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Buying Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan: U.S. efforts to maintain imperial credibility
The Christian Science Monitor (September 8, 2003) calls it Nation Building, Redoubled. A desperate new push by the Bush administration to bring positive attention to its campaign in Afghanistan features approximately $12.2 billion in additional spending for fiscal year 2004. The new spending package was approved by the U.S. Congress on October 17, a few days after the UN Security Council ratified a NATO agreement to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The ISAF decision had been held up for almost two years because of U.S. objections, which have now been dropped. The Far East Economic Review (July 30, 2003) considers these moves part of a major policy shift in Washington that could not be more timely. Are the hopes and dreams of Afghan civilians, the United Nations, and aid agencies all of a sudden on the brink of fulfilment, thanks to the generosity of the United States?
While some of the aid will undoubtedly improve the lives of some Afghans, it is clear that the new U.S. program, dubbed Accelerate Success, is geared more towards reshaping the Afghan public perception of both the Afghan central government and the United States, its major supporter. The most obvious goal is to ensure that interim President Hamid Karzai is elected next June in the first public elections in the history of the country, regardless of the interests of Afghans. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told the press on July 28, Well place special emphasis on reconstruction projects that demonstrate to the Afghan people the concrete, visible programs that are improving their lives. To the Administration, improving lives is not as important as demonstrating that lives are improving. The aid will be deployed over the next ten months, according to Boucher, meaning between then and June 2004, when the elections are scheduled.
Slowly and subtly, the U.S. is attempting to engineer a situation in which the only real choice for the Afghan electorate is Karzai. This means bolstering his standing with the people through increasing reconstruction projects. It also means eliminating any serious challengers to Karzais candidacy. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy (now appointed ambassador) to Afghanistan, was reported as saying, Afghan warlords, whom Washington previously tolerated as allies against the Taliban, would be marginalized if they continued using guns to impose their will (WP, October 11, 2003).
same day, President Karzai passed the political parties law
that bans political parties from having their own militias
or affiliations with armed forces. The law also bans judges,
prosecutors, officers, and other military personnel, police, and
national security staff from joining a party while still in
office. This narrows the spectrum of possible challengers to Karzais
candidacy (the law says nothing about puppet presidents affiliated
with foreign armies).
Many Afghans might agree that the decree is long overdue. For example, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for years has called for debarment of higher-echelon individuals of Jihadi and Taliban parties from holding high public office, as well as prosecution of all individuals who, during the past 23 years have committed high treason, war crimes, blatant violations of human rights, and plunder of national assets. But the law is not calculated to bring justice to the Afghan people.
According to some, Karzais move will prevent Afghan warlords from using their private militias to intimidate voters (RFE/RL, October 16, 2003), which is probably true. But it will also eliminate most of his potential opposition. The law was formally approved a few days after members of the Northern Alliance militia, including officials in the defense ministry, declared that they would not support Karzais campaign, but would run their own candidate. Karzai reacted angrily to the announcement, saying he was fed up with coalition government. His bosses in Washington are also worried. The Washington Post reported, The threatened internal defection from Karzai comes at a critical time for Afghanistans troubled transition to democracy, already a source of concern to the Bush administration, which strongly backs Karzai. An increase in the number of candidates is seen as a threat to the troubled transition to democracy rather than an example of democracy.
This perspective is not surprising, given the U.S. record in imposing democracy on Afghanistan. The way in which Karzai became president of the transitional government is a perfect example. In December 2001 at the Bonn meetings, the Afghan delegates originally chose an affiliate of the former King Zahir Shah as interim head of state, but, according to one Western diplomat, all the delegates understood that the Americans wanted Mr. Karzai.... So on December 5, they finally chose him. Then, at the second stage of the Bonn Process, the Loya Jirga (grand council) meetings of June 2002, U.S. Envoy Khalilzad ensured that the immensely popular former King did not stand for office, but was relegated to the figurehead post of father of the country. The Northern Alliance, used by the U.S. to oust the Taliban, also agreed not to field a candidate in the Loya Jirga and was awarded positions in Karzais cabinet. Karzai, the only remaining viable choice, was picked as president a second time.
