Chalk it up to the genuine strangeness of our second Afghan War. Americans, according to the latest polls, are turning against the conflict in ever greater numbers, yet it's remarkable how little -- beyond a few obvious, sensational events -- they know about what's actually going on there in their name.
Take as an example the cost of the war and a startling development of the last four-plus months that has driven it significantly higher. Keep in mind that the Afghan War is being fought by a fuel-guzzling U.S. military in a landlocked, impoverished South Asian country with almost no resources of any sort. Just about everything it needs or wants -- from fuel, ammunition, and weaponry to hamburgers and pizzas -- has to be shipped in by tortuous routes over thousands of exceedingly expensive miles.
Up until last November, more than 30% of the basic supplies for the war came by ship to the Pakistani port of Karachi and were offloaded onto trucks to begin the long journey to and across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. Late last November, however, angry Pakistani officials -- as Dilip Hiro describes below -- slammed that country's border crossings shut on American and NATO war supplies. Those crossings have yet to reopen and whether they will any time soon, despite optimistic U.S. press reports, remains to be seen.
The result has undoubtedly been a resupply disaster for the American military, but you would never know it from the startling lack of coverage in the mainstream media here. All supplies now have to be flown in at staggering cost or shipped, also at great expense, via the Northern Distribution Network from the Baltic or the Caspian seas through some portion of the old Soviet Union.
Soon after this happened, there were brief reports indicating that the costs of shipping some items had gone up by a factor of six, depending on the route chosen. Back in 2009, it was estimated that a gallon of fuel cost $400 or more by the time it reached the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and that was by the cheaper Pakistani route. How much is it now? $600, $800, $2,400?
We don't know, largely because coverage of the Afghan war has been so patchy and evidently no reporter bothered to check for months. Only in the last week have we gotten a Pentagon estimate: a rise in shipping costs of about 2 - times the Pakistani price. (And even such estimates are buried in wire service stories on other topics.) In other words, for months no reporter considered the border-closing story important enough to make it a feature piece or to follow it seriously.
In an America where financing is increasingly unavailable to fire departments, police departments, schools, and the like, is it really of no significance what money we pour into our wars? Is no one curious about what the Pakistani decision has meant to the American taxpayer?
Think about that as you read the latest piece by Dilip Hiro, expert in South Asia and the Greater Middle East, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of the just-published book Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia. Is it really in this country's interest to get held up by our "friends" repeatedly to continue to fight a disastrous war in a country in which we're now negotiating to keep military trainers, special operations forces, and possibly others a decade beyond 2014 (another subject barely covered by our media)? Do you really want to be going through a version of this with Pakistan 10 years from now? Is your greatest desire to be supplying American military personnel with gas and hamburgers at earth-shaking prices in the second decade of a no-longer-new century? Tom
Taking Uncle Sam for a Ride
How Pakistan Makes Washington Pay for the Afghan War
By Dilip Hiro
The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr. M, a jihadist in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr. M promptly appears at a press conference and says, "I am here. America should give that reward money to me."
A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr. M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M's home state condemns foreign interference in his country's internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the United States decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for U.S. and NATO forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.
Mr. M. is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India. The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD) at the instigation of the Pakistani army's formidable intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of that country's Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.
On its formation, the LeT joined the seven-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with funds and arms supplied by the CIA and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and beyond. The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths, including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001, and a successful January 2010 attack on the airport in Kashmir's capital Srinagar.
In January 2002, in the wake of Washington's launching of the Global War on Terror, Pakistan formally banned the LeT, but in reality did little to curb its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October 2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: "Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval."