is Year 6 of the UN-backed NATO occupation of Afghanistan, a joint
US/EU mission. On 26 February there was an attempted assassination
of Dick Cheney by Taliban suicide bombers while he was visiting
the 'secure' US air base at Bagram (once an equally secure Soviet
air base during an earlier conflict). Two US soldiers and a mercenary
('contractor') died in the attack, as did 20 other people working
at the base.
This episode alone should have concentrated the US Vice-President's
mind on the scale of the Afghan debacle. In 2006 the casualty
rates rose substantially and NATO troops lost 46 soldiers in clashes
with the Islamic resistance or shot-down helicopters.
insurgents now control at least 20 districts in the Kandahar,
Helmand, Uruzgan provinces where NATO troops have replaced US
soldiers. And it is hardly a secret that many officials in these
zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters. The situation
is out of control. At the beginning of this war Mrs Bush and Mrs
Blair appeared on numerous TV and radio shows claiming that the
aim of the war was to liberate Afghan women. Try repeating that
today and the women will spit in your face.
the beginning of this war Mrs Bush
and Mrs Blair appeared on numerous
TV and radio shows claiming that the
aim of the war was to liberate Afghan
women. Try repeating that today and
the women will spit in your face.
is responsible for this disaster? Why is the country still subjugated?
What are Washington's strategic goals in the region? What is the
function of NATO? And how long can any country remain occupied
against the will of a majority of its people?
tears were shed in Afghanistan and elsewhere when the Taliban
fell, the hopes aroused by Western demagogy did not last too long.
It soon became clear that the new transplanted elite would cream
off a bulk of the foreign aid and create its own criminal networks
of graft and patronage. The people suffered. A mud cottage with
a thatched roof to house a family of homeless refugees costs fewer
than five thousand dollars. How many have been built? Hardly any.
There are reports each year of hundreds of shelter-less Afghans
freezing to death each winter.
a quick-fix election was organised at high cost by Western PR
firms and essentially for the benefit of Western public opinion.
The results failed to bolster support for NATO inside the country.
Hamid Karzai, the puppet President, symbolised his own isolation
and instinct for self-preservation by refusing to be guarded by
a security detail from his own ethnic Pashtun base. He wanted
tough, Terminator look-alike US marines and was granted them.
Karzai, the puppet President,
symbolised his own isolation and
instinct for self-preservation by
refusing to be guarded by a security
detail from his own ethnic Pashtun
base. He wanted tough, Terminator
look-alike US marines and was
Afghanistan been made more secure by a limited Marshall-Plan style
intervention? It is, of course, possible that the construction
of free schools and hospitals, subsidised homes for the poor and
the rebuilding of the social infrastructure that was destroyed
after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 could have stabilised
the country. It would also have needed state help to agriculture
and cottage industries to reduce the dependence on poppy farming.
Ninety per cent of the world's opium production is based in Afghanistan.
The UN estimates suggest that heroin accounts for 52 per cent
of the impoverished country's gross domestic product and the opium
sector of agriculture continues to grow apace. All this would
have required a strong state and a different world order. Only
a slightly crazed utopian could have expected NATO countries,
busy privatising and deregulating their own countries, to embark
on enlightened social experiments abroad.
so elite corruption grew like an untreated tumour. Western funds
designed to aid some reconstruction were siphoned off to build
fancy homes for their native enforcers. In Year 2 of the Occupation
there was a gigantic housing scandal. Cabinet ministers awarded
themselves and favoured cronies prime real estate in Kabul where
land prices reached a high point after the Occupation since the
occupiers and their camp followers had to live in the style to
which they had become accustomed. Karzai's colleagues built their
large villas, protected by NATO troops and in full view of the
colleagues built their
large villas, protected by NATO troops
and in full view of the poor. Add to this
that Karzai's younger brother,
Ahmad Wali Karzai, has become
one of the largest drug barons
in the country.
to this that Karzai's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, has
become one of the largest drug barons in the country. At a recent
meeting with Pakistan's President, when Karzai was bleating on
about Pakistan's inability to stop cross-border smuggling, General
Musharraf suggested that perhaps Karzai should set an example
by bringing his sibling under control.
economic conditions failed to improve, NATO military strikes often
targeted innocent civilians leading to violent anti-American protests
in the Afghan capital last year. What was initially viewed by
some locals as a necessary police action against al-Qaeda following
the 9/11 attacks is now perceived by a growing majority in the
entire region as a fully-fledged imperial occupation.
The Taliban is growing and creating new alliances not because
its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because
it is the only available umbrella for national liberation. As
the British and Russians discovered to their cost in the preceding
two centuries, Afghans never liked being occupied.
is no way NATO can win
this war now. Sending more troops
will lead to more deaths.
And full-scale battles will destabilise
is no way NATO can win this war now. Sending more troops will
lead to more deaths. And full-scale battles will destabilise neighbouring
Pakistan. Musharraf has already taken the rap for an air raid
on a Muslim school in Pakistan. Dozens of children were killed
and the Islamists in Pakistan organised mass street protests.
Insiders suggest that the 'pre-emptive' raid was, in fact, carried
out by US war planes who were supposedly targeting a terrorist
base, but the Pakistan government thought it better they took
the responsibility to avoid an explosion of anti-American anger.
failure cannot be blamed on the Pakistani government. If anything,
the war in Afghanistan has created a critical situation in two
Pakistani provinces. The Pashtun majority in Afghanistan has always
had close links to its fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. The border
was an imposition by the British Empire and it has always been
Attired in Pashtun clothes I crossed it myself in 1973 without
any restrictions. It is virtually impossible to build a Texan
fence or an Israeli wall across the mountainous and largely unmarked
2,500-kilometre border that separates the two countries. The solution
is political, not military.
lesson here, as in Iraq,
is a basic one. It is much better
for regime-change to come from
below even if this means a long wait
as in South Africa, Indonesia or Chile.
strategic aims in Afghanistan appear to be non-existent unless
they need the conflict to discipline European allies who betrayed
them on Iraq. True, the al-Qaeda leaders are still at large, but
their capture will be the result of effective police work, not
war and occupation. What will be the result of a NATO withdrawal?
Here Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian states will be vital
in guaranteeing a confederal constitution that respects ethnic
and religious diversity. The NATO occupation has not made this
task easy. Its failure has revived the Taliban and increasingly
the Pashtuns are uniting behind it.
lesson here, as in Iraq, is a basic one. It is much better for
regime-change to come from below even if this means a long wait
as in South Africa, Indonesia or Chile. Occupations disrupt the
possibilities of organic change and create a much bigger mess
than existed before. Afghanistan is but one example.
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Axis Of Hope,
is published by Verso. He also wrote Rough Music: Blair,
Bombs, Baghdad, Terror, London (Verso); Street Fighting
Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian,Speaking of
Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
here to order Tariq Ali books.
Other articles by Tariq Ali:
The War Is Already Lost
Venezuela And The Bolivarian Dream
A Bavarian Provocation
A Protracted Colonial War
On The Death Of Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Iraq's Destiny Still Rests Between God, Blood And Oil
A Despised Leader Suffers His First Loss
Pakistan Will Never Forget This Horror
The Logic Of Colonial Rule
A Viler Barbarism
The Price Of Occupation
The New Ultra-Imperialism Of The World
"They Think God Runs The IMF"
Imperial Delusions: "Domocracy Promotion" And Resistance
The New Model Of Imperialism: Saddam On Parade
The Importance Of Hugo Chavez: Why He Crushed The Oligarchs
Getting Away With Murder
The War Is Not Going Well For Bush