Selective Outrage

Published on on March 30, 2006

by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls

Daily media reports over the case of Afghan Christian convert Abdul Rahman have revealed a sudden concern over Afghanistan’s repressive human rights environment. But routine human rights reports of the ongoing oppression of Afghan women, suppression of the media and underlying Western complicity have barely been noticed.

In the West, government officials, media pundits and right-wing commentators have expressed vocal concern over the life of one Afghan man who chose, 16 years ago, to convert from Islam to Christianity. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Rahman’s arrest for apostasy (renunciation of faith), a crime that carries the death penalty was “beyond belief.” U.S. President George W. Bush said he was “deeply troubled” by the case. The New York Times opined that “the case is more than deeply troubling, it’s barbaric.”

These same officials, whose governments underwrite the Afghan government, were apparently so moved by Rahman’s situation that they pushed for President Hamid Karzai to have Rahman released. In what the Associated Press called “an unusual move,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Karzai to convey “in the strongest possible terms” her government’s wish for a “favorable resolution.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also appealed to Karzai and got positive results.

Three days before Rahman was released, Harper said, “[Karzai] conveyed to me that we don’t have to worry about [Rahman’s execution. He] assured me that what’s alarmed most of us will be worked out quickly ,T (Bin a way that fully respects religious rights, religious freedoms and human rights.” Not surprisingly, the case was dismissed on March 27 due to “insufficient evidence.

Prior to the dismissal, Bush boasted, “We have got influence in Afghanistan, and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values.” In other words, the Afghan courts are free to come to their own verdict, so long as the U.S. agrees with it. On CNN’s Late Edition, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., warned, “Let’s hope they make the right decision. If they don’t, I think there are going to be a great many problems.”

Behind Roberts’ words was an unmistakable threat that the United States and other Western governments would withdraw their support for the fragile Karzai government. Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, sent an email to 250,000 supporters warning that Rahman’s execution would “result in a complete collapse in support for the war.” The New York Times echoed these sentiments: “What’s the point of the United States’ propping up the government of Afghanistan if it’s not even going to pretend to respect basic human rights?” The newspaper’s editors threatened, “If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States.”

The implication is clear: By “liberating” Afghanistan, the Christian West now stakes a claim in its internal affairs. Recognizing this influence, vocal leaders have discovered a sudden interest in international law and universal values — but it is a piecemeal recognition, avoiding the systemic issues of human rights violations seen in Afghanistan on a daily basis. Before one applauds the outcome, it is important to understand that Rahman’s religious freedom case is a symptom of a much larger problem.

While Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins laments that “such a ‘trial’ is a flagrant violation of Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he does not cite Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to education. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reports that the number of educational facilities for women has actually been reduced in the past year. In southern Afghanistan, the United Nations reports about 300 girls’ schools were burned down in 2005. Nationwide, women’s literacy rates are half that of men. Some provinces report literacy rates of 3 percent for women.

For Afghanistan’s approximately 15 million women, “universal values” do not include women’s rights. A UNICEF report released last week warned of the grim statistics concerning Afghan women and children:

[A]n estimated 600 children under the age of 5 die every day in Afghanistan, mostly due to preventable illnesses, some 50 women die every day due to obstetric complications, less than half of primary school age girls attend classes, while a quarter of primary school age children undertake some form of work, and an estimated one-third of women are married before the age of 18.

In 2001, similar statistics were routinely reported as a justification for the war on Afghanistan and women’s “liberation.” Yet, five years later, the situation has scarcely improved.

The case of Abdul Rahman has drawn attention to Afghanistan’s judicial system, which has been in dire need of reform since it was set up at the end of 2001. But, other than Rahman’s case, most commentators have a meager understanding of how this system has affected the lives of Afghans, especially women, its greatest victims. Amnesty International notes that “the current criminal justice system is simply unwilling or unable to address issues of violence against women. At the moment (October 2003) it is more likely to violate the rights of women than to protect and uphold their rights (emphasis added).”

The main legal document of Afghanistan is the constitution, drafted and passed in early 2004 with the oversight of then U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. In March 2004, we warned of the constitution’s ambivalent stance toward women’s rights:

[P]ossibly negating any rights of women is the ominous inclusion of the supremacy of Islamic law in the constitution: “in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” As if to underscore the threat this statement presents, the Chairman of the constitutional convention, … Sibghatullah Mojadidi, said to the women delegates at the convention, “Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man.”

Islamic law in the constitution was meant to appease extremist right-wing factions, including the Chief Justice Fazl Al Shinwari. Shinwari is a close ally of the fundamentalist warlord and U.S.-Saudi protege of the early 1990s Abdul-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, now a member of the Afghan parliament. Human Rights Watch reported that Shinwari and his deputy “do not appear to act independently, the first requirement of a judge, instead making political judgments in close collaboration with warlords like Sayyaf.”

Shinwari has taken full advantage of his position and the new constitution to appoint judges who share his extreme beliefs to the lower courts, and handing out misogynist decisions on cases involving women, particularly in family law. He refuses to appoint women to high court positions, saying, “If a woman becomes a top judge, then what would happen when she has a menstruation cycle once a month, and she cannot go to the mosque?”

Shinwari has banned cable television in Afghanistan, arrested journalists for blasphemy, and forced Women’s Affairs minister Sima Samar to resign her post after she was charged with blasphemy for making “irresponsible statements” criticizing Shari’a law. As with apostasy, the penalty for blasphemy is death. Yet, we hear no criticisms from the West regarding the court’s numerous medieval blasphemy accusations.

The consequences for women of such a repressive justice system have been dire. The AIHRC noted 150 cases of self-immolation among women in the western region of the country in 2005 alone. Women who burn themselves to death often do so as a result of forced marriages, which are sanctioned by extremist interpretations of Shari’a law and are occurring at an alarming rate. Cases of violence against women are also rising. A young woman named Gulbar in the Baghdis province was repeatedly abused by her husband, who finally set fire to her. While she attempts to recover from extreme burns covering 40 percent of her body, no steps have been taken by local authorities to hold her husband accountable.

In late 2005, the well-respected 25-year-old poet Nadia Anjuman was beaten by her husband and died of injuries. U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards condemned the killing: “The death of Nadia Anjuman ,T (Bis indeed tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan. It needs to be investigated, and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law.”

The New York Times sarcastically commented that if Rahman was to be executed, “maybe Afghanistan should also return to stoning women to death for adultery.” Perhaps the Times will recall last spring, when 29-year-old Amina of Badakhshan province was stoned to death after being accused of adultery by her husband and convicted by local officials.There was no international outcry from the United States or other foreign countries and no attempts to get President Karzai to enforce universal human rights.

It is likely that, given the current atmosphere in Afghanistan, justice will not be served for Gulbar, Nadia Anjuman, Amina or the uncounted women who have been stifled by a judicial system that was designed to work against them. The complicit silence from Western media and government officials indicates that Bush’s “influence in Afghanistan” is not worth exercising to protect women’s rights.

Note that Bush administration officials have remained entirely silent on the fate of a brave Afghan woman named Malalai Joya. Joya is one of the youngest members of Afghanistan’s parliament and a fierce critic of U.S.-backed fundamentalist warlords. She has survived four assassination attempts and has received over 100 death threats. The only action the Karzai government has taken recently is to withdraw the security guards that she was previously provided.

In early 2005, the position of U.N. independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, held by Cherif Bassiouni, was eliminated at the request of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Just before he was fired, Bassiouni had published a report describing “arbitrary arrest, illegal detentions and abuses committed by the United States-led coalition forces,” as well as activities by these forces which “fall under the internationally accepted definition of torture.”

Abdul Rahman’s case is not unique — it provides an example of the fear with which most ordinary Afghans, especially women, live. Even if one were to take seriously the Western concern for religious freedom, there appears to be less concern for the everyday violations of women’s humanity ensconced in the Afghan legal and political system, or for the criminal behavior of Washington’s own troops in Afghanistan. Most expressions of outrage at Rahman’s plight disregard the human rights violations for which the West is directly responsible and reveal an unstated contempt for the rights of women, the most common victims of the current Afghan justice system.

Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls are co-directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and the authors of the forthcoming book, “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence” (Seven Stories, 2006).

George Bush and Malalai Joya, Trading Places

White House Photo  by Eric DraperYesterday morning US president G.W. Bush flew to Afghanistan in secret on his way to India.[1] Fearing for his life, he confined his visit to a US airbase (the infamous Bagram), a US helicopter, the Afghan Presidential Palace, and the new US embassy. About the new embassy, Bush declared, “It’s a big, solid, permanent structure, which should represent the commitment of the United States of America to your liberty.”[2] Just like the “big solid permanent” bases the US has also installed in Afghanistan.

Malalai Joya in Parliament Meanwhile, yesterday evening Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya arrived in the US to start a nationwide tour which includes Caltech, GWU, UC Berklee, Dartmouth College and Yale. Joya, who openly defies the Afghan warlords and speaks out against them daily, lives a reality that Bush conveniently avoided.[3]

A recent BBC article described her first day in Parliament:

On 20 December, the day of the parliament’s first session in more than 30 years, she did what many of her friends feared she would. Rising from her seat she launched into a denunciation of many of those seated around her, condemning the presence in the parliament of “criminal warlords whose hands are stained with the blood of the people”. Many MPs beat their fists on their desks and furiously shouted her down. As she left the parliament she received death threats.[4]

According to Bush, “What’s going to happen in Afghanistan is a neighborhood that has been desperate for light instead of darkness is going to see what’s possible when freedom arrives.”[5] How sweet. Malalai Joya’s colleague in the parliament Toor Pekai told the BBC, “All the rumours in the parliament are that people are preparing to kill her.”

Detestable Murderers and Scumbags: Canada in Afghanistan

by Justin Podur and Sonali Kolhatkar; Briarpatch; December 05, 2005

ON JULY 11, 2005, WITH great nuance and tact, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff General Hillier described the forces arrayed against the NATO mission in Afghanistan: “These are detestable murderers and scumbags, I’ll tell you that right up front. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties.”

This was not Canadian officialdom’s typical line on operations abroad. Canada’s Haiti mission, for example, is framed in terms of “helping” Haitians with democracy. Although the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Haiti, Denis Coderre, occasionally uses violent language about “terrorists” (following the normal practice of presenting such labels without evidence) to describe Haiti’s ousted Lavalas government, for the most part Canada’s foreign policy is presented to the public as “peacekeeping,” helping those “failed states” to build “capacity.” Canadian military operations are likewise presented as somehow peaceable.

Hillier was explicitly trying to dispel this image, and not merely with the tactics of demonization (“detestable scumbags”), fear and racism (“they detest our freedoms”), and repetition (“they detest our liberties”). Hillier also wanted to dispel perceptions of the Canadian military as a peaceable, humanitarian force in world affairs: “We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.”

Hillier continued the fear campaign: “Osama bin Laden, some time ago, indicated Canada was a target,” he said on Canadian TV. “As a responsible citizen of the world, we have been involved in the campaign against terrorism, and, of course, we try to bring stability to places that are unstable and therefore have acted as hotbeds for supporting terrorism. All that, I think, does make us a target.”

To use military language, Hillier created an “opening” that Major General Andrew Leslie exploited at a conference in August called “Handcuffs and Hand Grenades.” “Afghanistan is a 20-year venture,” he said, but “there are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for.” Explaining why Canada had to be in Afghanistan for 20 years, Leslie said it was because “every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you’re creating 15 more who will come after you.”

It doesn’t take a military genius to recognize that Hillier and Leslie are making self-contradictory statements. If every time Canada kills someone overseas it’s creating 15 “angry young men,” does that make those 15 people “detestable scumbags?” If killing is so incredibly counterproductive, does it make sense to proudly announce that “our job is to be able to kill people?” And if every killing of these “detestable scumbags” creates 15 more enemies, should that really be considered a goal “worth killing for?”

