Monday, August 25, 2008

CRIKEY: Olympics over, let's consider the mess we're making in Afghanistan...

Last week, Sally Neighbour interviewed former Sydney architect Mahmoud Saikal at length about his dreams for a future Kabul. Saikal, who was once the Australian rep of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud's Jamiat-i-Islami faction during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, has also served his country in a variety of diplomatic posts.

Saikal seemed to spend much of his time showing off his vision for Kabul's future:
In a nondescript Kabul office, Australian-trained architect and former Afghan deputy foreign minister Mahmoud Saikal flicks on his laptop to reveal a stunning vision for his home town. A computer graphic depicts a sparkling metropolis with glass skyscrapers, trams and terraced lawns.
Of course, current and former members of Hamid Karzai's government spend much of their time dreaming about what Kabul could be. The fact is that, regardless of having such powerful allies as the US and UK, not to mention Coalition partners such as Australia, Karzai's Kabul cabinet seems to hold little sway outside the capital.

And while our eyes were all glued to TV coverage from Beijing, Afghans are becoming increasingly angry with Coalition forces terrorising their poverty-stricken country to prosecute the war on terror. Afghanistan was first invaded in 2001 to punish those responsible for killing some 3000 innocent civilians in New York and Washington. Now, almost seven years on, Usama bin Ladin has almost become a Hollywood superstar.

One 2002 US study showed this civilian casualty count was exceeded in just the first month of the allied invasion of Afghanistan. And on Friday, a Coalition airstrike on the north-western Herat district killed over 90 Afghans, including 19 women and 50 children. The incident has drawn protests even from President Hamid Karzai whose government is being kept afloat by Coalition forces. The civilians were hardly Taliban supporters, having gathered to commemorate the death of a local anti-Taliban military commander.

One tribal elder quoted by the New York Times summed up the predicament Coalition forces face in Afghanistan:
I am 100 percent confident that someone gave the information due to a tribal dispute. The Americans are foreigners and they do not understand.
So here we are, with our troops in Afghanistan, part of a force that often mistakes Taliban for anti-Taliban and that potentially has little understanding of local tribal conflicts that likely pre-date the Taliban's emergence by centuries.

If Coalition forces keep killing innocent Afghan civilians, the popular Afghan backlash will make Iraq look like a picnic.

First published in the Crikey daily alert for Monday 25 August 2008.