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The U.S. war on Afghanistan
It’s Obama’s war now
December 2, 2009
Barack Obama motivated his decision to send 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan with a warmongering speech that recalled the worst of George W. Bush.
ARACK OBAMA has disappointed many of those who hoped his presidency would deliver “change we can believe in.” But there’s one campaign promise Obama has kept—twice. In his prime-time speech on December 1, Obama followed through on a pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan for a second time, announcing that he would send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops. When Obama took office, fewer than 50,000 U.S. soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan. He ordered an additional 21,000 troops there earlier this year. With the additional 30,000, he has doubled the U.S. presence. Obama motivated the troop buildup with a speech that recalled George W. Bush’s call for a “war on terror.” He recycled the Bush lie that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago was retribution for the September 11, 2001, attacks, and he falsely claimed that Afghanistan’s Taliban government refused to hand over Osama bin
Laden and al-Qaeda. “America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al-Qaeda’s terrorist network, and to protect our common security,” Obama told West Point cadets. Later, Obama concluded by summoning the war frenzy cynically whipped up by the Bush administration after September 11: “It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united —bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we—as Americans—can still come together behind a common purpose.” Wrapping himself in the flag Bush-style, Obama strained to sell people on the idea that the discredited, fraudulently elected government of President Hamid Karzai can rule legiti-
mately. “[W]e and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election,” Obama boasted, “and although it was marred by fraud, that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.” So the U.S. military helped Karzai to hold an election so obviously fraudulent that the UN demanded a run-off, only the second-place finisher refused to participate—that’s some triumph of democracy! Obama tried to sugarcoat the war drive with a promise that U.S. troops will start pulling out of Afghanistan in July 2011. But given the scale of the Taliban resistance, that plan is utterly lacking in credibility. The talk about Afghans taking responsibility for their own security was a dead ringer for George W. Bush’s promises that “as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
It’s Obama’s war now
What the U.S. wants from this war
The warlords’ president
THE FIGHT AGAINST THE WAR
Why the U.S. has to go
Is the U.S. fighting for women’s liberation?
Can the U.S. bring justice?
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
The war they all agree on
How Afghanistan was bled dry
The antiwar movement retreats
Who are the Taliban?
The myths of the “good war”
N ANOTHER note reminiscent of the Bush years, we were treated in the run-up to the speech to a steady media diet of good news about the Afghan war campaign, designed to suggest that there’s “light at the end of the tunnel.” Take, for example, the revelation that antiTaliban militias are “spontaneously” springing up in various parts of Afghanistan. A front-page New York Times report gushed that the “emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged the American and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country...” “The Americans hope the militias will encourage an increasingly demoralized Afghan population to take a stake in the war against the Taliban.” But even the Times acknowledges that U.S. Special Forces are “fanning out across the countryside, descending from helicopters into valleys where the residents have taken up arms against the Taliban and offering their help”—casting serious doubt about how “spontaneous” these militias are. With this effort, the U.S. is hoping to bypass unpopular and tyrannical warlords and set up tribal networks allied with occupation forces. Money for development will be used to further cement these ties. But this strategy is a long shot at best. As the Times admits, the strategy of giving ammunition, communication hardware and other support to these militias could backfire spectacularly. “The growth of the anti-Taliban militias runs the risk that they could turn on one another, or against the Afghan and American governments,” it reported. This isn’t just a hypothetical. U.S. backing for Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters against the ex-USSR’s occupation in the 1980s gave rise to the armed networks that eventually produced al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Now the Obama administration cites the fight against the terrorists of al-Qaeda as the primary justification for sending even more U.S. troops to kill and be killed in Afghanistan. This involves a double conceit—historical amnesia about the bitter fruits of U.S. policy in Afghanistan since the 1970s, and deception about the real reasons for the continued U.S. interests in cultivating a pro-U.S. regime in Afghanistan. That effort goes back to the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. “The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter,” recalled Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter’s national security advisor from 1977 to 1981. “We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.” At the time, U.S. foreign policy officials encouraged the growth of the most extreme Islamic elements because they considered them the key to defeating the USSR. After the U.S. achieved its goal, the mujahideen fighters it had backed came to power—and Washington stepped aside and watched, as the country descended into a civil war among the divided factions that had tri-
umphed over the Soviet Union. When the Taliban emerged as the victor in 1996, the U.S. adopted an attitude of benign indifference. At least the Taliban brought stability and an unrelenting hostility to the opium trade, reasoned U.S. officials. But September 11 gave the U.S. a new opportunity to project military power into the heart of Central Asia. It quickly installed military bases in countries that had been part of the old USSR, giving the Pentagon the means to pressure China, Russia and neighboring Iran, and provide greater U.S. access to the region’s oil and gas resources. USH’S FAILURE to secure those gains with the “war on terror” drew criticism from Obama throughout the presidential campaign. Perhaps some Obama supporters thought that the Democratic candidate’s call to escalate troop strength in Afghanistan was simply rhetoric to shield him from criticism on the right. But Obama’s West Point speech makes it perfectly clear that he’s a willing and aggressive proponent of the pursuit of U.S. imperial aims. According to White House estimates, each additional U.S. soldier sent to Afghanistan will cost taxpayers $1 million a year. So Obama’s double dispatch of troops will cost an additional $55 billion over the next year. Compare that to the Afghan government’s entire national budget of roughly $1 billion a year. But even more outrageous than the vast sums Obama wants to spend is the reality that his strategy of escalating the war has almost no chance of succeeding, as many in the Washington political and media establishment seem to recognize. “The Karzai government is like an organized crime ring,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks. “The governing talent is thin. Plans to build a 400,000-man Afghan security force are unrealistic.” The Obama administration hasn’t committed as many troops as some military hardliners want. But the reality is that the current combined U.S./NATO presence—68,000 U.S. troops, 33,000 from various NATO countries, and more than 70,000 U.S. military contractors—already exceeds the number of troops deployed by the Soviet Union at the height of its involvement in Afghanistan. The U.S. could continue to muddle through —unless it meets a significant opposition that can’t be ignored. Already, there is anxiety that the U.S. public may not be willing to put up with a five- or 10-year strategy, especially considering the high price tag. The antiwar movement needs to give those anxieties concrete expression by organizing a visible opposition. The demonstrations organized in cities across the U.S. to respond to Obama’s speech are an important opportunity to begin building a vocal opposition to a war that is all Obama’s now.
INTERVIEW WITH MALALAI JOYA
Why the U.S. has to go
November 10, 2009
Malalai Joya has been called the “bravest woman in Afghanistan” for her outspoken opposition not only to the U.S. occupation of her country, but both the corrupt U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai and the Talibanled insurgency. Joya was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament from Farah province in 2005, but was suspended several years later after other representatives claimed she insulted them. She has continued to speak out against war crimes and warlordism, in spite of numerous attempts on her life. Joya is on a speaking tour of the U.S. for her book A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. She talked to Deepa Kumar about the situation in her country and the message she hopes to bring to people in the U.S.
WHAT HAS been the impact of the U.S. occupation and its puppet government on women in Afghanistan? Has the U.S. liberated Afghan women as it claimed it would?
FIRST, LET me say that after September 11, the U.S. government threw us from the frying pan into the fire. Over the last eight years, the U.S., under the banner of women’s rights and human rights, has occupied my country, and millions of men and women have suffered from injustice, insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty, etc. But women have suffered more—for them, it is almost as if the Taliban was still in power. After the war, the U.S. brought to power these misogynist warlords called the Northern Alliance, who are just like the Taliban. These were the same people who ruled between 1992 and 1996, and they attacked women’s rights and human rights. This time, wearing suits and ties, they have again have come into power with the help of the U.S. That’s why today’s situation for women is worse, especially in many of the provinces. It is true that in some big cities like Kabul, Mazari Sharif or Herat, you will see that some women have been able to get jobs and an education. But in most of the provinces, women do not even have basic human rights—the situation is like hell. Today, killing a woman is like killing a bird. Even in big cities, women do not feel secure, and so most of them wear the burqa. I believe that the burqa is a symbol of oppression. Yet women have to wear them just to be safe. So the disgusting burqa today gives life. Over the last eight years, women in my country have not even regained the limited rights that they enjoyed in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. During that time, women could wear any kind of clothes they wanted to, and they had jobs, they could walk freely on the streets, and they didn’t have
to worry about being kidnapped or raped. Then, the warlords attacked women’s rights, and the Taliban continued this. The U.S. brought the same misogynist warlords back, and the only difference between the Taliban period and now is that all of these crimes are happening in the name of democracy. The warlord misogynists who are in power cover up, in the name of democracy, countless cases of rape, violence against women, domestic violence, suicide, etc. And these sorts of attacks are increasing rapidly. Let me give you a few examples of the situation for women. I think it will help people in the U.S. to understand the situation better. For example, recently in Jowzjan province, a 25-year-old girl burned herself in a hospital. These sorts of suicides are becoming common. We recently got a report that there have been 600 such suicides. Also, a 5-year-old girl was killed by a 40-year-old man in Sar-e Pol province as she resisted his attempt to rape her. A 14-yearold girl was brutally gang-raped by three men, one of them the son of a member of the parliament. And this member of parliament, his name is Haji Payinda Mohammad, changed the age of his son in documents to show him to be less than 18, so he won’t be punished. There are many examples like this. This is a crime against women. It’s fashionable for the media to say that it’s the Taliban, but these are not all the crimes of the Taliban—there are warlords as well who are continuing their fascism. Today, Sharia law is guiding the laws that parliament has made. This is quite similar to the Taliban, and that’s because the warlords are mentally like the Taliban.
WHAT DO you think of the recent elections and of the government of President Hamid Karzai? And what about the man who was runner-up to Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah? If they formed a coalition government, what do you think would happen?
showcase for the U.S. government. International observers have talked about widespread fraud. The so-called independent commission for the election says that around 1.3 million ballots were fixed. The actual number is higher. There is no question that an election is the main sign of democracy in a country, but in Afghanistan, they have been betraying democracy for the eight years of the U.S. occupation. Abdullah is the main candidate of the warlords, and he is seen as a war criminal in Af ghanistan because of his activities between 1992 and 1996. Abdullah has been a part of Hamid Karzai’s parliamentary system. Karzai has compromised with people like Abdullah and many other warlords who now have key posts in Afghanistan. Neither will bring positive changes to the lives of men and women of my country. Let me say to the people of the U.S.: an election held in the shadow of Afghan warlordism, drug-lordism, awful corruption and occupation forces has no legitimacy at all. People in my country say that the result of this election will bring back the same donkey, but with a new saddle. As the old saying goes, “It’s not important who’s voting, it’s important who’s counting.” That’s our problem.
