Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Afghanistan Ottawa Won't Tell You About - the Afghanistan We're Being Asked to Fight to Defend

Some of us support the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. Some of us oppose it. On both sides, the great majority of us support our troops. This week our MPs are scheduled to have a "debate" on extending the mission to 2011. Our top general, the Big Cod, has already weighed-in on the debate, shamelessly insinuating that subjecting his (and it very much is "his") mission to political debate could place Canadian soldiers' lives in jeopardy (which, from Hillier's mouth to the Talibans' ears probably ensures it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy - and that jackass impugns our patriotism and support for the troops!).

What is the point of debating this if the arguments are to be framed on deliberately scripted myths and propaganda - half truths and outright lies? For that is exactly what has been dished up to the Canadian public by our political and military leaders. That is what has been fed to you and to me.

From Washington to Brussels to Ottawa the mission to Afghanistan has never been much more than a political football. That's why, six years down the road, it's an utter failure. Pursuing our political objectives is what guaranteed failure from the very outset.

Our political agenda treated the creation of a new Afghan government almost as an afterthought. We staged elections that saw our guy, Hamid Karzai, win as president without bothering to notice that the real reins of power were falling into the hands of warlords, thugs and common criminals.

Were we to defeat the Taliban - pretend for the sake of argument that could be possible - what would we leave behind? All that would remain would be a powerful, criminal enterprise under the control of Islamic fundamentalist warlords, our supposed former allies in the "Northern Alliance." If you take the Taliban out of the equation today that's what you have left, a feudal, Islamist narco-state under the grinding heel of Sharia law. That's what we have created, more by omission than act, in today's Afghanistan.

This week you'll hear a lot of patriotic jingoism from the floor of the House of Commons, most of it deserving to be shovelled rather than printed because it'll be heavily laced with pure, manipulative bullshit.

Sarah Chayes is a former National Public Radio reporter who's been in Afghanistan since the early days after the fall of the Taliban. She handed in her microphone to do development aid work shortly afterward. Today she's widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and reliable sources of just what is going on in Afghanistan and - surprise - it's not what you've been hearing from Rick Hiller or Peter MacKay or that practised dissembler, SHarper, or just about anyone else in Ottawa.

Chayes was interviewed on Bill Moyers Now this week. The entire interview can be watched on the website. Here are a few excerpts from her remarks that may help you make sense of what you hear this week when our own MPs debate the mission to Afghanistan:

"SARAH CHAYES: You know, you can drive around the streets of Kandahar. You can drive around the streets of Kabul, and you see some massive buildings. Massive buildings. You see the price of property in Kandahar is probably close to the price of property in New York City.

BILL MOYERS: So who's living in those buildings? Who's using those buildings?

SARAH CHAYES: Government officials and drug traffickers. So it's either the opium money, or it's the development money. And we're not following that money trail. The same problem in Iraq. I mean, there's just millions of dollars that are kind of leaking out of the system.

BILL MOYERS: So, has this become an opium economy?

SARAH CHAYES: Definitely, it's an opium economy. And it's totally integrated into the economy. It's a normal aspect of the economy. And you can feel it. For example, in opium harvesting season, we needed one of our herbs. We needed somebody to -- basically wild crafting to harvest herbs up in the hills. We couldn't get anybody because there were you know, buses at the Helmand, is the province right next door to us where most of the opium is growing. And there would be, you know, from the Helmand bus depot, they would just drive people straight out into the fields. Because, and the price of labor was going up. Normally, labor is unskilled labor is $4 a day. It was $20 to $25 a day in opium harvesting season. It totally absorbs all of the available manpower. Now, the cliché that I don't subscribe to is that the Taliban are running the opium business.

SARAH CHAYES: Well, we're paying a billion dollars a year to Pakistan, which is orchestrating the Taliban insurgency. So, it's actually us-taxpayer money that is paying for the insurgents, who are then killing, at the moment, Canadian troops. Now if I were the government of Germany or France, I'd have a hard time putting my troops in that kind of equation. I would demand from Washington, that Washington require a lot different behavior from Pakistan.

BILL MOYERS: But the money's supposed to be to stop the Taliban in Afghanistan.

SARAH CHAYES: Has anybody done very strict accounting on where that money is going? I suspect that if you start looking at some of the receipts, you'll find that there's money missing.

SARAH CHAYES: yeah. I mean, you know, these are districts that are in the hands of the Taliban. There's a district I used to go to frequently. We would gather herbs for our essential oil distilling up there. And now there was a deal between the district chief, the government and the Taliban saying, "so long as you don't kill the police, we'll let you go wherever you want." Now what has started to happen, couple of things have happened. One is people are just so disaffected with the government that we put in power.

BILL MOYERS: Ordinary people.

SARAH CHAYES: Ordinary people.

BILL MOYERS: Disaffected?

SARAH CHAYES: Yeah. Their government is shaking them down. I have people telling me, "We get shaking down by the government in the daytime, and shaken down by the Taliban at night. What are we supposed to do?"

BILL MOYERS: This is the Karzai government.

SARAH CHAYES: That's correct.

BILL MOYERS: This is the government the United States put in power.

SARAH CHAYES: That's correct. It's basically a criminal enterprise. And we haven't really asked it for any accounts in any serious way. And that's where the average person in Kandahar is totally perplexed. They assume that this degree of corruption, which is everywhere. You hear about it in the police department. It's not just the police department, it's in customs. It's in any adminis--You have-- you want to get a driver's license. You have to fork over money.

