What, Exactly, is Being Fought in Afghanistan?

Fighting the Taliban

By M. Reza Pirbhai (*)
Counterpunch, October 14, 2009

With US and NATO commanders on the battlefield of Afghanistan calling for more troops, how best to defeat the Taliban is being hotly debated by Washington’s policy–makers and their media pundits. Yet, nowhere are the types of questions posed by Arundhati Roy (the acclaimed Indian novelist and social activist) on a recent visit to Pakistan to be heard in the mainstream US discourse. Clarifying the purpose of her trip during an address at the Karachi Press Club, she stated, “I’m here to understand what you mean when you say Taliban…Do you mean a militant? Do you mean an ideology? Exactly what is it that is being fought?”

The reason that such questions are not frequently addressed in the US mainstream seems patently clear. The answers require one to move beyond the atrocities of ‘9/11’ and such pat ideas as the ‘threat’ posed the ‘civilized world’ by the Taliban/al–Qaida ‘militant’ and their ‘ideology,’ as well as the ‘human rights’ and ‘anti–woman’ abuses they perpetrate in their ‘Muslim’ homelands. In fact, Roy’s questions require the respondent to first and foremost recall that precursors to the Taliban  – groups and leaders with similar ideologies and methods, including Usama bin Laden – were wholehearted supported by the US, with Saudi Arabian and Pakistani assistance, during the 1980’s, when fighting the USSR and its Afghani ally, the Najibullah regime. Of course, acknowledging that the Taliban–style ‘militant’ was an ally and his ‘ideology’ was considered an asset, not to be fought but nurtured and supported, is no great revelation. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged exactly this in an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee in late April, 2009.  She stated:

“Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union. They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen. And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahhabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union. And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.”

What Clinton neglected to mention, however, and Congress avoided asking, is the full extent and duration of that support, as well as the actual date and circumstances under which the ally was reassessed as an enemy, leaving the impression that the US withdrew after the USSR was defeated in 1989, only to return after the atrocious ‘harvest’ of ‘9/11.’

Regarding the extent of support, Washington insiders do not mention that the Taliban’s “harsh form of oppression on women and others,” which everyone from Madeleine Albright to Hillary Clinton have argued provides cause for war, is not a concern when relations  with ‘Wahhabi’ Saudi Arabia are pursued, and was not a concern when the US’ closest ally in the region, President (General) Zia ul–Haq of Pakistan, promulgated a version of ‘Islamic Law’ whose intellectual roots were identical to those of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban, as evinced by such ‘anti–woman’ legislation as the removal of all images of women from public spaces (including TV), and such ‘human rights’ violations as public flogging. Zia ul–Haq’s regime entirely changed the complexion of Pakistani society, bringing the religio–political parties that would later instruct the Taliban on ‘Islam’ – that is, the Jama’at–i Ulama–i Islam – firmly into the political arena and leading to an entire generation raised under the impression that at least the social aspects of Taliban–style ‘ideology’ represents the ‘true’ face of ‘Islamic Law,’ whether they stand for or against it.

As for the duration of US support for the ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology,’ not even the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 stemmed activity. In fact, just as the USSR’s withdrawal did not mean an end to its support for the ‘communist’ regime it had left behind, the US found reason to continue supporting the Taliban–style forces arrayed against the Najibullah regime. This was accomplished by continuing to work through Pakistan with Saudi Arabian aid in the support of a coalition of seven Taliban–style outfits, known as the ‘Afghan Interim Government.’ This proxy war did not end until 1992, after the US and the USSR concluded a deal to stop providing military and financial aid to the Afghan Interim Government and the Najibullah regime, respectively. The collapse of the USSR itself only sealed the deal and, consequently, the fate of Najibullah regime; the latter fell by early 1992 and the Afghan Interim Government, held together by the common enemy of Najibullah, soon followed.

