Sunday, 3 February 2013

Afghanistan Pre-2014, History Speaks

click on image for larger version

An Image for Thousand words because pre- 2014 History Speaks in the form of an Image

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Modern Day Child Prostitution in Kabul, Afghanistan: Children are used as Sex Workers in Afghanistan to Serve Foreigners

An eyewitness piece: Modern Day Child Prostitution in Kabul, Afghanistan: Children are used as Sex Workers in Afghanistan to Serve Foreigners.

“The police told my mother that she will not receive my father’s retirement check for working at the Ministry of Agriculture unless I work as a prostitute serving foreigners. My mother at first refused but she relented once the police told her that I would be able to keep 60% of the pay and be able to keep supporting my mom and 6 brothers and sisters and the other 40% would go to the police,” says Ara.

12-year-old girl named Ara Atta says, “My father was killed by the Americans because he did not stop his car at a checkpoint.

 (KABUL) - When we hear about the news in Afghanistan, the mainstream media tells us stories of explosions and deaths of military personnel and civilians. A story that is not being told is of child prostitution slavery in Afghanistan.
“There is a police operation going on by a neighborhood police chief in Kabul that has girls working for him,” says German contractor Hans, who does not want to release his last name for security reasons.
“You know prostitution is legal in Germany and I don’t mind paying a fair price for a sex worker, but here in Afghanistan the prostitutes are children, teenagers and that is where I draw the line. I have a 14-year-old daughter back home in Germany and I do not condone child prostitution,” says Hans.
A 15-year-old named Badria Durrani says, “I was forced into prostitution because the police in the area said they will arrest my father. My father is just a baker and he does not want any trouble with the police, so I work as a prostitute having sex with foreigners because that is what the police want me to do.”
Badria’s father Mohammed Durrani says “I did not agree, but the police threaten to throw me in jail, so I agreed because I have to support my 3 wives and 8 children as a baker. With the extra income my daughter makes after she pays the police their 40% share, the rest of the money is for our family.”
“Also, the police told me not to worry. My daughter will only serve foreigners so Afghan men will not know that she is a prostitute and later she will be able to find an Afghan husband for marriage,” says Mohammed.
“I don’t want to do this anymore but what choice do I have? If I run away my father will be thrown in jail and then our family does not have money to pay for rent and will be kicked out of our home. I have to sacrifice my life for our family. I hate this government and these foreigners that come here to have sex with girls my age, but the government here is not protecting us. They send these police from the north of Afghanistan to take advantage of us,” says Badria.
A 12-year-old girl named Ara Atta says, “My father was killed by the Americans because he did not stop his car at a checkpoint, trying to take my mother to the hospital because she was going into labor. The Americans shot at the car and killed my father but my mother was not harmed and taken to the hospital and my brother Ibrahim was born.”
“The police told my mother that she will not receive my father’s retirement check for working at the Ministry of Agriculture unless I work as a prostitute serving foreigners. My mother at first refused but she relented once the police told her that I would be able to keep 60% of the pay and be able to keep supporting my mom and 6 brothers and sisters and the other 40% would go to the police,” says Ara.
Ara further stated, “I don’t want to do this but we have no choice. If I run away, the police will ensure that we will not receive my father’s retirement check. I curse them and the foreigners that are using my body for sex but I have to do this or my mother and siblings will go hungry and we will be out in the street because we don’t have money for rent.”
The invasion of Afghanistan by the United States and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) offered the Afghan people democracy and social changes for women through education and new careers that were closed to them under the Taliban.
What has actually happened here in Afghanistan is that the government institutions that were established by the U.S. and ISAF, such as the Afghan Police, are using female children and women for profit to serve foreigners as their sex slaves.
A highly decorated Iraq War Veteran, Captain James Van Thach served twenty-four straight months in Iraq, despite being wounded twice during his first year, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. Also, the government of Iraq awarded him the rank of Honorary Staff Brigadier General in the Iraqi Army.
Standing in Captain Thach’s presence you notice instantly an aurora about this young man and admire the goals he set forth in his life through education in the United States and travel overseas in his fight in war torn Iraq.
Why would an educated Law School graduate of Touro Law Center turn down numerous private sector job offers with a very generous salary or a safer career path as an Attorney with the United States Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) and only to choose a dangerous job as an Infantry Officer in active combat as a Military Advisor in Iraq?
Captain James Van Thach answered in a commanding voice, “My sacrifice had to be made because of the opportunities given to me from the men and women who sacrificed their lives and died for our country. I had to do the same in their honor, to protect our nation and protect the unborn of this country so that they might live in a peaceful world.” 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Iran is a criminal state toward Afghan refugees

Iran is a criminal state toward Afghan refugees

First of all Iran is an important supporter of the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. In fact Iran is one of the main actors in this dirty proxy-war. Those Shia Muslims who sympathize with Assad's regime think that Iran does not sell itself to the West.

