Intellectuals and respected Afghan professionals are convinced the
west is prolonging conflict to maintain influence in the region
to find anyone in Afghanistan who doesn’t believe the US are funding
the Taliban: and it’s the highly educated Afghan professionals, those
employed by ISAF, USAID, international media organisations – and even
advising US diplomats – who seem the most convinced.
It is the common
belief among Afghans that the west has no intention of ending the
conflict in Afghanistan. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
One Afghan friend, who speaks flawless English and likes to
quote Charles Dickens, Bertolt Brecht and Anton Chekhov, says the
reason is clear. “The US has an interest in prolonging the conflict so
as to stay in Afghanistan for the long term.”
continuing violence between coalition forces and the Taliban is simple
proof in itself.
“We say in this country, you need
two hands to clap,” he says, slapping his hands together in
demonstration. “One side can’t do it on its own.”
arguments are reasoned, although he slightly ruins the effect by
explaining to me that no Jews died in the Twin Towers. It’s not just the
natural assets of Afghanistan but its strategic position, the logic
goes. Commanding this country would give the US power over India,
Russia, Pakistan and China, not to mention all the central Asian states.
“The US uses Israel to threaten the Arab states, and they
want to make Afghanistan into the same thing,” he says. “Whoever
controls Asia in the future, controls the world.”
a child of five knows this,” one Kabuli radio journalist tells me,
holding his hand a couple of feet from the ground in illustration. Look
at Helmand, he says; how could 15,000 international and Afghan troops
fail to crush a couple of thousand of badly equipped Taliban?
And as for the British, apparently they want to stay in
Afghanistan even more than the Americans. The reason they want to talk
to the Taliban is to bring them into the government, thus consolidating
This isn’t just some vague prejudice or
the wildly conspiratorial theories so prevalent in the Middle East.
There is a highly structured if convoluted analysis behind this. If the
US really wanted to defeat the Taliban, person after person asks me, why
don’t they tackle them in Pakistan? The reason is simple, one friend
tells me. “As long as you don’t get rid of the nest, the problem will
continue. If they eliminate the Taliban, the US will have no reason to
The proof is manifold, they say (although
it does tend to include the phrase guaranteed to dismay every
journalist: “everybody knows that …”).
things everybody knows are that Afghan national army troops report
taking over Taliban bases to find identical rations and weapons to their
own US-supplied equipment. The US funds the madrasas both in
Afghanistan and in Pakistan, which produce the young Talibs. US army
helicopters regularly deliver supplies behind Taliban lines. The aid
organisations are nothing more than intelligence-collecting agencies,
going into regions the army cannot easily reach to obtain facts on the
ground. Even the humblest midwife-training project is a spying outfit.
One political scientist, who works as an advisor to US
agencies in the north of the country, recounts how people fear the
continuing influence of the warlords, illustrating his point with
descriptions of violence and corruption that extends into the realms of
banking, government and trade.
Afghans hate these
warlords, he says, but the US wants them kept in place. “If they were
removed, and competent and clean people brought in, we would bring in
revenues of our own. We could have our own economy, and demand foreign
investment with transparency. We would have a true army, to protect us
and serve Afghanistan.”
So why do these well-educated
Afghan professionals work for governments they are convinced want to
sink their claws into their country?
contrived about their patriotism – with their skills they could easily
study or work abroad, but choose to stay to build a better future for
their country. Afghans have a historical suspicion towards any foreign
power involved in their country and maybe with the resilience of a
nation which has seen off one occupier after another, they are willing
to wait it out, confident the will of the US will break before their
They don’t want Nato to leave for 15, maybe 20
years, anyway. It will take that long for Afghan institutions to be able
to survive independently. In the meantime, as my literature-loving
friend – who works for a number of US agencies – tells me, there is no
contradiction in survival. “I like Benjamin Franklin in my pocket,” he
smiles. So much for hearts and minds.
The Guardian “comment is free” column on May 25, 2010.