Hillier and Leslie’s comments can be understood as media operations intended to legitimize a more aggressive military role for Canada in the world. That their speeches sound like warmed-over propaganda scripts of American neoconservatives should not be surprising, since the US is the only possible contemporary model Canada could have for aggressive militarism. But the comments by the generals are more aggressive than Canada’s official foreign policy doctrine. That doctrine was more systematically expounded by Canada’s Foreign Minister Bill Graham in a speech in September on Canada’s Afghan Mission.

In that speech, Graham described the ideology motivating Canada’s more aggressive posture. The idea is that there are “failed states” from which danger “leaks out” into other areas. Afghanistan fits into this scheme as a country with an “unfortunate history of war and misrule… culminating in the rule of the Taliban and their support for al-Qaeda and their attack on New York.”

While there may seem to be a large space between Graham’s “helping” approach and Hillier/Leslie’s “kill people” approach, Canada’s real foreign policy path is actually rather narrow: it involves supporting and legitimizing US foreign policy, whether through “failed state” rhetoric, military support, or profitable arms manufacturing. Canada’s Afghan mission fits the bill on all counts.

Canada in Afghanistan

IN 2002, CANADA sent 800 soldiers to Kandahar to join operations with the United States. In April of that year, Canada took its worst casualties in the mission when four Canadians were killed by bombs from a US F-16.

According to Graham, Canada then “spearheaded the effort to have NATO take over the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul” from the United Nations. Today ISAF has 8,000 troops from 35 countries, with Canada contributing some 2,600 troops. In August 2005, Canada sent another 250 troops to Kandahar, along with officials from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Foreign Affairs. In February 2006, Canada will be adding a headquarters in Kandahar, with 350 troops commanding the international force and an addition 1,000 troops as a one-year task force.

Given that Canada has roughly the same population as Afghanistan and very limited military resources, the Afghanistan deployment is a major foreign policy effort.

NATO’s Real Mission

ISAF WAS TAKEN OVER by NATO in August 2003, in its first ever mission outside the Euro-Atlantic region. ISAF was initially established by the United Nations to ostensibly provide security in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, but its greatest failure was that it was restricted to the capital, Kabul, because of strong pressure from the US. In rural provinces, which comprise the majority of Afghanistan, peacekeeping troops could have made a huge difference in bringing order. Instead, these areas are overrun by US backed militias, warlords, local commanders, and US troops engaged in their “hunt” for Al Qaeda and Taliban. US troops collaborate directly with local authoritarian warlords, rewarding them with weapons and aid in exchange for “intelligence” on Al Qaeda and Taliban.

As a result, since the fall of the Taliban, the country has become a progressively more dangerous place. This year, more US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan than in any previous year, and warlords are more entrenched than ever. Meanwhile, according to United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) estimates, the amount of land dedicated to opium poppy cultivation has risen to up to eight and a half times the amount for 2001. If ISAF’s real goal was peacekeeping, US actions have directly hindered that goal. But perhaps “peacekeeping” was never the mission of ISAF.

When asked by one of this article’s co-authors, Sonali Kolhatkar, what ISAF does on an on-going basis, NATO/ISAF spokesperson Major Karen Tissot Van Patot (a Canadian), stationed in Kabul, said that ISAF’s goal is to “provide a secure and stable environment.” When pressed for details, she explained that in Kabul, where ISAF’s headquarters is located, ISAF and the Afghan central government work closely: “We work together… [we provide] whatever they need. Whatever they ask for…. We’re here at the behest of the government to provide them with assistance.”

Given that Hamid Karzai, the head of the new Afghan government, was propelled into power by the US, and remains protected by US forces, it’s fair to conclude that NATO is in Afghanistan at the behest of the US government. This includes strategically providing the Karzai government with security for the US-designed nation-wide presidential and parliamentary elections which attracted international media attention.

The real goal is not peacekeeping, but rather the illusion of peacekeeping so as to make the installation of a US-friendly regime palatable to Afghanis. ISAF’s intense propaganda efforts attest to this. Kabul city sports huge billboards advertising ISAF’s contributions to the Afghan people. ISAF also runs radio and TV stations in the local languages to highlight the benevolence of the foreign troops. At the heart of NATO’s job as ISAF is an effort to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. This benefits all Western forces present, including the US.

NATO’s main propaganda effort is in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are groups of soldiers engaged in a strange mix of providing security, carrying out small reconstruction and humanitarian projects, and eliciting intelligence information. US troops pioneered the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and NATO forces are following suit. In response to years of calls from aid agencies, human rights groups, and even the Karzai government, ISAF began expanding its mandate outside Kabul. But instead of real peacekeeping – disarmament, protecting civilians from armed groups, etc. – the expansion was done through the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Today, ISAF has ten such teams in various Afghan provinces.

The aid provided by Provincial Reconstruction Teams is minuscule compared to the nation’s needs, and far more expensive than that provided by aid agencies. Ultimately, the main goal of Provincial Reconstruction Teams is to impress upon the Afghans that Western forces are there to help them through delivery of food, construction of schools, wells, etc. Meanwhile, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have angered many aid agencies who bitterly complain that mixing military and humanitarian projects jeopardizes aid workers, and holds the receiving population hostage to military demands. InterAction, a coalition of 159 organizations including Doctors Without Borders, CARE, and Oxfam America “does not believe the military members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams should be engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction activities.”

Ultimately, NATO (and Canadian) forces serve US interests in Afghanistan. NATO has had to re-invent itself to suit US needs, and create a role for itself in a post-Cold War world. In October 2001, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson declared his hope that NATO would be part of whatever response the US decided upon after 9-11: “We stand together. Europe and North America are one single security space…the events of September 11 have not invalidated NATO’s pre-September agenda. If anything, they have reinforced the logic of that agenda…if the US Congress asks the Europeans “what have you done for me lately?” – we should be ready to give a decent answer.

Afghanistan Today

IF THE UNITED States justifies its international aggression in terms of its own national interests and security (as Hillier and Leslie were trying to do for Canada), Canada’s politicians prefer to suggest that the real beneficiaries of our military maneuvers are in the countries targeted for intervention. Bill Graham expressed it this way: “When I hear voices who call for the withdrawal of our troops, who suggest that we are engaged there in a war against Islam, as a recent visiting British politician suggested, I say: Let them talk to the Afghans, Afghans who are Muslims themselves, Afghans who want us there to help them transform their country and allow them to live decent lives; to allow them to conduct fair and democratic elections free from fear and intimidation.”