Secondly, Iran also played a remarkable role to support Palestine during the last Israeli attack  on Gaza. In this case the Shia regime provided supportive language toward the Sunni Hamas. So many anti-Zionists all over the world think that Iran is the true supporter of the Palestinian people.

Mass execution of Sunni Muslims in Iran

The same Shia regime that tortures Sunnis living in Iran.  For instance, about one million Afghan people are living Iran as refugees. Some estimated that the number of Afghan refugees in Iran is much higher. The Afghan minority in Iran is living under extreme discrimination imposed not only by the regime but also by normal citizens.

They are not allowed to gain education and many Afghan teenagers have been forced to work in a reconstruction sites, but these workers do not have a social insurance. If they refuse Iran deport them back to Afghanistan.

Every year hundreds of Afghan refugees have been executed in Iran. Numbers of under age boys have experienced death sentences, just during the last two months thirteen Afghan teenagers were hanged  in Iran. The main victims of the series of death penalty are Sunni Kurds, Baluchs and Afghans.

US- backed Karzai government did not pay attention to the barbaric state crime against Afghan citizens in Iran, instead the so called Afghan president praised Iran while he was in Tehran last time.  Every time when Karzai meets his friend Ahmadinejad in Tehran they embraced each other and spoke on friendship instead.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Afghanistan: “It’s Just Damage Limitation Now”

By Mark Thompson


Briton Ben Anderson is a documentary filmmaker (the BBC, HBO, the Discovery Channel), but he turns to the written word in No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan. The book offers a gritty – and grim — assessment of the war.

Anderson embedded with U.S. and British troops for months in the southern part of the country from 2007 to 2011. He details corruption, incompetence, fear — by both allied troops and Afghan civilians — and a Groundhog Day kind of existence., where a battle fought for days has to be fought again, later. Most distressingly, he argues that the American and British publics are getting a misleading picture of progress on the ground. Battleland conducted this email chat with Anderson last weekend.

Why did you write No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan?

I’d been travelling to Helmand for five years, first in 2007 with the Brits, then later mostly with the U.S. Marines, covering every major operation since the war in the south was taken seriously.
Despite new troops, extra resources and new polices, it kept getting worse.

It was more dangerous for me and the troops I was with, Afghan security forces didn’t seem to be improving, and perhaps most importantly, locals were not being won over but instead were complaining of civilian casualties, damage to their homes, being inconvenienced and disrespected, or preyed upon by the Afghan police.

Yet in the second half of 2010, statements from Kabul, Washington and London kept talking of progress, goals being met and the Taliban being on their last legs. This was the exact opposite of what I had been seeing, so I felt that I had to write this book. I felt compelled to create a simple, honest and accurate portrait of what the war really looks like, on the ground, on the frontlines, where the policy met the Afghan people. I wanted to show how vicious the fighting was — veterans of Fallujah told me it was worse in Helmand…

I also wanted to show that the troops weren’t the violent automatons they are often thought to be and that they are often the exact opposite. There were plenty of guys who just wanted to kill anyone that looked like Taliban, for sure, but I also met many men who were thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent and even hilarious no matter how bad the situation was. Most of the men I met were also willing to question what, if anything, they were actually achieving, which really impressed me.

What is the book’s bottom line?

Despite the incredible hard work, bravery and suffering of our troops, despite the massive Afghan civilian casualties, despite the hundreds of billions spent, we have not achieved our goals in Afghanistan.
Essentially, we’re supposed to be clearing an area of insurgents and then persuading locals to chose us and our Afghan allies over the Taliban. Most areas where we are based have not been cleared of the Taliban and even if they had been, we’re fighting to introduce a largely unwelcome government.

The Afghan army cannot provide security on its own, the Afghan government is spectacularly corrupt and the police are feared and hated, for good reason. So even if the military part of the strategy goes perfectly to plan (and it never does) the locals don’t want what we are offering. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been told countless times that locals prefer the Taliban to foreign forces and the Afghan government, particularly the police. I should point out that I’ve spent most of time in Afghanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, where the war has always been fiercest.

