Another Lost War in Afghanistan

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

You don’t have to be born in the West or be a Westerner to hate the Taleban. Most of us in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world have grown sick and tired of their extremist, truly bizarre ways and their absurd interpretation of Islam.

Look at, for instance, what they have been doing in the lawless territory between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From sending suicide bombers to blow up hospitals to burning down schools, they continue to do the very things in the name of our faith that it strictly forbids.

There are reports of at least a hundred girls’ schools in Pakistan’s Swat region being burnt down by the militants. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Islam knows that these actions strike at the very heart of the great faith and what it stands for. But this is not a debate about Islam and how the zealots like Taleban are distorting it.

What really intrigues me is the fact that in spite of these patently absurd actions by the insurgents, support for them continues to grow in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan.

The more the Coalition of the Willing pours in billions of dollars in funds, tens of thousand of the world’s finest soldiers and the most lethal arms and ammunition in Afghanistan, the more they seem to lose against an enemy that was supposed to have been destroyed in the 2001 Invasion. An enemy that has no ostensible external support and few weapons continues to give the reigning superpower and its equally powerful allies a run for their money.

The more the US and Nato forces kill and destroy Taleban, the more they seem to grow, multiplying like those zombie soldiers in the Hollywood productions, The Mummy II and III.

Seven years after the Invasion, the coalition is as close to victory against the Taleban as the Russians had been against the mujahideen in 1970s and ’80s. Last week, 10 French soldiers were killed in a Taleban attack, the biggest single day loss for France since October, 1983 when 55 of its troops were killed in Beirut.

Why? What keeps the Taleban going? The 3,000-year old history of Afghanistan can give you the answer. This mountainous land with a moody weather and merciless winters has never come to terms with the invaders, however mighty and however conceited.

True, Afghanistan had been the gateway to the Indian sub-continent and rest of Asia for successive invading armies. But it also proved their last abode — the graveyard of great armies, from Alexander the Great to the Russian Czars.

Returning to the current occupiers, the Western observers and pundits appear genuinely surprised by the recent spectacular successes of the Taleban. Western leaders from the speedy Sarko to bored Brown have been paying unannounced visits to their demoralized troops on the front that Barack Obama calls the main front of the US war. And agitated Western publics are increasingly asking their governments: "What went wrong? We thought we had won this war?"

What really perplexes the West is the hopeless longing of ordinary Afghans for the barbarians called Taleban. Instead of singing paeans to their Western liberators who brought them invaluable gifts like democracy, freedom and human dignity, as Bush puts it, the ungrateful Afghans are flirting with their tormentors.

But is it really a mystery to be unlocked by Dan Brown why ordinary Afghans still look to the Taleban? The clues are right there, staring you in the face.

This week, on August 22, the coalition air strikes in western Afghanistan killed more than 90 civilians. The UN has now confirmed that more than 60 of the victims were children, rest of them mostly women.

An understandably irate Hamid Karzai vehemently protested to the coalition. But since he cannot do much except protest when it comes to dealing with the coalition, he sacked two of his own generals.

The US, however, insists that not more than 15 to 20 people were killed and most of them were insurgents.

Even the tiny bodies of the victims couldn’t convince Karzai’s friends in high places that those killed in Herat were indeed innocent civilians, going about their daily business.

But is this the first incident of its kind when the coalition mistook women and children for the militants? Last month, on July 6, a whole wedding party was wiped out by the coalition bombing near Jalalabad. A government inquiry found that at least 47 people died in that attack; 39 of them were women and children. The US of course maintained they were all ‘insurgents’.

There have been scores of such incidents when civilians were deliberately targeted — a wedding party here, a casual gathering of elders there — by those who claim to be the saviors and protectors of Afghan people.

The Afghan Human Rights Commission reports that more than 900 civilians have been killed this year alone in the coalition attacks.

According to the UN, at least half of those civilians killed this year were not fell by the Taleban bullets but were killed in the coalition strikes. Last year, nearly 2,000 civilians were killed by the friendly fire of the trigger-happy soldiers of the empire. These were the people who even the coalition agrees were civilian.

There are thousands of others who are routinely killed as Taleban, without so much as meriting a passing mention in the Western media; let alone raising questions if they were really militants or innocents caught in the crossfire.

I wonder what crime those children in Herat committed except being born in a country on the wrong side of Uncle Sam. They don’t look to me in any way different from my own kids or yours. Look at them, Mr Bush, they are as human as your average American school-going kids. They might have different names and followed a different faith. But in the end, they were human too.

And yet our friends in the West wonder why the Afghans continue to support and empathize with the insurgents. As far as the Afghan people are concerned, they see little difference in the Soviet occupation and the current reign of terror. Only the markings on those fighter jets have changed from Russian to English.

-Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. Write to him at

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