US policies failing to make headway in Afghanistan

Despite US protestations to the contrary,  Afghanistan finds itself in the lurch. After promising to hold Kabul’s hand and rebuild the country, Washington appears to have lost its way  


Afghanistan President
Hamid Karzai

For the second time in 15 years,  Afghanistan is in danger of  a descent into anarchy. In an interview with Radio Free Europe a few days ago its ambassador to the United Nations, Ravan Farhadi warned: “Afghanistan is suffering from the fact that the attention of the world is now towards Basra and Baghdad instead of being towards Afghanistan, like it was last year.”


On the ground, US-installed Hamid Karzai regime is barely in control,  warlords rule the roost and the bombed out cities and towns still await reconstruction.


The Karzai government expected the US to commit itself to its stated objectives. But these have mostly remained on paper.  The situation mirrors the US abandonment of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989.  Having fought its largest proxy war against the Soviets the US left the  country to regional strongmen made powerful by drug money and US weaponry.


The space left in Kabul by the departing Soviet Union was filled by autonomous groups that were Islamic and anti-US in character, and later by the Taliban. Ironically, these were the very same groups that had been nurtured by the US in its covert war against the Soviet Union. The situation came to a head with the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by one such group: Al Qaeda. The US turned to Afghanistan with a vengeance,  bombed it flat and forced the Taliban government from power.

The US administration said in the post-Taliban phase it would play a more lasting role and not leave the country high and dry.  In a statement in January 2002 after the installation of the Hamed Karzai regime US President George Bush committed himself to ensuring security, stability and reconstruction for Afghanistan, and fostering representative and accountable government.

A year later,  there is no perceptible change for the better in Afghanistan. According to CARE, the global NGO, for the more than two million refugees and displaced persons the amount of humanitarian assistance has shrunk to a fraction of what was originally planned. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is limited to the capital, Kabul. Elsewhere, increasing incidents of factional fighting and highway robbery  threaten an already fragile recovery, it says. 

In January 2002, a meeting of international donors in Tokyo pledged $4.5 billion to support  Afghanistan. But, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell recently conceded, “We need to take a hard look at whether the $4.5 billion that we pledged over five years is enough to meet the immediate and longer-term needs that we now see.”

If the stated US policy was to ensure that women  gained the skills and education they were deprived of under years of Taliban rule this is yet to translate itself on the ground. Media reports, quoting Human Rights Watch (HRW), refer to a firebombing campaign against girls’ schools leaving warning parents not to send their girls to school and ordering women not to appear in public without wearing the burka.

According to HRW, “Afghan women of all ethnicities have been compelled to restrict their participation in public life to avoid being targets of violent factions…[and] continue to face serious threats to their public safety, denying them the opportunity to exercise their basic human rights.”

Experts say the US is unable to sever its links with sections of the erstwhile mujahideen who now part of the global narcotic mafia. This is seen as a serious impediment to reconstruction.  Martha Brill Olcott, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, says the US has also done relatively little to curb the drug trade, and other forms of criminal activity that the local strognmen in Afghanistan have long profited from. “In particular, the sums of money allocated to try and combat the cultivation of opium have been so small so as to almost sabotage the goals,” she says.


Afghan landmine victims
trying to make their
voices heard

Factional rivalries in northern Afghanistan have caused an increase in attacks on humanitarian aid workers and civilians, blocking the delivery of urgently needed assistance. Regional commanders reportedly continue to target the minority community in the north, the Pashtuns. They have been subject to violence including rape, seizure of farmland and extortion.


The US dilemma was underlined when Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif late last year. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Mike Jendrzejczyk,  Asia Director of HRW, said Wolfowitz expressed alarm over the violence as an obstacle to development, but indicated support for  the local strongmen who were responsible for it. “Ironically, by relying on warlords and opposing an expansion of the peacekeeping force, the United States has allowed the situation to become more, not less, unstable,” he said.


According to William Blum, author of “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” the list of countries subject to bombing by the US in the post-World War II period  follows a “remarkable pattern”. 


“The United States has a long record of bombing nations, reducing entire neighbourhoods, and much of cities, to rubble, wrecking the infrastructure, ruining the lives of those the bombs didn’t kill. And afterward doing nothing to repair the damage,” Blum says.