The failure of liberal dreams for Afghanistan

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh’s death sentence is a compelling demonstration of how thoroughly the west has failed in Afghanistan. The death sentence was issued by an Afghan court in response to the allegation that Kambaksh had downloaded and distributed a report about the oppression of women. This is not the first time a death sentence has been issued for blasphemy in Afghanistan since the imposition of the Karzai government, but it is a pretty egregious case. Yesterday, the sentence was confirmed by the Afghan Senate.

Is the whole point of the war in Afghanistan the replacement of one brutal band of thuggish warlords with another? Admittedly, the present government is better than the Taliban was, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement. Canada is considering an ever-more long term commitment to the protection of this government while, at the same time, we cannot trust them not to torture detainees that are transferred to them.

What is to be done in response? Do we become hard-headed realists, asserting that aiming to empower women or promote human rights was never a realistic or appropriate aim of the war in Afghanistan? Supporting a government just because they seem relatively pliable and seem to say the right things about cracking down on groups that worry us is certainly a practice with a long history. That said, it isn’t a very successful one. After all, it is why the west armed the Mujahideen in the first place (not to mention the Pinochets and Musharrafs of the world). Do we become isolationists, then, despairing of our ability to effect any progressive or worthwhile change in the world? That doesn’t seem practically or morally tenable in a world as interconnected as ours has become.

Perhaps all we can do is become a bit more cynical and a lot more critical about the supposed justifications for interventions. Rather than aspiring to replace oppressive societies with somewhat better ones, perhaps we should admit that overthrowing governments – however awful – will normally lead to horribly broken societies. That is not to say that it is always the worst option available. A horribly broken society is better than one in which an active genocide is occurring. With such exceptions admitted, it does seem as though the dream of a transition to liberal democracy through military intervention has been essentially invalidated by the experience of western states in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

62 thoughts on “The failure of liberal dreams for Afghanistan”

  1. With such exceptions admitted, it does seem as though the dream of a transition to liberal democracy through military intervention has been essentially invalidated by the experience of western states in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

    I think a more cynical and critical attitude leads fairly straightforwardly to the conclusion that neither the war in Iraq nor Afghanistan was intended to create democracy. A lie rather than a dream, perhaps? Which, frankly, is re-assuring, because if it liberal democracy was the goal it implies our governments’ foreign policy is more stupid and incompetent than I’ve been hoping.

  2. If the whole idea of spreading democracy was a cynical lie to begin with, what was the purpose Canadian leaders had in mind for our intervention in Afghanistan? Was it just a matter of standing by allies, specifically the US and NATO? Was it motivated by concerns about domestic security, given the overt support the Taliban gave to Al Qaeda?

    Iraq is obviously quite a different situation.

  3. Afghanistan has been our way of:
    -Justifying our absence in any formal sense from Iraq by engaging in a mission that to a greater extent seemed to reflect Canadian values,
    -Telling the Alliance and the United States that Canada is back and no longer a free-loader with regards to security cooperation, but instead ready to contribute with blood and treasure,
    -Reinvigorating the Canadian Forces, which since Martin were recovering from a decade of nelgect and at the end of the day, shame,
    -And finally reintroducing the Canadian Forces and the notion of our country as one with a warfighting military to the Canadian public.

    In short, the goals of the mission have been wholly self-serving, and it remains one that we should be committed to, in some form or another for decades. An Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar by Stein and Lang remains an essential read on the subject.

  4. I fail to understand the way you state this as a problem. Is the senate, because they have confirmed this sentence, a band of thuggish warlords? Are all senates that do not grant women rights thugs? What about European states that didn’t grant women voting rights until the late 20th century? Were they run by groups of thugs? Probably, but we like to say those are real democracies.

    What distinguishes a “group of thugs” from an autocratic rational state is law – fascists have no law they have only the spoken word (propeganda). If we restore Afghanistan to a law abiding, rule of law state, then whether or not women have any rights at all, it will still be a meaningful success.

    To know to what extent do we have a duty while rebuilding afghanistan (and we do have this duty – since it was our war – US versus Soviets, which destroyed it, produced the northern alliance which carried out huge crimes after the war, and produced the Taliban as a positive alternative, even popular – we should look at what kind of state Afghanistan had before the the Soviet – US ally altercation. If that was the kind of state where someone would be sentenced to death for distributing blasphemous propeganda, then?

    As for the requirement to go beyond that, we didn’t go to East Timor. We didn’t do the right thing in Rwanda. We commit horrible atrocities all the time and you are worried that women don’t have civil rights in Afghanistan? Interventionism is good and fine, and proper, but not every case is justified.


  5. You obviously see validity in liberal values, hence the condemnation of the death sentence, but you have lost faith that such values can be spread militarily.

    This is a sensible enough position, now bolstered with additional evidence.

  6. Is anyone talking about how the war on drugs means killing peasants for acting in their rational economic self interest?

    The fact is, we need opiates. The more fear we instill in the farmers of them, the more we bolster warlords.

  7. In Helmand a 20-year-old battle involves at least three main factions competing for control of the province’s huge opium trade. The dominant grouping since 2001 has been that of the Akhundzada family, who are members of the Alizai tribe, and their various allies. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada was Helmand’s governor till he was ousted in December 2005 under British pressure over his links to the drugs business. President Hamid Karzai has now called his ouster a mistake, citing the Taliban’s successes in the area since then. It is true that Mr Akhundzada had kept the scale of the fighting in check. But the thuggery of his regime had also provoked widespread anger, and sowed the seeds for the Taliban’s return.

  8. Afghan reporter shocked by trial

    In South Asia

    An Afghan reporter sentenced to death for blasphemy says his trial lasted just four minutes.

    After a month in jail Mr Kambaksh was charged in court with blasphemy and other crimes against Islam.

    In late January he expected the trial to start but instead was taken into the courtroom just before it was due to shut.

    He says the judges and prosecutor repeated some details of the case and then declared him guilty and announced the sentence was death.

    “The judges had made up their mind about the case without me,” he told the Independent.

    “The way they talked to me, looked at me, was the way they look at a condemned man.

    “I wanted to say: ‘This is wrong, please listen to me,’ but I was given no chance to explain.”

    At no point in the closed-door proceedings did Mr Kambaksh have a lawyer and he says he was not allowed to defend himself either.

    The Afghan Senate confirmed the sentence on 30 January, but backed down a day later after an international outcry.

    The jailed reporter’s appeal is expected to be heard in an open court in Kabul, the Independent said.

    President Hamid Karzai would have to approve the death sentence for it to be carried out.

  9. In the eyes of many, one of the Afghan war’s virtues has been that NATO has participated as an entity. But NATO has come under heavy criticism from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for its performance. Some, like the Canadians, are threatening to withdraw their troops if other alliance members do not contribute more heavily to the mission. More important, the Taliban have been fighting an effective and intensive insurgency. Further complicating the situation, the roots of many of the military and political issues in Afghanistan are found across the border in Pakistan.

    If the endgame in Iraq is murky, the endgame if Afghanistan is invisible. The United States, its allies and the Kabul government are fighting a holding action strategically. They do not have the force to destroy the Taliban — and in counterinsurgency, the longer the insurgents maintain their operational capability, the more likely they are to win. Further stiffening the Taliban resolve is the fact that, while insurgents have nowhere to go, foreigners can always decide to go home.

  10. Over time, the United States and NATO brought about 50,000 troops to Afghanistan. Their hope was that Hamid Karzai’s government would build a force that could defeat the Taliban. But the problem was that, absent U.S. and NATO forces, the Taliban had managed to defeat the forces now arrayed against them once before, in the Afghan civil war. The U.S. commitment of troops was enough to hold the major cities and conduct offensive operations that kept the Taliban off balance, but the United States could not possibly defeat them. The Soviets had deployed 300,000 troops in Afghanistan and could not defeat the mujahideen. NATO, with 50,000 troops and facing the same shifting alliance of factions and tribes that the Soviets couldn’t pull together, could not pacify Afghanistan.

    But vanquishing the Taliban simply was not the goal. The goal was to maintain a presence that could conduct covert operations in Pakistan looking for al Qaeda and keep al Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan. Part of this goal could be achieved by keeping a pro-American government in Kabul under Karzai. The strategy was to keep al Qaeda off balance, preserve Karzai and launch operations against the Taliban designed to prevent them from becoming too effective and aggressive. The entire U.S. military would have been insufficient to defeat the Taliban; the war in Afghanistan thus was simply a holding action.

