On March 11 a soldier of the US military in Kandahar came out of his camp at night and began shooting people indiscriminately. Sixteen residents of the area were killed and many more received injuries, some of them left in critical condition.
The serviceman entered homes, insulted women and went on a shooting spree. The dead included nine children and three women. This is not the first time American soldiers have targeted innocent civilians “for fun.” Earlier they had shocked the people of the war-torn country by urinating on three dead Afghans, allegedly militants, and passing obscene remarks about the corpses. The desecration of the Holy Quran at Bagram airbase came on the heels of that incident, causing a wave of violent protests that caused more than 30 deaths, including six American troops.
There is a background to such incidents of madness and cruelty. For quite sometime now news had been coming of US soldiers becoming drug addicts while on duty in Afghanistan. Some soldiers on their return to the US on completion of their assignments have tried to commit suicide. Some others divorced their wives. Perhaps the long duration of their stays under inhospitable conditions and being away from families caused unbearable strain.
The other factor leading to such gory incidents is the mindset that the “coalition forces are in occupation” of the country and as “occupiers” they have the right to carry out such actions. Yet another reason for such incidents is the lack of accountability of those who commit such atrocities.
The incident will no doubt cause more complications for President Hamid Karzai who is now preparing to sign a long-term security agreement with the US. Public resentment will grow and calls for the withdrawal of coalition forces will gather momentum. The president’s detractors will have new reasons to attack him. In desperation more people will join the swelling ranks of the resistance, which will spread farther and deeper into western and northern Afghanistan.
More Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and even Hazaras will become part of a growing insurgency. There will inevitably be more attacks on US military personnel by their Afghan colleagues in uniform.
Will such an environment be conducive to the implementation of the long-term security accord and will the agreement deliver anything positive to the US? The most worrying thing for the Americans is that the US policy of substantial economic assistance to a starving and hungry people has not translated into any degree of support or sympathy for the US government as far as the Afghan people are concerned. Indeed, the only real support for the US presence comes from those who are beneficiaries of the US intervention. They include contractors, governors, ministers, advisers and transporters.
There is no likelihood of the cessation of hostilities as long as foreign forces stay on the country’s soil. As anger grows, frustration deepens and poverty spreads, the insurgency wins more adherents. More and more people will begin to see an early end to a system that is underpinned by external props. This will bring in those on the sidelines. Such a situation will force more Afghan soldiers to switch sides and join the resistance.
Afghanistan can only be saved if the ground realities are acknowledged, the resistance allowed to enter mainstream politics and attention is focused on saving the country, rather than saving “systems,” “institutions” or, worse, individuals. Afghanistan is larger than its decrepit institutions. Sooner or later the US has to abandon hope of converting the country into a huge forward operating base for Central Asia. It can still salvage some goodwill if it allows the Afghan masses to assume control of their destiny and not try to impose a system that it thinks is most suitable for Afghanistan. The US should not impose its surrogates on a helpless nation in the name of bringing democracy to the country.
US attempts to bring “democracy” to Third World countries are tantamount to bringing wholesale destruction to the countries concerned, as has been seen in Iraq and Libya. The futility of a war which should not have been started in the first place is becoming all too obvious.
The declared objective for the Afghan war was the defeat of Al-Qaeda. But Leon Panetta, then chief of the CIA, said two years ago that the number of Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan was less than 50. It is not clear whether all those less-than-50 members of the organisation are taking part in the ongoing insurgency. This does prove conclusively that the insurgency in Afghanistan is completely indigenous.
It is incompatible with the status of a big power like the US to be chasing the remnants of an organisation which no longer poses any threat to its security and in the process it continues to wreak destruction on a poor country devastated by more than three decades of conflict.
The writer is a former ambassador.