The fall of Najibullah, however, did not end US entanglement with the Taliban–style ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ in Afghanistan, despite Hillary Clinton’s so often repeated claims. Rather, the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1992, signalled an emphasis on ties with the ‘Northern Alliance’ – itself a band of Taliban–style groups, sprinkled with regional ‘warlords,’ known for their drug running and human rights abuses. This relationship was actually initiated by Clinton’s predecessor, George Bush (Sr.), in 1989, with the appointment of a US charge d’affair for the Northern Alliance, at the very moment that the charge d’affair for Afghanistan as a whole was withdrawn and the US embassy in Kabul closed. In other words, the US now joined Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia in backing one of the other of the Taliban–style militants and warlords vying for control of Afghanistan, the result of which was the destruction of major cities like Kabul and most of the country’s infrastructure, as well as the continued killing, rape and torture of thousands more civilians. Meanwhile, the official attitude of the US and its NATO allies, who today wage war in the name of ‘human rights’ and ‘women’s emancipation,’ was aptly captured in the following line from a London Times article published in the moment: “The world has no business in that country’s tribal disputes and blood feuds.”

As the carnage continued in Afghanistan, across the border in Pakistan, General Zia ul–Haq, the US’ prime conduit for the aid and training provided all the Taliban–style militants during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, had been killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, clearing the way for the ‘democratic’ administrations of Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto (1988–90) and Nawaz Sharif (1990–93). Even while continuing to funnel funds and aid to Afghani militants from 1989–1992, these administrations were left to deal with the fallout of the last decade’s hottest front in the Cold War on their own. This not only included the ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ bequeathed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Zia ul–Haq, but extended to millions of Afghani refugees, the proliferation of weaponry outside of state control and the infusion of a drug culture driven by the Afghani combatants’ and their backers’ preferred method of funding their exploits. Further hampering the ability of these ‘democratic’ administrations to function, beginning as early as 1990, the Bush (Sr.) administration imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment – a country–specific law that singles out Pakistan on the nuclear issue – a consequence of which was the withholding of Pakistan military equipment contracted and paid for prior to 1990, worth about $1.2 billion, as well as the suspension of military officer training in the US. This was followed in 1992/93, under the Clinton administration, with threats to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism and, in the summer of 1993, the imposition of additional sanctions under the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime).

Continuous meddling in Afghanistan, despite the USSR’s withdrawal, coupled with the shift in attitude toward Pakistan, should make it apparent that the ‘New World Order’ sought by Bush (Sr.) played an important part in directing the Clinton administration’s policies as well. In particular, the changing relationship between the US and India envisioned in the ‘New World Order,’ is pivotal to understanding the sides taken in Afghanistan and the hostility toward Pakistan described above. During the Cold War, India had leaned toward the USSR, as evinced by military, economic and cultural pacts, despite professions of ‘non–alignment.’ In fact, until the fall of the Afghani Najibullah regime in 1992, India had been one of its major supporters – Najibullah’s family, for example, finding refuge nowhere but in New Delhi. Even before the end of the Cold War, however, the Indian body–politic had begun swinging rightward, thus making room for a new strategic and economic partnership between it and the US; a reflection of which is India’s support, alongside the US, for the Northern Alliance in the Afghani civil war. As this new US–India relationship unfolded, however, Pakistan’s backing of alternative Afghani militants, support for Kashmiri separatists in conflict with India, as well as its nuclear program and array of conventional weaponry (either acquired under US watch or directly procured from the US and other NATO members) stood in the way. A significant ‘down–grade’ in US–Pakistan relations, therefore, was obviously perceived to be required if an ‘up–grade’ in US–India relations was to follow. Thus, as Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, the longest serving Pakistani Ambassador to the US (1994–97; 1999–2002), has written:

“The irony about U.S. non–proliferation policy in South Asia was that while the impetus for proliferation at every step came from India, it was Pakistan, and not India, that was subjected to penalties, embargoes and sanctions. Perversely, Pakistan became the victim of penalties for what India had done in 1974 with its explosion of a nuclear device. US non–proliferation laws such as the 1976 Symington Amendment which was later modified by the 1977 Glenn Amendment, called for halting economic or military assistance to any country which delivered or acquired after 1976 nuclear enrichment materials or technology, unless it accepted full–scope safeguards. This meant that India which had already acquired a reprocessing capability was excluded from the ambit of American non–proliferation laws. The Pressler Amendment enacted in 1985, specifically prohibited U.S. assistance or military sales to Pakistan unless annual Presidential certification was issued that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. This certification was denied in October 1990, triggering wide–ranging sanctions against Pakistan.”