  11. As the situation in Iraq settles down — and it appears to be doing so — more focus will be drawn to Afghanistan, the war that even opponents of Iraq have acknowledged as appropriate and important. But it is important to understand what this war consists of: It is a holding action against an enemy that cannot be defeated (absent greater force than is available) with open lines of supply into a country allied with the United States. It is a holding action waiting for certain knowledge of the status of al Qaeda, knowledge that likely will not come. Afghanistan is a war without exit and a war without victory. The politics are impenetrable, and it is even difficult to figure out whether allies like Pakistan are intending to help or are capable of helping.

    Thus, while it may be a better war than Iraq in some sense, it is not a war that can be won or even ended. It just goes on.

  12. Regarding the arguments among NATO members about troop strength in Afghanistan, I continue to be amazed that nobody ever discusses the Soviet Union’s debacle there more than two decades ago. If a superpower that was immediately next door could put 100,000 troops into Afghanistan for ten years and still ultimately retreat in defeat, what are the lessons for NATO?

  13. The state of NATO
    A ray of light in the dark defile

    Indeed, a recent report overseen by General James Jones, formerly NATO’s supreme military commander, declares: “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan.” Failure, the report says, will “put in grave jeopardy NATO’s future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance”.

  14. The Taliban have the classic advantage of guerrillas operating in known terrain with a network of supporters: superior intelligence. They know where the Americans are, what the Americans are doing and when the Americans are going to strike. The Taliban declines combat on unfavorable terms and strikes when the Americans are weakest. The Americans, on the other hand, have the classic problem of counterinsurgency: They enjoy superior force and firepower, and can defeat anyone they can locate and pin down, but they lack intelligence. As much as technical intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites is useful, human intelligence is the only effective long-term solution to defeating an insurgency. In this, the Taliban have the advantage: They have been there longer, they are in more places and they are not going anywhere.

    There is no conceivable force the United States can deploy to pacify Afghanistan. A possible alternative is moving into Pakistan to cut the supply lines and destroy the Taliban’s base camps. The problem is that if the Americans lack the troops to successfully operate in Afghanistan, it is even less likely they have the troops to operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States could use the Korean War example, taking responsibility for cutting the Taliban off from supplies and reinforcements from Pakistan, but that assumes that the Afghan government has an effective force motivated to engage and defeat the Taliban. The Afghan government doesn’t.

  15. What Are We Doing in Afghanistan?
    We’re still figuring that out.
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, at 6:59 PM ET

    Unlike those who got us into Vietnam, today’s top officials—including President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates—at least see the specter. Both have emphasized that their goals in Afghanistan are limited; daydreams of turning the place into a democratic republic—”some central Asian Valhalla,” as Gates snorted in recent hearings—are over. Gates further stated at those hearings, before the Senate armed services committee, that he would endorse his commanders’ request for three additional brigades—but that he’d be “deeply skeptical” of subsequent requests for more. The fighting needs to be done mainly by Afghan troops, he said, adding that if the Afghan people begin to see it as an American war, “we will go the way of other imperial occupiers.”

  16. Tristan,

    Is anyone talking about how the war on drugs means killing peasants for acting in their rational economic self interest?

    Yes. Lots of people, including Canadian and British officers I have spoken with.

    Also, take a look at this post: Afghan opium

  17. Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, December 23, 2008

    Wikileaks release: February 2, 2009

    Publisher: United States Congressional Research Service

    Title: Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy

    CRS report number: RL30588

    Author(s): Kenneth Katzman, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

    Date: December 23, 2008


    The United States and partner countries now deploy a 45,700 troop NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that commands peacekeeping throughout Afghanistan. Of those, about 14,500 of the 33,600 U.S. forces in Afghanistan are part of ISAF; the remainder (about 19,000) are under Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. and partner forces also run 26 regional enclaves to secure reconstruction (Provincial Reconstruction Teams, PRTs), and are building an Afghan National Army and National Police now numbering about 150,000. The United States has given Afghanistan over $31 billion (appropriated, including FY2009 to date) since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $15 billion was to equip and train the security forces. Breakdowns are shown in the tables at the end.

