Socialist Worker

Hell on earth

George Bush and Tony Blair promised to bring peace, prosperity and freedom to Afghanistan. Instead they delivered...

Issue No. 1816

NO ONE can forget the horror of the news pictures as the hijacked planes hit the twin towers a year ago, and the awful consequences for those trapped inside. But George Bush and the US government, backed enthusiastically by Tony Blair, cynically used that tragedy to unleash even greater horror. US president Bush claimed he would 'rally the world against international terrorism'.

Blair argued that he would fight to save 'the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor'. They targeted Afghanistan, claiming its rulers harboured those responsible for the attack on the US.

The Afghan Taliban regime, Bush and Blair argued, was 'evil'. They would liberate the country, and its women, bringing peace, prosperity and stability. The reality has been different. The US took its revenge by ruthlessly bombing some of the poorest people in the world, people who had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks on 11 September. The war was not about winning liberation for Afghanistan. It was an assertion of US imperialist power.

The US and Britain turned Afghanistan into a hell hole, bringing death, destruction and chaos to a country which had already suffered from two decades of war. They dropped 'daisy cutters' and cluster bombs which maimed and burned people, and planted thousands of unexploded landmines that will kill and injure people for years to come.

They blasted villagers, patients in hospitals and even wedding parties with 1,000-pound bombs from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers. We may never know exactly just how many Afghan people were killed during the onslaught. But even the most conservative estimate of the casualties shows that US and British bombing murdered more people than in the 11 September attacks.

US professor Marc Herold, who has made a meticulous calculation of the death toll, verifies that between 3,100 and 3,600 civilians have been killed by direct hits from US bombing.

That figure does not include those who have died later from terrible injuries and the thousands more who have died through starvation and disease. At the beginning of this year the US and Britain proclaimed that they had achieved a victory in Afghanistan. But they continued to bomb the country - including slaughtering over 50 people at a wedding party in July.

US and British forces still occupy the country. A government has been imposed which has scant authority over feuding warlords vying for power in many parts of the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dispossessed, and millions once again face the threat of famine. Amnesty International comments, 'Afghanistan is far from stable - fighting continues, crime and banditry are rife, women and ethnic groups have been targeted for abuse, and there are thousands of unexploded landmines.' The war also created massive destabilisation across the region.

It has fuelled the conflict between the two regional nuclear powers India and Pakistan, which have gone to the brink of war several times over Kashmir. Now Bush and his gang want to inflict a bigger military assault on Iraq. If they do it will mean death and destruction, chaos and instability even worse than the hell they have inflicted on Afghanistan.

Massacres and war crimes

IN THE north of Afghanistan the US gave the green light for its Northern Alliance allies, led by warlord General Dostum, to unleash slaughter during the war. Last week's issue of US magazine Newsweek is headlined 'The War Crimes of Afghanistan'.

It provides yet more evidence that last November the Northern Alliance massacred Taliban prisoners. It documents how Alliance forces crammed 1,000 Taliban fighters into sealed containers and condemned them to a slow death through suffocation. The bodies of these prisoners were dumped in a mass grave near the Sheberghan prison.

The Physicians for Human Rights organisation and the United Nations have now both confirmed that these mass graves hold recent human remains. US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld had stated just before the killings that he wanted Taliban forces taken prisoner or 'killed' so they could not 'make their mischief elsewhere'.

Newsweek says, 'The benefit in fighting a proxy-style war in Afghanistan was victory on the cheap-cheap, at any rate, in American blood. 'The cost, Newsweek's investigation has established, is that American forces were working intimately with 'allies' who committed what could well qualify as war crimes.'

The spectre of famine returns

THE US and Britain promised they would help rebuild Afghanistan. It was a cruel lie. Much of the aid that was promised has failed to reach the country. According to the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority just 5 percent of the $5 billion pledged by Western nations has reached people in Afghanistan.

The World Food Programme has received only 57 percent of the food it requested to prevent starvation and malnutrition. Money for road building, irrigation and power projects will not reach Afghanistan before 2003.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. Many regions are now experiencing famine. Wivina Belmonte, of Unicef, the United Nations children's agency, said in July, 'In any given year in the past decade some 250,000 children under five have died. The current rate of severe malnutrition is now six times higher.'

Reality about refugees

THE BRITISH government now considers Afghanistan safe enough to send refugees back to. In a powerful series in the Independent journalist Robert Fisk gives a different picture:

'In Afghanistan it is possible to go from hell to hell. The first circle of hell is the Waiting Area, the faeces-encrusted dustbowl in which 60,000 Afghans rot along their frontier with Pakistan. There are laughing children with terrible facial sores, old women of 30. They are a leftover of the last Afghan war, the one we are supposed to believe is over. Things might be different if the warlord battles ended in the north, if the Americans allowed the international peacekeeping forces to move out of Kabul and collect the weapons in the north and damp down ethnic fires. But Afghanistan is becoming more lawless by the week.'

The truth on drugs

TONY BLAIR and much of the media claimed the war would stop heroin from Afghanistan ending up on the streets of Britain. In fact the US and British war has created the conditions in which drug production in Afghanistan is increasing. Independent journalist Robert Fisk reports, 'The drugs whose production the Taliban banned are now back on the market.

'The poppy fields are growing in Helmand province again, and in Uruzgan local warlords are trying to avoid government control in order to cultivate their own new poppy production centres.'

Women still suffering

GEORGE BUSH and Tony Blair claimed the war would liberate women from the oppression they faced under the Taliban regime. This was complete hypocrisy. Women were on the receiving end of US and British bombing. They are suffering from the hunger which still stalks the country. There have been frequent reports of rapes by the US's allies, the Northern Alliance.

The majority of women still wear the burqa, the all-encompassing veil. Afghanistan's minister for women, Sima Samar, was forced out of the government. She was accused of breaking sharia law and also labelled as an 'Afghan Salman Rushdie'.

Warlords are still rampant

FAR FROM bringing democracy to Afghanistan, the war unleashed a brutal scramble for power between rival warlords. The bombing got rid of the Taliban. But repression, brutality and bribery remain intact, making life every bit as bad as under the Taliban for most people. The US restored to power the notorious warlords Gul Agha Shirzai in Kandahar, Ismail Khan in Herat and General Rashid Dostum in the north.

Two government ministers were assassinated in the space of seven months. In February this year tourism minister Abdul Rahman was pulled from a plane and beaten to death by security personnel loyal to the rival Northern Alliance. In July Afghan vice-president Haji Abdul Qadir was assassinated outside his office.

The government of Hamid Karzai has little control over the scramble for power. According to Ahmed Rashid, an expert on Afghanistan, 'The warlords and tens of thousands of followers who were armed by the Americans to run down the Taliban have become a powerful destabilising factor.

'Unwilling to disarm or accept the writ of the central government, they are even defying the US.'

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Sat 7 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1816
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