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Sam Zarifi: If Afghanistan fails, who will pay the price?

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Friday, 20 November 2009 at 02:24 pm
Debate about the risks faced by the international community in supporting President Hamid Karzai’s “corrupt” Afghan government regularly omits the people that matter most: Afghans.

Military losses being suffered by Britain, the United States and other coalition forces are tragic - each death and injury a terrible blow within a real community, of families, friends and comrades. The cumulative impact on a nation is clearly significant, and the collective mood in Britain, for example, is more sombre by the week.

Yet what of the Afghan people? Those we rarely see, excepting the occasional refugee, diplomatic or academic in a television studio discussion in the West? At Amnesty we hear time and time again from Afghans - professionals, traders, housewives, the nameless many - saying what they need most is peace, justice and security. This sentiment hasn’t changed since early 2002, when I first travelled through Afghanistan.

Amnesty’s proposal for a successful Afghanistan strategy is simple: focus on the well-being of Afghan people and not on political expediency. What are Afghans really going through? Consider this: if after eight long years the strain is evident in the home countries of the 42-nation NATO coalition, imagine how much worse it is for millions of Afghans. This “American period” is for them only a fraction of the 30 years of conflict and turmoil they’ve already endured.

Consequently when the Kabul government seeks accommodations with the very same human rights abusers - the warlords, the drugs dealers, the corrupt local officials, and now, increasingly, even the Taleban - who’ve preyed on entire provinces for years, ordinary Afghans are entitled to feel betrayed and view both their government and international forces with a sceptical eye.

Political appointments like that of Marshall Mohammed Fahim as Afghanistan’s vice-president highlight just how wrong things are. Fahim, the Northern Alliance’s military leader, faces serious allegations of war crimes and involvement in numerous criminal enterprises. The Afghan legislature is no better. Since the inauguration of the Afghan National Assembly in 2004, thousands of abuse complaints have gone to the Afghan parliament’s complaints commission, with little result. It’s like the Westminster expenses scandal to a factor of 500, with gun-running, narcotics trafficking and outright killings thrown in. Corruption and abuse is not new in Afghanistan, it’s just become institutionalised.

It’s essential therefore that, at the very least, there’s a robust and transparent vetting mechanism for next year’s parliamentary elections. Candidates accused of human rights abuses and links to armed groups must be totally rooted out. It’s encouraging that President Karzai is now instituting a special anti-corruption unit. But this initiative will have to be supported, not undermined in the way that anti-narcotics drives have. In recent times the president himself has even pardoned convicted drug dealers.

More widely a concerted effort is necessary to build Afghanistan’s woeful judiciary and police force. The worst of these are thoroughly corrupt and abusive, and even the best are ineffective and beleaguered.

And what of the US troop “surge” sought by General Stanley McCrystal, commander of US and NATO forces? Is this going to deliver the stability and calm Afghan people crave? This will partly depend on how troops conduct themselves on the battlefield.

In this time of soul-searching over military losses in coalition countries it’s easy to forget that the far bigger death toll is on the Afghan side. Thousands have died in the armed conflict since 2001 and, according to the UN, 2009 has been the worst year yet, with 2,021 civilians killed in the first 10 months. The Taliban are responsible for about 70% of attacks on civilians, but US/NATO forces come in for greater public criticism because Afghan people never see proper investigations into these incidents, however disastrous. Amnesty has welcomed recent US/NATO policies designed to minimise civilian casualties, but there must be far greater accountability for their military actions.

Overall, despite the rhetoric, the Kabul government and its international supporters are still ignoring the wishes of most Afghani people. Afghanistan’s greatest resource is its people, many of whom have signalled strong support for international assistance if it means the rule of law, reconstruction, and respect for human rights.

Yet, if as seems increasingly likely, the Afghan government pursues political deals with sections of the Taleban and other insurgent groups, where will this then leave Afghans who’ve suffered terribly at the hands of these armed groups? If this is the cost of avoiding “failure” in Afghanistan, will it be too high a price for the Afghan people themselves?

Sam Zarifi is Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director


Afghanistan's already failed. You haven't noticed?
johnstout wrote:
Friday, 20 November 2009 at 04:29 pm (UTC)
If you haven't noticed, Afghanistan has already failed. A failed stew cooked by the lunatic and miserable failure George Goofy Bush and his eager-to-please side kick, the poodle, Blair. Their mind bogglingly insane Afghanistan & Iraq policies are now amazingly carried forward by Obama and Brown- the latter at least now grudgingly conceding the morass UK was dragged into by blindly following a bewilderingly insane, woefully ignorant born-again Evangelist cowboy, crusading like Don Quixote on the back of his wretched emaciated horse - the war fatigued, impoverished and shafted US tax payers, to rid the earth of Islam and Muslims. Into this stew of miserable failure throw in the shameful beatings, sexual assaults & perverse acts, grisly tortures, murders and almost daily mass killing of civilian by "disturbed" soldiers & drones, to which the usual response is Step 1: Deny it ever happened, Step 2: In the face of overwhelming evidence claim only Al-Quieda or Taliban were killed Step 3: When irrefutable evidence in the form of limbs and body parts of women and children show up and are photographed, say - oops! sorry but couldn't be helped it as the Taliban & Al-Quieda are really to blame for fighting in civilian areas so we had to kill them all off including civilians- and here is a 10 quid for the bother. Now carry on. Afghanistan is a bottomless pit in every sense and installing an inimitable crook, the very epitome of corruption, Karzai, an ex-executive of his erstwhile employers, UNOCAL & the Carlyle Group, isn't going to help matters either. The only Afghanistan policy for UK, the US and indeed the world should be to Get Out and Stay the Hell Out.