  18. Pakistan agrees to allow Islamic law in volatile northwest

    Last Updated: Monday, February 16, 2009 | 6:27 PM ET
    CBC News

    The Pakistan government has agreed to allow the implementation of Islamic law in the country’s turbulent northwest in an effort to mollify the Taliban and end fighting in the region.

    The system of religious law — known as Shariah — will be implemented in the Malakand region. The area includes the Swat valley, once a popular tourist area that is now firmly under the grip of the Taliban.

    The concession comes a day after the Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire in the valley during peace talks between local Islamic leaders and the government.

  19. The system of religious law — known as Shariah — will be implemented in the Malakand region. The area includes the Swat valley, once a popular tourist area that is now firmly under the grip of the Taliban.

    The Taliban are winning.

    Weak as it is, the government of Pakistan is probably stronger than anything NATO will be able to create in Afghanistan.

  20. Western forces alone can’t beat Afghan insurgents: Harper
    1 hour ago

    OTTAWA — Western forces alone can never defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama better realize that in shaping his strategy there, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    In an interview aired Sunday on the U.S. cable news network CNN, Harper said he’s “delighted” the president is sending more troops to the country in the short term.

    Many of them will be deployed in the Kandahar region, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers already on the ground can use the help.
    But in the longer run, said Harper, it’s the government in Kabul that will have to run its own country and be responsible for its own security.

  21. Canada, allies will never defeat Taliban, PM says

    From Monday’s Globe and Mail
    March 1, 2009 at 9:35 PM EST
    WASHINGTON — Canadian and other foreign armies can’t defeat the Taliban, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

    “Frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency,” Mr. Harper said, more than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime. Canadian troops have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan since 2002, but this is the first time the Prime Minister has explicitly said defeating the Islamic extremists can’t be done.

    Mr. Harper, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, said that despite sending thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan and suffering more than 100 troop deaths, the “success has been modest” and any gains made could be lost.

  22. Student facing 20 years in hell

    Afghan court secretly sentences student whose cause was taken up by The Independent. His crime? To download article on women’s rights

    By Jerome Starkey in Kabul

    Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy in Afghanistan, has been told he will spend the next 20 years in jail after the country’s highest court ruled against him – without even hearing his defence.

    The 23-year-old, brought to worldwide attention after an Independent campaign, was praying that Afghanistan’s top judges would quash his conviction for lack of evidence, or because he was tried in secret and convicted without a defence lawyer. Instead, almost 18 months after he was arrested for allegedly circulating an article about women’s rights, any hope of justice and due process evaporated amid gross irregularities, allegations of corruption and coercion at the Supreme Court. Justices issued their decision in secret, without letting Mr Kambaksh’s lawyer submit so much as a word in his defence.

    Afzal Nooristani, the legal campaigner representing Mr Kambaksh, accused the judges of behaving “no better than the Taliban”. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan’s legal system and 149 British soldiers have died there since 2001, but experts admit that state justice is still beyond the reach of most ordinary Afghans.

  23. Op-Ed Contributor
    How to Leave Afghanistan

    Published: March 12, 2009

    ONLY if our troop levels hit 100,000 and fighting floods over into Taliban havens in Pakistan will Washington be likely to look hard at the alternative policy for Afghanistan — withdrawing most American forces and refocusing our power on containing, deterring and diplomatically encircling the terrorist threat. But by then it will be too late.

  24. Law legalizing rape in marriage prompts outcry

    Canada expresses outrage, Western diplomats hold emergency meeting in Kabul, but Karzai’s move foreshadows painful tradeoffs


    From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

    April 2, 2009 at 4:11 AM EDT

    OTTAWA — It used to be a mission to give a future to little girls. Now the government is scrambling to explain why Canadian troops are fighting for an Afghanistan that legalizes rape within marriage.

    The new Afghan law, apparently approved by President Hamid Karzai, led Western diplomats in Kabul to call an emergency meeting and hammer out a concerted response, pressuring the Karzai administration to back down.

