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U.S. air strikes pave the way for...
Afghanistan's new masters

November 30, 2001 | Pages 6 and 7

AS TALIBAN forces began their retreat from Kabul and other Afghan cities in mid-November, the celebrations began. Especially in Washington. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that George W. Bush was "pleased with the progress of the war and with the latest developments."

Among the "latest developments"? Revelations that Northern Alliance soldiers massacred several hundred Taliban fighters hiding in a school during the takeover of the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. They were "not seasoned fighters," said UN spokesperson Stephanie Bunker--the oldest were aged "17, 18, 19," she said.

In a sane world, these "fighters" would have been attending school, not hiding in one. But their deaths are acceptable to Washington. So are stolen trucks and looted food warehouses reported by relief workers as the Northern Alliance swept through the country--their path to power paved by murderous U.S. air strikes.

ERIC RUDER looks at the warlords and thugs who took over Afghanistan--with the help of the warlords in the White House.

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"THERE IS no victory in Afghanistan's tribal war, only the exchange of one group of killers for another," journalist John Pilger wrote in Britain's Mirror newspaper as the Northern Alliance took control in the Afghan capital of Kabul and besieged Taliban forces in two last cities. "The difference is that President Bush calls the latest occupiers of Kabul 'our friends.'"

The U.S. government was quick to forgive the war crimes of its "friends" in order to establish a provisional government to fill the vacuum left by the retreating Taliban. As Socialist Worker went to press, the Northern Alliance was meeting outside Berlin with two other factions--and Afghanistan's senile King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile for almost three decades--at a summit convened by the UN.

"I very, very much hope that out of this meeting we will take some concrete decisions and steps to form a council," said UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. But the idea that this war will lead to a "broad-based" democratic government in Afghanistan is a pipe dream. The U.S. bombing campaign has simply paved the way for the return of the thugs that ruled the country before the Taliban took power in 1996.

Days before the Berlin meeting, Burhanuddin Rabbani--the head of the largest faction inside the Northern Alliance--declared that the meeting would only be "symbolic." That's because Rabbani isn't interested in a "broad-based" government.

Rabbani's faction took control of Kabul rather than wait outside the city for the U.S. to determine the shape of a future government--and now Rabbani insists that negotiations over who will rule Afghanistan take place in Kabul.

This was hardly surprising. When the warlords that today make up the Northern Alliance last "liberated" Kabul in 1992 after the end of the ex-USSR's military occupation, Rabbani refused to honor an agreement to transfer power--plunging the country back into civil war as Northern Alliance factions feuded with one another.

Some 50,000 people were killed in Kabul alone in the slaughter that followed. That's one reason why the Taliban, too, were initially welcomed as "liberators" when they took over Kabul in 1996--in the hopes that a new government would end the lawlessness and terror presided over by the Northern Alliance.

"Thank you Britain and America for allowing these men to come back and rob and beat us again," one refugee shouted at reporters outside Jalalabad in November as the Northern Alliance descended on the city.

The mainstream media in the U.S. mostly ignored widespread fears about the Northern Alliance. Instead, they focused on celebrations in Kabul as the Taliban's hard-line rules--for example, banning music and requiring men to wear long beards--broke down.

This fit in well with Washington's claims that its war would liberate people from the Taliban's repressive rule, especially against women. But there's less to this rhetoric than meets the eye.

"For years, we have been trying to raise awareness about the situation of women in Afghanistan, and for years, we were being ignored," said Fahima Vorgetts, who headed a women's literacy program in Kabul and fled the country in 1979. "Now people are listening to what we say about the Taliban, but they must listen to what we say about the Northern Alliance to not repeat the same type of tragedy for the country as a whole and especially for the women of Afghanistan."

"Afghans know the Northern Alliance," said Tamina, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, at a meeting in New York City. She recalled the period of Northern Alliance rule in the early 1990s as a time when women faced the fear of mass rapes and young girls were forced into marriages with military commanders. "We don't want that period back," she said.

Even the New York Times had to admit that "life for women…in rebel-held northern Afghanistan is not without its constraints." Women may shop in the market and talk to male shopkeepers--"if absolutely necessary"--something that was forbidden under the Taliban. But they still wear head-to-toe veils called burqas, and young girls must attend special schools.

Yet Washington and its media mouthpieces aren't about to let facts like these stand in the way of declaring "victory." Just as they didn't care that weeks of bombing before the beginning of winter hamstrung food relief efforts--and left Afghans in areas already snowed in to face certain death by starvation.

Washington claimed it wasn't waging war on the Afghan people. Yet it dropped cluster bombs on Afghanistan despite their long record of taking innocent lives.

"By killing innocents in Afghanistan, Blair and Bush stoop to the level of the criminal outrage in New York," Pilger concluded. "Once you cluster bomb, 'mistakes' and 'blunders' are a pretense. Murder is murder, regardless of whether you crash a plane into a building or order and collude with it from the Oval Office and Downing Street."

Colonialism overseen by the UN

THE UNITED Nations says that it will oversee the formation of a "broad-based" government in Afghanistan. But the main group that it's looking to--the Northern Alliance--has already begun to break down into bickering factions.

