RPA's Afghanistan Pamphlet
THE BACKGROUND OF THE CURRENT CRISIS IN WORLD AFFAIRS.
We are writing this pamphlet in deep sorrow over the many victims of the bombings of September 11th --those who died and those who lost loved ones. We believe that the correct response to this horror demands a wide-ranging conversations among all citizens. We fear that the national response to terror will be more terror and that violence done to us will provoke more violence against others and, in turn, of those others against us.
We cannot respond adequately to September 11th if we do not understand its history. In what follows, we will mention some important events that the form part of the background for September 11th.
Afghanistan, is a nation of 26 million people (40 percent of them children) with a child mortality rate of 147 per thousand and a life expectancy of 47 years. (Child mortality rates are a 3.5 per thousand in Japan, seven per thousand in the U.S., 17 per thousand in Russia and 43 per thousand in Peru). Less than a third of the population can read and write.
In the 1970s, left leaning groups attempted to modernize Afghanistan by seeking to redistribute land and to better the of lives of women. These efforts -- often heavy-handed and coercive -- were soon met by a coalition of conservative religious figures many of whom were, at the same time, important landowners. This conflict, internal to Afghanistan, played out against the background of the Cold War. Afghanistan shares a long border with the former Soviet Union, as well as with the Iran which, in the '70s, was a staunch ally of the U.S. and a foe of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the late '70s, to counterbalance intense CIA covert activities in the area and to bolster the leftist government. The U.S. together with the Pakistani Internal Security Service (ISI) spent more than 3 billion U.S. dollars to arm and train 40.000 conservative mujahedin to fight the Soviets. When the Soviets were defeated 10 years later, they left a relatively forward-looking government that tried to build schools and hospitals and to improve the life of ordinary Afghanis. This government was under attack and eventually toppled by the various mujahedin factions, who then fell out with each other and began the Civil War that is still going on. One of the mujahedin "freedom fighters" trained by the United States was none other than Osama bin Laden. Our current enemy was then supported by the the CIA.
Maintaining this large army of muhajedin became very expensive even for the CIA. With the help of the Pakistani Security services the Afghan freedom fighters turned to growing opium poppies and producing heroin in order to finance their troops. American intelligence supported that enterprise. The Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland has become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the heroin on American streets.
ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
Islam, the world's second-largest religion, has no central authority, and takes many different forms. Egyptian women, for instance, could attend college before their counterparts in the West, while today Taliban oppression of women is notorious. This is not hard to understand when we consider that both the Amish and the Ku Klux Klan identify themselves as Christians.
Fundamentalists, Muslim or Christian, while emphasizing certain values in tradition, are reacting against contemporary situations. The Taliban, for instance, developed in recent years among refugees from the Afghan war. Muslim fundamentalism generally has emerged in the last 30 years as a rejection of secular Western influences, especially as they appear to oppress Muslim nations. While we may see the United States as embodying freedom and democracy, many in the Arab and Muslim world, regardless of political and religious beliefs, see it as the ally of corrupt and repressive regimes that stifle dissent.
The Quran, the holy book of all Islam, speaks clearly against murder, suicide, and attacks on innocent civilians. Osama bin Laden has read these sacred texts selectively, and perverted their meaning, in order to justify his pursuits.
Muslims have never blindly obeyed calls to "holy war." A fatwa is a legal opinion, not an edict. Since Osama bin Laden is neither a cleric nor a scholar of Islamic law, his fatwa is unlikely to influence anyone on religious grounds. In recent memory, both the Ayatollah Komeini and his foremost enemy, Saddam Hussein, have urged Muslims to rise up against the West. The statements produced no general response across the Muslim world.
US SUPPORT FOR REPRESSIVE REGIMES IN THE REGION
Saudi Arabia, has the largest known oil reserves in the world and is the largest exporter of oil. It is run by the Saudi royal family. There are no elections in Saudi Arabia and no political parties. The current king has been ailing for years. The royal family that essentially governs the country is extremely corrupt. As a result the Saudi government, previously wealthy enough to pay for much of the 1991 war on Iraq,, now runs a deficit. Dissidents or protesters are either exiled (for instance, Osama Bin Laden) or executed.
