London Attacks Renew Imperial Solidarity

In addition to being contemptible acts of violence, the London subway/bus attacks that killed at least 50 and wounded over 700 were also perfect opportunities for global imperial powers to set aside their differences and renew their solidarity.

According to a FOX news report on the bombings,

Jamie Rubin, a former foreign affairs specialist under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, told FOX News from London that the attack may recreate some of the unity of world leaders that was seen right after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

“For now, some of that sense of solidarity that is in the War on Terror … is restored,” Rubin said. “The political sense of solidarity has been lost a bit and I think, ironically, this tragedy may restore it.”

The US has not yet taken the opportunity to use the blasts as justification for its occupation of Iraq, but has come close. For example, Condoleeza Rice’s claim that in Iraq “the terrorists are finally being confronted” leads to a roundabout justification by way of London:

…Iraq has become a central front in the war on terrorism. But let’s remember that if indeed extremism is to blame for what is going on in London, it is a part of a long line now of attacks that come out of an ideology of hatred that led people to fly airplanes into buildings. And that means that we’re dealing with a region of the world, the Middle East, that is not normal. It’s not normal for people to strap suicide belts on themselves and kill other innocent people. It’s not normal for people to fly airplanes into buildings.

We have to deal with the circumstances that are producing this ideology of hatred and with the ideology itself, and that’s the Middle East. And that is the link to Iraq…

It’s rare to hear such unadulterated colonial-type speech from a US official. Rice makes it seem as if the US is involved in a sort of early 20th century psychosurgery. The Middle East is “a region of the world…that is not normal” but the US is there to make it normal, thus removing by lobotomy “the circumstances that are producing this ideology of hatred.”(The full interview with Rice by BBC News is worth reading.)

Hoping that we make no efforts to learn the real reasons why anyone would want to commit violence against Western civilians, Rice repeats the old canard, “the terrorists are after our way of life.” Terrorism is explained as the act of insane monsters from an “abnormal” part of the world.

Similarly, UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke said (BBC news),

The fact is that the people who make these kind of attacks are about destroying the very essence of our society: our democracy, our media, our multicultural society and so on. That’s not about Iraq or any other particular foreign policy issue, it’s about a fundamentalist attack on the way we live our lives.

This is at odds with the note claiming responsibility for the attacks, signed by the “Secret Organization — al Qaida in Europe” The note, extracted in der Spiegel, demands that “all countries pull their troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Only time will tell if the letter’s claim is verified, but analysts already agree that the attacks have many hallmarks of past Al Qaeda-style operations (Washington Post; Reuters), thus making it likely that the goal is indeed rolling back the US/UK presence in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world, not an “attack on the way we live our lives.” That is, unless one includes subjugating and controlling much of the oil-producing world part of the “way we live our lives.”

Winning Uglier

US officials have been dropping hints the past few months that the Pentagon is going to get even more aggressive in attacking defenseless countries and people. It’s not quite cast that way, though. Instead we are told that the US military is not able to keep up with all the new threats that keep arising. In addition, worries about harming innocents hampers the ability of American troops to get the job done. The natural conclusion people are supposed to draw is that the Pentagon needs more money and needs to be given more freedom to torture and kill.

A classified analysis (reported in the Los Angeles Times) presented to the Congress by General Richard Myers claims that “The strains imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it far more difficult for the U.S. military to beat back new acts of aggression, launch a pre-emptive strike or prevent conflict in another part of the world.” The Orwellian phrasing is almost laughable. When was the last time the US ever used its military to “beat back acts of aggression” or “prevent conflict”? And the over-used phrase, “pre-emptive strike” by US standards has always meant “act of aggression.” So what does the new analysis, the “Military Risk Assessment and Threat Mitigation Plan,” say will happen as it becomes more difficult to beat back aggression? Will the US get itself conquered?

On the contrary, according to anonymous “military and civilian officials.” “America’s enemies should not take solace in the new analysis, nor think that the United States is somehow more vulnerable than it was last year.” So we’re not more vulnerable? What has changed, then? One senior Defense official told the LA Times, “The assessment is that we would succeed [at beating back aggression], but there would be higher casualties and more collateral damage. We would have to win uglier.” Translation: Washington will still use it’s military to illegally invade and occupy foreign countries and torture “suspected terrorists,” but will drop the pretense that it was ever interested in minimizing civilian casualties or following the Geneva conventions.

A similar “reassessment” is underway on transforming the “global war on terrorism” (GWOT) into what a senior official calls a “strategy against violent extremism” (SAVE?), according to yesterday’s Washington Post. The Bush administration is interested in widening the definition of who can be considered an anti-US terrorism suspect. The administration worries about “the transformation of al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous, diffuse and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001.” How did this happen? Officials describe a mysterious “‘ripple effect’ from years of operations targeting al Qaeda leaders.” Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush’s top adviser on terrrorism told the Post, “the enemy has adapted.” Are they saying that Al Qaeda or other anti-US terrorism operations are stronger than they were before 9/11, largely because of US policy? It makes sense that invading Muslim countries, while at the same time capturing known leaders, could destroy the known organizational structure of al Qaeda while at the same time creating new recruits for anti-US movements, with unknown leaders and headquarters springing up.

The author mentions that officials are concerned with “how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years.” That is a peripheral recognition that such growth is a result of US policy, but there is no discussion about how Iraqis got “schooled” by foreign occupation or why people would want to commit violence against their conquerors. We are told, however, that new “public diplomacy efforts aimed at winning over Arab public sentiment” are being invented. Arabs can look forward to more brainwashing attempts by the US government to convince them that their conquest and the theft of their resources will be for their own good.

Like the military assessment, the most frightening aspect of the terrorism review will be the lowering of (already low) constraints towards attacking civilian populations. The new “broad view” will now enable the administration to “target not only the remnants of al Qaeda but also broader support in the Muslim world for radical Islam.” This means just about any group of Muslims critical of the US could be labeled “violent extremists.” Perhaps Bush and company will be taking advice from Uzbekistan’s president Karimov, who has jailed and tortured thousands accused of membership in the nonviolent Islamist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Whenever the US government says it needs to “revise” its military or “counterterrorism” strategy we should be afraid.

Jihad Comes Full Circle: US and Pakistan in the Hunt for Bin Laden

Published on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 by and by ZNet

In January 2004, the Chicago Tribune cited military sources in Washington planning a “spring offensive” on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan “that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network”[1] That offensive has clearly begun with recent troop deployments in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, also known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). But the troops are not just American, they are mostly Pakistani. In fact, Pakistan seems to be the US’s new best friend, having recently been declared a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) which would enable it to benefit from defense cooperation and loan guarantees to pay for arms deals. Secretary of State, Colin Powell has already announced new loan guarantees awarded to Pakistan and arms sales can proceed within weeks[2]. But arms sales are a violation of the 1985 “Pressler amendment” to the US Foreign Aid Act which asserts that “no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan” unless Pakistan is certified to be free of nuclear weapons technology[3].

Major news media are referring to the current operation in the NWFP as “Pakistan’s Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (New York Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Offensive” (Al Jazeera), the “Pakistani Offensive” (LA Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Hunt” (BBC), etc. While Musharraf has expressly denied there any US troops on Pakistani soil, “senior American military officials said that small numbers of [US] commandos . have conducted cross-border operations”[4]. This is not a Pakistani operation – it is Made in the USA. Washington planned the offensive this January, has arranged weapons sales, and is using Pakistani troops as “proxy forces in that area”[5].

The US eagerness to work with Pakistan and even clear arms sales in violation of its own laws seems surprising — it comes on the heels of a revelation that the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been selling nuclear secrets to countries like Libya, Iran and North Korea. Additionally, only three years ago Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and is widely known as having actually nurtured and sponsored the Taliban.

In fact, US-Pakistan “cooperation” should come as no surprise. The US already pays almost $100 million a month to Pakistan for providing logistical support in the war against terrorism[6]. While transitions to democracy are lofty US goals for Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan is an exception: Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan, is Washington’s close ally and dutifully choreographed an about-turn after September 11th 2001 on his sponsorship of the Taliban. Most recently Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed content with the conditional amnesty that Musharraf granted the nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Today Musharraf is doing his part by cooperating with Washington’s current offensive in the NWFP. But the cooperation comes at a hefty price: last December Musharraf was the target of a failed assassination attempt by an alleged Al Qaeda suspect.

The U.S. has convinced Musharraf to contradict himself on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. According to Musharraf in early 2002, bin Laden was dead or possibly “alive in Afghanistan”[7]. By July 2002 Musharraf went further in asserting: “I doubt he is alive, and if he is alive he cannot be in Pakistan”[8] But today, “facing intense pressure from Washington”[9] Musharraf was convinced that “bin Laden and his followers likely were hiding in the mountains along the Afghan border”[10].

Recent excitement in the U.S. over bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri has also revealed contradictions in Pakistan. While U.S. and Pakistani troops combed the mountainous South Waziristan district for al-Zawahiri, Pakistani officials now admit they were simply guessing his presence: Mehmood Shah, the head of security in the NWFP admitted “We have no indication [of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts]. Our guess was based on the amount of resistance we faced and the number of foreign fighters. Later on, many people started guessing names, and that’s how his name came up”[11]. Now underground tunnels in the NWFP reveal escape routes which were probably utilized in response to the US’s announced offensive[12].

President Bush says, “the best way to defend America . . . is to stay on the offensive and find these killers, one by one.[13]” Bush fails to state clearly who “these killers” are. Are they Al Qaeda or the Taliban? What about the primary inhabitants of the NWFP — Pashtun tribals and Mujahadeen warriors? What about their family members, wives and children? According to US military sources, the “spring offensive” is “designed to go after the Taliban and everybody connected with it”[14]. This is a very broad definition which likely includes ordinary Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

With Pakistan visibly taking the heat for the offensive, US troops are poised in Afghanistan with “what the military calls “blocking positions” at strategic junctions along the frontier”. These are designed to “trap and kill militants fleeing the Pakistani attacks”[15]. So far 25 civilians have been killed with half of them women and children[16]. The head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno praised Pakistan’s terrorist tactics: “I’ve seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I’m going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.” For example the “destruction of homes and things of that nature…we’re watching that with great interest.[17]” Taken together these facts reveal a picture of a US offensive via Pakistani proxies targeting anyone and everyone in the area, and trapping those that try to flee into Afghanistan.

The locals are not happy. In response to the civilian casualties, tribesman Mukhtar Wazir said “Musharraf is evil, Bush is Satan”[18]. Hundreds of people responded to the civilian casualties with a demonstration in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, chanting “Get out FBI” and “Stop the War in Tribal Areas in the Name of Al Qaeda”[19]. Maulan Khalil-ur-Rehman, a tribal leader and a member of parliament, claimed that “The ‘foreign fighters’ living in Wana were heroes of Islam when they were fighting the Soviets, but now we are told by Musharraf and America they are terrorists”[20].

The late Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmed went further in clarifying the connection between the US and the mujahadeen or “foreign fighters” of Pakistan and Afghanistan in a 1993 interview with David Barsamian:

All of them are former allies of the United States. All of them have been armed by the United States. All of them were described as “mujahid,” holy warriors, by the United States. The same media which are now calling them fundamentalists called them freedom fighters only four years ago. Those same freedom fighters are now “fundamentalists.”[21].

In addition to Osama bin Laden and his allies it seems clear that the US’s targets include all its old fundamentalist friends and their families. Residents of the NWFP have dismissed the Pakistani actions “as a stunt aimed at “appeasing America””[22]. This puts the Pakistani prime minister between a rock and a hard place: Musharraf is being forced to aim an army nurtured on “jehadi” rhetoric against the “jehadis” themselves[23]. Jihad has come full circle with the U.S. and Pakistan (acting on U.S. orders) terrorizing the very people they nurtured, and these very people turning their terrorist tactics back on their benefactors and their allies. Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid describes his country’s situation best: “Either way, whether Bin Laden is captured or not, there will be serious consequences for Pakistan’s domestic peace and stability”[24].

Sonali Kolhatkar ( is the host and co-producer of Uprising, a daily morning public affairs program with KPFK, Pacifica, Los Angeles. She is also the Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that works in solidarity with Afghan women on humanitarian and political work.


[1] Spolar, Christine, “U.S. plans Al Qaeda offensive”, Chicago Tribune, 01/28/04.

[2] “US to Reward Pakistan With New Arms Status”, Los Angeles Times, 03/19/04.

[3] The Pressler Amendment and Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program, US Senate Hearing, 07/31/92.

[4] Schmitt, Eric, “U.S. Quietly Aiding Pakistan Campaign Against Al Qaeda”, New York Times, 03/23/04

[5] Spolar, Ibid.

[6] “Pakistan gets $100M per month from U.S.”, United Press International, 03/22/04

[7] “Pakistan’s Musharraf: Bin Laden Probably Dead”, CNN, 01/18/02.

[8] “Musharraf: Bin Laden not in Pakistan”, BBC News, 08/01/02.

[9] Rashid, Ibid.

[10] Spolar, Ibid.

[11] Lynch, David, “Pakistan: Zawahiri hunt just a ‘guess'”, USA Today, 03/21/04.

[12] Wazir, Ahsanullah, “Did Pakistan tunnel help terrorists to flee?”, Associated Press, 03/23/04.

[13] Spolar, Ibid.

[14] Spolar, Ibid.

[15] Schmitt, Ibid.

[16] Ali, Zulfiqar, “At Least 25 Civilians Die in Pakistani Offensive”, Los Angeles Times, 03/21/04.

[17] Defense Department, “Special Department Of Defense Briefing on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan,” 02/17/04.

[18] “Pakistan to try new tack in al-Qaida hunt”, Associated Press, 03/21/04

[19] Ali, Ibid.

[20] Foster, Ibid.

[21] Barsamian, David, “India, Pakistan, Bosnia, etc.”, an interview with Eqbal Ahmed, Z net, 08/04/93.

[22] Foster, Peter, “Pakistan’s border campaign ‘a stunt'”, The Age, Australia, 03/23/04.

[23] Hoodbhoy, Pervez, Interview with Sonali Kolhatkar, KPFK, Pacifica Radio, 03/23/04.

[24] Rashid, Ahmed, “Musharraf’s Bin Laden headache”, BBC News, 03/17/04.

