The mainstream press has largely lauded the Northern Alliance’s U.S.-led sweep over key areas of Afghanistan as a wonderful victory. We are told that this war on terrorism is a success, that our humanitarian efforts are having a meaningful impact, but that this is most likely the beginning of a long haul to root out the causes of violence and terror in our world. The Northern Alliance’s capture of Kunduz is supposed to be a genuine success, not only for the U.S. attempt to root out the causes of terrorism, but for the Afghan people. Yet a glance at what is happening on the ground shows that we are constantly being lied to.
Just a few days ago, 26th November 2001, the former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook MP, now the Leader of Commons, lied in an interview on British television. When questioned about the Northern Alliance takeover of key cities in Afghanistan, he responded by saying that this collection of Afghan war criminals had “performed much better than many have predicted.” The Afghan people disagree with this duplicitous assessment. For instance, the widely praised Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) issued a desperate appeal to the United Nations and the international community on 13th November declaring that:
“The people of Afghanistan do not accept domination of the Northern Alliance! Now it is confirmed that the Taliban have left Kabul and the Northern Alliance has entered the city. The world should understand that the Northern Alliance is composed of some bands who did show their real criminal and inhuman nature when they were ruling Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996. The retreat of the terrorist Taliban from Kabul is a positive development, but entering of the rapist and looter NA in the city is nothing but a dreadful and shocking news for about 2 million residents of Kabul whose wounds of the years 1992-96 have not healed yet. Thousands of people who fled Kabul during the past two months were saying that they feared coming to power of the NA in Kabul much more than being scared by the US bombing. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be eliminated, but the existence of the NA as a military force would shatter the joyful dream of the majority for an Afghanistan free from the odious chains of barbaric Taliban. The NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain in power. The terrible news of looting and inhuman massacre of the captured Taliban or their foreign accomplices in Mazar-e-Sharif in past few days speaks for itself. Though the NA has learned how to pose sometimes before the West as ‘democratic’ and even supporter of women’s rights, but in fact they have not at all changed, as a leopard cannot change its spots. RAWA has already documented heinous crimes of the NA. Time is running out. RAWA on its own part appeals to the UN and world community as a whole to pay urgent and considerable heed to the recent developments in our ill-fated Afghanistan before it is too late. We would like to emphatically ask the UN to send its effective peace-keeping force into the country before the NA can repeat the unforgettable crimes they committed in the said years. The UN should withdraw its recognition to the so-called Islamic government headed by Rabbani and help the establishment of a broad-based government based on the democratic values. RAWA’s call stems from the aspirations of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.”
The media has acknowledged that the Northern Alliance, with U.S. support, have inflicted a terrible bloodbath in the areas under their control, slaughtering over 300 Taliban prisoners. And the media is focusing on the controversy that has resulted. But the same media has largely ignored reports that the U.S. proxy force is also terrorizing Afghan civilians. One rare report in a U.S. newsmagazine was brave enough to record:
“A UN spokesperson said officials had received reports of hundreds of children being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school. She disclosed that alliance soldiers had looted many offices of the UN and other nongovernmental organizations in Mazar-i-Sharif, according to the Pakistan News Service. In addition, the UN said it fears the opposition troops may actually have shot some UN drivers.” (‘U.S.-backed rebels accused of wholesale slaughter’, The Village Voice, 15 November 2001)
But the media largely decided to ignore such damning reports, and indeed has failed to follow them up with further investigation. None of these terrifying facts is surprising. On the contrary, what is happening now has always been entirely predictable. Groups such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have previously documented the grave war crimes and human rights abuses of the Northern Alliance in the areas under their control. The U.S./Western war is not about human rights or democracy. It is clearly in support of the very opposite realities: genocide and tyranny.
Cook’s lies on behalf of the British Labour Government did not end there, but it suffices to deal with only one of his other claims here. When asked about the apparent failures of the humanitarian operation of dropping food into Afghanistan by air, highlighted by none other than the Labour Government’s own Development Secretary Claire Short, Robin Cook MP claimed that while there had been significant problems a few weeks ago with respect to the input of humanitarian aid, these problems have now been dealt with and at last the aid is getting through.
