This debate between Mahmood Mamdani and John Prendergast took place on April 14, 2009 at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Institute for African Studies, Columbia University. I recently finished Mamdani’s new book Saviors and Survivors, which I will be reviewing for The Electronic Intifada shortly. The book is a tour de force brimming with political, historical, and anthropological insights. I would highly recommend it to anyone with interest in the subject.
“The Deltas are psychos… You have to be a certified psychopath to join the Delta Force…”, a US Army colonel from Fort Bragg once told me back in the 1980s. Now President Obama has elevated the most notorious of the psychopaths, General Stanley McChrystal, to head the US and NATO military command in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s rise to leadership is marked by his central role in directing special operations teams engaged in extrajudicial assassinations, systematic torture, bombing of civilian communities and search and destroy missions. He is the very embodiment of the brutality and gore that accompanies military-driven empire building. Between September 2003 and August 2008, McChrystal directed the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations (JSO) Command which operates special teams in overseas assassinations.
The point of the ‘Special Operations’ teams (SOT) is that they do not distinguish between civilian and military oppositions, between activists and their sympathizers and the armed resistance. The SOT specialize in establishing death squads and recruiting and training paramilitary forces to terrorize communities, neighborhoods and social movements opposing US client regimes. The SOT’s ‘counter-terrorism’ is terrorism in reverse, focusing on socio-political groups between US proxies and the armed resistance.
Eric Margolis presents an overly idealized portrait of the Pakhtun but is otherwise astute in his analysis. One thing however needs to be made clear: while Margolis is right to point out that the government fails to make a distinction between Taliban and Pakhtun, the actual Taliban constitute a very small and radical minority within the larger Pakhtun nation. In the past they were completely marginal. If today they have turned into a political force requiring large scale military operation to tame them it testifies to the fact that the grievances run deeper and the way this operation has been conducted it will only confirm the view that this is a war on the indigent Pakhtuns, and is a war wage for the US. Despite the Pakistani elite’s embrace of the war as ‘our war’, let us not forget that it has taken the US invasion of Afghanistan, the drone attacks across the border, and the Pakistani military’s indiscriminate operations to turn a domestic nuisance into a national predicament.
PARIS — Pakistan finally bowed to Washington’s angry demands last week by unleashing its military against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) — collectively mislabelled “Taliban” in the West.
The Obama administration had threatened to stop $2 billion US annual cash payments to bankrupt Pakistan’s political and military leadership and block $6.5 billion future aid, unless Islamabad sent its soldiers into Pakistan’s turbulent NWFP along the Afghan frontier.
The result was a bloodbath: Some 1,000 “terrorists” killed (read: mostly civilians) and 1.2 million people — most of Swat’s population — made refugees.
The Independent reports that US Marines Corps’ Special Operations Command, or MarSOC, which was created three years ago on the express orders of Donald Rumsfeld, was behind at least three of Afghanistan’s worst civilian casualty incidents, including the recent bombing in Bala Baluk, in Farah which killed up to 147 people including more than 90 women and children. This news comes just days after the Special Forces Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, who was himself involved in the coverup of the death of Pat Tillman, was named to take over as the top commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. His has prompted speculation that commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle against the Afghan resistance.
According to the paper MarSOC faces opposition from within the Marine Corps and the wider Special Forces community with an article in the Marine Corps Times accusing the unit of bringing shame on the corps. The US Army commander in Nangahar likewise said he was “deeply ashamed” of the units behavior which is “a stain on our honour”. Apparently at the first sign of danger, these ‘special forces’ pansies panick and call in the airforce to bomb everything within sight. These are apparently the same skills that they are now imparting to the Pakistani military with, as we have noted, very similar consequences.