Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kolhatkar interview

Sonali Kolhatkar interviewed by Mike Whitney:

Sonali Kolhatkar is the co-author, with James Ingalls, of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence. She is also the Co-Director of Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based non-profit organization that works in solidarity with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

Q: On a recent stopover in France, Barack Obama said, "We must win in Afghanistan. There is no other option." ...

KOLHATKAR: I’m really not sure what Bush, Obama, and McCain mean when they say they want to win in Afghanistan... As far as the Afghans are concerned; I think they would like to see an end to the fighting and a safe Afghanistan where human rights are respected. They also want justice for past crimes. For the US to achieve this, they will have to denounce their proxy soldiers, the Northern Alliance, and support a "justice and accountability" process led by the Afghan people.

The US will also have to address the country’s widespread poverty and provide long-term economic solutions that give Afghans hope for the future. The US will also have to create viable alternatives to the production of heroin, so that poor farmers don't have to depend on the sale of illicit narcotics to survive. That means Bush will have to support multi-lateral peacekeepers to protect the Afghan people from the Northern Alliance and Taliban. Most importantly, the US will have to end the occupation and withdraw its troops...

Q: The United States has occupied Afghanistan for seven years now. Has life gotten better for the people or worse? ...

KOLHATKAR: Initially, life got better for many Afghans, particularly in Kabul. That's because the Taliban had been routed and the people felt somewhat safe as well as relieved. But as the warlords took over positions of power, attitudes changed. It has gotten much worse, now that the Taliban have returned and the occupation forces are killing more civilians than the Taliban. Kabul is a bit more secure than the rest of the country. But Kabul is also the warlords’ seat of power. Most of them are even members of Parliament, so people are frequently abused and live in fear.

Beyond Kabul, things vary dramatically depending on where you go. In the parts of the country with the heaviest concentrations of US/NATO troops, Afghans are frequently rounded-up, detained, tortured, bombed, or shot by foreign troops just as in Iraq.

In other parts of the country, where the Taliban are strong; girls schools are blown up, civilians are killed in suicide bombings, and journalists, teachers, and elected officials are harassed or murdered.

Those areas controlled by warlords are ruled with an iron hand, where extreme interpretations of sharia law rule the day, and women suffer rape and degradation. No matter where you go in Afghanistan, there is utter, grinding poverty. The US occupation has not changed that at all. People are very frustrated, particularly with the US puppet Hamid Karzai. They blame Karzai for the high number of civilian casualties. They also dislike the way he has pardoned some of the warlords and Taliban leaders.

As far as the occupation goes, people were somewhat supportive of it originally, but as conditions have deteriorated, they have begun to see the presence of foreign troops as a big part of the problem. I would say that a majority of Afghans now want the US and NATO to leave as soon as possible. ...

Q: What will happen if the US military leaves Afghanistan? Is withdrawal the best solution or do you see another, perhaps, less bloody, alternative?

KOLHATKAR: There are always less bloody alternatives, but withdrawal is the first step in a long and complex process. As I’ve said before, Afghanistan’s solutions do not fit neatly on a placard. Perhaps that's why anti-war activists don’t take a clear stand against this war. The withdrawal of US/NATO forces must be accompanied by other developments, like disempowering the warlords in parliament who have a long history of US-supported impunity. This disempowering must include an "Afghan-led" disarmament of their private militias; removing them from political power, and holding them accountable for their past crimes through criminal prosecution of some sort.

There must also be a "transitional" UN peacekeeping force that maintains security and protects ordinary people the fundamentalists (Taliban and Northern Alliance) But they must make sure that they don't target civilians. ...

Q: There is a very brave and outspoken woman in the Afghan parliament, named Malalai Joya. She has repeatedly put her own life at risk by denouncing the warlords and calling for an end to the US occupation. She has consistently called out for human rights and real democracy. Has the Bush administration done anything at all to promote or protect courageous women who embody "liberal values" like Malalai Joya?

KOLHATKAR: Women like Malalai Joya are "inconvenient" for the Bush administration. That's because Joya echoes the will of her people in calling for an end to warlords, AND an end to the US occupation. Bush and his cohorts like to promote the type of women who quietly accept the US narrative and show gratitude for being "saved by the Americans." In fact, there are very few such women like that in Afghanistan...

Q: The invasion of Afghanistan was promoted as a humanitarian intervention to save the Afghans from the brutal Taliban regime. Is military invasion an acceptable way to address injustice or spread democracy?

KOLHATKAR: Military options are always the worst. Even so, diplomacy can be nearly as corrupt if it means compromising with criminals and warlords and giving them whatever they want in exchange for peace. Peace without justice is meaningless... (link)

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