AFGHANISTAN…? Fewer arms and much more aid

Friday, January 29, 2010

In 2004, the Spanish Government withdrew our country from the military operation Enduring Freedom, headed by the United States, and incorporated our soldiers into the United Nations mission for the “stabilization, development and reconstruction” of a country which for many years had been suffering invasions, military action and external and internal genocide, with recent abominable practices being carried out by both the Taliban and the Bush Administration (the killing of hundreds of people, torturing in Bagram prison, of which so little has been said, incidentally… ). The United States asked NATO (which is a way of asking themselves) to form part of a military strategy far removed from one which would enable a real change in the Afghanistan situation, doing the utmost to help the civilian population, to protect the people, to visibly increase the quality of life.

President Obama, on the same wavelength as the Spanish Government, has ensured that the new direction of his action will be aimed at transferring to the Afghans responsibility for their own destiny as soon as possible. However, it has to be said that he has talked more about the level of military forces than about the vast amount of aid that is necessary in order for this country to soon be able to free itself from the chains of tribalism, drug trafficking, ignorance, superstition and misery.

To exercise Human Rights, in order to give human beings, as clearly stated in the Preamble of the Declaration, “freedom from fear and want”. Afraid and abandoned, seeing only the muscles and never the hearts of those who claim to be protecting them. Seeing their boots and their weapons. Not their outstretched hands. Not bread. Poverty is the great breeding ground for people who, after so many unfulfilled promises, so many wounds, so much exclusion and humiliation, become radicalised and express their frustration, in the vast majority of cases, by migrating where possible, even risking their lives. Others, in much smaller numbers, fall into the temptation of violence. There is nothing more dangerous than desperation.

I never tire of repeating that when billions are invested every day in weapons and thousands of people are allowed to die from hunger and neglect, when we know that over 40% of human beings are living in inhumane conditions, when so many countries are being exploited and impoverished for the almost exclusive benefit of 20% of the people who live in the prosperous part of the “global village”… it is pathetic to hear people talk about insurgence and, instead of alleviating suffering and healing wounds, to increase expenditure on weapons and military forces. The problems, as those who have been living for centuries off the principle that “force is the solution” should know once and for all, must be resolved through solidarity, through justice, sharing assets and knowledge, and experience.

After the blunders of the Bush Administration, I know only too well that you cannot afford to “lower your guard”, although we are certainly dealing with new strategies and other battles, and that terrorists must understand, also once and for all, that their only way forward is to join society by defending their points of view without imposition or violence. There is an urgent need to train one’s own security forces, but within a context of general improvement in quality of life. And to avoid the actions of those who, from neighbouring countries, some of which are extremely rich, continue to provide means and resources to the Taliban … as well as those provided to them through drug trafficking.

But it must remain very clear that at the same time, the people, the men, women and children, are those who will welcome help with open hands and will tread the untrodden paths of peace, justice and democracy.

Incidentally, how can they think about holding elections amidst the chaos of war and misery? Elections, furthermore, where (as was the case in Gaza) the results are not accepted unless those who they (the organizers) thought should win do win.

Democracy cannot take root in fiction, in oligarchy in disguise, in fear and suspicion, in resentment, in the law of the strongest. Firstly, to help in major actions done by humankind as a whole, coordinated by the United Nations, whose mission of rehabilitation cannot be achieved within the context of the progressive alienation of civilian society. All military action that is essential should be carried out by the Blue Helmets, in order to prevent the repetition of invasions such as those seen in Kosovo and Iraq, or genocide such as that seen in Rwanda, or fighting such as that in Gaza…

According to the Spanish Minister of Defence, Carmen Chacón, “it is clear that not only NATO but the UN and the whole world cannot afford to allow Afghanistan to fall into the hands of those who sheltered the band of terrorists who shook the planet and entered our streets. And so, I continue to repeat that our military personnel are working towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan and at the same time for the security of our families”… She added: “Every civilian casualty increases the number of “insurgents”.

During the first half of 2009 there were 1,013 civilian victims, 31% of which were a result of military operations by international troops.

We must not forget that there are 35,000 villages scattered throughout Afghanistan. It is a case of restoring the trust of the major chiefs of the tribes, and of isolating the most radical, most “Jihadist” members of the Taliban.

The Afghan people, like so many others, have lost the trust they placed in those who promised them reconstruction, aid, respect for their customs. We need to ensure that the support of the people is once again placed in those who finally appear with more aid than bombs.

The people are beginning to see the “insurgents” as “friendly nationalists”, rather than as “enemy terrorists”. Are all the Taliban -and those who put them there should know it- abject supporters of terror? Surely not. Killing the Taliban is not the objective; the objective is to capture Al-Qaeda, all the violent ones. Because there are members of the Taliban who in order to liberate their country from outsiders handle “suicide terrorists” as if they were Kalashnikovs. They persuade the most fanatical, with great cynicism, that if they sacrifice themselves, Allah will welcome them into paradise. “We brought the martyr and we prepared him”, I was truly astonished to read in an interview given by Mullah Fateh Mohamed to the journalist David Beriain in Herat last September. The “martyr” was called Habibullah and was 18 years old. The Mullah himself had recruited and trained him( ).

The text by Beriain reproduces a Pashtun saying: “All women are worthless, including your mother and your sister”. And I immediately remembered the interview I had with the representatives of Afghanistan, when I was Director-General of UNESCO, in an attempt to convince them that girls should go to school. Of the 5 interviewees, only the one in the middle spoke (as has been my experience in similar situations): “All women are impure”, he told me. And I persisted, arguing that I was not talking about women, but about girls. And he repeated: “All women are impure”. When I made the point that he was the son of a woman, he said: “All women are impure”. There is no doubt that they interpret Islam in both an extreme and unjustified way. But these are the “officials”. It is very likely that, as I mentioned earlier, there are many members of the Taliban whose only wish is for the “invaders” to leave.

The war against Afghanistan began very soon after September 11th with the aim of destroying the Al-Qaeda training camps. On 7 October 2001, with the bombing of the north of Kabul, an act of retaliation began which was justified in the eyes of millions and millions of citizens all over the world who had witnessed in horror the acts of suicide terrorism committed at the Twin Towers. It seemed that it would be a rapid and efficient action, and that the Taliban would soon be ousted from power and from the strategic positions they were occupying. But the alliance with the “war lords”, with such bad memories for the people, as well as so many dead civilians resulting from the sophisticated battle devices mistaking their targets, contributed to a rapid decline in the support of the people. It was a war fought “from above”, from very high up … but when they came down to the ground they realised that they should not confuse Al-Qaeda with the Taliban.

General Stanley McChrystal’s proposal consists of the Afghans becoming the protagonists, both in civilian terms (development, wellbeing, security) and military terms: defeating Al-Qaeda, preparing some 400,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers within a few years, so that they can assume the responsibility of overseeing their own country and take over from the international forces. All of this taking into account that “one NATO soldier in Afghanistan costs 50 times more than the cost of one Afghan soldier”, as the Secretary-General of NATO, Anders F. Rasmussen, has pointed out.

Only the UN legitimises and opens up the possibility of strengthening development on a large scale. The support of society must be gained, by making the aid plain to see, putting an end to corruption, controlling the borders and relations with Pakistan properly, etc., so that the “foreign” forces can start to go home in the not-too-distant future.

There is a fundamental problem that needs resolving: the vast production of opium (and, consequently, heroin) which is, as always, occurring in Afghanistan and which has not been decreasing, the opposite in fact, since attempts have been made to redirect this country’s future. It is a case of changing the crop which must be subsidised accordingly, because as highlighted by Ronald Hatto , the choice between the 13,000 dollars per hectare obtained from growing poppies and the 400 dollars gained from growing wheat, for example, is too simple. There must therefore be a proper development plan with the appropriate subsidies, implemented over several years, to bring about “a new beginning” in agricultural production and in the economy of this country, which is so important for global change.

