WikiLeaks documents on
DID the WikiLeaks documents from US military logs on the war in Afghanistan really jeopardise the lives of service personnel and of Afghan 'informants', or was this the response of those whose vainglory has led the West into yet another excursion of epic self-defeating belligerence?
The threat to life was the second line of defence by Authority, its first reaction having been that 'nothing new' had been revealed by the leaked documents. The third response was that these are 'historical' disclosures, since they cover the period only up to 2009, and are, therefore, of interest only to archivists. The new phase coincides with the shift from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency; an argument which suggests we have once more 'drawn a line and moved on' in the country of perpetual war.
the leaks did reveal is the mendacious smoothness of official reports
that 'we are winning' in
The most fateful revelation of these war-logs is certainly not new; for that is the old story: the invincible certainties which lodge in the imperial mindset, an antique conviction that military power can bend the world to its will, and that it is bound to work anyway, because it is the desire of everyone in the world 'to become like us'. To facilitate this necessary process, US troops are presently posted in more than 750 sites worldwide.
recent operation 'Black Prince', as it is poetically called, followed
hard on the WikiLeaks disclosures, as though to demonstrate to sceptics
the high purpose of the endeavour. Yet even reports from embedded journalists
could not disguise the breathless and exaggerated heroics of an operation
inflated to reinforce an impression of tenacity. British troops had
'seized certain strategic positions'; they had 'chased out' the Taliban
in the area around Saidabad in
clumsy manoeuvres will only ensure that yet more coffins return to
are other echoes.
is what we may call 'the curse of imperialism': great power doomed constantly
to repeat its blunders. If in doing so it invokes the 'lessons of history',
this only shows how incompetent an instructor history is, for its pedagogic
qualities remain opaque to actors destined to repeat the very failures
from which they claim to have learned so much. Power is a bloated beast,
programmed to express itself only in one way, and fated to do so. The
savage video-games - the use of drones to 'take out' Taliban targets
by remote control from a facility in
The WikiLeaks war-log disclosures cover four main areas: the way in which the intensification of the war is actually playing out on the ground; the flimsy nature of much of the Coalition 'intelligence'; the disparity between the upbeat official accounts of the war and the messy reality, including the deaths of civilians, caused both by the Coalition and by the improvised explosive devices placed by the Taliban; and the ambiguous role of elements of the Pakistani intelligence services in relation to the Taliban.
hitherto secretive Task Force 373 has as its objective the killing or
capture of thousands of named individuals belonging to the Taliban or
al-Qaeda high command. This shadowy group has killed an undisclosed
number of such people, often with no attempt to take them alive, and
in the process, has also taken the lives of many civilians. One such
excursion in 2007 killed seven Afghan policemen, while shortly afterwards
seven children died along with a number of Taliban fighters. This is
apart from such well-documented events as the
official reporting of the war bears a declining relationship to reality:
the futuristic rhetoric of high-precision arms remorselessly homing
in on their targets is war-speak for assassinations, faulty intelligence,
loss of innocent life, and the sheer frustration of soldiers on the
ground unable to distinguish friend from foe. The military use now familiar
stories, rehearsed wherever civilians are slain - we heard them in
All this was 'known', but known only with that twilit form of cognition which has not been sanctioned by power, and thus remains, as it were, in the penumbra of unofficial acknowledgement. It has now been interpreted by the Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel, which have translated laconic military acronyms and euphemistic abbreviations into intelligible language.
But perhaps the least commented area of this disastrous conflict, and the chains of consequences which stretch back through the arming of the mujahideen against the Soviets and into the great imperial struggle of the 19th century between Britain and Russia, is the arbitrary and still indistinct borders between what have failed to become 'settled' nation-states, created in the image of colonial powers which, in 1893, scribbled in apparently indelible pencil the fateful Durand Line, cleaved Pashtun belonging and later partitioned South Asia.
The question of the creation of a Pashtun homeland for the 24 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the 12 million or so in Pakistan - the most obvious answer to a cartographic convenience that has resulted in such bloodshed - now appears academic; even though it is tacitly recognised by the use of the term 'Afpak' to designate a conflict which does not acknowledge imposed frontiers and also calls into question what were thought to be long-settled imperial squabbles. Pashtuns are, like the Kurds, one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a state; their numbers are also about the same.
breathtaking unknowing of the
is, in some ways, regrettable that the West 'prevailed' over Communism,
since when it did so, it also jettisoned any idea of 'coexistence' with
other, conflicting belief-systems, religions and ideologies in the world.
If Communism could be vanquished, it seemed, no creed, godly or godless,
no belief-system, materialistic or other-worldly, could withstand the
potency of the Western appeal to the whole world. Yet if the topography
Seabrook is a freelance journalist based in the
*Third World Resurgence No. 238/239, June-July 2010, pp 41-42