one day after yet another phone call between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

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The Kremlin stressed the pair’s “readiness to step up efforts to combat threats of terrorism and drug trafficking coming from the territory of Afghanistan”; the “importance of establishing peace”; and “preventing the spread of instability to adjacent regions.”

And that led to the clincher: They jointly committed to “make the most of the potential” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which was founded 20 years ago as the “Shanghai Five”, even before 9/11, to fight “terrorism, separatism and extremism.”

The SCO summit is next month in Dushanbe – when Iran, most certainly, will be admitted as a full member. The Kabul bombing offers the SCO the opportunity to forcefully step up.

Whichever complex tribal coalition is formed to govern the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, it will be intertwined with the full apparatus of regional economic and security cooperation, led by the three main actors of Eurasia integration: Russia, China and Iran.

The record shows Moscow has all that it takes to help the Islamic Emirate against ISIS-K in Afghanistan. After all, the Russians flushed ISIS out of all significant parts of Syria and confined them to the Idlib cauldron.

In the end, no one aside from ISIS wants a terrorized Afghanistan, just as no one wants a civil war in Afghanistan. So the order of business indicates not only an SCO-led frontal fight against existing ISIS-K terror cells in Afghanistan but also an integrated campaign to drain any potential social base for the takfiris in Central and South Asia.

‘Forever war’ benefiting Afghans? Follow the money

August 23, 2021

Whoever bought Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and other US defense stocks made a literal killing

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

After 20 years and a staggering US$2.23 trillion spent in a “forever war” persistently spun as promoting democracy and benefiting the “Afghan people,” it’s legitimate to ask what the Empire of Chaos has to show for it.

The numbers are dire. Afghanistan remains the world’s 7th poorest nation: 47% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. No less than 75% of the – dissolved – Kabul government’s budget was coming from international aid. According to the World Bank, that aid was responsible for the turnover of 43% of the economy – one that was mired in massive government corruption.

According to the terms of the Washington-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February 2020, the US should continue to fund Afghanistan during and after its withdrawal.

Now, with the Fall of Kabul and the imminent return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, it’s becoming clear that applying financial soft power tactics may be even more deadly than a mere NATO occupation.

Washington has frozen $9.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank reserves and the International Monetary Fund has canceled its lending to Afghanistan, including $460 million that’s part of a Covid-19 relief program.

These dollars pay for government salaries and imports. Their absence will lead to the “Afghan people” hurting even more, a direct consequence of inevitable currency depreciation, rising food prices and inflation.

A corollary to this economic tragedy is a classic “take the money and run” caper: Former president Ashraf Ghani fled the country after allegedly packing four cars with $169 million in cash, and leaving $5 million on the tarmac of Kabul airport.

That’s according to two witnesses: one of his own bodyguards and the Afghan ambassador in Tajikistan; Ghani has denied the looting allegations.

Ghani’s plane was denied landing in Tajikistan and also Uzbekistan, proceeding to Oman until Ghani was welcomed in the UAE – very close to Dubai, a global Mecca of smuggling, money laundering and racketeering.

The Taliban have already stated that a new government and a new political and economic framework will be announced only after NATO troops are definitively out of the country next month.

The complex negotiations to form an “inclusive” government, as repeatedly promised by Taliban spokesmen, are de facto led on the non-Taliban side by two members of a council of three: former President Hamid Karzai and Ghani’s eternal rival, the leader of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah. The third member, acting in the shadows, is warlord-turned-politician and two-time prime minister Hekmatyar. Gulbuddin

Karzai and Abdullah, both vastly experienced, are regarded by the Americans as “acceptable,” so that may go a long way in terms of facilitating future, official Western recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and restored multilateral institution funding.

Yet there are myriad problems including the very active role of Khalil Haqqani, who leads the Taliban Peace Council Commission while on a “terror watch list” and under UN sanctions. Not only is Haqqani in charge of Kabul’s security; he’s also side by side with Karzai and Abdullah in the discussions to form an inclusive government.

What makes the Taliban run

The Taliban have been operating outside of the Western banking system for two decades now. The bulk of their income comes from transit tax on trade routes (for instance, from Iran) and fuel levies. Profits from opium and heroin exports (domestic consumption not permitted) reportedly account for less than 10% of their income.

In countless villages across the deep Afghan countryside, the economy revolves around petty cash transactions and barter.

I received a copy of a high-level Pakistani academia-intelligence paper examining the challenges facing the new Afghan government.

The paper notes that “the standard route of development to be followed will be very pro-people. Taliban’s Islam is socialist. It has an aversion towards wealth being accumulated in fewer hands” – and, crucially, also an aversion to usury.

On the initial steps towards development projects, the paper expects them to come from Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani companies – as well as a few government sectors. The Islamic Emirate “expects infrastructure development packages” at costs that are “affordable by the country’s existing GDP.”

Afghanistan’s nominal GDP in 2020 was $19.8 billion, according to World Bank figures.

New aid and investment packages are expected to come from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member nations (Russia, China, Pakistan) or SCO observers (Turkey and currently Iran – scheduled to become a full member at the SCO summit next month in Tajikistan). Inbuilt is the notion that Western recognition will be a Sisyphean task.

The paper admits that the Taliban have not had time to evaluate how the economy will be the key vector deciding Afghanistan’s future independence.

But this passage of the paper may hold the key: “In their consultations with the Chinese, they were advised to go slow and not rock the boat of the Western world system by talking too soon about state control of capitalism, interest-free economy, and de-linking from the IMF-based financial system. However, since the West has pulled back all the money from the Afghan exchequer, Afghanistan is likely to apply for short-term aid packages against their resource base.”

IMF-NATO as brothers in arms

I asked Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City and Peking University, how he would recommend the new government to act. He answered, “For one thing, embarrass the hell out of the IMF for acting as an arm of NATO.”

Hudson referred to a Wall Street Journal article written by a former IMF advisor now with the Atlantic Council as saying that “now, since recognition is frozen, banks all over the world will hesitate to do business with Kabul. This move provides the US with leverage to negotiate with the Taliban.”

So this may be going the Venezuela way – with the IMF not “recognizing” a new government for months and even years. And on the seizure of Afghan gold by the New York Fed – actually a collection of private banks – we see echoes of the looting of Libya’s and seizure of Venezuela’s gold.

Hudson sees all of the above as “an abuse of the international monetary system – which is supposed to be a public utility – as an arm of NATO run by the US. IMF behavior, especially regarding the new drawing rights, should be presented as a litmus test” for the viability of a Taliban-led Afghanistan.

