The Western media rarely explores the failures of the Afghanistan war. That’s unfortunate, because the conflict tells us a great deal about the suicidal direction of American foreign policy.
95% of the American public supported the war in Afghanistan, feeling that something had to be done in response to the attacks of September 11. Something was done: we invaded a sovereign nation, toppled the fanatical Taliban, and cobbled together an American-friendly regime that has never had any real authority and never provided even minimal security for its people.
The toxic effects of the conflict are now tragically evident in the unexpected results of the parliamentary elections. The September 18 elections for the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) show that warlords and ex-Taliban commanders won over half of the seats in the new parliament. Many of those elected are among the most extreme human rights abusers in the country, certainly not what President Bush imagined when he began his “global democratic revolution.” Now, former jihadis, Islamic fundamentalists, and warlords will control a majority of the seats in Parliament ensuring that the security of the Afghani people will continue to be at risk.
For all practical purposes, the country has returned to its brutal pre-Taliban days where the nation was divided into fiefdoms controlled by regional warlords. Many of the candidates participated in the civil war during the 1990s that devastated much of the country. They are now in a position to challenge the power of the central government and obstruct efforts to further integrate the country.
Some of the Taliban leaders who won spots in the new government are Wakil Mutawakil, former Foreign Minister for the Taliban, and Maulavi Qalamuddin, the head of the Department for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue, the fanatical agency that enforced Sharia Law through severe forms of punishment and physical abuse. It is widely believed that Tehran is directly supporting the more extreme members in the fledgling parliament. This tells us that Iran is developing a base of political support in Afghanistan as it has in Iraq. Ironically, the US is currently defending Iran-friendly regimes in both countries it has chosen to invade.
After four years of occupation, we can see that the administration’s promises for Afghanistan were all lies. The military has never tried to liberate the countryside from the tyranny of the warlords, nor has Bush’s promise of a Marshall Plan ever materialized. The Karzai government is a feeble puppet regime with no popular base and with no real power beyond the confines of Kabul. Judging by its inability to address any of Afghanistan’s urgent problems -- security, drug trafficking, sanitation, human rights abuses -- we can conclude that Karzai and his American overlords are a serious obstacle to Afghanistan’s rehabilitation. There’s really no chance of meaningful recovery or development in Afghanistan until Karzai is replaced by someone with a broader popular mandate.
The increasing attacks on American forces are a sign of the widespread frustration with the American occupation. The public no longer believes that the US will honor its original commitments to rebuild or stabilize the country and that is causing growing discontent and violence. Life in Afghanistan is an endless cycle of sporadic attacks, bureaucratic ineffectiveness, and grinding poverty. The specter of occupation only adds to the sense of hopelessness.
The window of opportunity for the US to demonstrate its good intentions has long since passed. The reported incidents of prisoner abuse and even death are fueling the rising restlessness and anger. The recent broadcast of the US troops burning the bodies of Taliban fighters is just the latest, and most obscene, affront to the cultural sensitivities and religious beliefs of the Afghanistan people. The shockwaves from this incident will undoubtedly be felt for years to come.
Things will only get worse in Afghanistan until the United States leaves. We are no longer trusted by the people, nor can we claim the moral authority to know what is in their best interest. The sad fact is that American troops are no longer guarantors of the peace but, rather, are the main instigators of the hostilities. According to Stars and Stripes magazine, “the recent surge in fighting (in Afghanistan) could be attributed more to American aggressiveness than anything Al Qaida is doing.” Just like in Iraq, the American tendency to “shoot now, and ask questions later” is the primary source of the burgeoning violence.
Western media has scrupulously kept Afghanistan off the front page of America’s newspapers. That spot has been reserved for the spurious charges against Syria so that Washington can drum up support for its next war. But, thoughtful Americans should take a second look at Afghanistan and judge for themselves whether any of the administration’s goals have been realized or if the conflict has been a dismal failure. The recent parliamentary elections demonstrate beyond a doubt that America’s involvement has only strengthened the most reactionary and brutal elements in Afghani society. This is a clear sign that it is high time for us to withdraw our troops and to reconsider the use of military force as the primary means of achieving foreign policy objectives.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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