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Boštjan Videmšek · Photos: Jure Erzen

Traslation: Blanca G. Bertolaza

2008 Helmand, Afganistan.

In 2010, the war in Afghanistan officially became the longest war in U.S history. In November of that same year, the United States passed the mark of spending more time in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union had. At the NATO summit in Lisbon last November, the war was officially extended to at least 2014. At that point, it became clear that for NATO, the war in Afghanistan is not so much about winning as it is about maintaining a military presence for access to natural resources, similar to in Iraq. Al Qaeda may have been overpowered, Osama bin Laden may be dead and the crux of the Afghan trouble can definitely be found in Pakistan, the country that paid the highest price to the global war on terror; but in spite of all that, the international coalition seems unwilling to pull out its troops.

The three years after the Taliban fled Kabul there was a lull in the general level of violence, but the U.S.-led coalition and international community failed to put this to its advantage. Instead of rebuilding the ransacked land, the West decided to leave the process to a ruthless consortium formed by former warlords, private security firms and President Hamid Karzai. In the last five years, Karzai’s inner circle broke every regional record in corruption while also managing to bend both the presidential and the parliamentary elections. The consequences were precisely what were to be expected: more war, more ethnic tension, the efflorescence of the opium trade, the geo-strategic weakening of NATO, the absolute break-down of Afghanistan’s medical and schooling systems, the rise of unprecedented corruption, the formation of mini-states controlled by local warlords, de facto rulers of the fallen state.

Over the last two years, of the 140.000 troops stationed there, some 100.000 have been U.S. troops. According to Bob Woodward, US President Barack Obama suddenly found himself in Richard Nixon’s shoes. Both have been elected on an end-the-war platform – and both have then failed to rein in the industrial-military complex, whose main objective is a state of perpetual war. Since Obama took residence in the White House, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan actually tripled. War in Afghanistan has become an American War.

Same goes for the Taliban who can exist only in a state of “everlasting” conflict, but today’s Taliban fighters are vastly different from the people who used to blow up Buddha statues and stone women to death. The Taliban of today are not as unified. The movement comprises at least a dozen different rebel groups. Most of the men have little ideological or religious background. They are simply boys and men fighting against the foreign invaders. Some do it for money, some for pride – and there are many who do it because they feel they have no other choice.

The negotiations between the Taliban and the international community are intense. But the court gathered around president Karzai, who in the last two months lost a number of key allies through Taliban strikes, grows weaker every day.

The ISAF mission was NATO’s quest to find a new purpose after the demise of the Soviet Union. By all rational criteria, this quest was a miserable failure. The alliance has found itself in a losing position. Ten years after the commencement of the U.S.-led bombing, Afghanistan is ravaged by a no-holds-barred war that seems unstoppable: NATO planes keep murdering large numbers of civilians; there is little economy or infrastructure worthy of the name; the opium trade is booming; classrooms are empty; billions and billions in humanitarian aid are vanishing never to be seen again. This August was the bloodiest month in last ten years – especially for the international forces.

The war is at its cruellest in the Pakistani tribal areas of Southern and Northern Waziristan. In the autumn of 2001, the Pakistani Army launched a military campaign against these areas that border Afghanistan. In effect, this was Pakistan’s civil war against its own (mostly Pasthun) population. In the mainstream media, the war Pakistan wages on Washington’s behalf has been largely under-reported. The number of Pakistani troops killed in this conflict is higher than the combined number of all foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Much the same goes for the civilian population. As a result of several governmental offensives, western Pakistan saw several million locals driven from their homes.

In 2010, the Pentagon and the White House decided to spread the conflict over the Durand Line into Pakistan – the epicentre of all Afghan earthquakes. This enlarged theatre of war became known as ‘AfPak’. As the raids made by remotely controlled airplanes intensified, there was also an increase in attacks by U.S ground forces. The authorities in Islamabad have long been playing the game according to the whims of Washington. During his first official visit to the U.S. two years ago, President Asif Ali Zardari even backed the use of remotely controlled air raids against his own people, which of course provided even more popular support for the resurgent Taliban. We are talking about the destabilization of a country with a population of 170 million and with nuclear capability – a country that through its history based its military system on the possibility of an all-out war with India. The army and the intelligence and security services have been ran by people who thought in an ‘Indian’, not ‘Afghan’ fashion. One of them was general Asfak Kajani, Chief of Staff of the Pakistani army, who went on record repeatedly stating his military doctrine to be ‘indio-centric’. This was also the key of the seemingly boundless support the Pakistani intelligence and security services provided to the Taliban and the radical Islamic militias.

The strongest evidence of the Pakistani military aid to the terrorists was the Navy Seals raid on the first of May in Abbotabad, just over a hundred kilometers from Islamabad. After the dust had settled, Osama bin laden, the founder and moving spirit of Al Qaeda, was revealed to have been hiding in a prestigious mansion ridiculously near a Pakistani military academy.

Twenty-two years ago, as the Berlin wall came crashing down, long convoys of Soviet tanks and trucks were rolling back from Hindukush back toward the borders of the crumbling Soviet empire. The surviving Soviet soldiers were openly cheering their escape from the Afghan abbatoir. The Soviet Union was experiencing the most painful moments in its history – a communist collosus had simultaneously lost both the cold war and the Afghan war. In Washington and at the NATO headquarters champagne was flowing like a river: the sole relevant enemy and the cause of NATO’s existence was finally defeated.

As it is being defeated right now.

2008 Helmand, Afganistan.

2009 Kabul, Afganistan.

2008 Helmand, Afganistan.

2009 Herat, Afganistan.

2009 Herat, Afganistan.

2009 Herat, Afganistan.

2008 Helmand, Afganistan.

2008 Helmand, Afganistan.

Iraq: the unfinished war

2003 Bagdad, Irak

The U.S. attack on Iraq in the spring of 2003 was a pivotal point in contemporary history. Based on a blatant lie, the United States caused a brutal civil war and the utter dissolution of a country that prided itself on being the most stable country in the Middle East.

The Iraq War claimed at least 400.000 casualties. Some four million people lost the roof over their heads. The civil war, caused by countless U.S. mistakes following the fall of Saddam Hussein, completely changed Iraq’s demographic map. It also destabilized the entire region and launched the so-called Middle Eastern cold war, potentially one of the most dangerous conflicts of our time. What was once the most secular state in the region is now a theme park of Islamic fundamentalism.

Along with a staggering number of troops, the U.S. lost a great deal of its reputation and geo-strategic influence. After their ignominious pullout, the U.S. left behind a devastated land without a shred of perspective to fall back on. The White House set out to equate the pullout with ‘the end of the war’, which was nothing less than Obama’s version of Bush’s action-figure prancing to the tune of ‘Mission Accomplished!’ Yet the war in Iraq is far from over.

Soon after the U.S. troops left (there are still some 42.000 U.S. military instructors in Iraq – this is completely disregarded in mainstream media), sleeper cells of various Shiite and Sunni rebel groups began to stir. Oil spoils are still up for grabs. Sectarian tensions have intensified. Vast parts of the basic infrastructure have been razed. The country’s covetous neighbours are gearing up to replace the U.S. occupiers. Billions of dollars have been invested into building up the Iraqi security forces, but they remain incapable of effectively policing the land.

In the 2011 the number of bombing attacks began to rapidly increase. In spite of the heavy presence of the governmental forces, the Shiite and Sunni death squads are once again prowling the streets of the Iraqi cities at night. One of the invaders’ direst mistakes has been to assume that the export of western-type democracy is certain to set off a number of positive changes. In reality, it has been just the opposite. The ill-planned and superficial exporting of democracy proved out to be the demise of traditional political solutions, and the consequences will be evident for decades to come.

A large contributing factor was the parliamentary election that saw the former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Alawi (Iraqia) beat the current premier Nouuri al Maliki (State of Law). The Shiite authorities in Baghdad, who enjoy boundless support from the official Teheran, refused to even recognise such a result. Maliki did everything he could to stay in the saddle, and his efforts towards that end were successful. Almost eight months after the election he was sworn in as the president of the Iraqi government, despite the clear message from the voting booths. This was the final act in the strengthening of the Shiite dominance over the land and the concommitant marginalisation of the Sunis. Everything was thus set for the second round of the savage civil war.

One of the most pernicious mistakes made by the Western planners was their conviction that the export of western-style democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan would trigger a number of positive social changes that would eventually result in the formation of free states. But, in reality, nothing even remotely similar took place. The export of democracy proved out to be a rape of the traditional socio-political arrangements.

This year’s ‘Arab awakening’ proved that democratic change can only be achieved from within, not by bombs bearing the Operation Iraqi Freedom logo.

2003 Bagdad, Irak.

2003 Bagdad, Irak.

2003 Karbala, Irak.

2006 Balad, Irak.

2006 Balad, Irak.

2006 Balad, Irak.

2007 Bakuba, Irak.

2006 Halabdža, Irak.

Import, not export!

»The war on terror« lay waste to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also changed the geo-strategical map of the world. The American administration crusading policies managed to radicalise a great deal of the Muslim population from Mauretania to Indonesia. The enormous cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be a aubstantial contributing factor to the outbreak of the global financial crisis. Its unjust wars cost the Western civilisation much access to the third-world countries, many of whom saw their opportunity in turning to their new absolute master – China. Among other things, the war on terror triggered the Middle Eastern cold war; on the other hand, one of its most basic objectives – the democratisation of the Middle East – is a blatant failure. If anything, The United States and Europe only strengthened their ties to the many dictators of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In March, 2003, Baghdad became the target of a barrage of rockets emblazoned with the logo stating Operation Iraqi Freedom. The White House kept spouting nonsense about ‘the axis of evil’ and exporting democracy. But instead of freedom, Iraq experienced an occupation and then a brutal civil war. Much the same can be said about the competency of the Western democratisation of Afghanistan. The proponents of the war on terror were flaunting their resolution to free the oppressed masses, but their net result was to undermine much of what little freedom there had been to begin with. The ocean of young people that surged onto the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Manama, Sana, Damascus and Benghazi to face their tyrants with their bare hands proved that real socio-political change can only be effected from within. And it is vital to understand that the despots who justly drew most rage from their oppressed masses were mostly the ones whose relationship with the West had been downright idyllic.

The protesters that flooded the streets in the middle-eastern and northern-african cities are the real preachers of liberty, democracy and peace. They are the ones who defeated the late Osama bin Laden’s radical interpretation of Islam, they are the ones who brought about a genuine historical U-turn.

This is the worst disaster the exporters of democracy could have envisioned. After the uplifting developments of the last few months, they shouldn’t be thinking about exporting democracy: they should be thinking about importing it.