Hudson is now working on a book about the collapse of antiquity. His research led him to find Cicero, in In Favor of the Manilian Law (Pro Lege Manilia), writing about Pompeus’s military campaign in Asia and its effects on the provinces in a passage that perfectly applies to the “forever war” in Afghanistan:

“Words cannot express, gentlemen, how bitterly hated we are among foreign nations because of the wanton and outrageous conduct of the men whom in recent years we have sent to govern them. For, in those countries, what temple do you suppose had been held sacred by our officers, what state inviolable, what home sufficiently guarded by its closed doors? Why, they look about for rich and flourishing cities that they may find an occasion for a war against them to satisfy their lust for plunder.”

Switching from the classics to a more pedestrian level, WikiLeaks has been replaying a sort of Afghanistan Greatest Hits , reminding public opinion, for instance, that as far back as 2008 there was already “no pre-defined end date” for the “forever war.”

Yet the most concise assessment may have come from Julian Assange himself:

“The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”

The “forever war” may have been a disaster for the bombed, invaded and impoverished “Afghan people,” but it was an unmitigated success for what Ray McGovern so memorably defines as the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Counter-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think Tank) complex. Anyone who bought stocks of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and the rest of that crowd made – literally – a killing.

Facts are indeed dire. Barack Obama – who presided over a hefty Afghan “kill list”  throws a birthday party and invites the woke nouveaux riches. Julian Assange suffers psychological torture imprisoned in Belmarsh. And Ashraf Ghani mulls how to spend $169 million in the Dubai rackets, funds some say were duly stolen from the “Afghan people.”

How Russia-China are stage-managing the Taliban

August 18, 2021

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By Pepe Escobar: The Saker Blog and cross-posted at the Unz Review.

The first Taliban press conference after this weekend’s Saigon moment geopolitical earthquake, conducted by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, was in itself a game-changer.

The contrast could not be starker with those rambling pressers at the Taliban embassy in Islamabad after 9/11 and before the start of the American bombing – proving this is an entirely new political animal.

Yet some things never change. English translations remain atrocious.

Here is a good summary of the key Taliban statements, and

here (in Russian) is a very detailed roundup.

These are the key takeaways.

– No problem for women to get education all the way to college, and to continue to work. They just need to wear the hijab (like in Qatar or Iran). No need to wear a burqa. The Taliban insists, “all women’s rights will be guaranteed within the limits of Islamic law.”

– The Islamic Emirate “does not threaten anyone” and will not treat anyone as enemies. Crucially, revenge – an essential plank of the Pashtunwali code – will be abandoned, and that’s unprecedented. There will be a general amnesty – including people who worked for the former NATO-aligned system. Translators, for instance, won’t be harassed, and don’t need to leave the country.

– Security of foreign embassies and international organizations “is a priority.” Taliban special security forces will protect both those leaving Afghanistan and those who remain.

– A strong inclusive Islamic government will be formed. “Inclusive” is code for the participation of women and Shi’ites.

– Foreign media will continue to work undisturbed. The Taliban government will allow public criticism and debate. But “freedom of speech in Afghanistan must be in line with Islamic values.”

– The Islamic Emirate of Taliban wants recognition from the “international community” – code for NATO. The overwhelming majority of Eurasia and the Global South will recognize it anyway. It’s essential to note, for example, the closer integration of the expanding SCO – Iran is about to become a full member, Afghanistan is an observer – with ASEAN: the absolute majority of Asia will not shun the Taliban.

For the record, they also stated that the Taliban took all of Afghanistan in only 11 days: that’s pretty accurate. They stressed “very good relations with Pakistan, Russia and China.” Yet the Taliban don’t have formal allies and are not part of any military-political bloc. They definitely “won’t allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for international terrorists”. That’s code for ISIS/Daesh.

On the key issue of opium/heroin: the Taliban will ban their production. So, for all practical purposes, the CIA heroin rat line is dead.

As eyebrow raising as these statements may be, the Taliban did not even get into detail on economic/infrastructure development deals – as they will need a lot of new industries, new jobs and improved Eurasian-wide trade relations. That will be announced later.

The go-to Russian guy

Sharp US observers are remarking, half in jest, that the Taliban in only one sitting answered more real questions from US media than POTUS since January.

What this first press conference reveals is how the Taliban are fast absorbing essential P.R. and media lessons from Moscow and Beijing, emphasizing ethnic harmony, the role of women, the role of diplomacy, and deftly defusing in a single move all the hysteria raging across NATOstan.

The next bombshell step in the P.R. wars will be to cut off the lethal, evidence-free Taliban-9/11 connection; afterwards the “terrorist organization” label will disappear, and the Taliban as a political movement will be fully legitimized.

Moscow and Beijing are meticulously stage-managing the Taliban reinsertion in regional and global geopolitics. This means that ultimately the SCO is stage-managing the whole process, applying a consensus reached after a series of ministerial and leaders meetings, leading to a very important summit next month in Dushanbe.

The key player the Taliban are talking to is Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan. In yet another debunking of NATOstan narrative, Kabulov confirmed, for instance, “we see no direct threat to our allies in Central Asia. There are no facts proving otherwise.”

The Beltway will be stunned to learn that Zabulov has also revealed, “we have long been in talks with the Taliban on the prospects for development after their capture of power and they have repeatedly confirmed that they have no extraterritorial ambition, they learned the lessons of 2000.” These contacts were established “over the past 7 years.”

Zabulov reveals plenty of nuggets when it comes to Taliban diplomacy: “If we compare the negotiability of colleagues and partners, the Taliban have long seemed to me much more negotiable than the puppet Kabul government. We proceed from the premise that the agreements must be implemented. So far, with regard to the security of the embassy and the security of our allies in Central Asia, the Taliban have respected the agreements.”

Faithful to its adherence to international law, and not the “rules-based international order”, Moscow is always keen to emphasize the responsibility of the UN Security Council: “We must make sure that the new government is ready to behave conditionally, as we say, in a civilized manner. That’s when this point of view becomes common to all, then the procedure [of removing the qualification of the Taliban as a terrorist organization] will begin.”

So while the US/EU/NATO flee Kabul in spasms of self-inflicted panic, Moscow practices – what else – diplomacy. Zabulov: “That we have prepared the ground for a conversation with the new government in Afghanistan in advance is an asset of Russian foreign policy.”

Dmitry Zhirnov, Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, is working overtime with the Taliban. He met a senior Taliban security official yesterday. The meeting was “positive, constructive…The Taliban movement has the most friendly; the best policy towards Russia… He arrived alone in one vehicle, with no guards.”

Both Moscow and Beijing have no illusions that the West is already deploying Hybrid War tactics to discredit and destabilize a government that isn’t even formed and hasn’t even started working. No wonder Chinese media is describing Washington as a “strategic rogue.”

What matters is that Russia-China are way ahead of the curve, cultivating parallel inside tracks of diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban. It’s always crucial to remember that Russia harbors 20 million Muslims, and China at least 35 million. These will be called to support the immense project of Afghan reconstruction – and full Eurasia reintegration.

The Chinese saw it coming

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saw it coming weeks ago. And that explains the meeting in Tianjin in late July, when he hosted a high-level Taliban delegation, led by Mullah Baradar, de facto conferring them total political legitimacy. Beijing already knew the Saigon moment was inevitable. Thus the statement stressing China expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.

What this means in practice is China will be a partner of Afghanistan on infrastructure investment, via Pakistan, incorporating it into an expanded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) bound to diversify connectivity channels with Central Asia. The New Silk Road corridor from Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea will branch out: the first graphic illustration is Chinese construction of the ultra-strategic Peshawar-Kabul highway.

The Chinese are also building a major road across the geologically spectacular, deserted Wakhan corridor from western Xinjiang all the way to Badakhshan province, which incidentally, is now under total Taliban control.

The trade off is quite straightforward: the Taliban should allow no safe haven for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and no interference in Xinjiang.

The overall trade/security combo looks like a certified win-win. And we’re not even talking about future deals allowing China to exploit Afghanistan’s immense mineral wealth.

Once again, the Big Picture reads like the Russia-China double helix, connected to all the “stans” as well as Pakistan, drawing a comprehensive game plan/road map for Afghanistan. In their multiple contacts with both Russians and Chinese, the Taliban seem to have totally understood how to profit from their role in the New Great Game.

The extended New Axis of Evil

Imperial Hybrid War tactics to counteract the scenario are inevitable. Take the first proclamation of a Northern Alliance “resistance”, in theory led by Ahmad Masoud, the son of the legendary Lion of the Panjshir killed by al-Qaeda two days before 9/11.

I met Masoud father – an icon. Afghan insider info on Masoud son is not exactly flattering. Yet he’s already a darling of woke Europeans, complete with a glamour pose for AFP, an impromptu visit in the Panjshir by professional philosopher swindler Bernard-Henri Levy, and the release of a manifesto of sorts published in several European newspapers, exhibiting all the catchphrases: “tyranny”, “slavery”, “vendetta”, “martyred nation”, “Kabul screams”, “nation in chains”, etc.

The whole set up smells like a “son of Shah” [of Iran] gambit. Masoud son and his mini-militia are completely surrounded in the Panjshir mountains and can’t be de facto effective even when it comes to regimenting the under 25s, two-thirds of the Afghan population, whose main worry is to find real jobs in a nascent real economy.

Woke NATOstan “analyses” of Taliban Afghanistan don’t even qualify as irrelevant, insisting that Afghanistan is not strategic and even lost its tactical importance for NATO. It’s a sorry spectacle illustrating how Europe is hopelessly behind the curve, drenched in trademark neo-colonialism of the White Man’s Burden variety as it dismisses a land dominated by clans and tribes.

Expect China to be one of the first powers to formally recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, alongside Turkey and, later on, Russia. I have already alluded to the coming of a New Axis of Evil: Pakistan-Taliban-China. The axis will inevitably be extended to Russia-Iran. So what? Ask Mullah Baradar: he couldn’t care less.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan back with a bang

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August 16, 2021

Source

The US ‘loss’ of Afghanistan is a repositioning and the new mission is not a ‘war on terror,’ but Russia and China

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first published at Asia Times

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Taliban fighters stand guard along a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. Photo: AFP /

Wakil Kohsar

Wait until the war is over
And we’re both a little older
The unknown soldier
Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn living, living, dead
Bullet strikes the helmet’s head
And it’s all over
For the unknown soldier

The Doors, “The Unknown Soldier”

In the end, the Saigon moment happened faster than any Western intel “expert” expected. This is one for the annals: four frantic days that wrapped up the most astonishing guerrilla blitzkrieg of recent times. Afghan-style: lots of persuasion, lots of tribal deals, zero columns of tanks, minimal loss of blood.

August 12 set the scene, with the nearly simultaneous capture of Ghazni, Kandahar and Herat. On August 13, the Taliban were only 50 kilometers from Kabul. August 14 started with the siege of Maidan Shahr, the gateway to Kabul.

Ismail Khan, the legendary elder Lion of Herat, struck a self-preservation deal and was sent by the Taliban as a top-flight messenger to Kabul: President Ashraf Ghani should step out, or else.

Still on Saturday, the Taliban took Jalalabad – and isolated Kabul from the east, all the way to the Afgan-Pakistan border in Torkham, gateway to the Khyber Pass. By Saturday night, Marshal Dostum was fleeing with a bunch of military to Uzbekistan via the Friendship Bridge in Termez; only a few were allowed in. The Taliban duly took over Dostum’s Tony Montana-style palace.

By early morning on August 15, all that was left for the Kabul administration was the Panjshir valley – high in the mountains, a naturally protected fortress – and scattered Hazaras: there’s nothing there in those beautiful central lands, except Bamiyan.

Exactly 20 years ago, I was in Bazarak getting ready to interview the Lion of the Panjshir, commander Masoud, who was preparing a counter-offensive against … the Taliban. History repeating, with a twist. This time I was sent visual proof that the Taliban – following the classic guerrilla sleeping cell playbook – were already in the Panjshir.

And then mid-morning on Sunday brought the stunning visual re-enactment of the Saigon moment, for all the world to see: a Chinook helicopter hovering over the roof of the American embassy in Kabul.

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A US military helicopter flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. Photo: AFP / Wakil Kohsar

‘The war is over’

Still on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem proclaimed: “The war is over in Afghanistan,” adding that the shape of the new government would soon be announced.

Facts on the ground are way more convoluted. Feverish negotiations have been going on since Sunday afternoon. The Taliban were ready to announce the official proclamation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in its 2.0 version (1.0 was from 1996 to 2001). The official announcement would be made inside the presidential palace.

Yet what’s left of Team Ghani was refusing to transfer power to a coordinating council that will de facto set up the transition. What the Taliban want is a seamless transition: they are now the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Case closed.

By Monday, a sign of compromise came from Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. The new government will include non-Taliban officials. He was referring to an upcoming “transition administration,” most probably co-directed by Taliban political leader Mullah Baradar and Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former minister of internal affairs who was also, in the past, an employee of Voice of America.

In the end, there was no Battle for Kabul. Thousands of Taliban were already inside Kabul – once again the classic sleeper-cell playbook. The bulk of their forces remained in the outskirts. An official Taliban proclamation ordered them not to enter the city, which should be captured without a fight, to prevent civilian casualties.

The Taliban did advance from the west, but “advancing,” in context, meant connecting to the sleeper cells in Kabul, which by then were fully active. Tactically, Kabul was encircled in an “anaconda” move, as defined by a Taliban commander: squeezed from north, south and west and, with the capture of Jalalabad, cut off from the east.

