by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 2, Safar, 1425)
Two-and-a-half years after occupying Afghanistan, ostensibly to bring peace to the warn-torn country, the Americans are no closer to achieving their objectives than they were when they attacked in October 2001. There is far greater chaos and bloodshed than there ever was during the rule of the Taliban; women are still being oppressed and terrorized, and poppy cultivation has returned with a vengeance, despite claims by the Americans that they want to take the country into the twenty-first century. The proposed June presidential elections are in doubt; even Hamid Karzai, the US-installed puppet, is calling for more military help, failing which he wants postponement of elections. United Nations representatives have expressed similar doubts about holding elections in an environment where there is little security for people and recruitment in the army, which is supposed to provide such security, is far behind schedule.
In an interview last month, the Afghan foreign minister Abdullah admitted that the government did not have "administrative" control over all parts of the country. He was being rather disingenuous; the government’s writ does not extend beyond Kabul. In the north and northeast, where the Northern Alliance (to which Abdullah belongs) and Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum hold sway, there is immense suffering and oppression, especially of women. Thousands of Pashtun women have been abducted and are sexually abused in a society where people prefer death to the violation of the honour of their women. This has created enormous resentment in the Pashtun belt in the South and Southeast of the country.
Never before has Afghanistan witnessed such level of ethnic tension and resentment as is prevalent today. This is also apparent in the large desertion rate from the US-trained Afghan army. UN officials in Afghanistan say that 3,000 soldiers from the 10,000-member Afghan army have deserted after receiving training; even if one were to add the 20,000 police force to the recruitment total, the desertion rate is still 10 percent. Always putting a positive spin on developments, the US military says the desertion rate has been brought down to 3 percent; other sources challenge such assertions describing them as self-serving. The reason is simple: the minority Tajiks dominate the officer corps; defence minister Mohammad Fahim, also a Tajik, acts as Afghanistan’s de facto ruler. The rank-and-file of the army is made up of the majority Pashtuns. This lopsided situation has led to a feeling of alienation among the Pashtuns; there is widespread belief that they are discriminated against. American military operations, too, target the Pashtun belt, where resistance is fierce not only because this is the traditional Taliban support area but also because the fiercely independent-minded Pashtuns do not give in to foreign occupation. In turn, American attacks against civilians have been indiscriminate, brutal and extremely violent.
The latest US military offensive was launched on March 14 in hope of capturing Usama bin Laden in the tribal belt that straddles the Afghan-Pakistan border. This, however, has little to do with providing security and more to do with US president George Bush’s re-election bid in November as he becomes increasingly vulnerable to attacks from his Democratic rival John Kerry regarding lack of progress in Afghanistan and Iraq. US defence officials in Washington have confirmed elements of Task Force 121, a team of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials and Special Operations soldiers have been moved to Afghanistan to search for Usama and his associates. Pakistani military operations on the other side of the border especially in South Waziristan, where it has adopted zionist-style tactics of collective punishments of entire villages for failing to apprehend wanted suspects, have aroused deep resentment among tribemen in the volatile region.
The latest US military operations come on the heels of a stinging rebuke by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing US forces of practising a "cowboy-style" mentality in dealing with Afghan civilians. The US-based group said at least 1,000 Afghans and foreigners had been detained from 2002 by American forces, some of them subjected to torture and denied the right to challenge their detention. While many have been released, some remain in detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base in Cuba.
In criticisms echoing international condemnation of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, the report said detainees in US detention centres at the Bagram air base and elsewhere in Afghanistan were denied access to families, lawyers and journalists. It also said three people had died while in US custody in Afghanistan, and criticized the US military for failing to investigate the deaths properly and make public its findings. The US also refuses to reveal how many prisoners–Afghans and others–it is holding in Afghanistan and at what locations. Thousands of Afghans are also held prisoners by militias headed by such US-backed warlords as Abdul Rashid Dostum and defence minister Fahim. These prisoners are held in appalling conditions; whatever little food or water is provided to them is filthy; sanitation is so bad that many have contracted life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis; no medical treatment is available. In November 2001, more than a thousand Taliban supporters suffocated to death after being locked up in metal containers by Northern Alliance troops in Shebergan and left in the blistering heat. The Americans supervised this appalling butchery.
The Afghans accuse US troops of immense brutality, especially in the South and Southeast; the Americans admit causing civilian deaths in botched operations but reject charges of mistreatment, some of them corroborated by UN investigators as well. They pay even less attention to complaints from Karzai, widely seen as an American puppet. The Afghans say around 300 people have died this way since late 2001. The HRW report said US troops sometimes detained all men of military age found in the vicinity of an operation. Former detainees have complained of being photographed naked, deprived of sleep for several weeks, beaten unconscious, held in solitary confinement and shackled. Five men held for 16 days in 2002 and later released were given the equivalent of 70 US cents each by a local interpreter after an American apologized to them and promised compensation.
Two days after the HRW report was released, more than 250 tribal leaders from southeastern Afghanistan went to Kabul with complaints that the US military was mistreating villagers in the Barmal district of Paktika province. "We came here to complain about Americans killing innocent people, sending them to the jails and abusing villagers," tribal leader Taj Ali told the Agence France Presse in Kabul. They urged Karzai to ask the Americans to release the detained villagers, who are innocent poor farmers. "The United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of HRW. "Civilians are being held in a legal black hole – with no tribunals, no legal counsel, no family visits and no basic legal protections."
There is one area in which the Americans in conjunction with the foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had considerable success: undermining people’s morals. Prostitution and alcohol have become widespread, especially in Kabul. This is the kind of "progress" the Americans want to offer the rest of the Muslim world as well. While Karzai continues to prattle about being the president and begging any visiting foreigner who will listen, for more money, the Northern Alliance warlords rule the roost. They have forcibly evicted people from their homes and taken over properties in Kabul. After renovation, such houses are rented to Western NGOs at exorbitant rents, some as high as US$6,000 per month. With insecurity widespread, the Northern Alliance militia also makes money "providing security." In turn, the NGOs work on the Afghan women, and indeed men, bringing them "elightenment" through moral corruption. Stores selling pornographic videos are now all over the place in Kabul.
Liberation by the US means being liberated from everything: liberty, freedom, dignity and livelihood, but above all, from decency and morality.