Afghanistan War at 15th Year Without End in Sight
Trump and Clinton ignore Afghanistan war because they both will continue it, says Afghan Women’s Mission co-director Sonali Kolhatkar
GREGORY WILPERT, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
Friday, October 7th, marks the 15-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Until now this war has cost the lives of 90,000 Afghans, over 2,300 US soldiers, and cost the US taxpayer at least $850 billion dollars, of which $110 billion were for the country’s reconstruction. This is about the same amount that the US spent on the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War 2. The fight against the Taliban continues and now it is estimated that up to a third of Afghanistan’s territory is again under Taliban control.
Joining us from Los Angeles, to talk about the longest war in US history is Sonali Kolhatkar. She’s founding Director of the US-based solidarity organization, Afghan Women’s Mission, which raises funds for social and political women-led projects in Afghanistan. She is also the host of ‘Rising up with Sonali,’ which is broadcast on Free Speech TV and on Pacifica radio stations. Thanks for being with us today, Sonali.
SONALI KOLHATKAR: Its my pleasure, thank you for having me.
WILPERT: So, let’s start with the legacy of the Afghanistan war under President Obama. The 15th year marks the last full year of the war under his administration. When he first ran for office in 2008, he called Afghanistan, “the right battlefield,” contrasting it with the war in Iraq. And this June, Obama announced that 8,400 US troops will remain in the country through the end of his presidency, reversing an earlier commitment to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2016. What is your take on Obama’s legacy when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, Sonali?
KOLHATKAR: Well, I think a lot of us have this impression of the president as having run on a mildly anti-war platform. Indeed, when President Obama ran for office in 2008 he promised to end the Iraq war. He, sort of, kept that promise and then broke it, of course given what’s happened with the Islamic state but on Afghanistan he was very clear, right from the start, that that would be the battle that he would escalate. And this is not surprising. Democrats have often worried about appearing soft on terrorism. He promised to escalate the Afghan War. That is exactly what he did, he promised a surge in troops. It was sort of, I think very naively, that the US could wrap that war up into a nice neat package, leave the country under the auspices of this newly formed Afghan government, make sure the war lords had power sharing deals that they could live with and then walk away with the Taliban just, somehow, magically disappear. And, of course, none of that happened.
President Obama continued the war. He had very little choice, short of saying, “we give up, we’ve lost the war, so we’re walking away.” In many ways, Afghanistan is our modern Vietnam War. What’s really sad is how little attention Afghanistan has gotten compared to what Vietnam got and what the Iraq war had gotten and continues to get.
WILPERT: I wanna get back to that later, but first, a few weeks ago the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani signed an amnesty for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his organization. Many Afghans were outraged because Hekmatyar is considered to be one of the most ruthless warlords in Afghanistan, who had earned the nickname, “The Butcher of Kabul.” Now, at a recent aid conference in Brussels, John Kerry said that this amnesty deal was a “model” that the Taliban should follow. Do you think that this the right way to end the war with the Taliban or what would you say needs to happen for peace in Afghanistan?
KOLHATKAR: Well, right from the start of the US war, we’ve had these very weird double standards with the Taliban. We’ve been fighting them on the battleground and we’ve been talking about bringing them to “the table,” if you will, to be part of any peace process. For years, the United States has made behind the scenes overtures to the Taliban. Which just doesn’t make sense if they’re considered the enemy. If you wanna have a diplomatic end to the war, you have a diplomatic end to the war and you start talking with them, right away. But the US has been fighting them and then they’ve been talking about doing some kind of “peace deal” with them. Peace deals have never really worked out.
This particular deal, with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which was considered the first post-invasion, first modern-Afghan peace deal with a warlord has been hailed as something great for the country. But, in fact, it is one of the worst things that the US could have backed. The US has consistently empowered warlords in Afghanistan. And Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been one of the worst warlords. Basically shaking his hand, giving him political immunity, which is what this deal does, providing security or him in Afghan expense, which is what this deal does. We’re doing exactly what we’ve always done, how would the results be any different? Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has the blood of thousands of Afghans on his hand. He has no allegiance to anybody.
He has, at various points, fought the Soviets for the United States, fought the United States alongside the Soviets, fought the Taliban alongside the US, fought the US alongside the Taliban. Basically, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, works for nobody but himself. He was the recipient of the largest amount of US aid, during the war against the Soviet. He has gotten rich from US taxpayer dolllars and he continued to do that. And this is a war criminal. Now, his future has been assured, he can never be prosecuted for any of the crimes he’s commited, under this deal. And this is what they want to replicate for the Taliban and for other warlords. I mean if peace and democracy in Afghanistan means an absolute lack of justice then you’re not going to ever have any movement forward, any progression. Because Afghans haven’t forgotten the crimes that have been done to them. Afghans have been suffering and continue to suffer. If all you do is reward warlords for being warlords, you’re to get more warlords, more impunity.
WILPERT: Another development that has recently happened, actually earlier this week. The European Union pledged to provide Afghanistan with $3.7 billion dollars per year for the next four years. At the same time, they also announced that they’re potentially going to send tens of thousands of Afghans who had their refugee application denied, to send them back to Afghanistan. What effect do you think these measures, the aid and the refugees will have on the country, now?
