Toppling the Buddhas

Two giant stone Buddhas towered majestically over the Afghan terrain, marking the thriving Buddhist community below. In time, Islam replaced Buddhism, and the mighty carvings were less revered, in fact occasionally threatened. But it took the fiercely dogmatic Taliban to decide their time had come. From their perspective the figures were an affront to Islam.

But driving out this last symbol of Buddhism was no easy task. Chains or ropes would hardly do, considering one statue was 180 feet high, the other 125. The job was entrusted to the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which normally dealt with human executions but was ready to take on Buddhism. For fire power, it assembled artillery, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, but the combined assault only produced a few chips.

To get serious, the Taliban rounded up a couple dozen prisoners who were told to bring in the dynamite. One of them, Mirza Hussein, years later told BBC: “We were chosen because there was nobody else. We could be disposed of at any time” – like the Buddhas. One in fact was shot because a bad leg kept him from hauling explosives. For twenty-five days they painstakingly stuffed the dynamite into every available crevice, sometimes drilling holes to make room. Protests from outside were unavailing.

When the statues were finally reduced to rubble, the Taliban rejoiced, dancing, firing their weapons into the air and slaughtering nine cows as a sacrifice. But Hussein was not happy with what he had done. Nor was most of Afghanistan and for that matter the rest of the world. Not just a religion had been obliterated but a crucial part of Afghan heritage. How much did the Taliban care for the country they were intent on ruling?

Giant standing Buddhas of Bamiyan still cast shadows, Sgt. Ken Scar, 17 June 2012

Was the demolition also a signal? Taliban chief Mullah Omar liked to explain that the statues were destroyed to keep the U.S. from threatening his country. If he had no qualms about obliterating a major monument in Afghanistan, why hesitate to do the same to America via bin Laden? Despite the Afghan blast heard round the world and the warnings of dissident Taliban leaders, Washington was not listening. Six months later on 9/11 the World Trade Center at massive human cost joined the Buddhas.

Fighting But Not To Win

Hawkish members of Congress and the media have seized on possible intelligence indicating that Russia is paying bonuses to Taliban who kill Americans. Even if it’s true – and it may not be – it’s a pittance compared to the resources the U.S poured into the effort to overthrow the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the l980’s by aiding the rebel Mujahideen. It’s a policy that worked and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There’s no possibility of Russia coming back or even wanting to. Putin, a strict nationalist, hardly compares to the communist Soviet regime spreading a murderous ideology around the world. Yet he has been elevated to the status of foreign devil of the moment by Washingtonians yearning for battle at least from the armchair. Chief among these are the so-called neoconservatives who have managed to play a central role in the foreign policy of the last four Presidencies – Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump – exhibiting a knack for political survival while promoting a series of misguided wars.

It began with Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack. The perpetrator Osama bin Laden had been harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan. So the U.S. made a crushing attack on the Taliban and bin Laden was within easy reach. But under neocon pressure, troops were not supplied to keep him from escaping across the border to Pakistan. Instead they were diverted to Bush’s main preoccupation Iraq, where a war was launched on a variety of false pretexts.

With bin Laden still at large, the Bush White House felt free to take on Afghanistan. It was only a matter of weeks, a top anti-terrorism adviser told the Russians: “We’re going to kill them We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.” But as the Russians found out and before them Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and the British, nobody successfully invades Afghanistan. That now includes the U.S., which today faces an enemy as strong as ever.

The Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gundamuck, 1842, by William Barnes Wollen (1898).

Early on Bush proclaimed, “You’re for us or against us.” There was nothing in between, which includes most of humanity, and at the time two top Taliban leaders who were seeking to overthrow the harsh rule of Mullah Omar and form a government that would be true to Islam and also acceptable to the outside world. They spoke the language of moderation.

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar had been a founder of the Taliban but at great personal risk he went to Pakistan in 1999 on the pretext of receiving medical treatment. In fact, he was there to meet CIA agents to seek U.S. help for the new government he envisioned. He had over a thousand police at his disposal and an alliance with the forces of a top anti-Taliban commander.

But he spoke in vain, as did Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who warned the U.S. of an upcoming bin Laden attack. On arriving in Kabul, the Americans continued to ignore both well-placed defectors. Muttawakil was sent to prison for eighteen months and underwent mild torture. Khaksar asked for protection. It was denied and he was killed by his Taliban enemies. If aided, could they have succeeded and spared the U.S. its longest war?

There’s a tendency to conflate the wars before and after 9/11, but they’re not the same. Judge them as you will, the pre-9/11 conflicts all had a clear purpose: escaping British rule, ending slavery, expanding America, defeating a bellicose Germany, stopping the spread of Soviet communism. Post 9/11 wars, while ceaseless, have only a cloudy or shifting purpose, Afghanistan being the prime example. Its unpopularity rivals that of the Vietnam War with this difference: there’s no draft. U.S. combat deaths remain limited while Afghan casualties, military and civilian. continue to climb. So popular outrage is muted and the war goes on.

Did we have to go to war in Afghanistan?