We must remember that heroin is the main source of economic resources for the Taliban followers of Mullah Omar. As long as cocaine is being produced in Colombia and heroin in Afghanistan, as long as hunger and tax havens exist, there will be no end to the war. The countries in which the demand for drugs is highest (whilst there is demand there will be supply) must be well aware of this. However they continue to fail to close the tax havens. In Afghanistan, opium production represents 33% of the GDP. Worldwide consumption of heroin generates 65 billion dollars a year, equivalent to 4,000 tonnes of opium (60% of which is consumed in the United States and Europe). Well, 90% of heroin comes from Afghanistan. In a recent report (October 2009) the UN alerted us to the fact that an extremely high percentage of the opium that mafias traffic throughout the world originates from the fields of Afghanistan. The heroin produced from poppies kills more people every year than any other drug or than wars; the estimate is around 100,000 lives. 10,000 people die in NATO member countries through the consumption of opiates, 5 times the number of military casualties over 8 years of war. Conclusion: we need a worldwide strategy, under the mandate of the United Nations with authority and equipped with the necessary resources of all kinds, to put an end to these extraordinary contradictions, one of the most significant being that of the large consumers who are normally more interested in putting an end to the potential foreign sources of drugs than in reducing the domestic demand and punishing those involved, aware of their huge responsibility for the evil that results from their dealings in this murky business.

There is no doubt, therefore, that reconstruction must not only be expressed in the form of roads and in the country’s GDP, but also in social care, in endogenous development, in replacing the opium crop, in a truly “green revolution” in Afghanistan. On rereading the press over the recent months, we realise that all of the countries that decide to support the United States calculate their contribution in terms of a certain number of soldiers. It is true that, in addition to providing defence and security, the Afghan soldiers and police forces must be trained. But none of this can take place if the people are not convinced that the international policy in relation to their country’s future is radically changing.

In his speech in Cairo on 2 June 2009, President Obama indicated that “we are providing more than 2.8 billion dollars to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon”. The predicted military cost is 65 billion dollars, according to the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Considering that a few months ago, 820 billion dollars could be mobilised in order to rescue the “irresponsible” financial institutions in the United States, does the amount now planned for developing Afghanistan not seem very small?

Rasmussen has stated that he believes that in 2010 the situation will begin to improve as there are “clear commitments, clear action by the Afghan Government to earn the support of the Afghan people. There will be more development assistance, starting with the 5 billion dollars pledged by Japan…”. It is here, once again, where it must be seen whether, in actual fact, it is possible to go from an economy of speculation and war to an economy of global development, starting with the most vulnerable countries, such as Afghanistan. Renewable energy, agricultural production, health services, eco-friendly homes… and, above all, schools, schools, schools. The current illiteracy rate is 72% (in Iraq it was 26%). There is a dire need for a coalition of Arabic and Muslim nations to become actively involved in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the long-suffering Afghan people.

Obama has planned a great military effort and, I hope to a much greater extent than the current one, civilian effort. We need to quickly quantify and ascertain the assistance that is being offered from all parts of the world in order to help Pakistan like the apple of their eye (water, power, funding, sustainable development). And also, to rely on the reconciliatory attitude of India, so that the focus on Karachi and Islamabad shifts from Kashmir to the borders with Afghanistan.

Faced with the explosive devices used by the “insurgents” in this asymmetrical war, “the allied forces” use unmanned Predator aircraft, controlled from Arizona! In view of the excessive “collateral” damage caused by these devices, which are not as “intelligent” as it was thought, General McChrystal has wisely decided to limit their use.

Another massacre such as the one at Kunduz must be avoided at all costs. We must not fall back into the dynamics of Cheney of “the war against terror”, where anything goes.

What is needed is to do our utmost to provide assistance, in terms of services, material and human resources so that the United Nations can fulfil their mandate. The current asymmetry between military costs and “social” costs is totally unacceptable. Reconstruction and rehabilitation must take priority over the dynamics of war.

The “enduring freedom” of the United States and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) under the command of NATO and protected by the UN must come together so that the peacekeeping and normalising action takes priority over military action. An effective counter-insurgent action, succeeding in containing the fanatical militia, eliminating drug-trafficking and bringing about, with major contributions of all kinds, a new era in these countries which have been so badly punished and let down.

The solution is political and social, and the important thing is for Afghanistan to be able to take, as soon as possible, its destiny into its own hands.