End support to Afghan narco-regime: Bring the troops home now!

In a new study, entitled Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink, the Brussels-based Senlis Council international policy think-tank said that the Taliban is now the de facto governing authority in large portions of southern Afghanistan.

The report argued that unless the US-led occupation coalition doubles the number of its troops in the country — currently almost 50,000 — the rest of Afghanistan could soon fall under the Taliban's control.

The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban was created in 1994-95, with Washington's blessing, by the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence, and took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996.

The Taliban was driven out of Kabul and other Afghan cities in November 2001 after — as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the support of local warlords who had previously backed the Taliban regime.

Up until 2004, the Taliban was largely confined to the mountainous region straddling Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. However, over the last three years Taliban-led fighters have steadily extended their influence across southern Afghanistan and beyond.

As a result, the US-led foreign troops occupying Afghanistan have suffered a steady increase in casualties. As of November 23, a total of 469 US and 269 other foreign occupation troops had died in Afghanistan since 2001, with 111 US and 110 other foreign occupation troops having died this year. Last year, 98 US and 93 other foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan.

The Senlis report said that the Taliban "has proven to be a truly resurgent force. Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; research undertaken by Senlis Afghanistan indicates that 54 per cent of Afghanistan's landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence …

"The insurgency now controls vast swathes of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries."

Taliban-led forces "are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply … It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen and in what form."

After noting that, "Six years after the Taliban regime was toppled, Afghanistan continues to rank at the bottom of all major human development and poverty indicators globally", the report argued: "Next to unemployment and poverty, there are
many other factors propelling people to join the Taliban." These include the perception that the government of President Hamid Karzai "is a puppet regime with foreign countries in control of all Afghan ministries and decision-making …

"Afghan communities are losing faith in the Karzai government as they perceive the latter incapable of preventing the international community from pursuing misguided policies in the areas of counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics …

"In the past year, the Afghan communities have witnessed an increase in violence with US-led military forces embarking on an unprecedented number of aerial bombings due to a lack of political will to deploy sufficient troops on the ground.

"This has led to a growing number of civilian casualties, fuelling public frustration about the lack of protection and widespread resentment towards international forces and the Afghan government."

Associated Press reported on November 20 that more than 6000 people — a record number — have died so far this year in war-related violence in Afghanistan, according to figures provided by Afghan and Western officials.

A typical example of the Afghan civilian deaths resulting from the occupation forces' air attacks was reported by AP on November 28: "US-led coalition troops killed 14 road construction workers in air strikes in eastern Afghanistan because of mistaken intelligence reports, Afghan officials said Wednesday …

"The engineers and labourers had been building a road for the US military in mountainous Nuristan province and were sleeping in two tents in the remote area when they were killed Monday night, said Sayed Noorullah Jalili, director of the Kabul-based road construction company Amerifa. There were no survivors, he said."

The Senlis report argued that the "pursuit of ill-advised counter-narcotics policies by the international community has also severely undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government. In the absence of immediate alternative livelihoods and access to resources necessary to phase out illegal poppy cultivation, forceful poppy crop eradication has fuelled widespread public frustration towards the Afghan government and international forces.

"Crucially, the unsystematic and often corrupt manner in which forced eradication is implemented has fuelled support for the Taliban as the latter offers swift protection to farming communities."

The UN estimates that Afghanistan accounts for 90% of the world's heroin supply and that opium exports account for 52% of the country's GDP. Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters in Kabul on October 28 that Afghanistan had a record harvest of 9000 tonnes of opium in 2007, a 34% increase on its 2006 harvest.

The November 24 London Times reported that, "Governmental corruption in Afghanistan has become endemic and bribes to secure police and administrative positions along provincial drug routes is an established procedure … One border police commander in eastern Afghanistan was estimated by counter-narcotic officials to take home $400,000 a month from heroin smuggling.

"One former governor told the Times that every judge in his province had been corrupt … 'The government has essentially collapsed', he said. 'It has lost its meaning in the provinces, it has lost the security situation and lost its grip on civil servants. Corruption is playing havoc with the country.'

"The international community has played its own part in contributing to the crisis. One analyst in Kabul said: 'It's not Afghan culture. It's a culture of impunity. We created it. We came in in 2001 with cases of cash and made certain people untouchables.'

"The dozens of drug-funded villas — 'narcotechture' in expat parlance — that have sprung up around foreign embassies in Kabul's Sherpur district are a testament to the untouchable status of former warlords …

"Corruption among police and local authorities is worst in southern Afghanistan, where drug profits are highest. Despite his repeated public denials, President Karzai's half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar's provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand [province] and out across the Iranian border."

The Senlis report was released the day before the fourth Australian soldier — and the third this year — was killed in Afghanistan. Australia has some 960 troops in Afghanistan.

While a public opinion survey conducted in July for the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney found that 51% of Australians were opposed to Australian involvement in the US-led war in Afghanistan, the newly elected Labor government is likely to increase the number of troops there.

When Coalition PM John Howard announced in April that he was sending more troops to Afghanistan, Labor leader Kevin Rudd declared his full support. "What we've got there is Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the original terrorists responsible for [the] September 11", 2001, attacks, Rudd said. But in January, US intelligence chief John Negroponte told a congressional committee that bin Laden and the other top leaders of al Qaeda had found a secure hideout in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Rudd is for Australian combat participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan — just as he supports continued Australian assistance to the US-led war in Iraq (minus Australia's 550 combat troops in southern Iraq) — because the ALP is as committed as the Coalition parties to Canberra's imperialist military alliance with Washington.

Indeed, Rudd went out of his way to make this clear during his November 24 election-night speech, extending "greetings tonight to our great friend and ally the United States".

In a September 2 media release by Labor shadow homeland security minister Arch Bevis and shadow foreign minister Robert McClelland, they declared Labor's full support for the Australian troop deployment in Afghanistan. "Labor is firmly committed to protecting Australian families from the scourge of heroin and the threat of international terrorism", they stated.

In reality, Australian participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan contributes to the protection of the Afghan narco-regime. If Labor really wanted to protect "Australian families from the scourge of heroin", it would put an end to this criminal policy by immediately bringing the Australian troops home.