The New Afghan Constitution: A Step Backwards for Democracy

Published by Foreign Policy in Focus, March 10, 2004

On January 4, 2004, 502 delegates agreed on a Constitution for Afghanistan , an act many have described as a positive step toward democracy. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad wrote: “Afghans have seized the opportunity provided by the United States and its international partners to lay the foundation for democratic institutions and provide a framework for national elections.” 1 Judging by who was allowed to participate, their manner of participation, and the document itself, the foundation set by the delegates and their foreign overseers was precisely antidemocratic.

Legitimizing Afghan Warlords

The constitutional Loya Jirga (grand council) was the third in a series of events prescribed at the December 2001 Bonn meetings for building a post-Taliban Afghanistan consistent with the interests of the United States. The first event was the Bonn meeting itself, the second was the emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002, and the fourth will be presidential elections, scheduled for June 2004.

Like the first two milestones in the Bonn process, the constitutional meetings were notorious in that the Afghan warlords of the Northern Alliance, also known as the United Front, and other jihadi (holy warrior) factions were allowed to participate as legitimate representatives of the people. 2 At the Bonn meetings and in the emergency Loya Jirga, warlords had been awarded prominent seats in the government of President Hamid Karzai in exchange for compliance with U.S. goals. Their documented history of terrorism forgotten, the Afghan warlords, not the Afghan people, were liberated by U.S. intervention and empowered to participate in the new political process. 3

The constitutional meeting this winter did nothing to reverse the trend. According to John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, the process of selecting representatives for the assembly was characterized by “vote-buying, death threats and naked power politics.”

“Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of local military or intelligence commanders intimidating candidates and purchasing votes. In Kabul, guarded by international security forces, intelligence and military officials were openly mingling with candidates at an election site. Many candidates complained of an atmosphere of fear and corruption. In areas outside of Kabul, many independent candidates were too afraid to even run. In a few cases, factional leaders themselves were elected–despite rules barring government officials from serving as delegates. The majority of the 502 delegates to the Loya Jirga were members of voting blocs controlled by military faction leaders, or warlords. Some good people were elected, but they were outnumbered–and scared.” 4

The warlords are able to participate, not because a majority of Afghans want them there, but because Washington decided to use them first as suppliers of ground troops to help oust the Taliban and then as governors to help control the population once the Taliban rulers were gone. In the emergency Loya Jirga of June 2002, the U.S. and UN ensured that Northern Alliance leaders became entrenched in power as ministers of the transitional government, an illegal outcome according to the Bonn rules. In exchange for top ministerial posts, the warlords put their support behind Hamid Karzai, the U.S. choice for president. Washington envoy Khalilzad ensured that the popular former king Zahir Shah did not stand for office, precluding any viable challenger to Karzai. 5 Khalilzad rationalized his choice as follows: “The question really is how to balance the requirements of peace, which sometimes necessitates difficult compromises, and the requirements of justice, which require accountability.” Accountability ranking last on Washington ‘s list of priorities, the envoy’s intention was that Afghans would have to continue suffering injustice, but at least they would experience “peace” in a country run by warlords.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agrees with the view that warlords are good for Afghanistan . “[I]n the bulk of the country the armies, the militias, the forces that exist there, almost all of which have U.S. Special Forces involved with them and advising them and participating, are by their presence contributing to stability.” The kind of “stability” that Mr. Rumsfeld appreciates can be found in the city of Herat, run by Ismail Khan, considered “an appealing person” by the defense secretary. A November 2002 report by Human Rights Watch found that Herat “has remained much as it was under the Taliban: a closed society in which there is no dissent, no criticism of the government, no independent newspapers, no freedom to hold open meetings, and no respect for the rule of law.” The report documents “a pattern of widespread political intimidation, arrests, beatings, and torture by police and security forces under the command of Ismail Khan.” 6

U.S. leaders show deep sensitivity toward their allies whose proxy troops control the population of Afghanistan. “Pentagon officials refrain from using the term ‘warlord’,” the New York Times informs us. 7 Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz told the U.S. Senate in 2002: “I think the basic strategy here is first of all to work with those warlords or regional leaders, whatever you prefer to call them, to encourage good behavior.” U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch Northern Alliance supporter for over a decade, angrily came to the defense of “supposed warlords” who were being criticized at a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing in June 2003:

I’ve heard a lot of negative posturing about…these people who happened to have been the guys who sided with the United States …Dostam, Atta, Khan…these were the people who defeated the Taliban… Just keep that in mind if you’re an American. They came to help us defeat people who slaughtered our own people [September 11, 2001]. And I’m grateful for that. And I’m not about to label them in these pejorative terms [as warlords], especially when the Taliban are still on the border…I would admonish [you] not to go so quickly in getting rid of people who helped us defeat the Taliban.

Rohrabacher’s point enlightens us as to the motives of U.S. officials. Criminals who “sided with the United States ” are to be defended and given power, while those who don’t are cast out, persecuted, and recognized as criminals or terrorists. The consistency of this approach is remarkable, and, when understood, it clarifies a commonly perceived inconsistency in U.S. behavior; namely, the transformation from support to denouncement of thugs like Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Saddam Hussein.

The converse is also true. Outcasts can be brought back into the fold, provided they obey. The Washington Post reported in December a “new strategy” that includes “wooing some Taliban members.” The head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno maintains: “Those who are criminals must be held accountable, but for the rank and file, the noncriminals, there will be opportunities for reconciliation and reintegration.” 8 In practice, however, the criminality of the Taliban extends only to those who defy Washington. Those who obey, no matter how highly placed, are allowed “reintegration,” that is, power. For example, the former Defense Minister of the Taliban Mullah Abdul Razzak has joined Jaishul Muslim, an offshoot of the Taliban based in Peshawar, Pakistan. According to Asia Times Online, the group developed as a result of an effort by “the Pakistani and U.S. intelligence establishments” to create “a proxy organization” that would “split the Taliban and reduce the intensity of its resistance movement.” The goal is to use Jaishul Muslim “to sway Taliban commanders with the offer of a place in the government.” The organization “has little, if any, support within Afghanistan itself,” 9 but as far as Washington is concerned, popular support has never been a necessary condition for governing a country.

An alternate, equally consistent approach would have been to disarm and weaken all armed factions, refusing to deal with any group guilty of human rights violations, including both the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. This approach, based on principles rather than power, is foreign to Washington power brokers but has practical underpinnings. A recent report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a Kabul-based think tank, finds that the current process, “based on impunity,” is “inherently unstable and unsustainable.” According to the report, “it is past perpetrators of violence who are the cause of insecurity today and the greatest threat to Afghanistan’s futureÂ,T (B[I]f perpetrators are not punished for their violations, they will repeat their acts and the cycle of impunity and insecurity will continue endlessly.” 10 The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, a political and humanitarian organization outspoken in its denunciation of fundamentalist groups like the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, goes further: “Unless the West stops backing the Northern Alliance fundamentalists and starts supporting the independence-loving and freedom-loving forces, it …will be haunted by the threat of inhuman incidents like 11th of September” 11

The Most Powerful Warlords

While their Afghan allies were bullying candidates for the constitutional Loya Jirga, the warlords in Washington were engaging in their own form of intimidation, directed at the Afghan population residing in the extensive border with Pakistan. A week before Afghan warlords and bureaucrats assembled under a tent in Kabul’s soccer stadium (a public execution site under the Taliban) to discuss the Constitution, the Pentagon began Operation Avalanche, its largest military campaign in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. The operation was part of a security plan to keep the Loya Jirga free from terrorist attacks, which have been rising dramatically throughout the country. 12 “We want to take the offensive…to keep them busy protecting and defending themselves,” U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad said. Here “them” was intended to mean terrorists, but anyone in the way of Operation Avalanche was unlikely to be spared.

The title was surprisingly (although perhaps unintentionally) frank in evoking the U.S. military as an unstoppable force of nature, indiscriminately destroying anything in its path. In the first week of the assault U.S. forces proved that assessment correct, killing 15 children in two separate aerial attacks aimed at single individuals. Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty absolved U.S. soldiers by blaming the children for being in the path of Operation Avalanche: “if noncombatants surround themselves with thousands of weapons Â,T (Bin a compound known to be used by a terrorist, we are not completely responsible for the consequences.” Hilferty did express regret for the massacres, not because they were war crimes, but because “such mistakes could make the Afghan people think ill of the coalition.” After the first air raid killed nine children, the UN envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi said, “[it] adds to a sense of insecurity and fear in the country.” The Washington Post reported that the U.S. airstrikes, together with antigovernment terrorist attacks, “have cast a jittery pall over preparations” for the constitutional assembly. 13

In the next stage of the Bonn process, Afghan presidential elections slated for summer 2004, the violence will only increase. (More on the elections below.) A highly publicized “spring offensive” is planned by Washington to keep antigovernment forces on the run until after elections, just as Operation Avalanche was used to provide security for the constitutional Loya Jirga. The probable consequences for people living in the regions under attack will be as devastating.

The senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, claims that in the border areas with Pakistan the Pentagon is “moving to a more classic counterinsurgency strategy,” which means in practice that the Afghan population itself is considered a potential enemy. Barno explained that currently “battalions, and oftentimes companies and sometimes even platoons, now own specific large chunks of the countryside; stay in those areas, operate continuously out of those areas; maintain and develop relations with the tribal elders, with the mullahs, with the local government officials.” An unnamed senior Afghan government official told the New York Times, “There is a widening gap between the Afghan people and the Americans,” which is a polite way of saying that Afghans are not happy with the U.S. presence. Reuters describes “confusion and mistrust” that often has “turned to hatred” because of “aggressive search tactics and a general sense among Muslims of being under siege.” An open letter from the villagers of Lejay to the United Nations mission reads, in part: “The Americans searched our province. They did not find Mullah Omar, they did not find Osama bin Laden, and they did not find any Taliban. They arrested old men, drivers, and shopkeepers, and they injured women and children.” One resident of Sher-o-Aba, Haji Allah Dad, told Reuters: “On the slightest suspicion, they arrest us and treat us like animals. Their treatment is so inhuman that sometimes we even think of joining the ‘jihad’ (holy war) of the Taliban against them.” 14

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, the Pakistani military is apparently stepping up its own intimidation of frontier citizens. In Barno’s words, this is part of a “hammer and anvil approach” to “crush the al Qaeda elements between the Pakistani and the coalition forces.” No comment is made about the innocent people crushed along with them. The Boston Globe reports that this is the “largest joint effort to date” conducted by the U.S. and Pakistan, with “thousands of troops” deploying to the “lawless northwestern frontier, pressuring tribal elders and allowing American soldiers from neighboring Afghanistan to make forays across the border.” 15 Barno praised the results: “I’ve seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I’m going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.” For example, “destruction of homes and things of that nature…we’re watching that with great interest.” 16

Guaranteeing Long-term U.S. Interests

Molesting villagers and razing their homes may ensure temporary deference to Washington’s power in the “lawless” frontier region, but such forays are costly and, because they are based on fear, cannot have a lasting effect. That is why the new Afghan Constitution is important for planners in Washington. In addition to its propaganda value as “proof” that U.S. actions lead to democracy, the Constitution cements a political power structure that legitimizes Washington’s long-term intentions for Afghanistan. Despite the fact that there will be a National Assembly with the ability to enact laws, overwhelming political power is currently allocated to the president. A strong presidency is not necessary for democracy, but it is a lot easier for an external empire to exert control if one person holds most of the power. According to an op-ed article in Gulf News: “A centralized presidency in Kabul must be the surest way of maintaining the Afghan government’s support for U.S.-led policies … diluting authority is bound to bring in voices of dissent on matters [bearing on] Washington ‘s interests.” 17

A paper by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a mainstream Brussels-based think tank (board members include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clark, and George Soros), analyzed the draft Constitution presented by Karzai to the delegates. (This draft was accepted with minor changes.) 18 According to the report, that version of the Constitution “would fail to provide meaningful democratic governance, including power-sharing, a system of checks and balances, or mechanisms for increasing the representation of ethnic, regional and other minority groups.” The ICG criticized “the manner in which the draft has been prepared and publicised, as well as its content,” all of which “raise serious questions about whether it can become the first constitution in Afghanistan ‘s history to command genuinely deep popular support.” An earlier draft described a prime ministerial position to balance the power of the president. But, according to the ICG, President Karzai changed the draft because of a “strong desire … for a purely presidential system.” Apparently it was not Karzai’s idea alone. It is “the perception of many Afghans” that the notion of a strong presidency grew out of “the U.S. desire to ensure Karzai is in firm control, or at least unchallenged while he struggles to assert his authority over other powerful players.”

Many Afghans also found fault with Karzai’s draft. Controversy over presidential power actually threatened to shut down the constitutional Loya Jirga when 48% of the delegates boycotted the vote. Karzai was furious, declaring: “There won’t be any deals on Afghanistan’s system of government, neither with jihadi leaders nor with anyone else.” 19 That’s an interesting choice of words, since in the end it was a backroom agreement brokered by U.S. and UN officials that led to the withdrawal of objections to a strong presidency. 20

Karzai and his backers in the U.S. and the UN portray the proponents of a more representative system as “rivals of Karzai, mainly from the Northern Alliance.” 21 In other words, they are warlords with independent fiefdoms anxious to legitimize their power at Karzai’s expense. Although it is true that the warlords stand to benefit from a decentralized government, there are many problems with the view that a strong presidency is the only way to weaken the power of the warlords. First, it ignores the tacit legalization and bolstering of warlord power resulting from U.S. strategic decisions (continuing today), and it puts the burden for disempowering local warlords on Afghan shoulders. Second, although the lack of a prime ministerial position ensures that a warlord figure will currently not be able to share power with Karzai, a presidency with few checks and balances predisposes Afghanistan to a takeover by such a figure in the future–e.g., a Musharraf-style coup or an authoritarian regime like those in Central Asia. And third, the boycott was instigated and joined by many Afghans who are not members of the Northern Alliance or other warlord factions. For example, Mustafa Etemadi, a member of the Shiite Hazara minority, who said: “We did not go to vote, because our people’s desires were not respected. We want far-reaching democracy in this country, we want our Parliament to have more authority.” Habiba, a teacher from Kabul had a similar message: “We want a strong Parliament alongside the president, equal rights for men and women, democracy among all the ethnic groups, and recognition of all the languages of the nation. The Constitution is not for one tribe or one people; it belongs to all the people of the country.” 22

Although the assembly was dominated by Karzai and his U.S.-backed elite on one hand and the Northern Alliance warlords on the other, there were “less-powerful groups: women delegates, ethnic Hazaras, former communists, and ethnic Uzbeks” who strove for a parliamentary system. They also fought for the few lines in the Constitution giving women some recognition–women’s rights are declared equal to those of men, and over 25% of seats in the lower house of Parliament are reserved for women. In contrast, U.S. concerns at the constitutional Loya Jirga were strictly power-related, centering on the need to control the people with a dominant president. Other issues, such as human rights and bringing warlords to justice were not considered important enough to advocate. According to the Christian Science Monitor: “Neither Karzai nor his American backers publicly made a point of emphasizing women’s rights.” 23

Elections in Afghanistan and the United States

Though not in the way he intended, Zalmay Khalilzad was right when he said that the constitutional meetings “provide a framework for national elections,” due to happen this summer. Like the framework used for the first three stages of the Bonn process, this final event will probably consist of a preordained decision presented to the people by the United States and the United Nations (through their intermediaries, Karzai and the warlords). The people will be given few choices, if any, so the intended presidential candidate, Hamid Karzai, will be ratified. And finally, the results will be proclaimed to the world as a triumph for democracy.

