Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan.
November 6, 2002 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan. "A man who was severely beaten by Ismail Khan's forces described to Human Rights Watch the effect of the repression: 'At any time I feel that I am in danger. When I leave my house, I do not know if I will return. I do not know whether something will happen to me, if there will be some car crash, or that I will be hit in the back of the head.' Another witness talked about how his community's hopes after the hated Taliban regime was ended have been deflated: 'What has changed in Afghanistan? All our hopes are crushed. We are completely disappointed. Look-all the same warlords are in power as before. Fundamentalism has come into power, and every day they strengthen their power.'

The light of liberation and liberty descends upon Afghanistan.
posted by fold_and_mutilate (31 comments total)
Yes, I'm sure life overall was much happier under the Taliban. We need to put those ol' boys back in power! Fold and Mutilate, do you have their telephone number?
posted by dhoyt at 10:33 AM on November 6, 2002

What, like anyone expected anything different? Pardon my cynicism, but the US military is not tasked with nation-building, and there's no real interest in nation-building from the US government or the world at large. So who did we think would replace the Taliban, Mrs. Doubtfire?
posted by Cerebus at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2002

Absolutely nuts: Even aid workers in Afghanistan have suffered molestation from the start of the "new" regime.

Doonesbury, among others, has been harping on this issue from the start. What the hell? Everyone knew what the old warlords were like, did anyone care?

posted by Shane at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2002

Contrasts sharply with what NPR claims. According to them, artists are back to exporting tiles due to the stability. Guess that's retracted a bit with today's story.
posted by infowar at 10:41 AM on November 6, 2002

I can hardly wait until we overthrow the repressive regime in Iraq and replace it with an enlightened democracy too!

Congrats Rummy! I didn't think you had it in you.

Can we stop the hypocritical war on drugs now seeing as how the Afghan warlords have a record opium crop now? "If you support the CIA and US troops in Afghanistan, you're supporting drugs!" doesn't make a very pretty slogan.
posted by nofundy at 10:42 AM on November 6, 2002

"there's no real interest in nation-building from the US government or the world at large"

Yes, granted its much smaller than the military budget, but what about Peace Corps, USAID, foreign versions of such, or how about the UN? Aren't these nation building interests in and out of the US?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:51 AM on November 6, 2002

Yes, granted its much smaller than the military budget, but what about Peace Corps, USAID, foreign versions of such, or how about the UN? Aren't these nation building interests in and out of the US?

What can they do? You're confusing peaceful activity with actually creating peace. They can only do their work when they're not being shaken down or shot at.

Fact is, we bombed the old regime into oblivion and simply walked away. That the people with the guns and the drug money would step into the void was a foregone conclusion.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:58 AM on November 6, 2002

Basically, what would have happened if we bombed out Germany after WWII then walked away. I support military action in Afghanistan 100%, but realize that we need to rebuild the country if we hope to be productive. The Rubber Stamp Republicans won't care though...
posted by owillis at 11:03 AM on November 6, 2002

Another link: UNICEF aid worker and also Brit Focus aid worker attacked back in Feb '02.

If they're so brazen as to attack and molest the International community that is there to help, think what they must casually inflict on their own Afghani people... One wonders, have they been given tacit impunity by the U.S.? There must have been some damn alternative, although probably not one so lazy and convenient as allowing the old warlords to take back power from their Taliban foes.
posted by Shane at 11:04 AM on November 6, 2002

I can hardly wait until we overthrow the repressive regime in Iraq and replace it with an enlightened democracy too!

Seriously, a quick poll: do any of you guys know who's already being considered as a possible "Iraqi Karzai" for the post-Saddam government?
posted by matteo at 11:04 AM on November 6, 2002

There must have been some damn alternative, although probably not one so lazy and convenient as allowing the old warlords to take back power from their Taliban foes.

There must be... the question is what? Why not a Marshall Style Plan? Is Noam Chomsky right -- the U.S. is actually interested in keeping the third world the third world and dependent on U.S. capital? Or is it that the inherent culture won't support a Marshall plan?

matteo: I have no idea, but I sure it's not like Harry Truman said of Somoza "He's a bastard, but he's our bastard." Or what Reagan and Bush Sr, for that matter, must have said about Saddam .

