Thursday, July 03, 2008
Take a look at what's happening. The current propaganda, being widely repeated in various fora, is that the occupation - despite all the difficulties and the terrible burdens we must bear - is ameliorating the situation of Afghanistan. Thus, practically every commentator is repeating the incorrect claim, floated by Laura Bush, that infant mortality has declined by 25% since the occupation began. In fact, one study led by the World Bank, which is heading reconstruction and development programmes in Afghanistan, said last year that infant mortality had fallen - not by 25% or 26%, but by 18%. And that study excluded the worst-hit regions of Afghanistan, such as Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Zabul and Nuristan, because of security concerns. That is, it excluded 15% of the population from its scope. On the other hand, mortality among under fives has certainly risen. So, in 2005, 20% of the under-five population perished. In 2006, 25% died. Okay, so infant mortality in the least war-torn regions fell by 18% in five years, while in just one year, the rate of child mortality across the whole country increased by 25%. So, what are we supposed to be celebrating? More children get to live beyond their first 12 months before biting the dust from starvation, treatable diseases and, er, the odd bomb or bullet? As for the 75% who get past the age of five, if they do ever get to be grown-ups, they will at least have some interesting prospects - the torture chamber, rape, starvation, the destruction of their farms at the hands of DynCorp, murder at the hands of a local patriarch flush with dollars and self-regarding pomp, thermobaric bombardment...
There is no Lancet survey for Afghanistan. We have had some estimates of deaths in the first year of the war, the highest of which was supplied by Jonathan Steele of The Guardian, who estimated 49,000 direct and indirect deaths resulting from the war. There are occasional estimates of civilians killed, but the detection rate is likely to be extremely low - to my knowledge, there is no consistent effort to actually trace the number of deaths there. The UN provides figures, estimating the rate of deaths among civilians in the hundreds over the last six months. Frankly, that is just unbelievable (and, actually, I would like to know how they distinguish between a combatant and a civilian - presumably they rely on the occupation authorities for this kind of information). Consider just one facet of the war. In Iraq, between 50 and 100 Iraqis die as a result of air strikes every day. When the secret air war on both Iraq and Afghanistan was confirmed, the figures showed that the biggest spike in bombings was in Afghanistan where the number of major raids reached more than 800 per month. And we're supposed to believe that the death rate resulting from air strikes alone is lower than in Iraq, where the number of mass bombings - though very high - was less? In Iraq, in a period of three years, 78,000 violent deaths were caused by air strikes in Iraq (this was before the big spike in aerial bombardments). In Afghanistan, where the rate of aerial bombardment has always been higher, the figure must be higher. One informal estimate of deaths last year was carried out by Associated Press. It suggested that a total of 5,100 people had died violently in the first 9 months of 2007 (and most were killed by the occupation). Given that such passive surveys tend to massively underestimate the true scale of deaths, we are really talking about tens of thousands of deaths in that period, at least if we want to be realistic. Given the longevity of the war and its increasing brutality, if a Lancet-style survey can ever be carried out in Afghanistan, the total deaths may even be higher than in Iraq.
One index of the rate of destruction is the rate at which the insurgents are able to recruit and expand. Where the occupation is most bloody, the resistance is most concentrated. Until recently, south-west Afghanistan has been what the 'Sunni triangle' was in Iraq. It was where the US was most unpopular, and where attacks generally occurred most frequently. But now, the 'Taliban' - realistically, we know that most insurgents are not actually Talibs, and many of the actual Taliban leaders are on the receiving end of serenades from Hamid Karzai - are controlling more of the country than the US. The rate at which occupying troops are being killed has been rising year on year, peaking in June this year, and surpassing the rate of 'coalition' deaths in Iraq for the first time. The insurgency controls ever larger tracts of the country.
The verities of Afghanistan are poorly gauged, as I have indicated, but so far as we can tell what is happening, we know that the occupiers no longer command the support of most Afghans. The patience and forebearance of Afghans was and is enormous, despite the abuses, despite the torture chambers, despite the indiscriminate killings, the bombing raids resulting in massacres, and despite the obscene 'Green Zone' style luxury for occupiers and their auxiliaries in Kabul while much of the population is actually starving. Despite the obvious unpopularity of the Taliban, most people appear to want to negotiate a deal with them rather than prosecute a long and bloody war. Even the puppet administration of Hamid Karzai and the very meek and gentle General Rashid Dostum would like to cut some sort of a deal. Of course, there are those for whom the war is working out just swell. The warlords whom the US pays off to keep order are seeing their private armies expand greatly as they reap greater profits from the opium crop. Power is increasingly localised, and Hamid Karzai doesn't have a finger of real influence beyond Kabul. Contractors such as DynCorp are making out as well, because their role is to destroy the opium farms (those belonging to the poor farmers, not the big local rulers who are effectively under Nato protection). Curiously, DynCorp never seem to succeed in reducing drugs production wherever they are despatched to do so, yet they continually get the contracts. And as for Washington? The last thing they want is to get out. Both Democrats and Republicans are intent on increasing the commitment to Afghanistan, if necessary by scaling back the war in Iraq. They know they are in danger of losing the whole situation. Not only is the war in Afghanistan turning the population against the occupiers. In Pakistan, where the government is assaulting 'Taliban strongholds' with great ferocity, local populations are actually becoming more and not less supportive of the Talibs. The US is increasingly projecting its force across the border, and sabre-rattling against the Pakistani government (even Karzai is getting in on that act). The danger of a regional war is escalating in that "global Balkans" - as Brezinski, Obama's foreign policy advisor, dubs the region - and the United States government is raising the stakes.