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Foreword by David Barsamian

David BarsamianDavid Barsamian is founder and director of Alternative Radio, the independent award-winning weekly series based in Boulder, Colorado. He is a radio producer, journalist, author and lecturer. He has traveled extensively across Afghanistan. He wrote the foreword to “Bleeding Afghanistan,” which is reprinted below.

Most Americans have been inside their own burqas when it comes to Afghanistan. The level of knowledge about the country is minimal. When it comes to U.S. involvement, the level of ignorance and amnesia is astounding.

Five years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and effected “regime change,” James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar break what they call the “propaganda of silence” with their acutely timed Bleeding Afghanistan. The Taliban are in resurgence and “anti-American anger is boiling over.” How are these developments explained by Washington, its satraps in Kabul, and the corporate media? The problems are caused by “outsiders” and “agitators.” There is no sense of irony in the fact that the U.S. and NATO troops are not considered outsiders or agitators.

The Afghan people, meanwhile, are extras on an American designed movie set with a script about getting “bad guys, dead or alive.” The cast, led by lead actor Hamid Karzai, is dutifully asked to recite their lines on cue extolling the virtues of their occupiers, with an allowance for an occasional murmur about the “collateral damage” when it becomes too conspicuous.

Since the late 1970s, Afghans have been puppets in Washington’s imperial calculations. The country was infamously used as a pawn to “trap” the Soviets. The repercussions of U.S. policy in the recruiting, financing, training, and arming of what Eqbal Ahmad told me were “the most fanatical elements in the Muslim world to fight in the great jihad” against the Soviets, reverberate today. Once the USSR was driven out, the emboldened jihadis only gathered momentum.

The widespread crimes of the warlords, jang saalaraan, paved the way for the rise of the Taliban. Dostum, Sayyaf, and others have notbeen held accountable, as Ingalls and Kolhatkar point out. And the lack of justice leaves open wounds on the Afghan landscape. Human Rights Watch reports, “. . . up to 60 percent of deputies in the lower house of parliament are directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses.”

Karzai, in his ubiquitous shawl and karakul hat, has rewarded some of the warlords with government positions and a permanent get-outof-jail-free pass. Karzai, it must be added, in a ringing affirmation of his confidence in his fellow Afghans, surrounds himself with American bodyguards. A marked man, he does not stray too far from Kabul. All imperial and colonial projects are accompanied by lofty rhetoric about noble goals. Echoing the British “white man’s burden” and the French “mission cilivilitrice,” the new wars are about democracy and freedom.

The U.S invasion and occupation of Afghanistan had an extra fillip: women’s liberation. As Arundhati Roy observed: “We’re being asked to believe that the U.S. Marines are actually on a feminist mission.” It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

One of the heroes of the book is Malalai Joya, the young member of the Afghan parliament. Her courage in raising inconvenient facts about the rehabilitated warlords to their faces in parliament comes through in a stirring and inspiring moment. The authors observe that Joya, “speaking for millions of Afghans, pointed out a reality that defies the U.S.’s rhetoric of ‘liberation,’” which “simply returned a different set of misogynists to power.” Joya’s life has been threatened many times but she remains steadfast and defiant. Wouldn’t it be something if Laura Bush, that great champion of Afghan women, invited her to the White House and honored her? And while the First Lady is at it, maybe she could celebrate the exemplary work of The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

The book’s focus on RAWA is both illuminating and important. That the authors are themselves involved with the organization gives their perspective depth and urgency. Ingalls and Kolhatkar warn us against stereotyping Afghan women or to see them just as victims. We should be wary, they advise, “. . . not to fall into the same traps of exploitation and sensationalism that the mainstream media and conservative and liberal groups are guilty of. Objectifying Afghan women by their clothing is not an appropriate way for progressives to draw attention to the suffering of Afghan women. . . . Thousands of Afghan women have bravely marched with bare faces and fists in the air in their political demonstrations, demanding their rights.”

Largely ignored today even by progressive voices, Afghanistan dropped off the media radar screen once the main event in Iraq was launched. Corporate embedded reporters preferred the “action” in storied Baghdad over Gardez in Afghanistan. Fixated on Iraq, Afghanistan is the sideshow, the afterthought in the Bush Wars.

In Kabul, in late May 2006, an accident involving a U.S. military vehicle led to multiple civilian deaths and American troops firing into crowds. The U.S. media described what happened as a “riot.” Journalists were stunned to hear the “natives” chanting, “Death to America.” Their tone was one of surprise. After all the country, with a few blemishes here and there, was a “success” story. The BBC did provide some background. It reported that “life is not good” in Afghanistan. There is an “underlying sense that people are dissatisfied.” There is “growing frustration” and “40 percent of the population is hungry.” Afghan civilian deaths as a result of U.S. bombings and shootings surely number in the many thousands. Does anyone count or care? And the survivors? If they are lucky, hundred-dollar bills are thrown at them.

But it is the facts that matter. Afghanistan is now ranked by the UN as the second worst country in the world to live in—after Sierra Leone. Much of the donor money goes to security and drug eradication. Many of the aid projects are riddled with corruption and amount to shoddy and incomplete work. Kabul is a capital city with luxury villas and grand hotels charging over $1,000 a night, while much of the population lives in squalor with less potable water and electricity than before the U.S.- led attack. Afghans are indeed “enduring” freedom.

Well documented and carefully researched, Bleeding Afghanistan is a book long overdue. It fills a huge void in information and analyses on Afghanistan. As the authors remind us, “Living in the belly of the beast. . . it is up to us as Americans to change our government’s policies.”

— David Barsamian
Boulder, Colorado
June 2006

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