Afghans still suffering as American cash goes to bribe warlords, not help people

Developing Just Leadership

A H Khan

Jumada' al-Akhirah 07, 1423 2002-08-16


by A H Khan (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 12, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1423)

A month after 54 Afghani civilians were killed when American planes bombed a wedding party, the Times (London)newspaper published details of a report written by UN officials who visited the village two days after the bombing. Although the report has not been published, Times reporters saw it and their accounts of its contents have been widely accepted.

The UN team report that they found “no corroboration of the US claim that its... aircraft had been fired on from the village”. Washington is sticking to its claim that it attacked Karakak because its aircraft had been fired on from there. The UN document also stated that there was clear evidence that human-rights violations had taken place. They reported that US special forces arrived on the scene soon after the air strike and cleaned the area. Bodies, shrapnel, bullets and traces of blood were removed. Local people, were tied up while the ‘cleansing’ took place.

This news throws fresh light on the findings of the official US investigative team, which arrived there some days later with western journalists. This team immediately claimed that the physical evidence at the site did not match the reported death toll. At this time no one was aware that another US team had already undertaken a clean-up operation at the site.

With almost all the evidence in the Americans’ hands, the truth is never likely to be known. What is clear, however, is that the Americans are killing far more people than they admit, and lying and dissimulating to disguise the effects of their operations. Little wonder, then, that they are even more unpopular among ordinary Afghanis than the Russians were.

Millions of Afghanis are in appalling conditions as a result of the war. Afghanistan, already one of the poorest countries in the world, has suffered two decades of war, which has destroyed much of its agriculture and infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of people are internally displaced, either because of lack of necessities or out of fear of persecution by militia groups. Health care, education and other services are in chaos.

The only explanation offered for this state of affairs is that the Afghan people are to blame — as if warlords, poverty and civil war were part of the national psyche, rather than being the outcome of historical processes, including the massive funding of various militias that fought the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul in the 1980s. By coming to Afghanistan the US has taken up where that left off.

An article in the Observer on July 21 makes it clear that much of the chaos is being perpetuated by the US policy of financing a network of regional warlords. “The Observer has learnt,” the article explains, “that ‘bin bags’ full of US dollars have been flown to Afghanistan... to be given to key regional power brokers who could cause trouble for... Karzai’s administration. Gul Agha Sherzai, governor of the southern province of Kandahar, Hazrat Ali, a commander in the eastern province of Nanagahar, and several others have been ‘bought off’ with millions of dollars in deals brokered by US and British intelligence.”

A British Foreign Office source has confirmed that money was “circulated” to key warlords, and warned of the risks involved. “In any case, you do not buy warlords in Afghanistan: you ‘rent’ them for a period. The Russians discovered this to their cost. They would buy off a warlord and after a while he would come back and tell them: ‘My men won’t wear this arrangement any more. You have to give me more money, or we will go back to attacking you’.”

Last November the US paid Pacha Khan Zardran, a commander in the Khost area, an estimated $400,000 to train and equip his fighters to patrol the border with Pakistan. The arrangement came undone when Karzai installed a rival as regional governor and armed clashes erupted between the two. According to the Observer, local militia commanders in the Khost area are vying with each other to receive “a top-of-the-range $40,000 pick-up truck—a local status symbol—if they can prove they have killed Taliban or Al Qaeda elements.”

While millions of dollars are being lavished on chosen warlords, the promised moneys for infrastructure and services have not been forthcoming. “Cash for road building, irrigation and power projects is unlikely even to reach Afghanistan before 2003, and only 3 billion pounds [$4.8 billion] of the estimated 10 billion pounds needed to rebuild the nation has so far been pledged,” the Observer commented.

The US is buying off regional warlords and militia commanders for a variety of reasons. Initially the purpose was to topple the Taliban and then assist in ongoing military operations. Increasingly, however, it is a way of stifling opposition not only to Karzai but to the US occupation itself. Resentment and anger have been growing for months in the Pashtun tribal areas in the south and east of Afghanistan, where the US bombing and military operations have been most intense.

Time reporter Michael Ware recently commented: “The tide has very much turned in the South. I am now hearing far too commonly a statement that... is very heartfelt. More and more you are hearing people say ‘we were better off under the Russians’. As the Afghans say to me, ‘in the first 12 months, the Russians were not bombing our families... however, that’s what the Americans are doing.’ At the same time, there’s no sign of humanitarian assistance... So they’re seeing nothing from the international community except American bombs.”

To suppress the growing opposition the US is relying on warlords and militia commanders, instead of strengthening Karzai’s administration. Some sections of the Bush administration were arguing, as early as last November, that such a situation would best serve US interests.

The Washington Post, for instance, reported that US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was advocating “a very loose central government with very little central authority” as part of a proposal to give “a very high degree of local autonomy” to tribal and ethnic leaders. Another senior official commented to the newspaper: “History strongly suggests that Kabul will be the first among equals, but you’re unlikely to have a strong central government that will dominate.”

Whether Armitage’s proposal was formally adopted or not, “a very loose central government” is indeed what has been created. The present army and police force, which are highly factionalised, are in no position to challenge regional warlords. The US has repeatedly opposed calls, by the Europeans in particular, to extend the international peacekeeping force beyond Kabul. This move would undercut the warlords’ influence.

The current chaos has obvious advantages for Washington. With no effective central authority, a countryside dominated by US-paid mercenaries, and no international troops outside Kabul, other than those directly under US control, American forces and the CIA can roam at will and throw their weight about unchallenged. The unstable situation has given the US an excuse for its long-term military presence: the need for “peace and stability” and the necessity of preventing the return of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.

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