  25. And there is a deeper issue yet that Gates has referred to: the Russian experience in Afghanistan. The Petraeus camp is vehement that there is no parallel between the Russian and American experience; in this view, the Russians tried to crush the insurgents, while the Americans are trying to win them over and end the insurgency by convincing the Taliban’s supporters and reaching a political accommodation with their leaders. Obama and Gates are less sanguine about the distinction — such distinctions were made in Vietnam in response to the question of why the United States would fare better in Southeast Asia than the French did. From the Obama and Gates point of view, a political settlement would call for either a constellation of forces in Afghanistan favoring some accommodation with the Americans, or sufficient American power to compel accommodation. But it is not clear to Obama and Gates that either could exist in Afghanistan.

    Ultimately, Petraeus is charging that Obama and Gates are missing the chance to repeat what was done in Iraq, while Obama and Gates are afraid Petraeus is confusing success in Iraq with a universal counterinsurgency model. To put it differently, they feel that while Petraeus benefited from fortuitous circumstances in Iraq, he quickly could find himself hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. The Pentagon on May 11 announced that U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan would be replaced, less than a year after he took over, with Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal. McKiernan’s removal could pave the way for a broader reshuffling of Afghan strategy by the Obama administration.

  26. Winning the Good War
    Why Afghanistan is not Obama’s Vietnam.

    By Peter Bergen

    Throughout his campaign last year, President Barack Obama said repeatedly that the real central front of the war against terrorists was on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And now he is living up to his campaign promise to roll back the Taliban and al-Qaeda with significant resources. By the end of the year there will be some 70,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration is pushing for billions of dollars in additional aid to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    But the growing skepticism about Obama’s chances for success in Afghanistan is largely based on deep misreadings of both the country’s history and the views of its people, which are often compounded by facile comparisons to the United States’s misadventures of past decades in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Afghanistan will not be Obama’s Vietnam, nor will it be his Iraq. Rather, the renewed and better resourced American effort in Afghanistan will, in time, produce a relatively stable and prosperous Central Asian state.

  27. Professor Sir Adam Roberts addresses Afghanistan security questions in House of Commons memorandum

    Evidence submitted by Prof. Adam Roberts was extensively cited by the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in its widely-noted report issued on 2 August 2009 entitled Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    In his memorandum submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee , Adam Roberts had explored the following issues:

    * What are the implications of wars in Afghanistan for international security – not only in the region but also more generally?
    * What have been the effects of previous wars in Afghanistan, particularly in the nineteenth century and in the Soviet period 1979-89, on regional and international security?
    * How should the almost continuous wars in Afghanistan since 1989 be characterized, and what have been the effects of their Pakistan dimension?
    * What have been the roles of the United Nations in the long-running Afghan crisis, including in its post 2001 post-conflict peace-building role and in assisting the return of refugees?
    * In the war since 2001, what problems have there been in fitting Western military doctrines, practices and institutions to Afghan realities? What has been the role of air power? How has NATO performed in this unanticipated commitment? Are counter-insurgency doctrines fit for purpose in Afghanistan? And how can progress be judged?

    For the full memorandum, please see

  28. Thank you for providing Peter Bergen’s article and analysis. Quite often the media will focus on the hottest issue, which generally means where there are the greatest problems. For Afghanistan the measure of “hotness” in North America seems to be the death of American or Canadian soldiers. Bergen’s article provides a wider and more positive perspective.

    My hope is that the Taliban will continue to wither. At 20,000, as suggested by Bergen and with 58% of the Afghan people seeing the Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan , they do seem to be withering. (Bergen suggest that the number of Mujahadeen was ten times that number during the fight against the Soviet occupation)

  29. Row over Afghan wife-starving law

    By Sarah Rainsford
    BBC News

    An Afghan bill allowing a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex has been published in the official gazette and become law.

    The original bill caused outrage earlier this year, forcing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to withdraw it.

    But critics say the amended version of the law remains highly repressive.

  30. In similar fashion, military convoys are to be driven more carefully. House-searches must be conducted more politely, with respectful understanding of Pushtuns’ habit of keeping their womenfolk prisoner and their names secret. Detention facilities, General McChrystal will recommend, should be more humane—and better intelligence gathered from them. Hundreds of civilians are to be sent to assist his forces, mainly to pep up their flagging efforts to provide economic development. Whether ISAF will get more troops, as the general would no doubt like, is unclear. His sacked predecessor, General David McKiernan, requested around 10,000 more American troops—a modest number—and was denied them. Either way, much greater onus will be placed on building up Afghan security forces, a task only seriously begun four years ago. The Afghan army, currently 94,000-strong, is to be pushed to 134,000 within two years. Both it and the Afghan police, of whom there are currently 84,000, may end up being doubled.

