The Americans used it in Nicaragua where they trained and armed Contras to fight against the leftist Sandinista government. Even earlier they used this strategy in Angola, funding the vicious UNITA army of Joseph Savimbi. And, of course, they used it in Iraq as part of their divide on conquer strategy by stoking up a near civil war between Sunni and Shia militias, then co-opting the Sunnis into the Awakening movement to crush Al Qaeda, then turning on them - or allowing the Shiite-led government to turn on them. In every case it has meant the most horrendous escalation of violence as village is turned against village, neighbour against neighbour. The poor compete in brutality to get access to development funds by increasing their body count.
Alas, this is nothing new.
But, in this instance, it is the act of a desperate imperial force, which is fast losing ground, with defeat a widely mooted possibility. Over the weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum, a gathering of warmongers from Europe and the Americas, Canada's former army chief General Rick Hillier said that the West has "one last shot" in the next 18 months to get it right in Afghanistan. Former Republican presidential candidate, John McCain made clear what that means:
It's not going to be easy. Casualties will go up ... and it will require a degree of steadfastness that will try the governments not only of our allies, but in the United States as well, as public opinion may be not totally in favour of what we're doing.Even America's staunchest ally in the region, Pakistan, is getting worried. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, Pakistan officials are pressing Obama to negotiate with the Taliban leadership - including Mullah Omar, a key founder and leader - rather than sending thousands more troops, as the US military leadership want. Some Pakistani are already negotiating with the Taliban and think that a reconciliation plan is possible with Karzai as a powerless figurehead and power divided between the Pashtun majority and representatives of the other ethnic groups.
The US disagrees thinking, not unreasonably, that the Taliban have no reason to negotiate at the moment since they are on the ascendent. The trouble is, as the Pakistanis point out, if the Americans surge, Taliban will pour into Pakistan, destabilizing the country further, especially if the US continued to not guard the border. Clearly the Americans are hoping to get around some of this through their death squad strategy of peeling away the "moderate" or "non-ideological" Taliban using cash incentives. However, as the CSM article makes clear, many think this is a non-starter:
"The Americans have wasted a lot of time over this 'moderate Taliban' idea. It is never going to pan out. It misunderstands the Taliban phenomenon," said Simbal Khan, an analyst at Institute of Strategic Studies, a policy institute funded by the Pakistani government. "If you try to break off elements with cash, they'll take your money and still fight you."What this demonstrates is the growth of tensions between two powers that have broadly the same goals but lack the ability to implement them on either sides of the borders they control. In the wilds of the Hindu Kush and Waziristan, neither the Americans nor the Pakistani military know how to defeat the insurgency. And the strain is starting to show.