Though the Afghan war has now lasted over fourteen years, it’s still unclear why we are fighting it. Absent are the ringing appeals for freedom and democracy. The outlook is more subdued. The late Richard Holbrooke, deeply involved in our policy – such as it was – had a vague notion of success: “We will know it when we see it.” General David Petraeus, former commander of US troops in Afghanistan and temporarily CIA director, didn’t even envision success: “I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably kids’ lives.” Right you are, said Senator John McCain at the last Republican convention: “Success at home also depends on our leadership in the world. It is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty and transformed human history.”

Continue reading “Did we have to go to war in Afghanistan?”

Afghanistan Struggles to Shake Off Foreign Influences and Rebuild National Unity

Although the Taleban are removed from power, they continue to fight the government that replaced them. They are abetted by Pakistani sympathizers, and other foreign countries also complicate life for Afghans and undermine their efforts to achieve a viable peace. In the last of a three-part series, VOA’s Ed Warner describes the outside pressures on a divided Afghanistan and its response.

Overthrowing the Taleban has brought freedom to Afghanistan but a shaky government. A new constitution is being written and elections are scheduled for next year, but underlying forces are shaping events.

Continue reading “Afghanistan Struggles to Shake Off Foreign Influences and Rebuild National Unity”

America Needs a Development Plan for Afghanistan Today

ON A RECENT TRIP to Afghanistan, many Afghans asked me: “What’s the American plan for us?” I said I didn’t know and I didn’t know anyone who knows. There’s remarkably little discussion of Afghanistan, and that includes among American presidential candidates, who rarely mention the subject. It is almost as if Afghanistan were an afterthought, an annoying obstacle on the way to remaking the Middle East.

 
And Osama bin Laden? That man, apparently untroubled by the U.S., is now well entrenched and, from all reports, growing stronger in the lawless region stretching from eastern Afghanistan over the mountains into western Pakistan and planning who knows what.

 
According to Ali Jalali, former interior minister under Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a possible successor to him, there was no postwar plan: the idea was to mop up fast and not worry too much about the aftermath.

 
But there is no end in sight to the six-year war that now has lasted longer than World War II. The resurgent Taliban are making gains, especially in the south, where British troops defeat them in battle—but then the poorly paid and trained Afghan army troops assigned to hold the territory fail to do so.

 
We don’t have enough troops there, says U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who should know. Combined U.S. and NATO forces add up to some 50,000, as against the Taliban’s estimated 15,000 to 20,000—not enough of an advantage to defeat an insurgency.

 
The lack of ground troops leads to a greater reliance on air attack, which inevitably takes civilian lives. The United Nations reports that in 2007 U.S., NATO and Afghan firepower killed more civilians, including children, than did the insurgents. President Karzai has repeatedly objected to this on the grounds of inhumanity and flawed strategy. There is no faster way to recruit insurgents who have witnessed the deaths of their loved ones.

 
Given this military impasse, there are increasing calls, notably by President Karzai, for negotiations with Taliban who might be agreeable to some kind of political settlement. Former Taliban leaders in Kabul have been enlisted in this effort, among them former foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, whom I met on a trip to Afghanistan in 1999 for the Voice of America. He struck me then as a rather droll, understated fellow and a probable moderate. That has proved to be the case.

 
Another negotiator is Abdul Salam Zaeev, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. He has written a book, so far published in Pushtu and Urdu, about the harsh treatment—e.g., torture—he received at the hands of Americans in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. In a recent interview in Kabul, he told me he looks forward to an Islamic government in Afghanistan but one that moderates the harsher aspects of Taliban rule and is acceptable to the majority of Muslims.

 
The effort has had one major success. A key Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, has defected in the south along with many of the insurgents under his control. He has been put in charge of the area he once threatened. How many others will follow his example remains to be seen. A successful counter-insurgency, say observers, depends on dealing with Afghanistan’s ever enduring tribes, who even though they do not figure in conventional democratic theory, may well decide the fate of Afghanistan.

 
Despite the tensions and uncertain future, Afghans do not appear anxious—far from it. In teeming, boisterous Kabul, they are busy at work in all sorts of small shops that stretch as far as the eye can see. Moreover, it’s possible to spend three weeks in the country—outside the areas of combat—and never experience a rude word or sullen look. On the contrary, while disappointed with U.S. policy—promises, they say, that have not been kept—Afghans are very friendly and hospitable toward Americans. They don’t come in contact with that many, however. U.S. Embassy employees are not allowed outside the compound except with special permission and an armed guard in an armored car.

 
Indeed, “security companies are having a ball,” says Wali Sherzai, an Afghan-American director of a construction firm, Technologists Inc. Armed guards are everywhere. I asked one if he thought this was overkill, in a manner of speaking. Maybe so, he said, but it’s when you get complacent that things happen. Taliban leaders claim they have plenty of infiltrators in Kabul. “That’s not an idle boast,” according to Sherzai. “Anyone could be an informer. It’s become part of life to look for suspicious people.”

 
The Afghan economy has grown substantially since the Americans arrived, providing more food, roads, schools and health clinics. For the first time in decades it’s possible to see a procession of girls on their way to school, though attacks on them are increasing and many schools have closed. A severe shortage of electricity and running water continues throughout the country. In overpopulated Kabul, Afghans build modest mud homes on the surrounding mountains and must carry water and other supplies up a steep incline.