‘Let them talk to the Afghans’, indeed. Doing so might yield different prescriptions than Graham’s, however.

In 2004, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), a government-funded agency, conducted a nationwide survey of the Afghan people. Their results were published in a report entitled “A Call for Justice,” which showed that a majority of Afghans consider themselves victims of war, whether at the hands of the Mujahadeen, the Taliban, and/or the Soviet Union, and want an end to war, and justice for war crimes. Western governments like Canada could provide constructive help to the Afghan people to bring war criminals and their benefactors to justice. The trouble is that the main benefactors are the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, who provided weapons, training, and funding for the war criminals.

Another strong desire among Afghans is nation-wide disarmament. In 2004, Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC), a coalition of humanitarian organizations, published a report based on another survey called “Take the Guns Away.” When asked what was the most important thing to do to improve security in Afghanistan, 65 percent of Afghans surveyed said disarmament. This number was much higher – 87 percent – in the province of Mazar-e-Sharif where US-backed warlords often clashed. Western nations could fully fund disarmament projects in Afghanistan. Instead, highly selective and politicized disarmament has taken place, leaving intact most of the privately-run warlord militias. Full disarmament would run counter to the US practice of condoning arms proliferation at best, and at worst, actually engaging in arms proliferation.

The most frequently mentioned human rights desired by respondents of the HRRAC survey included “ethnic, religious and gender equality; political rights such as the right to participate in free and fair elections; and the right to education.” Even though the Bush administration often cites that millions of Afghan girls are now attending school, there are very few schools in rural areas, and those that are in operation have curriculums limited to Islamic studies, reminiscent of Taliban-era education for boys. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, has been fighting for women’s rights for decades. Their schools, which teach a balanced curriculum based on gender, ethnic and religious tolerance, and women’s rights, are facing closure due to lack of funds. Western nations could greatly benefit Afghanistan by fully funding schools designed and led by Afghan women. To date, only a small fraction of aid to Afghanistan goes toward education.

Much is made of women’s rights after the fall of the Taliban. It is indeed true that some women, particularly in Kabul, enjoy greater freedom to appear in public, dress the way they want, and have the right to housing, jobs, education, and healthcare. However, for millions of Afghan women outside Kabul this means very little. A woman in a rural province had no education, healthcare, or employment before the Taliban came to power. She then had those things legally denied to her by the Taliban. After the fall of the Taliban, she still has no education, healthcare, or employment, even though she has legal rights. For all practical purposes, her life is no different compared to before or during the Taliban. Western nations could truly support Afghan women’s rights by moving beyond token, high-profile projects, and instead funding easily accessible education, healthcare and jobs for all women in Afghanistan. These projects should be designed and run by Afghan women, who best understand what they need.

The largest segment of Afghanistan’s economy is based on the drug trade, revived by US-backed warlords and regional commanders. Instead of criminalizing poor farmers for growing poppies, Western nations could help Afghans reduce their dependency on a drug economy by providing full compensation to farmers who have gone into debt to grow and harvest opium. Additionally, farmers could be assisted with alternative and sustainable farming that would benefit their families and their country.

The problem, of course, is that focusing on constructive projects such as those mentioned above would benefit only the Afghans, and not US, Canadian, or NATO interests. They would strengthen the people of Afghanistan and enrich their democratic development, while weakening the power of US and Afghan warlords.

Why is Canada involved?

CANADA’S NEW FOREIGN policy doctrine of “responsibility to protect” the people of “failed states” misplaces the emphasis. The doctrine suggests that the reasons for Canada’s intervention are to be found in the countries in which we intervene: Afghanistan suffered from “misrule,” Haiti is a “failed state.” The true reasons for Canada’s interventions, rather, is to be found in the relationship between Canada and the United States.

During the US invasion and occupation of Vietnam, Canadian corporations profited by supplying the American military, and Canadian diplomats ran interference for the US in the “International Control Commission,” a “neutral” body that was supposed to monitor the conflict between the US and the Vietnamese. Then, as now, Canada’s image as more multilateral, less militaristic and imperialistic, was a useful counterpoint to the aggressive posture of the US. Canada could use its good reputation to play the “good cop” to the US “bad cop,” thus providing tactical support in accomplishing US foreign policy goals.

The same relationship holds today. Canada presents itself as a friend to those countries it is intervening in, with a “3-D approach” (defence, diplomacy, and development assistance) as an option over the more unilateral and aggressive approach of the US. If, as a consequence, Canadian corporations like Bell win a one billion dollar contract with the US military to supply helicopters, or CAE wins a $20 million contract to supply combat simulation technology, perhaps that is just another “dimension” to be added to the 3-D approach.

Because the real reasons for intervention are not genuine help and solidarity, Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan has little relationship to what the people of that country actually need. Instead, under the guise of helping Afghanistan, Canada is actually providing a kind face to US contravention of the laws of war. In spite of mountains of evidence exposing US torture and murder of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan (never mind Canada’s own experience with its troops torturing a youth to death in Somalia in the 1990s), Canadian troops are capturing people and handing them over to the US in Afghanistan. The US, the “detainee authority” in Afghanistan, defines people it captures as “unlawful combatants” and denies them Geneva Convention protections. If pronouncements by Rumsfeld or Bush about “hating our freedom” found their Canadian echo in Hillier and Leslie, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s comment about the Geneva Conventions being “quaint” found its Canadian echo in Brigadier General Mike Ward, who in September 2005 talked to the Canadian Press about how Canadian forces have killed and captured Afghanis in coordination with the US. On the US record of torture of detainees and the use of the “unlawful combatant” label to justify contravening the Geneva Conventions, Ward said, “It’s the fact of the treatment that we specifically get into detail about, not whether in fact their status is identified as ‘prisoner of war’ or ‘unlawful combatant.’”