The U.S. is a firm ally of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the top customer for U.S. weapons. Since 1989, the U.S. government has delivered over $40.6 billion in foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia, and U.S. arms manufacturers exported an additional $500 million worth of arms to the Saudi regime during that same period. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is a cash-paying customer. It receives no U.S. military assistance to finance these purchases.
Egypt, by contrast, is ruled by an elected President and a two chamber legislature. There are a number of political parties but only those approved by the government can take part in the political process which is so tightly controlled by the government that no genuine public debate is possible. The Mubarak government has ruled under a state of emergency for the last 20 years that has allowed it to suppress political opposition ruthlessly. There are many political prisoners in Egypt.
The Kingdom of Jordan has been a steady U.S. ally in the region. Established by the British in 1922, it was an absolute monarchy until 1990 when the King ceded some legislative powers to a bicameral legislature. Although Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, the king has extensive legal powers that allow him to shape policy by appointing the prime minister, other cabinet ministers, and the thirty-member Senate, as well as by dismissing the National Assembly and ruling by decree if he sees fit. Prior to the elections of November 1989, no general election had been held for more than twenty-two years.
The Sudan. Independent from Britain since the 1950s, the Sudan has been ruled by military governments for most of the last 50 years. Large numbers of people have died in recent years in a Civil War between the government of the Muslim North and independence movements in the Christian and animist South. Two issues divide the factions: the traditional distrust of the North by the Southerners and the fact that the South possesses a vast reserves of high-grade petroleum. According to Amnesty International the northern government has systematically cleared the southern oil areas of populations in order to allow the oil companies to pump oil undisturbed. Mass killings and torture have been used to move the population. In 1997 the Clinton administration imposed sanctions on the Sudan for allegedly harboring terrorists. The Bush administration, dominated by oil companies, has made overtures to the Sudanese government in order to improve relations.
US SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
For 100 years Jewish settlers and Palestinian inhabitants of the land now known as Israel and as Palestine have been in conflict with one another. The history of the conflict is incredibly intricate and it is doubtful that any history of it would be acceptable to both sides in the conflict. Both sides attack and menace each other. Israel is an affluent Western society. The Palestinians are much poorer; since many work in Israel their economic life depends directly on Israeli policies. The average annual income in Israel is close to $19,000; that in the Gaza Strip around $1000.
Over the years, the U.S. – through both the government and private organizations -- has supplied large amounts of money to Israel. In some years Israel received almost half of all US foreign military and a third of all US economic aid. The US has supplied them with sophisticated military equipment, and have not publicly objected to their secret nuclear program, to their support of the apartheid regime in South Africa, or of right wing regimes in Latin America. US policy is widely perceived as being one-sidedly in support of Israel, and, because the Israelis have very difficult relations with most of their Arab neighbors, as support for the enemies of Muslim nations.
CONTINUED BOMBING OF IRAQ
Until he invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein had been considered friendly to the US. We accepted his long, bloody war against Iran in the 1980s. The US accepted his long bloody war against the Iran in the 1980s and opposed any Security Council action to condemn that invasion. It removed Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism and allowed U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq. Iraq used chemical weapons in 1984; in the same year the U.S. restored diplomatic relations with the Iraq.
After Desert Storm. Since the end of operation Desert Storm in 1991 -- which is said to have cost 250,000 Iraqi lives --the United States and Britain have prevented Iraq from selling their oil on the open market and have periodically bombed what they said were military installations in Iraq. These continued pressures on Iraq have provoked a devastating crisis among civilians that is said to have costs the lives of half a million children in Iraq due to malnutrition, the collapse of medical services, and the unavailability of medicines. In spite of the "oil-for-food" plan initiated in 1996, the once prosperous and technologically sophisticated nation of Iraq has become a country where malnutrition, disease, and appalling living conditions are causing severe physiological and psychological damage to future generations. In particular, the effects of Gulf War bombing and economic sanctions have mostly affected children. The extensive damage to the civilian infrastructure (electricity, water, and sanitation systems), has resulted in contaminated drinking water and increased exposure to infections that cannot be resisted due to malnutrition; devastation of the overall economy, has lead to unemployment of more than 50 percent; family income have declined, with a consequent decline in both quality and quantity of diet. The civilian population has been the victim of the of continued U.S. and British pressure on Iraq.
