Afghanistan: US back to old game of 'good' terrorists and 'bad' terrorists

Hardened terrorists from Syria and Iraq are pouring into Afghanistan. Russia, Iran and China have voiced their alarm but US and its allies are unperturbed. Must India also keep quiet to keep US happy?

Afghanistan: US back to old game of 'good' terrorists and 'bad' terrorists
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Saeed Naqvi

Terrorists cannot be trained with the fanciest weapons, pillowed with cash, drugged for violent killing and, after the assignment, expected to resume their lives as tax paying citizens. They have mutated into a different kind of life.

That is why Joe Biden has to be taken with a pinch of salt. “We withdrew from Afghanistan because our mission was over: Afghanistan would now never be used for terror attacks against the United States.” Maybe not against the US, but trained terrorists are in the drill for action against Iran, China, Russia, countries which are quaking with fear that Islamic extremists may target them. What on earth is going on?

Anyone watching the Syrian tragedy since 2011, cannot forget Abu Sakkar, the Free Syrian Army’s “heart eating cannibal”. Sakkar had actually ripped open an official Syrian soldier’s body, pulled out the liver and heart and bit into it. He became a prize item for TV features. Paul Wood of the BBC looked like a concerned psychoanalyst interviewing him. How do “independent” western journalists so quickly reach a Muslim cannibal in a war zone?

It was precisely to boost the Free Syrian Army’s ability that the CIA/Pentagon created a budget running into billions. Candidate Donald Trump told Jake Tapper of the CNN as much. In fact he went on to name his favourite culprits for the lavish budget – President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump may have exaggerated but he was not entirely wrong. After all there were TV clips of Obama’s Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter choking in front of cameras. He admitted that arms meant for the Free Syrian Army had landed with terrorists. To Gen. Lloyd Austin’s lot fell the ignominy of being grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee about one of the many boo boos the US made in Syria. He is now Secretary of Defence.

A group of “good terrorists” in one theatre for whom a project of $500 million had been budgeted simply walked away with loot in arms and cash. Asked how many hands trained on his watch were still in battle, Lloyd mumbled “four…..five”.


Against this perspective terrorism is something that “they”, the bad guys, indulge in, but when a peacenik President like Jimmy Carter arranges for the Saudis to open their coffers for sums in excess of billions to fund hundreds of “madrasas” on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, hundreds of thousands of Mujahideen are trained, stinger missiles are placed on their shoulders to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan and lo and behold the Mujahideen have acquired the halo of a martyr’s brigade.

Sometimes the problem for Americans is “American exceptionalism”. A number of clubs in the US play American football (different from Rugby), basketball, baseball and call it the World Series because in the American subconscious, the rest of the world is presumed beaten. Or it is irrelevant.

The rest of the world, meanwhile, keeps a steady gaze on the Americans as on a ticketless parade. For a non American journalist watching US affairs, the careless slip by, say, the US President, is priceless copy. Let me give you an example.

It is the summer of 2014. President Obama is livid with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki for refusing to sign the Status of Forces agreement before US troops depart. Maliki has to be ousted.

On July 4, 2014, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi releases a video from Mosul’s main mosque. He declares the formation of the Islamic caliphate. Within months the Islamic state warriors in glistening new Humvees, hurtle towards Baghdad. I called up Iraqi contacts. “Yes US planes are pretending to bomb ISIS but the bombs are falling on the Shia militia.” And there are many of these in Iraq.

On August 14, 2014, Obama gives a wide raging interview to New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. “Why did you not order air strikes against ISIS just when it reared its head in June-July?” asks Friedman. Obama gives the game away in his response.

“If I had ordered a bunch of airstrikes then, it would have taken the pressure off Maliki.” In September 2014, Maliki is shown the door.

Obviously, Obama knew that he was taking a likeminded journalist into confidence. Like a good journalist, Friedman did not betray his confidence (nor his steadfast convictions) while later advising Trump on Syria. “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria?” He then asks the key question “Is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?”

“There are actually two ISIS manifestations” he writes. One is “virtual ISIS – it is Satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us. Because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and give permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society, who feel humiliated from London, to Paris to Cairo – to recover their dignity via headlines grabbing murders of innocents.”

“The other incarnation is the territorial ISIS” he says. “It still controls pockets of western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies and defeat the pro Iran regime in Iraq, replacing both with a Caliphate.” which, by inference, is in the US interest. It would be tactless for an establishment columnist like Friedman to say it now, but he will at an opportune time. Are ISIS and its numerous variants not an “asset” even today in Afghanistan? Friedman gives you a clue into the thought processes in the US establishment.

On 13 October 2021, Vladimir Putin told a summit of ex-Soviet security forces that battle hardened terrorists are entering Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq. Iranian and Chinese leaders have said the same thing. Is it being pro American to ignore these warnings?

( The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent and commentator. Views are personal)

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Published: 30 Oct 2021, 10:42 AM