Hearts and Minds
The primary goal of the new U.S. monetary aid to Afghanistan is to enhance Karzais military leverage over the warlords and improve his chances of election in June. The aid package comprises a small portion of the $87 billion Iraq/Afghanistan spending package approved on October 17 by Congress. Of the $12.2 billion earmarked for Afghanistan, 90 percent will be spent directly on U.S. military operations. Even the $1.2 billion reconstruction portion of the Afghan aid has $400 million (or 30 percent) going to supporting the Afghan National Army and the national police.
A tiny fraction of the money, $300 million, will be spent on critical infrastructure, to accelerate the construction of roads, schools, health clinics, and local, small-scale projects. The infrastructure reconstruction needs of Afghans are immense. The UN and the World Bank have estimated that Afghanistan needs between $11 and $19 billion over 5-10 years. The Afghan government estimates the price to be $30 billion. Paul Barker, Afghanistan country director for CARE International considers the new U.S. aid, rather less than we were hoping for.... Afghanistan is not a one-year contract, there is a need for multi-year help for Afghanistan, probably of around 20 billion dollars (AFP, September 9, 2003). But there are no indications that the $1.2 billion grant is anything but a one-time additional funding request from the White House, intended to accelerate visible reconstruction in key areas and help solve Hamid Karzais image problems.
politicization of aid in Afghanistan was discussed in a June 2003
study commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, A Retrospective Analysis of Humanitarian Principles
and Practice in Afghanistan. The study found that there
seems to be a negative correlation between...direct superpower involvement
and the ability of the international system to engage with crises
in a relatively principled manner. In Afghanistan, the highs
in politics (Cold War proxy interventions; post 9/11 peace-building)
correspond to lows in principles. This conclusion
is exemplified in the current U.S. aid package, where helping Afghans
is a public relations tool to improve the standing of the incumbent
president prior to elections. According to the Christian Science
Monitor, lack of aid to remote areas...could undermine
U.S. efforts to win hearts and minds, both in regard to U.S. forces
and the Afghan central government (September 8, 2003). The
armed opposition to the Afghan central government certainly agrees
with this assessment. Since September 2002, the number of armed
attacks on aid workers has risen from approximately one a month
to one or two a day. The Taliban see the building of roads
and schools as a weapon against themselves. This indicates the kind
of people they are, commented Zalmay Khalilzad (AP, October
7, 2003). Khalilzad fails to wonder what kind of people
use aid to win hearts and minds and guarantee election
An Extension of The U.S. Government
Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr., the coordinator of Afghan policy at the U.S. State Department, informed Radio Free Europe of the critical difference between Afghanistan and Iraq: Theres an Afghan government duly elected, [a] perfectly legitimate, sovereign government that we fully support. That is not the case in Iraq. Since Karzai was chosen by 1,500 delegates when they had no other choice and he appointed his own cabinet, it is difficult to understand how the Afghan government can be called duly elected or perfectly legitimate.
A brief examination of the mechanisms by which the U.S. government fully supports the government of Afghanistan shows the limited sovereignty the Afghans actually have over their own affairs. Rarely mentioned is the fact that Hamid Karzais unelected cabinet contains five U.S. citizens. Like interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, who left a job with Voice of America (a news organization funded by the State Department to serve the long range interests of the United States), these U.S. citizens guarantee that the proper perspective makes its way into Afghan public policy. In addition, the Bush administration is now considering placing up to 100 U.S. experts in key positions in Afghan government ministries (Reuters, August 14, 2003). The plan, devised by Zalmay Khalilzad, was leaked in August by disgruntled State Department officials who were upset when the not-yet ambassador made decisions on department matters. One official complained, He wants to build an empire. He wants to Bremerize the operation, referring to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator who essentially runs Iraq. Another senior State Department official said, He wants to set up not just an embassy but a parallel structure that works directly with the Afghan ministries (AFP, August 26, 2003). Khalilzad, who was also Bushs envoy to Iraq before being appointed ambassador to Afghanistan, denied the charges. We are not going to be running things here. Rather than being shadow ministers, the new U.S. advisers would serve as experts to help carry out Afghan government policies and ensure the new U.S. aid is properly spent (WP, October 11, 2003). It is not clear how different that is from running things.