In the city of Jalalabad, warlords are fighting over who will rule the eastern province of Nangahar. Around Kandahar in the south, Pashtun tribal leaders are threatening to attack the Northern Alliance.

The UN won't fix any of these problems. To see why, just look at its record in Kosovo--which was at the center of the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia.

The UN administration set up after the war was supposed to protect Kosovo's Albanian population from "ethnic cleansing" by Serbs--the main justification for the war to begin with. Instead, UN peacekeepers stood by as Albanians carried out "ethnic cleansing" in reverse against Serbs.

The UN's administrative bureaucracy in Kosovo has virtually limitless powers to remove elected politicians, shut down media outlets critical of its policies and impose the free market.

In Afghanistan, this process is at the beginning. But if Washington gets its way, the failed model of Kosovo will be used in Afghanistan.

Welcome to the new colonialism--21st-century style.

"My hope is that they will be killed"

"MY HOPE is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance." Those were the shocking words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in November. He was talking about some 30,000 Taliban soldiers trapped in the city of Kunduz, one of the last cities that the Taliban controlled.

While the Northern Alliance seemed ready to accept the defection of Afghan Taliban supporters, it wanted nothing to do with roughly 6,000 foreign supporters--from Pakistan, China, Chechnya and other countries--among the Taliban soldiers. Northern Alliance leaders wanted to see the foreign nationals evacuated to other countries.

But Rumsfeld would have none of it. "The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners," he told reporters.

In fact, Rumsfeld knows that the Northern Alliance will execute the non-Afghan Taliban soldiers it captures. His comments are a death sentence--for thousands of young men with no connection at all to the September 11 attacks in the U.S.

And Washington's war makers claim that they are defending "civilization" from "barbarians."

How the Taliban became a U.S. enemy

YOU'D NEVER know it to listen to the mainstream media. But the U.S. government still hasn't produced concrete evidence that directly links Osama bin Laden to the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. And no one even claims that the Taliban government had anything to do with September 11.

Yet Washington declares that the Taliban's defeat is its first victory in the "war against terrorism." The U.S. government's excuse for waging war on Afghanistan is that the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

In fact, the Taliban twice offered to hand him over--if the U.S. showed evidence that he was responsible for September 11. Washington flatly refused.

In late September, according Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Pakistani negotiators struck a deal to bring bin Laden to Peshawar, Pakistan, to stand trial for the September 11 attacks before an international tribunal. Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mohammed Omar agreed to the arrangement. But again, the U.S. refused.

In order to declare "victory" in its war drive, the Bush administration has had to shift the goalposts again and again. After all, this was supposed to be a war to bring "terrorists to justice." Yet as journalist John Pilger points out, "Not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has yet to be caught or killed."

Now the U.S. is claiming victory for saving Afghans from the Taliban's repressive rule. Funny that this didn't occur to the U.S. before. In fact, six months ago--a few weeks before September 11--the U.S. gave new aid to the Taliban government for its help in the "war on drugs."

The U.S. made no criticisms of the Taliban's hard-line Islamic code when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996. In fact, American officials believed that the new government might bring "stability" to Afghanistan after four years of brutal and chaotic rule--by the rival factions that now make up the Northern Alliance.

The oil giant Unocal actively courted the Taliban with money and trips to the U.S.--in the hopes that Taliban officials would back a pipeline to carry Caspian Sea oil through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

So don't believe the rhetoric from Washington. The U.S. government didn't care about ordinary Afghans when the Taliban took over in 1996--and it doesn't now.

What's the next step in Bush's war?

U.S. OFFICIALS have made it clear that their "victory" in Afghanistan is just the beginning. Several other countries--including Indonesia, Iran and Libya--have been mentioned as possible new targets for the "war against terrorism."

But one appears on the list of every U.S. warmonger: Iraq. "The world would clearly be better off if Saddam Hussein were not in power," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Nor do Republicans have a monopoly on saber rattling. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Al Gore's running mate in last year's election, called on the Bush administration to commit itself to removing Saddam from power and to increase its backing for Iraqi resistance groups, including military support.

Then there are the pundits. Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland wrote in November that the U.S. should continue the "hunt for the killers of September 11…In plain language, that means Iraq."

Naturally, neither Hoagland nor any of his fellow commentators have ever referred to evidence to justify targeting Iraq in connection with September 11. But that hasn't stopped them.

When the anthrax letters showed up in Washington, New York and Florida, politicians and the media jumped to the conclusion that Iraq must be behind the attacks. A month later, all the evidence points to homegrown right-wing terrorists.

In reality, Iraq has been under attack by the U.S. for more than a decade. The 1991 Gulf War plus 10 years of crushing economic sanctions--responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Iraqis--have reduced Iraq to a pre-industrial society with little capacity to threaten anyone, let alone the U.S.

The truth is that the U.S. wants to intervene wherever and whenever it wants to. The "war on terrorism" is a convenient excuse for declaring war on its enemies anywhere in the world.

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