RIGHT NOW, the Obama administration is trying to decide whether to go with a Pentagon recommendation to send tens of thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan. What would you like to say to Obama, and what do you think will happen if more troops are sent to Afghanistan?
I think that the people of the U.S. would agree with us—democracy never comes from the barrel of a gun or through war. Also, Obama is really not being honest with the Afghan people. First of all, Obama should apologize to my people and put Bush on trial in the international criminal court. Obama should stop arming the warlords, and he shouldn’t negotiate with the Taliban. We have many democrats and democratic-minded people in my country, and Obama should support them instead. If Obama were really to be honest with the Afghan people, he, together with the UN, would stop working with countries like Iran, Pakistan and Russia, who support the Taliban and these warlords. Let me give my condolences to those families here who have lost their sons in Afghanistan. I would like to send condolences on behalf of my people, but I also ask them to please raise their voice against the wrong policies of the U.S. government. The troops are the victims of the policy of their government. The U.S. is spending taxpayer money and shedding the blood of its soldiers in support of an undemocratic corrupt mafia system.
WHAT DO you think about people in the antiwar movement in this country who now say that we shouldn’t speak out for U.S. immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan? They say that the U.S. should stay longer, because if it pulls out, the situation for women will get worse. What’s your message to them?
FIRST, LET me tell you, the election was just a
MORE TROOPS will bring more conflict and more war. Obama’s foreign policy regarding Afghanistan is quite similar to that of the Bush administration. Bush is a war criminal, and now Obama wants to approach the moderate Taliban to join the government as well. There are no moderate Taliban—they are putting a soft name on these terrorists in order to bring them into power.
I THINK the people who are saying that should know that the people of Afghanistan do not want more troops in Afghanistan. First of all, it is the right of my people to say that. Secondly, we believe that no nation can bring liberation to another nation. Today’s situation, this eight-year disaster, is a good example of what war and occupation does. People also say that if the U.S. withdrew, there would be a civil war. My message to people who say that is that there already is a civil war, and as long as these troops are in Afghanistan, the worse the civil war will be. The occupation forces are even bombing wedding parties. In Nuristan, 47 people, including the groom and bride, were killed. In a bombing in May in Farah province, 150 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. In Kunduz province, 200 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. After all of these war crimes, why haven’t they apologized? We want occupation forces out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. They must end this tragedy of the so-called war on terror, which is war on innocent civilians. In the last eight years, fewer than 2,000 Taliban have been killed, and more than 8,000 civilians by U.S. forces. The occupation forces are not protecting my people or women—they are doing more harm. They say they are bringing democracy to Afghanistan. In reality they have brought warlords and drug lords to power. They have allowed my country to become the center of drugs today. Even the White House says that the Taliban have become more powerful since the 2001 war. These medieval-minded men of the Taliban
are destroying the country. Today, we have two enemies in Afghanistan —the occupation forces, and the Taliban and warlords. If one of them is gone, it makes our task easier. Then we will have only one enemy to fight.
WHAT DOES the resistance or resistances to occupation look like in Afghanistan?
THERE ARE two kinds of resistances in Afghan istan. One is of ordinary, democratic-minded people, and the other is of the Taliban. Most ordinary people hate the Taliban, and so their resistance is not the resistance of the people. Ordinary people have resisted in many provinces. They are demonstrating both against the occupation and against the Karzai government. For instance, I mentioned that in May in Farah province 150 people were killed by occupation forces, most of them women and children. In response to this, thousands of students in various provinces came out onto the streets to express their solidarity with the victims and to protest their killing. There are many such examples of students and others are resisting the occupation. This is happening in big cities—people are coming out onto the streets in Kabul and also in other provinces. So there is resistance, but it isn’t that big. Why? Because people are tired from war, and they hate the warlords and the Taliban. But today, there is more resistance than there was eight years ago. People are starting to stand up against war crimes, and with the passage of time, I think they will stand up and resist more.
CAN YOU describe some of the secular and democratic groups and forces of the resistance in Afghanistan?
reply to them that they should not apologize, because it is their government that is responsible for this, and the government should apologize to them for its war crimes. I have also come across rich Afghans—people who are enjoying their lives here in the U.S. They support the occupation and claim that the U.S. is bringing democracy and freedom to Afghanistan. They are wrong, and they don’t know what is really happening in Afghanistan. There are also some corrupt NGOs that support the occupation because they don’t want to lose their contracts and their projects. But most of the people at the meetings support the cause of my people. My main message to the democratic people of the U.S. is that you are not the same as your government. You can support the Afghan people and ask Obama to do four things. First, end the occupation immediately—this is not a war on terror, this is a war on innocent civilians. Second, Obama must apologize to my people and deliver Bush to the International Criminal Court. Third, he should stop arming the warlords, and not negotiate with Taliban. Fourth, he should tell Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries that support Taliban and the warlords to stop. My message to people in the U.S. is to put pressure on their government to support democratic-minded people in Afghanistan.
Transcription by Rebecca Anshell and Meredith Reese
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
How Afghanistan was bled dry
September 28, 2001
Phil Gasper examines the history of the country the U.S. is ready to bomb.
THERE ARE a lot of parties and democratic intellectuals who are risking their lives and struggling to challenge the corrupt warlord government. RAWA [the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan] is one such group. I met a member of RAWA, Zoya, who told me about the problems and risks they take, and how they have to be underground. There are many such groups and people, but I would not reveal their names because of a lack of security. There have been many attempts on my life, and I don’t want to risk the life of anyone else. But it is these people who are the hope for the future.
WHAT HAS been your experience here in the U.S. as your speaking tour gets underway?
THERE IS a lot of support among people who have come to the meetings. People in the U.S. haven’t been told the correct story through the media. They’re told that Iraq was the bad war, and that Afghanistan is the good war. When they hear about the suffering of my people, some people cry—some have come up and hugged me and shown their support. This isn’t my first trip to the U.S. When I was here earlier, I met a group of mothers who lost their sons in Afghanistan. They, too, hugged me and cried. Sometimes, people apologize for what their government is doing to my people. And I
E COME now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age,” Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary wrote in an article for Salon.com. “Trouble is, that’s been done…” “Make the Afghans suffer? They’re already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools to piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and healthcare? Too late. Somebody already did all that.” Unless Afghanistan’s Taliban regime turns over Osama bin Laden, the U.S. is prepared to rain death and destruction on a country that has already been devastated by more than 20 years of military occupation and civil war. Millions of Afghanis live in refugee camps. The country has more than 500,000 disabled orphans. Much of the already devastated countryside is currently experiencing a drought, leading to famine in some areas. The U.S. government’s massive military might will make things far worse. But past U.S. actions are in no small part responsible for the misery and poverty that already exists in Afghanistan. As the Economist magazine put it, “[U.S.] policies in Afghanistan a decade and more ago helped to create both Osama bin Laden and the fundamentalist Taliban regime that shelters him.” The U.S. is only the latest power to cause mayhem in the country. Modern Afghanistan emerged during the 19th century as a buffer state squeezed between the Russian and British empires. From the beginning, it was a pawn in battles between these two world powers. The country’s mountainous terrain protected it from imperial occupation, but also resulted in little economic development. Afghanistan has always been one of the poorest countries in the world. By the 1970s, less than 10 percent of the population was literate, and life expectancy was only 35 years. The central state was weak, and outside of a few cities, Afghan society remained traditional, with power divided among rival ethnic clans. This began to change in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of foreign aid from the former USSR and the U.S.—which were competing for influence during the Cold War—there was a shift of power toward the state.
regime for its repression and brutality. But this is rank hypocrisy. Washington’s warlords are only looking for an excuse for war—a war that will further devastate the lives of ordinary people in Afghanistan.
“Freedom fighters” armed and trained by the U.S.
THE AFGHAN rebels that fought the USSR’s military occupation were backed to the hilt by the U.S. government. In fact, in a 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brezinski, who was national security adviser in the Carter administration, admitted that Washington had begun funding the mujahadeen six months before the Russian invasion in order to provoke “a Soviet military intervention.” The U.S. deliberately chose to back Islamic fundamentalist organizations, rather than secular and nationalist groups, because Brezinski hoped not just to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, but to cause unrest within the USSR itself. With the support of Pakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the U.S. began recruiting and training mujahadeen fighters from the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan—as well as large numbers of mercenaries from other Islamic countries. The operation was supervised by the CIA, with Pakistani forces carrying out the work on the ground. “The trainers were mainly from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency, who learnt their craft from American Green Beret commandos and Navy SEALS in various U.S. training establishments,” according to the British military magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly. Washington leaders fell in love with their rebel army in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan—the same man who denounced the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization for not renouncing violence—described the mujahadeen as “freedom fighters.” Reagan met in Washington with rebel leaders like Abdul Haq, who openly admitted his responsibility for terrorist attacks, such as a 1984 bomb blast at Kabul’s airport that killed at least 28 people. Meanwhile, with CIA assistance, the mujahadeen greatly expanded opium production in areas under its control—turning Afghanistan into what one U.S. official later described as the new Colombia of the drug world. Between 1979 and 1989, “the CIA and Saudi intelligence together pumped in billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition,” according to the Economist. But when the USSR finally withdrew in 1989, the administration of George Bush Sr. turned its back on Afghanistan—leaving it, in the words of the Economist, “awash with weapons, warlords and extreme religious zealotry.”
In 1973, the corrupt and repressive regime of King Zaher was overthrown by his cousin, Daud, who declared a republic. But expected reforms didn’t materialize, and the emerging urban middle class grew increasingly discontented. In April 1978, as Daud tried to move against opponents to his left, he was overthrown and killed by army officers sympathetic to the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which had close ties with the USSR. But the new government had little support in the countryside, and its attempt to institute reforms from above was disastrous. Resistance began to spread across Afghanistan. It was met with severe repression as the government itself broke into hostile factions. The opposition came to be dominated by a collection of radical Islamist groups—known as the “mujahadeen,” or holy fighters—with reactionary political ideas, especially concerning women. In December 1979, hard-liners in the USSR —worried that a regime hostile to them might come to power in Afghanistan—decided to intervene. Russian troops advanced on the capital of Kabul, killed the president and replaced him with their own man. For the next decade, the USSR fought a brutal war for domination of the country. More than 1 million Afghanis died, and millions more fled their homes, becoming refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. But by 1989, with casualties mounting and its troops in a state of near-rebellion, the USSR withdrew its forces. U.S. policymakers celebrated the Russian retreat from the country—and promptly cut off aid to the rebel forces that they had armed, trained and supported.
