The US has been bombing Afghanistan since 2001 when the Bush Administration accused the Taliban government of harboring al-Qaeda. Within weeks of the first bombing raids, the civilian death toll in Afghanistan had greatly exceeded the number of people killed in the US on 9/11. And, the war did not bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice.
The US and NATO did manage to oust the Taliban in 2001. Afghan women then gained some relief from a regime that publicly beat and executed women, and denied them education, healthcare, employment, participation in public life and any recourse from widespread domestic abuse. But that relief was short-lived. Today, a resurgent Taliban controls most of Afghanistan’s southern provinces and is encroaching on Kabul, the capital.
In 2007, the number of US/NATO troops was increased by 45 percent. During that surge, more civilians were killed than in the previous four years combined. Each year that the occupation drags on, more Afghan civilians are killed. In 2008 alone, more than 2100 civilians were killed, a 40 percent jump over 2007.
Manufacturing the Taliban
In 1979, the Carter Administration launched the biggest covert CIA operation to date. According to Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the aim was “to induce a Soviet military intervention” in Afghanistan in order to weaken the Soviet Union. Once the Soviets invaded, the CIA, together with Pakistan’s secret service, worked to expand the Afghan opposition to the Soviets into a ‘holy war.’ They hoped that Muslim countries within the Soviet Union would turn against it, and ultimately, destroy the Soviet Union from within. To that end, the CIA trained and funded thousands of Islamic Mujahideen (holy warriors), including Osama bin Laden.
The war turned millions of Afghans into refugees. To create their corps of “holy warriors,” the US encouraged Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to open thousands of hard-line religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Out of these madrassas came the talibs (students) who later became the Taliban.
By 1989, the Soviet Union had been badly defeated in Afghanistan. Having achieved its aim, the US left the country to be ravaged by the warring gangs it had helped organize. Civil war raged until 1996, when the Taliban seized power. Despite a reign of terror unleashed by the regime, particularly against women, the US supported the Taliban until 2001.
Asked if he regretted his role in the creation of the Taliban, Brzezinski, more recently an advisor to President Obama, said: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
Afghan Women: Confronting the Legacy of US-Supported Extremism
Taliban-style extremism is a recent imposition and a product of US intervention. Since the mid-1800s, Afghan governments have slowly but steadily advanced progressive reforms in democratization, education and women’s rights. Gains were made despite widespread poverty and opposition from socially conservative local leaders.
In 1923, Afghanistan’s first constitution granted women suffrage and other rights consistent with the moderate version of Islam practiced by most Afghans. During the 1960s and 1970s, women won more rights, participated in government and benefited from higher education.
But progressive reforms came under attack by Islamists opposed to modernity, women’s rights, and democratization. These forces were supported by the US to counter nationalists, socialists and others in the region who might ally with the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1980s, many progressive Afghans were killed or exiled, but others carried on the fight for human rights. Even during the worst days of the Taliban (1996-2001), Afghan women ran underground networks to deliver medical care to women, operated clandestine schools for girls and secretly documented and publicized Taliban atrocities abroad.
The Bush Administration justified the invasion of Afghanistan by pointing to the Taliban’s systematic abuse of women. But subsequent US policies in Afghanistan did not uphold women’s human rights. As a result:
- One in every three women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
- 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages
- Every 30 minutes, a woman dies in childbirth
- 87 percent of women are illiterate
- 70 percent of girls have no access to education
- 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women
Despite the continued injustices, Afghan women remain a vital progressive force for rebuilding their country, advancing human rights, and fostering peace in Afghanistan and the region.
The US Occupation
The US hand-picked Afghan President Hamid Karzai, betraying many Afghans’ hope for genuine democracy. Karzai’s government is seen as somewhere between inept and predatory.
In its efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the US has brought to power notorious warlords, drug lords, and brutal militia leaders. 60 percent of Afghanistan’s Parliament are either warlords or have ties to warlords. One MP, Mohammad Mohaqiq, is accused of nailing prisoners to walls. Other government officials also stand accused of war crimes, but are protected from prosecution by a general amnesty.
Fear of US-allied warlords and militias leads to increased support for the Taliban, which promises to restore law and order.
The US has militarized humanitarian aid by creating “provincial reconstruction teams” (PRTs) that blur the line between combat operations and aid delivery. The PRTs use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to extort information from civilians. The practice turns urgently-needed aid into a weapon of war and endangers recipients by associating them with the US military.
Aid operations have been seriously threatened by the occupation. Half the country is now inaccessible to UN aid workers. Attacks on aid workers have risen 400% since 2005, leading many agencies to scale back their programs.
Afghans have a long and proud tradition of resisting foreign occupation. The current US troop build-up is no exception. Afghan community groups, women’s organizations, and student movements have protested the occupation, but their voices are rarely heard in US media. More than 90 percent of Afghans polled by the BBC say they oppose the Taliban, but less than half see the US-led occupation as a positive alternative.
Afghan women and families are already being killed in record numbers and more combat operations will mean more civilian deaths. Each of these killings is a grave violation of human rights. The Taliban benefits from the spiraling death toll because more Afghans view it as a legitimate resistance to a brutal invasion. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.