How different is what you saw on the front lines compared to what we’re being told back home?

It’s completely different. Operation Mushtaraq in Marjah was a prime example. General [Stanley] McChrystal’s claim that the operation was “Afghan-led” is one of the most ludicrous claims I’ve ever heard. It depressed me that the claim was accepted. The same thing happened when Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates said that the Taliban had bee routed from their homeland in Kandahar and Helmand. This claim was repeated by journalists I had once respected and followed. Again, it was the exact opposite of the truth.

You’re British: how does the mood about the war in the U.K. differ from that in the U.S., if it does (and if you’ve been in both places long enough to make a fair comparison)?

It’s the same in both countries. The vast majority of the public seems to have no idea how rough it is in southern Afghanistan, for our troops and the Afghan people. People seem to want the troops home, and have no interest in anything beyond that. The last U.S. Marines I was with — 3/5 in Sangin, suffered horrendous losses: 35 killed and 140 seriously injured, and I’m talking about double, triple and even quadruple amputees. Yet no one in the U.S. even seemed to know about it. It’s the same in the U.K. now. I’d be surprised if one in 20 people here or in the U.S. could begin to explain why we are still there.

U.S. and allied generals tells us things are getting better inside Afghanistan, and they believe that by the time allied combat troops leave by the end of 2014, Afghanistan’s own security forces will be able to defend the nation. Do you believe them? Why or why not? 

I’ve seen no evidence to suggest the ANSF are ready to take over. You have to understand that it’s not a national security force. It’s the Northern Alliance, the historical enemies of the southern Pashtuns and the Taliban. In the rush to get to Iraq, we handed control of the army, police and intelligence agency to the Northern Alliance, and the same old warlords whose behavior had led to the Taliban’s rise to power in 1996.

I think we were doomed to fail from that moment on. Southern Pashtuns often see the security forces we’re supporting as being almost as foreign as us and there for vengeance.
I was in the Arghandab valley in 2010 and the 101st Airborne were very nervous about clearing a village called NMK because they knew it would be laced with IEDs.

A few days before the operation, some Afghan soldiers ran into the village alone, and came back a few hours later, delighted. “How did you do it?” asked the American captain, astounded. “Did you offer the locals $50 for each IED they revealed, like we trained you?” “No,” said the ANA captain, excitedly, “we told them `show us the IEDs or start digging your own grave’.” That sums up the situation pretty well. Sadly I think that the phrase “transition” is a euphemism covering up our failures.

When were you last with US troops in Afghanistan? What was their general mood and morale?

January 2011, with 3/5 in Sangin. There were so many IEDs you had to watch every step and literally walk in the footprints of the guy in front of you. The Marines were leaving trails of bottle tops or sweets to mark cleared paths. I didn’t see a bullet fired in anger, it was just IEDs. Marines love to fight, but no one wants to go out on eight-hour patrols every day, through ice cold mud, when nothing ever happens apart from occasionally seeing one of their buddies get blown up.

Surprisingly though, morale wasn’t that low. I don’t think most troops in Afghanistan are fighting to achieve anything anymore. They’re just fighting for each other, trying to get themselves and their friends back in one piece, and maybe get some revenge against someone who may have killed or maimed one of their colleagues.

What was the best thing you witnessed in Afghanistan?

Tellingly, I can’t think of a single great moment where I saw something that really gave me hope that we might be achieving anything. So I’ll have to be selfish and say the best thing was always seeing the showers or the chow tent back at the forward operating bases, after weeks of either baking or freezing in rural areas of Helmand and eating nothing but MREs.

What was the worst thing you witnessed in Afghanistan?

I can still remember the exact expression on the faces of too many different families, either terrified of the fighting going on in and around their homes, or traumatized by the loss of their loved ones.
I’ve seen many Afghans who have lost almost their entire families to errant air strikes or rocket attacks. Some were given huge wads of cash as condolence payments, some actually showed me the corpses of their brothers, sisters or children. You can only say “I’m sorry we killed your family, but we’re here to help you” so many times…

If you were in charge, what three changes would you make in Operation Enduring Freedom?