Afghanistan collapsed into virtual anarchy. Almost a quarter of the population was in refugee camps, and most of the country was in ruins. Different factions of the mujahadeen struggled for power in the countryside, while the government of Muhammed Najibullah, the last USSR-installed president, remained in control in Kabul. Kabul finally fell in April 1992 to one faction of the mujahadeen. But the civil war continued. In 1994, a new organization, the Taliban, emerged. Its members had been trained in the religious schools set up by the Pakistani government—with U.S. support—along the border. The Taliban advocated an ultra-sectarian version of Islam. Under its rule, Afghani women have been denied education, health care and the right to work, and must cover themselves completely in public. With the aid of Pakistan’s army, the Taliban swept across an exhausted country, taking power in 1996. The U.S. government made no criticism of the regime it now demonizes as the main source of international terrorism. A State Department spokesperson told reporters that there was “nothing objectionable” about the Taliban’s coming to power. That opinion wasn’t shared by Afghani women—or the Taliban’s political opponents, who were savagely repressed. In fact, the U.S. hoped the Taliban would provide stability. Its “most important function,” one commentator wrote, “was to provide security for roads and, potentially, oil and gas pipelines that would link the states of Central Asia to the international market through Pakistan rather than through Iran.” Today, U.S. politicians denounce the Taliban
Who trained Osama bin Laden?
OSAMA BIN Laden, a civil engineer and businessman from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, was one of the first non-Afghan volunteers to join the mujahadeen. He recruited 4,000 volunteers from his own country and developed close relations with the most radical rebel lead-
ers in Afghanistan. He also worked closely with the CIA raising money from private Saudi citizens. “In 1988, with U.S. knowledge,” reports Jane’s Weekly, “Bin Laden created Al-Qaeda (The Base): a conglomerate of quasi independent Islamic terrorist cells spread across at least 26 countries... Washington turned a blind eye to Al-Quaeda, confident that it would not directly impinge on the U.S.” After the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, bin Laden and other volunteers returned to their own countries. “In their home countries, they built a formidable constituency—popularly known as ‘Afghanis’—combining strong ideological convictions with the guerrilla skills they had acquired in Pakistan and Afghanistan under CIA supervision,” writes author Dilip Hiro. Over the past 10 years, the “afghani” network has been linked to terrorist attacks not only on U.S. targets, but also in the Philippines, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, France, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and elsewhere. “This is an insane instance of the chickens coming home to roost,” one U.S. diplomat in Pakistan told the Los Angeles Times. “You can’t plug billions of dollars into an anti-Communist jihad, accept participation from all over the world and ignore the consequences. But we did.”
What the U.S. wants from this war
December 7, 2001
Eric Ruder looks at what’s behind the U.S. war against Afghanistan.
ITHER YOU accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.” That’s how one U.S. diplomat reportedly put it to Afghanistan’s Taliban government during negotiations that began just after George W. Bush took over the White House in January 2001—and continued until just weeks before September 11. Of course, it’s difficult now to find any mention of U.S. efforts to woo the Taliban. That wouldn’t fit with the Bush administration’s agenda of claiming that U.S. bombs liberated Afghans from a sworn enemy of freedom. But only a few months ago, the U.S. was trying to cut a deal with the Taliban—and it didn’t have anything to do with human rights. What’s more, according to a new book, the Bush administration blocked efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate Osama bin Laden during its bargaining with the Afghan government—prompting FBI Deputy Director John O’Neill to resign in protest in July. “The main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were
U.S. oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia,” O’Neill told French intelligence analysts Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, authors of the new book Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth. This wouldn’t be the first time that U.S. oil interests played a major role in shaping U.S. dealings with the Taliban. The U.S. began “romancing the Taliban,” as journalist Ahmed Rashid put it, even before Islamist hard-liners established full control over Afghanistan in 1996. “Between 1994 and 1997, the U.S. in fact was supporting the Taliban in the sense that it was allowing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, its two allies in the region, to back the Taliban,” Rashid said in an interview. “And this was because the U.S. and U.S. oil companies were interested in building oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia across Afghanistan, through Pakistan, to the Gulf… “[T]here was the hope at one time, by U.S. policymakers, that the Taliban would provide a kind of security force for these pipelines, because these pipelines were crossing southern Afghanistan, which is the heartland of Taliban control.” The U.S. oil giant Unocal was particularly bold in sucking up to the Taliban, even flying representatives of the regime to its corporate headquarters in Texas. The Taliban “were offered a cut of the profits from the pipelines; 15 percent was mentioned,” journalist John Pilger wrote in Britain’s New Statesman magazine. “A U.S. official observed that, with the Caspian’s oil and gas flowing, Afghanistan would become ‘like Saudi Arabia,’ an oil colony with no democracy and the legal persecution of women. ‘We can live with that,’ he said.” The U.S. attack on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998—in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa supposedly organized by Osama bin Laden—effectively ended Unocal’s plans. But U.S. designs on the region were always bigger than one pipeline. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, U.S. oil companies have schemed to gain access to the huge oil and gas reserves—worth an estimated $4 trillion at current prices—in the former Soviet republics bordering the Caspian Sea. The list of countries that want a piece of the action is predictably long—and includes Russia, China, Iran and Europe, in addition to the U.S. Given the Bush administration’s ties to the oil industry, it’s not surprising that quiet but persistent negotiations with the Taliban were near the top of its agenda when it set up shop in Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, has long understood the importance of the Caspian Sea. While still CEO of the oil services company Halliburton, Cheney said, “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.” But after months of talks, U.S. officials weren’t any closer to an agreement with the Taliban and were beginning to lose patience—and increasingly turned to the “stick” of threatened military strikes rather than the “carrot” of oil money. At a UN-sponsored meeting in Berlin in mid6
July, senior U.S. officials proclaimed that military action against Afghanistan was in the works and would likely take place by October, according to Niaz Naik, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary. The officials said the U.S. had plans to get Osama bin Laden. But the wider objective would be to topple the Taliban and install a “more moderate” regime in its place. “The Americans indicated to us that in case the Taliban does not behave and in case Pakistan also doesn’t help to influence the Taliban, then the United States would be left with no option but to take an overt action against Afghanistan,” Naik told reporters. As it turns out, the September 11 attacks provided the U.S. with a perfect excuse to carry out a strategy that it had been considering for months. Before the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, Business Week magazine declared in an editorial: “Oil is worth going to war for.” Now it turns out that the U.S. war for “democracy” and “justice” in Afghanistan is about the same thing—who will profit off the world’s most valuable commodity.
Is the U.S. fighting for women’s liberation?
December 7, 2001
Many voices—from pro-war Republicans to mainstream feminists—are applauding the U.S. war in Afghanistan for supposedly putting an end to the horrible conditions that women suffered under the Taliban government. But have Afghan women been liberated? Elizabeth Schulte explains why Washington’s rhetoric about freeing women from oppression is a cover for an unjust and barbaric war.
“The scenes of joy in the streets of Kabul evoke nothing less than the images of Paris liberated from the Nazis. Women taking to the streets to bask in the Afghan sun, free at last to show their faces. Children gathering to fly kites, a once forbidden pastime. Old people dancing to music, banned for many years. The liberation of Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban is a watershed event that could reverberate for years. The warm embrace by ordinary people of the freedom to do ordinary things is a major victory for Western humanist values. This victory of values, in the long run, may count for far more than the hunt for Osama bin Laden.” THIS IS how Business Week magazine—its front cover featuring an unveiled Afghan woman beneath the word “Liberation”— described the fall of the Taliban government last month.
They must not have asked Abdul Abdullah for his opinion. Abdul’s cousin Aziz Khan and his wife Fatma fled their home near Herat when fighting erupted between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces. On their way toward the Iranian border, Khan and his wife were stopped with 20 other families at a checkpoint set up by anti-Taliban warlords. The men were herded into the hills and shot. The women were taken away. Abdul doesn’t know Fatma’s fate. But given the appalling record of rape among Northern Alliance soldiers, he can guess. “I know they let most of the women go, but they kept the young and pretty ones,” he told a reporter. Stories like these expose the lie that Afghans have been “liberated” by the U.S. government’s brutal new allies. Western news reports regularly feature pictures of women appearing in public without a veil. “What the photos do not show is the women putting [the veils] back on again moments later,” one reporter for Britain’s Guardian wrote. “For the fact remains that the Alliance feels the same way about women as the Taliban did—they are chattel, to be tolerated but kept out of real life.” In fact, the Observer newspaper reported that the Taliban’s retreat from Kabul had unleashed a wave of so-called “honor crimes”—in which relatives kill or maim young men and women for violating the strict Islamic code governing relationships. This should be no surprise. The warlords of the Northern Alliance have a miserable record of human rights abuses, especially against women. One has only to ask Afghan women who remember when the warlords reigned before the Taliban came to power in 1996. “They’re just as bad as the Taliban, and in some ways worse,” explained Tahmeena Fayral, of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, during a recent U.S. speaking tour. “They looted museums and hospitals and schools, and sold what they found. They raped women and even children. They committed the worst crimes in Afghan history.” The U.S. government didn’t let these wellestablished facts get in the way of backing the Northern Alliance—just as it ignored the Taliban’s vicious repression of women when it was courting the regime in the mid-1990s. And any talk about the U.S. going to war for women’s liberation will come as a surprise to women in Saudi Arabia, which imposes Talibanstyle restrictions as well. HE U.S. media’s interest in what life is like for Afghan women is sudden. Under the hardline version of Islam followed by both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance warlords, women must dress in the head-to-toe shroud of the burqa, for fear of public beating or death. They aren’t allowed to leave home unaccompanied by their husbands or other male family members and are banned from school and work. And underlying this is the grinding poverty that cripples the entire population of Afghanistan. The many widows in a country brutalized by 23 years of war often resort to begging or prostitution to survive. Some 1,700 out of 100,000 Afghan women die during childbirth—the highest rate in the world. Life expectancy for women
is about 45 years. Human rights groups like Amnesty International have tried for years to get the word out about the plight of Afghan women, but the mainstream media showed no interest. Now, because of Bush’s war, the issue is splashed across the cover of Time magazine. Even Laura Bush got into the act. “Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes,” she said in her own radio address last week. “They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment…The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.” No one should forget who spoke these finesounding words. They should be seen for what they are—a cynical rationalization for a U.S. war that has already murdered thousands of civilians, many of them women. That’s why it’s infuriating to see many liberals, and even radicals, backing Bush’s campaign—in the name of liberating women. For example, the liberal group Feminist Majority has asked members to circulate a petition thanking Bush and his administration for its commitment to restoring the rights of Afghan women. “We have real momentum now in the drive to restore the rights of women,” Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal told Congress last week. Are they talking about the same administration that, immediately on taking power last January, imposed a gag order on international family planning organizations from mentioning the word “abortion”—in one stroke of the pen relegating millions of women to poverty? And a few radicals are having second thoughts. Susan George, vice president of the French-based global justice group ATTAC, said recently that, though she opposed the U.S. bombing campaign, the media pictures of women celebrating in Kabul made her question her stand. HE SHOULD remember what she knows full well about the U.S. government’s long record of promoting injustice around the globe. The U.S. military’s own wartime abuses of women are well documented. During the Vietnam War, American soldiers earned the title of “double veterans” when they raped civilian women before murdering them. Accounts of the 1968 My Lai massacre describe an orgy of gang rape—followed by soldiers mowing down at least 400 people, most of them women and children. The U.S. military’s culture of brutality against women is alive and well today, with several recent cases of U.S. soldiers stationed in Okinawa, Japan, raping local teenagers. And this isn’t to mention the rapes of women in the U.S. military by fellow soldiers. Conditions for Afghan women are far worse than for women in the U.S. But to hold up the U.S. government—especially under the Bush administration—as a champion of women’s rights is offensive. Bush has the nerve denounce Islamic “fanatics” even after he appointed anti-abortion fanatics John Ashcroft as attorney general and Tommy Thompson as head of Health and Human Serv7
ices. And when Bush needed advice about lifesaving stem cell research, he turned to antiwoman evangelist Billy Graham for guidance. No one who wants Afghan women to achieve real freedom should support the U.S. government’s war. The decades-long intervention by the U.S. and other Western powers is to blame for the grinding poverty of Afghanistan and the vicious rule of tyrants and warlords—the perfect breeding ground for the cruel oppression of women. They haven’t suddenly become interested in liberation now. We have to expose the real aims of this U.S. war for “liberation”—before they “liberate” other countries.
