I arrived in Kabul early in the morning on Saturday August 20 for my fourteenth annual visit since 2002. One is immediately struck by the militarization of the entire city, from the man who stamped my passport, to the heavily armed police presence at every street intersection. Check points, huge concrete blast walls, barbed wire on every official and foreign establishment, armed guards, soldiers and police are ever present.
We drove by the British Council, scene of a ten-hour battle between six suicide insurgents and the Afghan police assisted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) the day before. The large building was completely flattened, with all the nearby windows shattered and debris all over. The Toyota van the insurgents had used to smash the metal gate by explosion was reduced to mangled pieces of metal and not recognizable as a car. This was one of a series of spectacular attacks and assassinations by the insurgents this year. It seems that they can attack anyone, any time, any place.
Zaher Wahab | 1 September 2011
Mural image from Windows and Mirrors: The Children of Afghanistan, by Camille Perrottet, New York, NY.
Last night he sent me these thoughts on what life is like in Kabul today. It is an unvarnished account of the dangers an Afghan peacemaker sees emerging in the country. In June he sent a dispatch that looked at the rays of hope.
Letter From Kabul | Witness to a ten-year war and occupation
Since early 2002, I have been spending at least a semester annually here in Afghanistan, attempting to (re)build the higher education system in the ravaged country. My adopted country - the US, launched operation Enduring Freedom on October 7/2001 claiming to bring freedom, peace, prosperity, democracy, security, women’s liberation, eradication of drugs, and stability to the war-torn country. There are now some 150/000 troops from 45 countries, that many civilian contractors from around the world, and 340,000 U.S. trained sectarian Afghan security forces all ostensibly fighting “terrorism”.
The US alone spends ten billion dollars per/ month on the war, a total of about half – a- trillion dollars in the last ten years. 1600 Americans (70 of them last August) have been killed and thousands wounded. An estimated 40,000 Afghans have been killed, 971 civilians from June to August this year alone, untold numbers wounded, and half–a-million displaced. According to a recent UN report, 2011 has been the most unstable, deadliest and most violent year for all sides, since the war started in 2001. All of the country’s neighbors also meddle in Afghan affairs and are waging proxy struggles in the Afghan theater.
After ten years of occupation (and “development”), costing the US $500 billion, Afghanistan still ranks at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Half of the population is hungry and/or food insecure. Per capita income is about $350. The average life span is 45 years. 90% of the women and 70% of the men are illiterate. Only half of the school age children attend school. More than half the schools have no building. Only 20% of the teachers are considered qualified. The Afghan government spends just $70 per year per student.
Americans spend one million dollars per year per soldier in Afghanistan. Just 1% of the age group is enrolled in college. UNICEF labeled the country as the worst place for children and women. A woman dies in child birth every hour. Half of the children die before age five. All marriages are arranged, and the majority of the girls are married (sold) off before age 16.
Ninety seven percent of the country’s $15 billion GDP and 97% of the government’s $4 billion budget are based on the presence of foreigners (armies, aid, NGOs, etc). There is little organized licit formal productive economy. Drugs constitute about a third of the economy and there are close to 2 million addicts. Half the people are (un)underemployed. Anyone who can is leavening the country. People have been divided, demoralized, and exhausted.
But since this is mostly a young nation so the prospects for an “Afghan Spring” are a real possibility.
The American installed and protected government has no legitimacy, credibility, authority, ability, will, or efficacy. It is essentially a dysfunctional plutocracy- mafiocracy with various crime syndicates and criminal gangs milking the foreigners and preying on the disempowered, divided and enraged public. The government cannot and will not provide the basic services like education, healthcare, work, security, justice, law and order, water, electricity, sewerage systems, garbage collection, clean air, roads or even traffic lights in the capital Kabul. The old and new criminal, treacherous, treasonous and sectarian warlords are empowered, paid, armed, legitimated, used and protected by the occupation forces at the expense of the wretched population. And the country’s very future is in question. Many express nostalgia about the monarchy, the communists, even the Taliban eras.
There has been no serious attempt either by the occupiers or their self-spring and corrupt client regime to build a functioning government, democracy, institutions, civil society, freedom, justice, national unity, long- term peace, real security, or stability.
The insurgents control about 70% of the country, including the outskirts of Kabul. They can hit anyone, any time, any place as demonstrated by the recent assassinations of A.W. Karzai, Daoud Dauod, Jan Mohammad a close adviser to president Karzai, the Kandahar mayor, the Kundoz governor, former warlord, former president and president of the so- called High Peace Council, B. Rabbani, the CIA employee, etc. The insurgent attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, the British Council, The US Embassy and the ISAF headquarters, and petrified and paralyzed Kabul for days. I have experienced four lockdowns, one lasting three days in the last six weeks. Kabul looks and feels like a garrison city under siege, but with no sense of security, legality, justice or normalcy.
The people despise, distrust and disdain the government, and the government has little to no concern, responsibility or respect for the people. Most Afghans hate, despise, and distrust all the foreigners and blame them for all the calamities visited upon the country. And the non Pashtoons fear and dislike the Taliban insurgents. The country is on the brink of a bloody civil war. But the one percent predatory warlords, criminals, and war profiteers love the foreigners, the war, and the “new freedom”. Anything goes, everything is negotiable, nothing matters, and people are disposable. There are governments within the government, cities within cities, and countries within the country. There is the war related contracting mafia, the land mafia, the timber mafia, the development mafia and the drug mafia, weapons smugglers, and human traffickers.
The occupiers work hand – in- gloves with the older and new known war criminals, human rights abusers, thieves and gangsters. This has widened the distance between the people and the colonial settler power and its local intermediaries. There is no clear boundary between the government the warlords and various crime syndicates, they are closely intertwined. All this explains the success of the insurgency, the moral-political-military disarray of the US/NATO invaders in the country, and the stalemate if not success of the insurgents in the war. In short, life has become much harder for the vast majority of Afghans. Who still lead primitive lives.
Additionally, they endure a brutal occupation with heavy use of storm troops, air power, drones, night raids, and the mercenary Afghan regular and irregular armies. And now there is open talk of resurgent civil war. Mr. Rabbani’s assassination has ruptured the so-called “peace talks.” The US/NATO, while talking about withdrawal is also pressing for a permanent “strategic agreement” with Kabul. There is great confusion, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty in the country. No wonder then, those who can, are leaving, with the rest preparing for the worst.
Only a miracle can save the people and the country.
Zaher Wahab | 2 October 2011