But leading aid agencies have consistently contradicted the obfuscation of our governments. Spokesperson for Christian Aid, John Davison, stated on 21st November 2001:
“The main routes we had managed to establish were coming in through Pakistan and lately virtually nothing is getting in – I believe only a single convoy got in yesterday… Soon it will get to the point that the trucks won’t go out at all because of fears of getting stuck in the snow… Everyone is glad that the Taliban have mostly lost power but the recent developments have demonstrated the lifesaving importance of the pause in the bombing that we and six other major international aid agencies had called for – our call went unheeded and now we face this crisis. In the Western and Central Highlands where we carry out most of our work, about 80 percent of the population is very vulnerable… Food is very short and people are trying desperately to get out and they have no means of transportation. That’s hundreds of thousands of people facing starvation.” (Quoted by the U.S. media watch group, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting [FAIR], http://www.fair.org)
The New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has similarly provided scathing criticism of the policies of the ‘international coalition against terrorism’ under U.S. leadership. CESR Executive Director, Roger Normand, observed on the same day:
“The Geneva Conventions and Red Cross regulations mandate that relief aid be neutral, impartial and motivated solely by humanitarian concerns. But so far the U.S. military has viewed the food crisis in Afghanistan – which our bombing helped create – as a domestic PR opportunity. Independent relief agencies have condemned our military policy of dropping food into heavily-mined areas as not only ineffective and dangerous, but also a distraction from the unglamorous but crucial work of distributing the huge amounts of staple goods necessary to feed millions of hungry people.” (http://www.cesr.org)
The CESR’s Director of Research, Sarah Zaidi, has elaborated that the U.S. has through its regional allies along with its pressure to close the borders, directly exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan:
“The biggest obstacle to the relief effort is now posed by U.S. partners. Northern Alliance warlords have sabotaged supply routes inside Afghanistan, while Pakistan and other neighboring countries continue to seal their borders and prevent desperate people from reaching food and safety. Rather than seeking to score PR points, the U.S. military should pressure its allies to allow free movement to Afghans and to UN and private relief agencies. Ensuring that thousands of Afghans do not starve to death this winter is both a moral imperative and a human rights obligation for all parties who have contributed to the crisis – including the United States.”
Mark Fried, communications and advocacy director of Oxfam in Canada has been quoted in a recent November edition of the Canadian daily, The Ottawa Citizen, as pointing out that the air drops are sufficient only to feed about “1 per cent of the people in need”.
So as far as we, the international community, are concerned, the other 99 per cent of course can simply starve to death.
These are the disgusting levels to which our supposedly advanced civilization has stooped without barely batting an eyelid. Up to 8 million Afghan people will die of starvation because the international community has cut off the country’s lifeline in the name of President George W. Bush Junior‘s crusade for world peace. The irony would be amusing if it were not so horrifying. In fact, there are rather obvious historical reasons for Western Europe’s elitist indifference to the tide of genocide that is sweeping over Afghanistan under primarily U.S. tutelage. Having set up the conditions for a genocidal massacre through policies that amount to economic warfare, our world leaders can nevertheless continue to indulge in the self-praise of our universal benevolence é a benevolence that is able to tolerate the murder of up to 8 million people just because we want the borders closed to continue our crusade for world peace in the name of the “war on terror”. When 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust last century, the world’s belated response was “Never Again”. But it seems that “Never Again” does not apply to the “unpeople” of this world. On the pretext of upholding the inviolable principle of “Never Again”, the Western powers support the apartheid state of Israel and its illegal occupation, coupled with systematic destruction, of Palestine (see our paper presented at the NGO Forum of United Nations World Conference Against Racism, ‘Apartheid in the Holy Land: Racism in the Zionist State of Israel’, Media Monitors Network, September 2001, http://184.108.40.206/mosaddeq11.html) And in other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, it seems that the principle has no application whatsoever. Indeed, considering that the number of victims of European colonialism and ongoing Western imperialism in the Third World over the past few centuries runs into the hundreds of millions as is testified to by authentic historical data, it seems that the principle upheld by the elite who hold the reigns of world order is: “Again and Again and Again…”
The murder of 8 million people through economic warfare in the name of a war on terrorism – or more precisely, a crusade for “Enduring Freedom” – is an entirely tolerable event that does not trouble too many people in a civilization that prides itself on its alleged adherence to advanced norms of humanitarianism. But this is most probably because such a terrible tragedy is nothing new – genocide seems to be inherent to the structure of world order under U.S./Western hegemony. Indeed, it seems to be built into the basic institutions of Western civilization, a fact that is evident upon analysis of the historical record. For example, there were originally an estimated 80 million Native Americans in Latin America when Columbus discovered the continent, and approximately 12 to 15 million more north of the Rio Grande. By the year 1650, 95 per cent of the native population of Latin America had been massacred. Michael A. Dorris observes that by the time the continental borders of the United States were established, the entire population had been decimated “to a low of 210,000 in the 1910 census.” (Figures cited in Dorris, Michael A., ‘Contemporary Native Americans’, Daedalus, Spring 1981; also see Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States, op. cit. See our paper, ‘The Colonial Holocaust and its Legacy’, Media Monitors Network, 9 July 2001, http://220.127.116.11/mosaddeq7.html)
