[OPE-L:7517] Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Aug 15 2002 - 23:34:37 EDT

Robert Fisk: Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster

The Americans now leave the beatings to Afghan allies, but the CIA 
are there during the beatings

14 August 2002


Robert Fisk: Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster
The garden was overgrown, the roses scrawny after a day of Kandahar 
heat, the dust in our eyes, noses, mouth, fingernails. But the 
message was straightforward. "This is a secret war," the Special 
Forces man told me. "And this is a dirty war. You don't know what is 
happening." And of course, we are not supposed to know. In a "war 
against terror", journalists are supposed to keep silent and rely on 
the good guys to sort out the bad guys without worrying too much 
about human rights.

How many human rights did the mass killers of 11 September allow 
their victims? You are either with us or against us. Whose side are 
you on? But the man in the garden was worried. He was not an 
American. He was one of the "coalition allies", as the Americans like 
to call the patsies who have trotted after them into the Afghan 
midden. "The Americans don't know what to do here now," he went on. 
"Their morale in Afghanistan is going downhill - though there's no 
problem with the generals running things in Tampa. They're still 
gung-ho. But here the soldiers know things haven't gone right, that 
things aren't working. Even their interrogations went wrong". 
Brutally so, it seems.

In the early weeks of this year, the Americans raided two Afghan 
villages, killed 10 policemen belonging to the US-supported 
government of Hamid Karzai and started mistreating the survivors. 
American reporters - in a rare show of mouse-like courage amid the 
self-censorship of their usual reporting - quoted the prisoners as 
saying they had been beaten by US troops. According to Western 
officials in Kandahar, the US troops "gave the prisoners a thrashing".

Things have since changed. The American forces in Afghanistan, it 
seems, now leave the beatings to their Afghan allies, especially 
members of the so-called Afghan Special Forces, a 
Washington-supported group of thugs who are based in the former Khad 
secret police torture centre in Kabul. "It's the Afghan Special 
Forces who beat the Pashtun prisoners for information now - not the 
Americans," the Western military man told me. "But the CIA are there 
during the beatings, so the Americans are culpable, they let it 

This is just how the Americans began in Vietnam. They went in squeaky 
clean with advisers, there were some incidents of "termination with 
extreme prejudice", after which it was the Vietnamese intelligence 
boys who did the torture. The same with the Russians. When their 
soldiers poured across the border in 1979, they quickly left it to 
their Afghan allies in the Parcham and Khad secret police to carry 
out the "serious" interrogations. And if this is what the Americans 
are now up to in Afghanistan, what is happening to their prisoners at 
Guantanamo? Or, for that matter, at Bagram, the airbase north of 
Kabul to which all prisoners in Kandahar are now sent for 
investigation if local interrogators believe their captives have more 
to say.

Of course, it's possible to take a step back from this dark and 
sinister corner of America's Afghan adventure. In the aftermath of 
the Taliban's defeat humanitarian workers have achieved some little 
miracles. Unicef reports 486 female teachers at work in the five 
south-western provinces of the country with 16,674 girls now at 
school. Only in Uruzgan, where the Taliban were strongest, has not a 
single female teacher been employed. UN officials can boast that in 
these same, poverty-belt provinces, polio has now been almost 

The UN was fighting polio before the Taliban collapsed, and the drugs 
whose production the Taliban banned are now back on the market. The 
poppy fields are growing in Helmand province again, and in Uruzgan 
local warlords are trying to avoid government control in order to 
cultivate their own new poppy production centres. In Kabul, where two 
government ministers have been murdered in seven months, President 
Karzai is now protected - at his own request - by American 
bodyguards. And you don't have to be a political analyst to know what 
kind of message this sends to Afghans.

Kabul is alive with the kind of rumours that can never be 
substantiated but that stick in the mind, just as the dust of 
Kandahar stays in the throat and on the lips of all who go there. 
"The British forces were right to leave," a British humanitarian 
worker announced over dinner in Kabul one night. "They realised that 
the Americans had no real interest in returning this country to law 
and order. They knew that the Americans were going to fail. So they 
got out as soon as they could. The Americans say they want peace and 
stability. So why don't they let Isaf (the international force in 
Kabul) move into the other big cities of Afghanistan? Why do they let 
their friendly warlords persecute the rest of the country?"

Far more disturbing are persistent reports from northern Afghanistan 
of the massacre of thousands of Pashtuns after the slaughter at 
General Dostum's Qal-i-Jangi fort last November These mass murders, 
according to a humanitarian worker I have known for two decades - he 
played a brave role in preventing killings in Lebanon in 1982 - went 
on into December with the full knowledge of the Americans. But the US 
did nothing about it, any more than they did about the 600 Pakistani 
prisoners at Shirbagan, some of whom are still dying of starvation 
and ill-treatment at the hands of their Northern Alliance captors.

"There are mass graves all across the north, and the Americans, who 
know about this, have said nothing," my old friend said. "The British 
intelligence people knew this, too. And the British have said 

There are those in Kabul who suspect that the Americans are now in 
Afghanistan for secondary reasons: to operate in and out of Pakistan, 
rather than in Afghanistan itself. "They've had plenty of muck-ups in 
Afghanistan and they could not base thousands of their soldiers in 
Pakistan," a Western officer in Kabul said. "They're safer here, and 
now they can go in and out of Pakistan and keep the pressure on 
Musharraf from here - and on the Iranians too."

Last week, The Independent revealed that FBI officers have been 
seizing Arabs from their homes in Pakistan and bringing them across 
the border to Afghanistan for interrogation at Bagram.

It was the Special Forces man in the south who saw things a little 
more globally. "Perhaps the Americans can start withdrawing if 
there's another war - if they go to war in Iraq. But the US can't 
handle two wars at the same time. They would be overstretched." So to 
end America's "war against terror" in Afghanistan - a war that has 
left the drug-dealers of the Northern Alliance in disproportionate 
control of the Afghan government, many al-Qa'ida men on the loose and 
absolutely no peace in the country - we have to have another war in 

As if the Israeli-Palestine conflict is not enough. But when Donald 
Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of State, can identify only a "so-called" 
Israeli-occupied territory on the West Bank - the occupation troops 
there presumably being mistaken by the Pentagon as Swiss or Burmese 
soldiers - there's not much point in taking a reality check in 

The truth is that Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster. 
Pakistan is now slipping into the very anarchy of which its 
opposition warned. And the Palestinian-Israeli war is now out of 
control. So we really need a war in Iraq, don't we?

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