  31. How to win in Afghanistan

    SIR – You referred to the inadequate levels of manpower available to NATO in Afghanistan (“Losing Afghanistan?”, August 22nd). Yet Gordon Brown regularly asserts that the war in Afghanistan is “vital” to British security. The absolutely fundamental question, both for the British government and for NATO, is whether defeating the Taliban and establishing a stable democracy in Afghanistan really is indeed a “vital” interest. If it is vital then all NATO members must allocate whatever it takes in manpower, treasure and, primarily, willpower to fulfil this aim. If this means conscription, fine. If it means putting economies on a war footing, so be it.

    If, on the other hand, these aims are merely “desirable” rather than vital, then that’s fine too. But politicians with no military experience, who are more concerned with interest rates, credit crunches, house prices and unemployment, should say this and the troop-contributing nations can resign themselves to the steady, long-term attrition of their soldiers committed to an unwinnable war. Increasingly, if disgracefully, this seems to be the line that the British government is inclined to take.

    Lieutenant-colonel William Pender (Retired)
    Salisbury, Wiltshire

  32. France, Germany, U.K.: Trading Troops for an Exit Strategy

    September 10, 2009

    European leaders are considering an increase in troops to Afghanistan in anticipation of a future withdrawal and exit strategy. Leaders of the U.K, Germany and France hope to train up Afghans to fend for themselves as soon as possible. A meeting, dubbed the “exit strategy summit,” is planned for December to discuss Afghan issues.

  33. Iraq’s freedoms under threat
    Could a police state return?

    Sep 3rd 2009 | BAGHDAD
    From The Economist print edition
    Iraqis are increasingly worried that their new freedoms are under threat

    THE main book market, in Baghdad’s Mutanabi Street, was a hive of angry chatter this week. Bespectacled traders, complaining about new censorship laws, shouted, “This is not freedom of expression,” and talked of holding a demonstration like one last month, when journalists protested against new restrictions.

    But would the booksellers dare? They said they were already worried that plainclothes policemen had been taking their names. Perhaps they should go instead to court and fight censorship with the help of lawyers. “Not a chance,” said one book-dealer. “This is the new Iraq.” Legal protections, he noted, count for little. “Power”, he added, “is held by the men with the guns.”

    He had a point. The Shia-led government has overseen a ballooning of the country’s security apparatus. Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state.

    Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.

    It is too soon to say Iraq will revert to Saddam’s heinous standards. Parliament is diverse and vigorous. The press still airs a range of opinion. The courts are not yet rubber stamps. But the trend is going the wrong way. “This will be a police state, no question,” says a Western diplomat with long experience of Iraq. “It’ll take two or three years. But it’s coming.”

  34. Back behind the veil
    Jessica Leeder

    Kandahar, Afghanistan — From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Saturday, Sep. 19, 2009 12:00AM EDT

    “My dreams are gone.”

    “It is already too late for me.”

    “My life has been destroyed.”

    At first, the words pouring from the mouth of the girl with jewel eyes hemmed in kohl sound like a typical teenage lament.

    Her tone is plain and without melodrama – she believes what she says. And there are plenty of reasons she should.

    In the span of about one year, the 15-year-old, named Sitara, has been yanked out of school, off a path that hinted at promise, and sold by her father for 700,000 Afghanis (about $15,000) into a marriage that, already, she has “nothing left for.”

  35. It seems to me that winning in Afghanistan is remarkably simple, but not in America’s interest. The Taliban seems to supported by two major factors (among others perhaps, I’m not an expert): profits from the drug trade, and moral outrage over the middle east. Both of those things can be solve remarkably easily – even if American support for a fair settlement in the middle east might not actually produce one, it would do much to reduce the hatred towards America that drives the radicals. And buying rather than destroying opium crops – having the state offer more money than the drug lords can, is also possible. (Or, have America produce its own opium and sell it at a subsidized discount in rich countries to knock the bottom out of the black market – either would work).

