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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...


Afghan Autopsy

(Page 2)

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.
Despite the ample evidence of failure, many U.S. pundits still see Afghanistan as a bright spot in the war On terror. In July, Jamie Rubin wrote a New York Times op-ed piece arguing that the Democrats should turn from Iraq and invest themselves in saving Afghanistan. Peter Bergin visited Afghanistan this fall after a few years’ absence and declared: “What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it’s better than so-so.”

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. 
Perhaps history doomed this project from the start. For 130 years or more, Kabul has been fighting a losing battle to subjugate the wild Afghan tribes. Sometimes the great powers aid Kabul, sometimes they undermine it by aiding the restive tribes.

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.

Dig last updated on Nov. 28, 2006

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By Rick, November 29, 2006 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
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Here we go again,
  More negative, one-sided reporting,  propaganda.  I have been living in kabul for six months,  and I have seen many unusual things, however,  if you lived here,  you would see the progress being made, which has less to do with the west and more to do with the Afghan’s desire to build their own lives,  they are warm, generous people,  they accept the sporadic violence as a part of life,  and forge on,  and I have not met one, not one,  whom would welcome,  much less allow the Taliban to exude influence here.  This country will succeed,  it will take many years,  however,  one can see amazingly positive developments everyday, if one is at ground level for more than a few days, you should try that,  if you really want to be objectve.

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By John Cunningham, November 29, 2006 at 4:36 am Link to this comment
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As an old Vietnam veteran I can say I’m a bit qualified to comment on the opium/heroin aspect.  People that use and sell drugs are financing terrorism.  The users are totally absorbed in their own personal brand of pity and we’re all expected to be understanding and get all touchy-feely.  The dealers are in it for the money, they should be executed.  All we have to do is look at our inner cities here in the States and we can see in a smaller way how much ‘allowing’ a drug trade benefits those local communities.  Here in Philadelphia they shoot each other everyday, everyday.  You have to drag users kicking and screaming into rehabs or jail.  You have to do to dealers/growers what they deserve, you shoot them.  Spray the heroin fields with whatever chemical is necessary to kill the crop. The heroin farmers will go through their withdrawal, they’ll thank you for it a few years from now.  Cut off the drugs you cut off the funding and they will eventually run out of bullets.  It won’t be pretty.  How many more years are you going to make excuses for it?

City slickers/country bumpkins/bullies/builders

I got out of the army in ‘72, never thinking I would ever have anything more to do with the military.  I’m now back in my comfort zone, American cities.  Philadelphia and then in ‘81 moved up to Buffalo.  In ‘84 I joined the National Guard.  I had always heard jokes city people would say about country people and vice versa.  But, it wasn’t until I got to Buffalo when I now was living with people that did have a resentment toward their big city, New York City.  It wasn’t a hatred and was mostly expressed in a joking manner, but it was something that always seemed to be in the back of their minds.  Not unlike how a lot of people have this hatred of President Bush in the back of their minds, seeming to me to be continually clouding their thought processes.  I again found this back of the mind displeasure of things city when I went to Louisiana in ‘89 for a military school.  Now, it was only for a month but I noticed that these Louisianians living 100 miles north of New Orleans read from the same script that many in Western New York were reading.  Kind of makes me wonder if any of us living in huge population centers could really depend on help from National Guard units that might be tasked to help a city in case of disaster.  Can you say Katrina?  I’m not being accusatory, I’m just going by feelings and impressions that have built up over the last 59 years. Some totally amazing things go on in cities, as evidenced by the fact that terrorists don’t blow up farms, they blow up cities.  An Israeli diplomat made this analogy to explain the middle east.  It was the bully on the beach story.  Most middle easterners really don’t do much but get themselves whipped into a froth and shoot weapons into the air, the bully on the beach.  Israel builds a sandcastle on the beach and the bullies response is to go over and knock it down.  Some other bully’s response is to fly jets into the World Trade Center.  Transfer what I’m alluding to to what’s going on in Afghanistan and it seems to me we’re dealing with easily threatened bullies.  We all went through growing up years, how do you deal with a bully?  Do the NATO countries have to wait until they walk into a major European city a nuclear bomb and we all wake up in the morning to find that Paris disappeared over night?  ‘They’ don’t like us because we do interesting things, they don’t.  They’re oh so into allah but have no qualms about growing heroin.  One way or another they’re going to kill you.  To paraphrase WW2 General Patton, we shouldn’t die for our beliefs, they should die for theirs.

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