BILL MOYERS: So what's our bind in southern Afghanistan?

SARAH CHAYES: I think there are two binds. One is our relationship with Pakistan, which is a contradictory one. And the other is our unwillingness to hold Afghan public officials to any standard of decency in government. We keep hearing in the west, about the democratically-elected Afghan government. And, oh, no, we can't get in there and interfere with any of these people, because they're the government of a sovereign country. Well, you could have fooled the Afghans. The Afghans-- the only person who's really elected, who has any power, is president Karzai. But every other government official that Afghans interact with on a daily basis, they didn't elect. And they don't have any recourse. They've got no way of lodging a complaint against this person. Or nobody who can put any leverage on them. And that's the other bind. We're only fooling ourselves when we talk about this democratically-elected Afghan government.

...SARAH CHAYES: Correct. And we made an alliance with these thugs than we then placed into positions of power. So it's sort of like a--it's like a western movie. You know, you've got a posse. You're going go out after the outlaws, so you gather together a posse and it's usually a posse of criminals, right? But in a western movie, you don't then put the posse on the city council. You know.
BILL MOYERS: So who is the sheriff?

SARAH CHAYES: We're the sheriff.


SARAH CHAYES: In this particular metaphor, we're the sheriff, right? We're going go out after the outlaw, Osama bin Laden. We gather this posse of Afghan criminals to gallop off with us. And then we put them in positions of the governor. We make them into the governor, the mayor, the, you know. And we don't ask them anything about how they're governing. We don't demand-- all we say is, we have to support the Afghan government. We have to support the Afghan government. And so we've fed them money, we've fed them arms, and then we say to the people, "okay, you're supposed to hold your government accountable." they're looking at these thugs with the whole power of the entire world, is what it looks like to them, behind them. And the Afghan people say, "you want us to hold them accountable?" So this, I think, is really the root of the problem.

Sarah Chayes went on to say that some Afghans believe the US supports the Taliban because they know Washington supports Pakistan and, to them, Pakistan is the Taliban.

So, by propping up the Afghan government, we're bailing furiously with one hand while we are busy boring holes in the hull with the other. Now that sounds like something worth continuing, doesn't it?

It is only because we're pursuing our political agendas - civilian and military - that we can demand that this counterproductive and contradictory failure continue. This isn't about Afghanistan and the future of the Afghan people. If it was, we wouldn't be acting the way we have been and the way we intend to continue acting.


Anonymous said...

You don't support the mission, so you don't support the TROOOOOOPPPPPSSSSSS!!!!!1111!1!!1ONE!!!!!111!!!

a rightarded idiot.

Anonymous said...

I too watched and listened to Sarah Chayes last night. This is the kind of on the ground information we need more of in the public debate.

Had some time before seen a report on her work there, so it was good to know she is still there, hopefully she will remain safe considering the risks involved. She is one brave woman!

Hopefully, she will get some media exposure here in Canada before she returns to Afghanistan.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Good stuff, Mound. Thing is, it ain't really new wrt the type of people whom we've helped install into power and whom we continue to prop up. There is a degree of willful blindness on everything about the Afghanistan mission.

We don't bother following up on detainee treatments because we don't want to have to admit we are complicit in war crimes. By not following up, however, we fail to stem the rampant bribery that has 60%-70% of detainees buying their way back to their comrades in arms.

We don't want to know that Hamid Karzai was a longtime CIA operative before the US installed him as president. We don't want to know that Karzai personally appoints provincial governors and they are made up from the ranks of his Northern Alliance warlord allies.

We don't want to know about Karzai's politically powerful brother who is also implicated at the top levels of the opium trade.

The information's been out there a long time. If we cared about it, we'd all know about it and it'd be part of the debate.

None so blind as he who will not see.


The Mound of Sound said...

The sad truth, JB, is that Harper and Hillier attack their own people with lies, half-truths, distortion and fear. These are weapons that are used to blind the Canadian people and manipulate their responses. It's a loathesome standard that they impose on all of us and the debate we have this week will merely enshrine their powers and successes.

If we were ever going to bring democracy and restoration to Afghanistan we'd have to dispose of the Taliban and then wrench the reins of power from the warlords. We'd be at war not only with the Pashtun but the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen, Baloch and Hazara tribes to boot the whole damned place.

Neither the US nor NATO will define the future of Afghanistan. That's a self-serving delusion of some pretty crass civilian and military leaders.

Mike said...

If you have read "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll (it won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize), you know its pretty obvious the Pakistani Secret Service, the ISI, created the Taliban.

Doing a mission in Afghanistan go after the Taliban is merely going after the symptom, not the problem.

This information has been known since before 2005 and yet no one, not even those that oppose the war there, have brought it up. So I don't expect anything other than stupid jingoism and accusations of treason in this so-called "debate". Its a debate meant to stifle dissent and ridicule opponents, not to really debate the issues.

The Mound of Sound said...

I haven't read "Ghost Wars" Mike but I'll try to take a look at it soon. You're right about the Taliban and the ISI. It all plays into the greater Pakistan/India/Kashmir intrigue.

Like you, I'm no more optimistic about this week's debate than the one that got rammed through the Commons two years ago.