We’re killing ourselves in Afghanistan

From Matthew Cole, Salon:

“In a secret meeting with a Taliban commander, I learned how Bush administration aid to Pakistan helps fund insurgents who kill U.S. troops.”

March 10, 2008 | KABUL, Afghanistan — On a recent bitterly cold winter day, I sat huddled on a red Persian carpet in an unheated Kabul office, waiting for a visitor who, I was told by a trusted friend, would help me understand why America is not winning its war in Afghanistan.

A stocky, bearded figure in a gray vest, a faded brown shalwar kameez and a cream-colored Pashtun shawl appeared at the door. He removed his shoes and walked on cracked, callused feet over the carpet to sit cross-legged beside me. Our meeting was conducted in secrecy. My guest was, until early 2007, a Taliban commander of 50 fighters in North Waziristan, Pakistan, one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border where both al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents operate. Ever since he left the Taliban, he has been living in fear of assassination for treason. I thanked him in English for his willingness to meet, and he answered me in Pashto, the chief language of southern and eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, without a trace of emotion.

“If you had tried to interview me this time last year,” he said, “I would have killed you.” Then he reached past my feet and poured himself a glass of sugary green tea.

Over the course of several hours in the Kabul office, “Haji Muhammed,” as we agreed he would be called, spun a gemstone ring absently around his finger and ran his hands through his thinning hair as he described for me his firsthand experience of an American foreign-policy debacle. The U.S. is paying for both sides of the war in Afghanistan. As is becoming increasingly clear, for at least two and a half years, and perhaps far longer, the Pakistani government has been receiving massive U.S. aid while its intelligence agency and elements of its military have been pursuing their own anti-American agenda within Afghanistan. The U.S. has given the Musharraf regime $10 billion since Sept. 11, 2001, but Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and factions within the Pakistan army, while helping the U.S. track al-Qaida with one hand, have been aiding the Taliban with the other, both inside Afghanistan and across the Pakistani border in Tribal Areas like North Waziristan. In part because of Pakistani help, the Taliban have made a steady comeback and American and Afghan casualties are at their highest annual levels since the war began. more

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