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
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future