  36. The Taliban don’t carry on exclusively energized by the same anti-Israeli/American fury that seems to power you these days. As for opium, they are the only group that has ever really cut down production in the region. They are using it now as a pragmatic tool to fund insurgency.

    They are a tribal force of a kind that has been dominant in that part of the world for at least hundreds of years, in both what is now Afghanistan and what is now the border area of Pakistan.

    Even if America didn’t exist, and neither did the opium trade, there is a good chance they would be in power.

  37. Pashtunwali (Pashto: پښتونوالی) or Pakhtunwali is a concept of living or philosophy for the Pashtun people and is regarded as an honour code and a non-written law for the people. Though Pashtunwali dates back to the pre-Islamic times, its practice by the pashtuns does not contravene Islamic principles. It is practiced by Pashtuns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and by members of the Pashtun diaspora around the world.

  38. Pashtun people
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Pashtuns (Pashto: پښتون Paṣ̌tun, Pax̌tun, also rendered as Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pukhtuns), also called Pathans (Urdu: پٹھان, Hindi: पठान Paṭhān) or ethnic Afghans, are an Eastern Iranian ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan and in the North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their usage of the Pashto language and practice of Pashtunwali, which is an ancient traditional code of conduct and honor.

    Pashtun society consists of many tribes and clans which were rarely politically united, until the rise of the Durrani Empire in 1747. Pashtuns played a vital role during the Great Game as they were caught between the imperialist designs of the British and Russian empires. For over 250 years, they reigned as the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan. More recently, the Pashtuns gained worldwide attention after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and with the rise and fall of the Taliban, since they are the main ethnic contingent in the movement. Pashtuns are also an important community in Pakistan, where they are prominently represented in the military and are the second-largest ethnic group.

    The Pashtuns are the world’s largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group. The total population of the group is estimated to be around 42 million, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes and more than 400 sub-clans.

  39. Abandoning Afghanistan would free us (perhaps temporarily) from the burden of occupying it. It surely would not produce anything remotely like a liberal democracy, regardless of what we did to opium prices.

    Of course, and as the information above demonstrates, our current approach won’t produce a liberal democracy either. At the most, it might keep the core of Al Qaeda comparatively isolated and on the run, Afghanistan held together as a state, and Pakistan less destabilized than it would otherwise be.

  40. “[The Taliban] are a tribal force of a kind that has been dominant in that part of the world for at least hundreds of years, in both what is now Afghanistan and what is now the border area of Pakistan.”

    Sure. Wait a minute, who was in power before the Taliban was propped up by America? Oh wait, it was progressive moderates:

    “Once in power, the PDPA moved to permit freedom of religion and carried out an ambitious land reform, waiving farmers’ debts countrywide. They also made a number of statements on women’s rights and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”[55]

    Many people in the cities including Kabul either welcomed or were ambivalent to these policies. However, the secular nature of the government made it unpopular with religiously conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside, who favoured traditionalist ‘Islamic’ law.

    The U.S. saw the situation as a prime opportunity to weaken the Soviet Union. As part of a Cold War strategy, in 1979 the United States government (under President Jimmy Carter) began to covertly fund forces ranged against the pro-Soviet government, although warned that this might prompt a Soviet intervention, (according to National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski).[56] The Mujahideen belonged to various different factions, but all shared, to varying degrees, a similarly conservative ‘Islamic’ ideology.”

  41. “the same anti-Israeli/American fury that seems to power you these days”

    I’m not anti-Israel or anti American. I’m opposed to the principle that land should be conquered in war. America and Israel have together been in favour of that principle for the last 40 years or so, and it’s a major cause of many conflicts that are needless. The libertarian wing of the Republican party in the U.S. has believed this for years, so I don’t see it as a particularly “Anti-American” position. The disturbing amount of truth in the radicalist islamic critique of America is completely separate issue – perhaps in that discussion I could be called “anti-American”. But what does that mean anyway? What would it mean to be anti-Canadian? or anti-Spanish? I’m opposed to a lot of Harper’s foreign policy – am I anti-Canadian? This isn’t a serious logical move.

  42. NDP calls for inquiry into Afghan torture scandal

    By: News Staff

    Date: Thu. Oct. 15 2009 4:29 PM ET

    The NDP is calling for a public inquiry into allegations that Canadian officials were aware that Afghan prisoners were at risk of being tortured at the hands of local authorities.

