The following article is an excerpt from
the book, "War and Occupation in Afghanistan:
Which Way Forward?" by Nita Palmer. This book
is available from Battle of Ideas Press at
Afghanistan Eight Years Later
It has now been eight years since the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent occupation of the country by Canada/US/NATO troops. When the first bombs began to drop on Afghanistan in October 2001, it was largely portrayed by the invading forces as a war that would be over quickly and easily – the unstable Taliban government would be overthrown, a new government following ‘Western democracy’ would be installed, human rights violations would end, women’s living conditions would improve and Afghanistan would no longer be a haven for terrorists.
Eight years later, nothing could be farther from the truth.
As the war enters its ninth year, voices from across the political spectrum are echoing one thing: the occupying forces aren’t achieving any of their stated objectives in Afghanistan. Not only this, but the cost of the war is high – both on a financial and human level.
As more and more soldiers come home in caskets, opposition to the war is rising on the home front. In the US, according to an ABC poll 51% of people say the war is “not worth fighting” (August 2009). An October 2009 Angus Reid poll in Canada showed that 56% of people oppose the war in Afghanistan. Despite this, the drums of war march on. On Tuesday, December 1, US President Barack Obama announced that the US would send 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan. Other NATO countries will be increasing their troop contributions as well.
As people in the US and Canada, it’s time for us to take a look at the facts of the war and ask ourselves: is this war, as government officials of our countries tell us, “still worth fighting”?
War of Lies
When the war began, there were a host of reasons we were given for the US, Canada and NATO sending troops to Afghanistan. What were some of these reasons, and do they still hold weight today?
Reason #1: Troops are there to rebuild Afghanistan and improve the quality of Afghan life.
Despite receiving over $36 billion in foreign aid in the past eight years – and having troops there under the guise of helping the country rebuild – Afghanistan remains one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Just 13% of the population has access to improved water sources (World Bank, October 2009) and 92% of the country has no access to improved sanitation (Water Aid, 2008). Improving these basic facilities could be easily carried out by the 100,000 troops in the country if this really was a priority for Canada, the US and NATO.
The country’s hospitals remain in a desperate state, now operating well beyond capacity as victims of US and NATO bombings pour in. “Sometimes we give one bed to three patients with minor ailments because of space limits,” said Daud Farhad, the director of Kandahar city’s Mirwais Hospital in an interview with IRIN news. Matters were made worse in Helmand province in September when US forces began occupying two health clinics in the province. "One of the two buildings in a health clinic in 52 [name of area] of Nawa has been occupied by US and Afghan forces which has impacted health services because people are scared and do not want to go to this clinic. The clinic in Miyanposhta was functioning when US forces occupied it. It is now closed. And the clinic in Khan Nishin District was closed before US forces occupied it," said Enayatullah Ghafari, director of Helmand's health department. (IRIN, September 8, 2009).
Since 2007, Afghanistan has fallen down the ranks of the UN Human Development Index, which ranks countries on factors such as life expectancy, per capita income, and infant mortality rate. In 2007, Afghanistan ranked 178th out of 182 countries on the index. In 2009, it ranks 181st out of 182 countries, lower than countries like Haiti or Rwanda. Only Niger ranks lower than Afghanistan in human development. Added to this, the UN Human Poverty Index (a combined measure of the likelihood of dying before age 40, access to education, and basic living standards) ranks Afghanistan as lowest in the world.
Opium production in Afghanistan has also skyrocketed since the beginning of the occupation. In 2001, Afghanistan produced less than 10% of the world’s opium. In 2007, Afghanistan produced 93% of the world’s opium, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium production is down in 2009, but the UNODC acknowledges that this is probably primarily a result of a surplus of opium on the market, rather than of any huge success of the occupation forces in eliminating drug production.
Opium addiction levels in Afghanistan are also at their highest since 2001. An April 2009 UN survey revealed that one in 12 Afghans use drugs, mainly opium, heroin, or hashish. This number has doubled since the last survey in 2005. Many Afghans use opium as a pain reliever because medical services are not available to them, or simply use drugs to cope with the stress of daily life in the war-ravaged country. An estimated 7% of opium addicts – about 140,000 – are children.
These above factors offer proof that the occupation is not benefiting Afghan people. Beyond this, there is one fundamental question to be asked: how can foreign forces claim to be improving Afghan quality of life when at least 40,000 people have been killed as a result of this war? No matter what they claim, foreign forces are not improving social conditions or living standards and creating a better future for Afghans by sheltering their schools, hospitals, homes and mosques by murdering men, women, young and old in daily air strikes.
Reason #2: Troops are there to improve women’s rights.
The fall of the Taliban in 2001 was championed as a leap forward in women’s rights. Yet today, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) notes that domestic violence against women is increasing at ‘an alarming rate’. Ninety percent of Afghan women are victims of physical, sexual and psychological violence, according to UNIFEM. Poverty and lack of education among boys are cited as major factors behind violence against women – and neither of these conditions are being improved by war.
Lack of education is also a huge problem for Afghan women. Just 12.6% of women in Afghanistan are literate (UN Human Development Report 2009), and only 35% are enrolled in primary education, according to UNICEF. Aside from building a few “show schools” in the major cities, US/Canada/NATO forces have done nothing to improve access to education for Afghan women. “In the province I was in literacy was less than 1% for women and the only employment opportunity I was aware of was done by the US military in partnership with USAID and USDA – this was for roughly 20 widows to clean raisins,” stated Matthew Hoh. Hoh was a political officer in the US Foreign Service and the Senior Civilian Representative for the US Government in Zabul province until he resigned from his post on September 10, 2009 in protest over the war in Afghanistan.
Afghan women, on average, earn just 24 cents on every dollar earned by a man (UN Gender Development Index 2009), and this number is even lower in rural Afghanistan where 80% of the population resides. For women who have lost their husbands in war, this puts them in a desperate situation. Decades of war have left Afghanistan with the highest per capita population of widows in the world – an estimated 1.5 million in the country. Most are forced to beg, sell their children or send them to work, or enter into prostitution in order to survive. A survey by UNIFEM, conducted between 2004 and 2009, revealed that 65% of widows living in Kabul see suicide as their only option to get out of their misery and suffering.
Women also face a major lack of health services. There are few hospitals in Afghanistan and few midwives as well. In fact, only 14% of Afghan women have a doctor or midwife attending the birth of their child. As a result of this and other factors, Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world – an estimated 16-19% of women die during childbirth (UNIFEM).
As a comparison to Afghanistan, it is useful to examine the conditions for women in three of Afghanistan’s neighbouring Muslim countries: Iran to the west and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north. Women comprise 63% of university students in Iran (CNN, 2009), while in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the female literacy rate is 99% (CIA World Factbook 2009). In terms of women’s health services, 83% of Tajikistani women, 97% of Iranian women and 100% of Uzbekistani women have a medical professional attending the birth of their child (UNICEF, 2007). The maternal mortality rate in Iran and Tajikistan is less than 0.002%; in Uzbekistan, it is less than 0.0003%. Although neither the political system nor the women’s rights situation in these countries is perfect, it is important to note what women in these three nearby countries have accomplished with independent, sovereign governments and self-determination.
The conditions of life for Afghan women today are no better than they were before 2001 – except now there are bombs, checkpoint shootings, and the insecurity of war to deal with as well. One of the most telling factors of life for Afghan women under the occupation is the rate of Afghan women committing self-immolation – burning themselves to death. Although statistics are difficult to come by due to massive under-reporting, hospitals in a number Afghanistan’s western and southern provinces have reported a rise in cases. Since 2004, a number of NGOs, including Medica Mondiale and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), have reported an increasing number of cases. The AIHRC reported 106 cases of self-immolation in 2006, and 184 in 2007, although the actual number is likely much higher. This is the reality of Afghan women, despite the 100,000 troops sent there to ‘liberate’ them.
The truth is, except for a few minor facilities built in for women in Kabul as a ‘facelift’ to the women’s rights situation in Kabul or other major cities, the overwhelming majority of Afghan women remain in poverty and despair. This is certainly not the ‘liberation’ that Afghan women want.
Reason #3: Troops are there to stop the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
“If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people."
~US President Barack Obama in August 18, 2009 speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention
Taking this claim at face value, it would seem that at the very least it is an illogical and ineffective strategy for fighting terrorism. After the 2001 invasion, the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was small relative to today. According to an August 2009 report by the International Council on Security and Development (www.icosgroup.net), the Taliban now have a permanent presence in 80% of Afghanistan – up from 48% in 2007. Attacks on occupation forces by the Taliban have increased, with a number of attacks even within the ‘green zone’ around Kabul.
The reason behind the increase in strength of the Taliban is simple: the more people the occupation forces kill, the more they have to kill, as family and friends of those killed join the resistance forces fighting the occupation of their country. After eight years of foreign occupation with no improvement to their country, there are an increasing number of people joining one of the main forces fighting against the occupation of their country – the Taliban. This merits the question: how does an occupying force eliminate the Taliban if killing them only makes them stronger?
We hear often that the difficulty of fighting the Taliban is that Taliban fighters hide among the civilian population. This is also given as a justification for the high level of civilian killings by the occupation forces. The truth of the matter is not that the Taliban look exactly like the civilian population – they are the civilian population. Canada/US/NATO forces are not fighting an isolated extremist group in Afghanistan which is trying to regain political power; they are fighting the majority of the Afghan population in their towns, villages, valleys and farms, who never wanted them there in the first place.
In an October 28, 2009 online forum hosted by the Washington Post, former Senior Civilian Representative for the US Government in Zabul Province Matthew Hoh explained that “the people we are fighting, for the most part, in Afghanistan are fighting us because they do not want to be occupied by either a foreign army or a central government force.”
The ‘war on terror’ is what US civil rights leader Malcolm X once called an old colonial trick of turning the victimizer to the victim and the victim to the victimizer. After hundreds of years of intense colonization, plundering, and exploitation, people from the third world are beginning to rise up and fight against imperialist domination by any means they have. The imperialists turn the victims of colonization to the victimizers by labeling them ‘crazy Muslims’ who are jealous of the privileges of the rich countries of the world. Malcolm X’s statement about turning the victimizer to the victim was reflected very well by former US President George W. Bush at a leadership conference in New Delhi, India on October 31, 2009. "[The Taliban] attack political, financial and diplomatic targets because they hate our way of life and they hate our vision for freedom and human rights and human dignity and prosperity and peace,” Bush explained. In fact, organizations like the Taliban are gaining support because they are fighting for freedom and human dignity against those who are plundering their countries.
Which Way Forward?
Today, more troops are being sent to Afghanistan in the name of turning the country into a '"modern democracy" and bettering the lives of Afghan people. Yet eight years after this occupation began, that "better life" for Afghan people is nothing but a farce. The Afghan people, with their proud history of resistance to foreign domination behind them, have once again steeled their resolve to drive the occupation forces out of their country. From mothers who have lost their children to Canada, US and NATO forces, to children who have watched their parents die in front of them, to farmers who have seen their fields obliterated by bombs, all are voicing their resistance to foreign occupiers.
There are two ways forward in Afghanistan today: the way forward of the occupation forces – more bloodshed, more killing, more destruction – and the way forward of the Afghan people – dignity and self-determination. It is up to us, peace-loving people in Canada, the US and around the world, to choose which we support.
Pulling all foreign troops out of Afghanistan will not mean that Afghanistan will be a perfect country. It may make things difficult for Afghan people in new ways. After all, Afghanistan will still be a third-world country suffering under the boot of imperialism. But in the last eight years, the occupying imperialist forces have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that they are incapable of bringing a better life to Afghan people, and in fact have only worsened their situation. If the Afghan people have the basic right to determine their own future, they will at least have the opportunity to build a better life for themselves.
Working and oppressed people in Canada and around the world must stand with our Afghan brothers and sisters in their call for self-determination. It is in neither our interest, nor the interest of Afghan people, that the governments of our countries are spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a brutal war in Afghanistan instead of creating much-needed jobs and social programs in our own communities. It is neither in our interest, nor the interest of Afghan people, that thousands of young soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians have been lost to this war. It is in our interest, the interest of Afghan people, and the interest of humanity to demand:
Canada/US/NATO Out of Afghanistan Now!
Self-determination for Afghanistan Now!
Troops Home Now!
Back to Article Listing