Where the US military leads in the “war on terror,” Canada follows. The Canadian engagement in Afghanistan enables Canada to be a useful tool of American imperialism, a junior member of the “winning team.” The price of accommodation with empire is high for all involved. Those whose sovereignty is violated get the worst of it, facing hunger, disease, bombs, torture, and death. But for the accomplices, there is a steady diet of fear and racism, as well as the erosion of democracy, ethics, and even basic logic. That Canada is experiencing such erosion is evidenced by Major General Leslie being able to hold up a claim that killing young men overseas is worth dying for.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission and the host/producer of Uprising, which airs Monday-Friday on KPFK, Pacifica radio in Los Angeles. She visited Afghanistan in February 2005, and has co-authored a book about US policy in Afghanistan due out in Spring 2006.

Justin Podur is a writer and editor at ZNet. He has reported from Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia, Israel/Palestine, and other countries, and is based in Toronto.

A Parliament of Vultures

Since they took place after George W. Bush stopped using Afghanistan in speeches to prove his “regime change” and “democracy promotion” credentials, September’s Afghan parliamentary elections took place somewhat off the radar screen of US mainstream media. Thus perhaps it comes as a surprise to some Americans that most of Washington’s favorite gangsters from back in the 1980s have now been (or will soon be) officially restored and legitimized by the process the US and its allies started in Bonn in November 2001. The provisional winners’ list for Kabul province reads like a Who’s Who of former US stooges. People we thought we’d be able to forget: Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, Burhannudin Rabbani, Mohammed Mohaqeq, Yunus Qanooni. All now have seats in either the parliament or the provincial councils.

We’re still waiting for the official results from the polls (originally due October 22), because about 500 fraud allegations still need to be investigated by the elections overseers. Yunus Qanooni, who led the charge of fraud in the presidential elections of October 2004, which he lost, is also requesting a recount in the parliamentary elections, which he won.[1] The former Northern Alliance commander and Karzai “education minister” looks to be promoting himself as a “friend of the common people” in opposition to president Karzai. I should add that it is not difficult to look better than Karzai right now, given his record as US pet and his lack of follow-through on campaign promises – in particular his expressed desire to weaken the power of warlords.

Given Qanooni’s past and present affiliations, however, it is not likely that he is concerned with, or will speak out against the real fraud of the elections. That is, the overrepresentation of warlords and fundamentalists on the ballots, despite rules to the contrary. For the presidential elections last October (2004) over 70% of registered voters turned out. This years polls saw less than 50% in most provinces. In Kabul province only 34% of the electorate voted. Many reasons have been cited, and most are consequences of US policy. In particular, Hamid Abdullah, who supervised one of Kabul’s polling stations, told the BBC, “I simply did not find a good candidate… so I am not voting…I personally feel that the turnout is low because people don’t like the candidates. Anybody and everybody is vying for political power.” Indeed. According to Asia Times,

About 25% of the candidates are members of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, while of the rest, many are former jihadis or former communists. Among these combined ranks are a number of Taliban leaders who have been drawn into the political process, although their true colors remain suspect. The only difference nowadays is that all these candidates are nominally under the US flag and acknowledge President Hamid Karzai’s administration.[2]

After provisional results were announced, Carlotta Gall of the New York Times estimated that “At least half of the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of Parliament, will be made up of religious figures or former fighters, including four former Taliban commanders…[E]ven in Kabul Province half of the 33 seats have been won by jihadi figures.”[3]

Meanwhile, good people who actually did make it to parliament are finding their positions challenged by more than just fraud allegations. Chapter 8, Article 37 of Afghan election law “states that if a successful candidate dies or is disqualified prior to the first session of parliament, the seat goes to the person who gained the next highest total number of votes.” Well, that Article is being put to the test. Since the September 18 elections, one candidate has been assassinated, others have have attempts made on their lives, and many more have been threatened.[4] The amazing Malalai Joya, who got the second-most number of votes in Farah Province,[5] has been threatened, and continues to fear for her life. For Joya this is nothing new. Her accession to parliament and her international visibility could however do a lot to expose the Bush administration’s lies about having saved Afghanistan, especially the women, from terrorists.

Elections, US-Style

Early estimates have it that between 30 and 35% of registered voters voted in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections yesterday. This compares with about 75% of registered voters in last October’s presidential elections. Already, people have realized that very little will change by voting, and a lot are probably worrying that things could get worse if they vote for the wrong people. The political parties law, set up by Hamid Karzai under the guidance of former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (now ambassador to Iraq), favors warlords, since it states that candidates for office cannot be listed by party affiliation. Those who wanted to vote against warlords as a bloc had to figure out each candidate individually (out of the tens running in each province).

Abdul Makin, a polling organizer in Kabul, chose not to vote, because

Warlords destroyed our country and now the ballot is full of them. I didn’t vote because I wasn’t sure any of the candidates are honest. Last year, there were long queues of people waiting to vote. Today we’re seen none of that.

But, we are reminded by current ambassador from the US Ronald Neumann, voter apathy and the hijacking of democracy by unaccountable power is normal:

In America, only half of the people vote. If people are getting a little more used to elections, then maybe Afghanistan is turning into a normal country.[1]


  1. Associated Press

Giving Democracy a Bad Name

Afghanistan’s Parliamentary Elections

Published in Foreign Policy In Focus on September 16, 2005

by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls

The United States has supposedly created new “democracies” in Afghanistan and Iraq, but these endeavors give democracy a bad name. Sure, the two countries have some ingredients of representative democracy, such as elected officials and a constitution. But both countries are still beset by grinding poverty, insurgencies, and entrenched militia forces that make the exercise of democracy either impractical or dangerous. Both countries have high numbers of foreign troops occupying their land and terrorizing the population while hunting “terrorists” And both countries’ governments answer to their respective U.S. ambassador on most issues. In the midst of such a violent and coercive environment, Afghans are pressing ahead with the latest in a series of “democratic” exercises imposed by the United States: the first Afghan parliamentary elections in four decades will take place this Sunday, September 18. Even though many Afghans hope that the elections will empower them to end their troubles, the fear is that the elections will probably be as undemocratic in practice as every other U.S.-inflicted Afghan institution.

Entrenching Warlord Rule?