The war they all agree on
September 11, 2008
Sharon Smith explains how America’s two ruling parties have come together to plan the escalation of the U.S. war on Afghanistan.
the Pentagon closed IN EARLY September,allegations including its investigation into that U.S. bombs killed 92 Afghan civilians, as many as 60 children, as they slept peacefully in the village of Nawabad on the night of August 21.
Despite protests from the UN, human rights organizations and the villagers themselves, Pentagon officials insisted for weeks that only seven civilians had been killed, along with 35 Taliban fighters, during a legitimate military operation aimed at capturing Taliban commander Mullah Sadiq. Indeed, they claimed that the attack, which included bombardment with a C130 Specter gunship, was a necessary response to heavy fire emanating from a meeting of Taliban leaders in the village. In its defense, the Pentagon cited evidence from an embedded Fox News correspondent who had substantiated its claims. Unfortunately, that correspondent turned out to be former Marine Lt. Oliver North, who has been known to bend the truth in the past. North’s military career was cut short after his role was revealed in the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s. At the time, North admitted to having illegally channeled guns to Iran while funneling the profits to the CIA-backed contra mercenary force fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected Sandinista government—and then lying to Congress about it. In recent years, North has nevertheless cultivated a lucrative broadcasting career at Fox. Although North assured Fox viewers, “Coalition forces...have not been able to find any evidence that non-combatants were killed in this engagement,” video footage taken on the scene by a local doctor showed scores of dead bodies and destroyed homes, documenting a civilian
death toll at Nawabad that is the largest since the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan nearly seven years ago. Thus, the U.S. military was forced to reopen its own investigation on September 8, only days after it had exonerated itself. A red-faced official told reporters that “emerging evidence” had convinced the Pentagon to investigate the matter further. On that same day, Human Rights Watch issued a report that U.S. and NATO forces dropped 362 tons of bombs over Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year; bombings during June and July alone equaled the total during all of 2006. The rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan rattled even the normally placid New York Times, which argued, “America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war.” S NEWS of the Nawabad massacre unfolded, another atrocity was also gaining media attention, further exposing the gangster state installed and maintained by U.S. forces to run Afghanistan since 2001. President Hamid Karzai, the U.S.’s handpicked puppet, reportedly pardoned two men convicted of brutally raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan in September 2005. At the time, Mawlawi Islam, the commander of a local militia, was running for a seat in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections. “The commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home and took her to their house about 200 meters away and, in front of these witnesses, raped her,” the woman’s husband told the Independent. The couple has a doctor’s report that the rapists cut her private parts with a bayonet during the rape, and then forced her to stagger home without clothes from the waist down. Mawlawi won a seat in parliament in September 2005, as the U.S. media celebrated the elections as proof that democracy was flourishing in Afghanistan thanks to U.S. occupation. But Mawlawi was assassinated, mafia-style in January of this year. His past had caught up with him. Mawlawi had first fought as a mujahideen commander in the 1980s, but switched sides to become a Taliban governor in the 1990s. He switched sides yet again when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and re-joined the former mujahideen, which had morphed into the Northern Alliance—the group of warlords installed by the U.S. to run Afghanistan as a collection of private gangster fiefdoms. Karzai issued a press statement expressing his “deep regret” in response to Mawlawi’s death in January. Bypassing the rape charge, he expressed nothing but praise: “Mawlawi Islam Muhammadi was a prominent jihadi figure who has made great sacrifices during the years of jihad against the Soviet invasion.” Mawlawi’s three subordinates were finally convicted for the rape this year, and one died in prison. But although they were sentenced to 11 years, Karzai reportedly issued a pardon for the
other two in May, claiming the men “had been forced to confess their crimes.” The drug-running warlords who have controlled Afghanistan since 2001 have no interest in either democracy or women’s rights. Indeed, it is not uncommon for poor poppy farmers who cannot repay loans to local warlords to offer up their daughters for marriage instead. Gang rapes and violence against women are on the rise, according to human rights organizations. As a member of parliament, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, told the Independent, “The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed groups. They’re in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the British sit down with them. They have impunity. They’ve become very courageous and can do whatever crimes they like.” In this situation, Afghan warlords again produce 90 percent of the world’s opium, without legal repercussion. Women’s prisons, in contrast, are teeming once again. As Sonali Kolhatkar, author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, argued on Democracy Now! “Women are being imprisoned in greater numbers than ever before, for the crime of escaping from home or having, quote-unquote, ‘sexual relations’—’illegal sexual relations.’ Most of these women are simply victims of rape.” ESPITE THE appalling conditions that seven years of U.S. occupation have produced for ordinary Afghans, the two U.S. ruling parties came together in August to plan the escalation of that sordid war with the goal of adding 10,000 more U.S. troops in the coming year. Barack Obama chided his Republican rival during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention on August 28, using a page from Bush’s playbook: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell—but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.” Obama did not utter a word of criticism about rising civilian casualties, rampant corruption, the flourishing drug trade or women’s oppression in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan during that historic speech. On the contrary, he continued, “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and
finish the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” Ending the war in Iraq “responsibly” will allow a long-term U.S. military presence there— and the redeployment of 10,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to “finish” the job started by George W. Bush. In one fell swoop, the candidate whose slogan is “change” laid out a strategy bearing striking similarity to that of the neocons who invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This was not a surprise. Obama first expressed his willingness to bomb Iran and Pakistan in 2004, when he told the Chicago Tribune, “surgical missile strikes” on Iran may become necessary. “On the other hand,” he continued, “having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.” Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if “violent Islamic extremists” were to “take over.” Obama represents the dissenting ruling class view since 2003, which regarded the Iraq war as a “distraction” from the real war the U.S. should pursue. That war has little to do with al-Qaeda, but much more to do with Afghanistan’s strategic location in Central Asia, and its borders with Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China. The Russia-Georgia conflict this summer surely reminded U.S. rulers that they cannot afford to ignore their longstanding aim to establish U.S. military bases in this key region, a goal which long pre-dated 9-11. As the BBC News reported on September 18, 2001, “Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by mid-October.” The antiwar movement in the U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the war in Afghanistan without fading into irrelevance. The war on terror has been resuscitated, and as Obama has repeatedly emphasized in recent months, its “central front” is shifting back to Afghanistan. The Afghan people have endured seven long years of misery thanks to U.S. occupation, and it is high time to take a principled stand against U.S. imperial aims in Central Asia.
Who are the Taliban?
December 9, 2008
Journalist Anand Gopal writes from Afghanistan on conditions driving resistance to the U.S. war and occupation.
is an exact location marking the IF THEREcheckpoint that sits itonisthe main West’s failures in Afghanistan, the modest police highway 20 minutes south of Kabul. The post signals the edge of the capital, a city of spectacular tension, blast walls and standstill traffic. Beyond this point, Kabul’s gritty, lowslung buildings and narrow streets give way to a vast plain of serene farmland hemmed in by sandy mountains. In this valley in Logar province, the American-backed government of Afghanistan no longer exists.
Instead of government officials, men in muddied black turbans with assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrol the highway, checking for thieves and “spies.” The charred carcass of a tanker, meant to deliver fuel to international forces further south, sits belly up on the roadside. The police say they don’t dare enter these districts, especially at night when the guerrillas rule the roads. In some parts of the country’s south and east, these insurgents have even set up their own government, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the former Taliban government). They mete out justice in makeshift Sharia courts. They settle land disputes between villagers. They dictate the curricula in schools. Just three years ago, the central government still controlled the provinces near Kabul. But years of mismanagement, rampant criminality and mounting civilian casualties have led to a spectacular resurgence of the Taliban and other related groups. Today, the Islamic Emirate enjoys de facto control in large parts of the country’s south and east. According to ACBAR, an umbrella organization representing more than 100 aid agencies, insurgent attacks have increased by 50 percent over the past year. Foreign soldiers are now dying at a higher rate here than in Iraq. The burgeoning disaster is prompting the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and international players to speak openly of negotiations with sections of the insurgency.