Madeleine Allbright, President Clinton's Secretary of State has been widely quoted as saying that the death of 500, 000 thousand Iraqi children under the age of 5, as a result of imposed sanctions on the Iraqi population, was a price worth paying for keeping Iraq under Western supervision.
SOME GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF US POLICY IN THE REGION
Citizens suffer the most: The U.S. interventions – in the 1980s tacit in Afghanistan -- and open in Iraq and Israel/Palestine, as well as the continued support for the Saudi royal family and the heavy-handed Egyptian government, have been to the distinct disadvantage of ordinary people. Progressive governments in Afghanistan were not without serious faults but because they were leaning towards the Soviet Union, our government did not hesitate to ally itself with the most repressive and reactionary forces in Afghanistan. The modernization of Afghan society, the liberation of women, the building of schools and clinics were of no interest to us. Similarly, we have made no efforts on behalf of the well-being of the masses of Saudis, or of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, or even of ordinary Egyptians. The US has played power politics, supporting governments that served its interests, ignoring widespread suffering and repression of ordinary persons by these governments.
As in Madame Allbright's remark about the death of Iraqi children, our government openly shows its contempt for the inhabitants of the region. In supporting repressive governments, the US has been helping to block democratic change in the region. The constant protestations by the U.S. government that it supports democracy are in stark contrast to the undemocratic governments we have consistently supported in the Middle East and elsewhere. Free discussion is impossible as is the development of a moderate opposition. This fuels the growth of various forms of political extremism.
Our foreign policy has been capricious. In the '70s we financed and trained Osama bin Laden who is now our archenemy. During that period, we put a great deal of energy and money into Afghanistan because it was occupied by the Soviet Union. When the Russians left, the country, devastated by war, we lost interest and gave no help in rebuilding Afghanistan. In the '80s we supported Saddam Hussein and closed our eyes to his cruelty; in the '90s we demonized the same man. Today we are allies with countries like Pakistan who until recently where sanctioned by us. Our foreign policy is shortsighted, short range, unprincipled and strikes others as being willing to sacrifice anybody and anything to what, at the moment, we regard as our national interest.
The politics of oil. Sixty-seven percent of proven global oil reserves reside in the Middle East. Control of global oil reserves is considered to be both a military and an industrial priority of US foreign policy. That is most obvious in our support of an antiquated, or repressive Saudi kingdom The diverse tribes inhabiting the Arabian peninsula had only been welded together by the forceful sword of the great twentieth century warrior Ibn Saud, but during World War II the King's fledgling economy began to falter with the loss of oil royalties and revenue from annual pilgrimages to Mecca. When the King turned to Aramco (the Anglo-American oil company) for aid in 1940, the American company advanced him $2,980,988 against future oil royalties. In January 1941, however King Saud demanded an additional $6 million and Aramco, which had very little to show its shareholders for their heavy Arabian investment, turned to Washington. Under pressure from the oil companies, President Roosevelt provided aid to Saudi Arabia under the Lend -- Lease program.
After the World War II Saudi Arabia remained a staunch ally of the US receiving a great deal of military aid in the 1950s when the Saudis came into conflict with Egypt and to the South in Yemen. If In that period the consumption of oil exploded and oil politics became that much more central to U.S. foreign policy. In the early 1950s Iran demanded higher oil royalties. The British oil company BP refused. The stand-off ended with a CIA engineered overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mossadeq. He was replaced by the brutal regime of the Shah of Iran -- a loyal ally of the U.S. government and a despot. The Shah was deposed by the current Islamic government in 1979. That Islamic revolution began with a takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. The US him and retaliated by supporting Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran in the 1980s.
Geographically, oil is also involved in Afghanistan as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia--home to some of the largest oil fields in the world--to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, which was under serious consideration in the mid-1990s when the US encouraged and supported the Taliban—our current enemy—in the hopes that they would bring the needed stability to the region to make construction of the pipeline possible. (There are persisted reports that as late as this year some representatives of the Taliban government where wined and dined by oil company officials in Houston, TX.)