Warlords, most of whom have past or present U.S. backing, still rule much of the countryside and will play a big role in the elections. A survey by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC) found that a majority of Afghans are fearful that the elections will be used by the “commanders,” to cement their power. One respondent said, “The only concern that we have is commanders’ misuse of their power.”1 According to election rules, any individuals commanding private armies are to be disqualified. In July, the Electoral Complaints Commission (EEC) drew up a list of 208 “blacklisted” candidates who had ties to illegal armed groups. As of this week, only 45 lower profile candidates have actually been disqualified from running. Meanwhile, warlords like Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, whose criminal past has been documented by groups like Human Rights Watch, are openly running for seats in the Parliament. So are former Taliban officials, like the ex- deputy interior minister Mullah Khaksar.

U.S.-backed president Hamid Karzai has defended the right of warlords to run for parliament, in the interests of “national reconciliation.” This is just the latest in a series of concessions that Karzai has made to warlords. Last October, he ran for president on an ostensibly anti-warlord platform, saying, “Private militias are the country’s greatest danger.” To back up his rhetoric, Karzai sacked two warlords in his cabinet and pretended to fire Ismail Khan by removing him from the post of governor of Herat. After he won the elections, Karzai appointed Khan Minister of Energy, and brought in the feared warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, former Defense Minister and presidential candidate, as Afghanistan’s Army Chief of Staff. U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (now ambassador to Iraq) endorsed Karzai’s decision, commenting in March that the “decision to give a role to … regional strongmen is a wise policy.” In addition, Karzai’s government has promised former Taliban fighters immunity from prosecution for war crimes. Under this program, initiated with the approval of the United States, even Mullah Omar, the notorious Taliban chief, would be granted immunity if he recants his ways.2

Widespread Violence

Besides the repression of entrenched warlords, violence carried out by “remnants” of the Taliban, al-Qaida, or other Afghan formations, as well as U.S. soldiers, is making it harder for Afghans to exercise their democratic rights. More than 1,000 people, including civilians, have been killed in Afghanistan this year alone. It has been the bloodiest year for the U.S. military, with 65 soldiers killed since January 2005. In addition to the U.S. and international troops, anti-government groups have targeted moderate Islamic clerics, government officials, foreign aid workers, and people involved with the upcoming elections. Citizens have been killed for carrying voter registration cards, electoral workers have been attacked, and candidates, particularly women, have received death threats. A total of 6 candidates and 4 election workers have been killed.

Although much of the violence is an attempt to disrupt elections, the U.S. military attributes this year’s dramatic increase in fatalities partly to its own violent provocation. According to the magazine Stars and Stripes, “the recent surge in fighting could be attributed more to American aggressiveness than anything al-Qaida is doing.” U.S. troops have conducted “a series of operations in areas where U.S. presence has been minimal or nonexistent” to try to provoke attacks on themselves and thereby catch “terrorists” in the act. “I think we’re initiating the overwhelming majority of the actions,” said Brigadier-General James Champion. The attackers “would not be firing the first shots if we weren’t in the area.”3

The U.S. troop presence is something a truly democratic Afghanistan would surely eliminate or curtail. In July, over 1,000 demonstrators outside the main U.S. base at Bagram called for an end to arbitrary house break-ins and arrests and for treating Afghans with more dignity. This was the largest protest since a wave of anti-U.S. demonstrations across the country in May led to 16 deaths. During his May 2005 visit to the United States, President Karzai requested more Afghan control over U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the handing over of Afghan prisoners, and the end of home searches without government permission, all of which were rejected. U.S. president George W. Bush told Karzai, “Of course, our troops will respond to U.S. commanders.”

A recent report by the Kabul-based Afghanistan Justice Project cited “grave abuses” by U.S. troops, “many of them of the same sort used by their counterparts in the communist, mujahidin, and Taliban regimes that preceded them.” These include “crude and brutal” methods of torture that have sometimes led to death and the use of secret detention facilities that facilitate torture; and unacknowledged detentions that are tantamount to “disappearances.” Particularly relevant to the parliamentary elections, the report concludes that “U.S. forces have jeopardized prospects for establishing stable and accountable institutions in Afghanistan, have undermined the security of the Afghan people … and have reinforced a pattern of impunity that undermines the legitimacy of the political process.”4

What Will Change?

Given current conditions, many analysts are suggesting that the September 18 elections will probably result in very little change. There will be 5,800 candidates running for 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), and 34 representatives on provincial councils. Rules set up by Karzai, with the approval of the United States, allow political parties, but disallow the party affiliations of candidates to be printed on electoral ballots. In other words, 5,800 candidates are running as independents. Joanna Nathan of the International Crisis Group predicts that the assembly will be a “weak and fractured, possibly even paralyzed body.” Barnett Rubin of New York University says that the elections won’t make much of a difference because, “Until Afghanistan has a functioning, legal economy and basic institutions, there’s nothing really for a parliament to do except act as a kind of puppet platform for people’s views.”

Even so, about half the Afghan population has registered to vote and expects important changes to come from these elections. The elections have the potential to be the most democratic events in Afghanistan since the budding of women’s, student, and leftist organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, there is a slim possibility of the civilian, non-fundamentalist majority in Afghanistan gaining a measure of political power. Women have 68 seats reserved for them as per the new constitution, guaranteeing at least some non-patriarchal views in the assembly.5

In a recent trip to Afghanistan we interviewed Noorani, the editor of a weekly Kabul-based newspaper, Rozgharan, who described three groups that will be represented in the parliamentary elections: “Firstly, Karzai and his technocrats, another group belonging to Qanooni, Dostum, and Mohaqiq, [warlords] and the third: a group of intellectuals, who are unhappy with the failure of Karzai and the warlords.” He complained that the third group had no support from the world community. In addition, they have little economic power and are under threat from the warlords.

