Afghanistan: Protests against U.S. airstrikes and home evictions
14 July 2008. A World to Win News Service. Two notable protests against the occupiers and the Afghan authorities were reported in June. The security forces confronted them brutally, leaving at least one dead and dozens injured.
On 14 June, according to the BBC Persian service, thousands of residents of the south-eastern province of Paktia demonstrated against attacks on civilians by Afghan and foreign forces. Witnesses said that the protests continued for three days. BBC reported that at least 18 members of an extended family had been killed in an air strike. One protester also said that 11 members of another family were killed during a previous air attack in Zarmat district in Paktia province, in central-eastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan. The districts of Zarmat and Mateh Khan were targeted for three consecutive nights. The bombardment was so heavy that people had to leave the bodies of their many loved ones untouched for several days.
During the protests, outraged people chanted slogans against the invaders and warned the government and the occupiers that if this situation continues, they will react and then nothing can prevent them from rising up and taking revenge. Although the demonstrations started peacefully, they turned bloody when the police fired on the protesters, killing at least one and wounding 12 more.
One of the worst massacres of civilians came on 6 July in eastern Nangarhar province 6 July, after these protests. The U.S-led coalition denied initial reports that it had bombed a wedding party and insisted that all of the dead were "militants". BBC reporter Alastair Leithead reached the village a week later. According to his report filed 14 July, villagers from one valley were crossing a mountain pass to reach the adjacent valley for a wedding. In three consecutive bombing runs, an American jet hit first a group of children, then a group of women, and then a group of three girls, including the bride, who had escaped the second bombing. Of the approximately 52 people killed, almost all were women and children who were escorting the bride.
It is especially infuriating that American authorities tried to defend their action by claiming that it is a typical Taleban tactic to claim that their troop concentrations hit by U.S. airstrikes were really just wedding parties, since a similar incident – marked by similar American lies – took place in nearby Nouristan two days earlier, killing 17 people at a wedding. In fact, American aerial attacks on wedding parties have been a hallmark of the current occupation, just as they were during the Soviet occupation, since the invaders consider any large gathering of Afghans inherently hostile.
According to official sources, out of the 8,000 conflict-related deaths in last year, some 1,500 were civilians. However the real number is much higher since US and Nato and Afghan officials routinely count many of the civilian dead as Taleban insurgents or Taleban supporters. The Taleban and their allies have also killed many civilians, not hesitating to use murder themselves from early on and lately killing large numbers of civilians as they have increasingly adopted suicide-bombing tactics, their own version of America’s terrorist and indiscriminate "death from above".
Protests against the eviction of poor people and the destruction of homes
The occupiers "gifts" to the people of Afghanistan are not limited to war, bombing, missile and artillery attacks and the torture of prisoners. In fact, their air attacks enforce and ensure the misery of the people.
Another protest took place 12 June against the Herat municipal government’s plans to destroy the homes of the displaced and internal refugees living in the "Sheidaee" camp five kilometres from this north-western city on the border with Iran and Turkmenistan. People tried to prevent this destruction by all the means they had at hand. They closed the main road between Herat and neighbouring Badghis province to the northeast for a short time. It is reported that police fired at the demonstrators and that the protesters threw stones at the police. There were injuries on both sides. Thirteen people were admitted to the hospital, many with bullet wounds. The police claimed that some of the protesters had been armed. Police arrested eight people, later releasing three.
So much scandal was raised about the demolition of the homes of poor families who have been victimized by the war that even Herat mayor Mohammad Rafigh Mojadadi had to claim that what he had ordered destroyed were "illegally-built shops" and not homes. But western region police spokesman Abdol Raoof Ahmadi contradicted him with his own defence of the demolition, saying that the people had been building homes on state-owned land despite repeated warnings.
Over the last decade, about 30,000 people have settled in the Sheidaee camp near Herat. Many have had to flee provinces such as Badghis and Faryab to the northeast due to the growing insecurity, drought and famine; others were forced out of their homes by the local authorities. Living conditions in this camp are horrible. Over the past few years there has been talk of distributing nearby land to these refuges so that they could build simple homes for themselves. However, that never materialized. Now the municipality, with the help of the police, is trying to demolish the makeshift shelters made of sun-dried mud that people are living in. The authorities have tried to convince or indirectly force people to leave the area and go back to their home provinces. But the security problems and difficult conditions there, and the fact that many people have nothing left in their original region, have caused many to resist eviction, even if it means continuing to live in inhuman conditions.
In fact, the most important reason these poor people cannot go back to their original homes is that their land has been appropriated by old or new powerful people. They have nothing left to go back to. Now they face being driven out again because the land where the refugee camp is located has become valuable as well, which explains why the municipality and the police are so eager to evict poor people.
Land-grabbing, especially in the big cities, is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. It started five or six years ago, not long after the U.S.-led invasion. With the return of many expatriates and the flood of various imperialist advisors, on the one hand, and a shortage of housing and land parcels on the other, prices sky-rocketed. So land grabbing and investing in property have become a popular way to get rich among powerful figures with government connections. Any house or lot that is vacant for any reason (such as the death, imprisonment or flight of the owner) is considered potential booty to be grabbed. If the original occupants come back, there is little they can do to reclaim their homes. General Ghassim Fahim, former defence minister in the Hamid Karzai government and a powerful warlord member of the Jamiat-e- Islami jihadi organisation (the main organisation in the Northern Alliance of warlords who supported the U.S.-led invasion), is reportedly involved in the land grabbing. Recently Ali Ahmad Jalali, who claimed to be "fighting corruption" while he was interior minister, was accused of involvement in a corruption scandal involving the appropriation of land for construction in Kabul. If some men are getting into trouble for land grabbing, it’s because other, more powerful men are grabbing too.
So when Abdol Raoof Ahmadi, the police spokesman, says that poor people must be evicted from where they have built their shelter because the land is "owned by the state", he is actually partially revealing the nature of the Afghan state itself.
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Karzai: Dirty deals are "absolutely necessary" for the stability of Afghanistan
14 July 2008. A World to Win News Service.
Spiegel: "Dirty deals are still necessary for the stability of Afghanistan?"
Karzai: "Absolutely necessary, because we lack the power to solve these problems in other ways. What do you want? War? Let me give you an example. We wanted to arrest a really terrible warlord, but we couldn't do it because he is being protected by a particular country. We found out that he was being paid $30,000 a month to stay on his good side. They even used his soldiers as guards. "
This is what Hamid Karzai, the president of the puppet regime of Afghanistan, says about the country today in an interview by Susanne Koelbl and Ullrich Fichtner in the German magazine Der Spiegel (l 6 June). He also talks about some of the ills besetting the country: war, corruption, drugs and the brutal local commanders who are the U.S.'s allies. But he fails to address the most important feature of today's Afghanistan – the brutality and murder inflicted on the people by both the imperialist occupiers and the Islamic fundamentalists, and the poverty and misery of the people who are increasingly losing patience with all the reactionaries.
In this interview, Karzai does express a slightly critical attitude toward some of the occupying powers, although he doesn't name them here. On other occasions recently he criticized the U.S. for its "heavy-handed" air attacks on civilians, and the UK for carrying out its own direct negotiations with Taleban and other warlords in southern Helmand province, as well as Germany and France for trying to keep their troops away from combat zones. But when it comes to the full extent of the occupiers' crimes against the people he claims to represent, he is far less critical than even the highly official and conservative International Committee of the Red Cross, which denounced the killing or wounding of at least 250 civilians in the first weeks of July. But the so-called president of Afghanistan doesn't mention this subject in the Spiegel interview. Instead he seeks to protect the interests of a section of the Afghan ruling class that the occupiers have selected to play a role in running the country on their behalf.
Yet while Karzai lies and distorts reality, and sometimes contradicts himself, and tries to make his replies as brief as possible so as to avoid making a mess and infuriating the occupiers, still he gives the careful reader a glimpse of the major crisis that the reactionaries are confronting and the sort of plans they are hatching. What Karzai says might not be new for people familiar with this country that has been occupied on and off and suffered at the hands of religious fundamentalists for the last 30 years. But some of what comes out of his mouth reveals the extent of the crisis for the imperialists and their hypocrisy.
