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The Big Blowback

The Fifth Afghan War

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Washington’s war in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Taliban, or, rather, the insurgents who are Taliban leftovers and all the new insurgents who have been created by the brutality of US occupation soldiers, have greatly increased their attacks on foreigners.

This is a little surprising, because you might think there would be a bit of lingering gratitude to George W Bush on the part of the Taliban. Certainly, he paid a lot of money to the vicious warlords in northern Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban at the end of 2001. But just before he did that, he paid the Taliban a lot of money, too.

In May 2001 the Bush administration gave the Taliban government of Afghanistan the sum of 43 million dollars. Small change to an administration that loves the billionaire "haves and the have-mores" (in the crass words of the vulgar Bush) ; but it is a tidy bit of cash to a bunch of religious fanatics whose idea of improving world culture was destroying ancient and awe-inspiring rock-hewn statues.

The enormous figures of Buddha that the Taliban reduced to rubble were over 1500 years old, and they blithely blew them up in March 2001. And in May they were given 43 million green ones by Washington. In effect the Bush administration said ‘Well done, Taliban : you are being told by most of the world, and even by fellow Muslims, that your destruction of history is despicable; but never mind, you bunch of demented zealots, here’s some pocket fluff to help you buy some more dynamite’.

It is astounding that at the time of Bush’s generous handout it was known by Washington (see the 9/11 Commission Report) that al Qaeda’s leaders, the people who had already given the world the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor and many other maniacal but well-planned atrocities that had killed scores of Americans, were being given sanctuary by the brutal, ignorant and barely-literate Taliban.

This instance of Bush’s bizarre generosity to the Taliban has been sucked into the black hole of non-memory because everyone except Robert Scheer of the LA Times ignored it. But it is an ironical fact that 43 million dollars were handed over because Bush Washington considered the Taliban to be successful in reducing drug production.

Before the Taliban took over in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s the place was chaotic, with over a dozen murderous Islamic groups and warlords’ armies fighting each other, and there was a thriving drug industry. Feudal chieftains all over the country were making millions of dollars by growing poppy and then having the opium processed and refined and smuggled as heroin to the West.

During the Taliban’s loony administration, Afghanistan produced almost no drugs because the religious beards say that heroin is non-Islamic. So they put the fear of God into the warlords, who promptly stopped their peasants growing poppy. (The warlords are Muslims too, of course, but profit takes precedence over religious conviction in exactly the same way it does with fundamentalist Christianity in Wall Street, the White House and Texas.) But now that the US military and what is intriguingly called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are supposedly in control of Afghanistan the amount of heroin produced in that unhappy, violent and chaotic country amounts to over 80 per cent of the world’s total. And not one single US or ISAF soldier is tasked to try to stop the growth of poppy, the processing of opium, or the export of heroin.

The US State Department has got the message from the Pentagon and the White House about drugs in Afghanistan in the same fashion as it has been ordered to disguise other US policy disasters round the world. Many of its formerly excellent ‘Country Reports’ have been censored to the point of being misleading garbage. I’m sorry for the authors, because I know they are capable of producing honest assessments.

Here is how the Rice State Department describes the drug catastrophe in Afghanistan:

"Opium has become a source of cash for many Afghans, especially following the breakdown in central authority after the Soviet withdrawal, and opium-derived revenues probably constituted a major source of income for the two main factions during the civil war in the 1990s. Opium is easy to cultivate and transport and offers a quick source of income for impoverished Afghans. Afghanistan was the world’s largest producer of raw opium in 2004. Much of Afghanistan’s opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing regional addict population or exported, primarily to Western Europe."

This is banal nonsense from a Department headed by its most incompetent Secretary in decades. According to this dishonest account, nothing happened about drug production between the time the Taliban took over and their defeat in 2001-2002. That period has been airbrushed from Bush Washington history, like so many other awkward facts.

But according to official US figures that cannot be concealed, the area under poppy cultivation went from 150,000 acres in 2003 to 510,000 acres in 2004. The UN, the hate-object of the Cheney-Bush administration, reported that "opium poppies are now grown in all 34 Afghan provinces, up from 18 provinces in 1999 and just eight provinces in 1994." [Afghanistan created two new provinces in 2004.] The fact is that since the US invasion of the country its most lucrative illegal industry has expanded more than any other economic activity. The Voice of America (hardly a subversive organization) reported on March 6 that "According to the United Nations, Afghanistan still remains the largest cultivator of illicit opium poppy in the world, accounting for approximately eighty-seven percent."

Well done, Bushco.

And it isn’t only in the expanding field (if you’ll excuse the word) of poppy cultivation that the US war in Afghanistan is proving a disaster. Do you remember all the rubbish about bringing democracy to Afghanistan? Here’s what Bush said a year ago : "The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror ­ and America is honored to be their friend . . . we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan . . ."

