Afghan politics: Let's be real

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The outpouring of Western anger and shock earlier this month over a new Afghan law that legalizes marital rape and confines women to their homes demonstrates how out of touch Western countries are with the monster they have created in that benighted country.

Of course Hamid Karzai would support such a law. He wants to be re-elected president in August and to do so he must support his base: Islamic fundamentalists. Both sides of the conflict are fundamentalist Islamic. There is nothing else.

Indeed, while outrage caused Karzai to say he'd withdraw the law, many doubt he'll follow through.

Virtually everything that now plagues Afghanistan is "blowback" -- the CIA term for unintended consequences of previous policies -- from the U.S.-sponsored war against the Soviets in the 1990s. So far, there's no sign the Obama administration, or Stephen Harper's, gets that. Just yesterday, U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David Petraeus warned of "tough months ahead" as the U.S. ramps up its fight in Afghanistan, explaining (as if bad luck out of the blue) that the resurging Taliban insurgency is fueled by profits from the global illegal narcotics trade.

The supposed bulwark against them? A Karzai government that is corrupt because it could not possibly have been anything else. Karzai, after all, was handpicked by the U.S. to give a democratic sheen to their occupation, then assisted in his effort to get elected president. But now that the U.S. has given up completely on creating a Western-style democracy, Karzai has become the problem, not the solution. It's hard to get a reliable puppet these days. Once you put one in place, he wants to stay.

The hell that ideology built

The neo-con geniuses behind the invasion of Afghanistan were strong on ideology but utterly ignorant when it came to history and Afghan political culture. They really thought it would be easy and that's why Karzai seemed a good bet. A former consultant for U.S. oil giant Unocal, Karzai was part of the late 1990s negotiations between the Taliban and Unocal for a gas pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. The U.S. was negotiating with the Taliban until four months before 9-11. They thought a quick victory would put the pipeline back on the agenda.

Karzai, however, had literally no political base amongst the competing tribes in the country. And it is the tribes that fill the "civil society" vacuum in Afghanistan. His support was American money and military force, and Afghan opium producers. Now that the Americans want him out, political support comes almost exclusively from the warlords and opium producers.

But the root of corruption in Afghanistan is not Hamid Karzai. It is the determination of the U.S. to ensure that no future elected government will take democratic governance seriously. While fighting their so-called "war on terror" and its Islamic fundamentalist ideology, the Americans are even more determined to stop the establishment of a government that would stand for the national interests of the country. That sort of government was entrenched in the articles of the secular constitution established in 1964.

But the U.S. changed that constitution soon after the invasion, and it now states that Islam is supreme: no laws can violate "the sacred religion of Islam." The new Political Parties Law also states that parties cannot pursue policies that are "contrary to Islam," which meant that many secular parties were effectively excluded from the 2005 parliamentary elections.

The results were predictable: 133 of the 249 members elected to the House of the People had fought in the vicious internecine Mujahideen war which virtually destroyed Kabul, and fostered the creation of the Taliban. According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, "eighty per cent of winning candidates in the provinces and more than 60 per cent in... Kabul have links to armed groups."

Anti-communist jihad

Of course it is also the case that the U.S. sponsored Mujahideen war against the Soviets eliminated thousands of former communist government officials. Communist they may have been but they were also secularists and established a functioning national government with actual social programs, education budgets, human rights (including women's rights) and health care, as well as a professional army. Many of the secular figures involved ended up dead in the cold war fury unleashed by the U.S. through its proxy fanatics. Civil society was effectively destroyed. Any state that followed would, by definition, be radical Islamic.

Given the results of the 2005 election, the absence of any significant secular culture to draw on, and the need for some semblance of security, Karzai ended up appointing some of the most murderous warlords in the country to senior government posts. One of them was the delightfully named "Butcher of the North," Abdul Rashid Dostum, appointed to the post of army chief of staff. To call this a government at all is misleading.

Daan Everts, the former NATO special representative in Afghanistan, believes that the U.S. consciously sabotaged genuinely democratic government. The result, says Everts, "has been an extremely chaotic parliament. There are 248 talking heads with very little discipline and little organized deliberations that are meant to produce legislation which the country so badly needs. We deliberately did this."

When you set up government to fail, you get corruption because government is then seen as simply a way of accumulating personal wealth and power. The notion that 21,000 more U.S. troops, backed by social workers, community developers and police trainers, are going to change things is delusional. Corruption and Islamic authoritarianism are now effectively enshrined in the constitution and the culture, courtesy of U.S. foreign policy.

Murray Dobbin writes from Powell River. This column was first published in The Tyee.

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