Sweet smell of success?
Drugs, Bases and Jails
By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch (Monday 04 April 2005)
"If Iraq has been the disaster zone of Bush foreign policy, Afghanistan is still generally thought of as its success story -- to the extent that anyone in our part of the world thinks about that country at all any more. Before the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan experienced a relative flood of American attention. It was, after all, the liberation moment. Possibly the most regressive and repressive regime on Earth had just bitten the dust. The first blow had been struck against the 9/11 attackers. The media rushed in -- and they were in a celebratory mood."
[The last wash of Afghan news came when, after a year of planning, Laura Bush made it there for six hours last week to "offer support for Afghan women in their struggle for greater rights," to meet President Hamid Karzai, and to have a meal with American troops at Bagram Air Base. (Headlines were of the "Laura Bush Pledges More Aid for Afghanistan," "Laura Bush in Afghanistan to Back Women's Education," "First Lady Drops in on Afghanistan" variety.) Standing next to an Afghan woman, shovel in hand, she also had her picture taken and disseminated in the American press. The caption in my hometown paper says she was "posing for a photograph at a women's dorm at Kabul University and planting a tree." As a photo, nationalities aside, it might easily have graced the pages of Soviet Life magazine and come from a distant imperial era.]
[When you begin to look around, you quickly find that just about everyone -- Bush proponents and critics alike -- seems to agree on at least some of the following when it comes to the experiment in "democracy" in Afghanistan: The country now qualifies, according to the Human Development Index in the UN's Human Development Report 2004, as the sixth worst off country on Earth, perched just above five absolute basket-case nations (Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone) in sub-Saharan Africa. The power of the new, democratically elected government of Hamid Karzai extends only weakly beyond the outskirts of Kabul. Large swathes of Afghanistan are still ruled by warlords and drug lords, or in some cases undoubtedly warlord/drug lords; and while the Taliban was largely swept away, armed militias dominate much of the country as they did after the Soviet withdrawal back in 1989. In addition, a low-level guerrilla war is still being run by elements of the former Taliban regime for which, in areas of the South, there is a growing "nostalgia."
Women, outside a few cities, seem hardly better off than they were under the Taliban. As Sonali Kolhatkar, co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!:
"We hear… about [how] five million girls are now going to school. It is wonderful. When I was in Afghanistan, I noticed that in Kabul, certainly schools were open, women were walking around fairly openly with not as much fear. Outside of Kabul, where 80% of Afghans reside, totally different situation. There are no schools. I visited the Farah province, which is a very isolated, remote province in western Afghanistan and there were no schools except for the one school that Afghan Women's Mission is funding that is administered by our allies, the members of RAWA. Aside from that one school for girls, there are no schools in the region. And so we hear all of these very superficial things about how great Afghan women are, you know, the progress they're making. The U.N. just released a report recently on Afghanistan where they described Afghanistan's education system as, quote, 'the worst in the world.' And, you know, we never hear that. Our media, when they covered Laura Bush's trip, will not mention, will not do their homework, and will not mention these facts."]