The new nationalist Taliban
HO EXACTLY are the Afghan insurgents? Every suicide attack and kidnapping is usually attributed to “the Taliban.” In reality, however, the insurgency is far from monolithic. There are the shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and headbobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor, illiterate farmers and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists and bandits that fall uneasily into three or
four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners. It wasn’t always this way. When U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in November 2001, Afghans celebrated the downfall of a reviled and discredited regime. “We felt like dancing in the streets,” one Kabuli told me. As U.S.-backed forces marched into Kabul, the Afghan capital, remnants of the old Taliban regime split into three groups. The first, including many Kabul-based bureaucrats and functionaries, simply surrendered to the Americans; some even joined the Karzai government. The second, comprised of the movement’s senior leadership, including its leader Mullah Omar, fled across the border into Pakistan, where they remain to this day. The third and largest group—foot soldiers, local commanders and provincial officials—quietly melted into the landscape, returning to their farms and villages to wait and see which way the wind blew. Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], thirty, maybe fifty criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased. Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages. In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of Sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control. The insurgents conscripted fighters from the villages they operated in, often paying them $200
a month—more than double the typical police salary. They adjudicated disputes between tribes and between landowners. They protected poppy fields from the eradication attempts of the central government and foreign armies—a move that won them the support of poor farmers whose only stable income came from poppy cultivation. Areas under insurgent control were consigned to having neither reconstruction nor social services, but for rural villagers who had seen much foreign intervention and little economic progress under the Karzai government, this was hardly new. At the same time, the Taliban’s ideology began to undergo a transformation. “We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told me over the phone. “The Indians fought for their independence against the British. Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their own country.” This emerging nationalistic streak appealed to Pashtun villagers growing weary of the American and NATO presence. The insurgents are also fighting to install a version of Sharia law in the country. Nonetheless, the famously puritanical guerrillas have moderated some of their most extreme doctrines, at least in principle. Last year, for instance, Mullah Omar issued an edict declaring music and parties—banned in the Taliban’s previous incarnation—permissible. Some Taliban commanders have even started accepting the idea of girls’ education. Certain hard-line leaders like the onelegged Mullah Daddullah, a man of legendary brutality (whose beheading binges at times reportedly proved too much even for Mullah Omar) were killed by international forces. Meanwhile, a more pragmatic leadership started taking the reins. U.S. intelligence officers believe that day-to-day leadership of the movement is now actually in the hands of the politically savvy Mullah Brehadar, while Mullah Omar retains a largely figurehead position. Brehadar may be behind the push to moderate the movement’s message in order to win greater support. Even at the local level, some provincial Taliban officials are tempering older-style Taliban policies in order to win local hearts and minds. Three months ago in a district in Ghazni province, for instance, the insurgents ordered all schools closed. When tribal elders appealed to the Taliban’s ruling religious council in the area, the religious judges reversed the decision and reopened the schools. However, not all field commanders follow the injunctions against banning music and parties. In many Taliban-controlled districts such amusements are still outlawed, which points to the movement’s decentralized nature. Local commanders often set their own policies and initiate attacks without direct orders from the Taliban leadership. The result is a slippery movement that morphs from district to district. In some Taliban-controlled districts of Ghazni province, an Afghan caught working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) would meet certain death. In parts of neighboring Wardak province, however, where the insurgents are said to be more educated and understand the need for develop-
ment, local NGOs can function with the guerrillas’ permission.
The “other Taliban”
EVER SHORT of guns and guerrillas, Afghanistan has proven fertile ground for a whole host of insurgent groups in addition to the Taliban. Naqibullah, a university student with a sparse beard who spoke in soft, measured tones, was not quite 30 when we met. We were in the backseat of a parked dusty Corolla on a pockmarked road near Kabul University, where he studied medicine. Naqibullah (his nom de guerre) and his friends at the university are members of Hizb-iIslami, an insurgent group led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and allied to the Taliban. His circle of friends meet regularly in the university’s dorm rooms, discussing politics and watching DVD videos of recent attacks. Over the past year, his circle has shrunk: Sadiq was arrested while attempting a suicide bombing. Wasim was killed when he tried to assemble a bomb at home. Fouad killed himself in a successful suicide attack on a U.S. base. “The Americans have their B-52s,” Naqibullah explained. “Suicide attacks are our versions of B52s.” Like his friends, Naqibullah, too, had considered the possibility of becoming a “B52.” “But it would kill too many civilians,” he told me. Besides, he had plans to use his education. He said, “I want to teach the uneducated Taliban.” For years Hizb-i-Islami fighters have had a reputation for being more educated and worldly than their Taliban counterparts, who are often illiterate farmers. Their leader, Hekmatyar, studied engineering at Kabul University in the 1970s, where he made a name of a sort for himself by hurling acid in the faces of unveiled women. He established Hizb-i-Islami to counter growing Soviet influence in the country and, in the 1980s, his organization became one of the most extreme fundamentalist parties as well as the leading group fighting the Soviet occupation. Ruthless, powerful and anti-Communist, Hekmatyar proved a capable ally for Washington, which funneled millions of dollars and tons of weapons through the Pakistani ISI to his forces. After the Soviet withdrawal, Hekmatyar and the other mujahideen commanders turned their guns on each other, unleashing a devastating civil war from which Kabul, in particular, has yet to recover. One-legged Afghans, crippled by Hekmatyar’s rockets, still roam the city’s streets. However, he was unable to capture the capital and his Pakistani backers eventually abandoned him for a new, even more extreme Islamist force rising in the south: the Taliban. Most Hizb-i-Islami commanders defected to the Taliban and Hekmatyar fled in disgrace to Iran, losing much of his support in the process. He remained in such low standing that he was among the few warlords not offered a place in the U.S.-backed government that formed after 2001. This, after a fashion, was his good luck. When that government faltered, he found himself thrust back into the role of insurgent leader, where, playing on local frustrations in Pashtun
communities just as the Taliban has, he slowly resurrected Hizb-i-Islami. Today, the group is one of the fastest-growing insurgent outfits in the country, according to Antonio Giustozzi, Afghan insurgency expert at the London School of Economics. Hizb-i-Islami maintains a strong presence in the provinces near Kabul and Pashtun pockets in the country’s north and northeast. It assisted in a complex assassination attempt on President Karzai last spring and was behind a high-profile ambush that killed ten NATO soldiers this summer. Its guerrillas fight under the Taliban banner, although independently and with a separate command structure. Like the Taliban, its leaders see their task as restoring Afghan sovereignty as well as establishing an Islamic state in Afghanistan. Naqibullah explained, “The U.S. installed a puppet regime here. It was an affront to Islam, an injustice that all Afghans should rise up against.” The independent Islamic state that Hizb-i-Islami is fighting for would undoubtedly have Hekmatyar, not Mullah Omar, in command. But as during the anti-Soviet jihad, the settling of scores is largely being left to the future.
The Pakistani nexus
LOWBACK ABOUNDS in Afghanistan. Erstwhile CIA hand Jalaluddin Haqqani heads yet a third insurgent network, this one based in Afghanistan’s eastern border regions. During the anti-Soviet war, the U.S. gave Haqqani, now considered by many to be Washington’s most redoubtable foe, millions of dollars, anti-aircraft missiles and even tanks. Officials in Washington were so enamored with him that former congressman Charlie Wilson once called him “goodness personified.” H a q q a n i wa s a n e a r l y a d vo c a t e o f t h e “Afghan Arabs,” who, in the 1980s, flocked to Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union. He ran training camps for them and later developed close ties to al-Qaeda, which developed out of Afghan-Arab networks towards the end of the anti-Soviet war. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. tried desperately to bring him over to its side. However, Haqqani claimed that he couldn’t countenance a foreign presence on Afghan soil and once again took up arms, aided by his longtime benefactors in Pakistan’s ISI. He is said to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan, a tactic unheard of there before 2001. Western intelligence officials pin the blame for most of the spectacular attacks in recent memory—a massive car bomb that ripped apart the Indian embassy in July, for example— on the Haqqani network, not the Taliban. The Haqqanis command the lion’s share of foreign fighters operating in the country and tend to be even more extreme than their Taliban counterparts. Unlike most of the Taliban and Hizb-iIslami, elements of the Haqqani network work closely with al-Qaeda. The network’s leadership is most likely based in Waziristan, in the Pakistani tribal areas, where it enjoys ISI protection. Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent
years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders. As Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants trickled into Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Islamabad signed on to the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror. It was a profitable venture: Washington delivered billions of dollars in aid and advanced weaponry to Pakistan’s military government, all the while looking the other way as dictator Pervez Musharraf increased his vise-like grip on the country. In return, Islamabad targeted al-Qaeda militants, every few months parading a captured “highranking” leader before the news cameras, while leaving the Taliban leadership on its territory untouched. While the Pakistani military establishment never completely eradicated al-Qaeda—doing so might have stanched the flow of aid—it kept up just enough pressure so that the Arab militants declared war on the government. By 2004, the Pakistani army had entered the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a semi-autonomous region populated by Pashtun tribes (where alQaeda fighters had taken refuge), in force for the first time in an attempt to root out the foreign militants. Over the next few years, repeated Pakistani army incursions, along with a growing number of U.S. missile strikes (which sometimes killed civilians), enraged the local tribal populations. Small, tribal-based groups calling themselves “the Taliban” began to emerge; by 2007, there were at least 27 such groups active in the Pakistani borderlands. The guerrillas soon won control of areas in such tribal districts as North and South Waziristan, and began to act like a version of the 1990s Taliban redux: They banned music, beat liquor store owners and prevented girls from attending school. While remaining independent of the Afghan Taliban, they also wholeheartedly supported them. By the end of 2007, the various Pakistani Taliban groups had merged into a single outfit, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, under the command of an enigmatic 30-something guerrilla—Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistani authorities blame Mehsud’s group, usually referred to simply as the “Pakistani Taliban,” for a string of major attacks, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud and his allies have strong links to alQaeda and continue to wage an on-again, offagain war against the Pakistani military. At the same time, some members of the Pakistani Taliban have filtered across the border to join their Afghan counterparts in the fight against the Americans. Tehrik-i-Taliban proved surprisingly powerful, regularly routing Pakistani army units whose foot soldiers were loathe to fight their fellow countrymen. But almost as soon as Tehrik had emerged, fissures appeared. Not all Pakistani Taliban commanders were convinced of the efficacy of fighting a two-front war. Part of the movement, calling itself the “Local Taliban,” adopted a different strategy, avoiding battles with the Pakistani military. In addition, a significant number of other Pakistani militant groups—including many trained by the ISI to fight in Indian Kashmir—now operate in the Pakistani borderlands,
where they abstain from fighting the Pakistan government and focus their fire on the Americans in, or American suppy lines into, Afghanistan. The result of all this is a twisted skein of alliances and ceasefires in which Pakistan is fighting a war against al-Qaeda and one section of the Pakistani Taliban, while leaving another section, as well as other independent militant groups, free to go about their business. That business includes crossing the border into Afghanistan, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and independent fighters from the tribal regions and elsewhere add to the mix that has produced what one Western intelligence official terms a “rainbow coalition” arrayed against U.S. troops.
