Afghanistan: from bad to worse

Submitted by martin on 8 September, 2009 - 7:38 Author: Colin Foster

On 4 September, a NATO air strike killed about 90 civilians in northern Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, NATO and US operations killed 828 Afghan civilians in 2008, and the Taliban killed 1160.

Other sources give higher estimates for both NATO/US and Taliban killings.

Back in 2001, as the US and its allies were preparing to bomb Afghanistan, we wrote:

"The US-British alliance will not defeat, or cut the roots, of terrorist-fundamentalism. Its stated aim in Afghanistan is to replace the Taliban regime by a "broad-based" government around the king, the Northern Alliance - and splinters from the Taliban! The Northern Alliance are also fundamentalists. They are guilty of many atrocities - only their atrocities have all been in Afghanistan rather than some being in other countries...

"And the US-British alliance may well be drawn into a war much wider, much longer, much deeper, much messier and much bloodier than they have started with.

"It is... quite possible that the US-British attack will end with bin Laden, or his similars, still at large and active, and new masses of recruits for them and other terrorist-fundamentalists".

So it has turned out. Even if US or NATO air strikes kill some Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the accompanying civilian casualties - and general resentment against the foreign military presence - recruit more fighters to the Taliban just over the border in Pakistan. And US policy has contributed to the decay of the state in Pakistan and the growth of Taliban and Taliban-type forces there.

Obama's officials want to adjust US tactics to reduce the killing of civilians.

But the US and NATO are trying to control a country which by now has a settled hostility to the foreigners. They have probably even less solid, in the way of local allies, than the USSR had in its murderous but unsuccessful war in 1979-88. (The USSR had the local Stalinist movement, the PDPA, which had some real base of its own).

The civilian deaths are an almost inevitable product of the basic situation, and simultaneously a factor in worsening it.

Meanwhile evidence is mounting of mass fraud and a poor turnout in the 20 August presidential election. On 6 September the election commission said it had annulled votes from 447 polling stations, but many people in Afghanistan say the fraud is much wider than that.

The turnout was first reported as "40 to 50%", passable if not good. Now best guesses are that in fact it was 30 to 35%.

On 8 September official results showed votes for Hamid Karzai going over the 50% necessary to avoid a run-off. Karzai was ahead of his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, by 54% to 28%. The recount ordered by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission could overturn that seeming victory. The commission has said it has "convincing evidence of fraud".

The final announced results (after recounts and fraud investigations) could bring a triple whammy: a low figure for turnout, voting figures requiring a run-off poll in October, and none of the figures credible.

The nominal Afghan government has been shaky enough for years. Eight years after the US invasion, it is worse than ever.

According to a big article by Elizabeth Rubin in the New York Times magazine of 9 August, Karzai's government first lacked cohesion because (as she quotes the current Afghan ambassador to Poland saying), "most of the NATO members [had] a gentleman in the cabinet. Each one defends its own man".

As it has become a bit less an uneasy coalition of clients of foreign powers, it has become instead an uneasy coalition of warlords and mafia-type business people. Rubin quotes president Karzai's older brother, who is himself a prominent business figure in Kabul: the government, he says, "is mujahedin, it's personal relationships, cash basis, no institutions".

Foreign aid money has flowed into the pockets of US contractors and Afghan mafia types, rather than to improvements for the peoples of Aghanistan.

Writer Ahmed Rashid puts the growing dilemma clearly: "without a [credible] partner the US becomes nothing but a naked occupation force which Afghans will resist".

The Taliban remain as ultra-reactionary as ever. The forces which socialists can positively support in Afghanistan, such as the fragile women's movement in Kabul, are weak. We would solidarise with the people of the cities against conquest by the Taliban. But the US and NATO military forces should withdraw.

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