 
Economic progress may now be stalling, however. Investment from abroad was flowing until competent financial managers were replaced by their opposite. “Corruption is mind boggling,” says Abdul Ali Seraj, an Afghan-American who plans to run for president this year. “When you go to the smallest office, they will squeeze you dry of every dime.”

 
Wadir Safi, a law professor at Kabul University, is charged with establishing an effective legal system in Afghanistan, a tall order. He and his colleagues have trained some 1,300 lawyers and judges, but when they return to their provinces, they come under other kinds of pressure. They are paid little. Their courtroom may be an abandoned garage. And if they defy the local strongmen to enforce the law, their lives may be in danger. Indeed, a few judges have been killed.

 
According to Nasir Shansab, the Afghan-American author of Soviet Expansion in the Third World: Afghanistan a Case Study, says Afghanistan has never been a nation of laws as such, but tribal elders administering informal justice were able to maintain a tolerable level of lawlessness.

 

Now the responsible elders have been overtaken by so-called warlords, many of them veterans of the war against the Soviets. Many of the governors appointed by President Karzai have used the office to create a terror of their own by stealing, smuggling, trafficking in drugs and even illegally exporting the country’s natural resources. President Karzai, Afghans say, while charming and conciliatory, fails to use the power at his disposal and confront them.

Harsh, But Not Corrupt

As a result, some Afghans look back almost nostalgically on Taliban rule. Harsh it was, but not corrupt. Punishment for theft was at least a lashing, probably the loss of a hand, maybe even a life. There was a weekly public execution, one of which I attended. Two men were hanged with bills stuffed into their mouths, signifying corruption.

 
On my 1999 trip, I met Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, a robust, very hospitable deputy interior minister and former intelligence chief. Judging from his talk amid a fruit-laden banquet at his home, I considered him a dedicated Taliban—but it turned out he had been in contact with U.S. intelligence officials across the border in Pakistan. They, however, seemed to have doubts about him and kept him at a distance. That was a grave mistake, says Associated Press correspondent Kathy Gannon, who thinks Mullah Khaksar might have revealed some of Osama bin Laden’s plans. Denied the protection he sought from the U.S. Embassy, he was gunned down in Kandahar while walking with his two children.

 
So far, the Afghan north has been largely spared this kind of violence. In peaceful times it could be a center of tourism. To the west, Herat, under the influence of neighboring Iran, seems almost oblivious to danger. In contrast to Kabul, people are on the streets at night, including women, often without burkas. Also unlike Kabul, Herat has 24-hour-a-day electricity, sufficient water and largely paved roads, much of this courtesy of Iran—suggesting that Tehran could contribute to stability in Afghanistan if Washington sought its help instead of threatening to attack it.

 
On paper at least, Washington has big plans for Afghanistan. The idea is to overhaul everything in keeping with democratic ambitions. But there are limits, say close observers of the embattled country. In an interview in Maclean’s magazine, Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between, about his colorful mid-winter trek across Afghanistan, cautions that “the international community is simultaneously trying to fight the Taliban, create a liberal democracy, exterminate narcotics, build a strong central government and defend human rights.” That, he says, is too much. “There is a surreal gap between the language of the international community and our performance.”

 
For instance, Afghanistan’s opium production, which provides some 90 percent of the world’s heroin, is a huge problem. But much of it comes from Helmand province in the south, where insurgents are strongest. Unless and until they’re suppressed, there’s little point trying to eliminate the opium under their control. An adroit diplomacy is called for that is not now in evidence. Afghans say Americans must learn to deal in shades of grey—those Taliban who can be peeled away from the more extreme.

 
If one big project were launched in each province with the offer of plentiful jobs, says legal reformer Wadir Safi, that could end the insurgency—though, to be sure, it would have to be accompanied by adequate security. My former interpreter, Azam Said Mohammad, now chairman of the business consulting firm Kite Communication, says Americans, while invaders, are not considered occupiers. Why don’t they make a shining example of Afghanistan, a signal to Muslims around the world that America cares? After the massive destruction of World War II, the United States restored Western Europe with its all-encompassing Marshall Plan. Could it not do the same in a single shattered country today? It is a task not above America, says Azam, if America wants to do it.

 
Considering the skimping on Afghanistan—aid per capita is among the lowest of any international development program since World War II—a Marshall Plan seems a distant prospect. But at least it’s a plan. Let’s reassure Afghans and ourselves. Let’s have a plan.
Ed Warner is now retired from the Voice of America, where he was in charge of a unit that provided analysis of foreign affairs.

Struggling Afghanistan

A 3 Part Series, All Contained Here

Early reporting on the Taliban for the Voice of America

 

PART I

INTRO:  With the departure of the Taleban, Afghanistan is transformed. Freedom is on display in all kinds of ways. Yet there is an underlying fear it may not last because of the continuing warfare, factional conflicts and the uncertain behavior of foreign powers. In the first of a three-part series, VOA’s Ed Warner, who visited Kabul three years ago under Taleban rule, reports on the city today.