I don't understand why it's not obvious the best way to promote world stability is to make each region stable. The U.S. has Microsofts and Enrons at least, instead of Warlords. People can engage their ambitions in a relatively peaceful way that only ruins others financially. Why don't we make that a possibility for the rest of the world instead of letting it all start over?
posted by namespan at 11:13 AM on November 6, 2002

a possible "Iraqi Karzai"

I don't know--Chalabi, or maybe someone from within the current regime itself..?
posted by Shane at 11:13 AM on November 6, 2002

The ideas being bandied around for a new Iraqi regime do not strike me as a formula for peace. I'm trying to imagine a parallel in which we knocked over Castro and replaced his government with Miami Cubans. The mind reels.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2002

I don't recall there being any welcome home parades around here, when exactly did we "walk out" of Afghanistan and leave the aid workers there alone? There are thousands of troops US and otherwise still in the nation, just because there are still bandito warlords working their mojo in the Western deserts (an area known for lawlessness since Marco Polo passed through, anybody remember why the Portuguese wanted to find a route around Africa rather than go through there) doesn't mean that all peace keeping and nation building efforts are suspended or even nonexistent as has been suggested here. No, I don't think we are doing enough, but maybe there is still a lot of lawlessness because we're not done even stage one of setting up stability in the region? Maybe we should be having this discussion a year from now or 10 years and then if things are still screwy... Its like chastising us for screwing up Germany when we've just crossed the Rhine!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2002

shane, namespan

Chalabi is a Shia, no way (and his CIA links are probably too much even for the current political climate)

No, this guy is a front-runner
Let me quote from the BBC:
In late 2001 Danish police launched an investigation into allegations that General Khazraji had been involved in the poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabjah in March 1988.
posted by matteo at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2002

Shane: I've never seen a quote from an Iranian not actually involved with the Chalabi group that takes him seriously. I think if we do go in and overthrow Saddam, that bunch will be in power (sort of, a la Karzai) only if and so long as we prop them up with massive force. More likely is a Saddam clone who will promise not to invade Kuwait or interrupt our oil flow; there will be a handshake-and-smile photo op, and he will get on with repressing the Kurds and the Shi'ites (who are, as we all know, the majority, but we don't believe in democracy in those benighted parts of the world).

George: We tried it once, and it could happen yet! Just wait till we get this Iraq business settled...

On preview: Pollomacho, it's been a year. Don't you think our mighty presence should be having some effect outside of metropolitan Kabul? If we were serious about cleaning up the boonies, Ismail Khan would be dead or in Gitmo. Face it, the safety and freedom of the vast majority of Afghans are of little or no importance to the US government.

matteo: Looks like we're on the same wavelength.
f&m: Thanks for a great link. I knew Ismail Khan was a baddie but didn't know the details. He sounds right up there with Hekmatyar (the previous gold standard for Afghan thuggery).
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2002

So what you're saying is that we'd have another Turkey on our hands? Gassing Kurds on one hand, trying to get into the EU on the other all with NATO blessing. Just curious, but when did CIA ties become a turn off for a US appointed generalissimo? Saddam's got his share from back in the day!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:34 AM on November 6, 2002

al-Khazraji makes sense because he is Sunni, but he is not looked on as particularly plausible, either. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they go ahead with him anyway...
posted by Shane at 11:43 AM on November 6, 2002

So arresting an Ilkhan is supposed to bring stability to Afghanistan? The tribal peoples in Eastern Iran/Western Afghanistan have been living under the Khan's since before the days of Ghengis (and his famous descendant Chaka Khan) do you really think that we can just decide that they can't do that any more and expect them to just say, "OK, let's go vote in an orderly fashion now, thank you so much America." Many Khans are peaceful, educated (my dad knows one in Iran that got a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin) many are ruthless and belligerent and many good ones are tied to bad ones, this is not a cut and dry situation!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2002

Informative thread!
I know we have left and right mixed here, too--good civil discussion!
posted by Shane at 11:49 AM on November 6, 2002


the INC links to Langley are really too much, but I guess Chalabi will still be influential. And especially as a Shia, he's a lame duck

Some more about Chalabi (sorry, self-referential MeFi link)
posted by matteo at 12:08 PM on November 6, 2002

Just a question for discussion... Are the Kurds better off under a restricted Saddam or a new unrestricted regime that also hates Kurds? Also with Shia, Sunni AND Kurdish interests involved is it even possible to find a candidate for the Iraqi people? Surely Basra would flood with returning Shia refugees from Iran. Would this lead to a renewed Iran/Iraq war for control of the gulf coast?