All that needs to be added to Lodhi’s assessment to complete the picture is the fact that the growing depiction of Pakistan as a ‘state sponsor of terror’ was not merely a consequence of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan (discussed below), but also support for militants of a similar bent in Indian–administered Kashmir. Meanwhile, the ‘state terror’ unleashed in Indian–administered Kashmir, like India’s nuclear weapons capabilities and its support for the Northern Alliance ‘militant’ and ‘ideology’ in Afghanistan, did not lead to vociferous protestations from the US, let alone modifications in US policy toward India.

While the US played ball with the Northern Alliance, sanctioned Pakistan and fostered bonds with India by turning a blind eye to its nuclear program and activities in Kashmir or Afghanistan, the Taliban movement had begun to coalesce in the refugee camps of Pakistan –their stated goal to rid Afghanistan of its criminal rulers and enforce their own version of ‘Islamic Law.’ Whether or not the Pakistani military establishment had a hand in creating the Taliban may be debated, but it is quite certain that the former played an important part in promoting the latter as part of their own policy of ‘strategic depth’ in the perennial conflict with India. As previously stated, the Taliban’s scriptural training was provided by the very religio–political party that recruited and indoctrinated many of the militants who fought against the USSR in Afghanistan, had begun fighting in Indian–administered Kashmir by 1990, and had benefitted most in Pakistan’s body politic from Zia ul–Haq’s ‘Islamization’ policy; that is, the Jama’at–i Ulama–i Islam. At any rate, by 1994, the Taliban had taken Kandahar, and was pushing north to Kabul to unseat the Northern Alliance President Burhanuddin Rabbani (himself head of the ‘Jama’at–i Islam,’ a political, though not necessarily an ideological, rival of Jama’at–i Ulama–i Islam, both movements being rooted in the Indian ‘Deobandi’ school of Sunni thought). The irony of the entire scenario, however, was that the horse backed in Afghanistan and the censure of Pakistan by the US, soon proved to have been premature given one of the central concerns of the ‘New World Order’ under construction.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 had ushered the independence of the oil–rich Central Asian republics to the north of Afghanistan.  The ‘Center for Research on Globalization’ – a Montreal–based, independent organization of scholars, journalists, writers and activists concerned with globalization – is one among many groups to have published extensively on the scramble to harness Central Asian oil reserves. In sum, authors affiliated with such groups reveal that one of the first companies to gain access to the oil fields of Turkmenistan, was the Argentine corporation, Bridas. Soon after, Bridas proposed a pipeline through neighbouring Afghanistan, for which it also negotiated a 30–year agreement with Kabul’s Rabbani regime to build and operate a pipeline, to which was added an accord with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (then in her second stint in office) by 1995. Bridas, however, was not the only oil company to be operating in the region. By 1992, Unocal, Amoco, Atlantic Richfield, Chevron, Exxon–Mobil, Pennzoil, Texaco, Enron, Phillips and British Petroleum represented 50% of all investments in the region. Although Bridas offered to negotiate a consortium with some of the latter, the offer was spurned to go directly to regional players with their own plan of action.

As one ‘Center for Research on Globalization’ article explains, drawing a great deal from the renowned journalist Rashid Ahmad’s research:

“Much to Bridas’ dismay, Unocal went directly to regional leaders with its own proposal. Unocal formed its own competing US–led, Washington–sponsored consortium [CentGas] that included Saudi Arabia’s Delta Oil, aligned with Saudi Prince Abdullah and King Fahd. Other partners included Russia’s Gazprom and Turkmenistan’s state–owned Turkmenrozgas... John Imle, president of Unocal (and member of the US–Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce with Armitage, Cheney, Brzezinski and other ubiquitous figures), lobbied Turkmenistan's President Niyazov and Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan, offering a Unocal pipeline following the same route as Bridas... Dazzled by the prospect of an alliance with the US, Niyazov asked Bridas to renegotiate its past contract and blocked Bridas’ exports from... [certain oil fields in Turkmenistan]....”

Similarly, Unocal’s consortium, CentGas, was able to win over the Pakistani government with a contract to end its pipeline on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast.

