Defence Minister Peter MacKay would disagree with this assessment and has cited examples of achievement in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. He stated that “’More than 10 million Afghans now have the right to vote and women make up 25 per cent of the Afghan Parliament.’ Further, he noted that the Taliban's harsh limits on freedom of speech have been replaced by 7 television stations, 40 radio stations and 350 newspapers. ‘None of this environment for public discourse or exchange of ideas existed in Afghanistan a few years ago. There was no universal suffrage, no democratically elected government, no free press until Canada and others said yes to Afghanistan's call for help.’”
Six years later, has the situation in Afghanistan really improved? No, it has not. Despite the continuous stream of good news from pro-government sources, the reality on the ground is that the lives of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan are that of hardship and poverty.
Effectiveness of Aid
Since 2001, Afghanistan has received more than $15 billion in assistance. However, too much of this aid is provided in ways that are either ineffective or inefficient. For example, under the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US construction company Louis Berger, built and renovated 533 schools and clinics at a cost of $226,000 each. However, according to a report on ReliefWeb, a website administrated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Afghan government could have achieved the same results at just $50,000 per building. Furthermore, according to CorpWatch (which monitors the activities of corporations) many of these buildings were later damaged during the winter because of design flaws.
USAID, Afghanistan’s biggest donor, allocates close to half of its funds to five large US contractors in the country. Excessive amounts of aid are siphoned off in terms of either corporate profits or exorbitant wages/expenses paid to sub-contractors. According to the former NATO Special Civilian Representative, 40% of aid to Afghanistan does not reach Afghanis – but flows out of the country. As for the aid that does reach the Afghanis, a significant of it is drained by corruption. According to Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman, "There is increasing corruption from top government officials down, which is making efforts to get reconstruction off the ground much more difficult."
Rural Development and Sub-National Governance
While aid has been aimed at contributing to progress in Afghanistan, the development process has not sufficiently benefited the majority of the population who live in rural areas, where essential services, such as water or electricity remain scarce or insufficient. In these villages and districts, the government is either non-existent or weak and ineffective having limited capabilities and profoundly inadequate human and financial resources.
There is excessive bureaucracy, lack of transparency and significant disparities in the distribution of government resources throughout the country. For example, a World Bank report states that some provinces have more than twenty times the per capita funding for health than others. In a number of provincial centres, corruption is endemic and tribal and ethnic factors, rather than competency determines key promotions. Although there is an illusion of a legitimately elected government, the method of appointment continues to be based on the tribal system. In other words: the NATO led invasion has not changed the situation in Afghanistan.
The Opium Trade
According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, over 90% of farmers grow opium for economic reasons, and only a fraction would continue to do so if there were viable alternatives. The cultivation of poppy and production of opium was up by 17% in 2006 and 34% in 2007. Production has doubled in two years, and according to the Associated Press, Afghanistan now accounts for 93% of the global illicit supply. The opium industry is valued at three billion dollars a year, accounting for up to a third of the Afghan economy.
Conversely, the Taliban's drug eradication program implemented in 2000-2001 led to a 94% decline in opium cultivation. In 2001, according to UN figures, opium production had fallen to 185 tons. Immediately following the October 2001 US led invasion, production increased dramatically, regaining its historical levels. These facts beg the question: Have the occupying forces brought any good with them?
Approximately half of Afghan children – predominantly girls – are out of school. A high proportion of girls drop out of school due to a lack of female teachers, especially in rural areas. Furthermore, there is fear of abuse; Sima Wali, president of Refugee Women in Development says, “Now warlords fight on the side of the U.S. during the day, but at night they rape and pillage the population.”
A significant number of government schools charge end-user fees despite a provision in the Afghan Constitution which guarantees free education. Over 5,000 schools have no buildings. According to an Oxfam report published this year, increasing insecurity in the south has had a major damaging impact on education; more than half of the 720 schools in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul are closed due to violence or threats. According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, part of the insecurity in Southern Afghanistan is due to “regional warlords and militia commanders ostensibly loyal to the central government.”
Amidst claims of progress and stability, Afghanistan is marred by a ruling system built on corruption and brutality. Hamid Karzai, the head of state whom America propped up is nothing less than a puppet for US interests. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Karzai said he accepts the label of being a puppet in return for U.S. support of him: "Americans have helped Afghanistan tremendously. If I am called a puppet because I am grateful to America, then let that be my nickname.”
To ensure that their puppet remains in power, America has surrounded Karzai with the most brutal of warlords. These warlords, who were known for their corruption and deceit, have now been reshuffled into cabinet and ministerial positions. For example, Gul Agha Sherzai, United Nation’s “Warlord of the Year”, was involved in bribery, extortion, drug-dealing and theft during the 1990’s. After the US occupation of Afghanistan, he was given back his seat of power – not as a warlord but as governor of Kandahar! He later was replaced by Asadullah Khalid who was accused last April of personally being involved in the torture of at least one prisoner in Kandahar, as reported by Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan.
Killing of Innocent Civilians
With the presence of America and their “liberating” forces, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly. There are more than twice as many air-strikes by international forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq, to which a high number of casualties can be attributed. It appears at times that innocent civilians are not only caught in the crossfire but are often the target:
- On June 29th, 2007 the US bombed Haydarabad, a little village next to Helmand River. As a result 50-130 civilians were killed.
- On August 2nd, 2007 the US bombed a tree line near Baghran. Gul Wali (an 18 year-old) was among the wounded and said, “Bombs were falling everywhere from the sky into the trees, and I saw pieces of flesh and bone. These were villagers. They were innocent people.”
- On November 28th, 2007 the US bombed a tent alongside a road in the Nuristan Province killing 14 road labourers and engineers while they slept.
Detention and Torture
here have also been numerous reports of detainees being abused by American and Afghan forces. Atrocities in Afghan jails were detailed recently by UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, who reported horrible conditions in these jails, including torture, extended detention without trial and extortion. According to the US department’s human rights assessment, Afghan torture tactics include, "pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation and sodomy." According to Amnesty International, Canadian troops stopped transferring detainees to Afghan forces in November 2007. This occurred after Canada was put under the spotlight for transferring detainees to these known torture cells. However, now that the spotlight has dimmed the Canadian forces has resumed its old practices. The Globe and Mail reported last Saturday that the transfer of detainees by the Canadian Army to Afghan custody has resumed despite the possibility of torture for those being handed over.
Conclusion: We Are Suffering
This is but a brief glimpse into the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. While we are sold many claims of success and prosperity, it is important to realize that whatever change has come to Afghanistan is superficial and is used by politicians for their own personal gains and ambitions.
As Muslims living far away from Afghanistan, we may view their situation as only their suffering. However, we need to remember that we are one Ummah – one family. So whatever affects them affects us. In other words their suffering is our suffering. As the Prophet (saw) said:
“The example of the Believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy is like one body. If one limb is afflicted the whole body responds to it with restlessness and fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
With this understanding in mind, it is crucial that we as a Muslim community feel the pain and suffering that our brothers and sisters are enduring as though they were our own flesh and blood. Since we love our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, we must work at a grass roots level to first know the facts, and then inform Canadian society at large as to the true situation in Afghanistan.
We must also remember that March 3rd, 2008 marks the 84th year in which Muslims do not live under the shade of the Sultan – the Khilafah. It is only through the proper implementation of a just Islamic State that people – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – will live in peace and security.
“You are the best of people ever raised for mankind; you enjoin Al-Maroof forbid Al-Munkar, and you believe in Allah.” [TMQ 3:110]