But although the gathering of votes might take place, that act will not constitute democracy. Holding elections under current circumstances in Afghanistan will at best insult democracy and at worst spark a civil war. Most credible analysts assert that the summer timetable does not allow enough time to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections. Currently, only 10% of Afghanistan’s eligible population has been registered to vote, and no political parties have been recognized. Furthermore, crushing poverty and physical insecurity in much of the country will prevent many Afghans from registering. UN spokesperson Manual de Almeida e Silva asserts that “it is close to impossible to meet the June date with the current security conditions, which do not permit the registration to take place all over the country.” Taliban leaders have promised to attack Afghans who participate, and the dominance of warlords in many regions will surely lead to intimidation and vote buying, as occurred in the election of delegates to the emergency and constitutional Loya Jirgas.

A recent briefing paper by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) notes, “elections could well legitimise the very individuals deemed the most illegitimate by the majority of Afghans.” The paper mentions lessons from other countries that underwent “peaceful elections held in ‘postconflict’ ” situations, such as South Africa, El Salvador, and Mozambique. Polls in each of those countries “were preceded by strong international peace agreements, disarmament, a sound constitution and stable grassroots political movements,” none of which exist in Afghanistan. On the other hand, “elections held in countries before peace was secure, as in Liberia, Angola, and Bosnia legitimised the very forces they were meant to remove from power and sowed the seeds for further conflict.” 24 The possibilities are just as dire for Afghanistan, though the Bush administration rejects this possibility. Zalmay Khalilzad insists: “I am not of the view at this point that elections cannot take place this June, or this summer… There is a way for this to happen.”

According to the director of the AREU, the push for early elections is motivated primarily by “domestic political reasons within the U.S. ” 25 The AREU briefing paper states that Washington’s “enthusiasm for 2004 [Afghan] elections is a result of the Bush administration’s need for a foreign policy and ‘war-on-terror’ success ahead of the November 2004 presidential elections in the U.S., particularly as Iraq appears to be [be]coming less of a success by the day.” The New York Times affirms that, “there is little doubt that President Bush would like to claim an electoral success in Afghanistan as he runs for re-election himself.” According to a January Washington Post article, the “biggest single factor” in Mr. Bush’s election bid will be foreign affairs. “This is the first presidential election perhaps since Vietnam that is going to turn on the way the public views the success or failure of foreign policy,” predicts Mark Snyder, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group. Success in Afghanistan is a benchmark whereby the U.S. electorate can judge Bush’s actions, and Afghan elections would be the most visible sign of U.S. engagement with the country. 26

Ambassador Khalilzad maintains that Karzai, not Bush, would be the one to lose out by delaying elections in Afghanistan. “Khalilzad said Karzai would be…damaged by an election delay, which he said could create a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ if [Karzai’s] transitional mandate ends before the voting takes place.” 27 In other words, if Mr. Karzai is not seen to be duly elected by the majority of Afghans, his illegitimacy will be recognized. Clearly, if Karzai runs an uncontested race with very few people voting, it would also weaken the validity of the elections. But it looks as if the Bush administration is interested in Karzai winning–regardless of the context–in order to impress the U.S. electorate before November.

The AREU lamented that “it seems virtually certain that the [Afghan] elections will be won by those with the greatest power to intimidate voters and to buy their way into power.” In his own way Karzai is as guilty of this as the warlords. While his Washington patrons use their military to engage in “classic counterinsurgency” against residents of the “lawless frontier” areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to eliminate Taliban influence, the buying of Afghan votes for Karzai is also underway. A $1.6 billion spending package was approved by the U.S. Congress last October to “accelerate success” and “demonstrate to the Afghan people the concrete, visible programs that are improving their lives.” It is certainly better to sponsor reconstruction than destruction, but this assistance is much smaller than required (the Afghan government estimates reconstruction costs at $28 billion over seven years) and is obviously geared toward superficially improving Karzai’s clout before the elections.

In an attempt to salvage his credibility, Mr. Karzai is finally appearing to squelch the power of the warlords, or at least those that defy him. Zalmay Khalilzad was quoted in the Washington Post as saying: “Afghan warlords, whom Washington previously tolerated as allies against the Taliban, would be ‘marginalized’ if they continued using guns to impose their will.” 28 In October Karzai passed the Political Parties Law, which “bans political parties from having their own militias or affiliations with armed forces.” The law also bans “judges, prosecutors, officers, and other military personnel, police, and national security staff” from joining a party while still in office. This narrows the spectrum of possible challengers to Karzai’s candidacy. 29 Technically Karzai himself is ineligible to run for office, since the law also forbids parties that “receive funds from foreign sources.” But apparently, the most powerful global empire is not regarded as a “foreign influence.”

While the Bush administration collaborates with its hand-picked Kabul leaders to ensure that neither the Taliban nor the warlords challenge Karzai’s continuance as president, all armed parties (the U.S., the Afghan government, the warlords, and the Taliban) have in common the goal of keeping the elections free from another, more unpredictable influence: the people of Afghanistan. Unless they have guns, those who fight for their rights in Afghanistan are either disregarded or attacked. Student protests have been met with bullets from the Kabul police. Women who assert themselves are ostracized, as was Malalai Joya, a delegate to the constitutional meeting who accused many of her fellow delegates of war crimes. In the middle of her speech, her microphone was shut off, and she was removed from the conference “for her safety.” Celebrated as a hero in her hometown, her calls for justice were ignored by the country’s “representatives” and their foreign masters.

Although Afghanistan ‘s new Constitution asserts the right of freedom of the press, journalists who question the current order are arrested and intimidated. “Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing for Us,” is the title of a Human Rights Watch report, referring to a threat received by an editor who published a political cartoon lampooning Defense Minister Fahim. 30 One story that received some mention in the U.S. press involved the editors of the weekly newspaper Aftab, Mir Hussein Mahdawi and his assistant Ali Reza. The two were arrested last June for “blasphemy” after publishing an editorial entitled “Holy Fascism” criticizing the Afghan warlords and some mullahs for “crimes committed in Islam’s name.” The article denounced many U.S.-backed leaders of the Northern Alliance, including the current Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili. The journalists were released on orders from President Karzai, but the blasphemy charge still stands. Karzai said he believed in press freedom, but he explained: “It is our job to protect the Afghan people’s…religious beliefs… We will naturally take measures whenever we see that the foundations of the Afghan people’s beliefs are violated. This does not mean a disregard for the freedom of the press, it is rather respect for the freedom of the press.” 31

A Fearful Future

Far from building the “foundations for democratic institutions,” U.S. operations in Afghanistan are an assault on democracy, devastating people’s lives and increasing insecurity. With every violation, the return of the Taliban becomes more likely. Surely the recent statement by Mullah Omar, former Supreme Leader of the Taliban, resonates widely: “The American, shaky transitional government in Afghanistan has completed its two years but so far it has not achieved anything. Where is the democracy that was to accompany peace, freedom, human rights and reconstruction? For Muslims, that fraud democracy is bringing the gifts of killings, bombings, destruction of homes.” 32Washington’s response to such critiques is only more violence and subversion of democracy. The chief interests upheld at the constitutional Loya Jirga this winter were those of the Bush administration and its puppet Hamid Karzai as well as the Afghan warlords who were legitimized officially for the third time. Meanwhile, Afghans continue to wait for reconstruction, justice, and lasting peace.

Since Bush began his “war on terrorism,” the Afghan people have been allowed to choose only between U.S.-backed puppets and a gang of fundamentalist ruffians. An independent, nonviolent grassroots movement advocating true democracy is not one of the options. It is ironic, but expected, that the Pentagon terrorizes villages along the borders with Pakistan in an effort to “fight terrorism” while supporting warlords, most of whom are tyrants, drug lords, and terrorists in their own right. A first step in promoting democracy and stifling terrorism in Afghanistan would be to cut off aid to the Northern Alliance and other Afghan warlords. A second, more difficult step might be to address the root causes of terrorism; namely, deprivation of fundamental rights and anger at an arrogant imperial power.

1. Zalmay Khalilzad, “Afghanistan’s Milestone,” Washington Post, January 6, 2004.
2. “Guerrilla Chiefs to Undercut Karzai,” Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2003.
3. Sonali Kolhatkar, “In Afghanistan, U.S. Replaces One Terrorist Regime with Another” (Silver City, NM & Washington: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 3, 2003 ).
4. John Sifton, “Flawed Charter for a Land Ruled by Fear,” International Herald Tribune, January 6, 2004.
5. J. Ingalls, “The U.S. and the Afghan Loya Jirga: A Victory for the Puppet Masters,” Z Magazine, September 2002.
6. “All Our Hopes Are Crushed: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch vol. 14, no. 7, November 2002.
7. T. Shanker, “Rumsfeld Meets Warlords in Afghanistan,” New York Times, December 4, 2003.
8. P. Constable, “New Strategy Calls for Wooing Some in Taliban,” Washington Post, December 21, 2003.
9. S. Saleem Shahzad, ” U.S. Revives Taliban Tryst in Afghanistan,” Asia Times Online, September 23, 2003.
10. Rama Mani, “Ending Impunity and Building Justice in Afghanistan” (Kabul: AREU), December 2003,
11. RAWA, “Establishing Human Rights and Democracy Is Possible Only with the Destruction of Fundamentalism Domination,” December 10, 2003,
12. In a January 15, 2004 press release, the aid organization CARE cited “more attacks on civilians in the past three months than in the 20 months following the Taliban’s fall.”
13. P. Constable, “Attacks, U.S. Airstrikes Cast a Pall over Progress Toward Constitutional Assembly,” Washington Post, December 8, 2003; P. Haven, ” U.S.: Taliban Would Attack Afghan Council,” Associated Press, December 9, 2003; C. Gall, “U.S. Acknowledges Killing 6 More Afghan Children,” New York Times, December 11, 2003.
14. C. Gall, “In Afghanistan, Violence Stalls Renewal Effort,” New York Times, April 26, 2003; S.A. Achakzai, ” U.S. Troops Provoke Anger, Fear in Afghan Villages,” Reuters, August 19, 2003.
15. B. Bender, “Pakistan Intensifies Aid for U.S. in bin Laden Chase,” Boston Globe, February 21, 2004.
16. Defense Department, “Special Department Of Defense Briefing on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan,” February 17, 2004,
17. F. Bokhari, “Centralised Presidency in Afghanistan Suits U.S. best,” Gulf News, December 25, 2003.
18. International Crisis Group, “Afghanistan: The Constitutional Loya Jirga” (Kabul/Brussels: ICG), December 12, 2003,
19. W. Massoud, “Karzai Refuses to Compromise as Afghan Assembly Threatened by Boycott,” Agence France-Presse, December 31, 2003.
20. “Last-Ditch Effort Secures Afghan Charter,” Associated Press, January 4, 2004.
21. Ibid.
22. C. Gall, ” Afghanistan’s Constitution Council Adjourns in Disarray,” New York Times, January 1, 2004.
23. “Afghans’ First Stab at Democracy,” Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2004.
24. AREU Briefing Paper, “Afghan Elections: The Great Gamble” (Kabul: AREU), November 2003.
25. ” U.S., Karzai Push for Afghan Elections Despite Warnings,” Agence France-Presse, January 11, 2004.
26. R. Wright, “Bush Faces a Challenging Year: The Turn From War to Peace,” Washington Post, January 1, 2004.
27. P. Constable, “Afghan Elections Could Be Delayed,” Washington Post, February 17, 2004.
28. P. Constable, “Envoy to Afghanistan is a Force of Nurture,” Washington Post, October 11, 2003.
29. J. Ingalls, “Buying Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan,” Z Magazine, December 2003.
30. “Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing for Us: Human Rights Abuses in Southeast Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch, vol. 15, no. 5. July 2003.
31. Hamid Karzai, press conference, Radio Afghanistan, June 25, 2003 (translated from Dari and Pashto).
32. S. Graham, “Karzai: Bin Laden Alive, Still in Region,” Associated Press, January 31, 2004.

Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC, online at and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at©2004. All rights reserved.
Recommended citation:
James Ingalls, “The New Afghan Constitution: A Step Backwards for Democracy,” (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, March 2004).
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Production Information:
Writer: James Ingalls
Editor: John Gershman, IRC

Buying Hearts & Minds in Afghanistan: U.S. efforts to maintain imperial credibility

Published on Z Magazine in December 2003 Volume 16 Number 12

The Christian Science Monitor (September 8, 2003) calls it “Nation Building, Redoubled.” A desperate new push by the Bush administration to bring positive attention to its campaign in Afghanistan features approximately $12.2 billion in additional spending for fiscal year 2004. The new spending package was approved by the U.S. Congress on October 17, a few days after the UN Security Council ratified a NATO agreement to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The ISAF decision had been held up for almost two years because of U.S. objections, which have now been dropped. The Far East Economic Review (July 30, 2003) considers these moves part of a “major policy shift” in Washington that “could not be more timely.” Are the hopes and dreams of Afghan civilians, the United Nations, and aid agencies all of a sudden on the brink of fulfilment, thanks to the generosity of the United States?

