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The Ongoing Disaster of Australia’s Policy in Afghanistan

22.05.2017 Author: James ONeill

3623423422According to a recent news report Australia is “open” to a request from the United States for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. According to the report, Australian troops “mostly work in a training and support role aimed at strengthening the Afghan force’s ability to protect their own country. “It is important, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, “that we work together to build up the capacity of Afghanistan’s own security forces so that they can keep that country secure from the threat of terrorism.”

There was no opposition to this suggestion from Labor leader Bill Shorten, and neither did the country’s media outlets bother to consider either the inherent absurdity of the Prime Minister’s statement, or consider the geopolitical context that prevails in Afghanistan.

This has been the pattern ever since Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by a US led coalition, including Australia, ostensibly in response to the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States. That terrorist event was immediately attributed to al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, who was being sheltered by the Taliban government of Afghanistan, who in turn refused to hand bin Laden over to the Americans.

That this sequence of events is almost entirely fictional has never been allowed to disturb the official narrative, which is regularly brought out to justify maintaining, or as with the most recent request, increasing troop numbers. Quite what improvements in the situation in Afghanistan this latest ‘mini-surge’ might achieve is not clear.

One might have thought that after more than fifteen years of occupation, with the Taliban occupying more of the country than at any time since 2001, some fresh insights might be more productive. Similarly, when there has already been an expenditure of more than one trillion US dollars with no noticeable improvements and a great deal of deterioration in the country’s infrastructure, a better use of taxpayer’s dollars might be found.

There are other measurements of the occupation’s “success”. For example, opium production is now more than 20 times higher than it was in 2001. Or, as the UN pointed out recently, more than 9.3 million people, or 26% of the country’s population are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. At the very least one might expect that this dismal record would induce a fundamental reappraisal of existing policy.

That has not happened and is unlikely to happen because it is abundantly clear that the US government and its coalition allies are unable or unwilling to look clearly at the historical reality. Without the willingness or ability to face reality, a fact based policy formulation is that much harder. The historical realities are well known and equally well documented, although the mainstream media seem incapable of acknowledging them. Ignoring reality is hardly a rational basis for policy. Among the matters that are not allowed to intrude upon the official discourse include, in far from exhaustive examples:

  1. Al Qaeda was formed in Pakistan in the late 1970s for the purpose of overthrowing the then relatively secular and Soviet supported government of Afghanistan.
  2. The American trained and Saudi financed terrorists, then known as Mujihideen, were part of Operation Cyclone. Afghanistan was not the only target. The Muslim dominated republics of the southern USSR and China’s Xinjiang province were, and are, targets of terrorist infiltration and disruption.
  3. The decision to invade Afghanistan was made in July 2001, months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the Taliban government refused to allow an American consortium to build and control a gas pipeline from the Caspian Basin through Afghanistan, and instead gave the contract to an Argentinian company, Bridas.
  4. The Taliban government had virtually eliminated opium production, at least in the areas that it controlled. One of the first consequences of the western invasion and occupation was a rapid and sustained increase in opium production. Afghanistan now accounts for more than 90% of the world’s heroin with a street value of between $150 and $200 billion depending on the level of purity.
  5. Then, as now, the narcotics trade is a vital part of CIA funding, as well as serving geopolitical goals such as causing destabilization in the target countries. It kills, for example, 25,000 Russians each year.

Despite the expenditure of more than $1 trillion since 2001, there is no national rail system, not one new major hospital, and Afghan life expectancy is the 15th lowest in the world. The Afghan security forces, allegedly being trained ‘to build up their capacity to secure the country from terrorism’ contains significant “ghost forces”, i.e. non-existent security forces, the wages for whom disappear into the corrupt pockets of local officials.

In the now familiar refrain, the utter failure of western policy in Afghanistan is blamed on others. According to US Brigadier-General Cleveland in 2016, “Russia and Iran were undermining the US and NATO.”

What Russia has actually been doing, in co-operation with other States in close proximity to Afghanistan and adversely affected by the chaos continually generated there, is to try and create the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. A peaceful resolution would of course eliminate the US-NATO-Australia justification for remaining.

Although not reported in the Australian media, Afghan officials have approached Russia asking for help. The vehicle for that assistance is likely to be the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) with which Afghanistan has observer status. The CSTO is in turn linked to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation ({SCO) which Afghanistan will be linked to through China’s massive One Belt One Road (OBOR) program.

Afghanistan’s significant reserves of rare earth minerals, essential in modern technology, give it the potential to be a major contributor to OBOR’s infrastructure projects. OBOR, not least though the growing geostrategic partnership between Russia and China, represents a major challenge to the US’s unipolar hegemonic view of the world. The US will accordingly do nothing to promote the success of OBOR. On the contrary, its support for terrorist activities in countries participating in OBOR is aimed in part at inhibiting China and Russia from being countervailing forces to the US.

On 18 February 2017 a conference was held in Moscow to discuss Afghanistan’s security future. China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan were the other attendees. A further conference, also in Moscow, was held on 14 April 2017, with 11 nations from the region participating.

The US was invited, but refused to attend. Australia was not invited, most probably because, as with the Astana peace conference on Syria, Australia is seen as an appendage of the US with no useful independent contribution to make.

If the US led coalition was really interested in a resolution of the ongoing Afghanistan security problems they would have welcomed the opportunity the Moscow conferences represented to break what US General John Nicholson, the US Commander in Afghanistan accurately described as a “stalemate.”

Instead, we have the US military asking, yet again, for a boost in troop numbers, and Australia almost certainly to acquiesce, thus extending its participation in a useless war that does nothing to promote Australia’s true national security interests.

A well-known definition of insanity holds that one is insane if one repeats the same action over and over and expects a different result. Australia’s policy is not only dishonest and based on historical falsehoods and avoidance of reality, it is also arguably insane.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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Fake News: Asia’s “Autocrats” Vs Asia’s Autocrats

06.05.2017 Author: Joseph Thomas

546423333Mounting evidence suggests media outlets across the United States and Europe are selectively labelling leaders from around the world as “autocrats,” “despots” and “dictators” based not on their actual human rights records, policies or actions, but rather on where they fall along the spectrum of obedience to and complicity with the ambitions of Wall Street, Washington, London and Brussels.

No clearer example of this can be seen than the media’s treatment of current Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

In an AFP article titled, “Thai junta chief accepts Trump invite,” the media service claims:

Thailand’s junta chief has accepted an invitation to visit the White House from President Donald Trump, his spokesman said Monday, the latest autocrat to be embraced by the US leader.

In an attempt to justify AFP’s claims of the Thai prime minister being an “autocrat,” AFP states:

Thailand’s former army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power three years ago, anointing himself prime minister and ushering in the kingdom’s most autocratic government in a generation. 

The coup strained ties with the Barack Obama administration as the military jailed dissidents, banned protests and ramped up prosecutions under the kingdom’s draconian lese majeste law.

In reality, AFP is intentionally misleading readers while grossly mischaracterising the current state of politics in Thailand. AFP is also contributing to a much larger deception regarding the principles the United States allegedly stands for and US foreign policy in actual practice.

Thailand’s “Autocrat” Ousted a Very Real (US-backed) Autocrat

The 2014 coup after which Prime Minister Prayut assumed power, ousted a regime which up to the very eve of the coup was mass murdering protesters in the streets. Protests spanning 2013-2014 were aimed at removing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power for a series of abuses, corruption and the fact that she served openly as a proxy for her brother, Thaksin Shinwatra, ousted from power earlier, convicted of corruption and currently residing abroad as a fugitive.

During the protests, the Shinawatra regime organised cadres of heavily armed militants who used assault rifles, grenades, grenade launchers and other weapons to attack demonstrators, at some points during the crisis, on a nightly basis. Up to 20 would die and many more left injured or maimed.

Thaksin Shinawatra, who served as Thai prime minister from 2001 to 2006, stands guilty of serial abuses of human rights including a 2003 “war on drugs” that left approximately 3,000 innocent people extrajudicially executed in the streets over a 90 day period. Human Rights Watch would, at the time, catalogue Shinwatra’s bout of mass murder in two reports, “Thailand’s ‘war on drugs’,” and “Not Enough Graves.”

Under Shinawatra’s administration, his political enemies were systematically targeted with both intimidation and assassination. Media critical of his policies and actions were also systematically targeted with both legal and physical intimidation. The New York Times in a 2005 article titled, “Thaksin accused of ‘dirty war’ on media,” would report:

Prime Minister Thaksin has an agenda all his own. Although he is the founder of a telecommunications empire and keen to project Thailand as a fast-modernizing part of the global economy, Thaksin has little tolerance of the criticism aired in a free press. His concentrated political power and the considerable resources of his family’s commercial empire have been combined to muzzle critics in both the broadcast and print media.

Worse than mere “muzzling,” Shinwatra’s administration also presided over the systematic assassination or attempted assassination of critics. According to Amnesty International, 18 human rights defenders were either assassinated or disappeared during his first term in office.

While AFP’s article accuses the current Thai government of “ushering in the kingdom’s most autocratic government in a generation,” the facts clearly indicate it replaced the most autocratic and abusive government in a generation. Only through intentional and repetitive dishonesty has AFP convinced readers otherwise.

And AFP not only failed to mention Shinwatra’s time in office, or the abuse and violence carried out under his sister’s regime leading up to the 2014 coup, AFP also failed to mention two failed, incredibly violent bids by Shinawatra to seize back power via street protests organised by him and his supporters in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The former of the two attempts saw nearly 100 killed as armed militants mingled with protesters and fought gun battles against government troops and carried out large scale arson within Thailand’s capital of Bangkok.

As to why Shinawatra’s serial crimes against humanity have been glossed over by media organisations like AFP, it is a simple matter of Shinawatra being a willing collaborator with US and European interests, while the current Thai government has leaned more toward its neighbours in Asia for closer ties.
AFP’s article would even admit as much, referring to Thailand as a “former staunch US ally that has moved closer to Beijing since the coup.”

It’s clear then that the current Thai government’s status as “autocratic” stems not from actual metrics of freedom, peace and stability being enjoyed or repressed in Thailand, but from the ability (or now, inability) of the United States to influence Thailand’s internal political affairs and policies. Many of those reportedly “repressed” by the Thai government are in fact US-funded and directed agitators engaged in political, economic and even armed subversion.
The AFP, through its reporting, exposes itself as yet another outlet engaged in lobbying, not journalism, despite the carefully constructed reputation it uses to carry that lobbying out behind.

US Hypocrisy Explained

The media meme of “Trump embracing autocrats” exists in an alternate reality. In this reality, regardless of who occupies the White House, the US has backed some of the worst dictatorships in modern history. This includes Saudi Arabia which has enjoyed US support for decades and who participated in the largest arms deal in American history, not under Trump, but under Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barrack Obama.

Closer to Asia, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi quite literally contrived an entire office to place herself in power in order to circumvent the nation’s constitution banning  political candidates who themselves or their children hold duel citizenship. And since taking power, Suu Kyi and her political party have doubled down on a violent campaign of ethno-terror waged against the nation’s Rohingya minority.

Suu Kyi’s ability to sidestep US and European condemnation stems from her long-term commitment to the interests of Wall Street, Washington, London and Brussels ahead of those of Myanmar itself. When Suu Kyi appears to be cosying up to Beijing, US and European fronts posing as rights advocates “gently” remind the world of her and her support base’s aversion to the “Rohingya” people.

Regarding Trump’s invitation to Thailand’s prime minister, it should be noted that meetings alone are meaningless. Obama had met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi several times and apparent cooperation between Libya and the United States was underway before a US-led war was launched against the North African nation and both Gaddafi and virtually all immediate members of his family were targeted for arrest or assassination.

Ultimately, the AFP story is just one of many constituting genuinely “fake news,” entirely contrived by political motivation, and utterly divorced from journalistic integrity.

Thailand’s current government remains far from ideal with much room for improvement, but to characterise it as an “autocracy” while states like Myanmar and Saudi Arabia are given free passes, along with the previous, brutal regime that was ousted in Thailand before the current government took power, is intentionally dishonest. AFP’s story is part of a systematic process of distorting reality in order to place public pressure on governments targeted for regime change.

Thailand is currently one of those governments being targeted, and just as US and European media lied ahead of regime change elsewhere, the mischaracterisation of Thailand’s political crisis indicates increased tensions, not rapprochement, lie ahead between Washington and Bangkok.

Joseph Thomas is chief editor of Thailand-based geopolitical journal, The New Atlas and contributor to the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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