Afghanistan and Pakistan’s “Salvador Option”

With a rightist insurgency raging on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, the United States is resorting to a tried-and-true method to stem the rising fundamentalist tide: direct military intervention and massive violence.

On January 23, twenty-two people, including 8 to 10 alleged members of al-Qaeda, the rest civilians, were killed when CIA Predator drones slammed into houses in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

In the last six months of 2008, the CIA mounted some 30 such attacks. Inevitably, civilian casualties were high while American officials predictably reported that the strikes failed to kill “senior al-Qaeda commanders.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates informed the Senate Armed Services Committee January 27 that “both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaida wherever al-Qaida is, and we will continue to pursue them,” the Associated Press reported.

Fueled by vast economic disparities, organized crime, widespread corruption and near economic meltdown, options are limited as ruling elites in Islamabad, Kabul and Washington stagger from crisis to crisis.

But as in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, Central America during the 1980s and the Middle East today, America’s militarist architects are planning to greatly escalate regional violence through proxy forces and the imperialist army itself as a means to “secure” corporate control over the resource-rich Eurasian heartland.

Welcome to South Asia’s “Salvador Option.”

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), since 2002 the United States has provided Pakistan with some $11.9 billion in aid, the bulk of the funds in the form of overt assistance to the Pakistani military.

With $6.67 billion in what the CRS terms Coalition Support Funds (CSF), drawn directly from the Pentagon budget and $1.56 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the beleaguered Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government of President Asif Ali Zadari, the husband of assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, finds itself no more capable of defending the Pakistani people from a resurgent Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) than the bankrupt Musharraf regime.

And with the Obama administration poised to ramp-up the “war on terror” by doubling the size of the U.S. troop contingent in Afghanistan, “reconstruction” will take a back seat to overt military and “counternarcotics” operations. However, a glance at the CRS’ “Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan” tells the sorry tale of American hypocrisy.

While showering the Army and the corrupt, drug-tainted intelligence services with billions of dollars, including $267 million for what the Pentagon terms International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE)–that’s worked out well, hasn’t it!–the Pentagon has provided a scandalous $17 million for Human Rights and Democracy funding (HRDF) and an equally paltry $42 million for what Washington terms Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA).

With the Taliban and America’s “former” partners, al-Qaeda, advancing on all fronts, the state’s writ is shrinking by the day.

Taliban Terror in Swat Valley

Since 2007 the TTP have spread out from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and are now within reach of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and the capital, Islamabad.

With little support amongst the Pakistani people, but with powerful backers within sections of the shadowy Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and the Army, the TTP are solidifying their grip in the NWFP. As investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad documents in a recent report from NWFP’s capital, Peshawar, a city of several million people,

Restive North-West Frontier Province is not the destination of choice these days. Those who travel there go for business or family reasons, and the flight I took from the southern port city of Karachi to Peshawar was half empty; clearly, the region is no longer on the tourist map.

After touring the city for an afternoon and speaking to a variety of people, I was struck by its eerie similarity to Baghdad when I visited that capital soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003–it has the distinct atmosphere of impending chaos.

That evening I chatted with a senior al-Qaeda member who told me that the group considered NWFP and southwestern Balochistan province as already wiped off the map of Pakistan as they were now militant country. Although not entirely accurate, it portends a chilling turn in the “war on terror” in which Washington will be more concerned over the stability and security of Pakistan rather than that of Afghanistan.

The indications are that a major battle will be fought in Pakistan before the annual spring offensive even begins in Afghanistan this year. (“On the Militant Trail, Part 1: A battle before a battle,” Asia Times Online, January 29, 2009)

In the Swat Valley, the TTP have created a virtual state within a state, imposing a reign of terror under the guise of “Islamization.” As The New York Times reports,

Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to listen and learn might lead to a lashing–or a beheading. (Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Pir Zubair Shah, “In Pakistan, Radio Amplifies Terror of Taliban,” The New York Times, January 25, 2009)

The situation grows more dire with each passing day. The Lahore-based Daily Times reported Monday,

Swat Taliban have released a list of 43 people–including former and incumbent ministers–who they have declared “wanted” and liable to punishment under the Taliban sharia.

