The Impact of US War on Afghanistan

Columnist SOBIA NISAR analyses the effect of the present “war on terrorism”.

Impact of the US Bombing

The four week bombing of Afghanistan  had resulted in the sight of Kabul street  with a background of bombed out buildings with no roofs, no wall standing, just a dusty skeleton and desolation. There is not a single shrub. Not a flower in sight and no sign of existence of water.

The American war against terrorism seem to be going nowhere. Bombing Kabul may be a strategically sound decision but what is there  to bomb in Kabul? Sometimes they hit the Red Cross, sometimes relief warehouses. Sometimes they kill a hospital, sometimes they kill civilians who have nothing to do with good versus evil. The smart American bombs are not that smart after all and inspite of their advanced technology they cannot differentiate between an ordinary Afghani and a “terrorist”. When the bombs fall they maim, kill and obliterate, the just and unjust with the same ruthless efficiency. In Kandahar they bombed a hospital by mistake, later there was a clarification that it wasn’t after all a hospital but an old peoples home. Then came the news of the Afghan airport being turned into a desolate and miserable tract of land.

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary Defence, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and in Gen Franks from his headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa,  routinely hold a conference call in morning and at the end of day to access the “campaign progress”, plotting the next move and deciding on targets.

On  October 23, 100 people were killed when US and British war planes bombed a hospital in the western city of Herat. On October 24, UN Spokesman reported that “US bombs  struck a mosque and a nearby village  during raids on the western city of Herat.”

Herat has also been at the receiving end of the extremely controversial cluster bombs. According to the Mine Action Programme Afghanistan (MAPA), clusters have a notorious history... When the bomb explodes, the steel splits so you get hundreds of high velocity steel fragments travelling at the speed of  a rifle bullet. They can kill or injure people from over 100 meters from the point of detonation.

President Bush continues to insist that “we are a peace loving people”. However, the American strategy and goals appear to have changed, driven as was the premature commencement of bombing, by an impatient domestic public opinion further licensed and panicked by the  Anthrax scare. According to the Washington Post, “Pentagon officials said  they have now stopped waiting for a political solution and have stepped up aerial raids designed to help the Northern Alliance” It states further, “the US bombing campaign against Afghanistan could last for several months and would need to be followed by ground intervention of upto roughly 20,000 troops with heavy air support.”

It is also clear that the cautionary advice from coalition partners be it on the question of bombing in Ramadan or on the folly of employing ground troops in Afghanistan or on the need to call a pause in the military process and extend more efforts and funds on breaking apart the Taliban support base or on locating  Osama’s hideouts finds little resonance in Washington. It would be wise for the coalition partners, be it Pakistan or the United Kingdom to understand the Washington mood and plan responses accordingly.

In these circumstances what do we face? An influx of refugees, despite the closure of  our borders. Turbulence in our tribal areas and even the settled districts of the Frontier and Balochistan prompted in part by family and tribal bonds and in part by the incitement to which they will be subjected by the religious parties. Turmoil in areas where our nationals are gainfully employed — the Gulf or visible or invisible restrictions on the migration of our people to destinations in the West. Importers in the west will still weigh carefully the placing of orders in an area of  political uncertainty. The targeting of Pakistan by terrorists, the first Anthrax cases reported in Pakistan are an ominous indicator when taken together with Osama’s letter to the Pakistani people.

It is now four weeks since Taliban held areas in Afghanistan  have come under aerial attack. There is gloom  if not despondency about the results. The exultant announcement of the evisceration  of the Taliban after the first week of bombing has been replaced by the sober assessment that the Taliban are “formidable warriors”. Taliban morale seems to be high, though this could rapidly change despite the latest carpet bombing by the dreaded B-52s.

Even strong Pakhtun opponents now appear to support the Taliban because they are perceived as defending  Afghanistan against a foreign enemy.

The Northern Alliance continues to sit on its haunches revealing what was suspected, they lack both the wherewithal and the spirit to fight the Taliban; they will take only what  is handed to them on a silver platter. On the political front anti-Taliban commanders’ efforts to rally support within Afghanistan are floundering. Abdul Haq, a key figure in this endeavour and the supporter of the ex-king is dead, probably betrayed to the Taliban by the very people he was seeking to recruit within Afghanistan. Another Hamid Karzai, appears to be holed up somewhere in the Kandahar area but his efforts too seem to be known in detail to the Taliban. Some of his associates have been napped by the Taliban, while he himself narrowly escaped arrest. Taliban  intelligence seemed at this time to be superior to anything their opponents can muster.

Osama’s Viewpoint about UN, Arab Leaders

Osama bin Laden launched a fierce diatribe against the United Nations, blaming it for the Muslims’ sufferings and said that leaders of Arab UN members were infidels in a videotape broadcast by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television.

The Saudi-born Afghan based militant also said the United States  had “no-proof” to justify its strikes on Afghanistan, which began nearly four weeks ago after the ruling Taliban militia refused to hand him over to Washington. “We have suffered and continue to suffer because of the UN and no Muslim or sensible person  should turn to the UN because it is an instrument  of crimes.”

There was no indication when the videotape was recorded, but it was Osama’s second appearance  on AlJazeera since the US bombing campaign began. Osama added “Those who want to solve our problems are hypocrites; our suffering is caused by the UN”. Osama said “Who issued the Palestine partition  resolution in 1947 and handed the Arab country over to the Jews? The United Nations...Those who want to be Arab leaders and whose countries are UN members are infidels who renounced the Quran and the Prophet’s (Mohammad PBUH) sayings when they resorted to international legitimacy instead of resorting to the Quran.”