Abdullah Wali told me. Wali lives in a district of Ghazni Province where the insurgents have outlawed music and dance at such wedding parties. It’s an austere life, but that doesn’t stop Wali from wanting them back in power. Bland weddings, it seems, are better than no weddings at all.
First published at TomDispatch.com.
Living in a world of war
ESPITE SUCH foreign connections, the Afghan rebellion remains mostly a homegrown affair. Foreign fighters—especially alQaeda—have little ideological influence on most of the insurgency, and most Afghans keep their distance from such outsiders. “Sometimes groups of foreigners speaking different languages walk past,” Ghazni resident Fazel Wali recalls. “We never talk to them and they don’t talk to us.” Al-Qaeda’s vision of global jihad doesn’t resonate in the rugged highlands and windswept deserts of southern Afghanistan. Instead, the major concern throughout much of the country is intensely local: personal safety. In a world of endless war, with a predatory government, roving bandits, and Hellfire missiles, support goes to those who can bring security. In recent months, one of the most dangerous activities in Afghanistan has also been one of its most celebratory: the large, festive wedding parties that Afghans love so much. U.S. forces bombed such a party in July, killing 47. Then, in November, warplanes hit another wedding party, killing around 40. A couple of weeks later they hit an engagement party, killing three. “We are starting to think that we shouldn’t go out in large numbers or have public weddings,”
The warlords’ president
November 4, 2009
Eric Ruder analyzes the latest developments that handed a re-election victory to Hamid Karzai—in the context of the debate in the U.S. political establishment over how to escalate its war and occupation.
FGHANISTAN’S ELECTION farce came to an appropriately laughable end in early November when incumbent President Hamid Karzai was declared the winner, after his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from a runoff vote scheduled for November 7. Karzai tried to steal the first election on August 20 through massive vote fraud, but the theft was so brazen—more than 1 million votes cast for him in the first round were disqualified—that he was pressured by international observers into admitting he hadn’t won the necessary majority. The runoff was scheduled for early November, but a week before, Abdullah pulled out. Karzai initially appeared to oppose cancellation of the runoff in the hopes that a victory, even in an election without an opponent, would help him restore a semblance of legitimacy to his U.S.-backed reign.
But U.S. officials quickly expressed satisfaction with the result, apparently in the hopes of avoiding another round of fraud and the difficulties associated with providing security for voters and election observers in Afghanistan’s far-flung provinces. Karzai relented and accepted victory. In a teary speech, Abdullah described his decision to withdraw as a personal decision based on his concerns about fraud. But the emotional veneer concealed a cold political calculation. Abdullah had called for the replacement of Karzai’s handpicked chair of the Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Ludin, plus other voting reforms that Karzai flatly refused to implement. But Abdullah no doubt figured that withdrawing would be a better way to preserve his chance at a future bid for power than losing. Thus, Abdullah—who served as minister of foreign affairs after the U.S. established an “interim” Afghan government in December 2001 and continued in that post after Karzai’s first election in 2004—didn’t call on his supporters to boycott the election, nor did he call for protests. Abdullah has also said he won’t join Karzai’s government, but in a political system marked by frequently shifting allegiances among warlords, drug traffickers and various ethnic and religious leaders, enemies are rarely irreconcilable forever. Case in point: The various warlords that make up the Northern Alliance served as a parliamentary opposition to Karzai until they made their peace with him—and helped him turn out votes, both real and fake—on August 20. Perhaps Abdullah will try to fill the opposition vacuum they left behind. Or he may have cut some other deal with Karzai or the U.S., despite his insistence that he accepted nothing in return for his decision not to contest the election. EWS OF the latest twist in the presidential election came as the U.S. war in Afghanistan intensified, with October bringing the highest monthly death toll yet for U.S. soldiers—the result of roadside bombs and two helicopter crashes that claimed the lives of 22 U.S. personnel in the closing days of the month. The increased fighting between U.S. and NATO forces and insurgent rebels has not only produced a spike in the number of troops killed in action, but led to a sharp increase in the number of injured troops. “More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001,” according to the Washington Post. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are now the weapon of choice for Taliban fighters, and some are so powerful that they can destroy the state-of-the-art mine-resistant vehicles that the Pentagon had deployed to protect troops. “Walter Reed [Army Medical Center’s] Ward 57 provides wrenching proof of the devastating effectiveness of the bombs, with patients suffering amputations, spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries and fractures,” the Post reported. With President Barack Obama weighing a request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top Pentagon officer in charge of Afghanistan, for an additional 40,000 to 80,000 U.S. troops in addi-
tion to the 68,000 already in Afghanistan, the number of casualties will inevitably rise further. Meanwhile, the U.S.-NATO war is continuing to inflict a devastating toll on Afghans that is only rarely the subject of mainstream media attention. David Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer and now a consultant to the U.S. and other NATO countries on counter-insurgency tactics pointed out that in recent air attacks, the U.S. has killed 98 civilians for every two “insurgents” killed. As antiwar author Richard Seymour wrote on his blog: If that ratio holds for the air war as a rule, then consider that the U.S. is currently boasting of having killed up to 25,000 insurgents. Twenty-five thousand is 2 percent of 1.25 million. Lacking a Lancet-style cluster survey, one can only make an educated guess as to whether such a figure is approximately realistic. There was one cluster survey carried out for the first nine months of the invasion and occupation, which estimated that 10,000 civilians had been killed, the majority from air attacks. A similar survey today would be reporting the effects of a far more intense aerial campaign, in a war lasting for eight years now. Who can say that the soaring use of cluster bombs, daisy cutters, “smart” missiles aimed at wedding parties, dronebased ordnance and the usual deposits of unexploded ordnance will have harvested a negligible number of bodies? HE GROWING casualties from its war— along with the tarnished credibility of the Karzai government—has put the U.S. government in a difficult position. It pinned its hopes for a stable, U.S.-friendly Afghanistan on Karzai’s ability to construct a viable central government that can command an army. But Karzai’s reliance on the country’s hated warlords to cement his rule makes a legitimate central government a long shot at best. And if the situation weren’t already bad enough, the New York Times revealed in late October that Karzai’s brother—Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is known for profiting immensely from the opium trade and running a large area of southern Afghanistan around Kandahar with an iron fist— has been on the CIA payroll for most of the last eight years. Not only does Karzai’s brother provide intelligence to the U.S., but he is helping the CIA run the Kandahar Strike Force, a paramilitary force. He also rents a large compound outside Kandahar—the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder—to U.S. Special Forces. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said. Karzai’s CIA ties help him avoid the raids and arrests that other Afghan drug lords face, and his control over the lucrative drug trade has almost certainly increased as a result. The revelations come at a horrible time for U.S. forces hoping to portray themselves as the protectors of civilians in Afghanistan. “If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in
Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Major Gen. Michael Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan. The Obama administration insists the U.S. is fighting a “war of necessity” in Afghanistan. It has all kinds of rationales—keeping Americans safe, protecting Afghan civilians, liberating Afghan women, crushing the Taliban insurgency, keeping al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base of operations. But the collaboration between U.S. military and intelligence forces and the warlords, drug dealers and paramilitaries expose these justifications as a pretext for the real reason the U.S. won’t bring its troops home from a country that has rejected their presence. The U.S. wanted war in Afghanistan because it saw the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to pursue its imperial ambitions in Central Asia. Washington’s aim was never, first and foremost, to defeat the Taliban. In fact, the U.S. viewed the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan prior to September 11—with its focus on law and order and eradicating the drug trade—as a boon to regional stability. If the U.S. had really wanted to capture alQaeda operatives responsible for September 11, why did U.S. officials reject, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Mullah Omar’s overtures to hand over Osama bin Laden in exchange for the U.S. calling off its invasion? The answer: The prospect of establishing a military occupation in a region rich with oil and natural gas ranked higher for those who call the shots in U.S. foreign policy than capturing alQaeda leaders. Now that the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars in futile efforts to occupy both Iraq and Afghanistan, these decisions appear foolish. But in the early 2000s, the neoconservative vision of remaking the Middle East according to U.S. wishes commanded overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. And today, the Obama administration continues to work from the Bush playbook on Afghanistan. It’s time to end the tragic waste of lives and money in Afghanistan and bring the troops home now.
THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE WAR
SPEECH BY AHMED SHAWKI
Can the U.S. bring justice?
October 12, 2001
Ahmed Shawki, editor of the International Socialist Review, spoke at an evening plenary session of the People’s Summit in Washington, D.C., in late September. These are excerpts from his speech.
