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Operation Do-Over: Afghanistan


While U.S. troops are busy giving Saddam 2.0 the keys to the palace over in Baghdad, the task of bringing a functional democracy to Afghanistan (or what the Bush Administration calls, “That thing we keep forgetting to do,”) has been charged to an army of volunteers and powerless human rights watchdog groups.


Groups like Amnesty International are now endeavoring to do what even the United States military knew better than attempt. Afghanistan, a feudal country that even under the Taliban was hardly unified, is falling more and more into the hands of warlords who already control 70 percent of the countryside.

Even our greatest allies are performing beheadings, massacring civilians and making sure the world never wants for heroin. But, what the hell? An election will fix it… Right?

Anybody who has followed my contributions to this site has probably deduced by now that I am a fervent advocate of peace, justice, and democracy. So, prepare yourself to be surprised at my thoughts on the upcoming election… Don’t have it. Just wait until this whole “Iraq thing” blows over, and re-invade Afghanistan. That’s right. I want do-overs.

Actually, before we go on, let me clarify one point. I am still in favor of elections in the United States. I’m talking about Afghanistan. Just don’t want to give anybody any excuses…

We can give up and wait 1,500 years for Afghanistan to pull itself out of the dark ages, or we can go back in and do the job right this time.

The warlords that currently control Afghanistan (let’s face it, we don’t) aren’t about to give up power to a democratic process. Many of these men have retained control in one form or another through Soviet occupation, Taliban rule, and the 2001 U.S. invasion. Does anyone honestly believe that they’re going to give up power, join hands and learn to live together under one government without a fight?

These men haven’t clutched the power they’ve retained purely through strength of charm and good breeding. They want to rule, and they have military muscle to back them up. Different warlords are backed by the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India and the UK. I hate to break the hearts of all the foreign policy Pollyannas out there, but I don’t believe that they helped topple the Taliban purely out of love of country.

Warlords in the Northern Alliance (our allies in toppling the Taliban,) have been exposed by Human Rights Group, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and the United Nations as particularly nasty atrocities both before and since the establishment of the interim government. They’ve also — to the delight of patriotic smack enthusiasts throughout the U.S. — made Opium Afghanistan’s top export. (Apparently, pot was funding terror by keeping kids off of heroin. Who knew?) A little bit about them (and remember, these are the good guys):

Abdul Rashid Dostum, the deputy defense minister of Afghanistan, has gone against the Afghan President’s wishes and set up his own separate military zone in Northern Afghanistan. Apparently as a form of damage control, Dostum allegedly tortured witnesses to other atrocities in order to prevent them from testifying in war crimes trials. He is also currently under investigation for the Dasht-i-Leili massacre, in which American and Dostum forces are blamed for the suffocation deaths of 250 prisoners of war, and shooting deaths of up to 2,750 more. All agree that 250 were suffocated, but little details like whose fault it was and how many were shot to cover it up are disputed.

Dostum’s armies are often known to clash with Tajik forces. The Tajik is lead by Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Northern Alliance and President deposed by the Taliban. Rabbini was the first leader installed after the U.S. invasion. That’s right; even our allies are warring against each other.

Ismail Khan commands an army of 25,000. He’s a low-profile member of the Northern Alliance with some powerful enemies (only weeks ago, he survived the latest in a series of assassination attempts). Under his rule a happy fiefdom seems to be a priority and public massacre is at most infrequent. The only mass grave linked to him contained military personnel from the Soviet invasion.

Although he has the least bloodied reputation among the Northern Alliance warlords, he isn’t exactly Prince Charming, either. In 2002, he was the subject of a 51-page report from Human Rights Watch called, “All Our Hopes Are Crushed: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan.” I wish I made that up, but I didn’t. He even sided with the Afghan Supreme Court when it ruled that women shouldn’t be allowed to sing on TV. He no longer holds any official government post. In context, that seems like a bad thing.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim is the Defense Minister of Afghanistan’s Department of Transportation. The United Nations suggested that he be removed from office for illegally occupying sections of the country. He has also been accused of numerous human rights abuses, particularly in regard to property and housing. Still, he is generous for a warlord; he donated some of his military resources to help build the transitional government.