Outside the capital the Afghan government has little authority. In some cities, however, the emissaries of the central government are not Afghans, but foreign troops and advisors. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) consisting of 100 or more U.S. troops and political advisors (and now those from other Western countries) have been operating since late 2002 in 4 relatively stable Afghan cities. Initiated by the U.S. government, PRTs were supposedly a response to the call for expanded international peacekeepers outside of Kabul, which the United States rejected. Under the guise of providing infrastructure support, the PRTs carry out a number of useful tasks for Washington. Building schools and roads is seen as a way to win hearts and minds for the central government, as well as for the U.S. occupation. At the same time, the PRTs gather intelligence about possible threats to both. One U.S. Defense Department spokesperson said the objectives of PRTs are security, reconstruction, strengthening the influence of the central government and monitor[ing] and assessing the local regional situations. Another official said, This has put a human face on the American presence. But, despite our name, were not really here to do reconstruction. We are here to reinforce Afghan authority (WP, October 1, 2003). Given that a significant portion of the Afghan central government is beholden to U.S. concerns, this really means U.S. authority.
The PRT concept has met with nearly unanimous denunciation by aid organizations for militarizing the delivery of aid, for doing little to improve the security situation, and for its inefficiency. A position paper by InterAction, a consortium of over 100 NGOs operating in Afghanistan, asserted that the PRT system blurs the lines between humanitarian workers and a combat military force and related intelligence gathering apparatus, creating increased security risks for NGOs and other expatriate assistance personnel. A report by Refugees International (RI) said, The comparative advantage the PRTs have is their capability as armed soldiers to enhance security for Afghans, the Afghan government, and international aid organizations, plus their potential ability to operate in insecure regions in which unarmed civilian aid agencies cannot. Ironically, most of the present PRTs are located in the wrong placesrelatively safe cities such as Kunduz and Bamian. Instead of providing security so that aid agencies can operate in difficult areas, PRTs have tended to duplicate the work of NGOs in stable zones, but with overheads off the charts. Relying on PRTs for reconstruction is extremely inefficient. RI has estimated the cost of operating a PRT to be at least $10 million per year in personnel and support costs alone. In a year, a PRT is expected to be able to build only a handful of schools worth about $10,000 each. Thus, if a PRT succeeded in building 10 schools in a year, the overhead rate would be 99 percent.
The U.S./NATO Occupation
The Bush planners figure that to get Karzai elected the Afghan people have to be convinced that the only path to security and stability lies with him and his powerful friends. In addition to increasing the funding for reconstruction, the U.S. has finally withdrawn its objections to ISAF expansion. This comes only after the 4,500 soldier force has had its military control devolved from the UN to NATO in August, making it less internationally accountable and more accountable to the architects of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told Reuters (October 13, 2003), While Washington was initially cool to the idea, it changed its mind after NATO took the ISAF command. The ISAF expansion has long been a stated wish of many Afghans, so the change is certainly meant to enhance the perception of security. It is not clear, however, that it is intended to bolster real security, since initial plans call for having ISAF troops join PRTs. According to Reuters (October 14, 2003), The first ISAF troops in the Afghan provinces are expected to come from Germany, which has said it wants to send up to 450 to the northern town of Kunduz to form a civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Team. The deployment to Kunduz, a relatively benign town, indicates the chiefly public relations purpose of the ISAF expansion. The ISAF operation is seen by U.S. and European planners as a way to enhance the public image of NATO and give it a reason to exist. NATO officials say the expansion of the ISAF will bring more relevance to the organization. From the point of view of the U.S. leadership, NATO being more relevant means it works more in conjunction with U.S. goals. From the point of view of some European leaders, there may be the wistful desire to regain lost imperial glory.
