Afghan misery continues: imperialist plans in disarray /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

A UN-backed survey has found that around one million Afghan children under the age of five are malnourished. In southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, where the war is at its fiercest, almost 30% of children suffer acute malnutrition (30% is one of the official bench marks for declaring a famine). Afghanistan is now bottom of the UN development programme poverty index. It has the world’s third worst infant mortality rates. Nine million Afghans (36% of the population) live in absolute poverty, with a similar number living just above the threshold. Less than a quarter of the Afghan people have regular access to safe water. At the same time, a super-rich elite, sponging off the spoils of war, live in grand mansions and drive around in luxury cars. As of 16 September 2012, 430 British soldiers have been killed for this. JIM CRAVEN reports.

Heroin production has doubled since 2001. In 2005, nine tons were found in the office of Mohammed Akhundzada, an ally of President Karzai, who later joined the Afghan senate. In 2006, heroin was found in the car of Haji Zahar Qadir, whom Karzai was considering to be head of the border police and who is now one of the leaders in the lower house of parliament. More than 40% of the foreign aid supposedly meant for the Afghan people goes back to the western bank accounts of these criminals. Bashir Sarwari, head of the Afghan mental health department, believes half the population suffers psychological problems because of the war conditions under which they are forced to live. Recent symptoms of widespread ‘poisoning’ among school children proved to be cases of mass hysteria brought on by stress. This is the reality after 11 years of a war and occupation that the Afghan people were told would bring them peace, prosperity and democracy.

One in three of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan – three million in all. Although the camps in Pakistan, where many of them live, have little or no basic resources, most refugees prefer them to life in Afghanistan. Only around 40,000 have taken up the UN repatriation programme this year. The Pakistan government, however, is threatening to cancel their refugee status next year. Life expectancy in Afghanistan, at 48.6 years, is the fifth lowest in the world. It is one of only five countries where women’s life expectancy is lower than men’s. More than three-quarters of Afghans over 15 years of age are illiterate (the proportion of women is much worse). The Thomas Reuters Foundation regards Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Last year 88 girls committed suicide by self-immolation rather than suffer a forced marriage. Maternal mortality rates are the second highest in the world. It is legal for men to beat and rape their wives. A new law being promoted by President Karzai will make it illegal for Afghan women to go out without a male or to be in the same workplace as men. He wants women to stay at home when possible and not even be shown on TV in the same room as men. So much for liberating women from the Taliban.

Occupation forces digging in

Although the US and Britain claim to be pulling out most of their combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, they have no intention of ending the war or the occupation. A strategic agreement between the US and Afghan governments will allow the US to keep around 20,000 troops, special forces and trainers in the country until 2025, as well as maintaining control of air power. Britain will keep up to 200 special forces in Afghanistan, together with 90 officers to run an elite training academy for Afghan officers. In fact, the US is continuing to expand its military facilities. It is presently building an intelligence centre for drone warfare and a special operations centre at Kandahar airfield and there are seven contracts in the pipeline for a planned ten-year development at Bagram air base. The US is also building a logistics hub at Camp Marmal on the Uzbekistan/Tajikistan border.

Expanding the war chest

Since coming to power, President Obama has authorised the bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Pakistan, including over 330 drone attacks on the latter, which have killed over 3,000 people. Proposed US military expenditure for 2013 is $912 billion, almost a quarter of the total US budget. Not to be outdone, Obama’s presidential rival Mitt Romney has proposed more naval vessels, bigger ground forces and an extra $2 trillion on the military budget over the next ten years. Unable to even dream of such destructive power, the British ruling class clings on to the coat tails of the US in order to promote its own global imperialist interests.

US/British plans to maintain a grip on the strategically important Afghanistan, however, face severe problems. Despite spending over $50 billion, there is little sign that the Afghan national army and police will be capable of taking over the bulk of security by 2014. Anti-occupation forces have been able to penetrate security and carry out attacks on army, police and government bases with comparative ease. In August, the Taliban claimed to have shot down a NATO Black Hawk helicopter carrying seven US and four Afghan special-ops soldiers. A week later the plane being used by head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey was hit by shrapnel from two Taliban rockets fired at Bagram Air Base.

On 14 September, 19 Taliban breached the supposedly impregnable Camp Bastion to kill two US marines and destroy five aircraft. This camp in central Helmand province is the size of Reading, and ‘completely isolated’. The Taliban said they were targeting British Prince Harry. Several British airmen were wounded.

There has been a dramatic rise in the frequency of ‘green on blue’ attacks where members of the Afghan national forces have turned their weapons on the occupying forces. By the middle of August there had been 32 such attacks this year, resulting in 40 deaths. This compares with 21 attacks and 35 deaths last year. The situation has become so dangerous that the US have implemented the so-called Guardian Angel programme, using armed US soldiers to guard colleagues from their Afghan ‘allies’. Among the incidents this year: a 15-year-old tea boy killed three US soldiers, a 60-year-old farmer killed two special force trainers at an inauguration ceremony for his village security force and an Afghan police officer killed three marine special operatives after inviting them to a meal. Such actions indicate an underlying hostility among many Afghans working alongside the occupation forces. It is the most visible outcome of a much wider antipathy bred by the hated night-time raids, the killing of civilians, the indiscriminate arrests of young men and the total disrespect for Afghan customs. It was recently announced that no action would be taken against either the three US marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Afghan fighters, or against the six US soldiers responsible for the burning of copies of the Koran at Bagram base.

Dwindling support

The handover of some security operations to Afghan national forces also relies on the continuing support of other nations. At a meeting in Chicago in May, NATO countries agreed to contribute around $5 billion a year to the Afghan security budget until 2024, together with payment for troops that remain and other aid projects. However, support remains fragile. New Zealand has followed France and South Korea and decided to pull its troops out earlier than planned. A majority of people in most countries are opposed to continuing the war and occupation. 60% of registered voters in the US believe the country should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, and with the ongoing capitalist recession, many governments may be forced to withdraw their support. The imperialists’ plans for the long-term occupation of Afghanistan could well unravel.