In a recent debate, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama laid out their respective plans to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. When I heard Obama say that, in addition to sending two to three more U.S. military brigades, he would deal with the poppy trade and pressure the Karzai government to “work for his people,” I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
While both candidates squabble over the precise tactics to use in dealing with Afghanistan, there does appear to be a growing consensus in the political establishment that Afghanistan is “the good war.” However, when the U.S. occupies another country, to borrow a phrase from William Blum, “goodness has nothing to do with it.”
The Taliban, driven from power in 2001, now control 20 districts in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. They bring with them that especially draconian brand of Taliban tyranny the American people were introduced to in the build up to the U.S. invasion. Women are once again terrorized and forced to the margins of society — forbidden, for instance, to visit male doctors while female doctors are driven from their profession. Ethnic minorities, such as Hazaris and Tajiks, are forced to remain in their homes or they are killed on sight. The Taliban recently invited the press to witness the public executions of two women accused of prostitution.
Despite the Taliban’s brutality, the combination of government neglect and corruption, multinational corporate theft and indiscriminate U.S. bombing has driven Afghanis into the ranks of the Taliban. A CIA assessment has described the Karzai regime, hand-picked by the U.S. after the invasion, as “hopelessly corrupt.” President Ahmed Karzai, one-time CIA stooge and top advisor to the oil-giant Unocal, presides over a government made up of the same fundamentalist warlords that tore Afghanistan apart during the ’80s and early ’90s. His brother Ahmed Wali Karzai has been linked with the same drug trade that Obama seeks to “deal with.”
On top of the lack of real democracy, life is getting worse for the majority of Afghanis. Since early 2007, an additional 20,000 U.S. troops and private mercenaries have been deployed. Over the same period, civilian casualties have outnumbered the last four years combined. Unemployment in Afghanistan still stands between 40 and 80 percent. Forty-five percent of the population is unable to buy enough food to live. Of the $100 million the U.S. spends on the war every day, only 5 cents of each dollar goes toward aid, whereas over 40 percent returns to the donor countries in the form of profits and corporate salaries.
The U.S. occupation and its puppet government are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. According to Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who commanded coalition forces form 2003-05, “What appears to be a fairly common Afghan public perception of corruption inside their government is a tremendously corrosive element working against establishing long-term confidence in that government . . . That could be problematic strategically for the United States.”
“Problematic,” he says, “for the United States.”
In response, an alternative strategy for the occupation is beginning to coalesce, one that includes opening up talks with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia has already played host to negotiations between the Taliban and Karzai. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that the U.S. must ultimately negotiate with the Taliban in order to leave.
If the U.S. were to accept some form of Taliban rule, it would not be the first time. In 1997, when the U.S. was negotiating with the Taliban for a gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean, one U.S. diplomat stated, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the oil consortium], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.”
Whether the U.S. decides to “surge” in Afghanistan or break a deal with part of the Taliban, neither option will benefit the Afghani people. Last year’s troop increase in Afghanistan merely gave the Taliban more targets, and violence rose 50 percent. Bringing in a neo-Taliban “acceptable dictator” would have predictable results. However, the U.S. is less concerned with the welfare of Afghanis than with having an outpost in central Asia, close to both the Caspian Sea and a newly aggressive Russia. If Afghanistan ever achieves real freedom, it will come by the struggle of its own people, at the expense of America’s imperial project.
Ben Ratliffe ([email protected]) is a member of the UW campus chapter of the International Socialist Organization.