by Zia Sarhadi
Afghanistan’s American-installed puppet, Hamid Karzai is feeling puffed up because he was promised US$2.6 billion at an international conference in Tokyo on January 21-22. It was attended by representatives from Western countries, the World Bank/IMF and the UN. Afghanistan needs all the help it can get; it is in ruins after 24 years’ war and bloodshed. There are millions of refugees, within the country and without; millions face starvation as a result of drought. Such daunting problems might well demoralise even the sturdiest soul, but apparently not Hamid Karzai, who seems to feel secure in the knowledge that he is backed by the world’s “sole superpower.” That, however, is arguable, as he is being used simply for a frontrunner to the former king, Zahir Shah, to be foisted on the country later on.
The nmoney is supposedly for “reconstruction”, but much of it is likely to end up in the pockets of various warlords and tribal leaders whose loyalty has to be bought. Despite the Taliban’s defeat and expulsion, Afghanistan is far from secure. Karzai’s writ does not extend beyond Kabul; the road between Kabul and Jalalabad is infested with bandits who rob and murder at will, while elsewhere various warlords are fighting for control. Forces loyal to defence minister general Muhammad Fahim and his deputy, General Abdul-Rashid Dostum, have been fighting around Qunduz since January 19; hundreds of people have been killed. The fighting is for space as well as because of traditional rivalry between Tajiks and Uzbeks; the situation is further complicated by the fact that Qunduz is a Pashtun-dominated town whose people hate both the Uzbeks and the Tajiks.
The situation elsewhere is little better, especially in and around Qandahar. There, warlords Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor, and Haji Muhammad, a commander belonging to the Hizb-e Islami faction, as well as commander Mullah Naqibullah, are at each other’s throats. Gul Agha is a notorious paedophile against whom the people rose in the nineties because of his obnoxious behaviour. Since his return this abomination has resurfaced again in Qandahar. The practice of walking around with one’s ashna (originally, roughly translated, “dear friend”, but these days a boy who is sexually abused by an older man) has become common. Young boys are now taken around by their abusers quite openly, much to the disgust of most people, who feel helpless in the face of such vile and perverse behaviour.
In Qandahar there is now a three-way fight between Gul Agha, Haji Muhammad and Mullah Naqibullah for control of the city. The Taliban handed power to Naqibullah before they left. The Americans have also established a base of their own around Qandahar airport, with their forces hiding inside a compound, but they have admitted that they are being observed by “suspicious” persons. There is still considerable sympathy for the Taliban in Qandahar and surrounding areas; in fact most of the Taliban have simply blended into the local population. This also explains why Mullah Umar, their leader, has not been apprehended, despite the Americans’ tall claims that he was bottled up in Baghlan.
On January 21 an Afghan driver is reported to have slammed his loaded truck into a jeep carrying an American and several Afghans. All were killed instantly; only the truck driver escaped. Similarly, an American helicopter carrying troops from Bagram airbase (north of Kabul) crashed, killing two Americans and injuring several others on January 20. The Americans said that the crash was caused by “mechanical failure”, but independent observers report that it was brought down by ground fire. A K-130 fuel tanker had similarly crashed in the mountains near Quetta on January 9, killing all seven marines on board, again allegedly because of mechanical failure.
The case of the Arab mujahideen who took refuge inside the Qandahar Chinese Hospital in mid-December has also roused concern. Some 13 Arab mujahideen, wounded in battle against US forces, were sheltered by the local population in Qandahar. When one died of his injuries, the rest were moved to the hospital. A local doctor betrayed them to the Americans, but when Gul Agha’s men arrived to arrest them the mujahideen put up a fight. It was evident that local residents were helping the mujahideen, who managed to resist arrest until mid-January, when they fell silent. Perhaps they died of their injuries and lack of food and water.
Jalalabad and the Eastern Nangarhar province are another hotspot. An American marine sergeant was shot and killed by a 12-year-old boy early last month. The Zadran tribe, to which the boy belonged, refused to hand him over. There is considerable resentment against the Americans, especially since 65 tribal elders were killed in American bombing on December 21 while they were on their way to Karzai’s investiture in Kabul. This has been compounded by the continued US bombing of eastern Afghanistan, the worst incident of which occurred on December 31 in Niazi Qalai, near Gardez: a wedding party was bombed by US planes; 107 people were killed. Zhawar and Khost also continue to be bombed under the pretext that al-Qaeda and Taliban men are hiding there. Resentment among Afghans is inevitably increasing.
That the Americans run the show, and not Karzai, was demonstrated yet again when Haji Zaman Ghamshareek was dismissed from his position as commander in Nagarhar because he was accused of accepting bribes from Taliban and al-Qaeda members to give them safe passage out of the Tora Bora region. The Americans and their Afghan mercenaries had surrounded the Tora Bora mountains, and claimed that Usama bin Ladin and his associates were hiding there. On December 16, the day of Eid, the Afghan mercenaries announced that there was no trace of Usama anywhere and that they were all going home to celebrate Eid with their families. Haji Zaman, like Hamid Karzai, has been on the US payroll for a long time. He has a US green card, and offered his services to the Americans in hope of getting some of the largesse being distributed when the US campaign against the Taliban got under way. His family lives at the former US air force base at Budhaber, outside Peshawar in Pakistan.
The longer the Americans stay, the more likely they are to suffer casualties. One joke currently circulating among Afghans is that the Americans are anxious to remove Afghan women’s burqas because they want to put them on themselves. The Americans have been hiding in fortified compounds, but they will have to venture out some time. As more and more Afghans either refuse to do their dirty work for them or begin to fight among themselves, the Americans will be drawn in. Once they begin to lose men in significant numbers, the Americans will be forced to rethink their strategy. They kill others by the thousand and dismiss the deathtoll as “collateral damage”, but when their own casualties mount they will begin to have second thoughts.
Afghanistan is a bone that is liable to stick in the US’s throat, leaving them unable either to swallow it or disgorge it.