TEXT:  Kites banned by the Taleban are now floating over rooftops in Kabul, a conspicuous sign of the return of freedom to harshly suppressed Afghans.

And there are many other signs: women can show their faces and men can shave their beards without fear of lashing or imprisonment by the patrolling vice-virtue

squad. Music can be heard around the city, movies  viewed. Newspapers are abundant. There is a perpetual traffic jam on once deserted streets. And no more public executions or mutilations.

There is a palpable sense of relief that can be seen on countless faces. Opportunities beckon and Afghans are flocking home from abroad to seize them. Many foreigners are contributing to the new mood and the new economy of unfettered enterprise. Afghanistan is once again moving.

Still a cloud of uncertainty remains. How long can the good times last considering a fractious government whose writ does not extend much beyond Kabul and continued attacks from Taleban remnants and others who enjoy sanctuary across the border in Pakistan?

If the foreign forces, above all Americans, decide to leave, many Afghans say the feuding local commanders or warlords will once again start fighting and in the ensuing chaos, the Taleban or something much like them will return to power by promising security.

Horess Shansab is an Afghan-American film-maker in Kabul who is preparing a fictional movie of a family living through Taleban times. I am an optimist, he says, and so his film will have a happy ending with the departure of the Taleban.

He speaks for many Afghans about the future:

SHANSAB ACT

It looks to me promising, problematic, full of challenge. It is not an easy place to categorize and say it’s one or the other. There is still some instability in the south, and everyone is aware of that and worried. We are hoping that the world will remain engaged in Afghanistan, and there will be increased help and assistance because without that kind of assistance, I do not see a very rosy picture.

END ACT

Afghans must put down the gun and take up the shovel, says Safir Latifi, a Kabul businessman who has opened up an internet café aside his guest house and plans others around the country:

LATIFI ACT

Within the time of six months we will cover all major provinces of Afghanistan and we will be connecting them to the internet. The Internet is bringing unity to this country, making people talk to each other and be connected to each other, which is one of the ways we can encourage the refugees to come back to the country.

END ACT

Nothing is more important, says Mr. Latifi, than to revive the country with projects that can be seen and admired and that will provide jobs – roads, bridges, schools, housing. He thinks that is the best way of countering the armed rebellion that feeds on weakness and despair.

But Mr. Latifi, among many others, says reconstruction is going much too slowly. Above all, the crucial road linking Kabul to Kandahar in the unstable south is only now nearing completion and its surface is temporary and not expected to last.

Mr. Latifi says this is all too typical of the reconstruction effort:

LATIFI ACT

Unfortunately, the world community and especially the United Nations have not been very helpful. The U-N is a big bureaucracy in Afghanistan. This is a U-N sponsored government. Afghanistan is a test field for the future of the United Nations. So the U-N has to be very successful in Afghanistan.

END ACT 

Extremism is gone, say Afghans, to be replaced by bureaucracy. The Taleban wasted no time punishing people who ignored, say, the nightly 10 o’clock curfew. Their successors can take hours to process by hand the simplest forms.

That is no recipe for progress, contends Mr. Latifi:

LATIFI ACT

In Afghanistan we have to have rapid changes. We have to have decision making on a daily basis. We have to take a decision, execute a plan and then go and start it. We cannot wait for a project to be decided for one month, to be decided for three months, to be sent for approval to New York and then be started after two years. After two years, the need for that project will not be there.

END ACT 

But if officialdom is plodding, private help is on the move, says George Nez, an American city planner who has worked in 19 developing countries. He marvels at the number of people in non-governmental organizations who have come to help Afghanistan rebuild:

NEZ ACT

There are over 200 NGO’s from all quarters of the world who are really stitching together Afghanistan. The NGO’s are like a big pyramid of smaller and larger units that contract with each other. The bigger ones contract with the smaller ones. That number astounded me when I got there. There are so many that are actually rebuilding in patches.

END ACT

Mr. Nez says the NGO’s are reinforcing the ill-equipped Afghan government ministries whose budgets do not compare with the funds coming from abroad.

His own specialty is roofing, the casualty of war, earthquakes and old age. He worked for three months this past summer in Wardak province, where there are frequent armed clashes.

People close to him say he was undeterred, just the kind of committed, skilled foreigner Afghanistan needs. He made tools of the weaponry shells littering the area, and he says his Afghan hosts looked out for him:

NEZ ACT

They took such care of me. I was practically locked in every night. They had a kalashnikov in every corner. They had dogs that kept me awake barking all night. Too much protection, and a lot of hospitality. Those people are so appreciative of somebody helping them.

END ACT

George Nez looks forward to seeing roofing on the large area of Kabul that was destroyed by the warlords’ fighting in the 1990’s. He says the work force is in place – Afghans who have returned from abroad and cannot afford Kabul’s sky-rocketing housing prices. So they settle for the remains of houses:

NEZ ACT

They are swarming into the slums, into the devastated war-torn parts of Kabul, for instance. They are just putting some canvas on the broken walls, even several stories up on those devastated buildings. They are building shops on the first floors, and if there is an earthquake – too bad. That is where they are absorbing the population right now. Whoever can afford to start rebuilding is doing it.

