Killing Yet Another Hope

I had a chat with an American friend recently and he claimed .. “ It seems that the Afghans are not happy with anything given to them and continue to hope and fight for something else.” I thought I had to explain a few things looking at the recent past and how people continued to pay a very high price for hoping to live a decent life, while their hopes are continuously killed. A number of friends had also asked if I could write something on the issue, here is an attempt.

The old king was told to stay in Rome where he was on a vacation in 1972 – when hundreds of people were dying of hunger following one of the worst droughts in living memory, while his cousin declared himself the first president of the republic and put an end to a rotten system of cronyism, corruption and state supported feudal system. People rallied behind the new President Daud, thinking something might change in their lives for better, they were bitterly disappointed to get a dictator instead. Hope for a change was murdered in its infancy. Torture, killings and general harassment increased under the new president, political association was a crime punishable by death in the extreme cases or imprisonment. People cursed themselves for opposing the old king. The president, however, realised that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union was in the process of devouring Afghanistan, he began a number of reforms and planned to sever the de facto centre-periphery relationship with the Soviet Union. This triggered the Kremlin policy-makers to react decisively and as a result the President and his entire family were brutally murdered in a coup d’état in Spring 1978.

For the first time in the history of the region the masses saw individuals in seats of power not associated with one or another of the royal families. It was all rhetoric, big rallies calling for end to poverty, a classless society, equality by all means – income, gender …. and above all an end to the medieval feudal system. Ordinary people, once again, rallied behind the young “government of the masses”, as it was called then, thinking this time they were truly in power. All reforms proposed by the then government were accepted with lots of loud cheers all over the country. It seemed as if all the ills of the society, poverty, extreme patriarchy and the feudal system, would be shouted out of the country.

Things began to take a different turn, when the inexperienced, highly radical and few party members (the total number hardly made 1% of the population) saw enemy in everyone and everything. Thousands of people were imprisoned or killed – reasons could be anything from being rude to a party member to disobeying various state orders. The same people who weeks before rallied behind the “young government of the masses”, took up arms against the same government. The rebellion was not as organised as we are told, it was spontaneous all over the country against an extreme form of tyranny. Hope was once again murdered and people blamed themselves for hoping to change their miserable destiny and wished they hadn’t opposed the president.

All of a sudden the Afghans had friends all over the world, concerned about the atrocities in Afghanistan directed by the “evil Empire”. The Soviet Union launched a full scale invasion of Afghanistan with 150 000 troops. The rebellion intensified as a war of liberation, but our ‘friends’ outside the country made sure the rebellion had leadership in the form of Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Khalis, Sayaaf, and a few others. A war of liberation turned into a religious war and one particular ‘friend’ made sure ‘soldiers of God’ from all over the world participated in the war for God. I won’t talk about this further as details and the consequences are well known and alas this will take us somewhere completely different.

The Soviets withdrew in 1989 after a decade of mass murder – leaving nearly 2 million dead and another 2 maimed. Najibullah was left in power with huge stocks of arms. The rebels in 1992 finally toppled Najibullah with their power hungry leaders. Yet again people were happy that war was over and finally some peace again with a new government who could do something about their misery. The leaders scrambled for power, killing thousands of people and turning the capital city into a complete rubble. Torture, rape, kidnapping, robbery, killings and extortion became synonymous with the new masters. Hope was murdered once again and people wished President Najibullah was back in power.

The Taliban were brought to the scene, two old ‘friends’ were highly instrumental, Pakistan and the USA. The Taliban entered almost every city with flowers thrown at them and thousands of people there to greet them with rapturous cheers. Once in Kabul, and fully in power, the Taliban showed their true colour – Life became hell on earth, literally. Some of the atrocities are well documented and I don’t think we need to dwell on this. This time people could not think what was better for them, many were resigned to the hell unleashed in the form of Taliban, accepting it as a way of life. This time, however, their predecessors were not wished for.

