What the Afghans Know

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The War in Afghanistan Is Only the Beginning

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

Something has gone terribly wrong in Afghanistan. The heaviest fighting there since the 2001 U.S. invasion has recently erupted. Many Americans, who were then assured by neocons and their media trumpets that their nation had triumphantly won the war in Afghanistan and crushed the Taliban, are dismayed and bewildered.

In 2001, unable to withstand high-tech U.S. forces, Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar, ordered his men, who had been fighting the Afghan Communists and pro-Russian Tajiks, to disband, exchange their black turbans for white ones, and blend into the civilian population.

At the time, this writer, who covered the 1980′s Great Jihad in Afghanistan and ensuing birth of Taliban, warned war would resume in about four years, just as it did after the 1979 Soviet invasion. This prediction was greeted with jeers, and accusations of idiocy and lack of patriotism.

Now, as predicted, Taliban forces have taken the offensive against U.S. and NATO troops, often employing deadly new tactics, like roadside and suicide bombs, learned from Iraq’s resistance. Casualties are mounting on both sides.

Significantly for an independent-minded people unused to cooperation of any kind, the Taliban movement has been joined by many other political and tribal groups to form a national resistance against foreign occupation. Prominent among them: Hisbi Islami, led by former CIA protg Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the most effective guerilla leader in the 1980′s anti-Soviet jihad, and renowned mujahidin leader, Jallaludin Haqqani.

Small numbers of foreign jihadis have also come to fight. Most important, growing numbers of "khels," or clans of the Pashtun (Pathan) tribe — the world’s largest tribal group, numbering 40 million — have joined the resistance. Pashtuns comprise half Afghanistan’s 30 million population. Another 28 million Pushtuns live just across the border, known as the Durand Line, in Pakistan. The Durand Line is an artificial border created, like so many others in Africa and Asia, by British imperialists. Most Afghans reject the legality of the line, which sunders their people.

The U.S./NATO campaign is increasingly directed against warlike Pashtun tribes like the Afridi and Orokzai, and their civilians, rather than against so-called "Taliban terrorists." However, distinguishing between "Taliban militants" and ordinary farmers or merchants is extremely difficult from fast-flying fighter aircraft and attack helicopters. The U.S./NATO policy seems to be shoot or bomb first, then label the casualties as "terrorists" or "collateral damage caused by Taliban hiding in civilian homes."

Until recently, million of dollars in monthly cash bribes from CIA to Afghan warlords kept key areas under nominal authority of the U.S.-installed Karzai regime. The writ of this long-time CIA "asset" barely extends beyond the capitol, Kabul. Only Western bayonets keep him in office.

Karzai’s popularity among Afghans is best judged by the fact that he is constantly surrounded by 100—200 U.S. bodyguards kept just out of range of western TV cameras.

As for claims the western powers are rebuilding Afghanistan, it’s worth recalling the Soviets also built schools, clinics, and roads in Afghanistan, held "democratic" elections and branded the resistance "Islamic terrorists." The U.S./NATO occupation follows an identical pattern, complete with candy for kids, platitudes about women’s rights and nation-building, and rigged elections.

But the Westerners won’t be any more successful in winning hearts and minds of Afghans than the Russians — particularly after the flood of U.S. $100 dollar bills renting temporarily loyalty begins to dry up once Washington cuts back on the now nearly $2 billion monthly cost of the occupation. Or once it ceases employing 25,000 soldiers and hundreds of CIA agents in the search for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The biggest difference between the Soviet and U.S. occupation is that since 1989, Afghanistan has become a total narco-state. Most of the national income comes from export of opium and morphine/heroin. Afghanistan supplies 80% of the world’s heroin. Washington’s allies, members of the Karzai regime and Afghan Communists (Northern Alliance) are accused of being deeply involved in the drug trade.

Sending troops to Afghanistan was marketed to Americans as a crusade against terrorism and revenge for the 9/11 attacks, with nation-building as a sub-theme.

Blaming "terrorists" for the current upsurge in fighting obscures the natural and inevitable growth of resistance to foreign occupation among Afghans. The longer foreigners stay and bomb villages, the more they are hated by the xenophobic Afghans.

Claims by Washington of political progress in Afghanistan are wishful thinking. It is the classic Afghan way to smile and pocket bribe money, and tell foreigners what they want to hear, only to attack them in the night. Tribal and clan loyalties trump all other links. Most Afghans working for the foreign occupation are secretly in touch with the resistance.

All those ponderous U.S. search-and-destroy operations are telegraphed long in advance to the resistance. Of course. Afghans know one day Americans and other foreigners will go home, just as did the Russians, British and Alexander’s Greeks.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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