HE TRAGEDY of September 11 is being used by the government of this country not to honor those who died, not to search for justice, but to advance its agenda. Some of this agenda has been in the works for years, but couldn’t be advanced. But they intend to try to use this crisis to push it as quickly as possible. The attacks are coming fast and furious: militarism and a drive to war; a slew of attacks on minorities—Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, people of color. I’m wearing a button today that I wouldn’t have thought I’d have to wear, which says simply, “No scapegoats! Being Arab is not a crime.” But it is the case that, instead of flying to D.C., I drove. It is the case that hundreds of Arabs, Muslims and others have been visited by law enforcement agencies to ask if they have a connection—what are their politics, what are their views. It is the case that this government is moving forward with legislation to expand police powers. They’re talking about surveillance mechanisms and about rolling back a whole number of rights that it took years and years to win. And it isn’t simply happening here in the United States. People will remember last summer’s events in Genoa, Italy, where a 23-yearold global justice demonstrator named Carlo Giuliani was shot twice in the head and killed during protests of the Group of Eight summit. The government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came under some pressure and criticism after the bloody police raid on the headquarters of the organizers of the demonstrations, the Genoa Social Forum. It may have gone unnoticed, but the investigation into the crimes of the Genoa police and the state security forces is over. There was a whitewash rushed through the Italian parliament of the police forces, leaving Berlusconi off the hook. So here is what Silvio Berlusconi now feels like he can say to reporters: “We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which counts on value systems that have given people widespread prosperity and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect does not
exist in the Islamic countries.” And he goes on to discuss the need—and he puts it very bluntly—for the West and Christian civilization to recolonize those parts of the world that are now out of their reach. HAT’S THE kind of politics that are being floated today. And it’s the kind of politics that domestically finds its reflection in George W. Bush’s demands for Star Wars and new security laws. Plus the Republicans who want to give money to the rich to fight terrorism. Their proposal is for a capital gains tax cut and a new tax structure to benefit the rich. Why? To fight terrorism, of course. How? Well, it’s not exactly clear. But when it comes to the question of compensation for workers whose family members or colleagues died in the World Trade Center, not a penny is to be found in the U.S. Treasury. As House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas said: “The model of thought that says we need to go out and extend unemployment benefits and health insurance benefits and so forth is not one which is commensurate with the American spirit.” A tragedy took place in America on September 11. But there isn’t one America. There isn’t one America that we stand all united in. This country, from its very inception, was a country that privileged some and excluded many. It’s a country that was built by the labor of many to the benefit of the few. And it’s a country in which war has always been used, no matter how noble the supposed cause, in order to advance the interests of those who run this country. Don’t believe me. Believe U.S. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, who wrote still the best indictment of imperialism that I’ve ever read by a member of the Marine Corps: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the marine Corps…And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism… “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in…I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China, I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” Now people will say that Butler was talking about the 1910s. But I say that we already know what this war will be about. We had a glimpse of it in 1991 Gulf War. That was supposedly a war to preserve “democracy” in a feudal monarchy. That war produced the term “collateral damage”—the Pentagon’s phrase meaning the death of innocents. At the turn of the 20th century, four-fifths of all deaths in wars took place on the battlefields. By the turn of the new millennium, that propor-
tion was reversed—four-fifths of those who die in wars are civilians. CALL to war today will not bring us a step closer to justice. But it will bring danger and instability to the world that will cause further violence. Now some people say, “What about justice?” The brother who spoke just said that we want justice, and we want peace. But I think he rightly also said that we have to be very wary who is asking for justice, on whose terms and in what way. There’ve been some proposals, for instance, to have a tribunal to try those responsible for the attacks in the U.S., presided over by the United Nations. Yet this country has refused to abide by the UN resolutions that have asked for the condemnation of the state of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The U.S. cares about the UN only when it serves its purposes. We should not be asked to respect two different sets of laws. The abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass put it well in a speech on the Fourth of July. He said that you ask me to speak here on the Fourth of July, and you speak of freedom and dignity in a country that enforces slavery—this is the height of hypocrisy. And I condemn not the people of this country but those who would try to use the language of justice to advance their own narrow interests. It wasn’t so long ago, on March 21, 1983, that Ronald Reagan declared Afghanistan Day in honor of the “freedom fighters” who were fighting in Afghanistan, armed and trained by the CIA. That’s one group of people in this country that knows all about Osama bin Laden. In fact, the president’s father would know something about that, too—about how it all started. We will not allow them to take the language of justice away from our movement. We don’t have to explain why we’re against war, why we’re for civil liberties and against racism—versus those who are on the other side. In the 1960s, the United States meant two things to the world. On the one hand, it represented napalm, it represented war, and it represented the barbarism of the war it was conducting in Vietnam. But it also represented something else to hundreds of thousands of people. I know my first thoughts at the time in Egypt were not about the Vietnam War—but were about the pride I felt when the Black Panther Party stood up and said we should have rights here. There are two Americas. There’s an America of the rich and powerful. And there’s the one that represents us. And there are also those who would bring war to this country, and there are those who are adamantly opposed to that war.
The antiwar movement retreats
October 20, 2009
Many in the antiwar movement ardently opposed the war in Iraq, says Sharon Smith— while remaining silent about an equally immoral war in Afghanistan.
IGHT YEARS into the war on Afghanistan— and with no end in sight—seems a peculiar time for antiwar activists to claim that U.S. forces need to stay there even longer for the sake of the Afghan people. Yet Yifat Susskind, communications director for the human rights organization MADRE, recently argued on CommonDreams.org, “‘Bring the Troops Home’ is a bumper sticker, not a policy.” She continued, “For MADRE, U.S. obligations stem from the fact that Afghanistan’s poverty, violence against women and political corruption are, in part, results of U.S. policy over the past 30 years.” Code Pink cofounders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans began arguing for a “responsible withdrawal” after their recent visit to Af ghanistan, which focused on discovering Afghan women’s attitudes toward the U.S. occupation. While there, they met with a handpicked group of politically connected Afghan women that included President Hamid Karzai’s sister-in-law, Wazhma Karzai. According to Code Pink, many of these members of parliament and businesswomen opposed sending an additional 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but also said they rely on U.S. troops for their own personal safety. On October 6, the Christian Science Monitor published an interview with Benjamin and reported on her change of heart, based on conversations with some of the women she met in Kabul. For example, CSM reported, “Shinkai Karokhail, an Afghan member of parliament and woman activist, told them. ‘International troop presence here is a guarantee for my safety.’” Benjamin claimed she was misrepresented in the Christian Science Monitor. Yet Benjamin herself said in a recent interview: [W]e certainly did hear some people say that they felt if the U.S. pulled out right now, there would be a collapse, and the Taliban might take over, there might be a civil war. But we also heard a lot of people say they didn’t want more troops to be sent in, and they wanted the U.S. to have a responsible exit strategy that included the training of Afghan troops, included being part of promoting a real reconciliation process and included economic development; that the United States shouldn’t be allowed to just walk away from the problem. So that’s really our position.
This reasoning assumes, of course, that the U.S. is capable of behaving responsibly toward the Afghan people. It is not. The Obama administration feigned disappointment at the rampant corruption of the Karzai regime, now that the UN Election Complaints Commission has reported that widespread stuffing of ballot boxes and coercion by warlords helped Karzai “win” re-election by a margin of 54 percent this past summer. As many as one in every three votes was fraudulent, and most of them went to Karzai. But the Obama administration hasn’t yet lost faith in Karzai. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reportedly told Karzai over the weekend “that this is an important moment where he can show statesmanship and actually strengthen his leadership position,” according to administration officials. To add to the embarrassment, Karzai was resisting the UN commission’s findings. Despite a flurry of phone calls and visits, including one from Sen. John Kerry and another from former U.S. State Department envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Karzai remains defiant. He indicated that he will only accept a decision from Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), a body dominated by his political allies, which was also accused of involvement in the massive election fraud this past summer. HROUGH BLACKMAIL, bribery and brute military force, the U.S. has determined the political landscape of post-Taliban Afghanistan. U.S. conquerors installed Karzai as Afghanistan’s transitional head of state in December 2001. But Karzai was never meant to build a genuine democracy in Afghanistan. Nor was he expected to champion the rights of women. On the contrary, he was chosen not for his ethical credentials, but rather for his close ties to the band of warlords with which the U.S. partnered to quickly overthrow the Taliban in November 2001. Renamed the “Northern Alliance” for the purpose of casting these warlords as freedom fighters, in reality, they were veterans of the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, an unstable coalition that ruled Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996, when the Taliban overthrew it. Together, they constituted seven separate Mujahideen political parties, each representing the fiefdom of a corrupt warlord. Their president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, suspended the constitution and issued a series of religious edicts banishing women from broadcasting and government jobs, and requiring women to wear veils. More severe repression soon followed. Karzai served as deputy foreign minister in Rabbani’s government, while the feuding Mujahideen parties unleashed a rein of terror against Afghanistan’s already war-torn population. Women were routinely abducted, beaten and raped, or sold into prostitution. According to human rights expert Patricia Gossman, “Between 1992 and 1995, fighting among the factions of the alliance reduced a third of Kabul to rubble and killed more than 50,000 civilians. The top commanders ordered massacres of rival ethnic groups, and their troops engaged in mass rape.”
In June 2002, in what the U.S. media depicted as a “flowering of democracy,” a loya jirga, or tribal council, elected Karzai as Afghanistan’s interim president. But most of the decisions were made behind the scenes, where then-U.S. envoy Khalilzad—a former Unocal oil executive— worked hand in glove with Karzai and the Northern Alliance to manipulate the votes. During the loya jirga, Karzai announced his own election as president before the vote had actually taken place, to the dismay of many delegates. In the run-up to the 2002 loya jirga, eight delegates were murdered amid a general rise in political violence and intimidation by warlords guarding their own fiefdoms. Meanwhile, Karzai used a rumored plot to overthrow his government as an excuse to round up 700 of his political opponents in the weeks before the voting. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has long been flagged as a drug trafficker in Southern Afghanistan, but the allegations have never been investigated. He continues to head the Kandahar Provincial Council, the governing body for the region. He also has played a role in passing information to international intelligence agencies. According to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, writing in the Washington Post, while aware of information implicating Karzai in the drug trade, “U.S. and Canadian diplomats have not pressed the matter, in part because Ahmed Wali Karzai has given valuable intelligence to the U.S. military, and he also routinely provides assistance to Canadian forces, according to several officials familiar with the issue.” Under President Karzai’s watch, Afghanistan has returned to providing roughly 95 percent of the world’s heroin supplies, while the U.S. military looks the other way. As Jeff Stein recently reported at the Huffington Post, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan explained, “We certainly need the president to be with us. That would be hard if we’re hauling off his brother to a detention center.” HE U.S. left has failed to effectively oppose the war in Afghanistan from its onset, when the U.S. population overwhelmingly supported the war on the pretext that “we were attacked.” That support has severely eroded, and polls show that a clear majority now wants to end the occupation. Yet many on the left have remained confused for the last eight years—ardently opposing the war in Iraq while remaining silent about the equally immoral war in Afghanistan. This confusion has apparently been compounded by the election of Barack Obama, who initially opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding, however, he has since embraced the aims of U.S. imperialism with gusto. U.S. troops and, perhaps more importantly, U.S. military bases remain in Iraq with no deadline for complete withdrawal. Obama authorized a surge of 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan soon after taking office and is now pondering whether to send at least 40,000 more. These are no longer George W. Bush’s wars. Obama has claimed them for himself. So far, the only consequence of the surge has been the resurgence of the Taliban re14
sistance against U.S. occupation. Even his pledge to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay remains unfulfilled. Yet Obama maintains a substantial following on the U.S. left, sowing yet more confusion among antiwar activists. For example, in response to Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, Juan Lopez wrote in the People’s World on October 12, “Now, don’t get me wrong... Like other left and progressive folks, I advocate ending the Afghanistan military venture.” Yet he went on to praise the award: “Most of the nation and world embraced the choice as affirmation that, with President Obama at the helm, America has embarked on a new, far more constructive course.” Likewise, Code Pink’s Evans argued on womensmediacenter.com, “I left the States with a judgment about some of the women who were members of the parliament: So many are sisters and wives of warlords or tribal leaders chosen merely to fill the required quota of women. But member of parliament Shinkai Karokhal, a radical feminist from Kabul, reminded me that just their existence, that they constitute 25 percent of the body, is inspiring to women throughout the country.” Afghan women surely deserve better than parliamentary representation by the wives of warlords enforcing the lawless and repressive status quo. Those seeking alternative opinions among Afghan women can easily discover that there is no shortage of those with the courage to expose the rule of warlords and call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops. Malalai Joya is a case in point. As a young woman, she denounced the participation of drug traffickers and warlords at the 2002 loya jirga. Soon after she was elected to parliament in 2005, she was suspended for her outspokenness. She now escapes violent retribution by wearing a burqa as a disguise. As she wrote in the Guardian on July 25: You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s. For expressing my views, I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the “democracy” backed by NATO troops. Likewise, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has maintained its anti-occupation principles since the war began, risking their lives to organize an underground movement in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In a recent post to the U.S. antiwar movement, RAWA stated: The U.S. and allies occupied Afghanistan in the name of “democracy,” “women’s rights” and “war on terror,” but after eight long years, everyone knows that the situation is as critical in Afghanistan as it was under the brutal regime of the Taliban.
