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Consider the following eyewitness accounts from distraught villagers in Bandi Temur, Afghanistan. As reported in the May 27, 2002 edition of the New York Times: “They shot my husband, Abdullah, and they beat me and bound my hands and eyes.” From a wailing mother came the cry: “They shot my son, Muhammad Sadiq. He was 35. They shot him in the legs.” Most distressing was the story of another mother whose 3 year old daughter ran in fear from the soldiers. “They were shooting….I could not see anything but she was running. We only found her the next day. She was in the well, she was dead.”
Were these soldiers part of another in the all-too-frequent conflicts between rival Afghan warlords that render life outside of Kabul dangerous and deadly? No, this was another lethal raid in recent actions by US troops that have outraged Afghan villagers. Among the other egregious violence in this attack was the brutal death by “a blow from a rifle butt” of the 100 year old village chief. As General Akram, the regional head of police, explained: “The villagers really respected him, that’s why they are so angry.” Angry enough, according to the General, to view such raids of the American-led coalition forces as similar to the Soviet activities of the 1980’s.
But it is not just Afghan Generals and villagers who are becoming increasingly alienated from US military operations in Afghanistan. Even some British military officials are deploring the tactics of such operations. According to a story in the Financial Times of May 13, 2002, one UK military source claimed: “The Americans seem to be operating like SWAT squads, with one thought in their heads: “Let’s go in and kill those ‘ragheads’, as they call the enemy.”
British correspondents for such newspapers as The Guardian and The Times have commented on the fact that carrying weapons in certain sensitive areas could easily get Afghans killed or imprisoned. Those who are left for dead would then be labeled, “AQT” – Al-Qaeda/Taliban, a catch-all designation to cover-up inadvertent murders of innocent civilians. These on-the-ground assaults only add to those civilians who have already died by the thousands in the massive bombing raids by US planes of “inadvertent” targets.
On the other hand, a recent US assassination attempt by drone missile of one recalcitrant warlord, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, failed in its deliberate assault. This did, however, serve to infuriate Hikmetyar and lead to his call for “jihad” against the US. Thus, another former CIA-backed Mujahhedin tyrant became part of the endless cycle of “blowback.” Although Hikmetyar’s despicable misogynist fundamentalism was conveniently overlooked when the US was aiding Afghan resistance to the Soviets, his present dissent from US political aims in Afghanistan has condemned him to enemy status, a status he shares now with Osama Bin Laden, another CIA-client of the anti-Soviet days in Afghanistan.
In 1987, Hikmetyar was still valuable as a CIA “asset” to be sent into Tajikistan to attack villages and further destabilize the border regions between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. At about that same time, Bin Laden was using CIA funding to construct a large arms storage depot and training camp at the Khost tunnel complex, a complex which much later would come under attack from the US coalition forces. Perhaps the one constant in this ally/enemy choreography is the fact that Richard Armitage, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security and now Deputy Secretary of State, is still mucking about in political machinations in the region.
Another constant may be how the US turns a blind eye to the production of opium in Afghanistan as long as it serves the greater goal of US political control. Afghanistan has once again emerged as the leading producer of opium, another triumph of the “war against terrorism” in Afghanistan.
But, then, the Bush Administration has its eye on a more significant product of the region – oil and natural gas – and the role of a pipeline through Afghanistan. This was important enough for the Bush Administration to play footsie with the Taliban right through the summer of 2001. It continues to be of greater significance than even nation-building and long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, especially since military presence has been enhanced in the Caspian region with the help of dictatorial governments in places like Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, with the political and financial support (upwards of 228 million dollars) of the Bush Administration, Turkey will shortly assume command of the multi-nation UN security force in Afghanistan. In the past Turkey backed one of the worst Afghan warlords now being “rehabilitated” by the US, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum’s troops were notorious violators of women and human rights across the board. Then again, Turkey’s deplorable human rights record against its Kurdish citizens rivals that of Saddam Hussein’s. Of course, former ally Saddam Hussein no longer receives massive US aid as does Turkey.
To conceal all the connections to this sordid past and contradictory present is undoubtedly part of the effort to showcase the defeat of the Taliban as a triumph of the Bush Administration’s commitment to women’s rights and human rights. Hypocrisy is too kind and imprecise a word for such deceitful and Orwellian policies. Perhaps the words of the Roman historian, Tacitus, concerning the conquering of Carthage would better apply: “Where they make a desert, they call it peace.”
Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University. He is an anti-war activist and member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights. His e-mail address is: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.