“We (Muslims) are being slaughtered everyday and it (United Nations) does not lift a finger.” He added “For more than 50 years, our brethren in Kashmir have been subjected to untold suffering, they have been massacred, their honour violated and their homes attacked without the UN batting an eyelid”. Osama also remarked that the US, which blames him for the September 11  terror attacks  on New York and Washington  had no proof justifying its strikes on the Afghan people.

Divide Afghanistan

Most countries like Pakistan insist that unity of Afghanistan must remain intact. Everyone knows that before Taliban the country was already divided. It was a  divided state with warlords controlling their own occupied territory, with toll tax being collected by  gangs  after every few miles. When Taliban fall, they may lose Kabul, but they will still be retaining a major portion of their territory. The Northern Alliance will control some parts. Kabul may go to a coalition of US/UN forces. In such a disarray, it can be given a thought  to formally divide

Afghanistan into states enjoying the right of self-determination. Let each area get that right  as envisaged by the UN. Let each one have an internationally certified piece of land with a flag and a capital. What is immediately needed is an open debate on the pros and cons of such arrangement. If worked out properly, with the backing of UN and US a formally and legally divided  Afghanistan may ultimately provide peace to some areas. The alternative is continued  and prolonged chaos, not just on Pakistan’s borders  but for the entire civilized world.

In the present circumstances it would be too heavy a burden on Afghans, polarized by two decades of conflict, to form a  broad-based government balancing the claims of all indigenous  stake-holders. However, efforts can be made in this context to form a broad-based government  representative of different ethnic origins. If that doesn’t work out, then the concept of self-determination can be applied to Afghanis. After all the concept of self-determination is very close to Pakistan and central to Kashmir issue. It would be fair if we applied the same yardstick to helpless Afghans.       

Strategy for Pakistan’s Economic Revival

Pakistan has put itself in a multi-pronged strategy to steer the economy out of its problems which have exacerbated recently. The estimated loss to the economy would be two to three billion dollars this year. This will mainly be caused by loss in revenue, decrease in exports, reduction in foreign investment and slowdown in privatisation process. The rescue plan aims at reducing the country’s debt burden, seeking greater market access for exports  and concessional term loans from international financial institutions. While promises of economic assistance  in terms of aid, trade, and debt relief have been made from friends and donors, most of them are in the process of negotiations. These should be translated into concrete action as early as possible for attaining the goal of early economic revival.

The IMF will consider the poverty reduction and growth facility in early December. This will be followed by consideration of Pakistan’s request  for debt relief by the Paris Club later in the month. In the meantime, aid and trade should pick up offsetting some of the losses being sustained by the economy. The month of  December  will assume critical importance for country’s economy. During this period, all economic ministries and departments should come up  to-date figures of losses and gains. It will help in strengthening the rescue/revival plan for the economy. The new strategy can be articulated for the next three years which may also coincide with the growth and poverty reduction facility.

On October 29, the State Department Spokesman talked about the economic package that was being put together for Pakistan to offset the heavy cost entailed for participating in the coalition and assuming a front line status. It included a  $100  million to be made available  in the ‘near future’ and which amount the administration hoped  to increase “significantly”. In addition there is $95 million  for the ongoing programmes of education, health, child labour elimination, $30 million for food assistance, $73 million for border security and law enforcement and further sums of the possible magnitude of $400 million from EXIM Bank and $200 million from OPEC. It also included American support to a new three year $2 billion IMF programme for Pakistan. Besides, a wide range of products and programmes through the World Bank and the Asian Bank that could total $2 billion in the next year. It also included  support of rescheduling  of part of Pakistan’s $12.2 billion debt owed to  the Paris Club countries on general terms, to ease Pakistan’s external debt burden. Moreover, it eased restrictions on textile items  from Pakistan by eliminating duties or lifting quota limits and  exploring other ways of improving Pakistan’s market access for textile products. The US Spokesman added that this would amount to well over a billion of dollars from the US and several billion dollars from international aid programmes. 

Victims of Terrorism

On  September 11, Middle Eastern terrorists took 5,766 innocent lives! Between October 7 and November 4, all that American terror attacks have achieved is raising the tally of innocent lives lost by at least 1000. Would the bombing stop once Afghan casualties also reach 5,766?  

The majority of people  killed in various violent clashes  taking place in Afghanistan are innocent people. A large number of common people  were killed in the Khalistani movement in East Punjab. Likewise, similarly  common people  are being  killed  in Kashmir too. The September 11 attacks aimed at destabilizing the American system clearly demonstrates that the terrorism more commonly hurts common people more than policy makers.

Similarly, innocent people in Palestine and the weakest segments of the Kashmiri populations have suffered most from the Israeli and Indian brutalities. Terrorism of all kinds whether against the  Palestinian Muslims, innocent  Kashmiris or Afghani children and women should  come to an end immediately. US policy-makers should realize that  they are fighting  terrorism with terrorism. The UN  and International community should pressurize the Americans to stop any further devastations and ongoing war in Afghanistan.  More rational approach should be adopted  for the resolution  and change of Afghan government.  Efforts should be directed towards reconstruction in Afghanistan.