Why the US is Doomed in Afghanistan

Let me begin by stating that Kabul, never was and never will be representative of the real Afghanistan.  While I am fully conscious that many foreign and some Pakistani journalists venture to the interior of Afghanistan, brave dangers, to emerge with what is, from their perspective, a more accurate description of the ground realities; regretably, there is a far larger number of journalists, Pakistani and foreign who, having established their credentials through earlier, authentic and accurate efforts, now rely on cosmetics to spout wisdom. And, since their credentials are established, they are believed.

In 2002, when the US decided it was time for an interim government to be formed, Hamid Karzai might possibly have been the best choice. Had Abdul Qadir not been killed a few months earlier, he would, in my view, have been a far better choice, but might not have been acceptable to the US since he was not as pliable as Karzai; in any case, he was already dead.

Karzai had a lot going for him, actually. He belonged to the Popalzai Durrani tribe, descendants of Ahmed Shah Durrani and therefore of kingly lineage. His father was a highly respected tribal elder, He had led his tribe during the anti-Soviet struggle for freedom, and he carried himself well, in the traditional Afghan garb; a very significant consideration for the ‘wanting-to-regain-their-pride’ Afghans.

Whether he could have succeeded or not, we will never know, since the US insisted, and he accepted, their preconditions, which shackled him hand and foot and, by doing so, ensured that his failure as an effective representative of the Afghan people was a foregone conclusion. Not only was a disproportionately large representation of non-Pashtun representation of the Northern Alliance foisted on him, his every decision, right from the outset appeared to have been made to suit the US rather than the Afghan people.  What followed was equally inevitable, losing the confidence of his people, not only did Karzai begin to rely on American bodyguards for his personal protection; which, obviously made him appear even more of an American flunkey, the realization that he was not going to be able to play his role in guiding the destiny of the Afghan peoples, could lead to only one end: self-perpetuation and, therefore, corruption.

When the Gitmo and Abu Ghraib scandals hit the press along with rumors of similar prisons in Herat (Afghanistan); in the Pashtun belt across the Durand Line, their grapevine knew of these facilities while they were still under construction.

In August 2008, the NYT carried a report in which a UN investigation established that American troops had killed 90 civilians, including 60 children during an attack on one single village!

In ‘The Kill Team’, carried by ‘Rolling Stone’ on March 27 this year, Mark Boal revealed the exploits of ‘Bravo Company’, in which Staff Sergeant David Bram and Corporal Jeremy Morlock on one fine morning, early last year, decided to chalk up kills of innocent Afghans. They picked them at random during their patrols or ‘cordon and search’ operations, took them to a ditch and shot them, collecting tips of little fingers as souvenirs and taking hundreds of photographs. Everyone was in on the kills, many others joined in. the whole company was jubilant, taking photographs of each other with the dead body; one smiling, the other rakishly smoking a cigarette.

No effort was made to stop or discipline the men; in fact, all officers of Bravo Company helped cover for them, even as they continued their killing spree. Finally, when one of their colleagues ratted on them, they threatened to kill him on their next outing. Even that was covered up, but fortunately for the Rat, the story broke before his elimination.

According to Boal, Gen McChrystal and Hamid Karzai learnt of this scandal May last year. Both joined in the cover up, destroying whatever documents, disks, hardware, software, photographs, and any other incriminatory evidence that could be found, while the killing continued.

Early this month, Morlock was finally sentenced to twenty four years, though no action is being initiated against any officer at any level. Boal concludes his expose with, “Toward the end of Morlock’s interview, the conversation turned to the mindset that had allowed the killings to occur. “None of us in the platoon – the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant – no one gives a fuck about these people,” Morlock said.

Then he leaned back in his chair and yawned, summing up the way his superiors viewed the people of Afghanistan. “Some shit goes down,” he said, “you’re gonna get a pat on the back from your platoon sergeant: Good job. Fuck ’em.”

I wrote in an earlier CounterPunch article of American helicopter borne snipers killing nine children gathering wood outside a village close to Kandahar last year. An ex-Marine immediately described the act as deliberate murder. According to him, with the technology available, there was no possible way for trained snipers to mistake 9 to 13 year olds, gathering wood for armed militants!

Herat is a non-Pashtun, predominantly Darri speaking province. It has always been considered amongst the most peaceful areas in Afghanistan; no turbulence of any kind. Gul Khan has a small land holding, not in a far flung village, but only a dozen miles out of town. He has a harrowing tale to tell. He had heard of atrocities committed by US troops, but always thought these were exaggerated. Early 2009, he saw a convoy headed towards Herat and some five vehicles broke away to approach him while he was tilling his lands. He is not certain, but thinks that the troops were American.

He greeted them warily and was addressed by a soldier with stripes on his shoulders, in Pushto. He responded in rather broken Pushto, since he spoke Darri. Immediately, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and the soldiers began to beat him up, shouting ‘Pakistani xxxx’. His wife and sons, aged 8 and 6 at that time, ran out screaming. They too were greeted with expletives and slapped, when he tried to help his family, someone broke both his arms. Fortunately, a neighbor who was fluent in Pushto came up and begged that Gul and family be released.

