Hamid Karzai, the American-installed puppet in Afghanistan, was dealt another blow when Haji Gilani, one of his close allies, was gunned down outside his home in Deh Rawood, Uruzgan province, during the night of April 3. His nephew was also shot dead by six armed men, who then managed to escape. In a sign of growing confusion in government ranks, Dad Mullah, a spokesman for the Uruzgan provincial government, said that there was no immediate evidence of a personal feud, and that he suspected Taliban operatives were behind the killing; Karzai’s spokesman said that a tribal feud may have been the motive. It is obvious why Karzai and his associates would attempt to play down the Taliban role: it exposes the lack of government authority and the Taliban’s growing strength in the country. Karzai, however, was not taking any chances; he sent Ahmed Wali, his brother, to Qandahar to attend the funeral prayers for his benefactor, instead of going himself.
Gilani was the man who gave Karzai shelter in Uruzgan when he launched his anti-Taliban revolt at America’s behest. That was after Abdul Haq and his nephew were caught and executed for treason in October 2001, a few weeks before the Taliban collapsed in November under heavy US bombing. Karzai entered Afghanistan secretly from Pakistan and relied heavily on anti-Taliban sympathizers for support and protection. Gilani “was a friend of Karzai and we are so sorry for this unhappy incident,” said Fazl-e Akbar, a spokesman for Karzai, but he offered no clue about what, if anything, the government would do to protect people in the country.
Taliban fighters have mounted daring attacks in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. Ricardo Munguia, an International Red Cross worker, was gunned down and two American soldiers were killed when a US military convoy was ambushed on March 26.
Taliban fighters have reorganized and now appear to pose a serious challenge to the Karzai regime, as well as to the occupation forces, including German and British troops. There have been several pamphlets, so-called “night letters,” warning Afghans against working with foreigners, and threatening those that do with death. A new edict issued by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, at the end of March threatens more attacks, declares a holy war against foreign occupation forces, and tells Afghans that they will be considered enemies if they carry on working with the government. As if to underscore the point, Syed Rehman, an Afghan deputy commander, and five others were injured in an explosion at an army base in Jalalabad on April 5. Fighting also erupted in Badghis, where Mullah Badar, a former Taliban governor, and Juma Khan, a military commander, were arrested after some 400 Taliban fighters attacked government posts. There was also heavy fighting reported in Ghormach and Marghab districts on April 4 and 5.
A government official has admitted to Reuters that two explosions had also occurred on April 4 in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border, in a shop and at public baths, but he claimed that no one was hurt. Since the induction of the Karzai government, despite promises, few jobs have been created and there is little financial support for reconstruction projects; vulgar videos and songs, however, have flooded the market, offending most people deeply. Stores carrying such material are now frequently targeted in Kabul and elsewhere; most have been forced to shut down.
Clearly not only the much-maligned Taliban but others as well in Afghanistan do not take kindly to the imposition of alien values on a deeply traditional society. American occupation forces and their Afghan satraps have been banished from much of eastern Afghanistan. Places like Khost and Asadabad are now virtually controlled by the Taliban and their supporters. Anti-US operations have increased in places such as Qandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban.
Gul Agha, the governor of Qandahar province, has admitted that the Taliban are active in his area. He has claimed that, in a raid on a Taliban hideout on April 5, two men were arrested just three kilometres away from the US base in Qandahar. They were caught with remote-control explosives and bombs. Two days earlier there was heavy fighting in the area, and pro-government militias claimed to have killed 20 Taliban fighters, although these figures were disputed by Afghan news sources in Pakistan. Gul Agha conceded that the Taliban has established a new base in the Haba mountains. US planes, meanwhile, are reported to have bombed Taliban positions in the Torghar mountains.
The Taliban, who had allegedly been banished and only their “remnants” were left in Afghanistan, according to the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have suddenly become a credible force again, and are attacking American forces in a large part of the country. From Asadabad in the east to Herat and Badghis in the west and Qandahar in the southeast, they seem to have found their feet once more. Several factors are at work: the Taliban have overcome the initial shock after their forces were decimated by intense US bombing in October and November 2001; Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, the former Hizb-e Islami leader, has entered into an informal alliance with the Taliban and has activated his fighters to oppose foreign occupation forces; the much-promised ‘aid’ has not been forthcoming, leading to despondency among the people.
But what has really upset people is the crude manner in which the Americans go about humiliating people while they search their homes. “If search operations continue to be conducted without regard for local customary norms, and if they [the US] support local commanders viewed as extortionists, there will be opposition,” said Vikram Parekh of the International Crisis Group. Other aid workers complain of losing the “window of opportunity” because there is a “security vacuum” and non-governmental organizations cannot deliver food and medicines to people in desperate need. Even Kabul is no longer safe; on March 30 the so-called International Security Assistance Force headquarters compound in central Kabul also came under rocket-attack for the first time.
The US attack on Iraq has further exacerbated anti-American feelings in Afghanistan. Karzai’s support of the war é a meaningless gesture as he cannot even defend himself in Kabul, much less offer any support to the US war on Iraq é has nonetheless antagonized even more Afghans, who already viewed America as anti-Muslim. This has increased support for the Taliban and for their struggle to rid the country of alien invaders.
Meanwhile US special forces have admitted to significant losses since October 2001. At least 175 Americans have either been killed or wounded, or are missing. With another war in Iraq and the active involvement of American forces there, these figures will certainly increase. America may be reaching a point which observers call “imperial overreach”, with its forces bogged down in various theatres around the world. Afghanistan is far from subdued, while the Americans have taken on Iraq, which they will no doubt be able to occupy, but are much less likely to be able to control easily. Yet already Rumsfeld is making threats against Syria and Iraq, and then there is that troublesome North Korea. If the Americans blunder into other lands, they are bound to make life difficult for themselves, as well as inflicting immense suffering on other peoples.