By PATRICK COCKBURN
Posted by (Bulatlat.com)
In Iraq and Afghanistan American and British forces became participants in civil wars which their own presence has exacerbated and prolonged. The US and UK governments persistently ignore the extent to which foreign military occupation has destabilized both countries.
The reason for this should be obvious: foreign occupations have seldom been popular throughout history. The occupiers consult their own political, military and economic interests before that of the allied governments which they are supposedly supporting. This de-legitimized the Baghdad and Kabul governments and enabled their opponents to pose as the patriotic opposition. In addition, foreign military armies, whatever their declared intentions, enforce their authority by violence, invariably producing friction with the local population.
The very fact that the election in Afghanistan took place at all this week is being lauded this week in the western press as a triumph for democracy conducted under the wise supervision of soldiers from the US, Britain and NATO. But Afghans are more interested in who really holds power and what they do with it.
President Hamid Karzai is not particularly popular, but as the incumbent he in a strong position, through networks of patronage, to get the support of local and regional king-makers such as warlords, chiefs of police, shuras (local councils), religious, tribal and ethnic leaders. What foreign reporting of elections in both Afghanistan and Iraq misses is the extent to which ordinary Afghans and Iraqis regard their governments as rackets run by political gangsters for their own ends. A common reason, I’ve heard expressed in both Baghdad and Kabul for supporting the incumbent leadership, is that it will have already stolen so much that its members have no need to steal more, while a new government will be equally rapacious but far hungrier. The only way of judging the extent of such extreme cynicism in Afghanistan is the extent of the turn-out, currently estimated to be 40-50 per cent.
Will the Afghan election bring the end of the war closer or noticeably strengthen the government in Kabul? Mr Karzai, if he wins, will be able to say that he was chosen as leader in a real election. But otherwise the poll will only reconfirm the power of the men, often labelled warlords, who emerged the surprise winners from a civil war between the Taliban, almost entirely drawn from the Pashtun community (42 per cent of Afghans), and the largely non-Pashtun Northern Alliance.
Just before 9/11, the Northern Alliance forces had been squeezed into a corner of north east Afghanistan and seemed to be close to final defeat. But within a few months of the US deciding to drive out the Taliban as hosts of al-Qa’ida, the Northern Alliance was able to take over the whole of Aghanistan thanks to US airpower and money. Most Afghans were glad to see the apparent end of the Taliban, whose victories were won with the support of Pakistani military intelligence and Saudi cash.
But opposing the Taliban was never quite the same as supporting the Northern Alliance, whose leaders turned out to be ravenous for the perks of office and power. I spent several months in the Northern Alliance stronghold in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul in 2001, and, going back to Afghanistan earlier this year, I was astonished to find so many of the warlords I knew then are still monopolizing jobs, contracts and money-making positions in Kabul. It is absurd for foreign governments to lament Mr Karzai’s promotion as his running mates of the Tajik warlord Muhammad Fahim and his Hazara equivalent Karim Khalili, both of whom are accused of human rights abuses. Mr Karzai is simply recognizing the strength of established, if unsavory, power brokers in the non-Pashto communities. This may be a very messy and highly corrupt political power structure, but it is one which the US and Britain are fighting to keep in place.