West offers Afghans three choices

IssueOctober 2008
News by Gabriel Carlyle

At the end of August, Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on illegal government killings, said his chief concern was the policy of night raids by foreign intelligence agencies.

These raids took place without accountability to the Afghan government, and left those subjected to them with three choices; “They can either stay in their home and run the risk of being shot in their bed. Secondly, they could try and run, in which they would be shot, or thirdly, they fire back in which case they are treated as a terrorist and shot.”

(In Iraq, “several hundred” suspected insurgents are said to have been assassinated in the last two years during covert SAS operations in Baghdad, according to the Sunday Telegraph.) At the end of August, the Afghan council of ministers reportedly demanded a “status of forces agreement” with the US, saying that aerial bombing, illegal detentions and house raids by international forces should cease.

Airstrike deaths triple

On 27 August, US Marine Corps general James Conway stated that airstrikes would continue to play a primary role in Afghanistan: “Air power is the premier asymmetric advantage that we hold over... the Taliban. They have no like capability.”

The Observer found internal US air force figures revealing that 272 tonnes of bombs were dropped on Afghanistan during June and July 2008 - the same amount dropped on the country during all of 2006.

Early last year, Brigadier Richard E. Nugee, chief spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, acknowledged that its forces had killed too many civilians in 2006, and promised to change this in 2007.

Instead, on 8 September, Human Rights Watch published a new report on Civilian Deaths from Airstrikes in Afghanistan, which found that “civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO airstrikes nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007”. (See the latest Voices in the Wilderness newsletter for more on this report.)

Taliban “humanity”

BBC presenter Lyse Doucet raised eyebrows at the end of August when she stated that the mainstream media had failed to convey the “humanity” of the Taliban: “because the Taliban are a wide, very diverse group of people”. Some of the Taliban “would like to talk to the British government. Some of them don’t want to be fighting British troops.”

Jason Burke reported in the Observer that “the real strength of the insurgents lies not in their ability to ambush convoys or plant roadside bombs but in the parallel administration they have managed to establish in huge areas across the south and east of Afghanistan.”

The order enforced by the Taliban may be harsh, but it is “sometimes welcome”. In Wardak province, villagers tell stories of how the Taliban rapidly settle the myriad property disputes which mark Afghan society, using traditional tribal councils with an Islamic scholar as a judge. According to Burke, refugees who have fled from the province to Kabul report that exploitation of local communities by the Taliban is rare: “They ask the landowners for food, but not us,” said Roz Ali, 42.

Topics: Afghanistan