So many issues!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:20 PM on November 6, 2002

Well, the first step would be to create a Kurdish nation, uniting the north of Iraq with the south of Turkey. Of course the Turks aren't going to be too happy, but surely that's not going to stop the US ? Kuwait could do with sorting out, as result of which it could be extended to the west, ...
posted by daveg at 12:50 PM on November 6, 2002

Recent article by Ahmed Rashid on Afghanistan's precarious state: Afghanistan Imperiled
posted by homunculus at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2002

Pollomacho: this is not a cut and dry situation!

Truer words were never spoke, and anyone who gets involved in the region thinking a quick and easy solution is available is in for a rude awakening. I'm well aware of the extended networks of family and influence that operate there, and certainly there are many Afghans who would be sorry to see Ismail go (even some who aren't related to him!). None of that changes the fact that he's a vicious thug who has no business running his fiefdom. It's not just the direct evil, it's the fact that warlords like him make it impossible to introduce the true benefits of modernization (health care, education, etc.). Compare China in the '20s, when there were a whole range of warlords, from the superficially modern and "charming" to the old-fashioned loot-and-behead types. They collectively prepared the way for something even worse.
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2002

Some of these fiefdoms (or I guess in this case Khandoms, ok, that was so bad) have members in the millions, we're not just talking about a little family group of Bedouins in the Saudi desert, these are full on nations speaking a common dialect or language distinct from each other! Some of these tribes still practice ancient religions (at least they did before the Taliban/Ayatollah days) like Zoroastrianism. They are not just going to sit and accept our will, they will fight us to the last member rather than give up their Ilkhan, just like they have done for longer than history records. What we need is to work on introducing education, healthcare, etc into these regions, they are not foolish people and they already know the benefits of intellect, they probably found that out when Alexander the Great came through if they didn't know already! Sometimes we just can't tell people what to believe and arresting whomever we may feel is wrong or we call a "warlord" may not always work. It sure did work well for the Shah to crack some heads in the Ilkhanates, boy it worked well for the Brits in Kashmir (or Scotland). No I don't advocate female circumcision or pushing around aid workers or using food as a weapon, but sometimes just saying OK no more "warlords" is just not well thought out.

By the way, don't let any U. of Wisconsin grads, especially the Ph.D.'s hear you call their degrees "superficially modern" You'll have a lot more than me to debate on that issue!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:28 PM on November 6, 2002

In other news, US Pentagon's top secret "Magic Wand" technology not performing up to expectations.
posted by ednopantz at 3:09 PM on November 6, 2002

Let me get this straight.

1) America is attacked by a group of people harbored by the Taliban.

2) America strikes back at the Taliban and ousts them, and helps a fractuous country to start down the path of stability without fundamentalism

3) A man gets beaten, as do several workers "trying to help" by active intervention.

4) This is all therefore blamed on the United States, for not fixing the problem there, which is it: well enough or fast enough?

I'm a little confused. I thought that countries that had been at war since time immemorial might be... a little difficult to bring peace to. Am I wrong?

I mean, it's a very heavily Islamic country, and since Islam means peace, one assumes they should have no trouble getting themselves a piece of peace, but it just seems... no, it's got to be America's fault somehow.

posted by swerdloff at 3:10 PM on November 6, 2002

swerdloff, it's all stick and no carrot (american overseas involvement, not your comment). worlds police/secret police != worlds strict but benevolent sponsor.
as they say, there are thousands of alternatives. i am sure the aid agencies/field workers/local people, for example, would have some suggestions for building a stable state in these/any situation(s). and some suggestions for not fuxxoring them in the first place.
sorry, no (well one) links tonight, but you all know how to use google, right?
posted by asok at 4:29 PM on November 6, 2002

One thing is for sure. If the US doesn't stay for the long haul there is no chance of democracy in the short run. You can debate whether democracy would happen with a US occupation, but I don't see how it can have a chance without force. There's simply too much suppressed political and social forces to not spillover.

