Afghanistan: The Forgotten Country
I was reading The Nation last night before bed, I'm surprised it didn't induce fitful sleep and unpleasant dreams, and the cover story for the October 30th issue was titled "Taliban Rising." (Yes, I'm a little behind on my reading.) The story was about the new resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan bolstered by the war in Iraq, as well as insurgents and financial support coming in from Pakistani terrorist groups.
The "Taliban are back, coming out at night to burn schools, assassinate liberal imams, launch rocket attacks on government buildings and plant mines to kill NATO soldiers," according to Christian Parenti who wrote the article. These incidents used to be isolated to the southernmost territories of the country, but have now moved as far north as the capital, Kabul, which has suffered several suicide bombings this fall and U.S. military officials in Afghanistan now say that there are terrorist cells based in Kabul itself.
And yet many Americans have no idea what is going on - good or bad. It's been five years since the U.S. launched the offensive against Afghanistan in hopes of capturing Osama Bin Laden just weeks after the September 11th attacks and there are still a substanial number of U.S. troops trying to secure Afghanistan. You wouldn't know it from watching the news or reading the papers.
Headlines are dominated by the war in Iraq - after all things there are much more dramatic, much "sexier" with the daily suicide bombings and the kidnappings of several dozen people just yesterday. It was reported two days ago that more than 100 people - ONE HUNDRED PEOPLE - were killed just that day in various terrorist strikes across the country. There's no doubt that what's going on in Iraq is important, that we need to end that occupation as soon as possible, but we cannot forget the civilians and the troops still in Afghanistan.
And it's not just the rise in terrorist violence. The Afghani government is Corrupt (and, yes, the capital "C" was intentional) - government officials extort money from civilians looking for assistance and steal public funds to try and fatten up their $30-$100 per month salaries. Plain and simple the Afghani economy is almost non-existent with 92% of the country's income coming from international aid.
The people in Kabul will receive just three hours of electricity today, they do not have sanitary drinking water, there is no organized healthcare system, many schools do not have teachers, there are no public words programs and there is very little action to invest in the few state-owned businesses (coal and gas extraction, a national airline, a chain of small hotels) Kabul has - and this is all happening TODAY, five years after the overthrow of the Taliban.
So is it any wonder that some have become sympathetic to the Taliban, that some have even said they would welcome the Taliban regime back? The citizens of Afghanistan don't have enough to support themselves and what little they have is being stolen from them by a government they are supposed to believe is trying to help them.
According to Parenti, "To pay taxes in Kabul one must first bribe the tax collector! No bribe and your taxes (which will be stolen) won't be registered as paid. Without proof of payment a homeowner or shopkeeper could be reported to the police, arrested and repeatedly extorted at every step of the legal process."
There are so many other aspects to this situation - the opium trade (Afghanistan provides 92% of the world's heroin), prostitution, warlords, etc. - but I am ashamed. I am ashamed that my government has thrown two countries, TWO countries into turmoil and still doesn't seem to have a plan on how to get them out.
I don't want to "cut and run" either; I want these people to receive the assistance they so greatly need, but what I do know is that what the U.S. is doing right now ISN'T working. And while Rumsfeld's replacement was a welcome change, we must put pressure on our elected officials to make sure that this will not be a change in personnel only. Afghanistan and Iraq are in desperate need of a fundamental change in strategy if they are to come out of these wars in better condition than before they were pulled in.
So that's my political tirade for the day. This article by Christian Parenti is eye opening and I highly recommend you take the time to read it in its entirety. I learned so much and I think it's time that Americans open their eyes even wider to include Afghanistan in their scope when asking government officials for answers and real change in military issues.