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Meanwhile, In Afghanistan...


TRIBE Member
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan...
Once optimistic, the country is ripe for another Taliban takeover
Jun. 11, 2006. 01:00 AM

In the spring of 2002, I shot a documentary film in Afghanistan called Return To Kandahar. It told the story of an Afghan-Canadian woman returning to the beleaguered country to search for her lost friend. During our travels from Kandahar to Kabul and to Mazer-e-Sharif, I found the mood of people to be guardedly optimistic, hoping that allied promises of reconstruction and democracy would turn out to be real.

How things have changed.

Even though most television news outlets covered the riots in Kabul last week that followed a traffic accident caused by a U.S. military convoy, in which three people were killed and 16 injured, none of them recognized the sea change the disturbances represented.

Accounts of the riot showed images of angry crowds pelting American military vehicles with stones and demonstrators shouting "death to Karzai" (the elected president of Afghanistan, Hamid) and "death to the U.S." It was the largest protest of its kind since the fall of the Taliban four years earlier.

In 2002, to my surprise, there was very little anger at the American bombing of Kabul. The hatred for the Taliban was such that many people said it was an acceptable price to pay. In fact, the only thing that rivalled their disdain for the Taliban was their fear of, and contempt for, the country's warlords.

These warlords were the leaders of various mujahedeen factions that, backed by the U.S., had fought the Russians in the 1980s. After the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan and the Americans lost interest, these "leaders" turned on each other and fought for power and control of the narco-trade, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process.

They orchestrated a reign of terror and chaos that created the conditions for the ascension of the Taliban, who rose to popularity with a promise of law and order. After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, it was to these warlords that the U.S. handed much of the power, in order to avoid using American troops.

During the spring of 2002, I found that people across Afghanistan had one primary demand: that NATO or UN forces disarm the warlord armies. Instead, the warlords are today ensconced in power, Karzai has to turn a blind eye to the drug trade or risk their wrath, and corruption runs rampant throughout the country. Afghanistan has become one of the world's major narco-states and, as everyone knows, with narco-economics goes narco-politics.

Poverty and child mortality rates in Afghanistan continue to be among the worst in the world. Poverty drives men and boys into the armies of the warlords or the Taliban — paid for by bumper poppy crops. The suffering of the Afghan people is extreme, but most television news reports for years have carried official statements about the "Afghan success story and the march to democracy."

Four years ago, it seemed almost impossible that the Taliban could make a comeback. On an 18-hour drive from Kabul to Kandahar, we spent the night in Ghazni at a UN mission that helped resettle refugees returning from Pakistan.

Bettina, a young French woman, ran the mission. She served us food and drink, and we talked into the night with her Afghan colleagues about the future. They, too, believed that if only the West would get serious about economic reconstruction, there was hope for Afghanistan. They talked about the return of educated Afghans from around the world who could help rebuild their homeland.

A few months after we returned to Canada, I read the following release from the UN:

"Bettina Goislard, 29, was shot dead Sunday by two suspected Taliban while she was in a marked UNHCR vehicle in the bazaar in Ghazni town, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Kabul. She was the first UN worker to be killed in Afghanistan since the toppling of the Taliban regime two years ago."

`The indications are

that the resistance

could transcend a simple Taliban-led insurgency to evolve into a powerful Islamic movement'

Syed Saleem Shahzad

Pakistan bureau chief,

Asia Times Online


It was reported that the people of Ghazni were furious and beat the shooters until police arrived to make arrests. People wanted reconstruction. They wanted jobs. They wanted real democracy, and they welcomed foreign assistance. Afghans were ready and willing to sacrifice and work, hoping against hope that the West would commit the kind of resources President George W. Bush had promised in the early days of the war against the Taliban.

Instead, resources have been far less than needed and the reconstruction effort is mired in warlord corruption. Ghazni province and much of the territory around Kandahar is now mostly under the control of the Taliban. Aid workers have left and the general population lives in fear, or supports the Taliban, which now has more soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan that it ever has since 2001, according to a recent Globe and Mail article.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, wrote on May 29 that "... the indications are that the resistance could transcend a simple Taliban-led insurgency to evolve into a powerful Islamic movement."

Shahzad interviewed Pakistani army general Hamid Gul, who for many years worked with Afghan resistance groups against the Russians.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg you are watching; this situation will further escalate as the whole environment is now conducive to resistance," Gul told Shahzad. "Russia is annoyed with the Americans, Iran is hostile to Western interests, and Pakistan is no more in a position to adhere to American directives."

Added Gul, "The trade of raw opium [in Afghanistan] has reached U.S. $2.4 billion, and the trade of narco-drugs has reached up to $4 billion. Where are the drugs going? Of course, they come from Afghanistan and go to Russia. Even if 10 per cent of the trade is used for arms purchases, it serves the purpose of the resistance."

Shahzad ends his article with these observations: "At least seven different tribal jirgas (traditional, influential meetings of tribal elders) are meeting on a daily basis among the Afghan population.

"Miranshah Bazaar in North Waziristan is once again full of posters of Osama bin Laden and (the pro-al Qaeda warlord Gulbuddin) Hekmatyar, while slogans are written in support of the Taliban.

"The jirgas are unanimous: There should be all-out war in Afghanistan."

Television news pays little attention to the consequences of Western foreign policy that angers the population and strengthens pro-Taliban and al Qaeda forces.

That policy is now creating the conditions for a political perfect storm in Afghanistan. Once again, it is the people of that country who will pay the terrible price, while the rest of the world will reap the "blowback," as it came to be known after 9/11.

Surely, if bin Laden is in Pakistan, he is smiling.

Paul Jay is chair of TheRealNews. com, a non-profit, independent news and documentary TV/Web network-in-development