President Bush brags about his success in Afghanistan, but events put the lie to such boasts.
Rioting sparked by an accident involving a U.S. military convoy claimed several lives in Kabul on May 29, “the bloodiest day in the capital since the fall of the Taliban,” reports The New York Times.
Although the spark for the disturbances was an incident in which an American truck killed five people, the underlying reasons were resentment at the American military’s past killings of civilians and the bad living conditions in the country.
Things have been going downhill in Afghanistan for the last many months, as Christian Parenti documents in the March 27 issue of The Nation.
“Taliban attacks are up; their tactics have become more aggressive and nihilistic,” he writes. “They have detonated at least twenty-three suicide bombs in the past six months, killing foreign and Afghan troops, a Canadian diplomat, local police and in some cases crowds of civilians. Kidnapping is on the rise. American contractors are being targeted. Some 200 schools have been burned or closed down.”
Part of the reason for the May 29 rioting is rage at the heavy-handed approach of the U.S. armed forces. Parenti documents in his piece the differing styles of the U.S. and the European forces in Afghanistan, with the Europeans’ community-policing tactics in contrast to the U.S. hard-edged approach.
The pitfalls of this approach were brought home again just recently, with the United States allegedly killing at least 35 civilians in an air strike a few days ago. It is incidents like these that are in some measure responsible for fueling the recent demonstrations against the U.S. forces.
But a good part of the anger is also due to the harsh living circumstances. Parenti shows the frustration that many Afghans feel. He describes the terribly bleak conditions in Ghor province, conditions so despairing that much of the forest cover has been denuded for the wood.
“At points on our patrol through the moonscape dotted with villages, I interview several local people,” Parenti writes. “All are brutally frank: It's been four years with no real change. They desperately want a better road so they can reach Herat to the west and Kabul to the east. Their sense of isolation borders on panic.”
But the United States is so distracted by the Iraq War that it is unwilling and unable to help, either economically or with the security situation.
Parenti talks to a USAID official about reconstruction. “USAID money for Afghanistan this year will be half what it was last
year, and because of Iraq and Katrina, everyone in Kabul is ‘pessimistic’ about the size of any midyear supplemental,” Parenti writes.
“In the face of Afghanistan's deepening troubles, the U.S. government is now slashing its funding for reconstruction from a peak of $1 billion in 2004 to a mere $615 million this year,” Parenti adds. “And thanks to the military's recruitment problems, the United States is drawing down its troops from 19,000 to 16,000. In short, despite Bush's feel-good rhetoric, the United States is giving every impression that it is slowly abandoning sideshow Afghanistan.”
The Bush Administration’s short attention span—refocused on Iraq—has thus been one of the main causes of Afghanistan’s difficulties.
Ahmed Rashid, author of a classic book on the Taliban, spells out the reasons for Afghanistan’s predicament in a recent BBC column. At the top of his list is the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan due to the Iraq mess.
“Washington's refusal to take state building in Afghanistan seriously after 2001 and instead waging a fruitless war in Iraq created a major international distraction which the Taliban took advantage of to slowly rebuild their forces,” Rashid writes. “US-led coalition forces were never deployed in southern Afghanistan in sufficient numbers, even though this was the Taliban heartland and needed to be secured.” Plus, bad security conditions—coupled with the West’s inattention—have devastated the economic situation in the country.
“The lack of security in the south meant that U.N. development agencies and western and Afghan aid organizations could not provide sufficient aid and reconstruction,” Rashid states. “Nor was there ever adequate funding by western donors, especially for rebuilding the vital agricultural sector. The West's refusal to invest in agriculture, on which 70 percent of the population depend, led to a massive return to poppy production by destitute farmers in the south, which quickly spread to the rest of the country."
Chalk up Afghanistan as yet another victim of the Iraq War.