Afghan Elections

While some of the aid will undoubtedly improve the lives of some Afghans, it is clear that the new U.S. program, dubbed “Accelerate Success,” is geared more towards reshaping the Afghan public perception of both the Afghan central government and the United States, its major supporter. The most obvious goal is to ensure that interim President Hamid Karzai is elected next June in the first public elections in the history of the country, regardless of the interests of Afghans. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told the press on July 28, “We’ll place special emphasis on reconstruction projects that demonstrate to the Afghan people the concrete, visible programs that are improving their lives.” To the Administration, improving lives is not as important as demonstrating that lives are improving. The aid will be deployed over “the next ten months,” according to Boucher, meaning between then and June 2004, when the elections are scheduled.
Slowly and subtly, the U.S. is attempting to engineer a situation in which the only real choice for the Afghan electorate is Karzai. This means bolstering his standing with the people through increasing reconstruction projects. It also means eliminating any serious challengers to Karzai’s candidacy. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy (now appointed ambassador) to Afghanistan, was reported as saying, “Afghan warlords, whom Washington previously tolerated as allies against the Taliban, would be ‘marginalized’ if they continued using guns to impose their will” (WP, October 11, 2003).

The same day, President Karzai passed the “political parties law” that “bans political parties from having their own militias or affiliations with armed forces.” The law also bans “judges, prosecutors, officers, and other military personnel, police, and national security staff” from joining a party while still in office. This narrows the spectrum of possible challengers to Karzai’s candidacy (the law says nothing about puppet presidents affiliated with foreign armies).

Many Afghans might agree that the decree is long overdue. For example, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for years has called for “debarment of higher-echelon individuals of Jihadi and Taliban parties from holding high public office,” as well as “prosecution of all individuals who, during the past 23 years have committed high treason, war crimes, blatant violations of human rights, and plunder of national assets.” But the law is not calculated to bring justice to the Afghan people.

According to some, Karzai’s move will prevent “Afghan warlords from using their private militias to intimidate voters” (RFE/RL, October 16, 2003), which is probably true. But it will also eliminate most of his potential opposition. The law was formally approved a few days after members of the Northern Alliance militia, including officials in the defense ministry, declared that they would not support Karzai’s campaign, but would run their own candidate. Karzai “reacted angrily” to the announcement, saying he was “fed up with coalition government.” His bosses in Washington are also worried. The Washington Post reported, “The threatened internal defection from Karzai comes at a critical time for Afghanistan’s troubled transition to democracy, already a source of concern to the Bush administration, which strongly backs Karzai.” An increase in the number of candidates is seen as a threat to the “troubled transition to democracy” rather than an example of democracy.

This perspective is not surprising, given the U.S. record in imposing “democracy” on Afghanistan. The way in which Karzai became president of the transitional government is a perfect example. In December 2001 at the Bonn meetings, the Afghan delegates originally chose an affiliate of the former King Zahir Shah as interim head of state, but, according to one Western diplomat, “all the delegates understood that the Americans wanted Mr. Karzai…. So on December 5, they finally chose him.” Then, at the second stage of the Bonn Process, the Loya Jirga (grand council) meetings of June 2002, U.S. Envoy Khalilzad ensured that the immensely popular former King did not stand for office, but was relegated to the figurehead post of “father of the country.” The Northern Alliance, used by the U.S. to oust the Taliban, also agreed not to field a candidate in the Loya Jirga and was awarded positions in Karzai’s cabinet. Karzai, the only remaining viable choice, was picked as president a second time.

Hearts and Minds

The primary goal of the new U.S. monetary aid to Afghanistan is to enhance Karzai’s military leverage over the warlords and improve his chances of election in June. The aid package comprises a small portion of the $87 billion Iraq/Afghanistan spending package approved on October 17 by Congress. Of the $12.2 billion earmarked for Afghanistan, 90 percent will be spent directly on U.S. military operations. Even the $1.2 billion “reconstruction” portion of the Afghan aid has $400 million (or 30 percent) going to supporting the Afghan National Army and the national police.

A tiny fraction of the money, $300 million, will be spent on critical infrastructure, “to accelerate the construction of roads, schools, health clinics, and local, small-scale projects.” The infrastructure reconstruction needs of Afghans are immense. The UN and the World Bank have estimated that Afghanistan needs between $11 and $19 billion over 5-10 years. The Afghan government estimates the price to be $30 billion. Paul Barker, Afghanistan country director for CARE International considers the new U.S. aid, “rather less than we were hoping for…. Afghanistan is not a one-year contract, there is a need for multi-year help for Afghanistan, probably of around 20 billion dollars” (AFP, September 9, 2003). But there are no indications that the $1.2 billion grant is anything but a one-time additional funding request from the White House, intended to accelerate visible reconstruction in key areas and help solve Hamid Karzai’s image problems.

The politicization of aid in Afghanistan was discussed in a June 2003 study commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “A Retrospective Analysis of Humanitarian Principles and Practice in Afghanistan.” The study found that “there seems to be a negative correlation between…direct superpower involvement and the ability of the international system to engage with crises in a relatively principled manner. In Afghanistan, the ‘highs’ in politics (Cold War proxy interventions; post 9/11 peace-building) correspond to ‘lows’ in principles.” This conclusion is exemplified in the current U.S. aid package, where helping Afghans is a public relations tool to improve the standing of the incumbent president prior to elections. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “lack of aid to remote areas…could undermine U.S. efforts to win hearts and minds, both in regard to U.S. forces and the Afghan central government” (September 8, 2003). The armed opposition to the Afghan central government certainly agrees with this assessment. Since September 2002, the number of armed attacks on aid workers has risen from approximately one a month to one or two a day. “The Taliban see the building of roads and schools as a weapon against themselves. This indicates the kind of people they are,” commented Zalmay Khalilzad (AP, October 7, 2003). Khalilzad fails to wonder what “kind of people” use aid to “win hearts and minds” and guarantee election results.

An Extension of The U.S. Government

Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr., the coordinator of Afghan policy at the U.S. State Department, informed Radio Free Europe of the “critical difference” between Afghanistan and Iraq: “There’s an Afghan government duly elected, [a] perfectly legitimate, sovereign government that we fully support. That is not the case in Iraq.” Since Karzai was chosen by 1,500 delegates when they had no other choice and he appointed his own cabinet, it is difficult to understand how the Afghan government can be called “duly elected” or “perfectly legitimate.”

A brief examination of the mechanisms by which the U.S. government “fully supports” the government of Afghanistan shows the limited sovereignty the Afghans actually have over their own affairs. Rarely mentioned is the fact that Hamid Karzai’s unelected cabinet contains five U.S. citizens. Like interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, who left a job with Voice of America (a news organization funded by the State Department to serve the “long range interests of the United States”), these U.S. citizens guarantee that the proper perspective makes its way into Afghan public policy. In addition, the Bush administration is now “considering placing up to 100 U.S. experts in key positions in Afghan government ministries” (Reuters, August 14, 2003). The plan, devised by Zalmay Khalilzad, was leaked in August by disgruntled State Department officials who were upset when the not-yet ambassador made decisions on department matters. One official complained, “He wants to build an empire. He wants to ‘Bremerize’ the operation,” referring to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator who essentially runs Iraq. Another senior State Department official said, “He wants to set up not just an embassy but a parallel structure that works directly with the Afghan ministries” (AFP, August 26, 2003). Khalilzad, who was also Bush’s envoy to Iraq before being appointed ambassador to Afghanistan, denied the charges. “We are not going to be running things here.” Rather than being “shadow ministers,” the new U.S. advisers would serve as “experts to help carry out Afghan government policies and ensure the new U.S. aid is properly spent” (WP, October 11, 2003). It is not clear how different that is from “running things.”

Outside the capital the Afghan government has little authority. In some cities, however, the emissaries of the central government are not Afghans, but foreign troops and advisors. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) consisting of 100 or more U.S. troops and political advisors (and now those from other Western countries) have been operating since late 2002 in 4 relatively stable Afghan cities. Initiated by the U.S. government, PRTs were supposedly a response to the call for expanded international peacekeepers outside of Kabul, which the United States rejected. Under the guise of providing infrastructure support, the PRTs carry out a number of useful tasks for Washington. Building schools and roads is seen as a way to “win hearts and minds” for the central government, as well as for the U.S. occupation. At the same time, the PRTs gather intelligence about possible threats to both. One U.S. Defense Department spokesperson said the objectives of PRTs are “security, reconstruction, strengthening the influence of the central government and monitor[ing] and assessing the local regional situations.” Another official said, “This has put a human face on the American presence.” But, “despite our name, we’re not really here to do reconstruction. We are here to reinforce Afghan authority” (WP, October 1, 2003). Given that a significant portion of the Afghan central government is beholden to U.S. concerns, this really means U.S. authority.

The PRT concept has met with nearly unanimous denunciation by aid organizations for militarizing the delivery of aid, for doing little to improve the security situation, and for its inefficiency. A position paper by InterAction, a consortium of over 100 NGOs operating in Afghanistan, asserted that the PRT system “blurs the lines between humanitarian workers and a combat military force and related intelligence gathering apparatus, creating increased security risks for NGOs and other expatriate assistance personnel.” A report by Refugees International (RI) said, “The comparative advantage the PRTs have is their capability as armed soldiers to enhance security for Afghans, the Afghan government, and international aid organizations, plus their potential ability to operate in insecure regions in which unarmed civilian aid agencies cannot. Ironically, most of the present PRTs are located in the wrong places-relatively safe cities such as Kunduz and Bamian.” Instead of providing security so that aid agencies can operate in difficult areas, PRTs have tended to duplicate the work of NGOs in stable zones, “but with overheads off the charts.” Relying on PRTs for reconstruction is extremely inefficient. RI has estimated the cost of operating a PRT to be “at least $10 million per year in personnel and support costs alone.” In a year, a PRT is expected to be able to build only “a handful of schools worth about $10,000 each.” Thus, if a PRT succeeded in building 10 schools in a year, the overhead rate would be 99 percent.

The U.S./NATO Occupation

The Bush planners figure that to get Karzai elected the Afghan people have to be convinced that the only path to security and stability lies with him and his powerful friends. In addition to increasing the funding for “reconstruction,” the U.S. has finally withdrawn its objections to ISAF expansion. This comes only after the 4,500 soldier force has had its military control devolved from the UN to NATO in August, making it less internationally accountable and more accountable to the architects of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told Reuters (October 13, 2003), “While Washington was initially cool to the idea, it changed its mind after NATO took the ISAF command.” The ISAF expansion has long been a stated wish of many Afghans, so the change is certainly meant to enhance the perception of security. It is not clear, however, that it is intended to bolster real security, since initial plans call for having ISAF troops join PRTs. According to Reuters (October 14, 2003), “The first ISAF troops in the Afghan provinces are expected to come from Germany, which has said it wants to send up to 450 to the northern town of Kunduz to form a civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Team.” The deployment to Kunduz, a “relatively benign” town, indicates the chiefly public relations purpose of the ISAF expansion. The ISAF operation is seen by U.S. and European planners as a way to enhance the public image of NATO and give it a reason to exist. NATO officials say the expansion of the ISAF will bring more “relevance” to the organization. From the point of view of the U.S. leadership, NATO being more relevant means it works more in conjunction with U.S. goals. From the point of view of some European leaders, there may be the wistful desire to regain lost imperial glory.

Significantly, NATO now has an excuse to operate outside its “treaty area.” According to Xinhuanet (October 13, 2003), “NATO is taking concrete steps to consolidate its first base in [Central Asia]…[T]he ISAF expansion clearly betrays its efforts to direct increasing strategic attention to the region.” When ISAF was a UN operation, Russia and China, NATO’s major competitors, as well as other non-NATO countries, had influence over military operations in Afghanistan. Now a non-Russian and Chinese force, controlled by the U.S. and Europe, is taking over a country in the backyard of Russia and China. The expansion of NATO to Asia is momentous, but was uncontested at the Security Council, even by permanent members, Russia and China. Apparently both countries have tentatively aligned themselves with NATO to justify their own battles against “terrorism,” namely Russia’s terrorist war against Chechnya and China’s crackdown on independence movements in western China.

The U.S. for its own part has downgraded the expected danger to its interests posed by China. In May the Pentagon identified instead an “arc of instability,” comprised of mostly poor countries “cut off from economic globalization,” that is expected to be more dangerous than China in the near future. The arc “runs through the Caribbean Rim, Africa, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and North Korea.” In what the Wall Street Journal calls “one of the biggest shifts in U.S. military thinking in the past 50 years,” a new strategy is being developed that will involve U.S. troops in “lots of small, dirty fights in remote and dangerous places.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “envisions a force that will rotate through a large number of bases scattered throughout the world” (WSJ, May 27, 2003). The U.S. invasion of Iraq in March put 150,000 troops there for an indefinite length of time, representing an enhanced long term U.S. presence in the Middle East. Similarly, the largest concentration of U.S. troops in the Central Asian portion of the arc-about 10,000-is in Afghanistan. The occupation there is not expected to end soon either. Maintenance and upgrade plans for a soldier’s barracks at Bagram Air Base anticipate another eight years of operation. The base operations commander in Kandahar, Lt. Col. Steve Mahoney, told Stars and Stripes (a newspaper for overseas troops), “We’re going to be here a long time.”

A Committed U.S. Imperialism

The most strident criticisms in the major news media of U.S. imperial behavior in Afghanistan are that it is not effective enough. Many liberal commentators are calling on the U.S. to take its imperial role more seriously. Michael Ignatieff, director of the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, uses the derisive term “Nation Building Lite” to describe Bush administration policy towards Afghanistan. He has argued instead “for a committed American imperialism,” believing that for the Afghans “their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule.” This “difficult truth” may not be popular, but “imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect.” By “committed imperialism,” Ignatieff means imperialism that does enough good things for its subjects that it diffuses resistance, not spawns more. He rightly censures the Pentagon for the well-known incident where an Afghan wedding party was bombed, but on grounds that call into question his credentials to teach human rights policy. Ignatieff explains that one of the key ingredients of imperial power is “awe,” a fact “the British imperialists understood,” and which the U.S. maintains “by the timeliness and destructiveness of American air power.” But “awe can be sustained only if the force is just.” The bombing of the wedding was unjust, making it a “major political error” (not a war crime or human rights violation). Errors weaken the imperial stranglehold, since “the more errors there are the less awe and the more resistance American power will awaken,” making the Afghans less likely to submit to imperial rule, “their best hope of freedom” (NYT Magazine, July 28, 2002).

While empires consolidate their power over their subjects via “awe,” they are allowed by other countries to get away with it by building “credibility.” One reason behind the Bush administration’s “policy shift” on Afghanistan was made clear in a June 2003 report cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, “Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace?” According to the report, “Losing the peace through inadequate support for the Karzai government would gravely erode U.S. credibility around the globe and make it far more difficult to obtain international support in dealing with similar crises in the future.”