While they talk about democracy and women’s rights, on the other end, they are supporting and nourishing the diehard enemies of these values, and impose them on our people. Washington’s warmongers have been getting away with mass murder in Afghanistan for far too long. Obama is now at the helm of this disastrous imperial adventure. “Troops out now” is the only viable exit strategy, yet it can also easily fit onto a bumper sticker. Those who argue for prolonging the U.S. occupation until the U.S. transforms its mission into a benevolent one are likely to be kept waiting forever.
Challenging the myths of the “good war”
December 4, 2008
Eric Ruder talks to veterans of the war on Afghanistan about why they want the U.S. to end its occupation.
ORPORAL BRYAN Casler served with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines Fox Company as an infantryman from 2002 to 2006. In those four years, he was sent to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. He came back profoundly changed by his experiences, joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and dedicated himself to building the antiwar movement. But since his return and throughout his organizing activities, he says that he’s rarely been asked about his time in Afghanistan. “Afghanistan was a high-stress environment,” explains Casler. “We worked 100-plus hours a week with a skeleton crew. “Most of us had already deployed to Iraq, and one of the striking things is that our training for Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t any different. We treated the situation exactly like it was Iraq. If it was really a different war with different things happening there, they would have trained us differently, but they didn’t.” When President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, he has pledged to withdraw a battalion a month from Iraq—and begin a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He has called for a renewed focus on a military victory in Af ghanistan, as well as capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. But to antiwar U.S. soldiers, Afghan civilians and even a growing portion of the Afghan elite, the consequences of a sharp increase in foreign troops in Afghanistan are predictable and dire— more civilian deaths, more soldiers in harm’s way, and more damage to what little remains of Afghan society. As Casler puts it, “It’s time for us to start talking about Afghanistan.”
HE OCCUPATION of Afghanistan is entering its eighth year, and yet the situation for the U.S. is getting worse, not better. American casualties are rising. The Taliban is resurgent and newly confident about challenging both U.S. troops and government forces under the command of U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At the same time, segments of the Afghan population that once expressed gratitude toward the U.S. for removing the Taliban from power and took a wait-and-see attitude toward the ongoing U.S. presence are growing increasingly angry. The reasons are many. First and foremost, the U.S. has increasingly relied on air strikes to suppress the growing influence of the Taliban—to a jaw-dropping extent. U.S. fighters flew only 86 bombing raids in all of 2004; in 2007, the number of air strikes grew to nearly 3,000. The bombing continued to rise in 2008, with 600,000 pounds of bombs dropped on Afghanistan in June and July alone, almost equal to the amount dropped in all of 2006. While the Taliban has carefully avoided causing harm to civilians in areas under its control and thus succeeded in winning some new bases of support, the U.S. has used its air superiority with a recklessness that undermined what little reserve of good will remained among the Afghan population. In early November, U.S. air strikes killed 65 civilians in a wedding party—a horrific toll but not unprecedented, as such parties, with their large concentrations of people, have been targets of air strikes in the past. “The Americans are hitting civilian houses all the time,” exclaimed Mohammad Tawakil Khan, a provincial council member in Baghdis, whose two sons and a grandson were killed along with four others in a U.S. air strike the same week as the wedding party massacre. “They don’t care, they just say it was a mis15
take...Afghan officials are only offering their condolences. After some 100 times that they have killed civilians, we have to take revenge, and afterward say our condolences to them.” Beyond the carnage caused by bombs dropped by their supposed liberators, Afghans also seethe at the U.S. partnership with the warlords, militias and gangsters who make up the Northern Alliance. Noting that Obama recently told a reporter that he felt no reason to apologize to the Afghan people, Eman, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), expressed disbelief, bitterness and anger. “Didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the occupation of our country under the banner of democracy, the so-called ‘war on terror,’ and women’s rights, but then compromise with terrorists like the Northern Alliance, who cannot be distinguished from the Taliban in the history of their criminal acts?” Eman said on KPFK’s Uprising Radio, hosted by U.S.-based Afghan rights activist Sonali Kolhatkar. “In fact, these murderers were the first to destroy our nation. And even after seven years of a very long and very costly ‘war on terror,’ terrorism has not been uprooted in Afghanistan, but has become stronger, and the Taliban are becoming more powerful. From his statements during his election campaign, we don’t think that Obama’s position is different from the Bush administration; it is the continuation of Bush’s foreign policy... “RAWA strongly believes that whatever happens, a withdrawal of foreign troops should be the first step, because today, with the presence of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, with the presence of many foreign countries in our nation, for the majority of our people, particularly poor people in the other provinces of Afghanistan outside Kabul, the situation is so bad that it cannot get any worse.”
ED GOODNIGHT served in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 with the North Carolina Army National Guard and was stationed primarily at the Bagram Air Base, and for a time at a forward operating base near the Pakistani border. Like Casler, his time overseas—combined with his horror at deploying to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina fully armed to repress the people he thought he was supposed to be helping—persuaded him to end 15 years of service with the National Guard after he returned, and to join IVAW. What he saw and heard in Afghanistan shocked him. “Despite all the planning and flawless execution of all the elements of a combined arms task force, based on supposedly actionable intelligence, we continually came up short—no one captured of any value,” says Goodnight. “I thought there’s something wrong with this picture, so I asked my company commander why we kept coming up short. Was it an intelligence failure? Or something else? And the response that I got was that these were simply shows of force, that in reality there were no legitimate targets. “I also remember the various snatch-andgrabs of Afghans that the military carried out. They would come off the helicopters with their handcuffs and leg shackles and hoods over their heads, and were led into this compound, where they were never seen or heard from by us again. “I remember being in the dining facility and overhearing conversations between military police personnel who were in charge of interrogations, and they were bragging among themselves about their brutality—who could be more intimidating and more demeaning to the detainees. “This was about dehumanization. They weren’t people. They were acronyms, PUCs, ‘persons under control.’ So we were not only harassing the population through giant shows of military force, but also through thuggish intimidation, kidnapping and abuse of detainees. We were there simply as an occupying force.” Goodnight says that the U.S. totally failed to deliver on any of its promises to provide humanitarian relief. “We haven’t provided any significant assistance to the farmers who make up the majority of the labor force in Afghanistan,” he said. “We haven’t put forth any real effort to provide alternative crops, so the only option has been to turn to opium production, which the Taliban had largely eliminated before the U.S. came in and kicked them out. “The humanitarian efforts that we have undertaken have been primarily carried out by contractors who perform shoddy work with foreign workers. The majority of the population needs that income and those jobs, so how are we supposed to win hearts and minds with construction efforts using foreign contractors and foreign workers when the population, which is capable of skilled construction work, is left by the wayside?” The bombings and callous disregard for civilian life, the routine abuse and mistreatment of detainees, the lack of humanitarian assistance— all of this explains, according to Goodnight, why the Taliban has been able to reassert itself in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban represents an alternative,” says Goodnight. “They say to the people—you know what we’ve done. We provided stability and security, and yes, we were brutal in the enforcement of religious laws, but we provided more for the people and the farmers than the U.S. has or will. So the people figure that they prefer the lesser of two evils—which in this case is in the Taliban.” UT DOESN’T the U.S. have the right to pursue Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to wipe out the terrorist threat? As Casler says, it’s a mistake “to hold an entire country responsible for the actions of a few people. It wouldn’t make sense to hold the entire American population responsible for Timothy McVeigh’s actions or the Unabomber, would it? “Retaliation against Afghanistan for the attack by Osama bin Laden never made sense to me, but during my time in the military, I never questioned what I was told to do. So when we went to Afghanistan, it didn’t matter why. They could have told me we’re going into Wisconsin, and I would have done it. The definition of discipline is instant willing obedience to orders, and you strive to have discipline in the military.” Matthis Chiroux was sent to Afghanistan for a week as an Army reporter in 2005, and he is now fighting the U.S. military’s attempt to reactivate and deploy him involuntarily to Iraq. He echoes Casler’s sentiments. “Osama bin Laden is not Afghani, and he wasn’t acting on behalf of the Afghani people or the state of Afghanistan,” says Chiroux. “He was supported by their government, which we ourselves also supported, just as we supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq. How many more Afghanis must die for us to stop being terrified?” In fact, every Afghan killed by the U.S. is used as a recruiting pitch by both the Taliban and al-Qaeda—and it’s working. “The inherent and unjust nature of foreign occupation does far more to foment terrorism than cool it,” says Chiroux. “An occupied Afghanistan will never submit, and it shouldn’t.” Even before the September 11 attacks, the U.S. had issued threats against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which Washington once considered benign but later deemed an obstacle to its plans for controlling the shipment and distribution of oil and natural gas resources in Central Asia. The 9/11 attacks became more than just a pretext for the invasion of Afghanistan. The “war on terror” has become the justification for a series of interventions and potential military interventions in the service of an American empire. This is the crucial context for understanding the meaning of an escalation of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. “Obama’s plan to shift troops into Afghan istan and then bring the aerial war into Iraq is bringing another failed policy and a failed tactic into a country already devastated by occupation,” says Casler. “I’d personally like to see the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and some real reparations for the people of both these countries, not just ‘reparations’ at the end of the barrel of a gun. “I’m actively campaigning to include Af 16
ghanistan as part of IVAW’s points of unity, but if the organization as a whole doesn’t vote that through, I’m of course going to continue my organizing against the war in Iraq. But we have to understand that there are a lot of Afghanistan veterans who want to see immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, just as in Iraq. “It’s up to everybody to educate themselves about Afghanistan. We’ve been so hyper-focused on Iraq that the issue of Afghanistan hasn’t been brought up as much as it should have. But we are fighting two wars every single day. “Whether we like it or not, Afghanistan is going to be thrust into the public eye, and I hope we’re prepared to provide context for what’s going on there when that happens.”
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