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Published: ABC Unleashed:

Published: Online Opinion:

Sadly the United States and Australia appear unable to learn from history.

The US is in the same position in Afghanistan that it worked so hard to lock the Soviets into 20 years ago. Then the recalcitrant, chauvinistic, Pathan tribesmen on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border were with the US, now they are not.

Like the rulers of British India before them, the governing Punjabi elite in Pakistan have long cut deals with ‘lawless’ tribes in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province in order to assert authority.

Causing trauma and creating refugees in Swat will galvanise the local population against corrupt Punjabi administrators. The Taliban in the Swat Valley are from Swat. It is their children, wives, mothers, fathers, relatives and friends who are fleeing Swat. The attack by the Pakistan Army into Swat, known within the region to be a result of US pressure, will prove more destabilising than the activities of the Taliban. The Taliban will gain recruits.

The Soviet army of occupation in Afghanistan during the 1980’s fostered the same phenomena; cruel and clumsy military operations fed recruits into the Mujahedin and encouraged tribal and military alliances.

Bombing villages and killing women and children in Afghanistan will create further opposition to the US and its allies.

To believe that the growth and militancy of the Taliban in Swat has nothing to do with the US presence in Afghanistan is a failure to understand the galvanising effect of this presence on activists in the region.

Sympathetic elements within the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI, are in likely contact with the Taliban in Swat, in order to try and maintain carefully nurtured networks and to minimise harm through prior warnings of attacks.

The ISI relationship with the Taliban, and the Mujahedin before it, is a complex one, rooted in the geo-politics of the region and access to gas and oil reserves. With regard to the latter the US is not a disinterested party.

Afghan friends recently returned from visiting family in rural areas claim local belief is that the US intends to stay in order to secure oil pipelines through the country to warm sea ports in Baluchistan on the Gulf.

With little chance of finding Osama bin Laden or of breaking Al Qaeda, what is the US doing in Afghanistan?

If US aims are to defeat the Taliban it will be in Afghanistan for a long time.

The Australian media has done little to investigate and unravel the complexities of this conflict and with shameful complacency, acquiesced in the recent increase in Australian troop numbers.

With respect to another place at another time it has been written that:

“Australia took its cue from American positions, and conformity with America was the primary political test of a policy. The role of junior ally permitted the luxury of embracing alliance policies without the need to evaluate independently their costs and prospects…

Throughout, the Australian media were more a dependant than an independent variable in the political process … The news media failed in their most basic political role – as an agent of disclosure. Rather than an independent input into the political process, their news columns overwhelmingly reflected the stance of the government.

The news media failed also in their other main political role – as a forum for diverse commentary and analysis. Dissenting views on Vietnam, even where based on considerable expertise, were more often than not either ignored or denigrated”, according to Rodney Tiffen in Vietnam Remembered.”

Little has changed with respect to the war in Afghanistan. It is a guerrilla war with all of the attendant frustrations for conventional forces. The famous maxim that came out of the Vietnam War, ‘We had to bomb that village in order to save it,’ seems now equally to apply to the war in Afghanistan.

For US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, to claim that Taliban hand grenades rather than US bombing was responsible for the recent death of 147 women and children is to head down an old and discredited path. Why would the Taliban murder their support base unless it had been lost to them?

The secrecy with which the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has cloaked itself in recent years is undermining the essential relationship between a democracy and a volunteer defence force. Suspicion is growing that this secrecy has little to do with the needs of the so called war on terror, but rather to do with hiding systemic problems, of morale, maintenance and training within the ADF.

Incredibly the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), Air Chief Marshall, Angus Houston, claims to have known nothing of an alleged SAS bungle resulting in death and injuries to civilians near Tarin Kowt in July 2006 at the time of Senate hearings in February 2007. That is an incredible and quite frankly unbelievable six month gap in the flow of important information within the Department of Defence.

The Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, has asked the CDF to investigate the incident. The CDF can’t do that, he is part of the problem.

As much as the facts relating to the incident need to be investigated so does, what on the face of it, appears to be a cover up, involving the CDF and other senior uniformed and civilian officers of the ADF.