Jun 21, 2004
With George Bush beaming at his side, Afghan president Hamid Karzai announced in Washington that elections will be held in his country in September. In fact September elections in Afghanistan have more to do with Bush's November election here than with the situation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan continues to be a war-torn country. Engaged in this war are 13,000 U.S. soldiers, another 6,000 from other countries, plus thousands of so-called "private contractors," that is, mercenaries. In the mountainous region along the Afghan-Pakistani border, both the U.S. and Pakistan are in the middle of a spring offensive, dubbed "Mountain Storm."
The U.S. military raids and bombs villages, with the pretext that the villagers help and shelter Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The raids involve random mass arrests of ordinary people in the name of "looking for terrorists" – just like in Iraq. The much-publicized conditions in Iraqi prisons exist in U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan as well, as reported by the U.N. agency Human Rights Watch.
But the U.S.-led war is not the only war raging in Afghanistan. The country is today controlled by various warlords, and while most of these warlords are in a somewhat loose alliance with the U.S., they often fight each other for more territory. In March, for example, this infighting resulted in the killing of a member of the U.S.-sponsored Afghan government, aviation minister Mirwais Sadeq. Sadeq was the son of Ismail Khan, the warlord who controls the strategic western city of Herat. In retaliation, Khan hung some of his opponents, who were in alliance with the U.S.-backed president Hamid Karzai.
In reality there is no central government in Afghanistan, no one with the ability to organize elections – only the brutal rule of warlords in their various fiefdoms. Karzai is just a powerless figurehead, propped up by the U.S. for public relations purposes. Karzai controls little more than his presidential compound in Kabul; his bodyguards are American "security contractors," that is, mercenaries.
Many of these warlords controlling different parts of Afghanistan are also heroin traffickers. As a result, heroin production in Afghanistan has mushroomed in the past two years. In 2003, opium production soared to 3,600 tons, which represents a twenty-fold increase over 2001 and 75% of the world's illegal opium. A top U.S. Agriculture Department official estimated this year's crop at 5,400 tons, which is another 50% increase from last year. So Afghanistan is once again the world's top producer, a position it held before the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation in the late 1990s.
So the U.S. government, which just months before 9/11 had publicly praised the Taliban for virtually stopping opium cultivation, today allows its allies, the warlords, to resume trafficking. It's a reward given to the warlords working with the U.S.
No aspect of life has improved for the Afghan population since the U.S. invaded their country. With permanent war and little economic activity to speak of, unemployment and crime are rampant. Ordinary Afghans are being victimized by the widespread robbery, rape and murder carried out by the warlords.
Neither has the situation of women improved, despite the grandiose speeches of Bush and his cronies. Women are still not allowed to work or to go to school; they are still forced to wear the head-to-toe burka in public. Religious fundamentalist warlords, allied with the U.S. and thus in power, attack and burn down schools that teach female students or attack the students themselves. In early May, for example, three eight-year-old girls were poisoned in the province of Khost, as punishment for going to school.
The terrible price of the war in Afghanistan is paid, first and foremost, by the people of that country. But it is also paid by American workers – in the elimination of social programs and public services in this country to free up money to pay for the war, and with the lives of U.S. troops sent to fight in Afghanistan.