The mention of Richard Armitage (a Pentagon official under Ronald Reagan and the Bush (Jr.) administration’s Deputy Secretary of State, also associated with Unocal and ConocoPhillips), Dick Cheney (most recently Vice President in the Bush (Jr.) administration, also associated with Halliburton), and Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, member of various committees under Reagan, co–chairman of the National Security Advisory Taskforce under Bush (Sr.), and also a consultant for Amoco), only refers to those members of the US government (Democrat and Republican) who have had affiliations with oil companies and the US–Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. If the criterion were expanded to US government officials with ties to oil companies active in Central Asia more generally, the list would be too long to reproduce in this context. Thus, it should come as no surprise that once CentGas secured rights to both ends of the proposed pipeline, ‘friendship’ with Pakistan was immediately added to the Clinton administration’s agenda. The first and foremost difficulty for the Clinton administration and Centgas was the fact that Bridas still had the contract with Rabbani’s regime in Afghanistan. The problem would be addressed through the Pakistani–backed Taliban.

1995 was the year in which the Taliban began to be courted by Unocal–led CentGas and Bridas, while the US Congress and Clinton administration softened their stance toward Pakistan in return for promoting the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan and sidestepping its deal with Bridas. Concerning the latter action, by January 1995, Defence Secretary William Perry had visited Pakistan to mend relations by reviving the ‘Pakistan–US Defence Consultative Group,’ which had not met since 1990. Upon his return to Washington, Perry also declared that the Pressler Amendment was not achieving its objectives, and the Clinton administration followed up the gesture with an April meeting between Clinton and Bhutto. This led Clinton, with bipartisan support from Congress, to promise to revisit the Pressler Amendment, particularly with regard to military sanctions, arguing that a broad, regional approach to nuclear non–proliferation was required. In Lodhi’s words, then serving as the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington:

“In May 1995, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted by a near unanimous, bipartisan vote, an amendment moved by Republican Senator Hank Brown to ease Pressler sanctions. This sought to remove from the purview of Pressler all non–military assistance. In the House of Representatives, a similar effort was spearheaded by the newly elected Republican Chairman of the House International Relations Sub–Committee on South Asia, Doug Bereuter, who proposed an amendment to remove Pressler restrictions on all forms of non–military assistance…These actions proved to be vital building blocks in the laborious process of American law making leading to the adoption, later in the year, of the Brown Amendment. The amendment, sponsored by a Republican Senator and promoted by a Democratic Administration, reflected a bipartisan consensus in Washington to repair the bilateral relationship by taking the first significant step towards ending the iniquitous treatment meted out to Pakistan under the discriminatory Pressler Amendment…This modification of the Pressler law removed from its ambit all non–military assistance, as well as provision of IMET (International Military Education Training), while providing, in a one–time waiver of the Pressler Amendment, the release of embargoed military equipment worth about $368 million. Not released under this law were the 28 F–16s for which President Clinton made a good–faith pledge to reimburse Pakistan the money it had paid for the fighter aircraft [during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit in 1998].”

Across the border in Afghanistan, following US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphael’s visit to Kandahar in autumn 1996, the Taliban received a green light to enter Kabul, displacing the Rabbani government and depriving Bridas of its local partner in the oil pipeline it had proposed. Unocal went on to offer ‘humanitarian aid’ to Afghan power–brokers, should they agree to form a council to supervise the pipeline project. A new mobile phone network between Kabul and Kandahar was funded, and promises to help rebuild Kandahar were proffered. As well, the US State Department authorized USAID to provide significant funds for education in Taliban territory. All these efforts culminated in two trips to Dallas and Washington by Taliban officials in 1997. The softening of the Clinton administration’s stance, however, had the unforeseen effect of prompting other US oil companies to challenge Unocal. The same year that Unocal and government officials were wining and dining Taliban representatives in the US, Bridas found a partner in Amoco, with the help of such mainstays of US finance as Chase Manhattan, Morgan Stanley and Arthur Andersen, as well as such towering figures of US policy–making as Zbigniew Brzezinski (a consultant for Amoco). Furthermore, when Amoco merged with British Petroleum a year later, the deal was facilitated by the law firm of Baker & Botts, whose principal attorney is James Baker – the Bush (Sr.) administration’s Secretary of State, and a member of the Carlyle Group.