At some point last week, high-level intel must have whispered to the Taliban command that the Americans would be coming to “evacuate.” It could have been Pakistan intelligence, even Turkish intelligence, with Erdogan playing his characteristic NATO double game.

The American rescue cavalry not only came late, but was caught in a bind as they could not possibly bomb their own assets inside Kabul. The horrible timing was compounded when the Bagram military base – the NATO Valhalla in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years – was finally captured by the Taliban.

That led the US and NATO to literally beg the Taliban to let them evacuate everything in sight from Kabul – by air, in haste, at the Taliban’s mercy. A geopolitical development that evokes suspension of disbelief.

Ghani versus Baradar

Ghani’s hasty escape is the stuff of “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing” – without the Shakespearean pathos. The heart of the whole matter was a last-minute meeting on Sunday morning between former President Hamid Karzai and Ghani’s perennial rival Abdullah Abdullah.

They discussed in detail who they were going to send to negotiate with the Taliban – who by then not only were fully prepared for a possible battle for Kabul, but had announced their immovable red line weeks ago – they want the end of the current NATO government.

Ghani finally saw the writing on the wall and disappeared from the presidential palace without even addressing the potential negotiators. With his wife, chief of staff and national security adviser, he escaped to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. A few hours later, the Taliban entered the presidential palace, the stunning images duly captured.

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A screengrab from a video showing Taliban leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, front, center, with his fellow insurgents, in Kabul on August 15. Born in 1968, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, also called Mullah Baradar Akhund, is the co-founder of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was the deputy of Mullah Mohammed Omar. Photo: AFP / Taliban / EyePress News

Commenting on Ghani’s escape, Abdullah Abdullah did not mince his words: “God will hold him accountable.” Ghani, an anthropologist with a doctorate from Columbia, is one of those classic cases of Global South exiles to the West who “forget” everything that matters about their original lands.

Ghani is a Pashtun who acted like an arrogant New Yorker. Or worse, an entitled Pashtun, as he was often demonizing the Taliban, who are overwhelmingly Pashtun, not to mention Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, including their tribal elders.

It’s as if Ghani and his Westernized team had never learned from a top source such as the late, great Norwegian social anthropologist Fredrik Barth (check out a sample of his Pashtun studies here).

Geopolitically, what matters now is how the Taliban have written a whole new script, showing the lands of Islam, as well as the Global South, how to defeat the self-referential, seemingly invincible US/NATO empire.

The Taliban did it with Islamic faith, infinite patience and force of will fueling roughly 78,000 fighters – 60,000 of them active – many with minimal military training, no backing of any state – unlike Vietnam, which had China and the USSR – no hundreds of billions of dollars from NATO, no trained army, no air force and no state-of-the-art technology.

They relied only on Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and Toyota pick-ups – before they captured American hardware these past few days, including drones and helicopters.

Taliban leader Mullah Baradar has been extremely cautious. On Monday he said: “It is too early to say how we will take over governance.” First of all, the Taliban wants “to see foreign forces leave before restructuring begins.”

Abdul Ghani Baradar is a very interesting character. He was born and raised in Kandahar. That’s where the Taliban started in 1994, seizing the city almost without a fight and then, equipped with tanks, heavy weapons and a lot of cash to bribe local commanders, capturing Kabul nearly 25 years ago, on September 27, 1996.

Earlier, Mullah Baradar fought in the 1980s jihad against the USSR, and maybe – not confirmed – side-by-side with Mullah Omar, with whom he co-founded the Taliban.

After the American bombing and occupation post-9/11, Mullah Baradar and a small group of Taliban sent a proposal to then-President Hamid Karzai on a potential deal that would allow the Taliban to recognize the new regime. Karzai, under Washington pressure, rejected it.

Baradar was actually arrested in Pakistan in 2010 – and kept in custody. Believe it or not, American intervention led to his freedom in 2018. He then relocated to Qatar. And that’s where he was appointed head of the Taliban’s political office and oversaw the signing last year of the American withdrawal deal.

Beware of a peasant guerrilla army

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Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location in 2016. Photo: AFP / Afghan Taliban

The collapse of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was inevitable. They were “educated” the American military way: massive technology, massive airpower, next to zero local ground intel.

The Taliban is all about deals with tribal elders and extended family connections – and a peasant guerrilla approach, parallel to the communists in Vietnam. They were biding their time for years, just building connections – and those sleeper cells.

Afghan troops who had not received a salary for months were paid not to fight them. And the fact they did not attack American troops since February 2020 earned them a lot of extra respect: a matter of honor, essential in the Pashtunwali code.

It’s impossible to understand the Taliban – and most of all, the Pashtun universe – without understanding Pashtunwali. As well as the concepts of honor, hospitality and inevitable revenge for any wrongdoing, the concept of freedom implies no Pashtun is inclined to be ordered by a central state authority – in this case, Kabul. And no way will they ever surrender their guns.

In a nutshell, that’s the “secret” of the lightning-fast blitzkrieg with minimal loss of blood, inbuilt in the overarching geopolitical earthquake. After Vietnam, this is the second Global South protagonist showing the whole world how an empire can be defeated by a peasant guerrilla army.

And all that accomplished with a budget that may not exceed $1.5 billion a year – coming from local taxes, profits from opium exports (no internal distribution allowed) and real estate speculation. In vast swaths of Afghanistan, the Taliban were already, de facto, running local security, local courts and even food distribution.

Taliban 2021 is an entirely different animal compared with Taliban 2001. Not only are they battle-hardened, they had plenty of time to perfect their diplomatic skills, which were recently more than visible in Doha and in high-level visits to Tehran, Moscow and Tianjin.

They know very well that any connection with al-Qaeda remnants, ISIS/Daesh, ISIS-Khorasan and ETIM is counter-productive – as their Shanghai Cooperation Organization interlocutors made very clear.

Internal unity, anyway, will be extremely hard to achieve. The Afghan tribal maze is a jigsaw puzzle, nearly impossible to crack. What the Taliban may realistically achieve is a loose confederation of tribes and ethnic groups under a Taliban emir, coupled with very careful management of social relations.

Initial impressions point to increased maturity. The Taliban are granting amnesty to employees of the NATO occupation and won’t interfere with businesses activities. There will be no revenge campaign. Kabul is back in business. There is allegedly no mass hysteria in the capital: that’s been the exclusive domain of Anglo-American mainstream media. The Russian and Chinese embassies remain open for business.

Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin special representative for Afghanistan, has confirmed that the situation in Kabul, surprisingly, is “absolutely calm” – even as he reiterated: “We are not in a rush as far as recognition [of the Taliban] is concerned. We will wait and watch how the regime will behave.”

