Why the war criminals must leave Afghanistan

While the war in Afghanistan has dropped off the front pages, seven years on, 56% of Australians say the 1000 Australian troops there should be brought home. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's talk about reconstructing the country haven't fooled many.

Most of the rebuilding projects have been handed over to profit-driven private corporations. Most roads and buildings remain in tatters. Average life expectancy is 44 years. Between 53% and 80% of Afghan people live below the official poverty line (depending on which part of the country).

Adult literacy is 29%. In some regions, less than 1% of the population is literate. One in five children dies before the age of five. If anything, the war is preventing progress being made.

The other myth is that the war is making Afghanistan safer. But this year is now being described as the "bloodiest" so far.

The US-NATO forces' indiscriminate killing of unarmed, civilians — wedding parties, mayors and many, many children — has been condemned by the UN and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

AIHRC reported in September that civilians are killed in most US operations, and that 98% of civilian casualties caused by coalition forces in Afghanistan are "intentional". "War criminals" is how it described the occupying forces.

Just 3% of Afghan women are literate and infant mortality is now among the highest in the world. Warlords and other US-backed factions' backward attitudes to women mean that women are worse off than before the war began.

This is an unwinnable war for the Western occupiers, because the people of Afghanistan, like those in Iraq, do not want to be occupied.

But the occupiers have not given up. The US has just appointed General David Petraeus — architect of the failed "surge" in Iraq — to take charge of a region that includes Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, he wants tens of thousands more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. A new "surge" for 2009 is being planned.

While most Australians do not support the war, they are worried about calling for the occupying troops to be pulled out, lest this be perceived as giving tacit support to the reactionary Taliban.

But, if anything, the occupation has assisted the rise of this reactionary group. Journalist and commentator Tariq Ali says that the occupation forces and the corrupt Karzai government are so hated that the authority of the Taliban warlords is increasing.

The people surrounding Karzai, Ali says, are "milking the foreign agencies; [and] growing rich at the expense of the bulk of the population".

The result is a huge rise in Pashtun nationalism (the dominant ethnic group strong in the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan) which, in turn, has delivered more recruits to the Taliban.

Malalai Joya, a courageous MP and one of the few elected, rather than appointed, Afghan politicians, is now living in hiding for daring to expose the crimes of the warlords who dominate the parliament.

Joya described the parliament as being like a "mafia", "80% of which are warlords or drug lords". "They either snatched their places in parliament at gun point or bought these seats off with US dollars", she told a Pakistani journalist in September.

Asked if she thought the security situation would worsen if the US-NATO forces left, she said: "We have to continue to expose the crimes of this occupation, and not let our opposition to the Taliban blind us to the fact that foreign interference and military occupation is not helping bringing democracy."

She went on: "They [the US-NATO coalition forces] are even embracing the Taliban. Recently, in Musa Qila, a Taliban commander Mulla Salam was appointed as governor by Karzai. The US has no problem with the Taliban so long as it's 'our Taliban'.

"People here believe that the warlords are cushioned by the US troops. If the USA leaves, the warlords will lose power because they have no base among our people. The people of Afghanistan will deal with these warlords once US troops leave Afghanistan", Joya added.

We should also heed Joya's call to "support the democratic forces in Afghanistan" and to send doctors, nurses and teachers, not soldiers. We must support self-determination for the people of Afghanistan and force the Rudd government to withdraw the troops.

[Pip Hinman is an activist in Sydney Stop the War Coalition.]