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Road to peace in Afghanistan doesn't run through Islamabad or Langley

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Most Afghans cringe when hearing the words "regional settlement" because to them it's nothing more than a euphemism for the meddling of foreign powers hell-bent on ensuring the political endgame in Kabul meets their interests, and chief among these culprits are the United States and Pakistan.

Afghans have longed to establish an independent government through self-determination, yet for the past three decades America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have undermined the will of the Afghan people and have fomented instability at every turn, which has led to incessant war.

These two clandestine units have historically worked together, but these days it appears a war is being waged between the CIA and the ISI and their respective clients for control of the AfPak region, making both countries even more unstable.

The U.S., once again, is trying to dictate terms by brokering a deal via the facade of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's "High Peace Council", a process Karzai is currently begging the Pakistani government to bless according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Pakistani leaders believe it's their God-given right to shape Afghanistan's post-NATO government, justifying their role with a tiresome 30-year old script that has led to ethnic civil wars and the rise of the Taliban movement.

Afghan tribal elders, from the Panjshir Valley to Kandahar, have voiced their frustration and have grown weary of their homeland being used as a pawn by the U.S. in its war against terror and by Pakistan in its clash with India.

Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistan has not changed much, if at all, since General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's president from 1978 to 1988, clearly stated Pakistan's intentions to install a government in Kabul that would serve Pakistan's interests in its war with India, while preventing stirrings of Pashtun nationalism within its territory.

Zia felt holding sway in Kabul was Pakistan's due for being a front-line state in the war against the Soviets, and Pakistan could not permit Afghanistan to return to its prewar conditions - which included a 40-year run of peace and stability under King Zahir Shah.

The U.S. supported and helped implement Zia's vision by practically giving birth to Pakistan's spy agency, which at the time acted as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CIA during the jihad against the Soviets beginning in the late 70s.

The U.S., as the Saudis matched every penny, handed hundreds of millions of dollars over to Pakistani intelligence each year to divvy amongst violent Muslim Brotherhood-influenced extremists in Peshawar called the mujahideen. As Ronald Reagan publicly bestowed the moniker "freedom fighters" on them, the CIA referred to the mujahideen in a more technical sense as "ISI's Islamists".

According to Steve Coll in Ghost Wars, U.S. officials actually welcomed Pakistan's expanding influence over Afghanistan and were willing to ignore ISI's Islamist radicals itching to take power who were already openly hostile towards America (including Arab jihadists establishing operations in the area, such as one Osama bin Laden). Plus, the CIA had been convinced that radical extremist Muslims were the most effective at killing Russians, the CIA's sole objective at the time.

As the post-Soviet era began in 1989, the ISI tried to establish an Afghan Interim Government (AIG) in Jalalabad led by war criminals such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani with the full support of the CIA - a regime which most Afghans feared. As much as Afghans despised the communists, they knew Hekmatyar would install a radical government that would strip away many of their freedoms.

But the ISI and CIA continued to back this regime of violent religious fanatics despite its lack of popular support, evidenced by an Afghanistan Information Center survey that found 70% of Afghan refugees supported the return of King Zahir Shah as head of state over the Peshawar-based radicals.

To Pakistan, the more extremist the regime, the more antagonistic it would be towards India. Not to mention, having an Islamic government in Kabul would facilitate the establishment of jihadist training camps near Afghanistan's border to prepare fighters for the struggle against India in Kashmir.

In retrospect, it's easy to see how the ISI had its eye on installing a Pakistani-friendly Islamist regime in post-Soviet Kabul as it allocated CIA funds away from Afghan northerners, non-Pashtuns, royalists and moderate mujahideen while ensuring Hekmatyar and Haqqani received the lion's share.

During this period U.S. diplomat Edmund McWilliams sent a cable to D.C. warning U.S. State Department officials that the biggest threat to Afghan independence was the ISI-backed Islamic radical movement - not communism. A cable that fell on deaf ears as CIA policy carried the day.

The communists held onto power longer than expected but were finally ousted, leading to the outbreak of civil war which came to a close in the mid-1990s with the rise of the Taliban - a movement fully funded and abetted by Pakistan and the Saudis.

The Taliban fooled the Afghan people into laying down their arms by promising to restore the monarchy, ran roughshod through the country and installed an Islamic emirate. The Taliban would have never defeated the opposition without the full support of Pakistani military and intelligence.

Fast forward to the post-9/11 era when the CIA orchestrated the installment of their puppet Hamid Karzai in 2002 in complete defiance of the Afghan people's will, according to political officer Chris Mason in a U.S. Army think tank magazine. 75% of Afghans wanted the exiled King to return from Rome to become head of state - instead, they got Hamid Karzai.

Fast forward to 2011 and it appears the love affair between the CIA and ISI has waned as the two sides are now at war over power, drugs and money. Battlelines have been drawn between the CIA-backed Karzai cartel and the ISI-backed Taliban and their associated insurgent groups.

The CIA is in the midst of conducting a drone war in Pakistan's tribal areas while it protects the Karzai mafioso, as Time magazine reported that the President's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and others within Karzai's inner-circle are on the CIA payroll.

There is speculation that the CIA and the Karzais are directly involved in the smuggling of $10 million a day that leaves Afghanistan by plane bound for Dubai (home of the Karzais' palatial summer homes) - which the U.S. embassy says are proceeds from "illegal activities". Even more alarming are reports that Wali Karzai, with the CIA's help, has taken out scores of political rivals in Kandahar over the past decade.

For Pakistan's part, army Chief General Kayani has unequivocally stated that his number one focus is still India. He has been explicit in his refusal to launch offensives in North Waziristan against the Haqqani Network because they are a major anti-Indian asset, as Kayani's strategic depth disorder comes at the expense of Afghanistan's stability.

The ISI-supported insurgents are for the most part a criminal network that cloaks itself in the name of Islam. The late Richard Holbrooke called the Haqqanis nihilists who believe in nothing except acquiring power and money, which is an interesting concept (we probably shouldn't refer to these criminals as "Islamic radicals" - we don't call Chicago and New York City mob bosses "Catholic radicals").

Without the funding and support of their masters these criminal elements on either side would not survive. Hence, it's time for the U.S. and Pakistan to stop interfering in Afghan affairs and to call off their intelligence units - if they can.

The audacity of these countries knows no bounds, as the U.S. and Pakistan both expect to play a major role in any political settlement in Afghanistan. But based on the historical record, the Afghan people certainly don't want or need their "help". Afghans want to decide their own fate and do not need Pakistan's blessing or America's approval.

However, Afghans will have to flee the corrupting and violent warzone and head to other neutral countries in order to choose a legitimate government, as outlined in a white paper entitled Afghanistan National Reconciliation. And one can only hope by doing so they also escape the pernicious dominion and watchful eye of both the CIA and ISI.

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Michael Hughes writes similar articles as the Afghanistan Headlines Examiner and the Geopolitics Examiner for Examiner.com.