My August 9 post replies to RAWA, Malalai Joya, and other high-profile critics the TIME cover.
Americans didn't lose their compass during the Cold War; they smashed it to smithereens. In the process we savaged our prized national character -- substituting sneakiness for directness, triangulation for sincerity.
TIME has published an abridged version of their August 9 cover story as well as a long-winded apology for placing the photograph of a mutilated 18-year old Afghan girl named Aisha on the cover. But Aisha, who lives in hiding under armed guard, wanted the world to see what the Taliban did to her, and she was clearly aware of the dangers of posing for the cover. Last year her nose and ears were hacked off at the order of a Taliban judge because she ran away from a husband who beat her so badly she feared for her life. Here I turn to the following passages from the TIME report:
As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the need for an exit strategy weighs on the minds of U.S. policymakers. Such an outcome, it is assumed, would involve reconciliation with the Taliban. But Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined. "Women's rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved," says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.Compromise? What are we supposed to compromise with? Damnation? Here are pictures of Afghanistan's urban women before the Russian invasion and before Pakistan's military, with American weapons, training and tax dollars, methodically destroyed Afghanistan's national army and forced the country back in time while NATO countries looked the other way.
Yet that may be where negotiations are heading. The Taliban will be advocating a version of an Afghan state in line with their own conservative views, particularly on the issue of women's rights. Already there is a growing acceptance that some concessions to the Taliban are inevitable if there is to be genuine reconciliation.
"You have to be realistic," says a diplomat in Kabul. "We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made." ...
Here are Afghanistan's women before the American people turned their back and allowed Pakistan's military and their 'Taliban' goons -- the Pakistani equivalent of Mao's Red Guard -- to commit massacres in Afghanistan. Take a good look.
"Biology class, Kabul University."
In the 1950s and 1960s, Afghan women pursued co-educational studies and professional careers in fields such as medicine.
"A villager welcomes visiting nurses to his compound."
The central government of Afghanistan once oversaw various rural development programs, including one, pictured here, that sent nurses in jeeps to remote villages to inoculate residents from such diseases as cholera.
"Student nurses at Maternity Hospital, Kabul."
When I was growing up [in Afghanistan], education was valued and viewed as the great equalizer. If you went to school and achieved good grades, you'd have the chance to enter college, maybe study abroad, be part of the middle class, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Education was a hallowed value.
The photographs and captions are from a handbook published by Afghanistan's planning ministry in the 1960s. Mohammad Qayoum obtained a copy of the book, digitized the photographs, which number more than a score, and published them along with captions and his commentary at Foreign Policy in May under the title Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan. (Or view the article and photos at the e-Ariana website, which published them on one page.)
Qayoum, an Afghan expat who is president of California State University, grew up in Kabul and came to work in the United States in 1978. Since 2002 he's volunteered his time in Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts, serving on the board of directors to the central bank and as senior advisor to the minister of finance.
Qayoum republished the book's images in part because he was tired of hearing Western officials and Afghanistan 'experts' describe his countrymen as barbarians. Here is a picture of the barbarians in Cabinet session:
Most high-ranking Afghan government officials in that era had a master's or doctoral degree. It's not for nothing that Afghanistan was once called "the Geneva of Central Asia."
Yet in key ways the modernization wasn't as deep as the photographs suggest. For example they never had a railway system (beyond a few miles of track); the first railway is being built only now. An Afghan ruler, whose name escapes me at the moment, wouldn't allow railroads during the British Raj; he said the British would use them to ferry soldiers throughout the country and he was probably right. But after the British left the Afghans didn't build railways. Without a rail or road system connecting the different regions of the country, Afghanistan's modernity outside cities such as Kabul and Kandahar was very brittle. This helps explain why the society collapsed so quickly.
And they didn't have a big enough electrical grid to sustain heavy industry although they had light and medium industry (see the photos). India has financed the completion of the Salma hydroelectric dam project, which the Taliban have routinely sabotaged, although with any luck it will be operational next year.
Iran and other neighboring countries are also concerned about the Salma project (Reportedly Tehran has financed the sabotage although I've heard claims that Pakistan's military is behind the sabotage; a lot of finger pointing in all directions.) They'd gotten used to having control of the waters from Afghanistan's rivers; the country loses two-thirds of its water because of inadequate water management infrastructure. And now those other countries are alarmed that a resurgent Afghanistan wants at least some of the water for its own purposes. How very tacky of the Afghans.
In short, more than one country was all too happy to see Afghanistan return to the Middle Ages. But the return wasn't a gradual slide; it was a decapitation strike. Between the Russian invasion and Pakistan's methodical dismantling of the country, a generation of business and political leaders, scientists, teachers, and educated civil servants was wiped out.
If you look at the rest of the photographs in the handbook you might be shocked to see what Afghanistan cities were like a half century ago. You'll be in for many more shocks if you have yet to learn that the United States government tricked the Russians into invading Afghanistan. Oh, yes, there was an 'Alden Pyle' in Afghanistan, too. And to play Alden the U.S. had to do the same thing in Afghanistan it did in Indochina: use millions of unwary people who'd never done anything to harm America as pawns.
The American media wouldn't listen to the Russian side of story but it turned out the Russians were telling the truth all along. We still wouldn't know this if Bob Gates hadn't blabbed in his memoir but blab he did:
Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76:Eight months after that interview two U.S. embassies in Africa were bombed, thus launching al Qaeda's war on America, and here we are today.
Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
Brzezinski: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?
Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [fundamentalism], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
No matter how the deck is shuffled the American people used the Afghans in the most ruthless manner. Then we left them at the mercy of Pakistan as payment for the Pak military's help against Russia.