KOLHATKAR: I mean this is basically what the international community has done to Afghanistan, for decades. Afghanistan’s always everybody else’s problem but our own, even as we have interfered in that country. In terms of Europe, Afghanistan was the country that essentially gave NATO its new lease on life. After the September 11th attacks, Afghanistan was briefly under UN auspices and then NATO, famously and ceremoniously, took over because after the end of the Cold War, NATO didn’t really have any reason to continue to exist. Getting involved in the Afghanistan War, gave NATO, which is essentially Europe’s war-fighting arm alongside the US, gave it a reason to continue to exist. So, NATO forces, AKA European-US forces, have been actively engaged in the war in Afghanistan for the past decade or more, and the country remains dangerous.
In July of this year, 80 people were killed in a single attack in Kabul, the capital, which is supposed to be the safest city in Afghanistan, and the Islamic State took credit for that. So, there’s a new actor in Afghanistan, now. Hundreds of people injured. When we heard about the attacks in Paris, the world mourned. But the world usually doesn’t pay attention when such similar attacks happen in countries like Afghanistan. That’s the violence that Europe is pushing these refugees to and its not, of course, just Europe’s problem. The US should be taking far more Afghan refugees than it does, given the role of the United States after 9/11 and Afghanistan. All they’re doing is condemning these refugees, who have left because of desperate circumstances, to a life of either poverty or violence, or both.
WILPERT: One of the main reasons that US is even fighting in Afghanistan is of course to prevent the Taliban from governing the country again. You, Sonali, have worked with Afghan women quite a bit. Would you say the situation for women is better in Afghanistan, now than it was under the Taliban or how’s it changed?
KOLHATKAR: If you live in Kabul, if you’re a woman who lives in Kabul, if you’ve had access to education, if you come from a family that has had the money to send you to a good school, that is liberal enough to let you live your life, you might be able to have a much better life in Afghanistan today than you might have had under Taliban rule. But that is a sort of narrow category of woman that can live a half-way normal life in Afghanistan. For the vast majority of the rest of Afghan women, maternal mortality rates, education and literacy rates, and lack of access to rates of employment, rates of access to healthcare, remains abominable. Women still continue to suffer from some very very systemic issues in Afghanistan, such as child marriage, such as being stoned or even imprisoned for so-called “honor crimes.”
There was this absolutely horrific, nightmarish assault that took place on a young woman. A mother, a 27 year old woman named, Farkhunda, last December, so less than a year ago, in broad daylight she was basically lynched by a mob of men, with Afghan police watching. They half-heartedly tried to protect her from the mob. She was accused of burning a Quran, which she never did. Even if she had, it wouldn’t have justified what happened to her. She was literally beaten to death in front of all these men. It was videotaped. It made the news. But that is basically what Afghan women experience today and all this talk that we heard about the US going in 2008 to liberate Afghan women, the women I work with never believed that.
The women I work with are members of he Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan or RAWA, which is the oldest feminist, women’s political organization in Afghanistan. Right from the start, they saw themselves and women as being oppressed by the twin forces of homegrown fundamentalism and western imperialism, both of which they see as in bed with one another. They wanted to be liberated from both western imperialism and homegrown fundamentalism and they made it very clear that liberation could never come through bombs from the outside, that it could only come from within. So, they’ve always rejected US interference in their affairs and today, 15 years later, Afghan women are still waiting for the much promised liberation that George W. Bush and Laura Bush made claims about.
WILPERT: Finally, the war in Afghanistan, has hardly been mentioned in the US presidential campaign, as you mentioned earlier. Do you expect any changes with regard to US policy in Afghanistan under a Clinton or a Trump presidency, beginning in 2017?
KOLHATKAR: No. In fact, the Democrats and Republicans have always agreed on Afghanistan. It’s been one of the few issues on foreign policy that they’ve been in very much lock step. They might, sometimes, disagree in some of the details but they’ve always been very much in agreement. A lot of liberals and democrats were supportive of the war in Afghanistan all the way back in 2001, some have changed their tune on it but many of them don’t even speak out against it anymore. There’s just silence. In 2006, my partner Jim Ingalls and I wrote a book, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. And that last phrase, “the Propaganda of Silence,” is something Afghanistan has always suffered under, literally a lack of attention from our media here. So that both parties, Democrats and Republicans, can continue to wantonly throw soldiers, bombs, waste dollars, into Afghanistan.
There’s been a continuum, politically, from the presidency of George W. Bush through the presidency of Obama on Afghanistan whereas, on other issues, they differ quite significantly. I highly doubt that under Trump or Clinton we would see any serious difference on Afghanistan. Clinton, this was supposed to be the liberal of the two, on this issue, has not promised at all to end the war on Afghanistan. She hasn’t even been questioned about it. No one’s holding her or Obama, accountable around the war on Afghanistan except for the staunch, left, anti-war movements in the US. So, to both Democrats and Republicans, Afghanistan is a free pass that they’ve gotten and they’ll continue to do it until the US anti-war movement broadens, speaks out vocally against the war in Afghanistan, and make enough noise to force our government to do something just about Afghanistan. Even minimally just leaving the country instead of continuing it endlessly. I hope, Gregory, that you and I, in 2, 3, 4, 5 years aren’t having the same conversation on the 20th anniversary of the Afghan War. This is the longest war the US has ever waged and its far past time that it ends.
WILPERT: We’ll definitely be keeping our attention on what’s going on there also the policies towards Afghanistan. I’ve been talking to Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women’s Mission. Thanks for joining us today on The Real News, Sonali.
KOLHATKAR: Its my pleasure and thank you for covering this under covered issue.
WILPERT: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.
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