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One year after the U.S. "liberated" Afghanistan

By Sharon Smith | November 22, 2002 | Page 7

ONE YEAR ago last week, the U.S. claimed victory in the war in Afghanistan, when its proxy army, the Northern Alliance, marched triumphantly into Kabul, routing the Taliban.

Also that week, news footage showing joyous throngs of Afghans welcoming the Americans and women ripping off their burkas--the full-body covering mandated by the Taliban--decisively won the public relations war at home. In the eyes of most Americans, these fleeting images provided evidence to verify the Bush administration's claim that its war on terrorism "liberated" the Afghan people and brought "equality" to Afghan women.

For this reason, many people who oppose the coming war against Iraq continue to support the war in Afghanistan in particular and the war on terrorism more broadly. But how is "liberated" Afghanistan faring a year later? This question is all the more important as the U.S. prepares for the next phase of its war, against Iraq--with administration hawks already eyeing Iran as the next potential target for "regime change."

"One year after the Americans promised a return to democracy, most of Afghanistan remains carved up among a collection of opulently thuggish warlords, many of them commanders of armies of mass rape, torture and murder from whom the country fled to the Taliban as an antidote six years ago," Geov Parrish of Working Assets wrote recently. The same warlords--still backed by the U.S.--now pose "the greatest threats to stability in Afghanistan," according to the relief agency CARE.

Today, mass graves are the only acknowledgement of thousands of Pashtuns massacred by Northern Alliance warlords in the weeks before the U.S. declared victory. "There are mass graves all across the North, and the Americans, who know about this, have said nothing," a humanitarian worker told journalist Robert Fisk. The British Guardian newspaper estimated that up to 8,000 Afghans died in the bombing, with up to 20,000 more killed as an indirect consequence of the bombing--from starvation, cold and disease.

Nine out of 10 Afghan women continue to wear the burka, while fundamentalists--having successfully changed the name of the country to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan--have launched a battle to enshrine strict Sharia law, like that of the Taliban, within Afghanistan's new constitution.

This fall, extreme fundamentalists embarked on a firebombing campaign against girls' schools--leaving behind threatening leaflets warning parents not to send their girls to school and ordering women not to appear in public without wearing the burka. Human Rights Watch reported in June: "Afghan women of all ethnicities have been compelled to restrict their participation in public life to avoid being targets of violent factions…[and] continue to face serious threats to their public safety, denying them the opportunity to exercise their basic human rights."

The abject poverty of the Afghan population, however, is the most glaring indictment of U.S. aims in the war. In Afghanistan, the fourth poorest nation on earth, fully 95 percent of the population is illiterate; the same number has never seen a doctor or a nurse.

The U.S. government has spent over $10 billion in Afghanistan in the last 14 months. But roughly 85 percent of this impressive sum was spent on bombing and financing Northern Alliance warlords and their private armies.

For 2002, the U.S. promised just $290 million--less than needed for emergency food aid for the millions of Afghans at risk for starvation, and nothing to rebuild the water treatment and electrical plants it destroyed.

Just last week, Afghan police killed two Kabul students after hundreds rioted, saying they had no electricity or running water in their dorms for seven straight days, and were turned away after standing in line for hours for food. One Kabul resident summed up the feelings of the mass of Afghans a year after the fall of the Taliban, telling the Financial Times, "Soldiers and guns don't feed us."

The misery unfolding in Afghanistan today unravels the myth that the war was fought with anything other than the narrow interests of U.S. imperialism in mind.

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