Who are the Taliban? A talk from Anand Gopal (part II)

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

Here's part two of a summary of a fascinating talk last week in L.A. by journalist Anand Gopal at the Brave New Foundation studio, connected through his help on the BNF film, “Rethink Afghanistan,” attended by a few CODEPINKers. The first part of the summary is here.

When the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan, it made promises to the Afghans.  It was because of these promises that the Afghans actually welcomed the U.S. soldiers.  They promised jobs, development, good governance, and security.  But the U.S. has failed to deliver on each and every promise.  In most cases the situation is actually worse.  Afghans no longer welcome U.S. soldiers in their community, all they want is for them to leave.

The first failed promise is jobs. Afghanistan currently has an official unemployment rate of 50 percent -- the actual unemployment rate is estimated to be much higher and there are complete villages that are unemployed. Thirty percent of Afghans make less than $14 each month, and the informal employment sector has expanded as children beg and sell trinkets on the street to earn money so their family can survive. It is the best-case scenario if a family has children who can act as the breadwinners. In most cases in the hills of Afghanistan, the men are crippled from decades of war and the women are not allowed to work.  The children have no choice but to be the sole income earners for the family. A lot of families resort to selling their daughters when they have no work and no money for food.  In Afghanistan there is a bride price, not a dowry, so the husband’s family pays a bride price to the bride’s family. So, with an unemployment rate more than 50 percent, it is painfully clear that the U.S. has not delivered on this promise.  If the best-case scenario is having children work in the informal sector so that the family can survive, the U.S. is not delivering.

The second failed promise surrounds development. The U.S. spends a $100 million dollars a day on Afghanistan.  Ninety-five percent of the money goes to the military and 5 percent is supposed to go to development. Five percent would actually be a lot of money for Afghanistan given that it is currently the 3rd poorest country in the world.  But out of those $5 million dollars, 86 cents of every dollar goes back to the United States through contracts.  Afghanistan only sees 14 cents out of every dollar therefore only receiving $700,000 of the $5 million allotted for development every day. On top of that, the money that is allotted for development often gets transferred into the hands of U.S. contractors.  They subcontract development projects out multiple times until it finally gets handed to a contract company on the ground. For example, if $50 million dollars is given to build a road the U.S. will give the job to a U.S. company.  The U.S. company will sub contract it to another company who will sub contract it to another company etc. until it finally is given to an Afghan or Chinese company on the ground for $5 million.  $45 million is going back to the U.S.

Then, Oout of the five percent that is reserved for development, 90 percent of it is going back to the U.S.  In reality only .5 percent of the development money is actually going to develop Afghanistan. Afghanistan is currently the fifth-least developed country in the world. The current infrastructure and lack of development makes it impossible to successfully spread news and information, let alone goods and services. In some rural villages when the American soldiers arrived the villagers thought they were Russian soldiers; they did not even know Afghanistan was fighting the United States.  They also did not know who is the current president of Afghanistan.

In his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins describes his life as what he terms an "economic hitman."  After undergoing rounds of polygraph tests and interviews, Perkins was hired by a top consulting company in Boston, Massachusetts.  His job was pretty simple -- work to keep developing countries in debt so they will remain dependent on the U.S.  The consulting company worked hard to ensure that development projects around the world were being contracted to U.S. companies allowing very little to trickle down to developing countries in desperate need of the money leaving them entirely dependent.  He speaks very candidly to the fact that it was not an accident; that was their intention.  If anyone got in their way they would simply send the “jackals” (skilled assassins) after them, and they would be swiftly and quietly taken care of.  Afghanistan is being targeted by similar economic hitman.  Development is not being allowed to take place.  Instead the money is purposefully being funneled back to the United States.  The U.S. has failed to deliver development.The third promise is governance. The Afghanistan government is incredibly corrupt, for example, the biggest drug dealer is said to be the current Minister of Counter Narcotics. Given the current state of Afghanistan, the third poorest country in the world and the fifth least developed, good governance policies have not been enforced.  There has been little improvement in that area.  The U.S. again has failed to deliver on one of their promises.

The final failed promise is security. As outlined in the previous entry, there is very little that is being done to secure the safety of Afghans living in war-torn areas. Civilian casualties are a daily occurrence and the numbers are mounting.  Here in the U.S. we hear about a fraction of them, but it is a daily part of Afghan life. The war on terror is actually producing terror because of the number of civilians that have been affected and outraged by the deaths of their loved ones.  Suicide bombs are increasing, and when U.S. soldiers enter an area, violence increases and security decreases. Violence overall increases as more U.S. troops are sent in – this happens every single year.   21,000 more troops were just sent to Afghanistan and the violence has already increased 60 percent.

Gopal then told a very powerful anecdote. When he was again embedded with the Americans, they were driving through a village in a tank.  All of the sudden they started feeling thuds against the tank and the gunner looked outside to see if they were under attack.  It turned out they were just rocks being thrown by the village children.  The Tank Commander (TC) was embarrassed, especially with a journalist on board.  He said he did not understand what was happening and wanted to perform a "H&M (Hearts & Mind)" operation.  He got outside with the other soldiers (big burly looking men) and started handing out candy to the children.  The children threw the candy right back at them.  The soldiers were now very confused and even more embarrassed.  The TC told Gopal that they must just not know who they are.  So he called a meeting with all of the tribal elders trying to get to the bottom of it.  The TC told the elders that he did not understand why their children were throwing rocks at the soldiers, they must not know who they were.  The TC was met with blank stares and silence filled the room.  He said, “Okay, well how could we fix this and make this better?  Do you want us to build a school or maybe a road, what do you want?”  One of the elders then responded, “We want you to leave.  Everywhere you go you bring violence, death, and destruction.  The best thing you can do for us is leave.”

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