Then came September 11, an unthankful friend/creation decided to bite the very hand that created him. All of a sudden the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda were the worst of the Frankenstein monsters the world had ever seen and they had to be destroyed. No one ever asked the Afghans how were they dying in the hands of the created monsters. Suddenly the old ally, Pakistan’s Musharraff and his army, overnight decided to abandon their function as the travel agent for Al-Qaeda and the only outlet for the Taliban regime with army generals and soldiers still fighting the Al-Qaeda war in Afghanistan and join the declared crusade against old friends turned enemy. Turning his back on old friends like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, what did Musharaff get in return? Well … he is no longer a dictator (not that anything has changed), he is ‘a man of peace’ (as much as Sharon is or may be that is a different class), he is a friend of the Empire, he gets unprecedented amounts of killing machines, killing thousands of people in tribal areas all in the name of ‘war on terror’. Musharraff hardly recovers from a hangover after an orgy of killing innocent people, he receives new machines to kill more efficiently, either in Kashmir or in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. He is then invited to the White House to be showered with praise and new titles.

The general public was told that the Taliban and Al Qaeda projects had gone terribly wrong for some reason and they had to be bombed out of power, as if people had any say in the process. The Taliban were indeed bombed out of power and they could certainly not put up any resistance as they had no power base among ordinary people – except in a few places in the South and South West of the country. Yet again, thousands of people were killed in the process of a project going badly wrong, the Empire once again whipped people into ‘enduring’ its designated ‘freedom’ – heavens forbid what could be in store. A taste of what could the Empire’s ‘enduring freedom’ mean are: bombing entire villages, night raids on villages in the middle of nowhere, arbitrary imprisonments in various secret US prisons in the Gulag called Afghanistan, torture, sodomising prisoners and death under extreme torture.

The Empire and its junior partners continued to talk of freedom, democracy, human rights with emphasis on women’s rights, development and a life away from misery. If one had to listen to Tony Blair’s or Bush’s passionate speeches, one was led to believe that all the soldiers and bombs dropped on Afghanistan were feminists, little agents of democracy and were all humanitarian in nature. The masses have indeed been ‘enduring’ the Empire’s designated ‘freedom’ over the last three and a half years expecting something might change for better. With no signs of improvement in the lives of ordinary people, the limits of endurance seem to have been reached and signs of frustration are manifest in various forms. People have began to ask some fundamental questions: 

  • When can there be an end to arbitrary raids, imprisonments, torture and killing of innocent people?
  • When can there be an end to military occupation and a life away from the shadow of a gun?
  • When can we have access to medical care, sanitation, clean water, food and education? · When can all the prisoners detained in hundreds of secret US prisons around Afghanistan and elsewhere be released? Or when can their families see them?
  • When can the bombed out villages, irrigation channels, bridges, roads, schools and clinics be rehabilitated?
  • When will there be an end to the rule of warlords? Most of them have allied themselves with the US army and, therefore, more powerful than ever before.

The recent surge in violence and demonstrations have been a mere manifestation of patience running out. Karzai finally took note of these grievances, only after it was revealed by the Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports, not when continuously reported by victims of torture and the Afghan Human Rights Commission as well as the UN. Before taking his case to the emperor, Karzai promised his people that medieval practices of torture, daily humiliation and extremes of misery will end. The emperor on the other hand could not possibly change his ways – peace, development and democracy could only be delivered through the barrel of a gun and the status quo had to continue.

So what did Karzai ask for when he got such an abrupt and categorical No in his face? Here is a short list:

  • Transfer prisoners from secret prisons to Afghan jails,
  • let Afghan security forces know when you bomb an entire village or valley for known or unknown reasons,
  • stop torturing prisoners, some of whom die under torture,
  • Stop raiding innocent people’s houses in the middle of night, and
  • Stop indiscriminate detention of innocent people.

Karzai would have probably found himself in Guantanamo Bay had he asked the emperor for a more humane treatment of people and targeting the root causes of violence, opium production and terror in general – extreme poverty. However, one thing is for sure – people are fed up with torture, the rule of gun, hunger and extreme poverty and Karzai knows this very well. The sad part of all this is that people no longer wish for anything, almost everything has already been tried. Will the only Empire witness the type of resistance the Soviets and before them the British did? It is hard not to expect the worst, and yet killing another hope.

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