The expression “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” may have to be extended to include the modest Afghan karakol cap that has, together with the Dracula gown, become President Hamid Karzai’s trademark. Obviously, such theatrics impress few in a land whose people are famed for their independent spirit, where Karzai is regarded as an American puppet. This is the kiss of death, because America’s atrocious behaviour has alienated most Afghans. Karzai is unable to help or protect his people, who are being terrorised either by foreign occupation troops or by the hordes of US-backed warlords that prowl the land at will. Foreign troops—primarily the Americans, British and Canadians—continue to murder civilians without paying the slightest attention to their suffering.
American contempt for Afghan life was demonstrated yet again last month when a senior commander, while admitting that “he was ashamed” because his troops had killed civilians in Jalalabad on March 4, announced a compensation package of a mere $2200 for each dead human being. American marines had gone berserk when a bomb exploded near their convoy as it sped through the city’s main market. Shooting indiscriminately, they murdered 20 Afghan civilians and injured 50 others, all of them bystanders or passengers in parked vehicles. For such cold-blooded murder, the marines were merely withdrawn from Afghanistan.
There is not even a hint that the Americans will give up these murderous habits. Even while they announced the “compensation package”, their planes were busy blowing people to pieces in other parts of the country. On April 27 and again on April 29, American warplanes bombed villages in the Zerkoh Valley of Herat province, killing more than 60 civilians, most of them children and women. Two days later, when a Red Cross inspection team arrived in the village of Polmakan, it found women still sitting and crying outside their bombed-out homes; they said their children were still buried under the rubble. The Red Cross reported the destruction of 173 houses, leaving more than 2,000 people homeless. On May 17 the Americans bombed villages in Farah province, allegedly targeting the Taliban but again killing civilians. A standard answer for Western crimes against Afghan civilians is that these will be ‘investigated’, even when there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing.
Karzai’s pathetic appeals to the Americans to be “more careful” when attacking villages have been contemptuously dismissed. The truth is the Americans do not care even for their own, as the Iraqi disaster has shown. Meanwhile, warlords allied to the US and Karzai are busy making life hell for ordinary Afghans by kidnap, extortion, rape and murder. The Afghans find themselves in the unenviable position of being attacked from all sides: Americans, British and Canadian troops on one side and the unruly warlords on the other. Life has become intolerable, as Hamida Ghafour, an Afghan-Canadian journalist, pointed out recently in her new book, The Sleeping Budhha. During a recent visit to the country of her birth, she discovered that while the people want food, security and medicines, the non-governmental organisations, those hordes of foreign mercenaries, are obsessed with pushing “condoms and computers”. People also resent the selective morality of the occupiers, who have befriended the unsavoury warlords because they allegedly oppose the Taliban.
Karzai’s worries have now been compounded by another development: some of his ministers are calling for his powers to be curtailed. What powers, one may ask, but such is the fate of puppets that they cannot control even their own flock, much less influence the behaviour of the real power-wielders. Karzai’s opponents are demanding that the post of prime minister be revived and that he hand some of his powers over to him. At the same time, his handpicked Masherano Jirga (the Afghan upper house or senate) has called for negotiations with the Taliban as well as a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Bear in mind that Karzai personally appointed more than half the members of the senate, so theoretically they are supposed to be his friends and supporters.
While the Senate headed by former president Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, called for negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai thought he would go a step further by proposing to hold a jirga of tribal elders from Afghanistan and Pakistan on August 1. The Taliban immediately dismissed the proposal as a ploy meant to fool the people. They clearly see that Karzai is weak and that an increasing number of Afghans are fed up with the brutal methods of their occupiers, whom they want off their backs. In addition to their trigger-happy methods, the foreigners are also completely insensitive to the cultural and ethical concerns of the Afghans. Heavily armed foreign troops frequently barge into people’s homes, ostensibly to search for Taliban or weapons, but apparently with the intention (and certainly with the effect) that they humiliate and offend women in this deeply conservative society. Nothing has alienated the Afghans more than such crude tactics: they help swell the ranks of the Taliban, who are admired because they are perceived as standing up to the hated foreigners. Tribal elders have also taken umbrage at such insults and the resistance has now spread beyond the provinces of Helmand and Qandahar, which had been the most active bases of resistance.
The 50,000 foreign occupation troops clutch any straws they can whenever they kill a few Taliban fighters. When Mullah Dadullah was killed in an ambush on May 12 in Sarwan Qala inHelmand province, it was immediately declared a “great blow” to the Taliban resistance. While it is a setback, it would be wrong to assume that the Afghan resistance is dependent on a single individual. Its depth can be gauged from the fact that it has now spread to twelve provinces; even the Bagram airbase north of Kabul is not immune to attacks, as was evident when a suicide-bomber blew himself up while US vice-president Dick Cheney was visiting the base at the end of February.
Meanwhile Shahabuddin Atal, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed on May 17 that the group had appointed Dadullah Mansour, brother of Mullah Dadullah, as its new field commander. Atal told Ahmad Zaidan, al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, that the Taliban’s spring attacks would not be affected by Dadullah’s death. He said the operations were continuing as planned, led by Mansour, who was freed in March as part of a prisoner-exchange for the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, an Italian journalist kidnapped while working in Afghanistan. Atal also confirmed that the Taliban had arrested a close aide to Dadullah for treachery that had led to his killing.
As if to underscore their resolve to continue the resistance, against both foreign troops and their local collaborators, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack against Assadullah Khalid, the governor of Qandahar province on May 17. A car packed with explosives was driven into the convoy carrying Khalid and Abdul Karim Khurram, the minister of culture and information, near Qandahar. The minister was slightly injured and four Afghan policemen were killed. There were two other attacks in Qandahar the same day, causing nine deaths altogether. Ebrahim Hanafi, a Taliban commander, confirmed that Khalid was the intended target. “The attack on the governor of Qandahar’s vehicle was part of a larger campaign that we have launched.” He vowed: “We will be targeting major cities such as Qandahar and Kabul with a wave of suicide bombings, guerrilla fighting and roadside bombings.” Two days later, on May 19, a suicide-bomber killed three German soldiers in the northern city of Kunduz, together with two civilians. A similar attack on April 16 killed four German soldiers in the same town. On May 20, 14 people died when a US convoy was attacked in the town of Gardez in Paktia province. On May 23 a Finnish soldier was killed in Maimana, capital of the northern Faryab province. With attacks now spreading to the north of the country, Western claims that Taliban operations are launched from Pakistan are disproved.
The Taliban spring offensive is clearly in full swing; so are the US and other foreign occupiers’ retaliatory strikes. The fact, however, is that such retaliations simply alienate more people, encouraging them to join the resistance. This year may yet turn out to be decisive for the resistance because Afghans from all over the country are turning against the occupiers. Once tribal elders in large numbers join the resistance, the occupiers’ days in Afghanistan will be numbered. The Afghans are once again proving that it is very unlikely that anybody will ever occupy their country for long. Like the Soviets before them, it appears that the the Americans will only learn this lesson the hard way.