The Taliban regime was clearly unsure which of its suitors to wed. The main stumbling block for Unocal was that its pipeline was closed to Afghanistan (meant for export only), while that proposed by Bridas would also service the local market. Furthermore, tensions between the US and Russia led Gazprom to withdraw from the Unocal–led consortium, CentGas. Thus, as it became clearer that Taliban policy–makers were beginning to lean toward Bridas by late 1997, the Clinton administration responded by suddenly paying heed to human rights/women’s groups who had been protesting Taliban conduct for the past two years. In November 1997, after years of relative quiet, Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publically condemned the Taliban’s treatment of women during a visit to an Afghani refugee camp in Pakistan. She also made it plain that the US government was ‘opposed’ to the Taliban regime, stating: “It’s very clear why we’re opposed to Taliban. We’re opposed to their approach to human rights, to their despicable treatment of women and children and their lack of respect for human dignity…” By January 1998, the Taliban regime had responded by signing an agreement with Unocal to begin raising funds for a pipeline, but made no commitment to actually engage Unocal in its construction. Thus, Unocal’s Vice President of International Relations appeared before the US Congress in February 1998, basically calling for the removal of the Taliban regime. By March that year, Unocal formally announced that it was delaying the project.

While anti–Taliban statements from the Clinton administration grew more frequent in the coming months, matters were not brought to a head until August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in East Africa (attributed to Usama bin Laden) prompted Clinton to launch a barrage of cruise missiles on Afghanistan and Sudan, and call for the Taliban to expel Bin Laden. Interestingly, the latter’s presence in Afghanistan since 1996 had not stalled the courtship of the previous years, despite being implicated in earlier acts of ‘terror’ for which the Sudanese government hounded him out of their country to avoid sanctions. The day after the missile strikes, Unocal announced that it was halting its pipeline project. By December 1998, a formal withdrawal from the project was issued. The Clinton administration then issued an executive order seizing all US–held Taliban assets and prohibiting trade, effectively breaking off diplomatic contacts in the process. Soon after that the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions and calling for the Taliban regime to “turn over the terrorist Usama bin Laden.” The Taliban regime offered negotiations on Bin Laden’s handover, particularly with regard to whose custody exactly the ‘terrorist’ would be released, but these overtures were ignored in favour of another UN resolution and further sanctions on the heels of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 (also attributed to Usama bin Laden). As for US–Pakistan relations, cordiality prevailed, as already suggested by Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit in 1998, but chilled considerably, particularly after the 1999 Kargil Conflict with India in Kashmir, and General Musharraf’s subsequent military coup.

Returning to the ultimate question of ‘Exactly what is…being fought,’ the above history confirms that just as in the Cold War period (1979–89) and the era of proxy war (1989–92), so too in the early phase of the Taliban era (1992–1998), neither the ‘militant’ nor his ‘ideology’ was being fought. Rather, he was courted and his ideology utilized for US strategic and economic interests, particularly as both converged in a slick of oil by 1995. Furthermore, considering that it was only when absolute control of that oil was challenged that the Taliban regime was openly discredited, it must be said that although this ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ were publically ‘being fought’ from 1998 to 2001, other ‘militants’ with similar ‘ideologies’ continued to find support, and even that could have been dropped in favour of the Taliban at any point if it had compromised on the issue of oil. Confirmation of this hypothesis, in fact, comes with the inauguration of President Bush (Jr.), one of whose first acts in January and February, 2001, was to open negotiations between the US and the Taliban regime, conducted in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad, in which Laila Helms (niece of former CIA Director Richard Helms) was hired by the Taliban to act as go–between; negotiations that ended around May, 2001, according to various sources including a former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, with the ultimatum that the Unocal pipeline would go ahead or bombs would rain on Afghanistan. From 1998 to 2001, therefore, the Taliban ‘militant’ was fought in the name of his ‘ideology,’ but in the interests of oil.

But, what of planes becoming bombs over New York and Washington on September 11, 2001? Did that not change everything? According to Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy – a study of the convergence between US Evangelical Christian ‘extremism,’ US geo–political policy and global oil interests – one thing did change. Although the Taliban continued to offer negotiations on the handover of Usama bin Laden, the atrocities of 9/11 “gave Washington [oil] policies a convenient new all–inclusive justification: fighting terror was about everything, and everything was about fighting terror. Oil motivations, rarely a popular or easy foreign–policy justification, could now be submerged within a primal response to a deep–seated national combination of fear, loathing and outrage. Petroleum strategy could now become only a minor facet of an antiterrorist mobilization.” Furthermore, as Bruce Lincoln – professor of religion at the University of Chicago – adds, taking into account Bush’s ‘religious’ affiliations, the pursuit of strategic interests could even transcend the previous rhetoric of ‘human’ and ‘women’s rights,’ to be framed as an eternal, uncompromising struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’; a form of rhetoric ironically akin to that of Usama bin Laden himself. And finally, as David Domke – associate professor of communication at the University of Washington – asserts with a chorus of other scholars, in the double–speak of the Bush administration, what this was meant to imply is that by fighting the Taliban and al–Qaida, “the US government…[was] doing God’s work.”