The “wanted” men also include former and current members of the national and provincial assemblies, district and local nazims, officials of political parties, local elders and other influential residents of the restive valley. (Daud Khattak, “Swat Taliban Summon Politicians to Sharia Court,” Daily Times, January 26, 2009)

TTP head honcho Maulana Fazlullah declared the 43 leaders targeted for liquidation were “enemies” who would be arrested or killed by his men for their alleged “crimes”–opposing the Taliban. Eight bullet-ridden bodies were recovered Wednesday in Mingora, Swat’s largest city.

Incapable of winning “hearts and minds,” and hunkered down in secure bunkers, the Pakistan Army rarely venture out from their fortresses. Cut-off from the population, Asia Times reports that “the manner in which the militants have established themselves in the Swat Valley is surprising as 65% of the local population–mostly from secular schools–is literate, yet the central government has failed to muster mass support against the militants.”

In a bid to shore-up support, on Friday Fazlullah announced a “relaxation” in the ban on girls’ education “up to the fourth grade,” The News International reported.

In an interview with the BBC Urdu Service, Fazlullah declared: “We are not against girls’ education. We are against obscenity and anti-Islamic practices. We want to create the right conditions so that girls could receive proper education.” That’s rich considering that since 2008 more than 180 girls’ schools have been torched and some 900 remain indefinitely closed.

As a grim warning, the TTP leader defended the practice of beheading opponents and argued such practices were “in accordance with Islamic teachings,” aping his more extreme theocratic-minded “crusader” colleagues in America who advocate the death penalty for “adulterers, homosexuals and disobedient children.”

Asia Times journalist Shahzad reveals that the Army “does not have a ground presence in the valley.” Aside from a few “manned checkpoints in the mountains and garrisons,” the Army’s “offensive” consists primarily of haphazard attacks that “rain from the skies.”

From redoubts high in the mountains, the military point their artillery and “fire indiscriminately at villages many kilometers away,” greatly increasing civilian casualties while driving terrified residents from their homes or into the arms of the TTP. This is not a strategy with any prospect for success.

Shahzad reports the Army’s top brass have come up with the ludicrous claim that the insurgency is “controlled by India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)”!

Loathe to admit–as does Washington–that their former “allies,” the jihadist Frankenstein have turned on their masters and now seek to dispense with Pakistan’s corrupt ruling elites altogether (the better to install a new and equally corrupt, Islamist elite, drawn from the same landlord and comprador class that currently rules the roost) the Army has resorted to playing a mendacious “blame the Hindu” game.

Shahzad writes: “This has even been repeated by one of the biggest supporters of the Taliban, retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence, who has said he has no doubt that RAW is behind the unrest.”

Perhaps however, there are other reasons that Gul would level charges against perennial enemy India. Could it be the good general is now looking over his shoulder as the United Nations prepares a brief charging him with support for various terrorist outfits, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ISI proxy, Lashkar-e-Toiba, the operational asset responsible for last November’s murderous attacks in Mumbai?

But as I reported¬†January 25, local residents aren’t buying the Army’s tale that India is fueling the TTP insurgency or that the military is “stepping-up” actions against the militants. Outraged residents and local politicians forced to flee the area told The Independent on Sunday¬†that “elements of the military and the militants appear to be acting together.”

Far-fetched? On November 18, Major-General Faisal Alavi, a former head of Pakistan’s Special Forces–sacked under mysterious circumstances–was assassinated in Rawalpindi “after threatening to expose Pakistani army generals who had made deals with Taliban militants,” according to The Sunday Times.

In a letter that Alavi shared with The Sunday Times and mailed to Pakistani Army Chief of Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani shortly before being murdered, the former officer named generals he accused of collaborating with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including one with Baitullah Mehsud, a top al-Qaeda commander.

Mehsud, the main suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto late last year, is also believed to have been behind a plot to bomb transport networks in several European countries including Britain, which came to light earlier this year when 14 alleged conspirators were arrested in Barcelona.