The new push to keep Hamid Karzai in power reveals an unusually desperate side of the Bush administration’s foreign policy at a time when the campaign in Iraq is going badly and opinion polls show that “Americans are for the first time more critical than not of Mr. Bush’s ability to handle both foreign and domestic problems” (NYT, October 2, 2003). The heightened domestic attention that accompanies Congressional war spending, plus the publicity surrounding the upcoming Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga in December and the Afghan presidential elections in June, will make it easier to keep U.S. behavior towards Afghanistan “on-camera.” It is up to the anti-war movement to take advantage of renewed visibility, expose the reality, and weaken the credibility of the U.S. empire in the midst of the official propaganda barrage. It is also important to listen to and publicize Afghan voices who want true democracy in their country and an end to perpetual imperial domination.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Replaces One Terrorist State with Another

Published in Foreign Policy in Focus, October 3, 2003

If you harbor a terrorist, if you support a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as the terrorists. And the Taliban found out what we meant…

— U.S. President George W. Bush to military personnel in Fort Stewart, Ga., on Sept. 12.

But now all Afghans have found out what it means, as U.S.-backed warlords keep alive the Taliban’s legacy: Two years after the start of U.S. bombing to topple the Taliban, the United States is replacing the former terrorist state with yet another of its own design.

Less than a year away from planned elections in Afghanistan, UN Rapporteur Miloon Kothari accused U.S.-backed Afghan warlords of demolishing homes and grabbing land. Kothari named Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Education Minister Younis Qanooni as offenders, calling for their removal from office this Sept. 13. In a quick backpedal, however, the head of the UN in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said a day later that Kothari had gone too far in naming ministers.

U.S.-Backed Warlords Keep Alive Taliban’s Legacy

Still, Kothari’s accusation confirms what human rights and political organizations have been repeating for months. The Afghan Human Rights Commission, established by U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai this June, also corroborates the demolishing, calling it a “clear abuse of human rights.” The BBC correspondent to Afghanistan said the accusation of bulldozing homes “has hit a nerve among Afghans, tens of thousands of whom are homeless after more than two decades of war. Many have just returned from refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran to find their homes occupied by commanders and their cronies.”

But who are Qasim Fahim, Younis Qanooni, and the various other men, distinguished by the title of warlords? Many were commanders in the Northern Alliance opposition to the Taliban. Fahim and Qanooni are both successors to Ahmed Shah Masood, the charismatic warlord hailed by many as the probable future leader of Afghanistan in a post-Taliban nation, had he lived. Masood was the most powerful figure in the Mujahedeen party Jamiat-i Islami and was involved in the indiscriminate killing of thousands of civilians during the civil war of 1992-1996. For example, according to the U.S. State Department’s 1996 report on human rights practices in 1995, “Masood’s troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women” after the capture of Kabul’s predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Karte Seh.

The cooperation of warlords such as Fahim and Qanooni was central to U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom and in fact they were paid off by the United States and Britain in return for supporting Karzai and fighting against the Taliban. In July 2002, the UK Observer “learnt that ‘bin bags’ full of U.S. dollars have been flown into Afghanistan, sometimes on RAF planes, to be given to key regional power brokers who could cause trouble for Prime Minister Hamid Karzai’s administration. Paying the warlords for their services has triggered clashes among groups eager to win patronage from the United States. In some areas commanders have been told they will receive a top-of-the-range $40,000 pick-up truck–a local status symbol–if they can prove they have killed Taliban or al Qaeda elements.”

In addition to monetary and other bribes, former Northern Alliance commanders were rewarded with high positions in the Afghan government. Fahim and Qanooni won their posts as ministers of Defense and Education in the summer 2002 loya jirga council to select a transitional government, where U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad played a central role to ensure that Karzai and the Northern Alliance remained in power. But no sooner had the Taliban been defeated than Fahim’s men were busy looting cash and other equipment sent to the central interim government. Fahim has also been keeping the Taliban’s legacy alive. According to Human Rights Watch, in December 2002, troops loyal to Gen. Fahim, “have been enforcing Taliban-era ‘moral’ restrictions” such as “forbidding families from playing music at weddings and dancing, and in some cases arresting and beating musicians.”

Clearly the cooperation of these warlords has come at a price that the Afghan people are bearing. According to Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, “Human rights abuses in Afghanistan are being committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001.”

Afghans Suffering from Government Abuses

Loya jirga citizen delegate Omar Zakhilwal, in a Washington Post opinion piece on the naming of Karzai as president and the doling out of top posts to Northern Alliance commanders, asked the following question: “Will the new government be dominated by the same warlords and factional politics responsible for two decades of violence and impunity, or can we break with this legacy and begin to establish a system of law and professional governance?”

Unfortunately the answer to Zakhilwal’s question is the former scenario of domination by warlords in the government, assisted by U.S. policies. The expansion of the multilateral International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) outside the capital Kabul, which could have reduced the power of the warlords, has been stymied by the United States for over a year, despite warnings from the international community, nongovernmental organizations, ordinary Afghans, and even Karzai. The mounting insecurity in the countryside has left ordinary Afghans still desperate for relief, not simply from Taliban remnants and lack of resources, but primarily from members of a government foisted upon them by their so-called “liberators.”

A report released in July by Human Rights Watch entitled “Killing You is a Very Easy Thing for Us,” details the abuses of Afghan civilians at the hands of the U.S.-backed warlord-ministers. “The testimony of victims and witnesses implicates soldiers and police under the command of many high-level military and political officials in Afghanistan. These include Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the minister of Defense; Hazrat Ali, the military leader of the Eastern Region; Younis Qanooni, the minister of Education; Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan; and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful former mujahedeen leader to whom many of the officials involved in the documented abuses in Kabul city and province remain loyal.”

The most vulnerable members of Afghan society have felt little relief since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001. Two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, encouraged by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and their countries of residence. In some cases refugees were coerced to return. For most, the return home has been met with disappointment due to poverty, joblessness, and lack of housing. Afghan women and girls, while enjoying a certain measure of freedom since the Taliban’s reign ended, still feel threatened. HRW interviewed hundreds of women and girls and discovered that “on many occasions when Human Rights Watch asked women and girls if they were, in fact, studying, working, and going out without burqas, many said that they were not. This was especially true in rural areas. Most said this was because armed men have been targeting women and girls. Men and women told Human Rights Watch that women and older girls could not go out alone and that when they did go out they had to wear a burqa for fear of harassment or violence, regardless of whether they would otherwise choose to wear it. And in Jalalabad and Laghman, certain government officials have threatened to beat or kill women who do not wear it.”

Additional abuses of Afghan civilians include arbitrary arrests; torture; kidnapping; rape; armed robbery; home invasions; extortion of shop keepers, taxi drivers, truck and bus drivers; beatings; illegal seizure, and land occupation. There have also been political threats and arrests, press restrictions, and other violations of democratic and human rights. HRW summarizes,

“Although many observers have noted the harmful effects of chronic insecurity in Afghanistan, few have sufficiently appreciated the extent to which continuing insecurity, at its heart, is due to policies and depredations of local government actors. Human Rights Watch found evidence of government involvement or complicity in abuses in virtually every district in the southeast, … [but] serious human rights violations of the kind detailed in this report are not confined to the southeast–they are taking place throughout Afghanistan… Many prominent Afghan commanders, officials, and former mujahedeen leaders, including officials in the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and the intelligence agency, the Amniat-e Melli, are responsible for or are implicated in many of the abuses…”

On the second anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan this October 7, the status of the first target in the War on Terror is nothing for Bush and friends to write home about. To date, none of the warlords has ever been held accountable for terrorizing the Afghan population. They have instead been rewarded by the United States with high-level positions in the government. Bush, in his address to U.S. military personnel in Fort Stewart, Ga., on Sept. 12, said: “In Afghanistan, America and our broad coalition acted against a regime that harbored al Qaeda and ruled by terror. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror.” But far from liberating the Afghan people, the United States has clearly ensured that terror remains alive in Afghanistan. Washington has empowered Karzai, a Pashtun leader representative of the demographics of the largest ethnic majority, and crippled him by simultaneously empowering warlords with ugly human rights records. These warlords have predictably returned to old practices with impunity.

Afghans Warned of Warlord Abuses

“We were happy after the collapse of the Taliban… We thought there would be peace and stability. But nothing has changed… [Afghan warlords] fight among themselves for their own goals. Their victims are innocent people. We are very angry,” said 25-year-old Tajik Rasood, who was shot one year ago in the cross fire of resumed in-fighting between warlords.

In its statement in November 2001, soon after the fall of the Taliban, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) said, “The world should understand that the Northern Alliance is composed of some bands who did show their real criminal and inhuman nature when they were ruling Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996… . The NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain power.” Clearly, as Human Rights Watch and other organizations prove, RAWA’s prediction has come true.

Only a few days before RAWA issued its statement, the U.S. Department of State released a fact sheet on the “Taliban’s Betrayal of the Afghan People.” In it were listed in detail the crimes committed by the Taliban, and RAWA’s documentation of Taliban crimes was cited, including its vast online database of photos, videos, and testimonies. Strangely, while the State Department found RAWA’s documentation of Taliban crimes credible enough to cite, it has not made a single mention of RAWA’s extensive documentation of the crimes of Northern Alliance warlords, such as Qanooni, Fahim, Masood, and others.

RAWA’s position is bolstered by voices from among the Afghan public. A survey conducted by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) in May 2002 found that many Afghans “expressed concern that the UN had sanctioned the return to power of brutal and corrupt warlords, both in Kabul and at the local level. They insisted that without an international force to maintain peace, disarm warlords, oversee the transition to a more representative government, and establish mechanisms for human rights accountability, Afghanistan was likely to slide into renewed war once the world’s attention shifted to the next global crisis.” That crisis came in the form of the war on Iraq and today Afghans’ worst fears have been realized.

Afghanistan’s Future Appears Doomed

Afghanistan was a test case for the U.S. war in Iraq, hailed as a success story by Bush, U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and other U.S. warlords. But clearly the lessons learned have not been how best to stabilize a country to pave the way for democracy, rather on how best to create havoc through purposeful negligence and criminal government actors with the prime losers being ordinary, war-weary civilians. In the CESR survey, only 20% of Afghans thought that Afghan authorities, either central or local, should be primarily responsible for reconstruction efforts to ensure human rights. “These results reflect deep distrust of government authorities but also high hopes that the international community will follow through on public commitments to assist Afghanistan.”

Unfortunately the high hopes of the Afghan people have been dashed. In a Tokyo meeting in early 2002, donor countries pledged $4.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan over 2.5 years. This translated into $40 to $80 per capita, and is a pittance compared with the $200 to $300 per capita pledged to victims of conflict in the Balkans, Occupied Palestine, and East Timor. In fact, the World Bank and UN have estimated the war-ravaged country’s reconstruction needs at between $13 billion and $19 billion. Additionally, much of the original $4.5 billion from the pledges made in Tokyo has not come through, with donors citing security concerns, hampered of course by U.S. refusal to expand the ISAF. Recently, in response to growing criticism, the Bush administration pledged $1.2 billion to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Contrast this number with the $11 billion allocated for the military operation in Afghanistan.

Aside from reconstruction and other serious physical needs, an Afghan dream of peace and democracy remains unattainable, clashing with the interests of the world’s only super-power-empire. Efforts to draft a new constitution and preparations for elections in 2004 will be seriously deterred in the current climate of fear generated by U.S.-backed Afghan warlords–unless there is an immediate disarmament or intervention by the international community. Already Karzai has postponed the approval of a new Afghan constitution by two months, and the current draft has not even been made public.

As it did in Iraq, Washington has clearly thwarted any attempts to bring stability or democracy to the country it claims to have liberated. An engineer from the Ghazi province reflected on the future of Afghanistan, a future that is doomed unless U.S. policies are drastically changed: “In the loya jirga, 85% of the elected were with the warlords, or were warlords. If the international community takes no action to correct this situation, those elected in the [2004] elections will be 100% warlords.”

The same engineer also asked some crucial questions: “Will warlordism end, or will it grow stronger? Will ISAF and the United States deal with warlordism, or let it strengthen? What assurances can we have for future elections?” The answers to these questions will determine whether the Afghan people are destined for peace and democracy or for continued devastation engineered by their so-called “liberator,” the United States.

Sonali Kolhatkar is a founding director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a nonprofit organization that works in solidarity with Afghan women on political and social issues. She is also the host and producer of KPFK Pacifica Radio’s daily prime time morning program “Uprising,” which airs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.


1. BBC, “U.N. U-Turn on Afghan Land Grab,” September 14, 2003.
2. Ibid.
3. J. Burke and P. Beaumont, “West Pays Warlords to Stay in Line,” UK Observer, July 21, 2002.
4. J. Ingalls, “The United States and the Afghan Loya Jirga: A Victory for the Puppet Masters,” Z Magazine, September 2002.
5. News International, Pakistan, “Tons of Money Grabbed by Northern Alliance,” 01/31/02.
6. AFP, “U.S. General Myers to Visit Afghanistan,” July, 29, 2003.
7. Physicians for Human Rights, “Iran Coerces Afghan Refugees to Return to Afghanistan,” August 8, 2002..
8. Human Rights Watch, “Killing You is a Very Easy Thing for Us,” (July 2003)
9. Wiseman, P., “Lawlessness Still Rules in Afghanistan,” USA Today, July 8, 2002.
10. RAWA, “The People of Afghanistan Do Not Accept Domination of the Northern Alliance!”, November 13, 2001.
11. U.S. State Department, “Fact Sheet: Taliban’s Betrayal of the Afghan People,” November 6, 2001
12. Center for Social and Economic Rights, “Human Rights and Reconstruction in Afghanistan,” (May 2002)
13. Ibid.
14. AFP, “Afghanistan to Get $1.2 Billion for Reconstruction under Bush Plans,” September 8, 2003.
15. Human Rights Watch, op cit.

Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC, online at and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at ©2003. All rights reserved.

Recommended citation:
Sonali Kolhatkar, “In Afghanistan, U.S. Replaces One Terrorist State with Another,” (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 3, 2003).