It is no secret to anyone even slightly familiar with today's Afghanistan that some of Karzai's closest aides and highest ranking officials, among them cabinet members, governors and police chiefs, are suspected of stealing land, drug smuggling and keeping their own informal militias.
When Spiegel asks Karzai about this, he expresses his disagreement with these assertions but does not answer the question about corruption in his own inner circle. He adds, however: "I know about the problems with the police. The international community finally agreed, after two years of very intense and angry negotiations, that the police are a problem and in the middle of 2007 they began to work with us. The checkpoints on the roads, for example, were developed during the years of the Soviet invasion, a time when the country became lawless and each local commander set up his own checkpoint to collect money." In other words, these problems are just a legacy of the Russians that he happened to inherit and can't be blamed for.
The Spiegel interviewers remind him that these checkpoints did not exist during the time of the Taleban. Then Karzai takes the opportunity not only to change the subject but also to praise the Taleban. "That was the best aspect of the Taleban. They did a lot wrong, but they also did a few things right. I wish I had the Taleban as my soldiers." This is a message – one of many –from Karzai to the Taleban, calling them to join his government. He is right about the basic similarities between the Taleban and himself. Both came to power with the help of the imperialists, and both serve the same class forces in Afghanistan, although there are also differences, most importantly that the Taleban are now linked to a wider jihad, politically and ideologically, against the U.S., while Karzai is America's local boy. Since the occupiers are meeting difficulties in Afghanistan, they are looking for a way out, including possibly integrating at least part of the Taleban into the ruling power structure. This has been a contentious issue among the different reactionary and occupier forces involved in Afghanistan. As the Taleban’s power increases, so does the tension among them.
But corruption and chaos in various spheres of Afghan life is so widespread and, now, notorious, that it's not so easy just to sweep any reference to it aside. Both the Spiegel interviewer and Karzai himself have to return to the issue repeatedly.
Afghanistan was invaded and occupied under the pretext of false promises – to liberate the people and particularly women from religious fundamentalist rule, bring peace, relieve poverty, and allow the return from exile of millions of Afghans who sought refuge in neighbouring countries and around the world. The occupation's failure to make good on any of these promises is obvious not only to the Afghan people themselves, who are going through one of the most difficult periods of their lives, and to Afghan and international observers who follow the developments closely, but is even openly stated by many high-ranking Nato and other current and former occupation officials.
This is directly associated with a spectacular upsurge in Taleban actions, now at their highest point by far since their defeat during the invasion. In 2007, the Taleban mounted four times as many operations as in 2005, according to an article by the International Crisis Group ("Strategic Chaos and Taleban Resurgence in Afghanistan", by Mark L. Schneider). The number of operations this year is even higher, and includes many successful advances. For instance, 800 prisoners, about half of them Taleban fighters, escaped from a prison in the southern city of Kandahar in June. A few days later, it was reported that the Taleban had taken control of 18 villages west of the Argandab River near the city of Kandahar. Trying to put the best face on this disaster, provincial governor Asadullah Khaled could only say, "At least the Taleban are not in Argandab." The Taleban scored their biggest military victory against the U.S. since the invasion on 14 July, when they attacked and stormed into an American outpost in the north-eastern province of Kunar, killing nine soldiers and wounding 19.
Many international observers admit that a major reason for the Taleban resurgence is not so much that people like them but that they are increasingly disappointed with the occupiers and the puppet regime. They are disappointed because the corruption is so high and has seeped into every corner of the government. Karzai himself, in the interview, cannot help but recognize why he and his government are the object of so much popular hate, although he tries to present the case as if he had no other choice.
After his remarkable admission that he considers "dirty deals" "absolutely necessary" and that that his government doesn’t dare arrest this "really terrible warlord", Karzai goes on to say, "I don't want to name the country, because that would hurt a close friend and ally. [Spiegel comments that he might be referring to the jihadi commander Nasir Mohammed in north-eastern Badazkhshan province bordering Tadjikistan, where German soldiers are based.] But there are also many other countries who contract Afghan militias and their leaders."