I think it’s just damage limitation now. There is no silver bullet, there hasn’t been for at least five or six years.
People are worried about civil war after we leave. I think it’s already started. I’d like to see some honesty used on the rare occasions when Afghanistan is discussed. And while the military effort draws down, I’d like to see a serious long-term commitment to the kind of development projects we should have started back in 2001.

What is going to happen to Afghanistan beginning in 2015? 

I think the Taliban will be in control of many districts in the south almost immediately. I think that various warlords will once again have their fiefdoms and that this will be exacerbated by the reduction in foreign aid.
I think Afghanistan will disappear from our newspapers and will remain one of the poorest, most violent and corrupt countries on earth.

Paradoxically, the withdrawal gives me a tiny bit of hope that the insurgents in the south will stop fighting and laying IEDs once we’re no longer providing them with targets. But it’s a damning indictment of our efforts if the best thing we can do is leave.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

There are non-Taliban poets in the 'Poetry of the Taliban’

By Hanan Habibzai

It is truly a matter of controversy as it appears that non-Taliban Afghan poets are presented as Taliban. It is a matter of shock to read in the Independent that Ezatullah Zawab, a permanent journalist and poet, is Taliban poet. It is still unclear how many more (non-Taliban names) are there in the ‘ Poetry of the Taliban’.

Zawab is not a Taliban but a critic of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the continuous political and social corruption within Karzai’s government. He studied at the Nangrahar University, working as a freelance journalist since 2001 in eastern Afghanistan. His reports mainly published by IWPR and the Pajhwok Afghan News.

He was among the first journalists who covered the killing of tens of civilians in June 2008 where American-led air-strike bombed a wedding convoy in Shinwari district in eastern Nangrahar province killing more than 55 civilians including the bride. Most of the victims were children and women. In the aftermath of this atrocity he mourned the killings by reciting his poetry at a rally where including local officials thousands gather:

I have long history and long story
I have a holy opinion
I believe in the books from heavens
I pray five times to God
So, respect my culture

For this, is it fair to consider him a Taliban just because he criticises the US atrocities in Afghanistan? If that is the case there are many politicians, scholars, academics and civil society organisations that criticise the US policies, in particular its military interventions. Should all these critics be termed as the Taliban instead of being critics of the US policies?

Devji’s article is a clear indication of his ignorance of the Afghan society their very sentiments. Military poetry exists in the literature of the Pashtuns (on both sides of the border: Pakistan and Afghanistan) for centuries because they have always been the victims of powerful invaders of the time, Alexander, the Mongols, the Persians, the Moghuls, the British, the Russians and now the Americans.

Among them the poems of the 16th century Afghan poet Khushal Khan Khattak are the most prominent. He has also written extensively on the subject of leadership and politics however we will present some of his poems on war and bravery:

I tied the sword in the dignity of the Afghans
I am Khushal Khattak the brave of the age

In another instance he prefers the death of honour over the life of disgrace or of being occupied when he says:

Life's no life when honour’s left
Man's a man when honour’s kept
Nation's honour and nation's fame
on life they have a prior claim
With thoughts of these I do remain
Unvexed with cares of loss or gain

In 19th century British occupation of Afghan was shocked by similar poetry when an intellectual of the time Mahmoud Tarzi began to publish anti-colonization verses in his newspaper, the Siraj-ul-Akhbar. According to modern-day Afghan historian Habibullah Rafi a poet of the time Maulavi Salih Mohammad’s work, which was published in Siraj-ul-Akhbar on 16th April 1915, has provoked many against British colonialism:

The world has become furious
Shaken and angry
Big states in the world
In Europe andAsia
All of them are involved in war
They are all stained with red blood
British are in grief
They are very upset
Look at the bravery of Turkish
Romans and Othman,

In 1980s when soviet invaded Afghanistan poetry became a major tool of information war against the Russian occupiers. Poets such as Ishaq Nangyal turned out to be a voice of anti- Soviet resistance:

If my both eyes are excluded from me
If my chest is holed with bullets
If my tongue is cut off from throat
If my red blood sheds from my veins
For the honor of the country I accept all these
I am an Afghan, I fulfill my intentions

However, Mr. Devji looks at the complexity of the Pashto poetry in very simple way. According to him any poet criticising an invader in Afghanistan is a Taliban. Albert Einstein used to say that make things as simple as possible but not simpler probably because it can put once life in jeopardy.

 Mr. Devji’s over implication of the Pashto poetry seems to cause such harm by enlisting Ezatullah Zawab as a Taliban regardless of understanding the current geopolitical situation of Afghanistan where American and Afghan security apparatuses are on the hunt for the Taliban. His article can potentially risk the life of Mr. Zawab and probably other non-Taliban poets criticising the US policies and military operations in Afghanistan.

As a critique of foreign invasion Zawab often reproaches high ranking officials for their involvement in high profile corruption, a reality which his fellow poets condemn too. I wrote this in 2009 when many poets turned to the war of the words against foreign invasion.

But a hybridity of pro-Taliban and independent Pashtun poetic list means international and local allies have failed to tackle informational battle against insurgency. Taliban have either succeeded to gain far-reaching support not only among Pashtun speaking villagers but also within Pashtun intellectuals.

This is a similar opinion which evoked criticism against former US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke: ‘‘The Taliban is woven into the fabric of Pashtun society on both sides of the border with Pakistan, and almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with the movement,’’ Holbrooke said.

Jamal Shinwari an Afghan researcher contributed to this article. Follow him on Facebook.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

US in denial: Watershed in Afghanistan

US in denial: Watershed in Afghanistan

Diplomatic statements have ignored the strategic and psychological battles won by the Taliban.

Marwan Bishara
The senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

Doha, Qatar - In one of the first official US reactions to the attacks against Kabul and cities across eastern Afghanistan last weekend, Ryan C Crocker, US ambassador to Afghanistan, said: "The Taliban are really good at issuing statements, Less good at actually fighting."

And after accusing (or crediting) the Haqqani network based in the tribal area within the Afghan-Pakistan borders' region, the ambassador added: "Frankly I don't think the Taliban is good enough."

These declarations have come after the insurgents targeted sensitive installations in the country's most important population centres - including at least three prominent targets in Kabul - in one of the most coordinated and pronounced assaults since the occupation began 11 years ago.

The US government has clearly chosen to shift the blame across the border to Pakistan, and to put a brave face on its humiliation - by downplaying what the Taliban are calling the beginning of their "spring offensive".

The US State Department called the attacks "cowardly", and praised the "swift and effective response" of Afghan forces.

Furthermore, in the same breath, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General John R Allen, praised the Afghan forces who "were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated ... and [who] largely kept the insurgents contained".
"Perhaps it is Washington, not the Taliban, that is pretty good at 'issuing statements'."
A quick survey of the Obama administration's media strategy, and its swift and well-coordinated official declarations, shows that perhaps it is Washington, not the Taliban, that is pretty good at "issuing statements".

Asymmetric warfare

If taken seriously, I mean not as media newspeak, Ambassador Crocker's Clausewitzian evaluation of the Taliban and the state of play in Afghanistan belongs to the conventional wars of a past era.

However, in their unconventional war against the US-led occupation of their country, the Taliban insurgency isn't expected either to fight face-to-face or "fairly" against the superior firepower of the United States and its allies.

To characterise the Taliban attacks as "cowardly" is frankly mind-boggling. And I am not referring merely to the fact that the insurgents knew too well that they wouldn't come out alive from the attack, or that part of the operations involved suicide attacks on NATO facilities.

Like them or hate them, the Taliban fight against the US and Afghan forces has been effective and, yes, impressive. It will be taught in the US and other war academies for decades to come.

As Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reported from Kabul, the civilian casualties from the most recent attacks were relatively low - considering the three suicide bombings. Instead the Taliban were attempting to send a spectacular message: if they want to, they can strike fear and panic right in the heart of the capital.

Furthermore, in asymmetrical warfare, statements can have a more powerful psychological effect than raw firepower.

The Taliban's claim that their well-planned and sophisticated operation was only the beginning of a spring offensive has probably resulted in many soiled undergarments across the country - they have generally proven credible in their pronouncements of war, certainly more credible than the predictions of the occupying forces.
"[The Taliban] have generally proven credible in their pronouncements of war, certainly more credible than the predictions of the occupying forces."
The US-led war and occupation of Afghanistan has already gone on longer than the Vietnam War, and longer than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Washington's war pundits assured Americans that the US occupation would be nothing like that of the Soviets, or that the British during their first, second and third Afghanistan wars in the 19th and 20th centuries. They have also proven dead wrong.

So have their assurances that this would be a cakewalk for the US "liberators", easily fending off "the oppressive Taliban" proved to be nonsensical.

