Afghanistan is sinking into a black hole, but this is not what the rulers of the West, whose forces are busy killing Afghans, will admit. They continue to talk as if all is well and that the Afghans are happy to be "liberated" by gun-toting foreigners who shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. Hunger, lawlessness and drug-peddling (Afghanistan now supplies 92 percent of the world's heroin, according to one UN report) stalk the war-ravaged country, even as Western officials prattle about non-existent progress. A highly critical report released on September 5 by the Senlis Group, a non-governmental organization in Brussels, has found widespread poverty and hunger in the country. The report also pulls no punches: it exposes corruption among Afghan officials and their American masters, who are stealing billions of dollars by means of ill-conceived ‘aid' projects.
One such project was the Kabul-Qandahar highway; instead of getting competitive bids, USAID awarded it to the American company Louis Berger Group for US$700,000 per kilometre. Non-American companies were prepared to do the work for US$250,000 per kilometre. The Louis Berger Group then subcontracted the 389-kilometre highway to Turkish and Indian firms but still charged one million dollars per kilometre: the money was added to Afghanistan's burgeoning debt. Action Aid, a South African NGO, has described such transactions as "phantom" aid: the money never leaves the US but adds to the supposed recipient country's debt. The highway is already crumbling, and has led Ramazan Bashardost, Afghanistan's former planning minister, to complain that when it came to building roads the Taliban did a better job.
Last month, when the new session of the UN General Assembly met in New York, US president George W. Bush and his Western allies, especially Britain and Canada, were profuse in their boasts of the "progress" they had made in the lives of ordinary Afghans. Bush's poodle-in-waiting, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, speaking to an almost empty hall on September 21, thundered that Canada's military will not cut and run from Afghanistan. Canadian forces are operating under NATO cover, but nobody has bothered to explain which coast of the Atlantic Ocean landlocked Afghanistan is situated on. This is clearly an expansion of NATO's role from defending Europe against a threat from the erstwhile Soviet Union to venturing into new lands (especially Muslim, ones) to advance the US's agenda.
Foreign occupation forces, however, are getting nowhere in Afghanistan, even in military terms. More than half of Afghanistan is now firmly under the control of the Taliban, who have regrouped, and are better organised and much more determined than before to fight. Having got a bloody nose both in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has handed over the heavy lifting to NATO, especially Britain and Canada, whose forces are operating in Southern Afghanistan, which is a traditional stronghold of the Taliban. Such provinces as Helmand and Qandahar are almost completely controlled by the Taliban, and an increasing number of ordinary Afghans are joining them because they are appalled by the brutal manner in which foreign troops treat them. Barging into people's homes, shooting and killing without reason, and insulting Afghans (especially women) have turned most Afghans against the occupiers of their country.
Even Western officials have begun to admit that the situation in Afghanistan is grim and that it is not possible to defeat the Taliban militarily. This admission came most recently from Canadian defence minister Gordon O'Connor early last month while he was visiting New Zealand. General Rick Hillier, the Canadian chief of staff, who in a fit of racist cant had threatened to kill the "scumbags" in Afghanistan, is much more circumspect these days. The so-called scumbags appear to have given a good account of themselves in the field. Canadian forces have suffered heavy casualties since their deployment in the south, forcing the military high command to rush in additional troops, and even tanks, to the region. This has caused disquiet among many Canadians, who had been led to believe that Canada's mission was to help the Afghans, not fight them. A poll published in a Canadian paper, the Globe and Mail, on September 14, found that only 3 percent of Canadians support the deployment of more Canadian troops in Afghanistan; 41 percent demand the immediate withdrawal of the troops already there. Other polls have suggested that a majority of Canadians—56 percent—are opposed to Canada's military involvement. Aware of opposition from the public, the Canadian government has invited president Hamid Karzai to Ottawa to address the parliament on September 22. In order to give the impression that Canadians support such a mission, a well-funded rally was organized at Parliament Hill to coincide with Karzai'svisit. The rally, sponsored by rightwing radio and TV stations such as CHUM, CTV and City TV, was given wide publicity both before and after the rally. Not surprisingly, it was well attended, but there were anti-war protesters as well: they made the point thatCanada's mission in Afghanistan is not really for peacekeeping but is warmongering to advance America's agenda.
The rosy picture that US and Afghan officials painted some years ago has been exposed as utterly false. In August 2002, USsecretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed the new Afghanistan "a breathtaking accomplishment" and "a successful model of what could happen to Iraq." Given to colourful phrases and reluctant to admit that anything could ever go wrong with America's messianic mission abroad, Rumsfeld is very quiet these days. Afghanistan is in turmoil and Iraq virtually out of control; in the case of the latter, the daily death toll now averages 100 people. In Afghanistan, car, roadside and suicide bombings, unknown in the past, have become common. In 2003 Karzai boasted that the Taliban were on the run; now it seems that he and his foreign backers are the ones on the run.
What irks ordinary Afghan most is not even the grinding poverty or lack of development, but moral depravity such as the emergence of brothels—80 of them in Kabul alone, according to Ann Jones of American magazine the Nation, who has taught English in Kabul—that goes against the very grain of their existence. A deeply conservative society, they rightly equate such practices with western influence. Not surprisingly, as a result the Taliban are highly successful in mobilising and recruiting people to their cause.