BILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION FOR AFGHANIS


Some days ago, the interim Afghan leader, an Uncle Tom figure called Hamid Karzai, was flown first class to Washington, to formally thank US President George `Dubya’ Bush for blowing the cities and towns of his country to pieces.

 

Karzai not merely expressed his gratitude for the slaughter, he urged Dubya to press on with and intensify, his campaign against the remains of the Taliban. He also asked for the $5 billion which the concerned West has earmarked for the reconstruction of a country ravaged by decades of war.

 

Bush has billed the first war of his presidency as a battle between civilisation and terrorism. But does he really know who his friends and enemies are? Who will get the $5 billion? Will there be any democracy in the new Afghanistan? And will Afghan women even be allowed to wear ordinary clothes and to go out to work? So far the omens are not good.

 

A Guardian journalist called James Meek spent several days recently in the company of one of the so-called warlords who have been installed in power through force of US bombing.

 

`General’ Abdul Basir, 35, hails from the Salang Valley but now controls the western part of the Afghan capital, Kabul. He told Meek he had inherited 200 warehouses full of weaponry from the fleeing Taliban, a boast which was impossible to verify.

 

Basir proved a generous host, ordering mutton soup to be served to the visiting foreign journalist as he sat in his front garden on a sofa parked rather incongruously between two elderly Russian T-54 tanks. He evinced no political ideas whatsoever, merely indicating that he would “go back to the Salang” if he was adequately compensated.

 

He boasted to Meek that he had led a student uprising against the Russian occupiers during his tenth year at an elite lycee (secondary school) in Kabul, and that he favoured high standards of public education and good social services.

 

Meek noticed during his period with Basir that he always directed his subordinates to sign off important documents, asking his personal assistant to relate the contents of any pressing missives to him. Later the journalist was told by his interpreter that the `warlord’ was wholly illiterate, unable even to sign his own name in writing. The story about the student revolt in the lyce was a total fabrication: Basir had never spent a day in school.

 

Rather, he had helped the Islamic fundamentalists (the mujahedin who had preceded the Taliban) to burn down schools and execute teachers during the Russian occupation, when “forced literacy” programmes were associated with the Soviet oppressors.

 

It is into the hands of such men that George `Dubya’ Bush now consigns the West’s $5 billion and the future of Afghanistan.

 

It is not as if there are no alternatives. The Afghan writer and political commentator Hassam Ibrahim has recently been asking the US administration why it has made no attempt at all to enlist the support of Afghanistan‘s liberal democratic opposition in re-building the shattered country.

 

Many bourgeois liberals, of course, have fled the country, afraid of both the Russians and the so-called Holy Fighters. Now they are afraid of the drug-dealing “warlords” of the Northern Alliance.

 

Part of the Allies’ deal with the “warlords” appears to be that bourgeois liberals and socialists will not be allowed to play any role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

 

Despite all the rhetoric in the western press about the oppression of Afghan women by the Taliban, no political guarantees to the women of Afghanistan were written into the accords hammered out during the crucial reconstruction talks in Germany. Some paper conditions about women’s rights were attached to the aid approved at the recent donors’ conference in Tokyo, which approved the $5 billion package.

 

The same expediency which led the West to turn a blind eye to the Taliban’s slaughter of 30,000 Shi’ite Muslims at Bamyan in 1998, now dictates that it should look the other way, as the so-called moderate Taliban and Northern Alliance cronies drive democrats and left wingers from all areas of public life.

 

The disregard for democratic values which Bush has shown in ceding power to the “warlords” is mirrored in his treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, where the techniques of “sensory deprivation” being applied have reached new heights. The ostensible purpose of the inhuman and degrading treatment is to facilitate the better interrogation of human beings who are officially described as “terrorists” and “the lowest of the low”.

 

Yet Bush knows that he will get little, if any, information of real value from these battlefield detainees, many of whom are illiterate and know nothing of America, Europe or the West or of the inner workings of al-Qaeda. The real purpose of the degradation may simply be to terrorise any potential al-Qaeda recruits from joining organisations which might launch attacks similar to those of September 11 on the United States.

 

If Dubya really does want to gather some top class intelligence on Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda, he should perhaps consider applying his sensory deprivation techniques to his newly acquired Pakistani ally General Pervez Musharraf (a military dictator), and the officers of his secretive intelligence service, the Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

 

The ISI, with American backing, was up to its neck in Afghan politics, promoting Bin Laden’s political fortunes, directly before September 11. Indeed, an officer of the ISI called General Mahmoud Ahmad has recently been removed from office because of allegations (in The Times of India) that he had instructed one of his overseas agents to wire $100,000 to the leader of the September 11 highjackers Mohammed Atta in the days prior to the attack on the World Trade Center.

 

But that, as they say, is history. And Bush’s chum Musharraff has no interest in the democratic process, in women’s rights, or even in the principles of bourgeois political economy. What he does desire is substantial foreign bank credits, debt write-offs and a lifting of all trade sanctions. And that is what he has received from the Bush administration.

 

Meanwhile, back in Kabul, the cowed liberal classes must be wondering how Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance will apply the $5 billion aid package. The Taliban’s total budget for government spending last year was a paltry $82 million, of which some $14 million went on the cost of the madrassas (Taliban seminaries).

 

The regime spent three times as much on the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice as it did on health. The current rulers of Kabul may share much of the thinking of their Taliban predecessors. Last week in Kabul, women were still wearing the burqa, not merely to cover their faces and bodies, but to cover their clothing as well. Bizarrely, in the period since the fall of Sheikh Omar, they have been allowed to purchase western shoes. But that is all.

 

Thirty five years ago, women (in certain cities) had the vote and could work. There was a university in Kabul. There were theatres, publishing houses and even music halls in Herat and Kabul. That was then, but this is now: shortly after the victorious war in defense of civilization.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment