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Quittin' Time in Afghanistan

An election held under the guns of a foreign occupation army cannot be called legitimate or democratic.

This week's stage-managed vote in Afghanistan for candidates chosen by western powers is unlikely to bring either peace or tranquility to this wretched nation that has suffered 30 years of war.

The Taliban and its nationalist allies rejected the vote as a fraud designed to validate continued foreign occupation and open the way for western oil and gas pipelines.

The Taliban, which speaks for many of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun, said it would only join a national election when U.S. and NATO troops withdraw.

After all the pre-election hoopla and agitprop in Afghanistan, we come out the same door we went in. The amiable U.S.-installed leader, Hamid Karzai, may remain in office, powerless.

Yet Washington is demanding its figurehead achieve things he simply cannot do. Meanwhile, Karzai's regime is engulfed by corruption and drug dealing.

Real power remains with strongmen from the Tajik and Uzbek minorities and local, drug-dealing tribal warlords who are paid by Washington to pretend to support Karzai. Behind the Tajiks and Uzbeks stand their patrons, Russia, India and Iran.

Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes, which make up 55% of the population, are largely excluded from power. They were the West's closest allies and foot soldiers ("freedom fighters") during the 1980s war against the Soviets.

The Taliban arose during the chaotic civil war of the early 1990s as a rural, mostly Pashtun religious movement to stop the wide-scale rape of women, impose order, and fight the drug-dealing Afghan Communists. The so-called "terrorist Taliban" received U.S. funding until four months before 9/11. Washington cut off aid after the Taliban made the fatal error of giving a major pipeline deal to an Argentine rather than U.S. oil firm for which Hamid Karzai once reportedly worked as a consultant.

Oil pipeline

The current war in Afghanistan is not about democracy, women's rights, education or nation building. Al-Qaida, the other excuse, barely exists. Its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan. The war really is about oil pipeline routes and western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin.

Afghanistan is a three-legged ethnic stool. Take away the Pashtun leg and stability is impossible.

There will be neither peace nor stability in Afghanistan until all ethnic groups are enfranchised. The West must cease backing minority Tajiks and Uzbeks against majority Pashtun -- who deserve their rightful share of power and spoils.

The solution to this unnecessary war is not more phoney elections but a comprehensive peace agreement among ethnic factions that largely restores the status quo before the 1970 Soviet invasion. That means a weak central government in Kabul (Karzai is ideal for this job) and a high degree of autonomy for self-governing Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara regions.

Government should revert to the old "loya jirga" system of tribal sit downs, where decisions are made by consensus, often after lengthy haggling. That is the way of the Afghans and of traditional Islamic society.

All foreign soldiers must withdraw. Create a diplomatic "cordon sanitaire" around Afghanistan's borders, returning it to its traditional role as a neutral buffer state.

The powers now stirring the Afghan pot -- the U.S., NATO, India, Iran, Russia, the Communist Central Asian states -- must cease meddling. They have become part of the Afghan problem. Afghans must be allowed to slowly resolve their differences the traditional Afghan way, even if it initially means blood. That's unavoidable.

The only way to end the epidemic of drug trading is to shut border crossings to Pakistan and the Central Asian states. But those nation's high officials, corrupted by drug money, will resist.

We can't solve Afghanistan's social or political problems by waging a cruel and apparently endless war. A senior British general just warned his troops might have to stay for another 40 years. (He later retracted).

The western powers, Canada included, have added to the bloody mess in Afghanistan. Time to go home.

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