With friends like these, who needs terrorists? Here’s my suggestion: Stop thinking of warlords as “Allies in establishing an effective democracy,” and start thinking of them as “People to kill when we take that second crack at it.” We call that re-framing.

Is it cynical to say that nobody could seriously believe a country with no centralized military can have an effective central government? Can anyone tell me how electing a person who will command no real military which “controls” about 30 percent of a country has any meaning whatsoever? We’re dealing with a feudal system that seems just a tad hesitant to unite. Really, we have to know that this is election is just a little pre-election show for the folks watchin’ at home.

All the horrific reports by human rights watchdog groups in the world can’t bring down these warlords, but I bet “Operation Take Two” could. It’s great to be forward-thinking, but maybe we should actually conquer the whole country before we try installing a new government. You know, apologize to the Afghani people, politely slaughter the warlords if it is possible without significant civilian casualties, and install a powerful government that means business.

Unfortunately for everybody, re-invasion must be followed by re-occupation, the area we really need to concentrate on. The U.S. and ally-controlled portions of Afghanistan may be excited about democracy, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for it. They’re a little like that 11-year-old boy we all knew who carried the crusty old condom in his wallet. It was expired and he wouldn’t know what to do with it if he got the chance, but he really liked to make sure everyone knew he had it. The Afghanis have a ballot in their wallet, and they’re flashing it around, but that doesn’t mean they have any idea what to do with it.

Some time ago, I was accused of encouraging a “whitewash” of Afghanistan when I wrote that if democracy is to work there, we would have to force a lot more of our ideologies onto the Afghan people. I quoted the Afghan President as saying, “Please, my dear brothers, let your wives and sisters go to the voter registration process. Later, you can control who she votes for, but please, let her go.” I just didn’t think that they got the whole democracy thing; frankly, I still don’t.

In reality, in some ways, the Afghani Constitution tops our own. Citizens are guaranteed a right to privacy (that is only implied in our constitution) and free health care. However, I wouldn’t expect advancements for women to stick around too long; it also establishes Islamic law as the state religion and says that no law may contradict Islam. How’s that for elastic? Furthermore, opposition warlords regularly use rape as a means of warfare—at least the Taliban spared them that. I know how to solve both problems at once: “Operation Oops, Let’s Try This Again.”

Amnesty International reported recently that one human rights worker in Afghanistan had been the victim of a drive-by acid attack. No, it wasn’t the fun hallucinogenic experience it sounds like; three men, from a car, splashed acid onto her neck. She had been working to inform women (who have countless times been convicted of crimes that the Judges were unable to point out in the penal code,) of their rights under the new laws. She plans to continue her work.

Her efforts are sorely needed. Even when the legal system is on a woman’s side, this does not mean that she has a realistic hope of escaping a life of servitude. While many are still being imprisoned for fleeing their husbands (judges in Afghanistan seem to be using the kangaroo model of justice), others are forced to stay simply due to lack of other options. Dowries encourage families to marry girls off early and to the highest bidder, while social conventions discourage them from offering safe haven in the event of a return. One Amnesty press release relates the story of a nineteen-year-old woman who finally left her abusive husband after he threw their three-month-old infant across the room. She got lucky; her family took her back. But they are now pressuring her to return to him.

These are not social problems that can be cured by a democratic election. Sometimes (often in fact,) the majority is just plain wrong. Majority rule doesn’t work if the minorities aren’t well-protected. Laws don’t work if Judges are corrupt, incompetent, or just plain nasty. If we don’t stick around, I wouldn’t expect equal protection to, either.

When asked at the debate to explain just how elections could work for Afghanistan, Vice President Cheney likened this moment in history to a “Similar situation in El Salvador… The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line.” Comforting? Leave it to Dick Cheney to spin a tale of human drive for self-rule into a nightmarish bloodbath. For once, however, Cheney seems in touch with reality: NPR recently reported that opposition warlords are already using intimidation and terrorism to affect the election outcomes.

Do elections, warlords and Islamic Law mix? I won’t have to find out if we follow my plan: Once Iraq is fully “liberated” and safely under the “democratic rule” of a Prime Minister with no “undue criticism,” re-invade Afghanistan.

And let’s get it right this time, people.


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