Among this third group, there are numerous parties organizing against fundamentalism and for social justice and democracy. The Solidarity Party of Afghanistan, for example, criticizes both Karzai and the warlords. We met with one of the party representatives, Wasay Engineer, who told us that his party has members in 25 of Afghanistan’s 35 provinces. The party’s platform is based on “women’s rights, democracy, and secular society, a disarming of the country, and freedom of the press.” Between 30 and 40% of its members are women. The Solidarity Party is putting up about 30 candidates for the Parliamentary elections “to show that there are some in Afghanistan who still work for the people.” Engineer says that the Solidarity Party is not alone—they are part of a forum of 16 anti-fundamentalist parties throughout the country.
We also met independent candidates. Malalai Joya and Qasimi represented the province of Farah at the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December 2003. Both live under threat to their lives because of their outspoken criticism of the warlords. Qasimi did not allow us to photograph him and uses a pseudonym to protect himself. He says he has been threatened many times by the government, police, and security forces.

Malalai Joya became famous overnight when she caused an uproar at the Constitutional Loya Jirga by denouncing fiercely the warlords who were present, saying they “turned our country into the nucleus of national and international wars … [They are] the most anti-women people in the society who brought our country to this state.” She told the assembly, “They should be taken to national and international court.” ( Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2003) Now Joya wears a burqa to disguise herself when she travels and has six full time security guards. Her house and office were attacked by armed men after her speech at the Constitutional meeting. But she has no intention of disappearing from public life, believing her activism will inspire others. In her office she posed for a photo in front of a poster with the following words: “If I arise, then you will arise, we will all arise.”

Washington likes to highlight its contributions to Afghanistan’s progress toward “democracy,” but U.S. actions in the name of democracy undermine real democracy-building. After having hopes of a fundamentalist-free government crushed many times over by Karzai, many ordinary Afghans consider the parliamentary elections their last chance to exercise some power over their lives. But many activists realize that their fight for justice will not end with elections. Malalai Joya promised us, “Whether I will be a member of parliament or not, I will continue my struggle while my enemies, meaning the enemies of the country, are alive and are working against the women and men of Afghanistan.”

End Notes:

  1. “Afghan Voters Worry ‘Guns and Money’ Will Affect Election,”, September 13, 2005.
  2. Paul McGeough, “ Old Ways Linger Beneath a Veil of Votes,” Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, September 10, 2005.
  3. Kent Harris, “Vicenza-based Troops in Afghanistan Aggressively Taking Fight to the Enemy,” Stars and Stripes, June 28, 2005.
  4. The Afghanistan Justice Project, Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978-2001, July 2005.
  5. “Facts and figures about Afghanistan’s elections,” Reuters, September 12, 2005.

Sonali Kolhatkar and Jim Ingalls are co-directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a U.S.-based non-profit that works in solidarity with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). They visited Afghanistan in February 2005.

Khalilzad’s Second Constitution

Acrimonious debate, ethnic divisions, and, particularly, the boycott of the voting process on 1 January by more than 40 percent of the delegates had sparked fears that agreement would not be reached. On 3 January, the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held closed-door negotiations with rival delegates in order to get the assembly back on track. A compromise agreement was reached, and the constitution was approved.
-Radio Free Europe, 5 January 2004, describing Afghan constitution negotiations[1]

Negotiators here described American officials as playing a major role in the draft. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shuttled among Iraqi leaders, pushing late Monday for the inclusion of Sunnis in talks, negotiators said. U.S. Embassy staff members worked from a Kurdish party headquarters to help type up the draft and translate changes from English to Arabic for Iraqi lawmakers, negotiators said.
-Washington Post, 22 August 2005, describing Iraqi constitution negotiations[2]

It looks like Zalmay Khalilzad is about to tuck a second post-9/11 regime-change constitution under his belt. One of the few real thinkers among the Bush neocons, with a talent for diplomacy to boot, Khalilzad has saved Bush’s ass quite a few times in Afghanistan, and he is trying to do the same in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, he ensured that the incredibly popular, but independent former king Zahir Shah did not challenge US-backed Hamid Karzai for the presidency.[3] He then ensured that the Afghan constitution gave strong powers to the president, at the expense of weakening the power of a more democratically accountable parliament.[4] Because of this, parliamentary elections to take place on September 18 may signal little change for the Afghan people. Karzai’s outlawing of political parties may make the parliament particularly impotent. Karzai’s Political Parties Law allows political parties, but disallows the party affiliations of candidates to be printed on electoral ballots. This could make the parliament particularly impotent.[Updated 14 Sept 05] Joanna Nathan of the International Crisis Group says, “Everyone of the 5800 candidates for the Provincial Councils and National Assembly will be standing as an independent. This means inside the National Assembly there will be 249 individual members and no immediately workable caucases, we fear that this will lead to a weak and fractured, possibly even paralysed body.”[5] Paralyzation may be the best-case scenario. Karzai, with Khalilzad’s approval, also failed to crack down on warlords, many of whom have “somehow” made it onto the parliamentary ballots.

In Iraq, Khalilzad has helped to procure a document that, according to Herbert Docena, ensures that on paper the country will follow a much more neoliberal path than earlier drafts intended.[6] Docena notes that even the US-backed Iraqi politicians

wanted, at least on paper, to build a Scandinavian-type welfare system in the Arabian desert, with Iraq’s vast oil wealth to be spent on upholding every Iraqi’s right to education, health care, housing, and other social services. “Social justice is the basis of building society,” the draft declared. All of Iraq’s natural resources would be owned collectively by the Iraqi people. Everyone would have the right to work and the state would be legally bound to provide employment opportunities to everyone. The state would be the Iraqi people’s collective instrument for achieving development.

In the current, US-blessed draft, the passage about social justice is replaced by one about “reforming the Iraqi economy according to modern economic bases, in a way that ensures complete investment of its resources, diversifying its sources and encouraging and developing the private sector .” Docena’s Foreign Policy in Focus article includes a table showing the evolution of Iraqi constitutional thought from the 1990 document under Saddam Hussein, through the current spate of US-imposed redrafts. The trend is disturbingly anti-progressive.[7]

Bush’s man in Iraq was largely responsible for delivering these goods. Like in Afghanistan, the current Iraqi constitution had a heavy American stamp on it. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the constitutional committee complained:

The Americans say they don’t intervene, but they have intervened deep. They gave us a detailed proposal, almost a full version of a constitution. They try to compromise the different opinions of all the political blocs. The US officials are more interested in the Iraqi constitution than the Iraqis themselves.[8]

Buying the Boss Dinner

I’m sure some Americans will say that the $100,000 pledged by Afghanistan to help the US deal with Hurricane Katrina was a symbolic gesture of goodwill, or some other such platitude. I agree that it’s symbolic, but not of “the strength of the ties between our two peoples.”[1] Don’t get me wrong. I have never experienced as much hospitality as I did during my visit to Afghanistan. Despite the tenuous livelihoods of most people there, I have no doubt that many Afghans would be perfectly willing to give up what little comforts they had if they thought it would help others in need. But that isn’t what this is about, is it?

