America's convoluted, Alice-in-Wonderland interpretation of this summer's top political show - the "free expression of the people" in the Afghanistan election - reads like an opium dream. In fact, it is actually a pipe dream - as in Pipelineistan. With the added twist that no one's saying a word about the pipe that's delivering the opium dream.
As in an opium dream, delusion reigns. The chances of United States President Barack Obama actually elaborating what his AfPak strategy really is are as likely as having his super-envoy Richard Holbrooke share a pipe with explosive uber-guerrilla warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Obama says "success in Afghanistan" involves "diplomacy, development and good governance" - but all dazed and confused world public opinion sees are packs of extra marines being deployed to "fight the Taliban".
Former Waziristan jihad master Baitullah Mehsud, a "Pak", not an "Af" Taliban, may have been done in by a clever US Predator drone. But one Osama bin Laden - as in an opium dream - still ghostly roams across the Hindu Kush, eight years after the 9/11 fact. A vision or a waking dream, he may be playing Return of the Living Dead in "Pak", not "Af" - so why all these extra marines frantically canvassing Afghan lands?
Or should we believe Pakistan Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who said there "is no evidence that Osama bin Laden is present in Pakistan" and that "those making claims of his presence in the country should provide valid proof of it"?
Furthermore, the US notion that a motley crew of Pashtun peasants, angry young religious men, gangsters, highway robbers and anti-government rabble-rousers sprinkled around Pashtun country in Afghanistan would suddenly start welcoming shady al-Qaeda new breeders bent on destroying Western civilization as we know it is, well, no less than an opium dream.
As for the sham election, who cares who's the winner - Pashtun President Hamid Karzai, aka "the kebab seller", Tajik Abdullah Abdullah or anyone else? Afghanistan will be ruled by Barack Hussein Obama anyway. "The Taliban" - this ghostly, immaterial entity - may start getting less cash from their former Pakistani intelligence masters; but pious, Salafi Persian Gulf potentates will still make sure they more than balance their budget - unlike certain Western powers. They couldn't care less about super-envoy Holbrooke's recently announced campaign to freeze wire transfers to "the Taliban".
Unable to fire Karzai, Washington watches impotently as he drafts psycho killer Uzbek General Rashid Dostum to campaign for him - as if sporting Tajik commander Muhammad Fahim as his running mate was not enough. It's Do the Warlord Dance in Kabul - and the prize is buckets of drug money for everybody so funding for private militias remains as free as a full supply of opium to the world economy.
And in the end, the warlords will find a shortcut to get rid of Karzai anyway.
Just ask the perennial Hekmatyar - who is fighting not only Karzai but the US and coalition troops (as if he's reading too much recent Iraq history, he insists on a timetable for Western troop withdrawal). Incidentally, good ol' friend of Saudi Arabia Hekmatyar is not a "Taliban" - but a Pashtun nationalist.
As for installed-by-George W Bush Karzai, he may be an Americanized aristocrat from the minor Popolzai tribe who knows his Pashtunwali - the inflexible Pashtun tribal code; but he's also a no-holds-barred opportunist who studied in India
, so he's betting on India to counter Pakistani influence over Afghanistan. He wants no "Pak" dominating "Af", while for Washington everything is now "AfPak". He knows that "the Taliban" control the day and virtually all the night in over half of Afghanistan. He knows he's got to do something to try to stop Westerners killing Pashtuns in droves. Yet another American puppet turns against his masters.
Ich bin ein Talibanistaner
And what to make of the McChrystal, Gates and Mullen show - worthy of the Marx Brothers? To amuse the galleries, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen did a two-on-one and faced down commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan General Stanley McChyrstal's inimitable Dr Strangelove impersonation by asking him to take it easy and submit his new Afghan report to Obama only after the Afghan election.
Iron Gates wants an orgy of new troops; super-envoy Holbrooke, for his part, wants a massive nation-building squad - he's building his own (doomed), counterinsurgency-heavy, Afghan shadow government. The bottom line is that, mired in the opium dream that all Afghans love the concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) occupying their country, the Pentagon wants a star-studded AfPak show running for decades.
McChrystal first said the Taliban are winning. Then he said they're not. Then he asked for - what else - more troops and more help on the civilian side. There will be 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2009. At the moment there are 96,500 US plus NATO troops on the ground - including 4,050 Germans, 485 Norwegians, 470 Bulgarians and 2,378 from "other nations".
The extrapolations into ridicule boggle the mind. The 4,050 members of the Bundeswehr fighting "Taliban" in northern Afghanistan near Kunduz now have to shout out a trilingual warning before getting down to the nitty gritty. First, in English, it's "United Nations - stop, or I will fire!" Then comes the Pashto remix - "Melgaero Mellatuna-Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!" And then the Dari remix. Forget about the cool and crisp Achtung! Sounds more like a Monty Python sketch about the European Commission in Brussels. Even German top commander General Wolfgang Schneiderhahn is embarrassed.
While all this funky charade goes on, virtually nobody - apart from Canadian energy economist John Foster, in an op-ed published by The Star newspaper - is talking about the (real) Afghan pipe dream. Once again, since the late 1990s, it all comes back to TAPI - the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India gas pipeline, the key reason Afghanistan (as an energy transit corridor) is of any strategic importance to the US, apart from being deployed as an aircraft carrier stationed right at the borders of geopolitical competitors China and Russia. TAPI, financed by the Asian Development Bank, should in theory start to be built in 2010.
Both Russia and Iran, accomplished chess masters, are honing their moves to make TAPI unworkable. Until then, the AfPak theater basically boils down to the US and NATO at war against nationalist Pashtuns. Washington hysteria will continue to rule - as in "the Taliban" about to take over Islamabad's nukes and convert the US into TalibanUStan. And last but not least, please save the last bowl of opium for that oh-so-savvy wild bunch - the warlords.