END ACT 

Much, much more remains to be done in Kabul and elsewhere. There is no city water or sewage system. People must often walk a considerable distance to fill their buckets from wells perilously close to sewage dumps. In the case of Afghans living in the huts that barely emerge from the barren mountainsides, the trip is steep and tiring.

More progress could be made, says Mr. Nez, if half the work force were not idle. The Taleban are gone, but women are treated much the same, especially in the countryside:

NEZ ACT

Women are not educated, not working in the economy, not running the schools, not running the hospitals, not running the stores, the banks – nothing. It is a country without female brains, skills. This will come, though. The school we are building is essentially for girls, and many of the other NGO’s are heading the same way – trying to educate the women.

END ACT

But as Jila Samee points out, the men will have to be educated first. Director of media relations at the Foreign Affairs ministry, she says the men must learn that bringing women into the work force is not just good for women but for Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries.  

 

PART II

INTRO: With the fall of the Taleban, dramatic change came to Kabul, though certain influences linger on. If the Taleban are gone, they are by no means forgotten. In the second of three scripts, VOA’s Ed Warner contrasts Kabul today with the city he visited three years ago.

TEXT:  The Taleban were extreme, says film-maker Horess Shansab, but explainable. Indoctrinated in the  teeming refugee camps of Pakistan, they promised to bring order, however harsh, to chaotic Afghanistan and end the warlords’ destructive fighting:

SHANSAB ACT

People were longing for safety on the street, for a basic level of security, and the Taleban provided that. Of course, they imprisoned the whole population. There is no better security than in a prison, and that is what they did.

END ACT

Guarding that prison was the notorious ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue. Its patrols scoured the streets for offenders with incorrect beards or any sign of female flesh. Even women’s eyes had to be screened, leading to an unsteady gait. They seemed to be tottering rather than walking down the street.

Punishment was swift and harsh – a lashing, a beating, perhaps imprisonment. It turned out to be dangerous even to report on the ministry, as I discovered. On my earlier trip, my interpreter and I managed to interview its deputy director whom we overheard phoning another mullah. He had just opened an ice cream store, and while the women customers were duly segregated from the men, there was a problem. The women had to lift their veils and expose their faces to eat the ice cream – a clear violation. This matter was discussed at some length until the minister finally relented – perhaps due to our presence – and made an exception of the ice cream store.

The VOA report of this incident infuriated the Taleban who denounced my interpreter as an informer and subsequently jailed him briefly for a different offense. Another reporter who related the episode was threatened with death. It was one thing to criticize the Taleban apparently; it was quite another to make light of them.

Today the Vice-Virtue department has been turned into the General Statistic Office, but the Taleban influence may still linger. We found no one willing to talk about working in that illustrious precinct. Who knows? The Taleban might some day return and resent any disparaging remarks.

Afghans say this partly explains why many women continue to wear the full covering of burkas. Add to that the taunts of men when they see an exposed face and also the force of tradition.

Film-maker Horess Shansab says the Taleban are not entirely to blame:

SHANSAB ACT

Women in burkas existed in Afghanistan before the Taleban, before 9/11. It is a very traditional, tribal society, and in certain parts of the country, burkas were normal. It will take time for education to take hold, for people to slowly change. It will not happen over night. You will not see women in short dresses in Afghanistan any time soon.

END ACT

Mr. Shansab adds that westerners should not press too hard for rapid change. Afghanistan has to take its  time. This he learned when he tried to convince a 35-year old man in the countryside not to keep having children. How could he make a decent life for them all? But I need them to provide for my old age, the man replied. They are his social security:

SHANSAB ACT

The west needs to understand that not everyone is on the same timeline as the west. If it does not, if it fails to understand that, it will only create resentment, ill will and mistrust. I have traveled in parts of Afghanistan where I feel time has stood still. How can I try to force upon the inhabitants of that village views that have evolved in the last two thousand years?

END ACT

The main Taleban entertainment was the weekly execution or mutilation in the Kabul amphitheater. A large crowd had gathered on this occasion – women at a distance. Enthusiastic Afghans urged us forward: “See! See!” they shouted. We saw – two hanged men with bills stuffed into their mouths and ears, signifying their crimes involved money.

Today no blood is shed in the amphitheater, as a frequent spectator explains:

AMPHITHEATER ACT – fade from Dari to English

They cut off the hands of criminals and executed them. Whether it was right or wrong, they did it. Now it is different. Games take place here, including buzkashi, in which teams on horseback try to push the carcass of a goat or a calf through the goal.

END ACT

A portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai gazes  benignly down on the proceedings.

Many more animals are now on display at the once threadbare Kabul zoo, but the chief attraction is missing. The majestic blind lion Marjan, who like Afghans had survived shot and shell over the years, died soon after the U-S liberation. His passing was mourned by many Afghans who attended his burial.

A zoo-keeper laments the loss:

ZOOKEEPER ACT – fade from Dari to English

The lion was sick for a long time, and two veterinarians came from England and America, but we were unable to save him. So we buried him in the graveyard for animals. China replaced Marjan with a pair of lions and other animals.

