Dec 3, 2001
On Tuesday, November 27, delegates from selected Afghan ethnic and political groups started talks on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany. U.S. government officials say that this conference, sponsored by the United Nations, is a first step towards democracy and a lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Who are the participants in this conference? That is, who are the people who are supposed to bring democracy and peace to Afghanistan?
The Northern Alliance, a coalition of several warlords which in recent weeks ousted the Taliban government from some key Afghan cities thanks to U.S. bombing and military aid, will send 11 delegates. And there will be eight delegates representing the former king of Afghanistan, who was overthrown by his cousin in 1973 because of enormous corruption in the palace. And there is even a possibility that some defecting Taliban leaders will also attend this conference or be part of a future government.
The Taliban, the enemy? The Taliban that’s being overthrown? Yes. In fact, since the beginning of the bombing campaign in October, the U.S. has talked about including “moderate Taliban elements” (read: those warlords today allied with the Taliban who will be willing to switch sides) in a future government of Afghanistan. The U.S. says it wants this for the sake of “stability” for the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group which makes up about 40% of Afghanistan’s population, is under-represented in the Northern Alliance.
Of course, there is no need to explain to anybody who has been watching the news lately what kind of democracy can be expected from Taliban leaders, no matter how “moderate” they may be. The U.S. government and media, since September 11, did a thorough job exposing the barbaric practices of the Taliban: beating women go to work or school, leave their homes without wearing the “burka,” the head-to-toe veil, or without being accompanied a male relative; beating people for listening to music or possessing photographs; jailing men for not growing their beards long enough, etc. If part of this Taliban ends up being part of the new government, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. supported and worked with the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban owe their rise to power in 1996 to the direct support of two close U.S. allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who were conduits for U.S. funds pass on to the Taliban.
While the Taliban’s participation in a future Afghan government is not certain, the Northern Alliance seems well-positioned to play a key role in the new government. After all, it’s different warlords who make up the Northern Alliance that currently control major Afghan cities. So what are the prospects of peace and democracy under these warlords? Their past, too, speaks for itself.
Kabul, the capital, is currently controlled by several warlords affiliated with the Northern Alliance. The dominant force in this alliance is the religious fundamentalist Jamiat-i Islami. Its leader, Tajik Burhanuddin Rabbani, was officially president of Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996, when he and other warlords fought over Kabul, ruining the city and killing 50,000 residents. Like the other militias, Rabbani’s army robbed, brutalized and killed civilians. And Rabbani, just like the Taliban, forced women to wear the burka and banned them from appearing in public without a male relative. In fact, it was Rabbani who set up the religious police to enforce these oppressive laws.
In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Uzbek militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum is in charge. Dostum started his military career fighting alongside the Russian troops who occupied the country throughout the 1980s. After the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, Dostum correctly anticipated the imminent fall of the pro-Soviet regime and switched sides, joining Rabbani. Dostum soon defected again, however, to join forces with another fundamentalist, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In the mid-1990s, during the fight over Kabul, Dostum’s troops became notorious for committing atrocities against civilians. Dostum himself has made a reputation for brutality. His favorite punishment is said to be crushing people to death under tanks, which he uses against criminals, opponents and his own soldiers alike.
The eastern city of Jalalabad is under the control of Haji Abdul Qadir. Since Qadir is both a Pashtun and a member of the Northern Alliance, U.S. government officials call him a potentially “important player” in a future government – so important that they are willing to forget it was Qadir who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden in 1996 when bin Laden returned to Afghanistan from Sudan.
In addition, a certain Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is said to be returning to Afghanistan to participate in this “broad-based coalition.” If he has high hopes, it’s probably because he is also a Pashtun and he has already had a cozy relationship with the U.S. in the past. In the 1970s and '80s, Hekmatyar was the biggest recipient of U.S. aid among the warlords who fought against the Soviet-backed Kabul regime. Another ardent religious fundamentalist, Hekmatyar became known for killing government workers who had set up schools for girls. Hekmatyar is also well-remembered for directing the bombardment of Kabul for an entire year in 1994, killing 25,000 civilians.
All these warlords, and others not mentioned here, were also involved in ethnic cleansing, that is, driving civilians belonging to other ethnic groups from their homes. This practice turned one out of five Afghans into a refugee. So who could seriously expect these warlords to bring peace to the Afghan people, not to mention democracy, or equality for women. Having a very few women pose for photographers with part of their veils removed doesn’t change what their situation is.
That’s also supposedly why the U.S. wants to include in this coalition, as a “unifying figure,” the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. A unifying figure? An 87-year-old former king, who was known for his corruption and who has no influence or base whatsoever in the population?
“Well,” U.S. officials say again, “that’s why we propose an international peace-keeping force.” But what countries are supposed to supply these troops and guarantee peace in Afghanistan? The same ones that propped up all these warlords: Pakistan, for example, which was behind the Taliban; Russia, which supported Rabbani and Dostum; India, which helped fund Rabbani’s army; Turkey, which gave shelter to Dostum when he had to flee the country in 1998. And of course standing behind these lesser powers is the “big brother” U.S., still busy bombarding the country it claims it will bring peace and democracy to, along with its imperialist allies, Britain, France and Germany, all trying to secure their own influence in the region.
In short, there is room in this “broad-based” coalition for every single warmonger who participated in looting and ruining Afghanistan. Only one group is not represented: the people of Afghanistan. So now, after suffering nearly two months of bombing at the hands of the U.S., the people of Afghanistan can expect only one thing from this U.S.-led coalition: more oppression, more war and more destruction.