US FOREIGN POLICY IN THE LAST 50 YEARS
U.S. foreign policy has been consistently interventionist in the affairs of other nations. Here is a list of foreign interventions by the U.S. government and the CIA. This list is limited to interventions in the Mid East and Central Asia (Our government has been equally active in the affairs of Latin American nations):
1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria
1953: CIA helps overthrow the democratically-elected Mossadeq government in Iran (which had nationalized British oil company) leading to a quarter-century of repressive and dictatorial rule by the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
1958: US troops land in Lebanon to preserve "stability."
1967: US blocks any effort in the Security Council to enforce Security Council Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
1973-75: US supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq. When Iran reaches an agreement with Iraq in 1975 and seals its borders, Iraq slaughters the Kurds. US denies them refuge.
1978-79: Iranians begin demonstrations against the Shah. US tells Shah it supports him "without reservation" and urges him to act forcefully. Until the last minute, US tries to organize military coup to save the Shah, but to no avail.
1979-88: US begins covert aid to Mujahideen in Afghanistan six months before Soviet invasion in Dec. 1979 and provides more than $3 billion in arms and aid over the next decade.
1980-88: Iran-Iraq war. US opposes Security Council action to condemn Iraq's invasion of Iran. US removes the Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism and sells arms to Iraq.
In 1985, US secretly arms Iran. US also provides intelligence information to Iraq. Iraq uses chemical weapons in 1988; US restores diplomatic relations with Iraq.
1982: US gives green light to Israeli invasion of Lebanon. More than 10,000 civilians are killed and US weapons are used.
1987: US sends its navy into the Persian Gulf, taking Iraq's side in the war with Iran; an overly aggressive US ship shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 290.
1988: Saddam Hussein uses chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish population, killing thousands. US increases economic ties to Iraq.
1990-91: US rejects diplomatic settlement of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and leads international coalition in war against Iraq. Civilian infrastructure targeted.
1990-92: US establishes military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey and imposes no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq where US/UK bombing continues on a regular basis. More than 300 civilians have been killed and at least 1,000 injured.
1991-present: Economic sanctions are imposed on Iraq and US/UK block all attempts to lift them. Hundreds of thousands die.
1998: US destroys Sudanese pharmaceutical factory claiming retaliation for a the attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and that the factory was involved in chemical warfare. US later acknowledges that there is no evidence of for the chemical warfare charge.
1998: the U.S. fires 70 to 80 cruise missiles into an alleged training site for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
THE LIMITS OF POWER POLITICS IN THE AGE OF"TERRORISM".
For many years, the US has described itself as the most powerful nation on earth. The list of foreign interventions shows that we believed that we could interfere in the affairs of other nations with impunity. We thought that we could impose our will on other nations without them being able to inflict damage on us. For a number of years, there have been indications that this belief is mistaken.
Attacks on U.S. installations. Since the 1960s there have been a series of terrorist attacks on U.S. installation and US citizens :
In the past, both military installations and US embassies abroad have been targeted, frequently making civilians the victims of anti-American terrorism.
In 1983, a fundamentalist suicide bomber blew up the US embassy on the sea front in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 16 Americans.
The following year, East Beirut was the target for another US embassy bombing. An explosive-packed station wagon detonated in front of the embassy, killing 11 people, including the driver.
Military personnel in civilian settings have also been the subjects of attack. Civilians at La Belle disco in West Berlin, a popular nightspot with off-duty US soldiers, were injured alongside military personnel in an explosion in 1986. The bomb, which killed two US servicemen, injured 200 other people. Washington blamed the incident on Libya.
In December 1988, a Pan Am 103 flight from London to New York blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland. All 259 passengers and crew were killed, as were 11 residents of Lockerbie. The US and UK later accused two Libyan agents of responsibility for the blast.
Attacks in the US begin. Then in February 1993, the first major terrorist attack on American soil took place at the World Trade Centre in New York. Six people were killed and more than 1,000- mainly civilians - injured in the blast. The US implicated Egyptian terrorists in the plot to attack targets in the country. After the New York bomb, terrorist activity against the US returned to Middle East targets. Seven people were injured - including five Americans – in an explosion in 1995 near a US-run military training centre in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. A year later, a huge explosion killed 19, and injured many others at a military complex housing US troops at Khobar in the east of Saudi-Arabia. The US responded by moving their remaining troops in the region in fear of reprisals. In 2000 with the U. S. S. Cole was attacked in the harbor in Yemen. A number of US sailors died.
So far, North Americans and the US government have regarded these incidents as unimportant and have regarded the loss of lives as acceptable. The events of September 11th have changed all that. It is now clear that our opponents can inflict unacceptable damage on the US at home.
It is clear, that our opponents are now capable of doing us serious injury. In spite of our great wealth and our great military power, we are no longer in a position to impose our policies on other nations without having to fear serious damage to ourselves. We are no longer invincible.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this new world situation is that we must radically alter our relations to other nations on the globe. We can no longer safely use our military and economic power to coerce other nations. We need to try to be genuinely good neighbors and to win the trust of others.
TOWARDS A MORE HUMANE AND MORE PROMSISING POLICY IN THE REGION.
1. We need to distance ourselves from the oppressive governments we have supported in the region. That means altering our relationship to countries like Saudi Arabia, to refrain from supporting dictators like to Saddam Hussein as we did in the 1980s, or supporting regimes like those in Egypt and Jordan.
2. We need to develop massive programs in the framework or the United Nations and/or other international organizations to improve the standard of living of people throughout the region, and eventually throughout the rest of the world. It is no longer possible for us to use the bulk of the earth's resources and without sharing them with the rest of the world.
3. We need to pay particular attention to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have lived for several generations in refugees camps where there is no work and no future. These are breeding grounds for future terrorism attempts. It is essential that we contribute to a major effort to resettle the refugees and give them hope.
4. We have been hostile to the United Nations and have instead preferred unilateral policies. As the world changes and we are no longer able to impose our will on other nations, we need to become better world citizens. We need to actively support the U.N. and put our whole energy into bettering the lives of the world's poor through the agencies of the U.N.
5. We need to suspend immediately all covert operations of the CIA. The CIA has again and again subverted democratically elected governments in favor of dictatorial regimes. We have presented ourselves to the world as lovers of freedom and democracy while destroying democracy abroad. We have thereby earned a reputation of dishonesty and hypocrisy.
6. We should stop supporting Mideast despotic regimes because of oil. In order to change our relations to other nations we must urgently reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Some time in the next 10 years the world supply of oil will begin to diminish. Even if new oil is discovered, it will eventually run out. We need to prepare ourselves for this future by drastically reducing our energy needs and developing alternative sources of energy. Since that is clearly a long-term project, we cannot wait to take up this challenge until the last oil well runs dry. In addition, the continued use of fossil fuels damages the environment irreparably and must be reduced for that reason.
The opposition of energy companies is hindering these efforts. The oil companies want to make as much money as they can by selling as much of oil as possible. A sensible energy policy will not be possible unless we confront the incredibly powerful oil companies.
Throughout the history of American involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia, oil company executives have been close to the government. At present they are the government in as much as both the President and Vice-President are oil company executives. Our continued use of violence as the exclusive tool of foreign policy has largely served the interest of the oil companies. They are not interested in the poor in Afghanistan any more than they care about the Iraqi children, or the poor in Saudi Arabia, or in Egypt (never mind the poor in the United States). As long as U.S. foreign policy is in the service of the oil companies it will continue to be hostile to ordinary people and to use violence indiscriminately.
One cannot begin to understand what happened on September 11th, unless one examines the relations of the United States to the nations in the Mid East and Central Asia. Of course, nothing justifies the killing of innocent people in those attacks, but we will never understand why anyone would attack us, unless we take into account the many ways in which we have alienated people in other nations.
For our own sake, and that of our children, and in order to rebuild some measure of security in the world, we need to assess realistically the changed balance of power in the world. We can no longer do whatever we please and think we can get away with that. It is time for us to remember that we share our humanity with all the people on this earth and that we need to respect that humanity in others as we expect them to respect ours.
This pamphlet has been produced by the Education Committee of Worcester Peace Works. For more copies please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.