According to news reports, the number of attacks across the country has increased considerably in recent weeks, as fighters return from Pakistan.

Clearly, the recent cowardly US soldier killing spree against Afghan civilians in their homes has helped shore up support against the US occupation.

And now that the Obama administration speaks openly about withdrawing combat troops by 2014, there is little doubt that many Afghans, including more than a few in the newly trained national army, will find their place among those staying - the Taliban.

What's their secret?

Is there something special about Afghanistan's geography or culture that no foreign superpower has been able to win a war there or secure an occupation? Perhaps.

Is it the large support given to the Taliban from the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic segment of Afghan society? Is the failure of the corrupt Karzai government to govern - or to provide basic services to the people - to blame? Is it the high civilian casualties in the war at the hands of NATO forces? These factors most probably add to the mix.

It is nonetheless amazing how a people who have suffered so much since Afghanistan became a republic four decades ago could still go on fighting.

The 1970s featured internal strife among communists, Islamists and others, while the 1980s witnessed horrific Soviet occupation and cynical Cold War manipulations.
"The Taliban and their allies have been unrelenting in their slow and calculated resistance against the 'foreign and Western occupiers' who continue to visit havoc upon their homeland."
Soon the vacuum left by the Cold War in the 1990s was filled by regional powers - who helped widen and deepen the national divides. And in the past decade, Afghanistan has become the main battlefield of the US "global war on terror".

And yet the Afghans, notably the Taliban and their allies, have been unrelenting in their slow and calculated resistance against the "foreign and Western occupiers" who continue to visit havoc upon their homeland.

The Taliban's endurance could be also explained by any number of factors, extending from Pakistani support to religious beliefs - and permitting and/or taxing the drug trade.

Such cases of relying on regional support and unsavoury practices to sustain and subsidise resistance have been documented from Latin American to Africa and Asia.

But what is special about the Taliban is, in some ways, similar to the reasons behind Hezbollah's success against Israel's occupation in Lebanon.

They reject all compromises with the occupiers, and cast away their values, laws and ideas. They don't heed pleas from Western dominated international institutions, nor fraternise with their enemies' "peace camps".

They believe, and are tightly united, in their cause of freedom from foreign occupation - denying NATO much actionable intelligence against the fighting group. The Taliban has also been consistently sticking to this one sacred goal, while dismissing any diplomatic formulae that are not conditional on withdrawal - first and foremost.

The Afghans obviously know by experience, wit or instinct what the encyclopaedic West continues to ignore: No foreign power, mighty as it may be, has succeeded in the past century to overcome the indigenous will of the people for freedom from foreign rule.
Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst and the author of The Invisible Arab: The promise and peril of the Arab revolutions, now available in bookstores.
Follow him on Twitter: @marwanbishara

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Al Jazeera                

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Afghanistan: The Quagmire of U.S. Occupation

By Nicole Colson   

'' Source: News''

CHICAGO (IDN) - The U.S. war and occupation of Afghanistan was supposed to bring stability and democracy. Instead, Afghanistan remains a country on the brink of disaster – one that has clearly been exacerbated by the U.S. presence.

More than 10 years after the U.S. war began, in spite of the presence of about 2,000 international aid groups, at least $3.5 billion in humanitarian funds and $58 billion in development assistance, humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan remain abysmal.

This past winter, one of the harshest in recent years, compounded the suffering of those living in refugee camps – an estimated 35,000 people just in the capital of Kabul, and many more around the country. The camps, according to the New York Times, are euphemistically referred to as "informal settlements," because labeling them as what they really are, camps full of war refugees, is "politically sensitive." According to the Times, "The Afghan government insists that the residents should and could return to their original homes; the residents say it is too dangerous for them to do so."

The death rate for children under age five in these camps is 144 out of 1,000, according to Julie Bara of Solidarit├ęs International. The Times calls this "stunningly high even for Afghanistan, which already has the world's third highest infant mortality rate."

As Mohammad Yousef, director general of Aschiana, an Afghan aid group that provides education and other services in 13 of the camps, told the Times, "There is no clear strategy to help these people. They don't have access to anything--health, education, food, sanitation, water. They don't even have an opportunity for survival."

Such a bleak picture of humanitarian conditions should give pause to anyone who might still believes that the U.S. could be a force for good in Afghanistan. But it isn't only the dire conditions in the refugee camps. By any measure, even those of the occupiers, the U.S. war and occupation has been a dismal failure – failing to liberate women, failing to improve conditions for ordinary Afghans, failing to bring about democracy, failing to stop the killing of civilians, failing to permanently oust the Taliban, failing to train a national armed forces.