    NDP defence critic Jack Harris says that the government hasn’t been forthcoming about the scandal, which centres on reports that Canadian guards transferred Afghan prisoners to local military personnel, who were known to practice torture on detainees.

    “Peter Mackay and the prime minister must come forward and tell Canadians exactly what they knew, and when they knew it. That is the clearest, fastest, and most honest way to proceed,” said Harris in a release on Thursday.

    Government officials say they are in the midst of censoring documents about the issue for national security, but critics say they’re taking too long to get the job done.

  43. Make women’s rights Canada’s postwar priority
    From Monday’s Globe and Mail

    Afghanistan is still one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Now that Canada’s costly and controversial overseas mission there is winding down, this country has a unique opportunity to develop a new role in Afghanistan as a champion of women’s rights.

    Canada should accept our responsibility for the women of Afghanistan, and make the advancement of their condition a primary foreign-policy objective.

    Canada engaged the Taliban with a moral imperative, in many minds. Some progress has been made since the war began in 2001. However, a resurgence of the Taliban, and the withdrawal of foreign troops, will leave women vulnerable in that deeply conservative country. This is one aspect of Canada’s mission that must not abruptly end.

    The Harper government needs a more systematic approach for its post-conflict role, one that ties aid to documented improvements in women’s access to legal reform, education, and health-care services. The challenges are abundant. In many parts of the country, men still decide everything from what a woman can wear and whether she can work, to whom she will marry, whether she receives an inheritance and when she can see a doctor. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth remain the No. 1 cause of death for women.

  44. Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report Says

    On 5,753 occasions from 2010 to 2016, the United States military reported accusations of “gross human rights abuses” by the Afghan military, including many examples of child sexual abuse. If true, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit.

    Not once did that happen.

    That was among the findings in an investigation into child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces and the supposed indifference of the American military to the problem, according to a report released on Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, known as Sigar.

    The report, commissioned under the Obama administration, was considered so explosive that it was originally marked “Secret/ No Foreign,” with the recommendation that it remain classified until June 9, 2042. The report was finished in June 2017, but it appears to have included data only through 2016, before the Trump administration took office.

    The report released on Monday was heavily redacted, and at least in the public portions it did little to answer questions about how prevalent child sexual abuse was in the Afghan military and police, and how commonly the American military looked the other way at the widespread practice of bacha bazi, or “boy play,” in which some Afghan commanders keep underage boys as sex slaves.

    “Although DOD and State have taken steps to identify and investigate child sexual assault incidents, the full extent of these incidences may never be known,” the report said, referring to the departments of Defense and State.

    Sigar said it had opened an investigation into bacha bazi at the request of Congress and in response to a 2015 New York Times article that described the practice as “rampant.” The article said that American soldiers who complained had their careers ruined by their superiors, who had encouraged them to ignore the practice.

  45. The attacks are designed to prove that the American “puppet government” under Mr Ghani has only a tenuous hold over the country. Certainly, the president does not believe he can defeat the Taliban in battle, or even by winning hearts and minds. The problem is not the much reduced level of Western military-led assistance. On the contrary, the hundreds of billions of dollars America and its allies poured into the country in the name of stability and development engendered a much resented kleptocratic state. As Theo Farrell of Wollongong University in Australia puts it in “Unwinnable”, his book on Britain’s war in Afghanistan: money flows upwards; every government position is bought; even promotions in the army and police depend upon patronage and purchase. So much Western money ended up (via unscrupulous local barons to whom logistics and other contracts were granted) helping the insurgents that a common myth in Helmand province in the south, where the British force was concentrated, was that Britain was working with the Taliban.

  46. Opinion
    End the War in Afghanistan
    It is time to bring American soldiers back home

    More than 17 years later, the United States military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations on six continents. The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher.

    Recent talks between the United States and the Taliban appear to have made encouraging progress. Those talks might be most accurately described as a negotiated capitulation by the international forces. The Afghan government hasn’t been party to the discussions because the Taliban doesn’t consider it a legitimate entity — just a puppet of the United States. In any case, once NATO forces leave, any treaty with the Taliban would be difficult to enforce.

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