May 22, 2013
Becoming What We Seek to Destroy
Posted on May 10, 2009
By Chris Hedges
The relationship, she said, bewildered most Afghans, who did not look favorably upon this radical form of Islam. Most Afghans, she said, wondered why American aid went almost exclusively to the Islamic radicals and not to more moderate and secular resistance movements.
“The population wondered why they did not have more credibility with the Americans,” she said. “They could not understand why the aid was stopped in Pakistan and distributed to political parties that had limited reach in Afghanistan. These parties stockpiled arms and started fighting each other. What the people got in the provinces was miniscule and irrelevant. And how did the people see all this? They had great hopes in the beginning and gradually became disappointed, bitter and then felt betrayed. This laid the groundwork for the current suspicion, distrust and disappointment with the U.S. and NATO.”
Dr. Fournot sees the American project in Afghanistan as mirroring that of the doomed Soviet occupation that began in December 1979. A beleaguered Afghan population, brutalized by chaos and violence, desperately hoped for stability and peace. The Soviets, like the Americans, spoke of equality, economic prosperity, development, education, women’s rights and political freedom. But within two years, the ugly face of Soviet domination had unmasked the flowery rhetoric. The Afghans launched their insurgency to drive the Soviets out of the country.
Dr. Fournot fears that years of war have shattered the concept of nationhood. “There is so much personal and mental destruction,” she said. “Over 70 percent of the population has never known anything else but war. Kids do not go to school. War is normality. It gives that adrenaline rush that provides a momentary sense of high, and that is what they live on. And how can you build a nation on that?”
Islamabad, while it may battle Taliban forces in Swat or the provinces, does not regard the Taliban as a mortal enemy. The enemy is and has always been India. The balance of power with India requires the Pakistani authorities to ensure that any Afghan government is allied with it. This means it cannot push the Pashtuns in the Northwest Frontier Province or in Afghanistan too far. It must keep its channels open. The cat-and-mouse game between the Pakistani authorities and the Pashtuns, which drives Washington to fury, will never end. Islamabad needs the Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan more than the Pashtuns need them.
The U.S. fuels the bonfires of war. The more troops we send to Afghanistan, the more drones we send on bombing runs over Pakistan, the more airstrikes we carry out, the worse the unraveling will become. We have killed twice as many civilians as the Taliban this year and that number is sure to rise in the coming months.
“I find this term ‘collateral damage’ dehumanizing,” Dr. Fournot said, “as if it is a necessity. People are sacrificed on the altar of an idea. Air power is blind. I know this from having been caught in numerous bombings.”
We are faced with two stark choices. We can withdraw and open negotiations with the Taliban or continue to expand the war until we are driven out. The corrupt and unpopular regimes of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari are impotent allies. The longer they remain tethered to the United States, the weaker they become. And the weaker they become, the louder become the calls for intervention in Pakistan. During the war in Vietnam, we invaded Cambodia to bring stability to the region and cut off rebel sanctuaries and supply routes. This tactic only empowered the Khmer Rouge. We seem poised, in much the same way, to do the same for radical Islamists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If the Americans step up the war in Afghanistan, they will be sucked into Pakistan,” Dr. Fournot warned. “Pakistan is a time bomb waiting to explode. You have a huge population, 170 million people. There is nuclear power. Pakistan is much more dangerous than Afghanistan. War always has its own logic. Once you set foot in war, you do not control it. It sucks you in.”
Chris Hedges’ new book, “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” will be out in July and can be preordered on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
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