The fact that Columbus Day is still celebrated annually demonstrates the ongoing ability of contemporary society to rewrite history simply to avoid facing unsavory facts which, having shaped contemporary structures and institutions, call into fundamental question the benevolence of those structures and institutions. The almost total elimination of such horrifying historical realities from contemporary consciousness therefore bears testimony to the capacity of contemporary society to deceive itself. Indeed, the covert agenda behind the American elite’s desire to celebrate the annihilation of a people é an agenda that highlights the fundamentally fascist nature of European colonization – has been discussed by the late John Henrik Clarke, Professor Emeritus of African World History at Hunter College, an internationally renowned scholar and one of the world’s foremost authorities on African American history:
“The voyages of Columbus mark a starting point of world capitalism and the beginning of European colonial domination of the world. That is what the ruling powers want everyone to celebrate… The Columbus anniversary is a celebration of mass murder, slavery, and conquest. More: it exalts the continuing oppression of billions of people today. Columbus is something only oppressors (or fools) could celebrate… Because for the modern ruling class, the important point is not the actual contact between people – it is the world-historic growth of capitalism in Europe made possible by the plunder of the Americas. And that did not start before Columbus.”
Columbus, an “opportunist and willful murdereré set in motioné the basis of Western capitalism and exploitation of both Africans and Indigenous Americans who had committed no crimes against European people, and did not know of European intention to conquer and enslave them.”
In his seminal study ‘Christopher Columbus & the Afrikan Holocaust’, Professor Clarke notes specifically the linkage between the historical phase of European colonialism that was pioneered by Columbus, and its legacy in the continuing dominance of a Western ruling elite under the existing international economic system:
“In his period, he set in motion an act of criminality that influences our very life today. He laid the basis for western racism, misconceptions about people and extensive use of organized religions as a rationale for the enslavement of people. It’s a reoccurring event in history and it told us – as nothing has told us before – that history is never old, everything that ever happened continues to happen. What we are dealing with now is more than the second rise of Europe, we’re dealing with the rise of a concept that has taken hold of the mind of most of the world. People throughout the world are now fighting to get away from that concept and most of the world are now prisoners to that concept… What he actually did – and he should be credited for this – [Columbus] set in motion the exploitation of two continents for European domination… an attitude that is still with us. The assumption was – because Europeans had the ships and the basic technology – they had the right to go into other people’s country and exploit their mineral resources, take their women and rape them at will.”
The colonial project has continued to this day but in a new format. Since 1945, under the guise of decolonization, the Western powers under American leadership covertly instigated a novel programme of domination that could maintain Third World subjugation to Western authority. Continuing the cultural, political and economic processes of hegemonic expansion and consolidation that had already been unfolding for several centuries, the Western powers embarked upon the arbitrary division of colonial territories, the manufacture of nationalities that were played off against one another, the installment of corrupt puppet regimes, and the perpetration of direct military interventions. In other words, the global Third World Holocaust was to continue.
Director of Research of the California-based Institute for Economic Democracy, Dr. J. W. Smith, observes that through this devastating historical process, Western civilization has been “responsible for violently killing 12 to 15 million people since WW II and causing the death of 100s of millions more as their economies were destroyed or those countries were denied the right to restructure to care for their people. Unknown as it is, and recognizing that this has been standard practice throughout colonialism, that is the record of the Western imperial centers of capital from 1945 to 1990.” He adds that, “One hundred and fifty thousand to 300,000 of these were tortured and killed by death squads set up by Western intelligence agencies, primarily the CIA.” (Smith, J. W., ‘The Grand Strategy of Western Security Councils: Suppressing the Former Colonial World’s Break for Economic Freedom’ in Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century, M. E. Sharpe, New York, 2000)
The political, economic and cultural processes that thus began with colonialism, culminated in the institutionalization of an international global political economy dominated by the Western powers at the expense of the rest of the world, which under the guise of liberalism, as French historian Marc Ferro of the Paris-based Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences, also Co-Editor of the Journal of Contemporary History, observes, began “replacing a visible presence by the invisible government of the big banks: the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and so on”: a system which Ferro describes as “multinational imperialism”. Former Chief Economist of the World Bank, former Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s council of economic advisers, and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, has scathingly revealed the hidden agenda of the global economic system under U.S./Western domination. In a detailed interview with Gregory Palast of the London Observer, Professor Stiglitz noted that IMF and World Bank programmes systematically manufacture social, political and economic crises around the world wherever they are applied, culminating in mass impoverishment, increasing inequality and even internal conflicts, all in the name of securing Western access to regional resources, resulting in huge elite profits (The Observer, 29th April 2001).