That interests on the more worldly ground of US oil strategy lay behind this ratcheting of rhetoric under the Bush (Jr.) administration, is confirmed by a number of other factors, including bipartisan support for the invasion of Iraq on the unfounded accusation of links to 9/11, not to mention ‘WMDs.’ Furthermore, consider the major players post–9/11. Apart from Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage and other prominent Republicans’ affiliated with oil companies active in Central Asia, it can be added that Condolezza Rice (Bush’s National Security Advisor [2000–04] and Secretary of State [2004–09]) had served on the board of Chevron before entering government. As well, Zalmay Khalilzad (appointed US Special Envoy to Afghanistan [2001–03], Ambassador to Afghanistan [2003–05], Ambassador to Iraq [2005–07] and Ambassador to the UN [2007–09]) was a former consultant for Unocal and part of the Unocal team that courted the Taliban in the US. At the time, he wrote, “We [the US government] should ... be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction.” Furthermore, Hamid Karzai, whose rise to power was in no small measure facilitated by US aid through the offices of Khalilzad, was also a Unocal consultant who had participated in Unocal’s courtship of the Taliban in the US. One of Karzai’s first acts as President of Afghanistan, in fact, was the signing of a new agreement with Turkmenistan and Pakistan on the building of a pipeline in 2002. The greatest problem in going ahead with pipeline plans during the tenure of the Bush (Jr.) administration, however, was a collective failure in defeating the Taliban to bring about the stability necessary to get down to work in Afghanistan. In fact, the failure was so complete that the Taliban also sprouted a Pakistani chapter that began to threaten the ability of all involved to even consider the Pakistani portion of a pipeline safe for investment in the immediate future.

And, what of the election of President Obama and his administration’s ‘new’ plan for the region; has that not changed everything? To be sure, the Obama administration’s abandonment of Bush’s ‘religious’ rhetoric has to some extent succeeded in redressing the impression created by Bush among ordinary Muslims that his was a ‘war against Islam.’ Obama’s rhetorical lumping of Pakistan together with Afghanistan as part of the ‘Af–Pak’ problem is novel, too, but ultimately reflects no more than a response to the failure of the Bush administration to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, leading to the destabilization of nuclear–armed Pakistan. The warfront is now bigger and all that the ‘Af–Pak’ strategy reconfirms is that an important element of the ‘New World Order’ now cannot go forward unless the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban is defeated or co–opted. That only his ‘militancy,’ rather than his ‘ideology,’ is at stake, however, continues to be confirmed by various maneuvers. The US–backed Karzai regime in Afghanistan, now as before, accommodates the Taliban–type ‘militant’ and ‘ideology’ within the Afghani body–politic. In fact, Hillary Clinton has even publically endorsed President Karzai’s attempts to open talks with “moderate” members of the Afghani Taliban. The only definition of the “moderate” she provided was those “willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda and support the constitution.” As well, the US–backed Zardari regime in Pakistan, now as before, accommodates the Taliban–type ‘militant’ and ‘ideology,’ and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke met with the leader of Jama’at–i Ulama–i Islam as recently as October, 2009. Most telling, however, is the recent promulgation of the Kerry–Lugar Aid Bill, which includes specific conditions concerning Pakistani support for ‘militants’ in neighbouring countries, but makes no real mention of ‘ideology’ abroad or at home. From 2001 to the present, therefore, just as in the period from 1998–2001, the Taliban ‘militant’ has been fought in the name of his ‘ideology,’ though the failures of Bush (Jr,) have added such immediate concerns as military defeat in Afghanistan and the stabilization of Pakistan to the long–term interests of oil.

‘Exactly what…is being fought’ today, Roy astutely asks. The short answer is that today, as has been the case since 1979, neither a specific ‘militant’ nor ‘ideology’ is ‘being fought.’ Rather, the target of operations, for which more troops are now being sought, is anyone who challenges the interests of an oil–drenched ‘New World Order.’

(*) M. Reza Pirbhai is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Louisiana State University. He can be reached at: