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Christian Parenti is a correspondent for The Nation and author of "The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq" (New Press, 2004).
He received a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics in 2000 and he has been a Soros Senior Justice Fellow and a Ford Foundation Fellow at...
These Al Qaeda networks in the east are small and do not mount large ground offensives like their two allied forces—the southern Taliban and Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami. Combat in Kunar and Nuristan is rarely as fierce as it is further south. But Al Qaeda clearly plays an important technical and media role in the overall Afghan jihad.
An intelligence contractor speculated that the Kabul bombings were more likely Al Qaeda types than country bumpkin Kandaharis. “The checkpoints of the national police are all Northern Alliance troops,” he said. “And they harass all Pashtun males. The suicide cells in Kabul are probably more sophisticated types.”
Not all the foreign fighters of the anti-Soviet jihad went home when it was over. Early this year, Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged followers not to forget the jihad in Afghanistan in their fixation on Iraq. Some of the earliest suicide bombers were said to be Pakistani, (though now most are believed to be Afghans). So there is still a role played by foreign fighters in Afghanistan.
The home-grown Taliban who make up the bulk of the insurgency have a simple cause: They fight to remove foreign troops and impose sharia, Islamic law. When I interviewed a group of fighters in a canyon in Zabul Province in February, the presence of foreign “non-believing” troops was their main grievance. They wanted their watan or homeland under Afghan control.
They talked about U.S. torture and arrests, criticized the government as corrupt and said they wanted a “truly Islamic government.” When pressed on what that was, they ducked any specific description. They claimed that they burned schools only because they opposed the mixing of boys and girls. The fighters were local southern Pashtuns. They laid out a clear critique of President Hamid Karzai and his NATO backers. But their alternative was a rather conservative and underdeveloped ideology, long on fatalism and moralism, short on specifics.
In January, Karzai, looking for a last chance to make peace, offered to negotiate with the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Taliban rejected the offer and several months later the Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Dadullah, said that only once all Western troops had vacated Afghanistan would his movement parlay with the Karzai administration.
More, recently the Washington Post’s Jim Hoaglan, invoking the Taliban’s “savagely misogynistic” ways, cited the dubious number of 2 million girls in school in Afghanistan since 2000 to spin the occupation there as “a stunning accomplishment.” But his idea of “winning Afghanistan” has little to do with reality on the ground.
The situation with education in Afghanistan is actually quite abysmal.
On Oct. 2, Deputy Education Minister Mohammad Sadiq Fatman said: “More than 200,000 students are shut out of schools across the country because of school closures due to fear of attacks.”
When CorpWatch looked into the issue of schools constructed by the Louis Berger Group, it found shoddy work and empty buildings. Teachers in Nagahar and elsewhere complained to me of no supplies, late payment of wages, too many students and too few teachers.
The national university is a shambles. “The professors take bribes or just pass you if you are Pashtun or Tajik like them,” says Hasmat, who was studying in Kabul.
“I will be a great butcher,” says Habib, who has studied medicine for six years but calls his Kabul degree worthless.
A professor who is now the Afghan ambassador to Germany says that many female students are dropping out for fear of being abducted while traveling to Kabul University.
Education is only one barometer of failure.
The harsh truth is that the West, led by the U.S., has been defeated in Afghanistan. It is only a matter time - probably three to five more bloody years—before international troops are forced to leave and a new government, or several governments, or a civil war takes hold. The country could likely divide along ethnic lines: a Pashtun south and a Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek north.
Kabul’s struggle to tame rural Afghan society began in earnest with the Iron Emir, Abdur Rahman. Victorious over the British but sustained by their grants from 1880 to 1901, Rahman momentarily broke the Pashtun tribes of the south and began to construct a civil service and modern army, starting with a ledger and less than a dozen civil servants. His son, Habibullaha, was weak and under him Kabul’s power waned. Then the grandson, Amanullah, ejected the British in 1919 (and likely had his father assassinated). Once in power, Amanullah launched a reasonably effective modernization plan that emulated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran.
But Amanullah pushed his reforms too far, too fast: Creating girls schools provoked a backlash from the country’s imams and tribal leaders. When his beautiful Syrian wife Soraoiya appeared unveiled in public, the dam broke. The Pashtun lashkars, or tribal armies, went back to war. When Amanullah fled Kabul, a Tajik brigand from the north, named Bacha-i-Saqao (“Son of a Water Carrier”) took over to rule and sack the capital for nine months.
Even during the developmentalist golden era of the early Cold War, the Afghan state was weak. From the early 1950s until 1978, Soviet and U.S. aid flowed in to compete at building roads, airports, power stations and irrigation projects. The process was presided over by a strongman, Daud Khan, who served first as prime minister under the king Zahir Shah, then, after a republican coup d’etat in 1973, as president. Daud was a modernizer, but he faced small Islamic insurgencies supported by Pakistan. And though he got some infrastructure built, Daud was never capable of extending Kabul’s writ deep into the countryside.
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