May 21, 2013 – Kabul–Since 2009, Voices for Creative Nonviolence has maintained a grim record we call the “The Afghan Atrocities Update” which gives the dates, locations, numbers and names of Afghan civilians killed by NATO forces. Even with details culled from news reports, these data can’t help but merge into one large statistic, something about terrible pain that’s worth caring about but that is happening very far away.
It’s one thing to chronicle sparse details about these U.S. led NATO attacks. It’s quite another to sit across from Afghan men as they try, having broken down in tears, to regain sufficient composure to finish telling us their stories. Last night, at a restaurant in Kabul, I and two friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers met with five Pashtun men from Afghanistan’s northern and eastern provinces. The men had agreed to tell us about their experiences living in areas affected by regular drone attacks, aerial bombings and night raids. Each of them noted that they also fear Taliban threats and attacks. “What can we do,” they asked, “when both sides are targeting us?”
The situation in Afghanistan is beginning to remind me of an old Russian joke about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist says, “Things are so bad, they couldn’t possibly be worse.” And the pessimist says, “No, they could be worse.” That thought came to me when I read yet again someone expressing the fear that after US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the country “may descend into civil war.” What exactly do they think is happening now between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces?
This has always been an Afghan civil war, as well as a war between the Taliban and Western forces in Afghanistan. It is a continuation of the civil war which had been going on since 1992 between different groups among the Mujahedin forces which overthrew the Communist regime in that year; just as for the 14 years before that, Afghanistan had been in a state of civil war between the Communists and their enemies. What happened in 1979 and again in 2001 was that outside superpowers intervened on one side of a civil war. This meant that the military balance was violently tipped in the direction of that side—for a while.
Some of my students at King’s College have chosen this year to write their MA essays on the subject of Edward Luttwak’s argument a dozen years ago against humanitarian intervention, “Give War a Chance”. This has made me think about the relevance of his ideas to Afghanistan over the past two generations. I am certainly not advocating a US strategy of allowing civil war in Afghanistan to play out as it will. Nor of course were either the Soviet invasion of 1979 or the US invasion of 2001 humanitarian interventions intended to do so: both had the effect of trying to maintain and extend Afghanistan’s limited modern progress in the face of Islamist and tribal conservative resistance.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and opening the little cartoon on the Google page brings up a sentimental animation with Tony Bennett singing “why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart.”
Here in Dubai, where I’m awaiting a visa to visit Afghanistan, the weather is already warm and humid. But my bags are packed with sweaters because Kabul is still reeling from the coldest winter on record. Two weeks ago, eight children under age five froze to death there in one of the sprawling refugee camps inhabited by so many who have fled from the battles in other provinces. Since January 15, at least 23 children under 5 have frozen to death in the camps.
And just over a week ago, eight young shepherds, all but one under 14 years of age, lit a fire for warmth on the snowy Afghan mountainside in Kapisa Province where they were helping support their families by grazing sheep. French troops saw the fire, and acted on faulty information, and the boys were all killed in two successive NATO airstrikes. The usual denunciations from local authorities, and Western apologies, followed. (Trend News, February 10, 2012).
Reports that the US is determined to maintain a presence in Afghanistan will surprise no one except 99% of foreign policy analysts. Responding to the announcement that the US is in negotiations to maintain a presence until 2024, Mahdi Hassan, senior editor at the New Statesman, writes “the US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure” because “the presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.”
Regardless, Obama escalated the conflict on coming to office. Citing research that outlines the primary goal of suicide terrorism is to end foreign military occupations, Hassan asks, “Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this?”
The Afghan and Iraq invasions were launched on the expectation they would increase the terrorist threat to domestic populations, as they duly did. It is a remarkable example of extreme naivety or intellectual subservience that claims the US is concerned with reducing terror not be met with widespread ridicule.
As Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College Dublin, points out in the journal Critical Asian Studies, the War on Drugs is equally vacuous.
I was interviewed on KCRW’s To the Point. The programme focuses on Syria, Libya and foreign intervention. I was in august company – Anthony Shadid, New York Times correspondent and author of the wonderfully-written book on Iraq, Night Draws Near; as well as Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy magazine.
Nato is now engaged in open terrorism. Having failed in its ostensible mission to protect the civilians of Ben Ghazi and Misurata, it is now raining bombs on civilians in Tripoli, including a disabled childrens’ school, in a manner not dissimilar to Gaddafi’s. In a clear breach of the UN mandate, it has also tried to assassinate Gaddafi, instead killing his son and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, according to sources on the ground, Misurata’s Qasr Ahmed neighbourhood remains under intense assault from Gaddafi’s Grad rockets.