The most awful part of the story is that it's a matter of argument whether our machinations in Afghanistan hastened the fall of the Soviet Union by more than a year or two because the Soviet countries were already deeply mired in debt. The question that haunts is whether Russia's war in Afghanistan drained the Soviet treasury so fast that a sudden collapse of the union was inevitable.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the collapse touched off a humanitarian disaster the scope of which has never been fully told. When Gorbachev turned out the lights on the Soviet Union, the next morning millions of people throughout the empire who worked for the Soviet government awakened to no job, no unemployment check, no nothing. Those who refused to allow their families to starve turned to crime, including stripping nuclear weapons facilities bare and selling what they could on black markets. But reportedly many starved. How many? I don't know.
I've noticed that people from former colonizing nations can become uncomfortable when they hear such talk because it raises unsettled questions about the level of responsibility for their nations' past acts -- and those nations have been very generous in their help to former colonies.
But you only need look at a map to realize the colonizers had an excuse, whereas Americans did not. Look at the small pieces of land the West Europeans and British call home. Now look at the land mass of the United States. We own much of a huge continent, touch two large oceans, and command vast amounts of natural resources. All that means we never had to resort to tactics that characterized the colonizers' business model.
Yet instead of sticking with a foreign policy that was based on America's vastness, after World War Two the U.S. government developed a NATO policy. On paper the policy was a great idea and a necessary one in order to stand up to the Soviets.
The downside is that for the United States, membership in NATO meant that a giant nation had to shrink its viewpoint to the size of midgets while at the same time holding vast military power. The consequences for many of the world's most vulnerable peoples were horrific, and set in motion conflicts that haunt our nation to this day. Americans didn't lose their compass during the Cold War; they smashed it to smithereens. In the process we savaged our prized national character -- substituting sneakiness for directness, triangulation for sincerity.
So it came to a day when Richard Haass, the President of the Council of Foreign Relations, held forth on the present Afghanistan conflict for the edification of National Public Radio's Robert Siegel:
SIEGEL: But the current strategy, as I understand it is this: There has to be a political solution, ultimately, in Afghanistan. That means the Taliban have to be talking with people in the government. And the only thing that would make it reasonable for the Taliban to talk, from their standpoint, would be if the fighting were intolerable."Too expensive?" We're hunting in Afghanistan for the shards of our nation's compass. You can't put a price tag on that. A little less attention to cost-benefit analysis and a little more attention to prayer -- as in, 'God forgive us.'
Therefore, the U.S. and the Afghan army have to gain some superiority on the battlefield before they can proceed to the political settlement. Not realistic in your view?
Dr. HAASS: Not realistic in my view. I simply believe that we don't want to stay that long. It's too expensive. It's a distraction from what I would think would be our real challenges in places like Iran or North Korea. I also simply don't believe that history suggests you could ever build up an Afghan government in which strong, loyal, non-corrupt professional police and military forces would be able to challenge the Taliban.
See also Women in Northern Afghanistan Face Taliban Revival by Lynne O'Donnell; AFP (via RAWA); July 22, 2010.
July 31 UPDATE - 3:15 PM EDT
From reader Annlee:
"For those who think Aisha is a one-off, look here. If you have the stomach for it."
The link is to a report on acid attacks in Pakistan against Pakistani women. Warning: Photos accompanying the personal accounts of a few victims are graphic. Here are the opening paragraphs in the report:
It has been mentioned in the previous article, Islamic Barbarism: Disfiguring Women by Acid Attack, Part 2, that Pakistan tops the list of incidence of acid attacks on women with nearly 150 incidents of nationally every year of which about 50 occur in Balochistan. A report, entitled “Acid Terrorism Against Women in Pakistan”, dated December 12, 2009, presents some incidents of this horrific crime.Pakistan's 'liberal' establishment has been like a deer in the headlights about such attacks. But it's not only the attacks that are devastating; it's also the constant threat they represent that has set back the few freedoms women in Pakistan enjoyed. From a 2007 report by Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani Muslim who is a leading educator, scientist, mathematician and humanist, and who teaches nuclear physics at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University.
A statement, titled PAKISTAN: Acid attacks continue to be a serious concern, by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) contains a few incidents of acid attacks with images of the victims in Pakistan (presented below). Behind each one of these pictures lies a painful tale. These are pictures of once lovely women. These faces are no longer and will never be the same again. ...
...As intolerance and militancy sweep across the Muslim world, personal and academic freedoms diminish with the rising pressure to conform. In Pakistani universities, the veil is now ubiquitous, and the last few unveiled women students are under intense pressure to cover up.And these are the people the NATO governments want Karzai to compromise with.
The head of the government-funded mosque-cum-seminary ... in the heart of Islamabad, [Pakistan's] capital, issued the following chilling warning to my university’s female students and faculty on his FM radio channel on 12 April 2007:
"The government should abolish co-education. Quaid-i-Azam University has become a brothel. Its female professors and students roam in objectionable dresses. ... Our female students have not issued the threat of throwing acid on the uncovered faces of women. However, such a threat could be used for creating the fear of Islam among sinful women. There is no harm in it. There are far more horrible punishments in the hereafter for such women. ..."
The imposition of the veil makes a difference. My colleagues and I share a common observation that over time most students -- particularly veiled females -- have largely lapsed into becoming silent note-takers, are increasingly timid, and are less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. This lack of self-expression and confidence leads to most Pakistani university students, including those in their mid- or late-twenties, referring to themselves as boys and girls rather than as men and women. ...