What began as a “War on Terror” with waves of bombing attacks on Kandahar and Kabul October 7, 2001 has long since become a War of Terror, inflicted on the peoples of Southwest Asia, generating and strengthening resistance movements (“insurgencies”), enraging local allies and even alienating regimes of Washington’s own creation. The Canadians and Europeans have long since tired of it. So have the American people, despite the failure of the corporate media to expose the Big Lies that Cheney and Bush continue to promote in order to justify their Terror War.
BY GARY LEUPP
Posted by Bulatlat
Seven years ago today the U.S. began the assault on Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime and produced the present mess. Abetted by U.S. bombing and commando operations, the Northern Alliance took Kabul on November 13, 2001. This was the initial U.S. response to 9-11, an assault on the U.S. by Saudi Islamist fanatics based in Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda attacks killed 3000 people. By March 2002 the U.S. bombing had produced that many Afghan civilian fatalities. This was just the beginning.
The invasion produced little change in the daily life of the average Afghan. Fanatical Sunni leaders who’d had a genuine social base and had been able to control 95 per cent of the country with minimal outside help were driven back to their villages. They were replaced by other fanatical Sunni leaders—those who had toppled the “leftist” government in 1993, then been overthrown themselves by the Taliban in 1996. These Northern Alliance forces had been nurtured in the duration by India, Russia and Iran as their idea of the better bet among competing Islamist fundamentalists.
But in the seven years since, this collection of tribal-based warlords has been unable to stabilize Afghanistan—even though they’re propped up by tens of thousands of foreign troops who’re told that they’re there to fight terrorism and help create “democracy.” Indeed, its hold on power becomes more tenuous every year, while a resurgent Taliban with no foreign government’s support exacts an ever heavier price from the foreigners and their local allies.
According to the United Nations, 1,445 civilians were killed in the war from January through August this year—a rise of 39 per cent over 2007. At least 577 of these deaths were due to the actions of pro-government forces. Deaths from air strikes have tripled since 2006. “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans,” declares Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Francesc Vendrell, a Spanish diplomat with eight years’ experience in Afghanistan, recently noted that civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces have created “a great deal of antipathy” and the situation in the country is the worst it’s been since 2001. Members of the Afghan Parliament have staged a one-day walkout to protest the civilian casualties.
Puppet president Hamid Karzai has also protested the strikes and their “collateral damage” in the last two years in fairly strong language. But hand-picked for his post by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Loya Jirga of June 2002, he is commonly known as the mere “mayor of Kabul.” Why should the U.S. pay any attention to his protests? His authority hardly extends beyond the city limits, and even Kabul has become insecure. Elsewhere warlords hold sway in virtually independent ethnic baronies, issuing their own laws and printing their own currency, filling their coffers with the proceeds of opium and human trafficking—activities the Taliban had effectively banned.
Opium poppy production had been effectively wiped out by 2001. Today Afghanistan supplies about 90 per cent of the world’s illegal opium. And then there are the sad continuities. The burqa, vilified before the attack as the symbol of Taliban misogyny, remains the normative female costume and leading political figures insist upon its use. Women are still imprisoned for refusing arranged marriages. The Supreme Court upholds death sentences for Christian converts. The Taliban stoned women to death for adultery and blasted away the buddhas of Bamiyan. It was undeniably awful. But it’s not at all clear that the current regime has made life better for most Afghans.
72 per cent (58 per cent of males, 87 per cent of females) were illiterate in 2000 and it’s doubtful the number has risen greatly as a result of the Taliban’s ouster. A 2005 report stated 50 per cent of males and 82 per cent of females remained illiterate, and the figures are higher in the rural areas. 80 per cent of the population are impoverished farmers, growing in order of importance opium, wheat, fruits and nuts and grazing sheep. According to the online CIA Factbook: “Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid, agriculture, and trade with neighboring countries. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. Criminality, insecurity, and the Afghan Government’s inability to extend rule of law to all parts of the country pose challenges to future economic growth. It will probably take the remainder of the decade and continuing donor aid and attention to significantly raise Afghanistan’s living standards from its current level, among the lowest in the world.” This does not sound like a liberated country.
The entire political class in the U.S., with Democratic candidate Obama in the vanguard, , unites in proclaiming the war in Afghanistan as the “good” war, the reasonable and appropriate response to 9-11. It’s seen as the foil to the “strategic error” of Iraq. But how, at this point, is it connected to 9-11? The Taliban didn’t attack the United States. They sent envoys to talk to former State Department official, then UNOCAL executive Khalilzad about oil pipeline construction in the late 1990s. (Afghan-American neocon Khalilzad had actually editorialized in the Washington Post in favor of the Taliban!) While not recognized by the U.S. government, it received U.S. funds from Colin Powell’s State Department in 2001 to eradicate opium poppy production. The U.S. drove the Taliban from power to affirm the principle that it would not distinguish between terrorists and the regimes that harbor them. Maybe that sounded good at the time, macho and simple, but that mentality and policy has produced an expanding disaster.
The Taliban is Not the Same Thing as al-Qaeda
To review some history: the Taliban did not create al-Qaeda or invite it into Afghanistan. The U.S.-led effort to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s boosted young Osama bin Laden into prominence, as an anticommunist CIA ally. The U.S. establishment of bases in Saudi Arabia in 1990 turned him against the U.S. and Saudi regime, and ultimately resulted in his return to Afghanistan before the Taliban even took power. The Taliban allowed his presence, and the operation of his training camps, although it apparently sought to restrain his activities after 1998. It’s not at all clear that Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders were in on al-Qaeda’s 9-11 plans. (Wasn’t their principal international backer, aside from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia? And haven’t Riyadh and al-Qaeda been mortal enemies since 1990?) But they paid the price for not capitulating to Washington’s demand immediately after 9-11 that they turn over bin Laden to U.S. authorities. That would have meant turning their backs on the Pashtunwali honor code (requiring hospitality and protection of guests), the same honor code operative in North and South Waziristan (in Pakistan) which the U.S. administration either does not understand or provocatively exploits to create pretexts for widening war.