You must want a democracy to make it work.
posted by infowar at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2002

Hard to take one side or the other on this (in fact, the situation itself is simply far too messy for the sides as presented in most American discourse.), I'm quite glad the Taliban were booted.

The were not just appaling to Americans (most of whom only recently became aware of them), but also to a significant number of Muslims in the middle-east. To get a sense of this, imagine our own hard-core "Christian Identity" movement ... you know, the neo-nazis in the remote Pacific Northwest who want to start a new, "Christian", white homeland ... now imagine how you'd feel about them taking over the government of Canada, and completely ruling the country. That is somewhat similar to the way many average Muslims in Dubai, or Qatar (& etc.) felt about the Taliban owning Afghanistan.

What replaced them certainly does not measure up to the sensibilities of western democracies, nor does it fully meet the expectations and (very legitimate) hopes of many citizens of that country. But anyone thinking that removing the Taliban was not a step (a significant step) in the right direction just doesn't even get the basics of the middle-east. It would be nice if there were "thousands of alternatives" ... such is the eternal optimism common in mature western democracies ... but be clear about the fact that this is not just a matter of the US in conjunction with aid organizations doing nice things. Even when Great Britan and Europe were the rewal global superpowers (pre-WWI) some of the same families and tribes were at war with each other that are still fighting today. These are NOT problems with easy solutions.

The root difficulty, I believe (having done a good bit of business in the middle-east, and having a good number of friends there) is that fact that the fundamental unit of social organization is the extended family, and the first grouping of families is as a sort of tribe. Many of these families/tribes had associations and affiliations that extended decades - even centuries - into the past. Many of them were nomadic, and had traditional stomping grounds.

What the western world did - after the world wars - was superimpose a nation-state system on top of a familial/tribal structure. To at least some degree, they did this very poorly ... i.e., some borders sliced right through the center of traditional tribal territories, and others bound together families and tribes that simply never should have been combined into a single country ... (the Hussain family running a country with Kurds in it, to almost anyone that knows middle-eastern history, virtually guarantees massacres).

What happened, however, was that the families/tribes adapted the nation-state system to themselves ... instead of being adapted to it. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is considered a "country" in western world categories, but it is really little other than the territory of the House of Saud ... that began consolidating its modern power back during the early 20th century (the infamous Ibn Saud took Ridyah in 1901 ... from the al Rashid (a big family that was a longtime enemy of the Al Saud).

Well, anyway, don't want to drill into histroy here ... but the tales and stories of most rulers in the middle-east have similar themes. The Al Saud happened to be good at relations with the British, and good at extending its territory ... so the Kingdom was finally recognized in the early 1930's... but let's be really clear about this ... the choice the western world has is not between the House of Saud and a liberal European parliment ... it's between the Hous of Saud and the House of Rashid (or whomever). There isn't a choice between the Taliban and a western democracy - the choice is between the Taliban and the other factions and powers in the country. Deomcracy can be encouraged, but it cannot be imposed.

I loathe war - as any rational human does. But what the Cole bombing, the WTC events of 1993 and 2001, and other such things indicate is that - like it or not - we have been drawn into tribal warfare. This is not the war that nation-state systems engage in. There is not a "peace" in this sort of war. You win it, or lose it. Al Qaeda is a tribe - whose nomadic roaming grounds are now global. The Taliban hosted them, and gave them a powerful base of operations. No appeasements, nor peace treaties, nor conversations would have stopped them from bigger attacks on the US. (Nor, by the way, will such things stop Hussain).

Democracy may emerge in Afghanistan (though I don't expect to see it this decade). Hussain - if overthrown - will not be replaced by a democracy ... he'll be replaced (probably after a power struggle) but other factions currently in the region. They will likely be somewhat better for a larger number of people than Hussain ... as the current folks in Afghanistan are better than the Taliban, but certainly not the perfect world.

But trying to say that doing nothing is an option when faced with a Taliban or a Hussain, or operating as though all sorts of lovely, peaceful alternatives exist - and then (implicitly) trying to condemn the US (first for attacking the tribes that threaten it, then for not creating some idealistic western democracy in place of the ousted tribe) just ignores several centuries of middle-eastern history.

Sorry for the long post. Was on the phone with both Israel and the UAE today, and every now and then the huge disconnect between the realities of the middle-east, and American conversations about it just gets a bit much.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:01 PM on November 6, 2002

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