Of course, that's because the U.S. occupation was never about liberation and democracy in the first place. It was about securing an imperial foothold in the region – no matter the consequence to the Afghan people. Now, as the U.S. occupation unravels, it is ordinary Afghans who are suffering the consequences as the U.S. looks in vain for a "Plan B" that doesn't exist.

Women's Rights
Take women's rights. Although the 2001 war was accompanied by relentless propaganda from both Democrats and Republicans telling us that the U.S. had to go to war in order to "save" Afghan women from repressive fundamentalism, reports today suggest that little has changed.

According to the Guardian, half of all Afghan women in prison--some 400--are there for "moral" crimes – including running away from abusive homes. Others have been imprisoned for the "crime" of sex outside of marriage – after being raped or forced into prostitution.

A report last fall from Oxfam found that 87 percent of Afghan women reported experiencing physical, psychological or sexual abuse or forced marriages. The U.S.-backed stooge President Hamid Karzai, whose government is notorious for its corruption and its lack of legitimacy outside Kabul, recently backed a decree by the Ulema Council, a government-sponsored group of religious leaders, insisting that women are worth less than men, should be subordinate to men, should not mix with men in school or the workplace, and should always travel with a male guardian.

Karzai backed the decree as part of a plan to appeal to conservative forces and the Taliban – which his government is currently negotiating with as the date approaches for a planned September withdrawal of some 30,000 U.S. troops. This would bring the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan down from approximately 90,000 to 60,000 – a necessary move for the Obama administration prior to the November election.

Whatever else is taking place, it's clear that even empty rhetoric about women's rights is being ditched. "There is a link with what is happening all over the country with peace talks and the restrictions they want to put on women's rights," Fawzia Koofi, a member of Afghanistan's parliament, told the Guardian, adding that the decree is a "green light for Talibanization."

Doubts and Protests
Karzai – along with the U.S. – is desperate to cut whatever deals he can with the Taliban and other forces now, because his isolated and weak government would have a hard time remaining in power once the U.S. presence is wound down.

Nor has the U.S. been able to train a stable Afghan army – at least not with any confidence that its soldiers will remain loyal to U.S. interests or to Karzai and the central government. The Obama administration is counting on the perception that its troop "surge" brought internal security and stability to large areas of the country, even though that's clearly not the case.

In fact, the U.S. and its NATO partners in the Afghanistan occupation don't trust the soldiers that they do recruit and train. In many places outside Kabul, the Taliban and other warlords are in total control of local militias.

In Ghor province in the West, for example, more than 150 illegally armed groups are estimated to contend for power in the area – against some 200 NATO soldiers. According to one report last month:
Governor Abdullah Hiwad recently told media that President Hamid Karzai had agreed to raising and deploying an additional 1,000-member militia to the province. He said the president had promised completing the process this solar year. However, provincial council members and officials believe militias cause unrest and fuel insecurity instead of bringing relief to the people.

On top of this local instability is the widespread outrage caused by repeated insults and massacres at the hands of U.S. troops. Recent months have seen mass protests in Afghanistan over photos showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of "insurgents," the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in February and, last month, the massacre of 17 unarmed civilians by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

The atrocities committed by Bales didn't provoke the immediate and furious protests seen during the Koran burning, but they have built on an even deeper sense of distrust of American and NATO forces by ordinary Afghans.

U.S. commanders are well aware that their own troops are a barely contained powder keg. According to journalist Robert Fisk, just three weeks before Bales carried out his massacre – after the death of six NATO troops, two of them Americans, in the wake of the protests against the Koran burning--the U.S. Army's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, lectured his men, "Now is not the time for revenge for the deaths."

According to Fisk, Allen told soldiers that they should "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back," Allen continued. "Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are."

As Fisk wrote:
[T]his was an extraordinary plea to come from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to "take vengeance" on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder.
I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this?

I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings--and might decide to go on a revenge spree.

The Bales Massacre
One of the things that made the Bales massacre particularly appalling was that the U.S. had specifically told civilians in the area who had previously fled the fighting to come back to their villages – that it was "safe," and there was no longer a threat from the Taliban.

