Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington, DC was overshadowed by a controversy over another US airstrike gone astray in Farah Province south of Herat, which left at least 30 civilians dead, (and some say over 100). Angry villagers from Bala Baluk brought truckloads of bodies, most of them women and children, to Farah’s provincial capital. If confirmed, the mistaken bombardment would be the worst since last summer’s attack on the village of Azizabad, also in western Afghanistan.
The major battle had broken out on Monday after the Taliban in the province, which is north of troubled Helmand, murdered three former government employees, saying that they were collaborators. Afghan government troops converged on Taliban positions and battles on Tuesday produced as many as 30 deaths among the guerrillas. The US was called in to provide close air support to the Afghan army. It was at that point that things went awry at Bala Baluk, with a mistaken strike on civilians.
In his remarks in Washington, Karzai underlined the threat to Afghanistan counter-insurgency efforts of the Taliban safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
Since the Taliban resurgence has been occurring for some years, and its origins lie in a period before the situation in the northwest of Pakistan became acute, Karzai’s emphasis is suspicious. The fact is that his government has left its Pushtun villagers feeling poorly taken care of.
Karzai also defended his choice of warlord Muhammad Faheem as his running mate, pointing to the latter’s services to the nation as a freedom fighter in the 1980s struggle against the Soviet occupation. Faheem is a Tajik and a hard liner on security (an understatement), and Karzai (a Pushtun from a small tribe) apparently feels he would shore up support for his ticket in the Dari Persian-speaking areas. (Karzai has no serious political opposition from a Pushtun, so under this scenario, Karzai would likely win).
In another controversy likely to affect the relationship of Afghans with the US military,
Aljazeera English has broadcast footage of US military personnel conspiring to distribute Bibles in Persian and Pushtu and engage in proselytizing of Afghan Muslims.
The US military charged that the report took the footage out of context. A former Afghan prime minister called for an investigation into the US military’s proselytizing.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where Karzai located the threat to his government, Pakistani authorities made preparations for the contingency that military operations against militants in Swat will displace as many as half a million people. Yes, that will settle the situation down, all right.
Back in the US, Congress began showing signs of declining to sign off on an open-ended war in Afghanistan. This development may be most significant of all, since the Obama Administration seems to envisage being in Afghanistan a long time, and there are signs of public restiveness about this eventuality.
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