The Plight of the Afghan People


The United States is at this very moment leading the Western powers in a massive, unprecedented bombing campaign against Afghanistan. The bombing has been justified by President Bush as a “war on terror”, aimed at capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden, and destroying his alleged terrorist network Al-Qaeda, as well as the Taliban regime alleged to harbour terrorists.

Cruise missiles, bombers and submarines have been used to attack “a broad range of targets”, supposedly ranging from Al-Qaeda training camps to Taliban garrisons. However in reality these targets have included the UN, the Red Cross, residential areas, hospitals and clinics. But meanwhile President Bush has and still continues to propagate the myth that this “war on terror” will not target the Afghan people, but is aimed only at the prime suspect Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. Indeed, the President claimed, America is “the friend of the Afghan people.” This statement brings to mind the old English saying, “Who needs enemies, with friends like these?” U.S. bombs have done nothing to curb terrorism, or bring the perpetrators of the 11th September attacks to justice. In actual fact, they are using weapons specifically designed to inflict maximum human injury, causing the killing and maiming of innocent people.

Bin Laden is the prime suspect alleged to have masterminded the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11th. But the U.S. has yet to provide any real evidence that Bin Laden was really behind these attacks. American and British legal experts have criticized this lack of evidence. Yet the sheer lack of proof has not prevented the U.S. from launching a vicious attack on Afghanistan on the pretext of going after Bin Laden, with Bush stating that he is happy to have Bin Laden “dead or alive” é despite the fact that he is as yet only a suspect. The U.S. government seems unperturbed by the fact that they have been unable to provide any real justification for their current policy. It thus seems that genuinely targeting terrorism is not the real purpose of policy. Indeed, the real nature of this so-called “war on terror” is not being discussed in the mass media. But hints of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan under U.S. military intervention, and the hidden agenda behind it, can be found from a close analysis of press reports, refugee testimony, and other documentation.

Ironically, in the name of justice and peace, America’s new “war on terrorism” is raining terror down on the Afghan people. On Tuesday 6 November a report on CNN mentioned that a new 15,000 pound bomb is being used by the U.S. in its “war on terror”. The bomb is so heavy that they can’t just drop it through the traditional missile chutes that open at the bottom of the aircraft é they have to use mechanical assistance to shove the bombs out through the back of a cargo plane. The bombs parachute down and explode 3 feet off the ground, and are so devastating that their impact creates a mini earthquake. The British media reported on the 7th that the impact of these bombs is the same as that of a nuclear weapon, obliterating everything within a 2-3km radius. Every living creature will be wiped out. Such weapons are obviously designed to indiscriminately kill as many as possible in the area, to inflict maximum destruction.

Then there are the cluster bombs. We can get a good idea of how these work by considering their previous uses. NATO forces used cluster bombs in their military intervention in Kosovo, with horrifying effects. Two months after the NATO intervention, cluster bombs are still killing innocent civilians. According to the BBC, as many as 20,000 unexploded cluster bombs are estimated to be in Kosovo. Every single day, to this day, a man, woman or child is killed or injured in Kosovo alone due to these bombs. But despite having put them there in the first place, NATO’s “humanitarian peacekeeping” forces refuse to clear up these weapons, or even help to clear them. Amnesty International, the world’s leading human rights body, has condemned the West’s use of cluster bombs and is calling for them to be banned due to their massive contribution to needless death and injury. Yet the West is carpet bombing Afghanistan with cluster bombs, knowing full well that they will only lead to more death and injury among innocent people, every single day, long after the bombing campaign is over. And now there are the Daisy Cutter bombs, the pride of the Pentagon, which annihilate absolutely everything within a 600m radius.

So just as innocent civilians died in the 11th September terrorist attacks, unknown numbers of innocent civilians é men, women and children – are being killed and wounded in America’s latest assault on Afghanistan. What kind of “war on terror” uses terrorism as its primary strategy? Clearly, this is no “war on terror”, but a war of blind revenge with a racist, xenophobic disregard for the lives of the Afghan people.

In fact, it is a war with a hidden agenda, a war that had been planned long before the 11th September attacks, a war which has been designed to secure the strategic and economic interests of the United States and the other Western powers, in Central Asia.