Karzai wants to say that the lack of police and military forces to control the country makes it "absolutely" necessary to deal with the jihadi commanders. But he forgot that there are about 63,000 foreign soldiers and tens of thousands more under the command of the so-called national army trained by the U.S., and yet they cannot control the country either. At this point the Taleban are said to have gained control of as much as a third of the country. True, to achieve this they have used the same utmost brutality against the people they employed when they ran the whole country, but the foreign forces are no less brutal and are equipped with the most sophisticated arms and equipment.
A little later Karzai says, "Some members of the international community are strongly connected to corrupt elements and use them as their sources. Let me tell you about another case: One of our allies in the coalition gave a commander in another part of the country land and money in return for his loyalty. Should I bring him to trial? Should I bring Mr Jalali to trial?" Ali Ahmad Jalali is Karzai's former interior minister who claimed to "possess a list of high-level drug lords and smugglers, and a number of well-known figures in the establishment." The list included of Karzai advisors and cabinet members. Jalali was accused of corruption in the appropriation of land for construction in Kabul.
Karzai claims to be frustrated by corruption and is somewhat free with his exposures of some of its sources among the occupying powers and rival factions within his regime, but he denies the corruption of his close allies and relatives. He defends his brothers, who have suddenly become among the country's most powerful people in business and politics. The most controversial of them is Ahamd Vali Karzai, who has been accused of involvement in drug trafficking. Karzai call this "a lot of rubbish". Spiegel responds by asking Karzai the following: "The south is the hub of drug smuggling. Is it possible that Ahmad Wali Karzai, one of the most influential politicians in Kandahar, who leads the provincial council, doesn't have the slightest idea what is going on or has nothing to do with it?" Karzai unhesitatingly replies, "It is very much possible," but adds, "The lion's share of the money goes to the international mafia and not to Afghans." Here it is not clear how Karzai knows this, and what exactly he is complaining about.
In less than seven years, Afghanistan has become the source of almost all of the world's opium, from which heroin is made. The women of Afghanistan were not liberated, the Islamic fundamentalists were not defeated but became stronger, the homelessness of millions was not solved, but under the occupation and its Karzai regime Afghanistan did succeed at one thing: "produc[ing] 93 percent of the world's opium, on 193,000 hectares with a potential production of 8,200 metric tons". (UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2007 report, cited by the ICG)
According to the same source, "In its survey, the UN found that 100 percent of the poppy farmers in the southern region reported being forced to pay taxes on the opium to various groups." These armed groups include the Taleban, local commanders allied with Karzai, the U.S. and other occupying powers – they all collect these taxes. In some places this takes the form of bribing inspectors, in others, both tax and bribes. According to the UN report, drug laboratories in Afghanistan produce at least $4 billion worth of refined narcotics (opium and heroin), equivalent to half of the country's GNP. Thus today, Afghanistan's two main sources of income, by far, are drugs and foreign aid. This is what its economy relies on, and how Afghanistan is integrated into the world capitalist economy.
The new ruling bureaucrat capitalist class that is supposed to run the country for the West under foreign guns now, and perhaps on its own at some point in the future, has no other major source of income. The country's peasants are shackled to the international crime syndicates and these Afghan reactionaries who enrich themselves from their labour. Whatever specific information about individuals he may or may not possess, Karzai is totally aware of this situation in general. And of course the U.S. and other occupying powers know all about it as well. This kind of economy and corruption inevitably go together, and the imperialist occupiers deliberately turn a blind eye on that, since this situation suits their interests and plans.
What is behind the corruption, drugs and war that are the main factors keeping Afghanistan unstable? The foreign occupation. "Dirty deals" are an essential and inevitable part of the country's subjugation by imperialist militaries, an imperialist-imposed regime and the imperialist world market. Despite their pretences, the imperialists have no interests in changing this basic situation. War, instability and the "dirty deals" that are their inevitable product have been the main features of the country over the last two centuries of foreign occupation and they will not end until the imperialists are driven out by the power of people and not by other imperialists or reactionary forces.
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