Friday March 16 2007
From frying pan to the fire
By Deepali Gaur Singh
For the Afghan people, the Taliban pose only as much a threat as the warlords pose.
For the US administration, Afghanistan is a lab experiment gone horribly wrong, very much like Iraq. Not only did they lose initiative within months of their invasion here; the brutality and randomness of their attacks resulted in more civilian deaths than insurgents. In five years the death toll is five times the number killed in the 9/11 attacks. So if retribution is what they were really after, then they have overachieved. And, this does not include deaths by radioactive material and cluster bombs.
The Americans have shouted themselves hoarse over the Taliban’s spring offensive. But who really is the bigger enemy of the Afghan people: the occupying foreign forces, the Taliban insurgents or the “Mujahideen” and warlords, who are all set to get a law passed in Parliament that grants them immunity from any judicial proceedings or action for their heinous war crimes. If you ask the average Afghan it is the proverbial case of “from the frying pan into the fire”.
President Karzai has voiced his concerns repeatedly over the excessive civilian casualties during the airstrikes. While it is true that more children and non-combatants have been killed in these “successful” offensives, Karzai’s concerns stem from attempts by the Reconciliation Commission to have talks with all opposition groups, including the Taliban.
Difficult to chose
Ironically, when the militia did maximum damage to the country in the mid-90s until 2001 the Americans chose to remain silent, still struggling with the belief that they might serve their ends in Afghanistan better than the Mujahideen had done post-Soviet withdrawal. Their allies during the Soviet invasion Pakistan too found the Taliban a better bet than the more “nationalistic” Mujahideen and invested in them.
While the US administration continues to build a case for the heightened military offensive against the militia, their Pakistani counterparts have actually signed a peace pact with them. In truth, today, the Taliban for the Afghan people pose only as much of a threat that the warlords pose if the Bill, granting the latter amnesty, is passed in Parliament.
RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, functioned as an underground movement even during the Taliban regime with many of its workers persecuted, kidnapped and murdered. They have also been one of the primary voices calling for justice for the victims of these war crimes, even if it means trying the men in parliament. What the parliamentary elections did was to allow all disparate and tainted warlords to assume political legitimacy in a partyless system, thereby practically dominating the legislature.
Threat to life
Their power is reflected in the fact that Malalai Joya, the youngest parliamentarian and an outspoken critic of theirs, changes residence in Kabul every two days due to blatant death threats by these upholders of the newly established democratic way of life in Afghanistan. She has not been spared physical attacks inside the legislature for her irreverence towards these “freedom fighters”. Just two decades earlier, RAWA’s founder in her fight for human rights and social justice was assassinated in Pakistan by Afghan KGB agents.
For the Afghan people, in particular women, the so-called Mujahideen are no better than the Taliban. Women in rural Afghanistan continue to cling to the security of their burqas for fear of these warlords. Kidnappings, rape and the trade in women, particularly young children, was and continues inside their personal fiefdoms.
RAWA’s communiqué on Universal Human Rights Day last year very poignantly highlights the situation facing the Afghan democracy. “First, the US divided the Taliban criminals into “moderate” and “non-moderate”. In the first stage Taliban criminal leaders were stamped as “moderate Taliban” and allowed into parliament. Now, two criminal gangster leaders, Gulbuddin and Mullah Omar, have been invited to join the government. Only al-Qaeda remains to be invited to join the government”.
(The writer is a faculty with JNU, New Delhi)