Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hostility to foreign presence 'growing'

British journalist David Jones writes about his recent trip to Afghanistan, where things were much changed since his last visit. He notes that support for what many Afghans are now calling an "occupation" is dwindling. Many observers have said similar things.

In a similar vein, Kandahari tribal leaders recently gathered and signaled a withdrawal of their support for the Karzai government. "The foreign soldiers aren't helping, they're behaving like an occupying force," said one elder to the Globe and Mail (see blog entry here). And such feelings are by no means restricted to rural, or even southern, areas of Afghanistan, as we saw when a government-run newspaper in Kabul recently called for US and NATO troops to set a pull-out date (see blog here).

A chilling dispatch from Afghanistan: It's a war that CAN'T be won

Daily Mail
By David Jones

[While watching a dog-fight] I began to wonder what sort of people our soldiers were fighting and dying for.

Indeed, it even fleetingly occurred to me that Afghan society might not have been a mite more civilised under the tyrannical Taliban, who banned dog-fighting and other forms of traditional entertainment as "anti-Islamic". ...

I first set foot in this haunting, benighted country five years ago this month. ...

On returning this month, I hoped to find signs that a prosperous, secure, egalitarian country was starting to take shape. Yet, depressingly, I have discovered an Afghanistan that is, in many ways, darker, more bitterly divided - and certainly far more dangerous - than the place I remember.

An Afghanistan where gratitude towards the international community has faded, and a growing number of ordinary people are hostile to our presence - even though our departure would, inevitably, see the Taliban return to power. ...

[Jones spoke with] Ehsan Zahine, director of Afghanistan's Tribal Liaison Office. "The Taliban have now set up alternative governments in almost every part of the country," he told me.

"In many places, what they say counts for more than the official administration. They are winning people over with a clever mixture of persuasion and intimidation." ...

Yet there is a new pragmatism to the Taliban's tactics. To win support in more liberal areas, they allow some schools to be used - so long as they adopt a fundamentalist curriculum. ...

The coalition strives gamely to counter this propaganda offensive, of course, yet it hardly helps when they hand out free Barbie Dolls wearing skimpy mini-skirts; one of several faux-pas which have caused grave offence.

Apparently forgetting the night-time raids by the Vice and Virtue Police and the summarily chopped-off limbs, some Afghan men told me they were actually happier under the Taliban.

They preferred it when their women were compelled to wear burkas and remain confined to the home, they said; which explains why it remains rare to see a female face in public outside the big cities.

Another common complaint among ordinary Afghans is that they feel like second-class citizens in an "occupied" country.

Under the latest indignity, civilian vehicles are not permitted anywhere near the ubiquitous International Security Assistance Force convoys, in case they might be suicide bombers. Drivers must pull over to the roadside and wait for them to pass.

I understood how demeaning - and scary - this can feel ...

All this said, isn't it a bit rich for the Afghans to criticise the foreign troops who are protecting them with their lives, when their own government includes a deeply corrupt rabble of reconstructed warlords and brigands? (link)

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