Kabul under Curfew after Anti-US, anti-Karzai Riots
14 Dead, over 100 Wounded
50 Killed in US Airstrike
“We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which we expect will cost $66 billion over the next year. This budget request will also support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security. Now and in the future, we will support our troops and we will keep our word to the more than 50 million people of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
– George W. Bush
The Bush administration is in the midst of “imperial overstretch” on a grand scale. Taking on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, convincing Pakistan to change its policies, and reconstructing Afghanistan would have been a tough enough job. It might not have been possible even with the investment of enormous resources and personnel. Afghanistan is large and rugged and desperately poor. Bad characters are still hiding out in the region, who have proved that they can reach into the United States and hit the Pentagon itself.
Instead of doing the job, Bush ran off to Iraq almost immediately. Even as our brave troops were being killed at Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in spring of 2002, Centcom commander Tommy Franks was telling a visiting Senator Bob Graham that the US “was no longer engaged in a war in Afghanistan” or words to that effect, and that military and intelligence personnel were being deployed to Iraq. The US troops in Afghanistan would have been shocked and disturbed to discover that in the Centcom commander’s mind, they were no longer his priority and no longer even at war! As for money, Iraq has hogged the lion’s share. What has been spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan is piddling.
Bush’s Iraq imbroglio, or “Bush’s Furnace,” as history might well call his trillion-dollar purchase, has sucked up money and resources on a vast scale and left US personnel in Central and South Asia to struggle along on the cheap. Afghanistan defeated the British Empire in its heyday twice, and is not an enterprise that can be accomplished without significant resources. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Monday’s riots in Kabul, in which altogether 14 died and over 100 were wounded and during which thousands thronged the streets chanting “Death to America”, also produced violent attacks and gunfire throughout the city, with hotel windows being sprayed with machine gun fire. The protests were sparked by a traffic accident. But they have other roots.
The US military presence in Afghanistan has quietly been pumped up from 19,000 to 23,000 troops.
A fresh US airstrike in Helmand killed some 50 Afghans on Monday Over 400 Afghans have been killed by US bombing and military actions in only the past two weeks. While most of these are Pushtun nativist guerrillas (coded by the US as “Taliban”), some have demonstrably been innocent civilians. (Taliban are, properly speaking, mostly Afghan orphans and displaced youths who got their education in neo-Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan and were backed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. It is not clear that those now fighting the US in southern Afghanistan are actually in the main Taliban in this technical sense.)
Whoever they are, the Pushtun guerrillas have been waging a very effective terror campaign in the countryside around Qandahar, and have launched a fierce series of spring offensives. They wounded 5 Canadian troops on Monday, something US mass media anchors somehow have trouble getting past their lips. (Another 5 had been wounded last week, and several Canadian and French troops have been killed, not to mention US troops.)
A recent US airstrike that killed 16 children, women and noncombatant men provoked an enormous outcry in Afghanistan, and sparked President Hamid Karzai to begin a presidential inquiry into it.
While most anti-US actions in Afghanistan come from the Pushtun ethnic group, these Kabul protests, which paralyzed the capital and resulted in the imposition of a curfew, heavily involved Tajiks. Kabul is a largely Tajik city, and the Tajiks mostly hated the Taliban with a passion, and many high officials in the Karzai government have been Tajik. So they haven’t been as upset with the US invasion and presence as have been many Pushtuns, especially those Pushtuns who either supported the Taliban or just can’t abide foreign troops in their country (who have moreover installed the Tajiks in power . . .) The demonstrators Monday carried posters of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance who had played a major role in expelling Soviet troops in the late 1980s and then fought the Taliban tenaciously before being assassinated shortly before September 11, 2001. Significant numbers of Tajiks are clearly now turning against the US, and that is a very bad sign indeed. Al-Hayat’s Jamal Ismail in Islamabad suggests that some of the Tajik discontent derives from the way Karzai has eased out Northern Alliance Tajik leaders such as Marshal Muhammad Fahim and former cabinet minister Yunus Qanuni, reducing Tajik dominance of the government in the name of ethnic diversity (and of mitigating Pushtun anger over the imbalance). There have also been attempts to limit the Tajik presence in the new Afghan Army, which is some 60,000 strong (some sources say 80,000). The CIA factbook says that Pushtuns are 42 % of the population and Tajiks 27 %. Pushtuns have usually supplied the top rulers.
Despite Bush administration pledges to reconstruct the country, only six percent of Afghans have access to electricity. Less than 20 percent have access to clean water. Although the gross domestic product has grown by 80 percent since the nadir of 2001, and may be $7 billion next year, most of that increase comes from the drug trade or from foreign assistance. (Some of the increase also comes from the end of a decade-long drought in the late 90s and early 00s, which had reduced the country’s arable land by 50 percent. The coming of the rains again is good luck but nothing to do with policy). About half the economy of Afghanistan is generated by the poppy crop, which becomes opium and then heroin in Europe. Afghanistan produces 87 percent of the world’s opium and heroin, and no other country comes close in its dedication of agricultural land to drug production (over 200,000 hectares).
The government lives on international welfare. Some 92 percent of Afghan government expenditures come from foreign assistance. The Afghan government is worse at collecting taxes than fourth world countries in subsaharan Africa. Unemployment remains at 35 percent. Unemployment is estimated to have been 25 percent in the US during the Great Depression.
The great danger is renewed Muslim radicalism and the reemergence of al-Qaeda, combined with a narco-terrorism that could make Colombia’s FARC look like minor players.