by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 4, Jumada' al-Ula', 1427)
It has become routine for the regime in Kabul to blame Pakistan for allowing “cross-border infiltration” whenever there is any increase in resistance activity inside Afghanistan. Some infiltration is definitely taking place, because the mountainous terrain makes the border virtually impossible to seal completely, but the volleys of rhetoric being hurled at Pakistan betray the Afghan government’s own incompetence. They also show the inability of the occupation forces to seal the border despite their high-tech weapons, or to crush the growing resistance that is getting better and has spread to many parts of the country. There were more than 300 deaths in the third week of May alone as a result of resistance operations.
Pakistan, however, appears unable to withstand any pressure at all, even from Kabul. On May 23 Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, a retired lieutenant general, was sworn in as governor of the volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This was intended to signal that Pakistan will get tough with the troublesome tribesmen who facilitate cross-border infiltration intoAfghanistan. Before his retirement two years ago, general Orakzai was corps commander Peshawar, that is also responsible for Waziristan, North and South, where fighting has raged between tribesmen and government forces for three years. The government’s writ does not exist in the area any more.
Kabul’s anti-Pakistan allegations have now reached hysterical proportions as the Afghan resistance intensifies its spring offensive, shaking the already low self-confidence and morale of the occupation forces even further. While US and other foreign troops use excessive force against defenceless villages in what is deceitfully referred to as “fighting the Taliban”, the people know better; they are the ones being killed in large numbers. After such atrocities, President Hamid Karzai routinely appeals to the occupation forces to be “more careful” in targeting suspected Taliban hideouts, but these appeals merely expose his impotence: the foreign troops take not the slightest notice of anything he says.
This happened again on May 22: US planes bombed the village of Azizi, near Qandahar, killing scores of civilians, including women and children, under the pretext of flushing out “militants” from a madrassa. “Bloodied men, women and children who streamed into a nearby hospital using vehicles that withstood the bombing said dozens of civilians died and scores more were wounded”, the Associated Press (AP) reported on May 22.
There were fantastic claims about the numbers of Taliban killed: “Coalition forces conducted a significant operation early this morning in the Kandahar [sic.] region near the village of Azizithat resulted in the unconfirmed deaths of possibly up to 80 Taliban members,” the AP story quoted a coalition spokesman, major Scott Lundy, as saying. When asked about civilian casualties, Lundy repeated what has now become the standard reply: they were “being investigated”; he added quickly that the troops “only targeted armed resistance, compounds and buildings known to harbour extremists.” Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Qandahar, told reporters that at least 16 civilians were killed and 15 wounded in the attack. Atta Mohammad, an elderly man, said at Qandahar’s Mirwais hospital that 24 members of his family alone, including some children, were killed in the bombing. “They started to bomb our village at midnightand continued up to this morning,” he said. Nor were these the only casualties.
Clearly, civilian casualties are far higher than the occupiers or their puppets in Kabul will ever admit. An 18-year-old youth, Azizullah, with a badly disfigured face from the bombing, told the AP that two of his brothers were killed when a bomb struck their house. He also said that there were some Taliban in the village, but they left immediately when the bombing started. A doctor said that security forces had not allowed ambulances into the sealed-off area to fetch the wounded. Similarly, even friendly Western reporters, including those embedded with the occupation forces, were prevented from visiting the area; one must wonder why the Americans are so reluctant to admit even friendly reporters if they have nothing to hide. There were other operations against occupation troops on May 23 and 24 in various parts of the country. These are likely to continue now that the weather has improved and fighters are able to move about easily.
While the American and other Western forces have enormous destructive power, they are losing the battle for the good will and good opinion (“hearts and minds”) of the Afghan people, if indeed those were ever their purpose. It is clear that the Western powers want the Afghans to surrender to their demands: something that is extremely unlikely to happen. There are other contradictions as well; those who oppose the occupation forces are immediately branded as Taliban supporters, terrorists or warlords. There are scores of real warlords and drug-lords who sit in the so-called parliament, but they are welcome because they support the occupiers. While the Americans claim that they will continue to “hunt” for the Taliban, Karzai issues frequent appeals to them to join his government. His latest call was made on April 27 at a function being held to mark the communist takeover of the Afghan government when President Sardar Daoud was murdered in 1978. Karzai’s timing was extremely poor; while the Taliban are not likely to jump at the opportunity, the April 27 communist takeover of the country marks a particularly painful episode in Afghan history. They have experienced nothing but bloodshed and turmoil since then; why Karzai chose that particular occasion to appeal, yet again, to the Taliban to join him remains a mystery.