END ACT 

Landmines are not as prevalent as they once were but still claim lives and limbs in Kabul. Some areas of danger are fenced off, but not all. A man on the outskirts of the city says he lost a leg when he stepped on a mine:

LANDMINE ACT – fade from Dari to English

My life is very sad. Before when I had all my body, I was active and could do whatever I wanted. But now that I am disabled I cannot do the work I used to do. I do not get enough money from the government to live on. There was no work during the Taleban rule, but now people who are able to work can.

END ACT

Under the stress of war and deprivation, Afghans have sought refuge in their ethnicity, which leads to tensions.

Horess Shansab recently visited an orphanage in Kabul to do some filming:

SHANSAB ACT

I was greeted warmly at the door by the kids, mostly boys, ages about eight to 12 years old. And when I went further into the orphanage, the first thing they asked me was I a Tajik or a Pashtun? And that, of course, was a very scary moment for me because they are the future of Afghanistan, and one has to pay great attention to how they see themselves, how they see others in Afghanistan.

END ACT

He replied we are all Afghans, but he is not sure the message got across.

Some visitors to Afghanistan say they detect a growing animosity toward foreigners. A Muslim from Sierre Leone says you can tell they don’t like us by the way they look at us. Maybe, but looks can be deceiving.

A proud Afghan, especially if he is an official, can appear imperious at first as if he may be facing combat. But with a little patience he soon relaxes and out come tea and geniality.

Some Afghans resent Americans and want them to leave such as noted scholar Abdul Shakoor Rishad:

RISHAD ACT – fade from Pashto to English

In Afghanistan, as we see it, there is no security, no central government. America has revived the old colonial policy and has not brought peace to Afghanistan. Americans deal with Afghans hostile to the national interest of Afghanistan. They must review their Afghan policy.

END ACT

But Horess Shansab says most Afghans fear a premature American departure:

SHANSAB ACT

They realize that without the Americans, there would be bloodshed on the streets within 48 hours. There would be war. So the American presence is very critical in Afghanistan – not only American military presence but American assistance with reconstruction, rebuilding.

END ACT

In fact, says Mr. Shansab, the most important U-S mission is to give Afghans hope and confidence for their future. 

 

PART III

INTRO: Although the Taleban are removed from power, they continue to fight the government that replaced them. They are abetted by Pakistani sympathizers, and other foreign countries also complicate life for Afghans and undermine their efforts to achieve a viable peace. In the last of a three-part series, VOA’s Ed Warner describes the outside pressures on a divided Afghanistan and its response.

TEXT: Overthrowing the Taleban has brought freedom to Afghanistan but a shaky government. A new constitution is being written and elections are scheduled for next year, but underlying forces are shaping events.

Basically, the same groups that fought one another after the Soviet withdrawal and in the process destroyed much of Kabul, are back in power. It is said that only the international presence keeps them at peace and barely that, since fighting recently broke out between two warlords in the north.

There are now plans to expand the international force under NATO to other parts of Afghanistan, which urgently need more security.

Interior Minister Ali Jalali, a former top official at the Voice of America, is in charge of the nation’s police, some 100 thousand who are not altogether reliable. Mr. Jalali recently broke up a band of robbers in Kabul who were in police uniforms with police vehicles.

He says there are three basic threats to Afghanistan which are intertwined: terrorist attacks from tribal bases in Pakistan, a soaring drug traffic that was partly suppressed by the Taleban and factional fighting among Afghan warlords.

These threats, he says, reflect not so much the strength of the dissidents but the weakness of the Afghan government:

JALALI ACT

National institutions are now not matured. Some are not there. We have to build state and national institutions that will replace influence by individuals. Unfortunately, in many areas, things are influenced by powerful individuals. So therefore, until we build our state and national institutions, we will have these problems of turf fighting, fight over territory, fight over influence in different areas. These will have to be dealt with very cautiously, and we cannot change things overnight.

END ACT

Pressing for change, Mr. Jalali has earned a reputation as the government’s most active minister. He is gradually replacing uncooperative local officials, most recently in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, scene of clashes between rival warlords. President Karzai is regarded as well meaning but slow moving, while some ministers are charged with corruption.

Afghans say if Mr. Jalali chooses to run for president, he could win. But he is not sure he wants to. He is busy enough in his present job, receiving calls night and day from the provinces. Because of the work load and security concerns, he rarely gets to   restaurants or ceremonial functions and travels in an armed convoy even to the nearby presidential palace.

He says what makes his job tougher is foreign interference, in particular the zealots who come out of schools or madrassas in Pakistan determined to kill Americans and Afghans working with them. Many of these jihadists fight in Kashmir as well as in Afghanistan, crossing porous borders with little trouble.

Scholar Abdul Shakoor Rishad agrees that enemies from outside are his country’s main problem:

RISHAD ACT – fade from Dari to English

If there were no foreign interference, if there were no encouragement of those working against the Afghan national interest, Afghans have the capacity to solve their own problems themselves. Foreign countries control various groups within Afghanistan. If these ties can be cut, there will be national unity in  Afghanistan.

