In his important new book Freedom Next Time, dealing with "empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom," John Pilger has a chapter on Afghanistan. In it he says that "Through all the humanitarian crises in living memory, no country has been abused and suffered more, and none has been helped less than Afghanistan." He goes on to describe what he sees as something more like a moonscape than a functioning nation. In the capitol, Kabul, there are "contours of rubble rather than streets, where people live in collapsed buildings, like earthquake victims waiting for rescue....(with) no light or heat." It seems like it's always been that way for these beleaguered people who've had a long history of conflict and suffering with little relief. In the 19th century, the Afghan people were victimized by the "Great Game" struggle pitting the British empire against Tsarist Russia for control of that part of the world. More recently in the 1980s, it paid dearly again when a US recruited mujahideen guerrilla army battled against a Soviet occupation. It forced the occupiers out but at the cost of a ravaged country and one forced to endure still more suffering and destruction from the brutal civil war in the 1990s that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Then came 9/11, the US attack, invasion, occupation and further devastation that's ongoing with no end in sight and now intensifying in ferocity.
In his book, Pilger explains that Afghanistan today is what the CIA once called Vietnam - "the grand illusion of the American cause." There's no assured safety even in most parts of the capitol now where for a brief time after the US invasion the people of Kabul enjoyed a degree of freedom long denied them by the Taliban. Now there's neither freedom nor safety almost anywhere in the country as the brutal regional "warlords" rule most parts of it, and the Taliban have begun a resurgence reigniting the conflict that for a time subsided. Today the nation is once again a war zone and narco-state with the "warlords" and drug kingpins controlling everything outside the capitol and the Taliban gaining strength and fighting back in the south trying to regain what they lost. In Kabul itself, the country's selected and nominal president Hamid Karzai (a former CIA asset and chief consultant to US oil giant UNOCAL) is a caricature of a man and willing US stooge who functions as little more than the mayor of the city. Outside the capitol he has no mandate or support and wouldn't last a day on his own without the round the clock protection afforded him by the US military and the private contractor DynCorp.
When they ruled most of the country in the 1990s, the Taliban at least kept order and wouldn't tolerate banditry, rape or murder, despite their ultra-puritanical ways and harsh treatment of the disobedient. They also virtually ended opium production. Now all that's changed. The US - British invasion in 2001 ended the ban on opium production, allowed the "warlords" to replant as much of it as they wanted, and the result according to a report released by the UN is that cultivation of this crop is spiraling out of control. Antonio Maria Costa, the UN anti-drug chief, said this year's opium harvest will be a record 6,100 tons (enough to make 610 tons of heroin) or 92% of the total world supply and 30% more than the amount consumed globally. Costa went much further in his comments saying southern Afghanistan "display(s) the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse, with large-scale drug cultivation and trafficking, insurgency and terrorism, crime and corruption (because) opium cultivation is out of control." He directed his comments at President Karzai for not acting forcefully to deal with the problem saying provincial governors and police chiefs should be sacked and held to account. He also accused government administrators of corruption.
Why the US Attacked and Invaded Afghanistan
The now famous (or infamous) leaked Downing Street (or smoking-gun) memo on the secret July, 2002 UK Labor government meeting discussed how the Bush administration "wanted to remove Saddam, through military action (and) had no patience with the UN route. (So to justify it) the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." It doesn't get much clearer than that, and the high UK official (Richard Dearlove, head of British intelligence MI6) had to know as he sat in on the high-level secret meetings in Washington at which the plan was discussed. So to help out in serious damage-control, the US corporate media, in its customary empire-supportive role, either called the document a fake or ignored it altogether. It was no fake, and as such, got front page coverage in the European press after the Rupert Murdoch-owned London Sunday Times broke the story in their online edition on May 1, 2005.
