Afghanistan: Why the puppet seeks distance from master

When the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they brought a president with them — Hamid Karzai.

Unlike some powerful (and brutal) warlords in his government, Karzai has no private army. But like the warlords, he is loathed by the people.

Even in the capital, Kabul, Karzai cannot venture out without a large contingent of US bodyguards. Soldiers from the US/NATO occupation force guard his palace.

Without the military occupation, Karzai could not live in Afghanistan, let alone be president. However, since his second-term inauguration in November, he has been making increasingly strident attacks on the occupying forces.

On April 1, he went as far as to tell a parliamentary session he was considering defecting to the Taliban.

This is partly a response to US public criticisms over the fraudulent presidential elections in August. The US has said the increasingly blatant corruption of his government is undermining the occupier's attempts to win the "hearts and minds" of the Afghani people — a point repeated by US President Barack Obama during his "surprise" March 28 visit.

It isn't hard to see why. Murder, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, embezzlement and bribe-taking are among the popular pastimes of the warlords, criminals and opportunists installed in power by the US-led invasion.

Karzai and his allies have imposed the same ultra-violent and misogynist mix of distorted tribal and religious law practised by the Taliban.

However, the US is unwilling to acknowledge the fact that the biggest cause of Karzai's unpopularity is his association with the occupiers. It is this, rather than mildly critical remarks by Western leaders (for a Western audience) that explains Karzai's attacks on his backers.

Responding to Karzai's remarks about defection, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told the April 6 London Times: "It's just a game he is playing. He is trying to show people he is not under the control of the Americans but it's completely false."

Obama's surge in US soldier numbers in Afghanistan this year has been accompanied by a surge in statements from Western political and military leaders on the centrality of winning Afghan popular support.

US General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the occupation forces, told the March 23 British Daily Telegraph: "Your security comes from the people. You don't need to be secured away from the people. So as you win their support, it's in their interests to secure you."

For the occupiers, this is easier said than done. Revelations of atrocities committed by occupying soldiers, and a consistent pattern of denial and cover-up, shows why the US-led forces are more of a liability for Karzai than the other way round.

One example came on December 27, when 10 people were killed by US special forces in the village of Ghazi Khan in Narang district, Kunar province. The US military claimed those killed belonged to a terrorist cell making improvised explosive devices.

However, the December 31 London Times reported that they included seven schoolchildren (the youngest aged 11), a 12-year-old shepherd boy and a farmer.

Schoolteacher Rahman Jan Ehsas told the Times: "First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them.

"Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well."

A February 12 CNN.com article reported on another round of killings with the headline: "Bodies found gagged, bound after Afghan honor killing."

The article cited a "senior US military official" who reported that after a firefight in the village of Khataba, Paktia province, in which two insurgents were killed, US forces found the bodies of three women who had been stabbed to death an estimated 14 hours earlier.

However, after travelling to the village and talking to family members of those killed, Times journalist Jeremy Starkey revealed a different story in a March 15 article. The two men killed were not insurgents but the village police chief and his brother, a court prosecutor.

US special forces attacked their compound as a family celebration for the naming of a newborn baby was taking place.

The five killed were in a doorway. One of the men and two of the women (both pregnant) died instantly. Family members said an 18-year-old woman and her uncle, the police chief, later died as a result of being prevented by US soldiers from seeking medical help for their injuries.

Family members told Starkey US soldiers used knives to gouge the bullets out of the female victims to give the appearance that they'd been stabbed, not shot.

Starkey reported the US military were sticking to the "honour killing" story. However, NATO spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale admitted on April 4: "Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men."

Nonetheless, NATO continued to deny a cover-up.

Such gruesome armed raids, however, account for a minority of civilians killed by the occupation forces. Most casualties are caused by air raids.

RAWA News reported on March 10 that the civilian casualty rate had reached the highest levels of the war. The article said about 90 civilians are directly killed each month by occupation forces.

It isn't hard to see the biggest block to winning "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan is the US-led occupation. Nor is it hard to see why Karzai would want to distance himself from his masters, even while depending on their support for his survival.

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