Unknown to most, a military strike on Afghanistan had been planned as early as December last year. Meetings between American, Russian and Indian government officials took place at the end of the year 2000 “to discuss what kind of government should replace the Taliban.” This was reported in a daily American newspaper by Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Starr wrote in Washington Post that: “[T]he United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden. Until it backed off under local pressure, it went so far as to explore whether a Central Asian country would permit the use of its territory for such a purpose.”

On the 4th December 2000, Canadian journalist Eric Margolis similarly reported in the daily newspaper, the Toronto Sun the existence of extensive military plans to invade Afghanistan, topple the Taliban regime, and install a government subservient to Western interests: “The United States and Russia may soon launch a joint military assault against Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden, and against the leadership of Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto ruling movement,” reported Margolis. The attack would constitute a joint U.S.-Russian operation, and would enlist the help of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. These plans were also reported in June 1996 (26th) by the online public affairs news service, Indiareacts.Com. But local opposition prevented the plans from going ahead at that time. What the United States, Russia and India needed was a pretext to implement its plans to invade Afghanistan.

These plans had nothing to do with aiding the Afghan people, and everything to do with eliminating the current danger to U.S. interests in the region. As has been noted by the Israeli scholar Uri Avnery, Bin Laden was considered a threat to U.S. interests long before the 11th September attacks because of his staunch opposition to U.S. control of Middle East oil and military occupation of Saudi Arabia, Palestine and other areas of the Middle East.

What is further unknown to most, is that America’s opposition to the Taliban is something new. In fact, it was a drastic transformation of policy. Throughout most of the 1990s, the U.S. actually supported the Taliban regime despite its acts of terrorism and atrocities against its own Afghan people. The same repressive regime that the West now wants to remove, was in fact propped up the United States in complete disregard for the regime’s genocidal atrocities, solely because it served regional American interests. The United States has for many years now wanted a subservient puppet-regime in Afghanistan, because the U.S. has been planning to install pipelines to Caspian oil within the country. Perhaps one of the clearest indications of U.S. support of the Taliban is the authoritative testimony of U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher has been involved with Afghanistan since the early 1980s when he worked in the White House as Special Assistant to then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. He is now a Senior Member of the U.S. House International Relations Committee, and has been involved in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan for some 20 years. In 1988 he traveled to Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Congress with mujahideen fighters and participated in the battle of Jalalabhad against the Soviets. I will quote his testimony before an American Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee:

“Having been closely involved in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan for some twenty years,” he testified, “I have called into question whether or not this administration has a covert policy that has empowered the Taliban and enabled this brutal movement to hold on to power. Even though the President and the Secretary of State have voiced their disgust at the brutal policies of the Taliban, especially their repression of women, the actual implementation of U.S. policy has repeatedly had the opposite effecté I am making the claim that there is and has been a covert policy by this administration to support the Taliban movement’s control of Afghanistané [T]his amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistané I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal and kept the Congress in the dark about its policy of supporting the Taliban, the most anti-Western, anti-female, anti-human rights regime in the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that this policy would outrage the American people, especially America’s women.” (April 1999)

U.S. support of the Taliban from 1994-1999 to secure the building of pipelines to Caspial oil through Afghanistan to Pakistan is well-documented. I documented this using reports in the American press, human rights reports, and academic studies in a paper published by the Institute for Afghan Studies in the U.S. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, who writes for the prestigious journal, Far Eastern Economic Review as well as the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph, has also written extensively on this subject. Just to hit the point home, I will give you a few quotes from the American and Western press on the subject. In 1996, CNN reported that: “United States wants good ties [with the Taliban] but can’t openly seek them while women are being repressed.” The Wall Street Journal reported in 1997 that the West’s main interests in Afghanistan lie in making it “a prime transhipment route for the export of Central Asia’s vast oil, gas and other natural resourcesé Like them or not, the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history.” The Journal is referring to the same faction that is responsible for the severe repression of women; massacres of civilians; ethnic cleansing and genocide; arbitrary detention; and the growth of widespread impoverishment and underdevelopment é the same faction which the U.S. government now loudly condemns, but supported not long ago.

The United States planned to finance the development of pipelines in the areas falling under the 23 Taliban-controlled states in Afghanistan. But in August 1999, all this changed. The Taliban had simply proved incapable of playing a suitably stabilising role in the region, particularly due its inability to remain subservient to U.S. orders. The alleged terrorist activities of Taliban-favourite Osama Bin Laden é e.g. with regards to the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania é created an unbridgeable gap in American-Taliban relations. Furthermore, it soon became more and more clear that the Taliban regime could not provide the stability and security required for the oil pipelines to survive. As Ahmed Rashid points out, stability was not feasible if established through conquer. This was due to the very nature of the ongoing conflict, fueled by ethnic and tribal tensions, as well as by the input of arms and funds from surrounding states Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc. to the various opposing Afghan factions. And that is why the United States began developing its plans to target Bin Laden, invade Afghanistan, and remove the Taliban regime. The establishment of a strong client state in Afghanistan would strengthen U.S. influence in this crucial region. Previously, it was hoped that the Taliban é regardless of its domestic record of terror, genocide and gender-apartheid é would become this strong client state; yet since that could not be the case, a band of murderers of the same type as the Taliban can be installed. That is why the shift in U.S. policy occurred, beginning in 1998, escalating in 1999, and becoming complete in the year 2000. And that is why by the end of last year the United States was planning to initiate a war on Afghanistan to topple the Taliban é because the regime did not suit its most pressing regional oil and gas interests.

The tragic killing of over 6,000 civilians on the 11th September has been exploited by the U.S. to justify the implementation of these plans é to justify an anti-humanitarian war designed to secure U.S. strategic and economic interests. Now the U.S. is supporting not the Taliban, but the Northern Alliance é a band of murderers, thugs and rapists of exactly the same kind as the Taliban, whose human rights abuses against the Afghan people have been condemned by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. And there has been talk of overseeing the installation of a new regime with significant Northern Alliance input, under the leadership of a former King, Zahir Shah, whose record of democracy is hardly very meaningful. The Afghan women’s group RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, has recently condemned U.S. support of the Northern Alliance, describing them as the same 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 yeté 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.” (13 November) The Village Voice also recently noted (15 November) that a UN spokesperson said officials had received reports of hundreds of children being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school. This war is therefore certainly not in support of human rights or democracy. It is in support of genocide and military dictatorship.

The indiscriminate nature of the bombing campaign further clarifies that this is less a war on terror, than a war on the Afghan people. Under U.S. demands and pressure, Afghanistan’s borders have been closed and truck convoys carrying food aid and other supplies into the country have been blocked. This severed the country’s last few sources of limited sustenance. In this way, the U.S., effectively called for the mass slaughter of millions of Afghans, most of them already on the brink of starvation thanks to international sanctions imposed under U.S. pressure. Almost all aid missions withdrew or were expelled from Afghanistan in anticipation of the coming bombing campaign, while several million innocent Afghans fearfully fled to the borders creating a massive refugee crisis. The refugees have been trapped, deprived of food and water, and largely destined to die with the international community barely even batting an eyelid. The famous Indian novelist Arundhati Roy commented in the daily London newspaper, The Guardian: “Witness the infinite justice of the new century. Civilians starving to death while they’re waiting to be killed.”

According to UN estimates, about 7-8 million Afghans are now at risk of imminent starvation. And the U.S. food air drops will do absolutely nothing to avert this crisis. Leading British aid agencies have described these air drops as “virtually useless”, and many other international aid agencies have condemned them as a mere propaganda exercise, completely insufficient to prevent the imminent death of millions of Afghans through starvation. Jim Jennings, President of Conscience International, has noted that the aid being dropped is barely enough to feed even a single refugee camp. Mark Fried, communications and advocacy director of Oxfam in Canada has pointed out the air drops are sufficient only to feed about “1 per cent of the people in need”. As far as we, the international community, are concerned, the other 99 per cent of course can simply starve to death – but our air drops are still “humanitarian”. Bush was very proud of this supposedly humanitarian effort in his recent address to the UN General Assembly. 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. 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…”

Recognizing the Holocaust-like proportions of the impending disaster in Afghanistan as a result of the international blockade, a United Nations special investigator pleaded for an end to the bombing in mid-October. Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that: “The bombing has to stop right now. There is a humanitarian emergency. In winter the lorries cannot go in any more. Millions of Afghans will be unreachable in winter and winter is coming very, very soon. We must give the (humanitarian) organizations a chance to save the millions of people who are internally displaced (inside Afghanistan).”

Unless the bombing campaign is ended, he urged, aid will not get through, and over 7 million Afghan lives will be at risk from imminent starvation. So if this so-called “war on terror” does not end, then 7-8 million people will die of starvation. Does the international community want this sort of blood on their hands? Will the people of the world stand by and watch while 8 million innocent people are slaughtered by U.S. economic warfare?

Economic warfare is not all the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. The U.S. is systematically destroying civilian targets using weapons specifically designed to cause maximum damage. The U.S. bombed the offices of a UN mine-clearing agency in Kabul on 9 October. The Pentagon claimed that the ATC was near a military radio tower, but UN officials pointed out that that the tower was a defunct medium and short wave radio station that had been abandoned and out of use for over a decade. Prior to the bombing, the UN agency had passed on its address to more senior UN officials to notify the U.S. military of the site so that it would be not be bombed.

An estimated 100-200 civilians, women, children and old people, were slaughtered when U.S. bombers made repeated passes over the northern village of Karam. The entire village was flattened. The Pentagon claimed that Karam had been a training camp for Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network, Al-Qaeda. In fact, the site had only been used to train mujahideen during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, with CIA support. The camp was closed and abandoned in 1992, and since then had been inhabited by families and nomads. Now, after the U.S. bombing, it doesn’t even exist é and neither do most of its inhabitants.

On the 16th October, buildings belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross were bombed by U.S. aircraft. Two bombs demolished two buildings in a Red Cross compound, wounding an employee and destroying humanitarian aid that would have been distributed to needy Afghan civilians. The Red Cross bitterly condemned the bombing, asked the U.S. for details of the operation, and reiterated to them the location of its facilities. Ten days later, U.S. planes went and bombed the very same compound again, this time destroying the three remaining buildings containing more food and blankets. Red Cross workers testify that the plane which dropped the bombs was flying very low and slow. These humanitarian buildings are marked out by a huge, highly visible 3 x 3 meter Red Cross on them. This was not a mistake. None of these bombings of civilian targets could be a mistake. They were clearly deliberate acts of terrorism, aimed at devastating the lives of the Afghan people.

Since then, the U.S. bombing campaign has gone on to destroy civilian areas with escalating ferocity. The American journalist and peace activist Geov Parrish has recorded a lucid breakdown of these events, showing that day-in and day-out, the Afghan people are being subjected to an indiscriminate bombardment that is wiping out their homes and forcing them to flee for their lives.

In Jalalabad, the Sultanpur Mosque was hit by a bomb during prayers, with 17 people caught inside. Neighbours rushed into the rubble to help pull out the injured, but as the rescue effort got under way, another bomb fell, killing at least 120 people.

In the village of Darunta near Jalalabad, a U.S. bomb fell on another mosque. Two people were killed and dozens é perhaps as many as 150 people – were injured. Many of those injured are languishing without medical care in the Sehat-e-Ama hospital in Jalabad, which lacks resources to treat the wounded.

More civilian deaths are being reported in the villages of Torghar and Farmada, north and west of Jalalabad. At least 28 civilians had died in Farmada, which has an abandoned Al-Qaeda training camp nearby.

In Argandab, north of Kandahar, 10 civilians have died from the bombing and several houses have been destroyed. The same has happened in Karaga, north of Kabul.

And on and oné. A single typical statement from one of the refugees, reported by the Institute for Health and Social Justice in America, is worth quoting here. Rais Mazloomyar Jabirkhail stated about the U.S. military forces: “They are not God. They want to pinpoint every target, but they can’t make every missile go after Osama and terrorist training camps.” Emphasizing that he is not a supporter of Osama Bin Laden, he asked why, on the pretext of targeting Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, the U.S. “is destroying our whole country.” Indiscriminately destroying the entire country é that is what our “international coalition against terrorism” is doing in Afghanistan.

We therefore don’t need to refer to Taliban claims to take seriously the likelihood that the civilian death toll is already in its thousands. The mere fact that millions of tonnes of bombs are being dropped on Afghanistan, the systematic destruction of civilian structures, the testimony from refugees, reports from Western and Pakistani journalists, suffices to make clear that this war is deliberately targeting the civilian population. As the British journalist Robert Fisk observed in London’s daily newspaper The Independent: “é as the Afghan refugees turn up in their thousands at the border, it is palpably evident that they are fleeing not the Taliban but our bombs and missilesé. The refugees speak vividly of their fear and terror as our bombs fall on their cities. These people are terrified of our ‘war on terror’, victims as innocent as those who were slaughtered in the World Trade Centre on 11 September.”

This war will also clearly not provide security to the United States, the Western powers, or anyone else for that matter. On the contrary, it will only fuel the anger and resentment around the world at the unjust and self-serving nature of U.S. foreign policy. It is this anger, coupled with a sense of hopelessness and despair, that motivates people to desperate and unconscionable measures such as terrorism. The climate of anger exists not because people are jealous of Western democracy é democracy which is hardly very meaningful considering that in the U.S. two thirds of the population choose not to vote at all é but rather due to the long list of U.S./Western brutalities in Vietnam, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, Libya, Lebanon, Granada, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and many other parts of the world to name here only a few. Look at Iraq. We have there the genocidal murder of nearly 2 million innocent civilians in Iraq under an illegal sanctions regime which bars the country from receiving crucial food, medicines, and basic technologies to maintain hygiene and pursue some sort of development of the rotten infrastructure that was pummeled into the ground by the Allies during the 1991 Gulf Massacre, all legitimized by the United Nations. There is the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine by the apartheid state of Israel, which continues with the military and financial support of the U.S., in violation of what is now hundreds of UN resolutions. There is the subjugation of Muslims and Arabs by illegitimate regimes propped up by the U.S. such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and so on. There is the escalation of impoverishment, inequity and repression under these regimes, which have to clamp down on the first sign of dissent to consolidate their existence and power é all with U.S. connivance.

Indeed, in the same vein, we should note that many members of the so-called international coalition against terrorism are themselves systematically engaged in acts of terrorism. For instance, in a November edition of the International Herald Tribune, one U.S. diplomat described Russian efforts in the new war against terrorism as possibly exceeding even U.S. efforts. But Russia has been engaged for several years now in the destruction of Chechnya and its movement for self-determination from Russian hegemony, a continuation of the colonial years. As Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois, the lawyer for the tiny Republic, has documented in files submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, what Russia is doing in Chechnya is nothing less than genocide. One Russian journalist working for Radio Free Europe who was detained by the army and held in camps alongside Chechen captives, testified from his inside experience that Russia has even set up “concentration camps” in the country, and is pursuing the same policies in Chechnya as Stalin in Hitler last century. The irony and duplicity of this so-called “war on terror” would be amusing if it were not so horrifying.

The question we are now left with as we ponder, in horror, the scale of the Holocaust of starvation and death unfolding in Afghanistan, is: why? And the answer is simple. The U.S. is attempting to do everything in its power to smash Afghanistan into the ground, to make frighteningly clear what happens to those who do not remain subservient to U.S. designs and interests. The U.S. is obliterating the country so that it can easily salvage, from the rubble and rag-tag warlords that remain, a government that will allow safe passage for the establishment of oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan to Central Asia and the Caspian reserves, from which immense profits can be reaped. The strangulation and destruction of the Afghan people is a deliberate strategy in this process. Indeed, this strategy é of targeting civilians to achieve regional socio-political objectives é was quite explicitly outlined in a statement by the British Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Michael Boyce. Referring to the ongoing bombing campaign, Boyce stated: “The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.”

The joint American-British strategy thus includes the punishment of Afghan civilians as an integral objective, designed to secure the final aim of toppling the Taliban regime. Such a strategy falls under the FBI’s very own definition of terrorism, and I quote: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

President Bush’s “war on terror” therefore does not exist. This war is a war on innocent people, a terrorist war designed to secure imperialist interests in controlling the world’s resources to make more and more profits for the corporate elite. This is a war on human rights, a war on justice, and a war on freedom. I will conclude by quoting the statement of two American citizens, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, who lost their son Greg in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. They said: “We read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way to go… not in our son’s name.”

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.