What is happening in Afghanistan is a result of the same brand of policies. Long live colonialism. Noteworthy is a recent piece from the respected international current affairs journal The New Statesman (26th November 2001), by the award-winning British journalist John Pilger, a man who has covered every war in the last few decades, and who has been tireless in his exposures of the harsh realities of Western interventions around the world (see his work at http://johnpilger.com). Pilger concisely dissects the myths promulgated by our leaders, and swallowed eagerly by the most of the media, designed to justify the current war on Afghanistan. In particular, he refers to the fact which the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) documented almost a year before the current crisis that U.S./Western policy towards the Taliban has been determined by strategic and economic interests in access to Caspian oil and gas (see ‘Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States’, Media Monitors Network, January 2001, http://18.104.22.168/mosaddeq2.html.) Pilger records that:
“The twin towers attacks provided Bush’s Washington with both a trigger and a remarkable coincidence. Pakistan’s former foreign minister Niaz Naik has revealed that he was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, was then travelling in central Asia, already gathering support for an anti-Afghanistan war ‘coalition’. For Washington, the real problem with the Taliban was not human rights; these were irrelevant. The Taliban regime simply did not have total control of Afghanistan: a fact that deterred investors from financing oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea, whose strategic position in relation to Russia and China and whose largely untapped fossil fuels are of crucial interest to the Americans. In 1998, Dick Cheney told oil industry executives: ‘I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.’
“Indeed, when the Taliban came to power in 1996, not only were they welcomed by Washington, their leaders were flown to Texas, then governed by George W Bush, and entertained by executives of the Unocal oil company. They were offered a cut of the profits from the pipelines; 15 per cent was mentioned. A US official observed that, with the Caspian’s oil and gas flowing, Afghanistan would become ‘like Saudi Arabia’, an oil colony with no democracy and the legal persecution of women. ‘We can live with that,’ he said. The deal fell through when two American embassies in east Africa were bombed and al-Qaeda was blamed.
“The Taliban duly moved to the top of the media’s league table of demons, where the normal exemptions apply. For example, Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow, the killers of at least 20,000 people in Chechnya, is exempt. Last week, Putin was entertained by his new ‘close friend’, George W Bush, at Bush’s Texas ranch.
“Bush and Blair are permanently exempt – even though more Iraqi children die every month, mostly as a result of the Anglo-American embargo, than the total number of dead in the twin towers, a truth that is not allowed to enter public consciousness. The killing of Iraqi infants, like the killing of Chechens, like the killing of Afghan civilians, is rated less morally abhorrent than the killing of Americans.”
This is therefore nothing other than a war based on the traditional values of imperialism: power and profit. And as noted by Dr. Manning Marable, Professor of History and Political Science and Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York, the clearly xenophobic and racist disregard for the lives of non-Western people as far as Western civilization is concerned is all too clear. When it comes to atrocities that happen to other people, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so on, we must apply international norms, apply international law, and pursue justice in the World Court at The Hague. But when we, the superior civilized people of the West, come under fire, then we have the right to react by destroying a whole population, legalizing domestic repression (which is why over 1,000 Arabs have been rounded up indefinitely in the U.S.) and, in short, going so crazy that we’re going to bomb to smithereens dozens of countries around the world. Professor Marable comments:
“The majority of dark humanity is saying to the United States that racism and militarism are not the solutions to the world’s major problems. Transnational capitalism and the repressive neo–liberal policies of structural adjustment represent a dead end for the developing world. We can only end the threat of terrorism by addressing constructively the routine violence of poverty, hunger and exploitation which characterizes the daily existence of several billion people on this planet. Racism is, in the final analysis only another form of violence. To stop the violence of terrorism, we must stop the violence of racism and class inequality. To struggle for peace, to find new paths toward reconciliation across the boundaries of religion, culture and color, is the only way to protect our cities, our country and ourselves from the violence of terrorism. Because without justice, there can be no peace.” (‘The Failure of U.S. Foreign Policies, http://www.manningmarable.net)
Mr. Nafeez Ahmed is a political analyst and human rights activist based in London. He is Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and a Researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission.