FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Waiting For the Missiles to Fall

by Patrick Cockburn In Panjshir Valley The Independent

People fled their homes in Kabul yesterday fearing a US air attack when they heard Taliban anti-aircraft gunners open fire. It turned out to be a military exercise.

The opening of an air offensive is expected to lead to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghan cities, but it is not clear where they can go. Only a trickle of people, mainly Tajiks, are making the difficult journey to areas north of Kabul held by the opposition Northern Alliance.

Afghanistan has only two weeks’ supply of drugs left in its hospitals, a senior Taliban foreign ministry official told a Western doctor. This may be a sign that the country’s shattered health system may be finally about to collapse.

The Northern Alliance says it has launched limited probing attacks against Taliban positions, but fighting has been light, and hardly any wounded fighters have reached the Panjshir Valley, the main opposition stronghold.

Afghans in this part of the country persistently ask foreigners, almost invariably journalists, about the date when the US air assault will begin. Few believe, however, that a bombing attack alone will remove the Taliban. “Afghanistan is a mountainous country and bombs don’t have much effect,” said Mohammed Shaqer, a Tajik police officer working for the Northern Alliance.

He suggested that the United States and its allies provide air support for the opposition ground forces, which would then defeat the Taliban. It is doubtful, however, if the Northern Alliance army of 15,000 men has the numbers or the political support to beat the Taliban, even if the US was prepared to give it air support. Its victory would also be strongly opposed by Pakistan.

Defections from Taliban ranks ? much heralded in the US media ? may occur, but the Taliban, notorious in the treacherous world of Afghan politics, are closely watching those whose loyalty is suspect.

For the moment Afghans at every level, from the humblest villagers to commanders of the Northern Alliance, are waiting to see what the US will do. Although their information is often scant all have a firm grip on the realities of power. In interviews, opposition leaders stress their determination to join the battle against terrorism, though those speaking English usually pronounce the word as “tourism”. “I have been fighting against tourism in Afghanistan for 24 years,” one commander told us stoutly.

So many Afghans live close to or below subsistence level that it would not take much to reduce them to starvation. Life in the Panjshir Valley, as in much of Afghanistan, is medieval in the real sense of the word. There is no electricity, clean water supplies, sewage or health systems. Children have not been immunised against diseases such as TB, polio, diphtheria or measles for four or five years.

Ordinary Afghans show interest but little excitement over the international crisis centred on their country. This is because they have been at war for almost a quarter of a century. In any case, many Afghans, though badgered by journalists for their political views, have interests which have nothing to do with the possible US invasion.

The Western stereotype of the Afghan male pictures him either as a sturdy mountain warrior, a starving refugee or a religious fanatic. In the midst of hunger and war, the Afghans maintain a touching obsession with flowers. You see them planted and carefully watered in the front line and on patches of ground beside the road in impoverished, dusty villages.

Abdullah Abdullah , the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance, gives his press conferences in the splendid garden of a government guest house, which is filled with carefully tended orange, pink and scarlet flowers.

The gardener in charge is determined to show his blooms to television viewers around the world. At the last press conference he first placed a large jug of them on the table in front of Mr Abdullah. This was rapidly removed to make way for reporters’ microphones.

Undaunted the gardener then tied a bouquet of pink flowers to a sapling just behind the minister’s head until an officious security man told him to take them away.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail