[News] A Call for Clarity on the Afghanistan War

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 3 10:19:07 EST 2009


A Call for Clarity on the Afghanistan War

Sonali Kolhatkar | November 2, 2009

Foreign Policy In Focus

While President Barack Obama reviews his strategy 
on Afghanistan, a perfect moment to send a strong 
unified message to end the war is slipping 
through our fingers. Whether it's because we seem 
to have bought into the lies about the goals of 
this war or because we mistakenly feel that a 
Democratic president is going to come to the 
right conclusion on his own, one thing is clear: 
There's no debate within the Democratic Party or 
in the White House about whether to end the war. 
The only thing being debated is how to continue the war.

Similarly, there's little debate among 
progressives about how this is a bad war, and at 
the very least we need an exit strategy. 
Paralysis has set in on the particular manner of 
ending the war: whether to wait for some sort of 
"peace process," to pull out troops now versus 
later, to preserve troop levels until 
Afghanistan's women are safe, or some variation 
of these questions. We're in a bizarre situation: 
As Obama waffles on how to continue the war in 
Afghanistan, progressives are waffling on how to end the war.

Despite some major differences between the Afghan 
and Iraq wars, U.S. military operations and their 
consequences in both countries are the same. 
Similar to Iraq, this war kills civilians and 
soldiers causing misery on all sides. Similar to 
Iraq, this war has made women less safe. Similar 
to Iraq, this occupation has become unpopular on 
the ground. Similar to Iraq, our actions are 
leading to greater instability. And similar to 
Iraq, our tax dollars are being disappeared into 
a sinkhole of destruction rather than human 
needs. Yet, unlike Iraq, where progressives were 
clear right from the start on ending the war, 
Afghanistan seems to confuse our moral compass.

Our actions in Afghanistan have caused a perfect 
storm of untold numbers of civilian deaths, 
fundamentalist resurgence, and women's 
oppression. We're protecting a corrupt government 
with a puppet president and criminal warlords, 
and our deadly bombing raids have led to a 
devastated and rightly bitter population and a 
stronger Taliban. There's no promising indication 
that our military operations can improve the 
situation, no matter how many troops are added. 
If ever the Afghanistan war ever had any legitimacy, it's irreversibly gone.

Enabling Women's Oppression

One of the original justifications for the war in 
2001 that seemed to resonate most with liberal 
Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from 
a misogynist regime. This is now being 
resurrected as the following: If the U.S. forces 
withdraw, any gains made by Afghan women will be 
reversed and they'll be at the mercy of 
fundamentalist forces. In fact, the fear of 
abandoning Afghan women seems to have caused the 
greatest confusion and paralysis in the antiwar movement.

What this logic misses is that the United States 
chose right from the start to sell out Afghan 
women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on 
the ground. The U.S. armed the Mujahadeen leaders 
in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation, 
opening the door to successive fundamentalist 
governments including the Taliban. In 2001, the 
United States then armed the same men, now called 
the Northern Alliance, to fight the Taliban and 
then welcomed them into the newly formed 
government as a reward. The American puppet 
president Hamid Karzai, in concert with a cabinet 
and parliament of thugs and criminals, passed one 
misogynist law after another, appointed one 
fundamentalist zealot after another to the 
judiciary, and literally enabled the downfall of 
Afghan women's rights over eight long years.

Any token gains have been countered by setbacks. 
For example, while women are considered equal to 
men in Afghanistan's constitution, there have 
been vicious and deadly attacks against women's 
rights activists, the legalization of rape within 
marriage in the Shia community, and a shockingly 
high rate of women's imprisonment for so-called 
honor crimes — all under the watch of the U.S. 
occupation and the government we are protecting 
against the Taliban. Add to this the unacceptably 
high number of innocent women and children killed 
in U.S. bombing raids, which has also increased 
the Taliban's numbers and clout, and it makes the 
case that for eight years the United States has 
enabled the oppression of Afghan women and only added to their miseries.

This is why grassroots political and feminist 
activists have called for an immediate U.S. 
withdrawal from their country. After eight years 
of American-enabled oppression, they would rather 
fight for their liberation without our help. The 
anti-fundamentalist progressive organization, 
Revolutionary Association of the Women of 
Afghanistan (RAWA), has called for an immediate 
end to the war. Echoing their call is independent 
dissident member of Parliament 
<http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/6505>Malalai Joya, 
who tells her story in her new political memoir, 
A Woman Among Warlords. The members of RAWA and 
women like Joya are openly targeted by the 
U.S.-backed Afghan government for their feminism 
and political activism. RAWA and Joya have worked 
on the ground, risking their lives for political 
change and echo the vast majority of poor and 
ordinary Afghan women. It's they whom we ought to 
listen to and express solidarity with. If 
American progressives think they know better than 
Afghanistan's brave feminist activists on how 
liberation can be achieved, we're just as guilty 
as the U.S. government for subjecting them to the 
mercy of women-hating criminals.

No Negotiations with Fundamentalist Criminals

Some on the left have made the case that the 
Afghanistan war can come to an end through a 
negotiated peace process where everyone has a 
seat at the table, including women. But this 
ensures that only those within the corrupt clique 
of Afghan politics remain involved in the future 
of Afghanistan — such as a few female allies of 
the fundamentalists who are plentiful in the current government.

