The Afghan And The Mighty Empire – Aijaz Zaka Syed

So this is how the cookie crumbles. The United States says that the much debated ‘security pact’ with Afghanistan is in the interest of the Afghan people and essential for its security after the US withdrawal. It has been increasingly frustrated and furious by the delays in inking the deal.

President Hamid Karzai, someone parachuted by Washington into Kabul, however has been reluctant to sign on the dotted line. He has even accused the US of “acting like a colonial power.” This coming from Karzai is interesting and almost funny. However, whatever his motives for driving a hard bargain, it’s not possible to question his reasoning. The US is acting like a ‘colonial power’ because it is one.

Why are Afghanistan’s ‘security and future’ Washington’s concern, if it is indeed ‘withdrawing’ from the Central Asian country?

The truth is that America and Co. are not going anywhere despite elaborate announcements of withdrawal of US and western forces from Afghanistan – or for that matter from Iraq. As Eric Margolis argues, this is a phony withdrawal from a phony war. There is too much at stake. Like Iraq, Afghanistan is too rich to be left to its people!

A recent Pentagon report confirms what many have long suspected: that Afghanistan, like Iraq, is sitting on the vast reserves of rich mineral resources and precious metals and that the invasion and occupation of the country has nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The untapped mineral deposits, which include huge quantities of iron, gold, copper, cobalt and critical industrial metals such as lithium, are said to be so huge and so rich that the war plagued and long exploited Afghanistan could change forever, emerging as one of the most important and affluent mining centres in the world.

An internal Pentagon memo suggests that the country could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, a precious raw material used in the making of batteries for laptops and mobile phones.

The findings are based on a survey carried out by the US Geological Survey, Pentagon and the Afghan government. The survey was carried out on the basis of some old charts and data collected by Afghan engineers and Soviet mining experts.

Clearly, the Russians had been aware all along of the mineral jackpot that the dirt poor, underdeveloped Afghanistan had been sitting on when they invaded the country in 1979.

The Russian bear, however, had to beat it after years of disastrous occupation and a debilitating war. They did not just have to fly by night with all their plans to plunder Afghanistan but the disaster changed the Soviet Union – or Russia – forever.

It’s a great irony of history that it is not the US’ military might, its fancy weapons or its state of the art Star Wars programme but the rudimentary, rustic weapons and legendary bravery of the Afghans that brought down the Soviet giant, changing the course of history forever.

And it is an even greater irony that the US has drawn no lessons from the fate of the evil empire, as Reagan would call it. Uncle Sam rushed headlong, eyes wide shut, to willingly dig himself deep into the Afghan quagmire not long after the humiliating retreat of the Russian bear.

After the 9/11 strikes, when our friend George W Bush was preparing to ‘shock and awe’ Afghanistan, promising a “new crusade” of ‘With Us or Against Us,’ many reasonable voices around the world dared to suggest that Afghanistan was being invaded because of its rich natural resources.

Some of them went to the extent of questioning the official version on the 9/11 attacks, implying they had been part of a vast conspiracy involving US intelligence agencies and Zionists to invade and take over the resources of Muslim countries.

At the time, those conspiracy theories sounded like the loony tunes of a feverish, overactive imagination to me. Given the shocking poverty and backwardness of Afghanistan, the idea sounded totally bizarre. I am not so sure any more though. Especially after the absurd lengths to which the US has gone and the kind of outlandish excuses it invented to invade Iraq, the world’s largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia.

And remember, before Iraq it was Iran. If the Iranians, one of the most cultured and civilised people anywhere, distrust and despise the west, there are enough reasons for it. In fact, there’s a long history of conspiracies, manipulation and old fashioned exploitation by big powers against Iran.

From playing petty games with the last Shah of Iran to deposing his defiant father to sending mercenaries to bring down Prime Minister Dr Mosaddeq, the Middle East’s first elected leader, they have tried every trick in the book to cheat the Iranian people out of the rich resources God has gifted them.

The fun hasn’t stopped even with the fall of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The long years of UN sanctions and the perpetual chatter about action against Tehran only rub salt into the deep wounds on the Iranian psyche. No wonder the nuclear programme has become an issue of national prestige for most Iranians, even to those ostensibly opposed to the ayatollahs. Of course, this long saga of colonial exploitation has not been limited to the Middle East. This game is as old as the history of western colonialism itself.

From Africa to India to the Far East, it’s the same story of exploitation everywhere. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the west’s breathtaking march to industrial and scientific progress has been fuelled and driven by the riches of the so-called ‘Third World’.

It has become fashionable for western wonks to rile against crushing poverty, endemic corruption and misrule in much of Africa. But who created this mess in the first place in a continent that is a vast, big mine of incredible riches? Who colonised, ruled and exploited Africa at gunpoint for over four centuries?

Who has ruled and exploited much of the world over the past few centuries, plundering it to fill their own coffers? India, the jewel in the crown, was denuded and robbed of all its beauty and brilliance by the time the last British viceroy flew into the empire’s sunset. Kohinoor, the legendary diamond in Queen Elizabeth’s crown, mined from Golconda, is the ultimate testament to our colonial masters’ insatiable craving.

You would forgive and forget it all if it had been a mere page from a hoary, long forgotten history. But it’s not. This game of exploitation is still a living, breathing reality. Western colonialism in its conventional sense may be dead but the empire is very much alive in one form or the other. The players may have changed but policies haven’t. Yesterday, it was the East India Company. Today, it’s the trigger-happy Yanks or mighty multinational corporations.

However, if the west thinks it can succeed where the Russians failed, it had better think again. If the irrepressible Afghan can beat one mighty empire with his sticks and stones, he can beat another mighty empire too. The Americans may have the deadliest arms known to man and infinite resources at their disposal. History, geography and time, however, are on the other side. This is a war the Afghans have never lost and cannot afford to lose – especially not now when they have to protect their national resources.

Afghanistan’s resources and riches belong to its people, not to anyone else. It’s perhaps a reward from God for all the suffering the Afghans have put up with for centuries with a smile.