Web location:

Production Information:
Writer: Sonali Kolhatkar
Editor: John Gershman, IRC

Smart Bombs Over Iraq

Published in Z Magazine in April 2003

January 29, 2003 was the date that the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was expected to launch. Those of us working on the last “great observatory” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were getting ready to put decades of work to the test. If all went well, the spacecraft would be launched into orbit around the Sun to measure the infrared light from our own Milky Way and other galaxies.

In November 2002 we were told that the launch would be delayed until April. The reason was that a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite was taking the January 29 slot, and that a host of other military spacecraft needed to use that late January/early February launch window. Most of us didn’t question why the military would take precedence over science; the assumption was that someone somewhere was making the right decision. Our acceptance of the delay demonstrated the US space program’s “pecking order” in practice. This subordination allowed the Pentagon to field crucial tools in time for its conquest of Iraq.

The GPS vehicle was “the first in a flurry of military satellites” to go up prior to the expected US invasion. According to Lt Colonel Mike Rein, however, it has “nothing to do with the war.”(1) The conventional picture is that GPS technology is so widely available and so useful that the Air Force is helping us all by getting these satellites into orbit. After all, the Department of Defense (DoD) is just one of many users. According to Space News, “Car navigation is the most frequently used application of the system, while marine and military uses are the least used applications.”(2) After the recent Space Shuttle accident, the use of GPS to map precisely the debris path has been touted as a success of the US space program. Lee Meeks, a sales manager for Leica Geosystems, told the New York Times, “It’s really cool that the military put all those satellites up there so we can tie into this and get these positions.”(3) Major Mike Mason, chief of GPS operations at U.S. Air Force Space Command, emphasized that “GPS systems can be used by any person out there, whether it be my grandmother going in the car to the grocery store or Saddam Hussein.”(4)

But it is difficult to believe that automobile navigation was the main reason GPS displaced an astronomy satellite on the Cape Canaveral launch pad. The aerospace trade journal, Aviation Week and Space Technology, was more honest about why we needed to get the new satellites into orbit. Craig Couvault wrote, “The US Air Force is beginning to replenish the GPS, Milstar, and Defense Satellite Communications System constellations with critical spacecraft…to provide unprecedented warfighting capabilities to the US forces arrayed against Iraq.” Rather than to help ordinary people drive to the grocery store, the goals of the current “US Military space surge,” according to Couvault, are to “substantially bolster overall US military satellite bandwidth capability going into the critical February/March time frame, when an attack on Iraq could begin.”(5)

GPS technology is extremely useful in modern warfare, especially for bomb and missile guidance. In the most recent exercise of US military power, the bombing of Afghanistan, “The Pentagon’s weapon of choice has been the Joint Direct Attack Munition, a device attached to the tail of a 2000-pound bomb that enables it to be guided by a satellite-assisted Global Positioning System.”(6) GPS-guided weapons will also be the “weapon of choice” over Iraq. Rajat Baijal and Manoj Arora of the Indian Institute of Technology write, “With war clouds looming large over the west Asian region, the world is likely to witness…state of the art weaponry being used by the US led forces. Most of these, either directly or indirectly shall be using GPS to accurately target and achieve the desired results.”(7) The New York Times confirms this assessment. “The Pentagon’s war plan for Iraq calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign…The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf war of 1991.” The purpose of this onslaught would be “to stagger and isolate the Iraqi military and quickly pave the way for a ground attack to topple a government in shock.” Somehow this is to be accomplished so as to “limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimize civilian casualties.”(8)

“Precision-guided weapons” sound humane, and this is why the phrase is used in public descriptions of war plans. If nearly all weapons hit their intended targets (i.e., the “bad guys”), we don’t have to worry about the “wrong” people getting hurt. But the real reason so-called precision-guided weapons are the “weapons of choice” is because they allow the military to kill more people, not less. In this vein, GPS technology is referred to as a “force multiplier.” Maj. Gen. Gerald F. Perryman Jr. of the Air Force Space Command expressed it this way: “Our pilots are no longer tied to their target … they can ‘fire and forget’ thanks to the accuracy provided by GPS targeting and guidance systems … [P]recision-guided munitions allow one pilot on a single pass to take out several targets. This makes space technology a real force multiplier — it allows us to send fewer people to do the same job.”(9) It is not obvious that a strategy of “fire and forget” is compatible with minimizing civilian casualties, but it is clear that if one plane can “take out several targets” with the new technology, many planes can “take out” an unprecedented number of targets. The result is more violence with less effort.

The US record in Afghanistan makes clear the horrific consequences of GPS-enhanced “force multiplication.” A front page article in the New York Times declared, “Afghanistan will be remembered as the smart-bomb war.” The article touted the ability to target “terrorist safe houses and command centers hidden among schools, hospitals and homes in crowded urban areas,” but did not explain how Pentagon planners validated the intelligence behind urban targeting. It only boasted of “the Pentagon’s confidence about striking near civilians.”(10) Even if the intelligence is correct, however, most discussions of modern military technology ignore the fact that force multiplication implies error multiplication. According to a study done by the Los Angeles Times, “The American air campaign in Afghanistan, based on the high-tech, out-of-harm’s-way strategy, has produced a pattern of mistakes that have killed hundreds of Afghan civilians…[T]he Pentagon’s use of overwhelming force meant that even when truly military targets were located, civilians were sometimes killed.”(11) The study concluded that “as many as 400” civilians were killed by US air strikes in 11 locations studied. Since the US bombed over 40 locations, the overall civilian toll is certainly much higher.(12)

A US invasion of Iraq will likely involve even more bombing of crowded urban areas. But even when targets are far from cities, the results can be devastating. The village of Charykary, where 30 people were killed by “errant bombs,” illustrates the effect of force multiplication. A report hidden in the back pages of a Saturday edition of the New York Times told how the village was destroyed by US forces attacking Taliban soldiers on a ridge a half mile away. “The Americans bombed those positions [on the ridge] for days. Many bombs missed their mark. They landed on farmers and their families, flattening homes and killing people in bunches. Some died in flashes of heat and fire, others were crushed under rubble, and a few were killed by shrapnel.” One villager named Muhibullah told the reporter, “The United States killed my daughter and injured my son. Six of my cows were destroyed, and all of my wheat and rice was burned. I am very angry. I miss my daughter.” Another villager, Muhammad Usef lamented, “We thought this was a very safe place because we heard on the radio that the United States drops its bombs on its targets. If we knew how they missed, we would have run away from here.”(13)

The author is a staff scientist at the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) Science Center, California Institute of Technology. He is on the Board of Directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission and his articles on US policy in Afghanistan have been published in Z Magazine.

1 Kelly Young, “Conditions for GPS satellite launch favorable,” 28 January 2003, Florida Today

2 Peter B. de Selding and Jeremy Singer, “US Government Pressures Europe on Galileo Spectrum,” 2 December 2002, Space News

3 Amy Harmon, “Even as it gazes toward the stars, the space program has broad benefits for those rooted to Earth,” 10 February 2003, NYT

4 Op. Cit., Young

5 Craig Couvault, “GPS, Milsatcom Assets Bolstered as War Looms,” 3 February 2003, Aviation Week and Space Technology

6 James Dao, “The New Air War: Fewer Pilots, More Hits and Scarcer Targets,” 29 November 2001, NYT

7 Rajat Baijal and Manoj Arora, “GPS: A military perspective,” 2001 Geographic Information Systems Pvt. Ltd. (India);

8 Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “War Plan Calls for Precision Bombing Wave to Break Iraqi Army Early in Attack,” 2 February 2003, NYT

9 Timothy Hoffman, “Space capabilities vastly improved since Gulf War,” 11 March 1998, Air Force News;

10 Eric Schmitt and James Dao, “Use of Pinpoint Air Power Comes of Age in New War,” 24 December 2001, NYT

11 Dexter Filkins, “Flaws in US Air War Left Hundreds of Civilians Dead,” 21 July 2002, LA Times

12 The most complete analysis of the civilian toll is that of Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire: “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan”, Revised March 2002;

13 C. J. Chivers, “An Afghan Village Where Errant Bombs Fell and Killed, and Still Lurk in Wait,” 15 December 2001, NYT

From Afghanistan to Iraq: The Racism of “Liberation”

Presentation for “Life After Capitalism” Conference at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Published on Znet (

On August 29th 2002 in Little Rock, Arkansas, George W Bush said: “We liberated Afghanistan from the clutches of a barbaric regime… We’re liberators, not conquerers here in America”(1).

Addressing U.S. troops this January in Fort Hood, Texas, Bush said, “Should Saddam seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you’ll be fighting, not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people”(2).

Most recently during his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush repeated his aims: “America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.”

This rhetoric of liberation is not new at all — in fact it is an age-old trick to disguise and sugarcoat the intentions of the powerful empire. Older empires have sought to “civilize” instead of “liberate” the populations of their colonies. For example, “posession of an empire profoundly influenced the ways in which the British thought of themselves and the rest of the world… it encouraged a sense of superiority… It also fostered racial arrogance. And yet at the same time, deeply rooted liberal and evangelical ideals produced a powerful sense of imperial duty and mission. The empire existed to civilize and uplift its subjects, or so it champions claimed.”(3). Using the rhetoric of “civilizing”, and in today’s world, “liberating”, leaders attempt to quell the consciences of the masses whose approval they seek.

From the start of the so-called War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, and the current aggression against Iraq, the word ‘liberation’ has been sprinkled liberally into the speeches of talking heads of state. These kinds of speeches raise images of millions of mostly brown faces, starving and tortured and imprisoned by a single tyrant and his cronies. It conjures up assumptions of jubilant women and children celebrating their impending liberation as bombs begin falling on their heads. What’s a few hundred cluster bombs anyway, and a few months of abject starvation imposed by cut-off food supplies now that the Americans are on their way to save them? Liberation is close at hand.

U.S. soldiers have been busy “liberating” brown peoples all over the world from the imposition ofcommunism and now terrorism, practiced by their own leaders such as the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. But what does “liberation” really mean in the context of US aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq?

What “Liberation” Has Meant for Afghans

Afghanistan is being touted as an example for Iraq by the Bush administration and hence we should also consider it an example for what to expect in Iraq. It is of course true that the Afghan people and particularly Afghan women were trapped under the laws and weapons of the Taliban. It is true that the majority of Afghan women in cities like Kabul and Kandahar longed for the day when the Sha’ria laws and drought would end. It is also true that U.S. bombs toppled the Taliban and opened the door for Afghan women to continue their education and choose their own clothing, at least in theory. Critics of anti-war leftists may ask, is that not liberation in the real sense? And indeed the war against Afghanistan was hailed by many as a “just” war. Most people, including the left now consider Afghanistan a closed chapter. It is not.

“Liberation” has meant the imposition of a U.S.-friendly leader, Hamid Karzai, in the face of public support for the ex-king of Afghanistan. “Rather than address the issue democratically, almost two days of the six-day loya jirga were wasted while a parade of high-level officials from the interim government, the United Nations, and the United States visited Zahir Shah and eventually ‘persuaded’ him to publicly renounce his political ambitions.”(4) At best “liberation” has meant a subversion of the democratic process which was being infused with the input of thousands of ordinary Afghans including women and refugees. According to James Ingalls, “the West was deliberately manipulating the politics of Afghanistan so that a weak leader who depends on foreign backing and who needs to appease the warlords was installed. The first act of intimidation was the US and UN pressuring of Zahir Shah. After the floodgates were opened it was impossible simply to allow the delegates, many of who had a strong human rights agenda and were intent on weakening the warlords, either to vote or speak their minds freely and fairly.”(5)

“Liberation” has meant the return to power of warlords who once terrorized Afghans and maintain feifdoms within the country, mainly members of the so-called Northern Alliance (not so allied anymore as they were when confronting the Taliban). Additionally, Taliban remnants and the renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, originally heavily funded by the United States in the 1980s, continue to threaten the US puppet regime in what amounts to acontinuation of terrorism against the civilian population. Such attacks occur almost daily, although they are not covered by the mainstream media. For example, “A bomb exploded on the roof of a United Nations office in northern Afghanistan within hours of an armed attack on a UN convoy in the east of the country … in which two Afghan security men were killed”(6). A day later, “An explosion killed 18 people travelling on a bus near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar”(7). The UN Secretary General’s Deputy Special Representative for Reconstruction in Afghanistan cites 16 violent incidents in just two weeks(8). Even Afghan President Hamid Karzai agrees, “The area where we have not been able to make significant inroads was to provide the Afghan people a life free of armed gangs who are fighting each other in parts of the country.”(9) So Afghans have gone from the terrorism of Taliban imprisonment to the terror of trigger-happy war criminals. Additionally, illegal checkpoints established by the US-backed mujahidin during the early 1990s and abolished by the Taliban have reappeared to once again interfere with traffic and extort lavish bribes.(10)

The “liberation” of Afghanistan at U.S. hands has meant the direct deaths of at least 3500 Afghans(11) through the use of “smart” bombs. It has meant hundreds and thousands of pieces of unexploded ordinance from the use of internationally illegal cluster bombs. The United States dropped nearly a quater million cluster bomblets on Afghanistan in or near heavily populated areas, leaving behind an estimated 12,400 pieces of unexploded ordinance, which are defacto landmines.(12) Currently between 5-10 Afghans are killed by landmines each day.(13)

“Liberation” has also meant the coerced repatriation of over two million Afghans from cramped refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran to the streets of Kabul where even long time residents are unable to find work. “The decision to facilitate the mass repatriation was driven by neighbouring countries, donor interests and political pressure to legitimise the new government,” according to a report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.(14) The returnees flock to Kabul because it is the safest place to be in the country. In their wisdom, the liberators have decided to restrict the international security presence to Kabul, to protect their investment in Hamid Karzai. Meanwhile the remaining landscape is overrun by warlords.

And finally, for women and girls in whose name George and Laura Bush swore many platitudes, “liberation” means a return to the old ways and business as usual. For example “In the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, the government of the warlord Ismail Khan recently applied new rules rolling back educational opportunities for women and girls. Men may no longer teach women or girls in private classes. Girls and boys are no longer allowed to be in school buildings at the same time. The effect of the ban will be to block many women and girls from attending private courses.”(15) Earlier last year, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called on Ismail Khan during a visit to Herat, and afterward described him to reporters as “an appealing person.”(16)

As long as oppression takes place with U.S. oversight, it is acceptable and “appealing”. When committed by enemies to the United States, it is called terrorism. The results of the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan are an important lesson for the coming invasion of Iraq.