END ACT

Abdul Kaliq Fazil, a leader of a newly formed political party, the National Unity Movement of Afghanistan, says outside forces could be countered by the revival of monarchy, a rallying point for all Afghans:

FAZIL ACT

Our royal family is a symbol of national unity. They are able to bring Tajiks, Uzbeks, north, south, west all together and create a nation because Afghanistan was a nation. But during the war because of the interference of neighboring countries, this national unity was destroyed. Now we want to rebuild our national unity.

END ACT

But King Zahir Shah, now approaching ninety, is largely symbol, remembered fondly by many Afghans for presiding over years of relative peace from 1933 to 1973.

While Pakistan is a major concern for Afghans, they do not overlook Russia and the brutal Soviet occupation that led to so many of the current troubles.

At a recent hearing of a Kabul human rights commission, director Lal Gul described the plight of young Afghans who were sent to the Soviet Union -sometimes with their parents’ permission, sometimes  not – to be educated free of charge. With the Soviet collapse, they were abandoned and left to their fate.

Mr. Gul says they were often exploited, beaten, jailed:

GUL ACT – fade from Pashto to English

The history of Afghanistan is full of pain. One major painful story is the fate of thousands of children – boys and girls – who were sent to the Soviet Union during the invasion of Afghanistan. We want the leaders of Afghanistan and the world to hear their voices.

END ACT 

Several women attended the hearing whose children are missing somewhere in Russia. One woman said it is 23 years since she has heard from her son.

MOTHER’S ACT – fade from Dari to English

I do not where he is. I do not have a telephone number or an address. My son was in second grade when I took him to the orphanage because I could not take care of him. From there they sent him to the Soviet Union. I want the Afghan government or the United Nations to bring him to me, dead or alive. I want to know what happened.

END ACT

How to free Afghanistan from foreign involvement? One notion is to put the government in contact with all Afghan elements, good or bad, including the Taleban and urge them to give up fighting and come home again.

With this apparently in mind, former Taleban foreign minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil has been released from U-S custody and according to reports, is opening negotiations with other Taleban who are considered to be moderate. That could eventually lead to Taleban participation in the Afghan government and hopefully end or at least reduce the fighting.

Wadir Safi, a law professor at Kabul University, says by shedding foreign connections, a genuine Afghanistan can emerge:

SAFI ACT

Unfortunately, leaders, parties, members do not have fully the Afghan character, and they cannot transfer it to the Afghan new generation because they have been in Pakistan, in Iran, in other countries. Now they are not even themselves aware of the pure Afghan character. Unfortunately, we have lost our Afghani values here.

END ACT

Easier said than done to recover these values, says Jila Samee, media director at the Foreign Affairs ministry. The long years of war have taken their toll. She finds Afghans have trouble concentrating, as if they are bracing for the next burst of gunfire. Being on edge leads to distraction.

Though venturing outside more than before and filling jobs in government offices, women, she says, still tend to walk with heads bowed as if they are unsure of their status and wary of the future. Emotional problems, suppressed during wartime, seem to be surfacing in a period of relative calm.

There is an authentic Afghanistan, says Interior Minister Ali Jalali. It will surmount its troubles and hold together.

JALALI ACT

Even during the civil war, you did not see even a single instance of secessionist movement. People were fighting for Kabul because they thought Kabul is the center of a country. So they wanted to have a share in the central government. Now many international organizations surveyed the country and found the overwhelming majority of the people want a strong central government.

END ACT

By way of contrast, you can leave Afghanistan for the Persian Gulf – cities of opulence sprung from the desert. And you think, if only Afghanistan had oil.

Charlie Wilson: The Man Who Won the Afghan War

Seldom is one individual so closely identified with an epic event, but that is the case with Charlie Wilson and the Afghan victory over the Soviets. As a rather obscure member of the U.S. Congress, he skillfully maneuvered against daunting opposition to put the United States fully behind the Afghan resistance. And yet as a recently published book points out, he was the most unlikely man cast for this role. VOA’s Ed Warner talks to the author, the former Congressman and the director of CIA Afghan operations in the war against the Soviets.

On the CBS-TV program 60 Minutes, the interviewer was clearly puzzled. He asked Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq how can one man be held responsible for winning the Afghan war against the Soviets, the last crucial campaign of the Cold War? Responded Zia: “All I can say is Charlie did it.”

Yes, he did, echoes George Crile, author of Charlie Wilson’s War, a vivid account of the Congressman’s tireless efforts to aid the Afghan resistance.

Yet who would have expected this of fun-loving Charlie, asks Mr. Crile, a producer of 60 Minutes. The tall, strapping, ebullient Texan was in and out of scandals and scrapes with the law. Most politicians, writes Mr. Crile, promote their virtues and hide their vices. Charlie did the opposite.

“There was no way to take him seriously at the time,” Mr. Crile says. “He was such an outrageous character. He looked like he was lucky to be not just in office but out of jail. It turned out that he was actually the driving force behind this entire campaign. Without him, it just never would have happened.”

