by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 10, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1428)
The year 2007 has turned out to be one of the costliest in blood and lives since the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the US in October 2001. On November 19 a bomb-explosion killed seven people but missed Ghulam Dastagir Azad, governor of Nimroz province, the intended target in the town of Zaranj. On the same day an attack on a military bus in Kabul was thwarted when the bomber was prevented from boarding. Two days earlier a roadside bomb near Qandahar had killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded three others, bringing the Canadian death toll to 73.
The very high casualty rate among Canadian troops has led to intense debate in Canada about the wisdom and viability of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. It remains ill-defined, but the general consensus in the country is that Canadian troops are in Afghanistan because Ottawa has to please its bullying southern neighbour and largest trading partner, whom it cannot it afford to antagonize.
While the bulk of the fighting is concentrated in the southern triangle of Qandahar, Helmand and Farah provinces, it is not confined to this region alone. Resistance to the occupation has now spread even to the Northern provinces that had before been considered the stronghold of the Northern Alliance. This group is made up predominantly of Tajiks, who have kept the majority Pashtuns from power. While Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun from Qandahar, is president of the country, his hold on power is tenuous. Karzai has little support even in his home province, which is also the base of the Taliban. Other provinces that have been the scene of intense resistance activity include Paktia and Paktika. In recent weeks there have been attacks on Afghan police and other forces as far north as Baghlan. On November 6 there was an attack in Baghlan in which six members of parliament were among the 77 dead, most of whom died as a result of firing by the MPs' guards. Initially Karzai's government dismissed this claim, but on November 19 the UN Security and Safety Agency confirmed that the majority of deaths occurred as a result of indiscriminate firing by guards. On November 9 there had also been an attack in Nuristan that killed six US soldiers and five Afghan policemen.
A day after the Baghlan attack, Karzai told a press conference in Kabul: “In the very miserable incident which took place yesterday, six of Afghanistan's hard-working, honest members of parliament were martyred, and Afghan people including school teachers, students and children were also martyred, and many were wounded.” While Karzai continues to issue meaningless statements from the relative safety of the presidential compound, where he is guarded by his American handlers, the attack so far north of the country has further eroded public confidence in his government and the occupation forces to provide security.
It also reflects the Taliban's sophistication in terms of intelligence and their ability to strike anywhere at will. Aware that the occupation troops are thinly spread and cannot be everywhere, the Taliban have decided to stretch them further. The Baghlan attack demonstrated these new tactics, and was a devastating blow to the tall claims of the 50,000-strong NATO occupation troops. Hardly a day passes without a NATO or American spokesman making some bold claim about the number of Taliban killed: yet, as the increasingly bold attacks indicate, the Taliban are far from finished. In fact, very often NATO forces do not kill Taliban fighters; their victims are Afghan civilians. Each act of killing civilians simply swells the ranks of the Taliban. The Americans' indiscriminate brutality has been the single most effective recruiter for the Taliban, especially aerial attacks on Afghan villages where thousands of civilians have been killed.
Both in Afghanistan and in Iraq the resistance has exposed the limits of technological superiority. Committed people, even if only lightly armed but enjoying the support of their own people, can defeat heavily armed forces. When people under occupation refuse to be intimidated, they cannot be defeated.
While politicians and journalists in the West—the US, Canada, Britain and other Western countries—continue to paint a rosy picture of progress made in Afghanistan, the reality is very different, both militarily and economically. Privately, military officials have warned about the deteriorating security situation. It is on the economic front that the most damning report released in Kabul on November 18 has come forth about Afghanistan's Human Development Index (HDI). This index ranks Afghanistan fifth from the bottom in a list of 178 countries. HDI is based on such factors as education, longevity and economic performance. Only four countries, Niger (the lowest), Sierra Leone, Mali and Burkina Faso, are ranked lower than Afghanistan: these countries have not been the recipients of billions of dollars in Western ‘aid'. Afghanistan's position has slipped even lower than what it was in 2004. The HDI report, first released last September, was downplayed in the US because it would have gone against official propaganda of the “great progress” made in Afghanistan. It was left to Kabul University's Centre for Policy and Human Development, financed by the UN Development Programme, to publicise it.
Despite Western donations or pledges of $10 billion in the past year alone, poverty is still extremely high in Afghanistan. Both the HDI and Senlis Institute (a non-governmental organization which is based in Brussels) have painted a grim picture of poverty, especially among children and women. The HDI report says that about one third of Afghans still do not have enough food to eat or access to safe drinking water. Only 12 percent of Afghan women are literate, compared with 32 percent of men. There has been slight improvement in infant mortality; it has dropped from 165 babies per 1,000 births to 135, but this is still among the highest in the world, as is maternal mortality. Life expectancy in 2005 was 43 years, down from 44.5 in 2003, it notes.
The report also listed other major concerns: “the abuse of political and military power, the misuse of public funds, the non-transparent privatisation of state-owned enterprises, kickbacks from the sale of narcotics, and other criminal activities”. The justice system is also criticized for failing to provide speedy redress; there is a backlog of some 6,000 cases awaiting adjudication. Even worse is widespread corruption, both in government and the judicial system. Warlords and cronies of Karzai's get away, literally, with murder and theft of millions of dollars; ordinary Afghans suffer in extreme poverty, gripped by a deep sense of anxiety and insecurity.
Aware of his government's precarious situation, on November 10 Karzai made another appeal to the Taliban to join his government. “My doors are open to anyone. Come and get any position in any ministry you want,” he begged. No Talib has walked through his door so far. He calls his offer one of “reconciliation”, but most of the Taliban see it as a sign of weakness on his part. Even Western military officials have openly admitted that the conflict in Afghanistan is “unwinnable” militarily. As the demands of the wary Western public for troop-withdrawal get louder, the pressure on Western governments increases. The Taliban demand the withdrawal of all foreign forces before they will consider talking to Karzai.
The intensity and widespread nature of the resistance indicates that the Taliban can wait Karzai and his foreign backers out. Both in Afghanistan and in Iraq the resistance has exposed the limits of technological superiority. Committed people, even if only lightly armed but enjoying the support of their own people, can defeat heavily armed forces. When people under occupation refuse to be intimidated, they cannot be defeated.