Afghanistan as a “Model of Sucess for Iraq”

In August of 2002, a US Defense Department news item was entitled, “Rumsfeld calls Afghanistan Model of Success for Iraq,” where the Secretary of War pondered the application of US “liberation” methods to the next stop in the “war on terrorism”. Rumsfeld “pointed to Afghanistan as a sucessful model of what could happen in Iraq if individuals were liberated”. He mused, “Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if Iraq were similar to Afghanistan? … If a bad regime was thrown out, people were liberated, food could come in, borders could be re-opened, repression could stop, prisons could be re-opened. I mean it would be fabulous!” Of course it would be wonderful if the US-led economic sanctions on Iraq were lifted and food and medicines could be imported, but that was not what he meant. The report concluded that “It will take time because liberation, freedom and democracy are all untidy processes”. Perhaps Rumsfeld was looking ahead to the untidyness of the blood and gore that accompanies a bombing campaign, or of mobs demanding a say in their country’s future from an occupying army.

Part of the current plan to reshape Iraq, hatched at least as early as 1998, is the empowering of elements of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein. Ahmed Chalabi, the president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), is being “tipped by analysts … as a possible successor to Saddam Hussein.”(17) Chalabi’s situation parallels that ofHamid Karzai. Like Karzai, Chalabi has spent the majority of his life outside his native country and has risen to prominence primarily through the support of the US government. Tens of millions of dollars in aid to Chalabi have been approved by Congress as part of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, passed to “establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq”. Chalabi has little grassroots support in Iraq itself, but his proximity to the US government makes him, like Karzai, an appropriate tool to “democratically” represent the people being “liberated.”

The parallels with Afghanistan extend to possible battle plans for Iraq. After September 11th 2001 and the US war in Afghanistan, Ahmed Chalabi modifed an earlier war plan for Iraq “with the help of a retired four-star Army general, Wayne Downing [who ran a Special Forces command during the Gulf War], and former CIA officer Duane (Dewey) Clarridge, who have served as unpaid consultants to the INC. Clarridge ran the U.S.-backed contras who fought the leftist Sandanista regime in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration.” The so-called Downing Plan “is portrayed as an enlarged version of the operation in Afghanistan — local forces, with American Special Forces and airpower.”(18)

For those in the blossoming anti-war movement in the United States, there is an uncomfortable focus on George W Bush and the Republicans. But let us not forget that it was ex-President Democrat Bill Clinton whose policy of keeping sanctions in place was supposed to convince Iraqis that we cared enough about them that we were willing to starve them to save them. In 1998 Clinton passed the “Iraq Liberation Act” that authorized the expenses to train and support an Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime. It also renewed the commitment to sanctions.

What has “liberation” meant for the people of Iraq? Sadly, it has meant an even worse scenario of death and destruction than for the Afghan people. One year after Clinton’s “Iraq Liberation Act” maintained the wide ranging sanctions on Iraq, it was reported that infant mortality had doubled in the10 year period 1989-1999.(19) Ashraf Bayoumi, former head of the World Food Programme Observation Unit, in charge of monitoring food distribution in Iraq observed, “You kill people without blood or organs flying around, without angering American public opinion. People are dying silently in their beds. If 5,000 children are dying each month, this means 60,000 a year. Over eight years, we have half a million children. This is equivalent to two or three Hiroshimas.”(20) Under a Democratic leadership the US forced it’s concept of liberation onto a helpless people. Perhaps Clinton meant to liberate Iraqis from life itself.

Last November a group of right wingers with close ties to Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney launched a political campaign to rally support for a war on Iraq, predictably called the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq”. The president, Randy Scheunemann, is a “veteran Republican Senate foreign policy staffer”(21) who happened to draft the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act..

The members of the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” overlap largely with the memberships of other extreme right wing organizations dedicated to “liberation” of poor mostly nonwhite people through war: the “Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America” formed in the 1980s(22), the 1991 “Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf”, and the 1999 “Balkan Action Committee” which supported the US and NATO war in Yugoslavia.(23) Wayne Downing, responsible for the “Downing Plan” of battle for Iraq and advisor to the Iraqi National Congress, is also an advisor to the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Additionally, Bruce P Jackson, Vice President of arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin until August 2002, who also chaired the Republican Party’s subcommittee for national security and foreign policy when George W Bush ran for president in 2000, is the chairman of the Committee. Both Jackson and Gary Schmitt, the group’s secretary, are members of a right wing Washington think tank, “Project for the New American Century” (PNAC). Also associated with PNAC is Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and choreographer of Hamid Karzai’s success in the Loya Jirga. These are only a few examples of the incestuous connections between policy makers but the pattern is clear: loose groupings of mostly white powerful men who shape government policy and bolster the arms industry, working ever so hard for the “liberation” of mostly brown peoples of this world.

A “pro-Western” Arab world and American Empire

The Wall Street Journal last year editorialized that “If America is going to spill blood and treasure again, the goal has to be about more than replacing one Iraqi thug with another. The goal this time should not merely be disarmament or even ‘regime change’, but the liberation of the Iraqi people and a more stable Middle East.”(24) The editorial further states that “if the war is prosecuted well and plants the seeds for a pluralistic pro-Western Iraq, that country could serve as an example to the rest of the Arab world”. The pro-Western government in Afghanistan is clearly in line with this vision. In fact, the United States seems to be creating an empire on the very lands its predecessors colonized. Wall Street Journal columnist Max Boot wrote “It is striking – and no coincidence – that America now faces the prospect of military action in many of the same lands where generations of British colonial soldiers went on campaigns. These are all places where Western armies had to quell disorder. Afghanistan and other troubled foreign lands cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”(25) The parallels of the US installing pro-Western governments in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world with British colonial exploits are striking.

The implicit racism of today’s rhetoric of liberation emanating from the United States leadership should be obvious. It is far too reminiscent of the language of racist colonizers of past decades and centuries who felt they were divinely motivated to civilize the heathen savages on whose shores they arrived. My home country of India is rife with such examples under the British Raj. British Viceroy Curzon spoke in the late 1800s of the British Raj being a mandate from God. “I do not see how Englishmen, contrasting India as it is with what it was or might have been, can fail to see that we came here in obedience to what I call a decree of Providence, for the lasting benefit of millions of the human race.”(26)

Similar motivations were expressed by Emperor Bush who said in his state of the union address, “Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”(27)

The British empire could not have sustained itself without the general approval of its citizens. The growing US empire looks to “liberate” the Arabs, the Afghans, the Iranians, North Koreans, Colombians, Venezuelans and others. Let us not forget the history and implications of this racist rhetoric. Let us not follow in the footsteps of tacit approval.


1 George W Bush Speech, Little Rock, Arkansas, August 29, 2002

2 Charles Aldinger and Nadim Ladki, “Bush Talks of Liberating Iraq, Troops Mass in Gulf”, 01/03/03, Reuters

3 James, Lawrence, “The Rise and the Fall of the British Empire”, 1995, p xiv

4 Omar Zakhilwal, “Stifled in the Loya Jirga”, 06/16/02, Washington Post Opinion Column, p B07

5 James Ingalls, “The United States and the Afghan Loya Jirga: A Victory for the Puppet Masters”, 090/02, Z Magazine

6 “Bomb explodes on roof of UN office in Northern Afghanistan”, 01/30/03, Agence France-Presse

7 “Blast kills 18 in southern Afghanistan”, 01/31/03, Agence France-Presse.

8 “Afghanistan: Security concerns remain for NGOs”, 02/03/03, UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network

9 “Afghanistan: Interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai”, 01/28/03, UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network

10 Danish Karokhel, “Illegal checkpoints enrage travellers”, 01/17/03, Institute for War & Peace Reporting

11 Marc Herold, “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting”, 12/01,

12 “Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and Their Use by the United States in Afghanistan”, 12/18/02, Human Rights Watch

13 Danish Karokhel, “Returning Afghans fear mine menace”, 01/31/03, Institute for War & Peace Reporting

14 David Turton and Peter Marsden, “Taking Refugees for a Ride? The Politics of Refugee Return to Afghanistan”, 01/31/2003, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

15 Zama Coursen-Neff and John Sifton , “Falling Back to Taliban Ways with Women”, 01/21/03, International Herald Tribune

16 “Afghanistan: Torture and Political Repression in Herat”, 11/05/02, Human Rights Watch

17 “Profile: Ahmed Chalabi”, 10/03/02, BBC News Media Reports

18 “Attacking Iraq – Downing Plan / Afghan Model”,,

19 “Results of the 1999 Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Surveys”, 08/27/99, UNICEF

20 Amira Howeidy, “Two Hiroshimas, twenty Lebanons”, 12/24/98, Al-Ahram Weekly

21 Jim Lobe, “New Champions of the War Cause”, 11/06/02, Inter Press Service

22 Jim Lobe, “The War Party Gets Organized”, 11/14/02, Alternet

23 Op.cit. note 19

24 “How to Liberate Iraq: Toppling Saddam isn’t Enough”, 10/08/02, Wall Street Journal Editorial

25 Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire”, 10/15/01, Weekly Standard, vol 7, no 5

26 S. Gopal, “British Policy in India”, Cambridge 1965

27 George W Bush’s State of the Union Address, 01/29/03

Afghan Women: Enduring American “Freedom”

Based on Conference Presentation at Afghan Women’s Mission Conference, October 2002. Published in Frontline Magazine (India), Z Magazine, and Foreign Policy in Focus

In January 2002, George W. Bush told us in his State of the Union address, “The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free …” Almost a year later (11 Oct 2002), Bush again congratulated himself: “We went into Afghanistan to free people, because we believe in freedom. We believe every life counts. Every life matters. So we’re helping people recover from living under years of tyranny and oppression. We’re helping Afghanistan claim its democratic future.” The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was called “Operation Enduring Freedom”. With all this talk of freedom, it is important to ask the question, how are Afghan women enduring American-style freedom? When we think of women’s rights in Afghanistan, we think of the imprisonment of the Burqa, the traditional Islamic head to foot covering that the Taliban forced women to wear. George Bush certainly seems to subscribe to this view. But many Afghan women wore the burqa before and after the Taliban. In the rural areas of Afghanistan, the majority of women covered themselves. Contrary to what President Bush would have us believe, the problems facing Afghan women run far deeper than clothing. Food security, access to healthcare, and safety from physical violence are key aspects of women’s rights that the US intervention has largely ignored or even jeopardized.

Coming Winter Brings Starvation

By November, Afghanistan’s harsh winter will return and thousands of Afghans, devastated by three years of drought and 23 years of war and civil unrest, will be facing winter and starvation. Take the Badghis province of Afghanistan for example — one of the poorest. Roughly 50 percent of Badghis’s approximately 400,000 population cannot obtain enough food this winter. Fatema, a resident of Bagdhis, doesn’t know how she will feed her six children this year. Her 15 year old son is the only one in the family who can earn any money and he does it by selling grass for fuel and food. Two months ago they were refugees, but they recently returned. They are among the millions of refugees that have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, the millions who have been counted as a measure of success by the U.N. of the U.S.’s Operation “Enduring Freedom” (World Vision, October 17th).

When George Bush promised us that Afghan women were free he assuaged our guilt as the bombs rained down on Afghanistan, picking off wedding parties, cutting off crucial winter aid routes, delaying spring plantings of wheat. According to Bush, at least women can now walk around without a burqa if they want. But what good is an uncovered face if it is starving to death? Women’s rights are human rights: survival is more important than clothing and survival has been the most difficult challenge facing women both before and after the U.S. action in Afghanistan..

Women’s Health Still in Crisis

A recent report released by the US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) entitled “Maternal Mortality in Herat Province: The Need to Protect Women’s Rights”, said, “The rate of maternal mortality in a society is a critical indicator of the health and human rights status of women in a community.” The report documented 593 maternal deaths in every 100,000 live births, with the majority of the cases in rural areas. This maternal mortality rate is far worse than in all of the countries neighboring Afghanistan. The second worse neighboring country is Pakistan, with 200 deaths per 100,000 births. A researcher with PHR concluded, “What appears to be simply a public health catastrophe in Herat Province… speaks of the many years of denial and deprivation of women’s rights in Afghanistan.”

Today one of the most vulnerable groups of women in Afghanistan are widows. In Kabul alone there are an estimated 40,000 widows who have lost their husbands in the decades of war in Afghanistan. Nationwide, the number of widows is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, since about 1.5 million Afghans were killed during the ten year Soviet occupation and the cross fire from warlordism that followed in the early 1990s. “While the plight of Afghan widows has improved psychologically, the main problems of finding shelter, food and income remain thesame,” says Awadia Mohamed , the coordinator for CARE International in Afghanistan. “Indeed, in some cases they have worsened.” Widows have very limited access to food and health services despite the absence of the Taliban. In fact, “51 percent of widows surveyed reported being unwell, of whom 57.6 percent had fever, 13.6 percent had diarrhoea and 10 percent leishmaniasis wounds…Furthermore, calorie intake was insufficient, with most of the women and their children subsisting on little more than bread and tea, resulting in malnutrition problems and micronutrient deficiencies”. (“Afghanistan: Focus on the plight of widows”, IRIN, 21st October, 2002).

Hunger and lack of healthcare indicate the deprivation of the basic rights of mothers, daughters, and widows. Where are the media and their cameras now?

Warlords Threaten Security for Women

Article 3 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” If the right to survival is a fundamental principle of women’s rights, freedom from insecurity is another. But insecurity is a euphemism for war, for conflict, for more violence and bloodshed. Unfortunately, “territorial skirmishes between heavily armed warlords” (“Fighting breaks out in troubled eastern Afghan province”, AFP, October 17th) are all too common.

Practically speaking, since the Taliban fell and warlords of the past returned to their old fiefdoms, they resumed fighting one another, exactly what they were doing when the Taliban first came to power. According to Agence France-Presse, “Northern Afghanistan remains plagued by factional and ethnic rivalries despite loose allegiances between warlords controlling the area, most of whom have offered pledges of support to the central Afghan government.” (“Violence in northern Afghanistan deterring refugee returns: UN”, Agence France-Presse, 20th October, 2002). Such clashes are frequent and deadly, in the northern and eastern part of Afghanistan.