Afghanistan is now a major US base in Central Asia, dependent on US backing. The Afghan government is right now bankrolled by the United States and other foreign powers. I’m sure Hamid Karzai does nothing controversial unless he already discussed it with Washington. $100,000 goes a long way in Afghanistan. In my experience, $100,000 was enough to run RAWA’s Malalai Hospital, which saw about 200 patients a day, for five months.[2]

Karzai using the funds of his devastated country to give back $100,000 to the US is like a sweatshop manager buying the owner of the company dinner with the funds that were supposed to go towards employee salaries.


  1. Reuters
  2. Afghan Women’s Mission – The hospital was forced to close due to lack of funds. RAWA has opened a smaller clinic instead.

Warmongering North of the Border

Canadians are supposed to be peace-loving and nonviolent. At least that is the stereotype, promulgated in films like Bowling for Columbine, in which Michael Moore demonstrated lack of violent tendencies via unlocked doors and low handgun death rates. I wouldn’t be too quick to accept a few Moore-ian anecdotes as proof of the stereotype’s veracity, but it is certainly true that the Canadian government, being a lesser power compared to the United States, has not had quite as many imperial adventures. (Tho’, like the US, of course, Canada was founded on an imperialistic land theft.)

According to Canadian activist Justin Podur[1] , the Canadian military is beginning to emulate our own:

Canada has atrocious foreign policy, hate, fear, crime, punishment, and a beaten up social welfare system with socialized health care. Look south and look at the future. More atrocious foreign policy, more hate, more fear (terror, even), more crime, more punishment, and no health care.

Justin relays General Hillier’s comments on anti-US fighters in Afghanistan, referred to as “detestable murderers and scumbags.” I just read excerpts from a speech by Major General Andrew Leslie,[2] who makes the following points:

  1. Canada will be in Afghanistan militarily for a long time: “Afghanistan is a 20-year venture.”
  2. Canada will use military force to somehow help Afghanistan “break out of the cycle of warlords and tribalism.”
  3. A lot of people will be killed. “There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for…Your soldiers have done all three of those activities in the last 50 years. More of that activity is about to take place.”
  4. The anti-Canadian elements will be worth killing, since they are “predators … who wish to kill those whom we are charged to protect.”
  5. Canada will be the cause of more terrorism: “Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you’re creating 15 more who will come after you. You have to be prepared for the consequences.”

This bellicose buildup to a long-term Canadian military presence in Afghanistan is, I suspect, rhetorical preparation for the eventual takeover of US “security operations” in Afghanistan by NATO in 2006.[3] The handover of power is as yet vaguely defined. What is certain, current US operations in Afghanistan are not bringing security, and, judging by Canadian rhetoric, neither will future NATO operations.


  1. The Killing Train – Justin Podur’s Blog
  2. Toronto Star
  3. Agence France-Presse

Lessons Still not Learned

This month has seen two reports on the history of human rights abuses in Afghanistan: “Blood Stained Hands” by Human Rights Watch (see my earlier post), and now “Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978-2001” by the Afghanistan Justice Project. The AJP report is probably the most comprehensive of its kind, describing the violations committed from the Soviet invasion to the US invasion, and beyond. It is probably one of the most important reports on Afghanistan to come out in a long time, particularly for its final four pages (of 168), “Lessons Not Yet Learned,” which place current and past US actions in their proper context.

The AJP is staffed by “primarily Afghan volunteers and legal experts,” with an advisory committee that “includes international and Afghan human rights experts, academics and journalists with long experience in Afghanistan.”

The AJP shows its integrity by going outside the nominal scope of their investigation (1978 to 2001) and covering the 2002-2005 period, placing the crimes of the US and its allies in the “war on terror” in the context of almost 30 years of violations. According to the report,

U.S. forces have committed grave abuses many of the them of the same sort used by their counterparts in the communist, mujahidin and Taliban regimes that preceded them, crude and brutal methods of torture that have sometimes led to death, and the use of secret detention facilities that facilitate torture; and unacknowledged detentions that are tantamount to “disappearances.”

In its treatment of prisoners, the AJP report emphasizes, “the U.S. has replicated some of the same practices that characterized the PDPA and Soviet regime it opposed in the 1980s, as well as some of the brutal tactics employed by the feuding commanders during the early 1990s.”

The AJP concludes:

In replicating the same patterns of abuse that have marked the different phases of the conflict in Afghanistan, and allying themselves for the sake of political expediency with local commanders who have done the same, U.S. forces have jeopardized prospects for establishing a stable and accountable institutions in Afghanistan, have undermined the security of the Afghan people (as well as their own), and have reinforced a pattern of impunity that undermines the legitimacy of the political process.

This will unfortunately probably get the report ignored in the US media. The report acknowledges that Washington is not exactly interested in full disclosure:

the U.S. has been strenuous in its opposition to any investigations to uncover the truth about violations and war crimes past or present in Afghanistan.. In early 2005, the U.S. blocked the renewal of the U.N. Independent Expert’s mandate in Afghanistan because of his repeated efforts to gain access to detention facilities in Afghanistan.

In an earlier post, I reviewed the circumstances surrounding the sacking of UN Independent expert Cherif Bassiouni, as well as his report describing violations committed by US forces

Thus far the only US media outlet that has covered the report’s critique of US actions is the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press ignores the US part, saying only that the report “accuses dozens of officials” in the current Afghan government as well as “Karzai’s former defense minister, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” but doesn’t mention that they both received substantial US aid in the past.

By not counting the United States government among the guilty, this ensures that the lessons remain “not yet learned.”