Significantly, NATO now has an excuse to operate outside its treaty area. According to Xinhuanet (October 13, 2003), NATO is taking concrete steps to consolidate its first base in [Central Asia]...[T]he ISAF expansion clearly betrays its efforts to direct increasing strategic attention to the region. When ISAF was a UN operation, Russia and China, NATOs major competitors, as well as other non-NATO countries, had influence over military operations in Afghanistan. Now a non-Russian and Chinese force, controlled by the U.S. and Europe, is taking over a country in the backyard of Russia and China. The expansion of NATO to Asia is momentous, but was uncontested at the Security Council, even by permanent members, Russia and China. Apparently both countries have tentatively aligned themselves with NATO to justify their own battles against terrorism, namely Russias terrorist war against Chechnya and Chinas crackdown on independence movements in western China.
The U.S. for its own part has downgraded the expected danger to its interests posed by China. In May the Pentagon identified instead an arc of instability, comprised of mostly poor countries cut off from economic globalization, that is expected to be more dangerous than China in the near future. The arc runs through the Caribbean Rim, Africa, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and North Korea. In what the Wall Street Journal calls one of the biggest shifts in U.S. military thinking in the past 50 years, a new strategy is being developed that will involve U.S. troops in lots of small, dirty fights in remote and dangerous places. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld envisions a force that will rotate through a large number of bases scattered throughout the world (WSJ, May 27, 2003). The U.S. invasion of Iraq in March put 150,000 troops there for an indefinite length of time, representing an enhanced long term U.S. presence in the Middle East. Similarly, the largest concentration of U.S. troops in the Central Asian portion of the arcabout 10,000is in Afghanistan. The occupation there is not expected to end soon either. Maintenance and upgrade plans for a soldiers barracks at Bagram Air Base anticipate another eight years of operation. The base operations commander in Kandahar, Lt. Col. Steve Mahoney, told Stars and Stripes (a newspaper for overseas troops), Were going to be here a long time.
A Committed U.S. Imperialism
The most strident criticisms in the major news media of U.S. imperial behavior in Afghanistan are that it is not effective enough. Many liberal commentators are calling on the U.S. to take its imperial role more seriously. Michael Ignatieff, director of the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, uses the derisive term Nation Building Lite to describe Bush administration policy towards Afghanistan. He has argued instead for a committed American imperialism, believing that for the Afghans their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule. This difficult truth may not be popular, but imperialism doesnt stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect. By committed imperialism, Ignatieff means imperialism that does enough good things for its subjects that it diffuses resistance, not spawns more. He rightly censures the Pentagon for the well-known incident where an Afghan wedding party was bombed, but on grounds that call into question his credentials to teach human rights policy. Ignatieff explains that one of the key ingredients of imperial power is awe, a fact the British imperialists understood, and which the U.S. maintains by the timeliness and destructiveness of American air power. But awe can be sustained only if the force is just. The bombing of the wedding was unjust, making it a major political error (not a war crime or human rights violation). Errors weaken the imperial stranglehold, since the more errors there are the less awe and the more resistance American power will awaken, making the Afghans less likely to submit to imperial rule, their best hope of freedom (NYT Magazine, July 28, 2002).
While empires consolidate their power over their subjects via awe, they are allowed by other countries to get away with it by building credibility. One reason behind the Bush administrations policy shift on Afghanistan was made clear in a June 2003 report cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace? According to the report, Losing the peace through inadequate support for the Karzai government would gravely erode U.S. credibility around the globe and make it far more difficult to obtain international support in dealing with similar crises in the future.
The new push to keep Hamid Karzai in power reveals an unusually desperate side of the Bush administrations foreign policy at a time when the campaign in Iraq is going badly and opinion polls show that Americans are for the first time more critical than not of Mr. Bushs ability to handle both foreign and domestic problems (NYT, October 2, 2003). The heightened domestic attention that accompanies Congressional war spending, plus the publicity surrounding the upcoming Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga in December and the Afghan presidential elections in June, will make it easier to keep U.S. behavior towards Afghanistan on-camera. It is up to the anti-war movement to take advantage of renewed visibility, expose the reality, and weaken the credibility of the U.S. empire in the midst of the official propaganda barrage. It is also important to listen to and publicize Afghan voices who want true democracy in their country and an end to perpetual imperial domination.
James Ingalls is a founding director of the Afghan Womens Mission, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. He is a staff scientist at the Space Infrared Telescope Facility Science Center, California Institute of Technology.
Z Magazine Archive
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Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
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Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
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Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
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