The media fail to report prominently that many of these warlords, now members of the Northern Alliance, were first empowered by the United States in the 1980s to repel the Soviet invasion, and then again during the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghansitan (RAWA) spelled out last year what empowering war lords will do for Afghanistan: “The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be eliminated, but the existence of the NA [Northern Alliance] as a military force would shatter the joyful dream of the majority for an Afghanistan free from the odious chains of barbaric Taliban. The NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain in power.” (“RAWA’s appeal to the UN and World community”, November 13th, 2001). Rather than heed the words of RAWA and others,the U.S. engaged the services of the Northern Alliance, with the CIA paying warlords $100,000 each to gather armies (“Caught Off Guard, the CIA Fights to Catch Up,” Cloud, D. S., 15 April 2002, Wall Street Journal). Today, the three Vice Presidents of Afghanistan are all members of the Northern Alliance – General Mohammad Fahim, Karim Khalili and Haji Abdul Qadeer. And, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, a former Mujahadeen warrior, is now Defense Minister of Afghanistan.

The Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who recieved a plaque of appreciation from US forces for help against the Taliban last year, can add ethnic cleansing to his achievements. Dostum’s troops recently forced 180 Pashtun families (people who are the same ethnicity as the Taliban), from villages in northern Afghanistan in early October. Some of the women said they had been raped by his men and had their homes looted. (“Pashtuns driven from northern Afghan villages”, 7th October, 2002, Reuters).

While Afghan women are desperate for security and for the International Security Armed Forces (ISAF) to be expanded from Kabul to all of Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to deny this. Even Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, a puppet of the U.S., has asked for the ISAF to be expanded to all of Afghanistan, so that warlords can be disarmed and a transition to peace can begin. Instead the U.S. has been focusing on training a national army of Afghans which is undermined by the fact that Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim himself has a private army of 18,000 men. (“Afghans ask: ‘Whose army is it?,'” David Buchbinder, 17th October, 2002, Christian Science Monitor). With the U.S. empowering warlords, and undermining the ISAF expansion, there is little hope for peace and security in the country. Afghan women will pay the highest price as they have always done.

Girls Schools Still Under Attack

In March of this year the Washington Post happily ran a story headlined “The Girls Are back in Afghan Schools”. One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief across America — the knowledge that our good war, meant to liberate Afghan women was working. But are the media reporting the recent spate of attacks against schools in Afghanistan? Schools have been burned down in Kandahar, Wardak and Sar-i-Pul. In the seventh incident in a series of attacks on girls’ schools in Afghanistan, gunmen forced a school in the Wardak province that served 1,300 girls to close. In recent weeks girls schools have been burned and bombed. (“UNICEF denounces violent attacks on schools in Afghanistan, 17th October, 2002, UN News Service).

“Saving” Afghan Women

It is crucial for us to understand that women’s rights are always politically manipulated by the powerful, to justify almost anything. In the late 70s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and claimed to be saving Afghan women. Then, they began assassinating men who opposed the invasion, leaving thousands of women widowed. The U.S. backed Mujahadeen (many of whom now comprise the Northern Alliance) claimed to be saving women, from the “godless” communists. Then, they simply raped women, forced them into marriages, and tortured their husbands. The Taliban took over from the Mujahadeen, claiming to save Afghan women. Then they forced them to stay at home (for their own good), stop going to school, and be denied access to medical care. And finally, George Bush came riding on a white horse to save Afghan women. Perhaps it is time to rethink promises made by powerful men to save Afghan women.

Afghan women don’t need saving. They know perfectly well how to save themselves: the brave work of RAWA in the fields of education, health care, political agitation and demands for secularism, democracy and women’s rights, is a testament to this. The West does not hold a monopoly on these issues. What Afghan women need is for the U.S. to stop imposing freedom through bombs, stop backing human rights violators and warlords, and stop hindering the security forces from expanding to the rest of the country.

The struggle of Afghan women has been reduced here in the United States to a simplistic discussion about the Burqa. Don the burqa and you’re oppressed, take it off and, lo and behold, you’re free. But what does this really mean? It means that to constantly portray Afghan women as weak, covered up, defenseless, needing our help, makes us feel good about helping Afghan women, about saving them. To express solidarity with Afghan women, we need to understand what affects them, starting with what we are responsible for and have the power to change — the use of bombs and warlords as tools of US policy. We need to begin treating Afghan women with dignity and not reduce them to a piece of clothing. Afghan women’s rights are a crucial part of the equation of Afghanistan. One year later, it is clear that Afghan women are not “free” — they are simply enduring American freedom.

Afghanistan: The First Puppet Regime in the Post September 11th World

Based on Conference Presentation at Afghan Women’s Mission Conference, October 2002. Published on Znet ( in November 2002

As the United States government and the United Nations Security Council debates the invasion, occupation, and “regime change” of Iraq, it makes sense to assess the first US exercise of power after Sept 11, namely the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Before I go on I want to comment on what seems to be fashionable terminology these days, the use of terms like “regime change” and “nation building” to describe the US imposing its will on other countries. There’s never any question of whether or not we have the right to do it. When asked about the term, “regime change,” Bush said it “sounds more civil.” More civil than what he didn’t say, but we can speculate. The US invasion of Afghanistan could be described as follows: “a radical and agressive…step…using…great military power against a relatively defenseless nation.” This is actually how Jimmy Carter referred to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he called Russia’s “attempt to extend its colonial domination of others.” We rarely look at ourselves through the same lens that we use to look at others. Clearly, the US does not “extend its colonial domination of others,” it engages in “regime change” followed by “nation building.”

Prior to the bombing of Afghanistan, which began on October 7th 2001, there was practically no debate in our country, or in the corridors of power anywhere in the world. After September 11, the US found it quite easy to set the agenda for the world without going through the United Nations Security Council. Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Weekly Standard (12 November 2001), said “not a single Great Power on the planet lies on the wrong side” of the US. He was glad that we could finally give up pretenses of working within international law, what he called a “decade-long folly” based on “norms rather than…national interest.” Krauthammer includes weapons nonproliferation treaties and human rights conventions among the “norms” he derides as “refined nonsense.” Last month Bush submitted his National Security Strategy to Congress, a document that supports Krauthammer’s view and promotes the “Bush Doctrine,” i.e., we have the right to a first strike, to act unilaterally when we please, and to maintain military dominance over the rest of the world. Business Week criticized the document for its “Texas-style swagger and go-it-alone message.” (7 October 2002) But if we think in terms of the US as an empire exercising its power, a “go-it-alone message” and lots of posturing makes sense because you want to show the world who’s boss.

Krauthammer claimed that the real goal of the war in Afghanistan was simply “demonstrating that the United States has the will and power to enforce the Bush doctrine.” For the case of Afghanistan, he said that this requires “making an example of the Taliban”

Every day that they remain in place is a rebuke to American power…The future of Islamic and Arab allegiance will depend on whether the Taliban are brought to grief…

Krauthammer’s perspective on Arab allegiance seems to be shared by members of the US government. In April, Saudi prince Abdullah warned Bush that he might end the “strategic partnership” between the US and Saudi Arabia, so Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers threatened him using Afghanistan as an example of what we might do to those who “rebuke” American power. A US official told the NY Times, “This was to give him some idea what Afghanistan demonstrated about our capabilities…the idea was, if he thought we were strong in Desert Storm, we’re 10 times as strong today.” (25 Apr 2002)

There were a number of reasons given publicly for the US campaign in Afghanistan. Concern for the plight of Afghans was high on the list, although the US record demonstrates otherwise. Prof Marc Herold of the UNH estimated that over 3,000 civilians were killed in the first eight weeks of the bombing. He noticed how careful the US was to avoid getting its own soldiers killed, whereas Afghan soldiers and civilians were expendable. Herold concluded that “US military planners and [the] political elite” put a “very low value” on Afghan lives, exposing the tacit racism involved in “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Eliminating the Taliban was considered by many to be worth the price in civilian casualties.

President Bush asserted in his “State of the Union” speech in January that the United States had “saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression,” but the facts show that the US bombing actually exacerbated many of the dangers that existed in pre-Sept 11 Afghanstan. On September 6 2001, the World Food Program described, “widespread pre-famine conditions.” They were just about to start a new project to provide food aid to 5.5 million people, but five days later (Sept 11), all aid convoys were stopped at the borders to prevent “terrorists” from escaping. This put at risk the millions of Afghans who were in danger of starvation, since refugees could no longer leave, and aid couldn’t get in. A month after Bush’s State of the Union announcement that we “saved a people from starvation” Doctors without Borders reported (21 Feb) that “The food crisis in northern Afghanistan is reaching alarming proportions.” Mortality rates in one Northern camp have doubled since August. That is, twice as many people are dying per day now compared to before the US bombing.

The relief agency CARE has just issued a policy brief (end of September 2002) entitled, “Rebuilding Afghanistan: A little less talk, a lot more action,” in which they complain that “promises [to rebuild the country] now look increasingly suspect.” This is what is called “nation building.” Reconstruction needs in Afghanistan are, according to the report, “significantly higher” than in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, or East Timor, where international donations averaged $250 per person per year. And yet, in Afghanistan only $75 has been pledged per person for 2002, and $42 per person per year over the next five years. CARE estimates that Afghanistan needs at least $10 billion over the next 5 years to rebuild, which is not at all forthcoming.

Over $10 billion has been spent on Afghanistan since October 7 2001, mostly by the US government, 84% of it was spent to bomb the country and to finance anti-Taliban fighters. Part of the US plan included a “regime change” and that meant shifting the balance of power away from the Taliban and towards the “Northern Alliance.” That meant paying warlords $100,000 each and supplying them with truckloads of weapons. “We were reaching out to every commander that we could,” an intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal (15 Apr 02). Presently the warlords that we supported are “the greatest threats to stability in Afghanistan,” according to the aid organization CARE.

In addition to spending $10 billion to destroy the country, the US also propped up its chosen leader, using the vehicle of the traditional Loya Jirga, or “Grand Council.” This meeting, which convened in June, was actually considered to be one hope for weakening the power of the warlords. It was potentially an unprecedented opportunity for the Afghan people to have some say as to how their country was to be run. Over 1500 delegates met for 6 days, and the expectations were that finally diplomacy, not violence would take center stage. This is not to say that it was thought to be a miracle cure, but as a former member of the Afghan parliament said, “People have every reason to pin hopes on any peaceful political developments.” (IRIN, 1 April 2002). A lot of people enthusiastically tried to get involved. In Pakistan, 250,000 refugees demanded a voice in the Loya Jirga (AFP, 31 May 2002). In Kandahar, a surprising number of women turned up to nominate themselves for the Loya Jirga delegate elections. “I want to help my sisters in Kandahar. We have all suffered the pain together and now it is time to give a voice to women,” said one candidate (IRIN, 27 May 2002). One man who was chosen as a delegate said, “I am proud to be going to Kabul. I want to go there and give my vote toward ending the power of the warlords and bringing peace to Afghanistan.” (NYT 3 June 2002).

Just prior to the meeting, a group of delegates put together a “wish list” that “emphasized access to food, education, and health services in neglected rural areas” but above all else the delegates were united in “the urgency of reducing the power of warlords and establishing a truly representative government.” Delegates Omar Zakhilwal and Adeena Niazi wrote, “The sentiment quickly grew into a grassroots movement supporting the former king, Zahir Shah, as head of state. The vast majority of us viewed him as the only leader with enough popular support and independence to stand up to the warlords.” Upon arrival in Kabul, more than 800 loya jirga delegates (out of 1500) signed a petition supporting the nomination of the former king as head of state (Starr & Strmecki, NYT 14 Jun 02).

But even allowing Zahir Shah to be nominated wasn’t on the US agenda. Soon after the start of the meetings it became apparent that the only true purpose of the Loya Jirga was to legitimize Hamid Karzai’s interim government, and confirm him as President of Afghanistan. This was engineered by eliminating the former king as a possible competitor for head of state. According to a NYT op-ed piece by Frederick Starr and Martin Strmecki (14 Jun), “America’s envoys pressed the king to withdraw himself from consideration, in effect pre-empting the loya jirga from selecting the nation’s leader by itself.” Then, before Zahir Shah could even make his own announcement, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy to Afghanistan told the press: “The former king is not a candidate for a position in the transitional authority. He endorses Chairman Karzai.” From that point on, an atmosphere of threats and intimidation by supporters of the interim Karzai government dominated the Loya Jirga. It came as little surprise when Karzai was re-elected. In picking Karzai, the “council did what had been expected of it,” according to the NYT.

This shows the true love for freedom and democracy that permeates US “nation building” efforts. When it really matters, even minimal democracy is not allowed. Compare this with Iraq. When 100% of the Iraqi population “voted” for Saddam Hussein with nobody else on the ballot, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, “[it’s] not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it.” (AP 16 Oct 2002) But in Afghanistan, the “rubber stamp” vote for a US-backed leader was hailed by the NYT as “a resounding endorsement of national unity” and “the first broadly representative election in over 20 years” (13 Jun 02).

This wasn’t the worst of it. Most of the delegates thought they would at least get to vote for the cabinet, but Karzai made it clear that it was only up to the assembly to ratify his choices. I’ll quote from the NYT piece by delegates Zakhilwal and Niazi:

“our hearts sank when we heard President Hamid Karzai pronounce one name after another. A woman activist turned to us in disbelief: ‘This is worse than our worst expectations. The warlords have been promoted and the professionals kicked out. Who calls this democracy?’… Three powerful Northern Alliance commanders…have been made vice presidents…These are the very forces responsible for countless brutalities under the mujahedeen government…As the loya jirga folded its tent , we met with frustration and anger in the streets. ‘Why did you legitimize an illegitimate government?’ one Kabul resident asked us. The truth is we didn’t…[W]e delegates were denied anything more than a symbolic role in the selection process.”

That was in the op-ed pages, i.e., it’s only someone’s “opinion.” In contrast. the “news” section of the New York Times (23 Jun 2002) was upbeat, praising the cabinet as “a careful balance of factions and ethnic groups.” In this context one has to read between the lines. “Factions and ethnic groups” is shorthand for “factions and ethnic groups with guns”– in other words, “warlords.” Human Rights Watch said, “Afghanistan’s warlords are stronger today than they were…before the loya jirga started.”

The United States has eliminated the Taliban, but what is in its place? The president Hamid Karzai has little popular support. He relies on the backing of the US (even his bodyguards are mostly US Special Operations soldiers) and is at the mercy of various warlords, also backed by the US. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution calls him “basically the mayor of Kabul during daylight hours.” So the US has eliminated one source of instability in Afghanistan, and replaced it with another, which it (partially) controls. The prospects are just as bleak for Iraq, if the US decides to engage in the kind of “regime change” and “nation building” it implemented in Afghanistan.