by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 2, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1429)
As NATO heads of state converge on Bucharest, the Romanian capital, in the first week of April, the question uppermost on everyone's mind will be the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Despite the presence of more than 50,000 NATO troops, the security situation has worsened and the insurgency has escalated. It is no longer confined to the Taliban; entire tribes have joined the resistance against the occupation forces. True, the people ofAfghanistan have paid a heavy price for resisting the occupiers; according to official figures, at least 6500 people, mostly civilians, were killed in 2007. American military strikes by high-altitude bombers and attack-helicopters have caused havoc in Afghanistan's mud villages, but the resistance has not been cowed. Indeed, it has become better organised.
The Afghans are about to prove, yet again, that when God wishes to punish someone, he sends them to attack Afghanistan. The graveyard for a long list of ambitious invaders, from Alexander in 32 BC to the Soviets in the 1980s, the latest adventurers are unlikely to meet a different fate. Even General James Jones, who served as NATO supreme commander until 2006, has admitted that the alliance is not winning in Afghanistan. "Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," a report by the Atlantic Council of the United States, chaired by the retired general, said last month. This was preceded in late February by a grim assessment by Mike McConnell, the US National Intelligence Director, to a Congressional hearing that President Hamid Karzai's government controls a mere 30 percent of the country. McConnell also admitted that the Taliban control 10 or 11 percent, while local tribes hold sway over the rest.
Even this is not an accurate picture, because many tribes have joined the insurgency. At least twelve of Afghanistan's 32 provinces are in a state of insurrection. According to recent reports, even the province of Wardak, which borders Kabul, is now controlled by the resistance. The notion of government control is a nebulous concept in a tribal society like Afghanistan. Historically there has been an unofficial working arrangement between tribal elders and the government in Kabul whereby, in return for pledging allegiance, the regime distributed an annual largesse to tribal elders. This was done through an annual loya jirga (grand assembly of tribal elders). The communist coup of April 1978 put paid to this arrangement. After thirty years of warfare, in which the entire society has been turned upside down, no rules exist by which the affairs of society are governed. The only exception was the five-year rule of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, when there was relative peace, albeit achieved by extremely oppressive measures.
War- and drug-lords (in and out of government) now control much of the country. The UN itself has admitted that Afghanistan accounts for 93 percent of the world's heroin production today. These staggering figures have been "achieved" under the US/NATO occupation since October 2001. Afghanistan has become not only a narco-state, but also a failed state.
US president George Bush, who obviously lives in a fantasy world, insists that the NATO alliance is winning the war in Afghanistan. He also insisted, on March 19, marking the fifth anniversary of his disastrous invasion of Iraq, that the US was "winning" in Iraq as well and that the security situation had "improved". With 1.3 million Iraqis murdered and another four million displaced both internally and externally, Bush clearly has a strange idea of progress and winning. The same attitude, completely divorced from reality, exists in Afghanistan. When reminded of the disastrous security situation, escalating poverty and massive corruption, he cites the $140 billion the US has allocated to the war in Afghanistan since October 2001. The bulk of that money, however, has gone on US military operations and other related expenses. The children of Afghanistan, a thousand of whom starved to death just this past winter, are proof of the miserable condition of the Afghan people. The US state department has admitted that 70 percent of Afghans live below the poverty line.
Unable to confront the growing resistance in Afghanistan, Bush and his officials constantly pressure Pakistan to "do more". The 100,000 Pakistani troops deployed in the border region, especially in Waziristan, have wrought havoc on their people. Military officials bristle at the suggestion that theirs is a mercenary army, but when it receives $80 million a month to kill its own people, one can hardly describe it in any other way. The Pakistan army, under pressure from the US, is turning Waziristan into a qabrastan (graveyard). Thousands have died in aerial bombings and missile strikes; in January it was revealed that US aircraft use Pakistani military bases to bomb villages inside Pakistan. This had been going on for years, but was officially revealed only recently. US pilotless drones have been attacking village huts and killing civilians, all in the name of fighting "terrorism".
Despite perpetrating war crimes both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US is still not getting its way. It has demanded that its NATO allies send more troops. What constitutes "more" is unclear, but the disarray in NATO's ranks is evident from their divergent perspectives. General Dan McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, says that he needs at least 400,000 more troops to defeat the insurgency. Canada, which has 2,500 troops, most of them in the volatile Qandahar region, has said that it will not extend its mission beyond 2009 unless another thousand troops are provided by other NATO members to support its war effort. Though the Canadian demand has already been superseded by a parliamentary vote on March 13 to extend its mission to 2011, it reflects the widely divergent outlooks. Will a thousand additional troops that the Canadians are asking for be enough to do the job? Nobody in the Canadian government is willing to answer this question.
Currently Canada has a minority government, but it is so rightwing that it makes the Washington neo-cons look liberal by comparison. The parliamentary vote, however, was facilitated by the craven attitude of the opposition Liberal Party, which has traditionally enjoyed the broad support of immigrant communities because it is viewed as immigrant-friendly. The Canadian troop-deployment in Afghanistan is opposed by a clear majority of Canadians, but political leaders are so terrified of upsetting the warlords in Washington that they are prepared to ignore public sentiment completely. This also exposes the true nature of democracy: it has little to do with respecting the will of the people; only the elites' interests are really served. Canadahas increased its defence budget by billions of dollars while the number of homeless people continues to escalate.
Whether Canada will get its wish for the thousand additional troops is unclear; what is certain is that neither one thousand nor indeed ten more can defeat the people of Afghanistan. The only uncertainty is how many more people NATO soldiers will kill in Afghanistan before they are driven out. As the saying goes, NATO may have all the watches but the Afghans have all the time. The only thing they need to do to win is avoid losing; they are well on their way to achieving that. In the process, they are also digging NATO's grave. If NATO can be buried, like the erstwhile Soviet Union before it, that would not be a bad thing for the long-suffering people of that tortuous land.