There was perhaps method to Charlie’s madness. I wanted to seem a little crazy, he says. It was perfect cover for his deadly serious effort to turn the U.S. Government around on Afghanistan. U.S. policy, he says, was to help the Afghan resistance, but not too much. Let the Soviets bleed but don’t push them too hard. They might invade neighboring Pakistan.

This outraged the Congressman. Afghans would continue to die for nothing. He says there were two concepts of the war. “One was that we would use it to embarrass the Soviets, to keep the kettle boiling but not let it boil over and never really threaten them,” he says. “The other view was that we probably could defeat them and cause them the same kind of humiliation that they caused us in Vietnam. And that is what happened.”

It didn’t happen easily. Charlie had to contend with strong resistance throughout the government even under the highly anti-Communist President Ronald Reagan. The Congressman went about his task adroitly, using all the political levers at his command.

He maneuvered to get on various congressional committees from where he could bring pressure on both the Pentagon and the CIA. If they were reluctant to increase aid to the Afghans, he could threaten to cut their budgets. In the end, he was able to provide more money and better weapons for the hard-pressed resistance.

Today he modestly says circumstances were on his side. The Democratic Party, which controlled the Congress, and the American media were preoccupied with the Reagan Administration’s anti-Communist policies in Central America. They concentrated their fire on these, while largely ignoring Afghanistan. Charlie saw his opportunity.

“The stars and the moon just aligned perfectly,” he says. “That the national media was so focused on Nicaragua and then Iran-Contra we were just able to slip in under the radar, and nobody paid any attention to it. It was the biggest covert operation in history, and yet it was the least noticed.”

With the funds supplied by Charlie Wilson, the CIA launched a massive effort, headed by Milt Bearden in Pakistan. The Congressman gave him some bad moments, he says, but the Crile book has it right.

“Charlie Wilson was a man who found a cause at a certain moment in his life – driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan,” he says. “He sat on all the key committees. He was able to find funding for things, and he was able to keep the Democratic side of Congress, not always willing to along with Ronald Reagan, absolutely in lock step on Afghanistan.”

As a member of the Democratic Party, Mr. Wilson was able to muster bipartisan support for his cause. He was a master of the quid pro quo: an exchange of favors. You help me; I’ll help you – the Washington way. Nobody was out of reach, not even a cantankerous Congressman, Doc Long, known for spitting in hallways and hurling chairs when angered. He was also hostile to Pakistan, crucial for funneling aid to the Afghans.

Charlie went to work since Doc controlled a lot of money. He flattered and cajoled and finally took Doc on a trip to Pakistan where he met President Zia amid a spectacular pageant complete with Afghan freedom fighters thundering their battle cry. Doc succumbed and approved aid to Pakistan.

At the same time Charlie pursued his social life, combining business with pleasure. A belly dancer accompanied him to Egypt, where she performed for top officials. He introduced a friend called Snowflake to the fearsome Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known to skin prisoners alive. His response is not recorded, but she found the meeting very exciting.

Can you imagine what these austere devout Afghans thought about Charlie’s companions asks Mr. Crile. By Muslim standards, they were hardly dressed and looked like something out of Hollywood. But there was an explanation.

“One of the reasons why it was not so surprising to the Afghans is because of their absolute belief in the mystery and wonder of their God Allah,” he says. “If He chose such a strange messenger, well, it just demonstrated the great all-knowing wisdom of Allah to find a good way to disguise him.”

The climax of Charlie’s Afghanistan crusade came with his demand to witness the fighting first hand. Everyone was aghast. To lose the Congressman at this point would be a disaster. But there was no stopping him.

So Milt Bearden sent him off with proper fanfare and as much protection as possible. After a few exhilarating days with the resistance, he returned unscathed. Mr. Bearden bawled him out, then laughed and congratulated him.

“Charlie always accuses me of having done a Cecil B. De Mille (Hollywood) production of his going to war,” he says. “But it was a great scene of Charlie riding around on a white steed in Afghanistan, and all of us deeply concerned to keep him alive. He absolutely fell in love with the Afghan resistance in a hopelessly Kiplingesque romantic sort of a way, which Charlie is deep down anyway.”

The war ended in victory, says George Crile, but not the aftermath. The United States forgot the Afghans and all they had been through. “We did not follow up that historic victory,” he says, “by doing what we had done after World War Two in Germany and Japan when we rebuilt those countries of our former enemies. But in Afghanistan, to these people whom we owed so much, who had sacrificed so much, we ended up by really doing nothing – no schools built, no highways, no hospitals, nothing. It was a very unfortunate vacuum that formed as a result of our, I think, irresponsibility.”

Mr. Crile adds the United States missed a crucial opportunity, possibly a global turning point. It had supported the greatest and only successful jihad in modern history.

“It was a moment when the United States was allied with militant Islam,” Mr. Crile says. “We really could have moved in at that point and rebuilt Afghanistan and emerged in a very heroic positive light, having secured the end of a nightmare era and could have introduced a new era in that part of the world with an Afghanistan poised to move into the modern world.”

Now the United States is once again in Afghanistan and yet again not fully committed, says Mr. Crile. When will we learn what Charlie knew?