Last week, Colonel Gary Cheek, commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, painted a rosy picture of events in Afghanistan for the press corps. According to Col. Cheek, the Afghan insurgency is "significantly weaker" than it was last year, despite the recent spike in violence that has left dozens dead in the past few weeks.
Col. Cheek was either woefully misinformed, or was simply telling convenient lies. Given this administration's overall contempt for the truth, the latter is more likely.
On Sunday, May 22, 2005, the Scotsman revealed that Britain's Ministry of Defense was planning to rapidly deploy thousands of British troops to Afghanistan. Apparently, Britain is a bit less optimistic than we are about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Britain, for instance, is of the opinion that the U.S.-led coalition faces a "complete strategic failure" in Afghanistan. To stave off such a failure, Britain is preparing to send up to 5,500 more troops to Afghanistan, a ten-fold increase of their current military presence there.
Why such a dismal assessment? Well, according to Britain's Ministry of Defense, the toxic combination of feuding tribal warlords, insurgent fighters, Taliban holdouts, as well as inadequate and corrupt Afghan government institutions has left the country on the brink of collapse. Of particular concern to the British is the apparent alliance between the Taliban and notorious Mujahideen warlord Gulbadeen Hekmatyar, designated a terrorist by the U.S. in 2002. The fact that these former enemies might now be allied ought to concern Bush & Co., as well. Apparently, however, it does not.
There are other reasons for the U.S. to share Britain's concerns. Most recently, and as widely reported, Afghanistan erupted in violent anti-American protests following Newsweek's since-retracted report of U.S. troops desecrating the Koran. Most in the U.S. are quick to write off the riots as the emotional reaction to an inaccurate and inflammatory story, pinning the blame on Newsweek. However, at least one Afghan newspaper questions whether the protests in Afghanistan were as much about Newsweek's story as they were about supporting the Taliban and Hekmatyar's militia.
According to the Kabul Weekly, the demonstrations throughout Afghanistan were incited by the Taliban and Hekmatyar and stemmed from the Afghans' disappointment with the nearly stagnant reconstruction process, their complaints about abusive treatment by coalition soldiers, and their anger with the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Thus, the Kabul Weekly concludes that the aim of the demonstrations was not necessarily to denounce desecration of the Koran, but to express support for the Taliban and for Hekmatyar, as well as to voice opposition to the Karzai government and the permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Even if one disagrees with the assessment of the Kabul Weekly, there are other reasons to be concerned about the recent uprisings in Afghanistan. The impression given by the Bush administration and its coterie of obedient media outlets is that the demonstrations were limited to a few provinces, thereby rendering them "isolated incidents." By the second day of the demonstrations, however, the riots had spread to ten of Afghanistan's thirty-four provinces. Riots which consumed one-third of Afghanistan can hardly be described as isolated.
The widespread and improvisational nature of the protests has led some analysts to conclude that they represented a deep-seeded, Islam-based popular resistance in Afghanistan to the Karzai government, the U.S., and other outside influences. Karzai acknowledged as much during his visit to the White House on May 23, 2005, when he dismissed the riots as "a political act against Afghanistan's stability."
Speculation that the resistance is rooted in Islam arises out of Afghanistan's history as a decentralized state, run by local warlords, regional governors, and opium traffickers. Karzai's government, such that it is, has little sway outside of Kabul. The one thing that Afghanistan's various factions have in common is Islam. Well, Islam, and more recently, anti-Americanism.
This Islam-based popular resistance against the U.S. and the guilty-by-association international community is borne out by the recent violence in Afghanistan and the targets of that violence. For instance, on May 18 and 19, in two separate incidents, eleven Afghan employees of a Washington-based agricultural company were gunned down in Zabul province. Days earlier, on May 16, an Italian worker for CARE International was kidnapped in Kabul. Also in Kabul, on May 7, a suicide bomber detonated himself in an internet cafe' frequented by foreigners, killing two Afghan civilians and a U.N. contractor. Two days earlier, armed men in Kabul tried to kidnap three foreign employees of the World Bank.
Bush & Co. dismiss the recent upsurge in violence in Afghanistan as the last desperate gasps of an insurgency facing defeat. Of course, Bush & Co. made similar naive and foolish statements about Iraq. While Bush & Co. may think all is swell in Afghanistan, the British are certainly concerned.
Maybe we ought to be, too.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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