11 July 2009
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Despite spending many billions of dollars and nearly eight years in Afghanistan, Afghans don’t trust the U.S. government. This is why more American soldiers are dying there.
American rationale in Afghanistan is not clear to Afghans. Under George W. Bush, the goal of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was to destroy al-Qaeda by eliminating Osama bin-Laden and his cohorts. When that failed, the goal shifted to the noble-sounding “building democracy.” With the Obama administration, it has shifted to the more modest goal of eliminating the threat of the Taliban as a source of terrorism. Building democracy, good government and justice for all Afghans has taken a back seat— if it has a seat at all. And this is the greatest tragedy of the war in Afghanistan.
With the overthrow of the Taliban, many Afghans hoped that after a century of Western meddling, beginning with British colonization in Central Asia, through the Russian occupation, then America’s arming of the fundamentalist Mujahadeen, American-led efforts to bring democracy would finally bear positive results. However when Bush and the Pentagon gave their blessings to the same fundamentalist warlords who had killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and who destroyed the modern Afghanistan that had been building since the 1920s, that dream was over.
Now one of the most notorious autocrats from the Mujahadeen era, Rashid Dostum has returned to Kabul and the folds of Hamid Karzai’s government. Dostum had been living in exile in Turkey after threatening to shoot a fellow Afghan government official. One wonders who paid for his exile. Dostum was probably not washing dishes for his keep, like so many poorer Afghan exiles forced out by the Karzai administration for their efforts to establish a just democracy.
But Dostum is back, and has been greeted by a disturbing article in the New York Times that re-visits the terrible massacre of 2,000 Taliban POWs in 2001 at Dasht-i-Khar, and the U.S.’s refusal to investigate the possibility of war crimes associated with that action, then or since. According to the Times article, the U.S. State Department has grumbled to Karzai about the inappropriateness of Dostum having a high position in Afghanistan’s government. But the Afghan government is pretty familiar with the ineffectiveness of State’s grumblings, and this one will be shrugged off like so many others, especially as Karzai girds himself with strongmen who will deliver the votes of their cowed constituents to the Karzai ticket—by any means.
The AP reported today that the Obama administration will do nothing to investigate Dostum’s alleged war crimes because they did not involve Americans or occur on U.S. soil. With that reasoning, the Nuremburg trials of holocaust planners following WWII should not have been held either.
Afghans are not stupid or blind. Millions lived through the horrors of warlord regimes that spawned the Taliban in the first place. They know the story of Dostum, of Abdullah Abdullah and the many other alleged war criminals who now enjoy high positions in the Afghan government. They have yearned for a commission of transitional justice to see that those who lead the armies of murder and destruction in the Afghan civil war have a thorough hearing, and that the guilty are punished—or at least removed from positions of power.
But the Obama administration’s washing their hands of this issue indicates business as usual in America’s kid-glove handling of notorious Afghan warlords. So, Afghans resign themselves to the reality of an ineffective, un-democratic Afghan government that threatens and jails journalists, profits from the drug trade, and rests on a foundation of corruption, bribery and cronyism. It enjoys the multi-billion dollar support of the U.S. government, which now has officially distanced itself from the promotion of democracy, justice, and human rights in Afghanistan.
Considering all of this, it is no wonder that the Taliban have re-gained a strong foothold throughout Afghanistan. They were originally formed to fight the corrupt warlords, but the Karzai government, with the complicity of the U.S. government, brought them back.
It is with great, great sorrow that witness increasing casualties of coalition military forces in Afghanistan. They have an admirable mission, but their enemies are far more powerful than the barefoot Taliban recruits. The tie-wearing Taliban in Kabul and elsewhere are much larger threats to world peace and justice. They should receive far, far greater scrutiny of the blood on their hands, and not be simply shrugged off by the U.S. government, if the Afghan situation is to be resolved.