Early on the US was very willing to work with the Taliban believing their authoritarian rule would bring stability to the country without which any plan would be in jeopardy. Their religious extremism, harsh treatment of women and the disobedient, and overall human rights abuses were of no concern and never are anywhere else despite the pious rhetoric from Washington to the contrary. It was only in 1999 when the Taliban failed to stabilize the areas they controlled and negotiations broke down trying to convince them to bow to US interests that official policy changed and the decision was made to remove them. Initially the plan to do it was to be a joint US - Russia operation, and at the time, meetings were held between US officials and those from Russia and India to discuss what kind of government should be installed. The US needs stability in Afghanistan and control of the country for the oil and gas pipelines it wants built from the landlocked Caspian Basin to warm water ports in the south. It wants them gotten there through Pakistan and Afghanistan as the prime transhipment route to avoid having them cross Russia or Iran.
September 11, 2001 provided the US with the pretext it needed to begin the war it intended to wage using whatever reason it decided to pick to justify it. It began a scant four weeks later on October 7 as a joint US - British intensive aerial assault against a country unable to put up any kind of defense against it. It then ended a second scant 5 weeks after that on November 12 when the Taliban fled from Kabul allowing the Northern Alliance forces the US had recruited to replace them to enter the city the following day.
The intense but brief conflict came at an enormous cost to the Afghan people already devastated by the effects of almost endless war and internal turmoil for over two decades. It displaced as many as about six million or more people fleeing to neighboring countries or becoming internally displaced persons and being categorized as IDPs. About half to two-thirds of those refugees have now returned home but most are unable to find much relief from where they'd been. Refugees International interviewed returnees to Kabul in 2002, where conditions are much more stable than elsewhere, and learned that while people were happy to be back they found conditions there to be terrible - no shelter, no schools, no work, no medical care, no security, and for many little or no food.
Things are no better today, and according to UK-based Christian Aid are likely to become worse. It recently assessed conditions in 66 villages in the west and northwest of the country and learned millions of Afghans face hunger because because draught caused complete crop failures in the worst hit areas. It reported people are already going hungry and without considerable aid famine is a real possibility. Things are all the harder because the internal conflict resumed beginning with the resurgent Taliban (discussed below) that began slowly in late 2002, grew significantly by mid-2003 and has been building in intensity since.
It all began with the US-led attack on Afghanistan that from the start took a great toll in injuries and deaths, mostly affecting innocent civilians. Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire estimated between 3,100 - 3,600 deaths resulted from the 5 week conflict or as many as over 600 more than those killed on 9/11 in the US which was the pretext used to go to war. Herold continues estimating deaths and injuries to Afghans and occupying forces since and believes as of July, 2004 about 12,000 Afghan troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict and about 32,000 seriously injured. As things have intensified since, those numbers increase daily and are now considerably higher but it's not known to what level. And what's not included in any of the estimates is the many unknown number of thousands who've died since October, 2001 from the crushing poverty causing starvation and disease.
US "Liberation" Brought No Relief
For a brief time after mid-November, 2001, the Afghan people were free from the repression forced on them under Taliban rule, but what replaced them was no improvement nor did the US "liberator" intend it to be. The US-installed so-called Northern Alliance is terminology used to identify the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan that prior to October 7, 2001 controlled less than one-third of the country. They never were in the past or were they to be now the "salvation" of anything but their own self-interest. The Alliance is comprised of about five dominant mujahideen factions each led by a thugish "warlord" ruling over a band of murderers, brutes and rapists whose criminal acts Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned.
As a result, the brief respite from conflict the Afghan people enjoyed was short-lived under their new rulers. With them back in charge in the regions their respective "warlords" controlled, murder, rape and mayhem became common again as it was under their previous rule that gave rise to the Taliban in the first place. So while the Taliban initially faded away after mid-November, 2001, defenseless against the US-led onslaught against them, growing anger and discontent with the present rule has allowed them to regroup and begin a campaign of resurgence. That campaign is gaining strength and looking more all the time like it may turn Afghanistan into a Central Asian version of the conflict in Iraq that cooler civilian heads in Washington and at the Pentagon know is out of control, a lost cause and only will end when the occupation does under a future US administration. The Bush administration, that's usually wrong but never in doubt, makes it clear it will "stay the course" and not "cut and run."