The New Axis of Evil

Tony Blinken may blabber that “we were in Afghanistan for one overriding purpose – to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11.”

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: AFP / Patrick SemanskyEvery serious analyst knows that the “overriding” geopolitical purpose of the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago was to establish an essential Empire of Bases foothold in the strategic intersection of Central and South Asia, subsequently coupled with occupying Iraq in Southwest Asia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Every serious analyst knows that the “overriding” geopolitical purpose of the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago was to establish an essential Empire of Bases foothold in the strategic intersection of Central and South Asia, subsequently coupled with occupying Iraq in Southwest Asia.

Now the “loss” of Afghanistan should be interpreted as a repositioning. It fits the new geopolitical configuration, where the Pentagon’s top mission is not the “war on terror” anymore, but to simultaneously try to isolate Russia and harass China by all means on the expansion of the New Silk Roads.

Occupying smaller nations has ceased to be a priority. The Empire of Chaos can always foment chaos – and supervise assorted bombing raids – from its CENTCOM base in Qatar.

Iran is about to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full member – another game-changer. Even before resetting the Islamic Emirate, the Taliban have carefully cultivated good relations with key Eurasia players – Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian ‘stans. The ‘stans are under full Russian protection. Beijing is already planning hefty rare earth business with the Taliban.

On the Atlanticist front, the spectacle of non-stop self-recrimination will consume the Beltway for ages. Two decades, $2 trillion, a forever war debacle of chaos, death and destruction, a still shattered Afghanistan, an exit literally in the dead of night – for what? The only “winners” have been the Lords of the Weapons Racket.

Yet every American plotline needs a fall guy. NATO has just been cosmically humiliated in the graveyard of empires by a bunch of goat herders – and not by close encounters with Mr Khinzal. What’s left? Propaganda.

So meet the new fall guy: the New Axis of Evil. The axis is Taliban-Pakistan-China. The New Great Game in Eurasia has just been reloaded.

طالبان اليوم ليست داعش ولا القاعدة ولكن…!


أغسطس 14 2021

 محمد صادق الحسيني

طالبان جمع طالب باللغة المحلية، وهي إشارة الى جماعة من الطلبة الأفغان الذين درسوا او تدرّبوا في مدارس مولوي جلال الدين حقاني صاحب «شبكة حقاني» العسكرية القتالية السلفية الباكستانية في منطقة وزيرستان المحاذية لأفغانستان..!

والمعروف انّ حركة طالبان السلفية الجهادية قد تشكلت في العام ١٩٩٤ في شرق أفغانستان على يد الملا محمد عمر الشهير.

في حقبة الملا عمر برز الجانب المتشدّد المعروف لطالبان وكلّ من عداه من المؤسسين ظلّ مغموراً بمن فيهم واحداً من أهمّ مساعديه وقادة التأسيس الحركي الملا عبد الغني برادر…!

وقد اشتهر في أروقة الديبلوماسيين والسياسيين للدول المحيطة بأفغانستان يومها بأن هذه الحركة الأفغانية المتشددة، قد تمّت رعايتها بشكل ملحوظ وبارز من قبل الاستخبارات العسكرية الباكستانية.

كما عرف ولا يزال معروفاً بأنّ باكستان ظلت على علاقة وثيقة بالحركة، وانها لطالما استخدمتها كورقة قوية في علاقاتها الإقليمية ومفاوضاتها حول مستقبل أفغانستان والمنطقة.

ثمة واقعة مهمة حصلت قبل نحو ١٠ سنوات لا بدّ من ذكرها هنا لعلها شكلت محطة مهمة وعلامة فارقة فيما جرى وربما لا يزال يجري في أفغانستان.

في العام ٢٠١٠ وفي عملية مشتركة للمخابرات الأميركية والباكستانية يتمّ القبض على أحد أهمّ الرموز الطالبانية التي كانت تطاردها واشنطن بعد موت ملا عمر الا وهو ملا عبد الغني برادر الزميل الحميم لبن لادن.

وبعد اختفاء تامّ للرجل لمدة ٨ سنوات أسيراً لدى الأميركيين، وبعد مفاوضات شاقة أجرتها الحركة وبوساطة قطرية ملحة، يتمّ إطلاق سراحه في العام ٢٠١٨…!

وبسرعة يتقدم الملا عبد الغني برادر، ليصبح مديراً للمكتب السياسي للحركة وممثلها في الدوحة، ومن ثم يصبح كما هو الآن الرجل الأول للحركة بلا منازع، وهو الذي قاد كل المفاوضات الأخيرة مع الأميركيين، وعقد كلّ الاتفاقيات العلنية والسرية معهم، وهو الذي يشرف حالياً على كلّ التطورات الأمنية والعسكرية والسياسية لحركة طالبان، وهو الذي يفترض أنه دخل كابول فاتحاً…

لا احد من المتابعين الجديين يعتقد ان طالبان ستسلم مقاليد البلاد بولاياتها الـ ٣٤ للأميركيين ومخططاتهم المستجدة بسهولة فهم قاتلوا طوال العقدين الماضيين من اجل اهداف حركتهم وقدموا آلاف الشهداء في هذا الطريق…!

والاغلب انهم سيلعبون على التناقضات الاميركية وتوظيفها لفرض امارتهم الاسلامية كامر واقع بدون قرقعة سلاح…!

في هذه الأثناء وكما تقول مصادر أفغانية متابعة فإنّ الأميركيين من جهتهم، عملوا ما استطاعوا الى ذلك سبيلاً خلال العقدين الماضيين – وعلى طريقة إعداد الخطة «ب» والخطة «ج» لكلّ مخطط – في القضاء او الامحاء او الازاحة لكل الرموز الطالبانية المتشددة، لتظهر «طالبان» جديدة، ديمقراطية، تعددية، تقدمية معتدلة، عاقلة، مسالمة، تتربّع عرش كابول لتكون واجهة أفغانية (پشتونية) كاملة الدسم، مطعّمة ببعض من الوان الطيف الافغاني من الطاجيك الى الاوزبك الى الهزارة الى الدرانيين او النورستانيين وذلك عندما تحين لحظة الانسحاب التي لا بدّ منها، وها هو زمانها قد حان…!

وهذا يعني في ما يعني انّ العقدين الماضيين كانا كفيلين في بلورة نسخة جديدة من طالبان غير نسخة طالبان الأولى الملتصقة بذهن الناس بملا عمر وبن لادن…!

طالبان الجديدة هي طالبان السنية الحنفية السلفية القوية، لكنها غير الوهابية التكفيرية، طالبان المنفتحة على العالم الخارجي بكل تلاوينه ولكن:

 طالبان التي ستشكل كما يتمنى الأميركيون بالطبع جداراً يشبه سور الصين العظيم بوجه كلّ من بكين وموسكو وطهران…!