A large crowd of local neighbors, hearing the hue and cry began to approach when one of the soldiers let loose a full magazine from his automatic weapon; after which, the soldiers hurriedly left. Gul was still in handcuffs and in agony. When the handcuffs were taken off and he finally got to see a doctor, he remained in splints for over four months. Today his right arm is almost fully functional but the left one, below the elbow is withering.

He is now a Taliban supporter. Gul explains, “We now grow poppy; when government troops approach, Taliban fight them and defend us. Taliban buy the poppy from us at the same price that I could get (in Pakistan), without any deduction. I have requested them that each time they kill an American, I will pay whatever they want, for his balls, but they laughed and told me that they kill the Kafir (infidel) in battle and we will force him to leave our country. But they promised me that if they capture an American alive, they will give him to me as a gift; I live only for that day. May Allah bless them”! Asked why he had not gone to the Afghan government, he spat before commenting in contempt, “Karzai? He is not Pashtun. He lends his ass not only to any American, but also to any Tajik or Uzbek who wants it! I will let the Americans rape each member of my family before going to him. Even (Burhannuddin) Rabbani is better”.

Such references to Karzai can be heard through the length and breadth of Afghanistan; across the ethnic divide. Even non-Pashtuns holding office under him, speak of him derogatively.

In a mid-sized town in the Pashtun region, a middle aged, middle class, bald, short, clean-shaven, rotund, unctuous shopkeeper, who has a modest landholding as well, looks nothing like an Afghan warrior, and speaks fluent English; he has a son studying in the States and a daughter in a Pakistani university, had this to say last year: “When the Taliban came, we welcomed them as liberators, then they began to show their true colors and we had no choice but to suffer in silence. When Americans came, we welcomed them expecting that we would be freed from oppression; but they are far worse and they are infidels. They treat us like animals. I can speak their language but they deliberately abuse me in my hearing. They killed my father last year (2008) in a ‘chance’ encounter, because he opposed them vocally and abused them in Pushto in retaliation. Karzai is worse than the Americans. He is If I have to choose between the US and Karzai on one hand and the Taliban; I will choose our home-grown evil; the lesser of the two. Long live Taliban”.

My last story is the crowning one. Zoe Gul is a Hazarvi, now living in Quetta. He belongs to a village near Kandahar. Anyone who knows about the Hazarvis is aware that, throughout history, they have suffered at the hands of the Pashtun, Afghan and Pakistani. Early winter 2009, some American troops surrounded his house when it was approaching dusk; Zoe’s brother and newly married wife were visiting. Hazarvis are not very good looking, but occasionally some of them grow up to be very attractive (usually sired by the illicit union of an Afghan and Hazarvi woman). Zoe’s sister-in-law was one such.

The soldiers searched the house and, finding nothing incriminating, spoke to each other smilingly, eying Zoe’s sister-in-law. They asked Zoe’s brother and wife to accompany them. On inquiry, the soldiers politely told him that since his brother was a visitor, they were taking him and his wife for some routine questions.

Zoe’s brother was never found but his wife returned the next morning, disheveled and in torn clothes, witnessed by many villagers. Zoe knew what had happened but never asked her. With generations of suffering, they dared not even initiate an inquiry, and suffered in silence with the villager’s sympathy. When Zoe saw his sister-in-law getting big with child, he decided to migrate to Quetta where he had relatives. His sister-in-law gave birth to a dark complexioned, curly haired child in July 2010. She committed suicide the same night.

I can go on and on and on, narrating countless stories, all true, from all corners of Afghanistan. But I selected a few; a cross section of stories by Americans, UN, and my personal knowledge, which should suffice.

We are also now aware that a serving officer of the American Army, Lt Col Paul Yingling, writing for the Armed Forces Journal of March 2011, has criticized American generalship, calling into question their ‘moral courage’ while attesting to their ‘physical courage’. It seems that, while conscious of the fact that defeat is staring them in the face, the senior American military leadership cannot (or dare not?) tell the political leadership the truth.

That is where we stand today in Afghanistan. Afghans, across the ethnic divide, despise Hamid Karzai and hate the Americans. Afghan security forces are hated even more than the Americans and, when US troops pull out, those employed as Afghan security forces will migrate or suffer the consequences.

After the Taliban turned oppressors, Afghans began to hate Pakistan, the Pakistan Army, and the ISI who were all considered Taliban supporters, with considerable justification. However, since an ever increasing number of Afghans are beginning to look at the Taliban hopefully, or at least, the lesser evil, the anti-Pakistan feeling is also abating. Pakistan’s efforts to help the Afghans find an indigenous solution for their future, which I described in an article explaining why Joe Biden rushed to Pakistan at short notice, have also helped. And then, of course, the Afghans  are fully aware that, being land-locked, they needs Pakistan, as much as Pakistan needs a secure, friendly Afghanistan.

An increasing number of the Afghan are beginning to appreciate that perhaps, the only country in a position to assist them in charting their own course, is Pakistan.I do not find too many acknowledged authorities on Afghanistan paying attention to these changed dynamics. Without a conscious acknowledgement of these, no resolution of the Afghan conundrum will be found.

SHAUKAT QADIR is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at shaukatq@gmail.com