AS BARACK Obama dispatched 20,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, it was reported that an American airstrike in the west of Afghanistan wiped out over 100 civilians on 4 May.
This is the worst single incident of civilian deaths since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in 2001. The deaths led to angry protests in the main city of Farah province in the west of the country. The protesters, who denounced the US and the Afghan government, were fired on by police.
This is hardly the backdrop that Obama wanted as he held talks in Washington with Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari on how to end the Taliban insurgency, which is destabilising both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The fact that the reactionary Taliban is gaining ground is not down to the Taliban’s ideology or to its military prowess but is a result of the imperialist invasion and the political weakness and rampant corruption of the western backed Karzai regime.
The warlords that enjoy power in Afghanistan, thanks to US backing and Nato support, have enriched themselves through their control of ministries and provinces. The police (who are paid less than what Taliban fighters receive) are notoriously corrupt, extorting bribes and ransoms from kidnappings. The vast opium trade is a key source of revenue for government officials and the Taliban alike.
But while the tiny elite enrich themselves, the vast majority of Afghans live in poverty. Nationally an estimated 40% of people of working age are unemployed, and some five million out of the country’s 25 million population are regarded as living in extreme poverty.
Women in particular, who have few legal and political rights, are desperately poor. Many are forced to beg on the streets to feed their children. What reconstruction aid has been donated by western countries has barely trickled down to the majority of Afghans.
Faced with a lifetime of unemployment, many young Afghan men are drawn into the opium trade or join the Taliban militias.
As the Taliban gain control of more of the country, support for the western-backed Karzai government amongst ordinary Afghans is slumping.
According to a news media poll carried out at the beginning of the year, some 45% of Afghans in the south and east of the country, where most of the insurgency is taking place, believe that violence against the US/Nato occupation is justified.
Moreover, they reject the US and UK governments’ pledge to commit more troops to the country, fearing that this will lead to more violence and insecurity.
Last year over 4,000 people, including 1,500 civilians, were killed. 2008 was the deadliest year since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001. And the death rate among UK troops is also rising as more forces are dispatched by Gordon Brown into the conflict zones. Since operations began in 2001, 154 British troops have been killed.
The authority of Afghanistan’s president Karzai barely runs beyond the boundaries of the capital city, where he is disparagingly referred to as “the mayor of Kabul”. In fact, bombings and armed attacks by Taliban militants are increasing within the capital.
Afghanistan, to use the words of western governments, is becoming a ‘failed state’ but it is millions of ordinary Afghans who are paying the price for the geopolitical ambitions of the US and its allies.
Obama and Britain’s prime minister Gordon Brown are pressurising Pakistan’s president Zardari to strike against the Taliban in the Pakistan provinces neighbouring Afghanistan, to deny the guerrilla fighters a safe refuge.
But here history plays an ironic twist. It was the western powers that encouraged the Pakistan military to nurture the Taliban in the 1980s in order to undermine the then Soviet backed Afghan regime.
The Pakistan military has been reluctant to give up the movement that has provided them with a useful instrument for influencing the region. But now the Taliban is biting the hand that has fed it. And having previously ceded the Swat valley in Pakistan to Taliban control, Pakistan’s armed forces are reluctantly now waging a military campaign to dislodge them.
This current conflict has created hundreds of thousands of displaced Pakistanis and many dead and injured civilians.
George Bush and Tony Blair’s ‘neo-con’ legacy – to exert greater imperialist control over the region – has wrecked the lives of millions of people and is now haunting the administrations of Obama and Brown.