جدار يمنع التحام الثنائي الصيني الروسي العملاق، مع القطب الإيراني الصاعد والواعد…!

لم يكن ذلك ممكناً بدون تحوّل حقيقي في طالبان نفسها، ورجل المرحلة لم يكن سوى ملا عبد الغني برادر، ومساعديه الذين يملأون الشاشات اليوم ويقودون المفاوضات والحوارات في كل من طهران وموسكو وبكين بالإضافة الى الدوحة…!

موقع أفغانستان الجيوبوليتيكي والجيواستراتيجي بمثابة نقطة تقاطع التاريخ والجغرافيا بين الحضارات والمدنيات الشرقية وحتى الغربية منها، كفيل بنظر الاميركيين اذا ما ظلّ قلقاً وغير مستقراً على ان يكون كفيلاً بزعزعة مشروع «حزام واحد طريق واحد» الصيني وجعله يتعثر، وطريق الحرير الحديدي الشرقي مقطوع عند النقطة الافغانية، وان يشاغب قدر الإمكان على منتدى او منظمة شانغهاي للتعاون وهي المنظمة الأمنية السياسية الاقتصادية التي تضم نحو عشر دول أهمّها الصين وروسيا والهند والتي يفترض ان تصبح إيران رئيسي الدولة الجديدة كاملة العضوية فيها في ١٧ من آب المقبل…

 واذا ما استحضرنا المشهد التلمودي والهوليودي الأميركي الى واجهة الأحداث الجارية حالياً في أفغانستان ومحيطها، فإنّ ثمة من يجزم في أفغانستان وفي محيطها من الباحثين، بأنّ الأميركي الذي طالما ناور بداعش والقاعدة واستعملهما بطريقة تدوير النفايات، فإنه سرعان ما سيلجأ الى خلط الأوراق قريباً، لتنطلق دورات عنف متعددة تشعل كل آسيا الوسطى والقوقاز انطلاقاً من أفغانستان لتصل الى داخل روسيا والصين من خلال تحريك الأقليات العرقية المجنّدة بالآلاف تحت الرعاية الاستخبارية الأميركية..!

وهذا هدف أميركي معلن ومعروف، وتتمّ الدعاية له على طول الخط، تحت عنوان مخادع وهو الدفاع عن حقوق الإنسان وحرية المعتقد ومحاربة الديكتاتوريات والأنظمة الشمولية!

طبعاً يحصل هذا في إطار المخطط الأميركي الذي يحاول دوماً ان يحوّل هزيمته المرة الى نصر مزيف…!

انها معركة عالمية جديدة أميركا بحاجة ماسّة لها، في خطتها لوقف الصعود الصيني المتسارع في كلّ شيء، والقوة العسكرية الروسية المتفوّقة على أميركا بالأسلحة التقليدية وغير التقليدية، وما تسمّيه بالنفوذ الإيراني المتعاظم والذي بدأ يشكل تهديداً وجودياً لقاعدتها المتقدمة في المنطقة التي اسمها «إسرائيل»…!

الإيرانيون والروس والصينيون يدركون تماماً دلالات ما حصل ويحصل في أفغانستان من هزيمة منكرة للأميركيين، ومن خبث في نسخهم الجديدة في المواجهة، ولكنهم يعرفون أيضا لا سيما الايرانيين، كيف تخاض معارك الحروب الناعمة وهم الأبرع في لعبة الشطرنج…!

ووادي پنج شير وقاسم سليماني مع احمد شاه مسعود… يشهد لهم…

وفيلق فاطميون يشهد لهم، وأمور اخرى تبقى قيد المفاجآت ستكشف مدى سطحية وسذاجة الأميركي، وكيف ان اليانكي الكاوبوي سيلدغ من نفس الجحر مرتين…!

كلّ هذه التحليلات متحركة بانتظار موقف طالبان الحقيقي الذي ننتظره بفارغ الصبر من «إسرائيل» وسيدها الأميركي!

بعدنا طيبين قولوا الله…

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A Saigon moment looms in Kabul

August 13, 2021

See the source image
Vietnam Civilians try to board a US helicopter at the US Embassy in Saigon, 1975

August 12, 2021 will go down as the day the Taliban avenged America’s invasion and struck the blow that brought down its man in Kabul

A Saigon moment looms in Kabul

by Pepe Escobar,  posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

August 12, 2021. History will register it as the day the Taliban, nearly 20 years after 9/11 and the subsequent toppling of their 1996-2001 reign by American bombing, struck the decisive blow against the central government in Kabul.

In a coordinated blitzkrieg, the Taliban all but captured three crucial hubs: Ghazni and Kandahar in the center, and Herat in the west. They had already captured most of the north. As it stands, the Taliban control 14 (italics mine) provincial capitals and counting.

First thing in the morning, they took Ghazni, which is situated around 140 kilometers from Kabul. The repaved highway is in good condition. Not only are the Taliban moving closer and closer to Kabul: for all practical purposes they now control the nation’s top artery, Highway 1 from Kabul to Kandahar via Ghazni.

That in itself is a strategic game-changer. It will allow the Taliban to encircle and besiege Kabul simultaneously from north and south, in a pincer movement.

Kandahar fell by nightfall after the Taliban managed to breach the security belt around the city, attacking from several directions.

In Ghazni, provincial governor Daoud Laghmani cut a deal, fled and then was arrested. In Kandahar, provincial governor Rohullah Khanzada – who belongs to the powerful Popolzai tribe – left with only a few bodyguards.

He opted to engage in an elaborate deal, convincing the Taliban to allow the remaining military to retreat to Kandahar airport and be evacuated by helicopter. All their equipment, heavy weapons and ammunition should be transferred to the Taliban.

Afghan Special Forces represented the cream of the crop in Kandahar. Yet they were only protecting a few select locations. Now their next mission may be to protect Kabul. The final deal between the governor and the Taliban should be struck soon. Kandahar has indeed fallen.

In Herat, the Taliban attacked from the east while notorious former warlord Ismail Khan, leading his militia, put up a tremendous fight from the west. The Taliban progressively conquered the police HQ, “liberated” prison inmates and laid siege to the governor’s office.

Game over: Herat has also fallen with the Taliban now controlling the whole of Western Afghanistan, all the way to the borders with Iran.

Tet Offensive, remixed

Military analysts will have a ball deconstructing this Taliban equivalent to the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Satellite intel may have been instrumental: it’s as if the whole battlefield progress had been coordinated from above.