The Taliban, meanwhile have intensified their resistance, and there appears to be no shortage of recruits for their cause, thanks in part to the atrocious behaviour of the Americans and their foreign allies. Qandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan, Laghman, Kunduz, Paktia and Paktika provinces are all in a state of insurrection. Mohammad Ali Jalali, a former governor of Paktika province, was found dead on May 22 after armed men snatched him and an ex-police chief from a prayer gathering in Ghazni province a day earlier. Jalali was one of the dwindlinglist of supporters of Karzai. The Taliban’s success in attracting support can also be gauged from the fact that imams in mosques in Kabul are now openly calling on people to take up arms and join the jihad against the occupiers. This would have been impossible, especially in Kabul, barely two years ago.
There are two other aspects that are an essential part of the American presence in any country: corruption and drugs. Like Iraq, Afghanistan has also become the conduit for American contractors to get rich quick. Fantastic programmes with multimillion dollar budgets are proposed, and the money is swallowed up before any construction takes place. CorpWatch, an American-based group that has conducted a survey of reconstruction work, issued a devastating report in early May. “The Bush administration touts the reconstruction effort in Afghanistanas a success story,” the report said, but “reconstruction has been bungled by many of the same politically connected corporations which are doing similar work in Iraq,” and receiving “massive open-ended contracts” without competitive bidding or with limited competition. “These companies are minting millions, and leaving behind a people increasingly frustrated and angry with the results,” the report said. It provided detailed examples of unfinished schools and clinics, unrepaired buildings and other projects, for all of which American contractors have already charged millions of dollars.
Although the reconstruction work is a nonstarter, there is roaring business in drugs. Wherever the Americans go, drugs follow. This happened in Indo-China in the seventies, in Central America and Afghanistan in the eighties, and now is happening in Afghanistan from 2002 to the present. It needs recalling that when the much-maligned Taliban were in power, they virtually eliminated the cultivation of the opium-poppy. Today Afghanistan accounts for 87 percent of the world’s opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report of March 4. The UNODC also reports that opium production will go up further in 13 of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, and remain steady in 16 others, this year. The income of US$2.5 billion in drug-exports in 2005 accounted for 52 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. Surely such activity cannot go on without the tacit, if not active, support of the Americans. It has been asked why the Americans should want to encourage drugs. The answer is simple: it brings in a lot of money, and poppy-cultivation destroys the land’s natural productive capacity, thereby making the country dependent on imports of wheat and other grains. With America’s massive grain-surpluses, another country can be turned into a basketcase and American farmers will reap the rewards, while Washington will bask in the glory of feeding millions of hungry people in another “third world” country.
As the resistance spreads to other provinces, the very people America is depending on now for support—its allied warlords and drug-lords—will eventually turn against it and join the Taliban. This is the nature of the Afghans. Very soon the Americans will not be able to tell a friend from an enemy; perhaps this is already the case. It may explain the US and other occupation forces’ indiscriminate bombings of villages and killing of civilians. While racism has much to do with it—Western forces do not care about the lives of dirt-poor Afghans—this becomes a self-defeating exercise. As such brutal tactics alienate more ordinary Afghans, it becomes difficult for the occupation forces to operate in any area. Afghanistan is heading rapidly in that direction. Like the British and Russians before them, the Americans, too, will discover that Afghanistan is becoming the graveyard of their ambitions. Pity the US soldiers who have been sent to this most inhospitable of places on earth. The Pashtuns, comprising a majority of the Afghan population, are very harsh in exacting revenge; they neither forgive nor forget. The Americans are beginning to discover who the Afghans really are.