Just about everyone recognises that the US has failed in Afghanistan and the war is lost. Even right-wing commentator Greg Sheridan, The Australian’s foreign policy guru, says he has come to an “agonising reassessment”: “I no longer believe we can win in any meaningful way in Afghanistan…”
Most US allies are discussing how quickly they can get out. Even the US knows it cannot comprehensively defeat the Taliban-led insurgency, and hopes to cut a deal with “moderate” Taliban leaders. In an admission of desperation, last month the US military admitted facilitating talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “very senior Taliban leaders.”
But after the debacle in Iraq, the US is desperate to avoid being seen to suffer another military defeat, which would further erode the credibility of US power.
So, as the previous head of military operations in Afghanistan, Stanley McCrystal, put it, they want to “shape conditions” before negotiations finish. In other words they want to unleash more killing first and negotiate from a position of strength. The latest Wikileaks release of almost 400,000 documents on the Iraq war has reinforced what continued US occupation will mean—exposing the scale and brutality of the violence that the US has tried to cover up.
But in Canberra’s parliamentary debate on the war Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott tried to outdo each other to find reasons for staying. Gillard even suggested Australian troops could be in Afghanistan for another ten years.
She claimed the war is about making sure Afghanistan is not a “safe haven for terrorists.” But the US-led coalition is not fighting al Qaeda—it is facing whole villages in revolt against US atrocities and the corrupt government the West is backing.
Democracy and women’s rights
Some people fear that getting the troops out would return the Taliban to power and end the hope for women’s rights and democracy.
But the war was never about democracy or human rights, and has not delivered either. The government the West has imposed is deeply corrupt and dominated by warlords every bit as vicious and anti-woman as the Taliban.
Karzai has only remained in power by rigging elections. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is allegedly one of the wealthiest drug lords in Afghanistan.
A tiny layer of people with government connections have grown immensely rich pilfering the billions of dollars of US aid money, while the mass of the population remains in poverty. The New York Times reported in October that, “At least six Karzai relatives… operate or are linked to contracting businesses that collect millions of dollars annually from US contacts”.
Karzai’s other base of support are the warlords responsible for a reign of terror during the 1990s. As Afghan MP Malalai Joya describes it, all that has happened is:
“The US government replaced the Taliban with the Northern Alliance fundamentalists. From 1992 to 1996 when they were in power… in Kabul alone they killed 65,000 innocent people.”
Karzai’s Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim is described by Human Rights Watch as, “one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.”
On top of this is the scale of the killing caused by occupying troops.
One report claimed that as a result of the current military operation in Kandahar just one hospital, Mirwais Regional, took in 1000 patients injured by fighting in August and September alone—double the number of a year earlier.
New US commander, David Petraeus, has stepped up bombing raids again, bringing a second aircraft carrier to the region armed with another 120 attack planes.
As a result 74 per cent of Afghans now support negotiations with the Taliban if it ends the fighting.
Withdrawing Australian and other foreign troops would not solve everything. But it would certainly reduce the violence. The growth of the insurgency has been fed by local community uprisings against coalition attacks that killed civilians.
In April US troops withdrew from the Korengal Valley concluding they, “had blundered into a blood feud with fierce and clannish villagers who wanted, above all, to be left alone,” according to the Washington Post.
It was foreign imperialist intervention that created the warlordism and violence that has plagued Afghanistan for the last 30 years.
The Taliban, along with local warlords, were armed by the US as they tried to undermine Russian control of the country. The US channeled money to mujahadeen groups who fought the pro-Moscow government, leading to a Russian invasion in 1979.
All the US invasion has done is prop up a different armed faction, more corrupt and equally anti-democratic and vicious as the Taliban.
Getting the troops out is the first step towards ending the violence.