Yet there are some quite prosaic reasons for the success of the onslaught apart from strategic acumen: corruption in the Afghan National Army (ANA); total disconnect between Kabul and battlefield commanders; lack of American air support; the deep political divide in Kabul itself.

In parallel, the Taliban had been secretly reaching out for months, through tribal connections and family ties, offering a deal: don’t fight us and you will be spared.

Add to it a deep sense of betrayal by the West felt by those connected with the Kabul government, mixed with fear of Taliban revenge against collaborationists.

A very sad subplot, from now on, concerns civilian helplessness – felt by those who consider themselves trapped in cities that are now controlled by the Taliban. Those that made it before the onslaught are the new Afghan IDPs, such as the ones who set up a refugee camp in the Sara-e-Shamali park in Kabul.

A new generation of IDPs in Afghanistan. Image: Supplied

Rumors were swirling in Kabul that Washington had suggested to President Ashraf Ghani to resign, clearing the way for a ceasefire and the establishment of a transitional government.

On the record, what’s established is that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin promised Ghani to “remain invested” in Afghan security.

Reports indicate the Pentagon plans to redeploy 3,000 troops and Marines to Afghanistan and another 4,000 to the region to evacuate the US Embassy and US citizens in Kabul.

The alleged offer to Ghani actually originated in Doha – and came from Ghani’s people, as I confirmed with diplomatic sources.

The Kabul delegation, led by Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of something called the High Council for National Reconciliation, via Qatar mediation, offered the Taliban a power-sharing deal as long as they stop the onslaught. There’s been no mention of Ghani resigning, which is the Taliban’s number one condition for any negotiation.

The extended troika in Doha is working overtime. The US lines up immovable object Zalmay Khalilzad, widely mocked in the 2000s as “Bush’s Afghan.” The Pakistanis have special envoy Muhammad Sadiq and ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Khan.

The Russians have the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. And the Chinese have a new Afghan envoy, Xiao Yong.

Russia-China-Pakistan are negotiating with a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) frame of mind: all three are permanent members. They emphasize a transition government, power-sharing, and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political force.

Diplomats are already hinting that if the Taliban topple Ghani in Kabul, by whatever means, they will be recognized by Beijing as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan – something that will set up yet another incendiary geopolitical front in the confrontation against Washington.

As it stands, Beijing is just encouraging the Taliban to strike a peace agreement with Kabul.

The Pashtunistan riddle

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has minced no words as he stepped into the fray. He confirmed the Taliban leadership told him there’s no negotiation with Ghani in power – even as he tried to persuade them to reach for a peace deal.

Khan accused Washington of regarding Pakistan as “useful” only when it comes to pressing Islamabad to use its influence over the Taliban to broker a deal – without considering the “mess” the Americans left behind.

Khan once again said he “made it very clear” there will be no US military bases in Pakistan.

This is a very good analysis of how hard it is for Khan and Islamabad to explain Pakistan’s complex involvement with Afghanistan to the West and also the Global South.

The key issues are quite clear:

1. Pakistan wants a power-sharing deal and is doing what it can in Doha, along the extended troika, to reach it.

2. A Taliban takeover will lead to a new influx of refugees and may encourage jihadis of the al-Qaeda, TTP and ISIS-Khorasan kind to destabilize Pakistan.

3. It was the US that legitimized the Taliban by striking an agreement with them during the Donald Trump administration.

4. And because of the messy withdrawal, the Americans reduced their leverage – and Pakistan’s – over the Taliban.

The problem is Islamabad simply does not manage to get these messages across.

And then there are some bewildering decisions. Take the AfPak border between Chaman (in Pakistan’s Balochistan) and Spin Boldak (in Afghanistan).

The Pakistanis closed their side of the border. Every day tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly Pashtun and Baloch, from both sides cross back and forth alongside a mega-convoy of trucks transporting merchandise from the port of Karachi to landlocked Afghanistan. To shut down such a vital commercial border is an unsustainable proposition.

All of the above leads to arguably the ultimate problem: what to do about Pashtunistan?

The absolute heart of the matter when it comes to Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and Afghan interference in the Pakistani tribal areas is the completely artificial, British Empire-designed Durand Line. 

Islamabad’s definitive nightmare is another partition. Pashtuns are the largest tribe in the world and they live on both sides of the (artificial) border. Islamabad simply cannot admit a nationalist entity ruling Afghanistan because that will eventually foment a Pashtun insurrection in Pakistan.

And that explains why Islamabad prefers the Taliban compared to an Afghan nationalist government. Ideologically, conservative Pakistan is not that dissimilar from the Taliban positioning. And in foreign policy terms, the Taliban in power perfectly fit the unmovable “strategic depth” doctrine that opposes Pakistan to India.

In contrast, Afghanistan’s position is clear-cut. The Durand Line divides Pashtuns on both sides of an artificial border. So any nationalist government in Kabul will never abandon its desire for a larger, united Pashtunistan.

As the Taliban are de facto a collection of warlord militias, Islamabad has learned by experience how to deal with them. Virtually every warlord – and militia – in Afghanistan is Islamic.

Even the current Kabul arrangement is based on Islamic law and seeks advice from an Ulema council. Very few in the West know that Sharia law is the predominant trend in the current Afghan constitution.

Closing the circle, ultimately all members of the Kabul government, the military, as well as a great deal of civil society come from the same conservative tribal framework that gave birth to the Taliban.

Apart from the military onslaught, the Taliban seem to be winning the domestic PR battle because of a simple equation: they portray Ghani as a NATO and US puppet, the lackey of foreign invaders.

And to make that distinction in the graveyard of empires has always been a winning proposition.

Related Video

All roads lead to the Battle for Kabul

August 10, 2021

All roads lead to the Battle for Kabul

City after city have fallen from government to Taliban control but Afghanistan’s end-game is still unclear

by Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The ever-elusive Afghan “peace” process negotiations re-start this Wednesday in Doha via the extended troika – the US, Russia, China and Pakistan. The contrast with the accumulated facts on the ground could not be starker.

In a coordinated blitzkrieg, the Taliban have subdued no less than six Afghan provincial capitals in only four days. The central administration in Kabul will have a hard time defending its stability in Doha.

It gets worse. Ominously, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has all but buried the Doha process. He’s already betting on civil war – from the weaponization of civilians in the main cities to widespread bribing of regional warlords, with the intent of building a “coalition of the willing” to fight the Taliban.

The capture of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, was a major Taliban coup. Zaranj is the gateway for India’s access to Afghanistan and further on to Central Asia via the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC).

India paid for the construction of the highway linking the port of Chabahar in Iran – the key hub of India’s faltering version of the New Silk Roads – to Zaranj.

At stake here is a vital Iran-Afghanistan border crossing cum Southwest/Central Asia transportation corridor. Yet now the Taliban control trade on the Afghan side. And Tehran has just closed the Iranian side. No one knows what happens next.

