On March 22, 2010, representatives of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlord were hosted at the Presidential Palace in Kabul with the apparent support of the United States and NATO. Three days later, these same representatives were feted by United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura. That warlord is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar whose militia operates out of Pakistan and in several eastern provinces of Afghanistan and who oppose the NATO presence in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar’s Hesb-e Islami militia has been responsible for decades of atrocities, including the bombardment of Kabul in 1994 which leveled most of the city.
As the West desperately seeks an exit strategy from Afghanistan, its leaders are apparently willing to embrace any person, regardless of the amount of blood on his hands. Talk of democracy, justice, women’s rights and human rights seems to have taken a back seat to political expediency. The desire now is for a minimum amount of temporary stability so that foreign forces can declare victory and withdraw.
Consider the status of Afghanistan’s three most infamous warlords:
Abdul Rashid Dostum: He was opposed by the West during the 1980’s when he and his Jowzjani militia worked for the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. However his status changed in 2001, when he was enlisted by the CIA and U.S. Special Forces Command to assist in the capture of Mazar-e Sharif. During that campaign his forces were responsible for the murder and mistreatment of thousands of Taliban prisoners. After the fall of the Taliban, the West was buffeted by a constant stream of criticism for supporting General Dostum. After years of bad press, General Dostum fell out of favor and the West eventually was forced to change his status back to being a bad warlord. He went (in the minds of the West) from being a bad warlord to a good one and now he is once again labeled as bad.
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf: Possibly the most murderous of the warlords. He was the inspiration for Muslim terrorists in the southern Philippines whose movement bears his name. On February 10, 1993, his militia led an assault on the Hazara hill community of Afshar, in the western suburbs of Kabul. It was Afghanistan’s version of the September 16-18, 1982, Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon. Sayyaf’s forces systematically pulled civilians out of their homes and executed them in the street. Sayyaf was also apparently the person who initially invited Usama bin Laden to Afghanistan. Khalid Sheik Muhammad (KSM), now awaiting trial in the United States for the September 11, 2001, was his private secretary. In 2001, Sayyaf was courted and supported by the CIA. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has always considered him to be a “good” warlord.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: He received hundreds of millions of dollars in American military aid during the 1980’s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The West considered him to be a “good” warlord in the 1980’s and then he was labeled a bad warlord in 2001, when he opposed the American invasion of Afghanistan and now apparently the West considers him to be a “good” warlord again.
The refusal of the United States and European countries to draw clear distinctions between those who are good and those who are bad has repeatedly undermined their standing in the developing world. It appears that the only difference between good and bad is that good warlords and terrorists temporarily support or at least voice support for Western causes.
The meetings in Kabul on March 22nd and 26th are a new low for the West as its member countries begin preparations to abandon Afghanistan. In support of such a retreat, it is expected that Western governments in the months to come will be emphasizing the terms “security” and “stability” for Afghanistan rather than the terms “justice,” “women’s rights,” “human rights” and “the rule of law.”
The U.S. Congress long ago recognized that the positions advocated by American diplomats overseas may be either unsavory or propaganda, so in 1948 it enacted “The U.S. Information Educational Exchange Act.” Codified as Title 22 of the United State Code, section 1461, it is popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act. Subsection 1461-1A was added in 1985. It is called the Zorinski amendment. It repeats and reemphasizes that there is a specific ban on the State Department releasing or publishing any of its overseas propaganda within the United States. It reads as follows:
“Except as provided in section 1461 of this title and this section, no funds authorized to be appropriated to the United States Information Agency shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States, and no program material prepared by the United States Information Agency shall be distributed within the United States.”
The U.S. Information Agency and its public diplomacy efforts are now part of the U.S. Department of State. The intent of Congress is that the American people needed to be protected from propaganda that American diplomats spread overseas.
On June 7, 1985, Senator Edward Zorinski introduced his amendment on the floor of the U.S. Senate and explained the need for the statute:
“By law, the USIA cannot engage in domestic propaganda. This distinguishes us, as a free society, from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity. “
“The American taxpayer certainly does not need or want his tax dollars used to support U.S. Government propaganda directed at him or her. My amendment ensures that this will not occur.”
In 1999, the ban on the U.S, Department of State disseminating its propaganda within the United States was again reemphasized in Section 1333 of HR 105-825. This ban is aimed at Voice of America (VoA) broadcasts, all U.S. embassy press releases and all overseas statements of U.S. ambassadors and other public diplomacy officials. As the United States Congress is wary of State Department propaganda and its shifting definitions of good and bad, citizens of foreign countries should ponder America’s silence regarding the new status of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The proclamation of lofty ideals by American diplomats should not be curtailed whenever it is inconvenient. When it is inconvenient, is when those ideals are most needed.