Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Afghanistan: History Repeats Itself

New Statesman: (via Cryptogon)
[. . .]

There has always been an absolute refusal by the Afghans to be ruled by foreigners, or to accept any government perceived as being imposed on the country from abroad. Now as then, the puppet ruler installed by the west has proved inadequate to the job. Too weak, unpopular and corrupt to provide security or development, he has been forced to turn on his puppeteers in order to retain even a vestige of legitimacy in the eyes of his people. Recently, Karzai has accused the US, the UK and the UN of orchestrating a fraud in last year’s elections, described Nato forces as “an army of occupation”, and even threatened to join the Taliban if Washington kept putting pressure on him. Shah Shuja did much the same thing in 1842, towards the end of his rule, and was known to have offered his allegiance and assistance to the insurgents who eventually toppled and beheaded him.

Now as then, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.

This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer.

There are other similarities. Then as now, the war effort was partially privatised: it was not so much the British army as a corp­oration, the East India Company, that provided most of the troops who fought the war for Britain in 1842, just as today both the British and the Americans have subcontracted much of their security work to private companies. When I visited the British embassy, I found that many of the security guards at the gatehouse were not army or military police, but from Group 4 Security. The US security contracts offered to Blackwater/Xe and other private security forces under Dick Cheney’s ideologically driven policy of privatising war are worth many millions of dollars.

Finally, now as then, there has been an attempt at a last show of force in order to save face before withdrawal. As happened in 1842, it has achieved little except civilian casualties and the further alienation of the Afghans. As one of the tribal elders from Jegdalek said to me: “How many times can they apologise for killing our innocent women and children and expect us to forgive them? They come, they bomb, they kill us and then they say, ‘Oh, sorry, we got the wrong people.’ And they keep doing that.”

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