OK: Here’s what the friend of America did for democracy last October 24:

"Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) – A women’s magazine [male] editor has been sentenced to two years in jail after being convicted of blasphemy for publishing anti-Islamic articles, including one challenging a belief that Muslims who convert to other religions should be stoned to death, a judge said Sunday . . . other [of his] articles deemed blasphemous criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes and argued that men and women should be considered by Islamic law to be equals . . . Under a revised March 2004 media law signed by [President] Karzai, content deemed insulting to Islam is banned."

And here is the latest Afghan Islamic "historic work of democracy" :

"Reuters, March 22, 2006: An Afghan judge said this week a man named Abdur Rahman had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again.

Sharia, or Islamic law, stipulates death for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law."

This is the ‘democracy’ that American soldiers are dying for in Afghanistan. The Afghan editor argued that men and women should be considered equal in law, so he was clapped in the slammer. A simple man converted to Christianity ­ so kill him. This is the system of government that Ridiculous Rice supported during one of her seven-hour visits to Kabul on the very day the editor was on trial, just a block away from the perimeter of the fortress in which she so briefly stayed, when she announced that "Afghanistan is now inspiring the world with its march toward democracy."

Equally fatuously, Rice said the same day that "I would hope that men would welcome women as equal partners in the development of the new Afghanistan." (Rice spent most of her time during her few hours in Kabul being interviewed but saw nothing of the country or of the people, apart from media stooges. It was too dangerous for her to remain overnight.)

So women might be "equal partners"? Who says?

The laws of Afghanistan are based on Islamic jurisprudence, which states explicitly that the testimony of women is worth less than that of men. What does Rice think about that? If she even knows about it, of course. It seems she ignores uncomfortable facts, because Article 3 of the Afghan Constitution states "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

Freedom of women is not incompatible with Islam, as properly practiced. But it is impossible in Afghanistan. And impossible in Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States with which Bush has such a cozy relationship. And it isn’t going to happen in Iraq, either.

Does nobody see how absurd this Bush and Rice idea of Afghan (or Saudi) ‘democracy’ is? Of course the answer is Yes : Lots of people do ­ but they are not the political hacks who write speeches for Bush and Rice and the rest of the silly parrots. The people who know about foreign culture and religion are the professionals of the State Department whose advice is contemptuously ignored and who now stay quiet, hoping (like the rest of us), for restoration of sanity to direction of US foreign policy. Meanwhile the situation in Afghanistan is going from terrible to verging on the catastrophic.

This decline has been assisted by US occupation troops who distinguished themselves by burning two bodies of men who attacked some of them and then having Sergeant Jim Baker, "a member of a psychological operations unit", bellowing on his loudspeaker to Afghan villagers "Attention Taliban, you cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be." This was recorded by an Australian television team. It can’t be denied.

The implications of the insults by the moronic Sergeant Baker would take too much space to describe. Suffice to say they set back US efforts in Afghanistan by about a century. What that fool and his masters fail to understand is that their questioning Afghan courage and masculinity was spread round the country by word of mouth in a time frame that would make a western ad agency green with envy. And the effect has been to make Afghan males incandescent with fury about being defamed in such a fashion.

The repellent crime of burning bodies only adds to the list of evils committed in Afghanistan by the invaders. From the slaughter of wedding parties by indiscriminate bombing, to the torture and murder of innocent captives, and the killing of four Afghan policemen by US troops "by mistake" there has been little but disaster. (You didn’t see anything in the US media about the police being killed. Of course not. But Reuters reported it, noting that it was the second such incident in a week.)

The result of all these atrocities has been strengthening of resistance to US forces and growing hatred of America and foreigners in general.

Make no mistake, Afghans are a hard people. They live by their own code, which is difficult for foreigners to understand. But they are proud and they hate ANY occupiers of their country, no matter who. And when occupying forces torture, kill and burn their fellow Afghans, even if these are not of the same tribe or ethnicity, this creates hatred for the foreigner that will last for ever.

Bush is stuck with another war he cannot win. He is trying to get the Europeans and Canadians to take over from US troops to get him out of this particular hole, but with the exception of Toady Blair, who is sending a few thousand British troops to be shot at, the Europeans are having none of it. The Canadians are much more aggressive, as evidenced by their recent Iraq-occupation-style killing of a passenger in a three-wheeled motorbike taxi whose driver failed to obey the waving of a Canadian soldier. The Canadians are now deeply hated, and they are going to have a very hard time in the part of the country given them by the US to control.

The British were defeated three times in Afghanistan : in 1838-1842, 1878-1880, and 1919 ; referred to as the First, Second and Third Afghan Wars. Then in the Fourth, the Russians were forced out of their occupation in the 1980s. Bush’s war is the Fifth.

The British are going back again with some 4000 troops to replace US soldiers, and they have no precise Mission, nor is there a clear chain of command. When the first British soldier is killed after deployment in Helmand province, the British people should ask : For what cause did he die?

Canada and Britain will rue the day they obeyed the orders of Bush to take up his burden in Afghanistan. The Fifth Afghan War will be another horrible legacy of Bush to his country and the world.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com