Joya struggled her way into getting a "seat at 
the table" through the 2005 elections. For 
representing her people's views that war 
criminals ought to be brought to justice, she has 
been rewarded with death threats, assassination 
attempts, and the loss of her electoral title. 
Asking ordinary women and men to have a seat at a 
negotiating table with war criminals is akin to 
asking them to silence themselves or mark their foreheads with a target.

The reason why democratic forces in Afghanistan 
are completely underground and constantly living 
in fear of being killed is that time and again 
the U.S. government has insisted on bringing 
warlords and even Taliban leaders to the 
negotiating table. Asking the Obama 
administration to sponsor a "peace process" 
between civilian representatives and our warlord 
allies whose private militias we have armed, is 
the same as asking for exactly what President 
George W. Bush did eight years ago in Bonn, 
Germany after the fall of the Taliban. That 
process predictably led to the establishment of 
today's corrupt government. In fact, the Obama 
administration is very likely to patch up the 
recent failed presidential elections in the same 
way: by creating a power-sharing deal between two 
corrupt sides and their proxies and claiming that 
all sides were represented at the negotiating table.

Given our violent role in Afghanistan over the 
past three decades, the United States has scant 
credibility in sponsoring any kind of "peace" 
process. The most responsible action the U.S. can 
take is to end its occupation immediately, and clean up its mess.

Let's Call for an Immediate End to the U.S. Occupation

Those who make the case that withdrawing U.S. 
troops will unleash another bloody civil war 
where Afghan women and men will be at the mercy 
of the Taliban and warlords, are raising the 
exact same justification made for the war in 
2001: that it's our moral duty to protect Afghans 
from fundamentalist violence. This logic ignores 
the fact that we have nurtured and created the 
very fundamentalist violence that targets Afghans 
as explained above. By empowering war criminals 
and protecting a corrupt government that has 
forgiven the crimes of all sides including the 
Taliban, and that even includes some Taliban 
leaders, all we have done is complicate a war 
that was on-going. "A member of RAWA who goes by 
the pseudonym Zoya in a U.S. speaking tour last 
month made it clear that it's hard to imagine 
things getting worse if the U.S. does pull out 
immediately. The damage isn't being prevented by 
the United States — it's being carried out by the United States.

Instead of subjecting Afghans to the three 
oppressive forces of a stronger Taliban, a 
corrupt and criminal government, and a deadly 
foreign occupation, the first thing we Americans 
can control most directly is to end our 
occupation immediately. This alone won't address 
the Taliban and Northern Alliance. But it will 
reduce the oppressive forces at work, and 
potentially reduce the legitimacy of the warlords 
and the motives driving the Taliban.

How do we undo the damage we have subjected 
innocent Afghans to? Afghans themselves have the 
answers to that. Surveys have shown that a 
majority of Afghans want a complete disarmament 
of our warlord allies — essentially that the U.S. 
needs to take back the guns we put into the hands 
of the Northern Alliance and their private 
militias. Surveys have also shown that Afghans 
want war crimes tribunals to hold all the corrupt 
and criminal fundamentalists accountable in some 
sort of court, perhaps even the International 
Criminal Court (U.S. government officials 
shouldn't be exempt from this type of 
accountability either). With weapons, warlords, 
and U.S. troops gone, real democracy could 
potentially take root and pro-democracy forces 
could someday operate freely. Many have also 
called for a massive Marshall Plan for 
poverty-stricken Afghanistan, to flood the 
country with money in the hands of small groups, 
organizations, and civil society, and eventually 
to help rebuild the country with a strong, 
non-drug-based economy. With all the money freed 
up from military operations that would be fairly feasible.

As for the Taliban, even the U.S. government 
publicly admits that the Pakistani government's 
own agencies have long supported the renegade 
army as a tool for national and regional 
stability. With the U.S. troops gone, the 
Taliban's raison d'être inside Afghanistan would 
be greatly weakened. If the United States were to 
take the lead in regional talks between Pakistan, 
India, Iran, Russia, and China to address the 
Pakistani government's fears of a hostile regime 
in Afghanistan, it would go a very long way toward undermining the Taliban.

These measures are necessary but may not 
guarantee stability for Afghanistan. Still the 
current occupation only guarantees instability, 
so at the very least the time for a non-military 
solution is now. In other words, we can choose to 
repeat a failed experiment with predictably 
negative results by extending the war in any 
number of ways. Or we can implement the complex, 
constructive measures that could potentially help 
stabilize Afghanistan, undermine the 
fundamentalist misogynist criminals, help the 
Afghan people take back their country, and 
undermine the conditions for violence.

These are complex demands to make of the Obama 
administration. But it has taken a complex set of 
destructive American policies and many years to 
destroy Afghanistan. It will take a similar 
amount of time and complexity, as well as trial 
and error, to help rebuild Afghanistan for 
ordinary Afghans, and by extension make Americans 
safer. We can make these demands as secondary 
points in our call for an end to the war. But the 
primary demand easily fits on a protest placard: 
"End the U.S. War in Afghanistan NOW." Let's make 
that call loudly, clearly, and ubiquitously, as 
soon as possible, so that Obama and Congress can't ignore us any longer.

Sonali Kolhatkar, a <http://www.fpif.org/>Foreign 
Policy In Focus contributor, is co-director of 
the Afghan Women's Mission and co-author of 
Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and 
the Propaganda of Silence. She has worked in 
solidarity with RAWA (Revolutionary Association 
of the Women of Afghanistan) for nearly 10 years. 
For more information about Afghan Women's 
Mission, RAWA, and how to support Afghan 
activists, visit 

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