Yet, according to Alavi, a senior Pakistani general came to an arrangement with Mehsud “whereby–in return for a large sum of money–Mehsud’s 3,000 armed fighters would not attack the army”. (Carey Schofield, “UK May Help Find Pakistani General’s Killers,” The Sunday Times, December 14, 2008)

Meanwhile, Daily Times reported Thursday that “25 projects operated by USAID in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and settled areas of the NWFP have been temporarily closed over security concerns.”

According to Daily Times USAID, once a front for CIA covert operations in Asia and Latin America, were working on projects to enhance “the government’s legitimacy and writ in FATA” as well as projects meant to improve “economic and social conditions for local communities, and supporting sustainable development.” Due to the deteriorating political conditions in the area, “health and educational services” and infrastructure development projects have been forced to shut down.

Ominously, part of the money doled out to “Military Inc.” by the Pentagon is for what United States Special Operations Command (USSOC) calls Foreign Internal Defense (FID) a key pillar of Special Forces’ Unconventional Warfare doctrine. As I reported December 19, UW establishes a “litmus test” for waging irregular warfare which is conducted “by, with, or through surrogates.” Indeed, as revealed in a document published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks,

Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political “undesirables.” (Unconventional Warfare, FM 3-05.130, Headquarters, Department of the Army, September 2008, p. 1-3)

According to a new document published by Wikileaks, Foreign Internal Defense is described thusly:

FID is a joint, multinational, and interagency effort. SOF, particularly SF and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) and Civil Affairs (CA) forces are well suited to conduct or support FID operations because these forces have unique functional skills and cultural and language training. FID is a legislatively directed activity for SOF (although it is not exclusively a SOF mission) under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. SOF may conduct FID unilaterally in the absence of any other military effort, support other ongoing military or civilian assistance efforts, or support the employment of conventional forces. (Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Operations, FM 3-05.202, Headquarters, Department of the Army, February 2007, p. 1-1, hereafter “FID”)

Significantly, as in El Salvador, Colombia and a score of other global “hot spots” tagged for resource extraction or geopolitical control by America’s corporatist masters, the USSOC manual calls for the direct training of paramilitary forces, often allied with far-right political parties and international narcotics syndicates in the “Host Nation” (HN).

But to gauge the effectiveness of FID “unilateral” operations by U.S. Special Forces, one need only look over the Pakistani border into southern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s “Salvador Option”

Vying with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for an “Oscar” for lack of discipline, utter disregard for the lives of civilians as well as those of their reputed allies, U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary operatives are veritable assassination squads on a par with their Taliban and al-Qaeda adversaries in terms of sheer brutality and callousness.

In Laghman Province, Special Operations Forces conducted a series of raids on January 7 and 16 in Masamat, in which 32 people were killed, described by military spokespeople predictably as “Taliban insurgents.”

Without warning, commandos broke down doors and “unleashed dogs” on unsuspecting villagers asleep at the time. The January 7 raid killed 13 civilians and wounded nine others. Local residents were so enraged by the assault that they threatened to march on the American military base in the district capital, Mehtarlam. The New York Times reports,

The outrage over civilian deaths swelled again over the weekend. Hundreds of angry villagers demonstrated here in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province, on Sunday after an American raid on a village in the province on Friday night. The raid killed at least 16 villagers, including 2 women and 3 children, according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai. (Carlotta Gall, “From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account,” The New York Times, January 26, 2009)

One of the victims of the January 7 raid was a man named Qasem Khan, a member of the U.S.-allied Afghan Border Police who was home on leave. Some allies.

His brother, Wazarat Khan, said the man was killed as soon as he looked out his front door in response to “shots fired.” He told Gall, “We did not think they were Americans; we thought they were thieves,” he said. “They killed my brother right in the doorway.”

Another victim of marauders allegedly occupying Afghanistan in order to “liberate” Afghanis from vicious Taliban killers, Darwaish Muhammad, 18, was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds after coming to the assistance of a neighbor calling for help. Gall reports,

Mr. Muhammad said he and two others rushed to help carry the woman’s son on a rope bed down a slope outside the village to get help. They were 10 minutes from the village when a helicopter fired a rocket at them, killing the wounded man and two of the bearers. He and the mother were badly wounded, he said. (NYT, op. cit.)

Operating as a law unto themselves, Special Operations Forces, part of a continuing legacy of the criminal Bush regime, do not coordinate their actions with either their NATO partners or the Afghan government. But while SOF plan and carry out tactical operations on their own, they do have one critical Afghan constituency: narcotrafficking warlords. As investigative journalist Ahmed Rashid documented,

When CIA-U.S. SOF teams set up bases along the Pakistan border to gather intelligence about al-Qaeda, they hired Pashtun tribesmen, paying them up to two hundred dollars a month, plus bonuses to their commanders, when a top monthly salary in Kabul was only fifty dollars. These mercenaries–called the Afghan Militia Force, or AMF–were still being hired as late as 2006. SOF officers had the authority to employ up to one hundred AMF to guard their camps and act as drivers and interpreters. The AMF’s Afghan commanders received cash, weapons, uniforms, communications equipment, and their pick of unearthed Taliban weapons caches, which they then sold on the black market–and which were invariably bought by the Taliban. These commanders became an enormously destabilizing factor in the country, as they considered themselves as unaccountable as their American commanders. The irony was not lost on the Afghan people. Although the Americans had liberated them from the evil of the Taliban, they had brought back another evil: the warlords. (Descent into Chaos, New York: Viking, 2008, p. 131)

In 2008 alone, some 4,000 civilian deaths were reported. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission “warned that the lack of accountability of those conducting such raids, and the lack of redress for civilian victims, was stoking resentment,” Gall writes. In a December report, the commission concluded, “The degree of backlash and community outrage that they provoke suggests they may often not be an advisable tactic within the Afghan context.”

No matter! According to the FID document,

The strategic end state is an HN capable of successfully integrating military force with other instruments of national power to eradicate lawlessness, insurgency, subversion, and terrorism. Ultimately, FID efforts are successful if they preclude the need to deploy large numbers of U.S. military personnel and equipment. Types of military operations related to FID are nation assistance (NA) and/or support to counterinsurgency (COIN); counterterrorism (CT); peace operations (PO); DOS support to counterdrug (CD) operations; and foreign humanitarian assistance (FHA). These categories may, to some degree, include FID operations as an integral component in supporting the fight against subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, and terrorism. FID programs are distinct and will vary from country to country to support that country’s IDAD [Internal Defense and Development] program. (FID, op. cit. p. 1-2)

But what happens when FID actually leads to an increase of “lawlessness, insurgency, subversion, and terrorism,” the direct result of USSOC’s undisciplined actions in the field? Well then, its time to administer a strong dose of perception management! Citing the requirement for a robust “informational instrument,” FM 3-05.202 avers:

Effective use of public diplomacy, public affairs activities and PSYOPS are essential to a FID program. Accurate portrayal of U.S. FID efforts through positive information programs can influence worldwide perceptions of the U.S. FID programs and the HN’s desire to embrace changes and improvements necessary to correct its problems. (FID, op. cit. p. 1-3)

Under the rubric of Psychological Operations, USSOC planners describe a process whose goal is to defeat insurgency and that PSYOP “can be used to gain the support of the people.”

PSYOP can support the mission by discrediting the insurgent forces to neutral groups, creating dissension among the insurgents themselves, and supporting defector programs. Divisive programs create dissension, disorganization, low morale, subversion, and defection within the insurgent forces. Also important are national programs to win insurgents over to the government side with offers of amnesty and rewards. Motives for surrendering can range from personal rivalries and bitterness to disillusionment and discouragement. Pressure from the security forces has persuasive power. (FID, op. cit., p. 4-10)

With an Orwellian sense of humor that would be amusing were it not deadly to those who have the misfortune of encountering SOF teams hell bent on winning their “hearts and minds” even if it means blowing them to smithereens, FID theoreticians declare without a trace of irony:

Each SF unit operation integrates planned PSYOP activities to establish a favorable U.S. image in the HN and further the success of the SF unit mission. SF units coordinate with trained PSYOP assets to capitalize on positive mission successes. SF units can sometimes use HN and commercial media assets effectively to influence public opinion and pass information. (FID, op. cit., p. 4-12)

Try selling that to the citizens of Masamat!

But wait, there’s more! USSOC touts the “success” of their “mission” in El Salvador as an applicable model for countering South Asian insurgencies.

For 12 years, beginning in 1979, the United States assisted the El Salvador military in becoming a more professional and effective fighting force against the Communist-backed Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. A U.S. military group assisted the El Salvadoran army by establishing a facility for basic and advanced military training. SF advisors, primarily from the 7th Special Forces Group, served with El Salvadoran units to support small-unit training and logistics. The advisors helped the El Salvadoran military become more professional and better organized, while advising in the conduct of pacification and counterguerrilla operations. Advisors were also present at the brigade levels assisting in operations and intelligence activities. From 1985 to 1992, just over 140 SF officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) served as advisors to a 40-battalion army. From a poorly staffed and led force of 8,000 soldiers in 1980, SF trainers created a hard-hitting COIN force of 54,000 by 1986. U.S. forces supported U.S. interests by creating an effective COIN force that fought the guerrillas to a standstill and established the groundwork for a negotiated settlement by 1991. (FID, op. cit., p. A-6)

Translation: between 1980-1991 SOF “assistance” to the brutal Salvadoran military produced 75,000 civilian deaths, by and large the result of Army massacres carried out in tandem with far-right narcotrafficking death squads who ruled the roost with an iron fist.

The “hard-hitting COIN force,” while shying away from battles with tough FMLN guerrillas, kidnapped and “disappeared” peasants, labor organizers, students, Catholic priests and nuns, or just plain folks caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, often subjecting them to hideous torture before lining the roads with their brutalized corpses as an “object lesson” in the fabulous workings of Reaganite democracy.

Today, Pentagon planners and their cheerleaders in the corporate media are touting these tactics as a “fresh approach” to beat back the fundamentalists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan today, to ensure that effective measures of “populace and resource control” (PRC) are brought to bear to stem the insurgent tide, FID theorists recommend widespread political repression and panoptic methods of surveilling the “target” population. The authors’ aver:

Rights on the legality of detention or imprisonment of personnel (for example, habeas corpus) may be temporarily suspended. This measure must be taken as a last resort since it may provide the insurgents with an effective propaganda theme. PRC measures can also include the following:

  • Curfews or blackouts.
  • Travel restrictions.
  • Restricted residential areas, such as protected villages or resettlement areas.
  • Registration and pass systems.
  • Control of sensitive items (resources control) of critical supplies, such as weapons, food, and fuel.
  • Checkpoints, searches, and roadblocks.
  • Surveillance, censorship, and press control.
  • Restriction of activity that applies to selected groups (labor unions, political groups, and so on). (FID, op. cit. p. A-12)

Not exactly a recipe for building a democratic society based on the rule of law and human rights!

It isn’t as if the Pentagon and the CIA hadn’t tried this before. It should be recalled, “the Salvador option” (before it was known as such) was employed in Central Asia during the anti-Soviet Afghan “jihad” of the 1980s. CIA and SOF paramilitary “specialists” showered billions of dollars in training and other forms of assistance–in league with the corrupt Saudi monarchy, Gulf State fat cats, and a gaggle of European and Israeli intelligence operatives and arms dealers who shared their expertise and matched American largess dollar for dollar.

But when the smoke cleared, like marauding Borg the Yankee Empire left nothing but a wide swathe of death and destruction in its wake whilst spawning al-Qaeda, a nexus of disparate jihadists for whom “Islamism” is a cover for Western destabilization operations, organized crime and nihilistic violence under the cynical banner of “monotheism and combat.”

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.