WASHINGTON – “The people don’t want 30,000 more troops, but instead 30,000 engineers, teachers and scientists,” said Dr. Roshanak Wardak, a member of the parliament in Afghanistan.
She made the statement at an “issues briefing” on the war in Afghanistan that was held here during last week’s “America’s Future Now” Conference.
The panel was moderated by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films. In addition to Wardak, Ann Jones, author of “Kabul in Winter, Life Without Peace in Afghanistan” and Anand Gopal, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, presented.
All the panelists agreed that there are important questions about the war to which Americans are not receiving answers. The questions include the number of troops that might be sent there, the length of time for which they will be deployed and even what is the nature of the “end game” itself.
Greenwald said he was struck by three things during his trips to Afghanistan. First, he noted, was the extreme poverty in which most people lived, second was the extent to which the people were armed (“There are guns everywhere.”) and third is everyone in the country has some connection to the Taliban. “The Taliban,” he said, “includes everybody because the Taliban are among everyone’s friends and relatives. Everybody knows someone who is in the Taliban.”
He said the implications of this situation are that the sending of additional troops will not “win” the conflict. The people have to be won over, he said, by winning their “hearts and minds.”
He said there are several “myths” that “must be disposed of.”
The first of these, according to Greenwald, is that U.S. troops bring security. “So far violence is up and there is no security,” he said.
The second of these is that additional troops are needed to prevent civilian casualties. He noted that because the Taliban is so entrenched, the ground troop increases have done little to deliver any kind of final defeat to them. In fact, he noted, there has been additional use of “air support” because of this problem and the “air support” has caused more civilian deaths.
Jones discussed the role of women and the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
She said that progressives should disavow themselves of any notion that the U.S. defeat of the Taliban government was a victory for women’s rights. She said that only some minimal “token” improvement for women had occurred in Kabul, the capital city itself.
“Women in the rural areas saw no change and in fact it got worse,” she said. “because thousands of women are now displaced and widowed because of the war. Under the U.S.-installed government women don’t have the same constitutional rights as men. Their only rights are to obey their husbands and they have the right to pray, as long as they don’t try to go into the mosques, where they are forbidden entrance.”
Jones said that another problem with the presence of foreign troops is that it makes Islamic husbands hold their wives and daughters more closely to home. “Women are already second class citizens and they have a U.S. occupation that is helping reinforce the doctrine of male superiority.”
When asked what Afghan women want, Jones said “Health, education and an adequate food supply is what women want.”
Jones and Wadak discussed the Taliban at some length.
They said the Taliban is imbedded in Afghan society and that some of them were well educated. They said they gain support from the people, in part, because each member is “a brother, a husband or a son to someone who is not in the Taliban.”
They said, also, “There are different types of Taliban and they cannot be all lumped together.”
All the panelists noted that the United States bears responsibility for the growth of some of the worse elements of the Taliban, beginning with the time that the U.S. supported the Taliban as a means to defeating left, progressive and Communist governments in Afghanistan and continuing today with the occupation, which breeds popular resentment.
The panelists said that some of the problems revolve even around the way in which non military aid is delivered to the country. Use of private contractors, they said, has been a disaster because the contractors siphon off the aid.
“Then you have people who were promised help getting no help. Now they believe the U.S. has lied to them and that we are really just there to occupy them and destroy their religion. Use of private contractors helps fuel the Taliban.”
The solution, the panelists agreed, lies along several fronts.
First, there should be a halt in the air raids. Entire villages of innocent people are being killed, creating a bigger refugee problem and fueling a larger Taliban.
Second, an Afghan Peace Corp should be developed to convert military aid into real economic assistance that goes directly to the people.
Third, negotiate settlements with the insurgents. Since they cannot be dislodged from the population by military means, there must be negotiations.
Fourth, support the progressives in Afghanistan who will back this approach.
Fifth, set up timelines for withdrawal of military troops.
The Rev. Pierre Williams is a part-time chaplain at Baltimore’s Harbor Hospital. He is a Vietnam War veteran and a member of the national board of Veterans For Peace. He attended last weeks “America’s Future Now Conference.”