The Taliban are meticulously implementing a strategic master plan. There’s no smoking gun, yet – but highly informed outside help – Pakistani ISI intel? – is plausible.

First, they conquer the countryside – a virtually done deal in at least 85% of the territory. Then they control the key border checkpoints, as with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Spin Boldak with Balochistan in Pakistan. Finally, it’s all about encircling and methodically taking provincial capitals – that’s where we are now.

Taliban posing with military garb stolen from Dostum’s palace in Sheberghan. Photo: Supplied

The final act will be the Battle for Kabul. This may plausibly happen as early as September, in a warped “celebration” of the 20 years of 9/11 and the American bombing of 1996-2001 Talibanistan.

That strategic blitzkrieg

What’s going on across the north is even more astonishing than in the southwest.

The Taliban have conquered Sheberghan, a heavily Uzbek-influenced area, and took no time to spread images of fighters in stolen garb posing in front of the now-occupied Dostum Palace. Notoriously vicious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum happens to be the current Afghan vice-president.

The Taliban’s big splash was to enter Kunduz, which is still not completely subdued. Kunduz is very important strategically. With 370,000 people and quite close to the Tajik border, it’s the main hub of northeast Afghanistan.

Kabul government forces have simply fled. All prisoners were released from local jails. Roads are blocked. That’s significant because Kunduz is at the crossroads of two important corridors – to Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. And crucially, it’s also a crossroads of corridors used to export opium and heroin.

The Bundeswehr used to occupy a military base near Kunduz airport, now housing the 217th Afghan Army corps. That’s where the few remaining Afghan government forces have retreated.

The Taliban are now bent on besieging the historically legendary Mazar-i-Sharif, the big northern city, even more important than Kunduz. Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital of Balkh province. The top local warlord, for decades, has been Atta Mohammad Noor, who I met 20 years ago.

He’s now vowing to defend “his” city “until the last drop of my blood.” That, in itself, spells out a major civil war scenario.

The Taliban endgame here is to establish a west-east axis from Sheberghan to Kunduz and the also captured Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, via Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh province, and parallel to the northern borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

If that happens, we’re talking about an irreversible, logistical game-changer, with virtually the whole north escaping from the control of Kabul. No way the Taliban will “negotiate” this win – in Doha or anywhere else.

An extra astonishing fact is that all these areas do not feature a Pashtun majority, unlike Kandahar in the south and Lashkar Gah in the southwest, where the Taliban are still fighting to establish complete control.

The Taliban’s control over almost all international border crossings yielding customs revenue leads to serious questions about what happens next to the drug business.

Will the Taliban again interdict opium production – like the late Mullah Omar did in the early 2000s? A strong possibility is that distribution will not be allowed inside Afghanistan.

After all, export profits can only benefit Taliban weaponization – against future American and NATO “interference.” And Afghan farmers may earn much more with opium poppy cultivation than with other crops.

NATO’s abject failure in Afghanistan is visible in every aspect. In the past, Americans used military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Bundeswehr used the base in Termez, Uzbekistan, for years.

Termez is now used for Russian and Uzbek joint maneuvers. And the Russians left their base in Kyrgzstan to conduct joint maneuvers in Tajikistan. The whole security apparatus in the neighboring Central Asian “stans” is being coordinated by Russia.

China’s main security priority, meanwhile, is to prevent future jihadi incursions in Xinjiang, which involve extremely hard mountain crossings from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and then to a no man’s land in the Wakhan corridor. Beijing’s electronic surveillance is tracking anything that moves in this part of the roof of the world.

This Chinese think tank analysis shows how the moving chessboard is being tracked. The Chinese are perfectly aware of the “military pressure on Kabul” running in parallel to the Taliban diplomatic offensive, but prefer to stress their “posing as an aggressive force ready to take over the regime.”

Chinese realpolitik also recognizes that “the United States and other countries will not easily give up the operation in Afghanistan for many years, and will not be willing to let Afghanistan become the sphere of influence of other countries.”

This leads to characteristic Chinese foreign policy caution, with practically an advice for the Taliban not to “be too big,” and try “to replace the Ghani government in one fell swoop.”

How to prevent a civil war

So is Doha DOA? Extended troika players are doing what they can to salvage it. There are rumors of feverish “consultations” with the members of the Taliban political office based in Qatar and with the Kabul negotiators.

The starter will be a meeting this Tuesday of the US, Russia, Afghanistan’s neighbors and the UN. Yet even before that, the Taliban political office spokesman, Naeem Wardak, has accused Washington of interfering in internal Afghan affairs.

Pakistan is part of the extended troika. Pakistani media is all-out involved in stressing how Islamabad’s leverage over the Taliban “is now limited.” An example is made of how the Taliban shut the key border crossing in Spin Boldak – actually a smuggling haven – demanding Pakistan ease visa restrictions for Afghans.

Now that is a real nest of vipers issue. Most old school Taliban leaders are based in Pakistan’s Balochistan and supervise what goes in and out of the border from a safe distance, in Quetta.

Extra trouble for the extended troika is the absence of Iran and India at the negotiating table. Both have key interests in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to its hopefully new peaceful role as a transit hub for Central-South Asia connectivity.

Moscow from the start wanted Tehran and New Delhi to be part of the extended troika. Impossible. Iran never sits on the same table with the US, and vice-versa. That’s the case now in Vienna, during the JCPOA negotiations, where they “communicate” via the Europeans.

New Delhi for its part refuses to sit on the same table with the Taliban, which it sees as a terrorist Pakistani proxy.

There’s a possibility that Iran and India may be getting their act together, and that would include even a closely connected position on the Afghan drama.

When Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attended President Ebrahim Raisi’s inauguration last week in Tehran, they insisted on “close cooperation and coordination” also on Afghanistan.

What this would imply in the near future is increased Indian investment in the INSTC and the India-Iran-Afghanistan New Silk Road corridor. Yet that’s not going to happen with the Taliban controlling Zaranj.

Beijing for its part is focused on increasing its connectivity with Iran via what could be described as a Persian-colored corridor incorporating Tajikistan and Afghanistan. That will depend, once again, on the degree of Taliban control.

But Beijing can count on an embarrassment of riches: Plan A, after all, is an extended China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with Afghanistan annexed, whoever is in power in Kabul.

What’s clear is that the extended troika will not be shaping the most intricate details of the future of Eurasia integration. That will be up to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes Russia, China, Pakistan, India, the Central Asian “stans” and Iran and Afghanistan as current observers and future full-members.

So the time has come for the SCO’s ultimate test: how to pull off a near-impossible power-sharing deal in Kabul and prevent a devastating civil war, complete with imperial B-52 bombing.

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