Following the massacre, the U.S. military was so worried about the anger it could spark that, within days, it paid the families of the victims $50,000 for each murdered civilian – as opposed to the several hundred or few thousand dollars that has been routine during the war. But payoffs won't bring dead civilians back to life--nor will they make the resentment that fuels opposition to the U.S. and NATO war go away.

As one anonymous Afghan official told ABC News, "The villagers aren't like animals that you can buy. Yes, it's a lot of money. But their children are not coming back." Adding to that resentment is the fact that the U.S. immediately whisked Bales out of the country following his murder spree--preventing Afghan officials or courts from having any role in investigating the crime or seeking justice for the victims' families.

This comes on top of the February Koran burnings, which sparked days of mass protests around the country. During the protests, Afghan soldiers – not "insurgents" – killed six occupying troops. Two were found dead with shots to the back of the head inside the Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul. These two killings, at least, were certainly carried out by a person or persons that the U.S. had trained as part of the Afghan security forces, and who therefore had access to U.S. soldiers and a U.S. base.

In late March, following the Bales massacre, Afghan forces reportedly shot and killed three NATO soldiers. Reports suggest the person who carried out the attack had been in the Afghan army for four years – another sign that U.S.-trained soldiers are taking aim at the occupiers.

Also in late March, the Afghan defense ministry was forced to go on lockdown after discovering 10 "suicide bomb vests." More than a dozen Afghan soldiers were arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack the ministry and blow up commuter buses for government employees. As the New York Times noted, "The security breach took place in one of the most heavily fortified parts of Kabul, less than a mile from the presidential palace and the headquarters of the American-led coalition."

These are just a few of the recent attacks in which Afghan forces are suspected to have attempted to turn their weapons on U.S. and NATO occupiers. According to the Associated Press, since 2007, an estimated 80 NATO service members have been killed by Afghan security forces. More than 75 percent of those attacks have actually occurred in the past two years, and they're happening right in front of, and even on, military bases.

Almost one in five of the NATO soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, have been shot and killed by Afghan soldiers and policemen, or militants disguised in their uniforms. For U.S. leaders, such attacks are particularly worrisome – because they expose the idea that a loyal Afghan army will soon be ready to take over security of the country.

The U.S. currently spends some $9 billion a year to fund and train the Afghan army. As Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, said recently, if the U.S. stops funding the Afghan army after its planned withdrawal of combat troops in 2014, "We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun, and then made them unemployed."

All of this complicates the Obama administration's timeline for withdrawal. While Karzai remains largely a figurehead, the U.S. continues to rely on his administration to broker a deal with the Taliban in order to set the stage for the September drawdown of troops and, ultimately, the planned withdrawal of all combat troops by 2014.

Following the Bales massacre, the Taliban withdrew from talks- leaving the Karzai government and the U.S. scrambling now to figure out how to get them back to the table. Within the U.S., this latest atrocities and tragedies have had a clear impact on people's attitude toward the war. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken after the Bales massacre, in the last four months, American opposition to continuing the war in Afghanistan has climbed from 53 percent to 69 percent of the population. Some 60 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats now agree that the war is going badly.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta immediately dismissed the poll, stating, "We cannot fight wars by polls. If we do that, we're in deep trouble." But the Obama administration is already in "deep trouble" when it comes to the quagmire in Afghanistan. It has no strategy except its hope to cut whatever deal it can with the Taliban, maintain the six U.S. military bases across the country, keep Karzai as a nominal figure in Kabul, and continue the drone war.

The Republicans, of course, don't have an alternate strategy. Mitt Romney has been critical of Obama's "withdrawal timetable," but all his campaign website says is that as president, he would "order a full interagency assessment of our military and assistance presence in Afghanistan."

As Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women's Mission recently explained in an interview with the Real News Network: [W]hat Afghans, ordinary Afghans have been subjected to over the past 10 years has been they get targeted from three different sides. You have the U.S. and NATO occupation on the one hand, which is conducting these night raids and killing civilians, the likes of which we just saw. And then you have the Taliban, who are only stronger because of the U.S. presence, because they have a great excuse to remain in Afghanistan.

And then you have the U.S.-backed central government in Afghanistan, which is riddled with very corrupt and criminal warlords. After 10 years, it's long past time for ordinary Afghans to be able to decide their own fate--without the interference of the U.S. and NATO. As long as the U.S. military remains, Afghanistan cannot be free.

*Nicole Colson writes for, in which this article was first published.