Afghanistan: as US Exits, China Surges

by BARRY M. LANDO

There’s got to be some symbolism—if not irony–in the fact that just as the last of the 33,000 troops surged by Obama two years ago supposedly to pacify Afghanistan pulled out, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Afghanistan in almost half a century pulled in—arriving in Kabul for a secret round of meetings with top Afghan officials.

Question: How will China deal with the country that proved such an expensive and bloody disaster for both the U.S., its NATO allies–and the U.S.S.R before them?

In a brief visit, unreported until he had left Kabul,  Zhou Younkang, China’s chief of domestic security, met with Afghani leaders, including President Hamid Karzai. They talked about drugs, international crime, terrorism, and developing Afghanistan’s huge natural resources—just as visiting Americans have done for years.

The result, a cluster of agreements, among them an announcement that 300 Afghan police officers will be sent to China for training over the next four years.

Which is another irony of sorts—coming at the same time as news that the U.S. and its allies have been obliged to scale back joint operations with the Afghan military and police, because they can no longer trust the men they’ve trained. American troops in the field with their Afghan allies now keep weapons ready and wear body armor even when they’re eating goat meat and yoghurt.

So far this year 51American and NATO troops have been gunned down by Afghan military or police:  a startling 20% of all NATO casualties this year.

The off-the-wall video from California ridiculing the prophet Mohammed has only further fueled anti-American hatred.

As the New York Times quoted one 20 year old Afghan soldier, NATO casualties could even be higher.

“We would have killed many of them already,” he said, “but our commanders are cowards and don’t let us.”

There are still some 68,000 American troops based in Afghanistan, but the plans are for them all to be out by the end of 2014. Which means that China will be confronting serious security problems of its own in Afghanistan. They already have direct investments of more than $200 million in copper mining and oil exploration, and have promised to build a major railroad east to Pakistan or north to Turkestan.

But they could pour in billions more if Afghanistan were a secure, well-ordered country, free from the Taliban, free from kleptocratic war lords and venal government bureaucrats, patrolled by well-trained Afghan soldier s and police:  in other words, exactly the kind of country the U.S. would like to have left behind—and didn’t.

Instead, of course, despite America’s huge sacrifice in men and treasure –more than half a trillion dollars since 2001–things haven’t worked out that way.  [For a dramatic, running count of the enormous hemorrhage that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still represent to the U.S. economy check out costofwar.com.]

Meanwhile, corruption is rampant, and it’s by no means certain that Afghanistan has—or every will have–a national army and police force worthy of the name.

The U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, peered into the Pentagon’ s 1.1 billion dollars fuel program to supply the Afghan Army, and concluded that there was no way to be ascertain how much if any of that fuel is really being used by Afghan security forces for their missions. There was also no way to know how much was stolen, lost or diverted to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Almost half a billion dollars worth of receipts detailing with fuel payments over the past four years have been shredded.

With the Americans heading for the exits, the challenge facing the Chinese—and anyone else, like India–interested in investing in the country–is how to navigate this imbroglio.

Indeed, the Chinese have apparently already run into problems in Afghanistan. Work at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Lograr Province is already behind schedule, and no work has begun on the promised Chinese-built railroad yet. Various impediments have turned up, like recalcitrant bureaucrats, tensions provoked by the need to displace local populations, the discovery of Buddhist ruins, as well as ramshackle Soviet-era mines that first had to be cleared.

And then there’s the rival, rapacious warlords, who see the country’s resources as a way of fueling their own ambitions—like General Abdul Rashid Dotsum, who the government has accused of attempting to extort illegal payoffs from the Chinese oil company.

However, in their dealings throughout the developing world, from despots to democracies, the Chinese have shown themselves adept at navigating such quagmires. There’s no talk from Beijing of Chinese “exceptionalism”. They’ve been taking on the world as it is—not as someone in a Chinese think tank would want to remake it.

They’ve generally turned a blind eye to considerations of human rights, opted to pay off or work with the powers that be, and used offers of huge new infrastructure projects as bait, steadily increasing their share of the globe’s resources.

Many potential investors still shy away from Afghanistan. They have no idea what lies on the other side of the political abyss after 2014 when the U.S. completes its withdrawal.

China is also wary, but they’re also seriously planning their Afghan strategy for the post-American future.

As Wang Lian, a professor with the School of International Studies at the Paking University in Beijing, put it,  “Almost every great power in history, when they were rising, was deeply involved in Afghanistan, and China will not be an exception.”

Unmentioned, of course, was what an unmitigated disaster that involvement turned out to be for the USSR, the US–and Afghanistan.

We’ll see how China fares.

Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Lando is currently completing a novel, “The Watchman’s File”, concerning Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb.) He can be reached through his blog.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Bait-and-Switch Environmental Politics
Vijay Prashad
Regime Change Refugees: On the Shores of Europe
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Paul Craig Roberts
Whither the Economy?
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and Crisis
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Colin Todhunter
Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Depraved Morality of David Cameron
JP Sottile
Chinese Military Parade Freak-Out
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Patrick T. Hiller
There’s Nothing Collateral About a Toddler Washed Ashore
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Jim Connolly
Sniping at the Sandernistas: Left Perfectionism in the Belly of the Beast
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Dan Glazebrook
British Home Secretary Theresa May: Savior or Slaughterer of Black People?
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Barry Lando
Standing at the Bar of History: Could the i-Phone Really Have Prevented the Holocaust?
Linn Washington Jr.
Critics of BlackLivesMatter# Practice Defiant Denial
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Graham Peebles
Criminalizing Refugees
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Patrick Higgins
A Response to the “Cruise Missile Left”
Tom H. Hastings
Too Broke to Pay Attention
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo