"Washington turned a blind eye to Al-Qaeda"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 17 08:50:30 MDT 2001

Janes.com, 14 September 2001 

Why? An attempt to explain the unexplainable 

By Rahul Bedi, Jane’s correspondent in New Delhi 

The origins of last Tuesday’s attack on the United States arguably have
their roots in the 1970s. At this time, during the height of the Cold War,
a Washington shamed by defeat in Vietnam embarked on a deep, collaborative
enterprise to contain the Soviet Union. 

The genesis of the policy came to a head following the Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan, when President Jimmy Carter set up a team headed by National
Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to employ its ‘death by a thousands
cuts’ policy on the tottering Soviet empire, especially the oil- and
mineral-rich Central Asian Republics then ruled by Moscow. 

A marriage of convenience 

Thus began the US-love affair with Islamists in which short-term profit
motivated all parties concerned, but the deadly ramifications of which are
haunting the world today and the effects of which were brought home starkly
to America earlier this week. 

This ‘marriage of convenience’, consummated in an alliance with Islamic
fundamentalists, particularly suited the Pakistani military junta of
General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, which was looking for greater strategic depth
and economic influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. 

The flip side of the wily general’s agenda was that this alliance with the
US would also strengthen Pakistan's military capabilities with respect to
rival India with the induction of sophisticated US weaponry at throwaway
prices. This was also the time when Pakistan made great strides in
developing its covert nuclear capability through a combination of
clandestine transactions, outright theft and forging closer military and
nuclear relations with China, all connived at by Washington. 

The US-led ‘proxy war’ model was based on the premise that Islamists made
good anti-Communist allies. The plan was diabolically simple: to hire,
train and control motivated Islamic mercenaries. The trainers were mainly
from Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, who learnt their
craft from American Green Beret commandos and Navy SEALS in various US
training establishments. Mass training of Afghan mujahideen was
subsequently conducted by the Pakistan Army under the supervision of the
elite Special Services Group (SSG), specialists in covert action behind
enemy lines and the ISI. 

Pakistan’s current military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, spent seven
years with the SSG and was also involved in training Afghan mujahideen.
Provided he co-operates, he will prove a useful guide to the US in hunting
down terrorists inside Afghanistan.

The entire anti-Soviet operation, headed by the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) and held together on the ground by the ISI, was supported by generous
donations from the US State Department, Western governments, Saudi Arabia
and a handful of commando experts from the UK Special Air Service (SAS),
while surveillance training, communication and first aid help came from

Israel provided weapons like rifles, tanks and even artillery pieces,
captured during its many wars with the Arab states, while Sudan and Algeria
contributed committed mujahideen and religious motivation. The entire
operation was, inexplicably but amusingly, christened the Safari Club.

Fallout from the fighting 

The fallout of this ‘holy war’, which ended with the Soviet withdrawal in
1989, brought in its wake a series of distinctly ‘unholy wars’ and
‘epidemics of violence’ in places like Kashmir in northern India. It also
brought grave unrest to the Central Asian and other former Soviet Republics
like Chechnya as well as to North Africa. Now, it has been brought to the
US, and to the rest of the world.

Over the past decade Afghanistan has been steadily devastated by
internecine battles in which the Pakistan-backed Taliban militia has
emerged partially victorious. Nearly two million Afghans of the country's
population of some four million became refugees in Pakistan, Iran and
Central Asia. The majority of those who were part of the jihad became
unemployed, lacking food and shelter and, most importantly, patrons.

This, in turn, made them ideal recruits for exploitation by the ISI and
Pakistan’s increasingly fundamentalist army. According to intelligence
estimates over 10,000 Islamic mercenaries, trained in guerrilla warfare and
armed with sophisticated weapons, are unemployed in Pakistan today, waiting
to be transported to the next jihad.

Osama bin Laden was one of many US beneficiaries in its war against Moscow.
He spent years in the mid-1980s travelling widely to raise funds and
recruit thousands of Muslim youths to fight the Soviets.

The rise of Al-Qaeda

In 1988, with US knowledge, Bin Laden created Al Qaeda (The Base): a
conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells in countries
spread across at least 26 countries, including Algeria, Morocco, Turkey,
Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Burma, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Uganda, Ethiopia,
Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Bosnia as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
Western intelligence sources claim Al Quaeda even has a cell in Xinjiang in
China, a country that ironically was another willing partner in the jihad
against the Soviets. China wanted the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan for
its own strategic ends and even trained and despatched Muslim Uighurs of
the western Xinjiang region to fight alongside the Afghan mujahideen. China
feared that the old Silk Route along the Karakoram Highway could, in time,
come under Moscow's domination if the Soviets were not swiftly dislodged
from Kabul. 

Chinese strategy on this front, however, had a negative fallout for Beijing
as the returning Uighur jihadis fuelled the already-simmering insurgency
for an independent Muslim Eastern Turkestan in Xinjiang. This insurgency
continues, though the Chinese have managed to significantly counter it
through economic sops, effective sealing of borders and drowning dissidence
using strong-arm methods, actions unquestioned by the outside world.

Washington turned a blind eye to Al-Qaeda, confident that it would not
directly impinge on the US. By the time the US embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania were bombed in 1998, killing 224 people including 12 Americans,
and the ill-fated World Trade Center was similarly attacked around the same
time, it was too late for remedial measures. It was this reality that was
brought home with such an unimaginable atrocity this week.

Louis Proyect
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