It is as if the entire Washington press corps has forgotten everything any of them knew in 2001 and early 2002 and have no perspective on what is going on in Afghanistan now.
In late September of 2002 newspapers were flooded with glorious tales about the Northern Alliance â€“ and the NA deserved every bit of great press they got. It was the Northern Alliance that had checked the advance of the Taliban after the exodus of the Russians, and it was no easy task: The Taliban, funded by Pakistan and carrying both Soviet and American weapons, advanced on Kabul and took the capital. Within a short time, women were no longer allowed to work, nor to leave the house unaccompanied by a male. One mother was shot in the back while carrying her 7-year-old son to hospital. Her crime? Her husband had not returned home for two days, and the boyâ€™s fever was so high she knew he would die if she didnâ€™t take the risk. Oddly, she did save his life: She was shot in the back and collapsed, dead, on the street, with the boy still in her arms. Her son â€“ being male, of course â€“ was taken to hospital and survived. Her neighbor, a woman of 80, lost her left hand in the market. The sleeve of her burqa slipped down her arm farther than the wrist bone while she reached for an orange. The Taliban made an example of her, amputating her hand and lower arm right there in the middle of a kumquat stand. Soon came the brutal beatings beyond recognition, and public executions of women for zina were carried out in the soccer stadium to the cheers of the men who tempted them in the first place. Sewage ran in the streets of the Paris of Central Asia â€“ where women in the 1950s wore mini-skirts and went to medical school and were given full suffrage by the sickly, but kindly, Zahir Shah, whose uncles and brother sold the country to the Russians for power while Zahir Shah was in Rome for medical treatments.
After the mujahideen defeated the Russians, the civil war began. The Northern Alliance, led by the brilliant and spectacularly humanitarian Ahmad Shah Massoud â€“ who should have been the prime minister of Afghanistan â€“ was able to stop the advance of the rich and brutal Taliban only by blowing one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world. They say Massoud knelt on the ground and cried as the explosives went off. But as the great slabs of granite sailed down the walls of the gorge and filled up the valley floor with impassible rubble, the Taliban were posing for the cameras with big, expensive guns, faces swathed in homespun, and counting down the detonator to blow up the priceless Hindu Bamiyan statues for â€œidolatryâ€ â€“ the definition of which is to be read as anything not Taliban/Wahhabi in orientation. They screamed and danced and cheered the destruction while Massoud was sobbing on his knees in the north. The Taliban had already destroyed the exquisite frescoes in the palace and smashed the faces of invaluable statues and ancient artifacts. (Happily, just ahead of these â€œpromoters or virtue and discouragers of viceâ€ â€“ religious police or muttawin in Arabic vernacular â€“ the archaeologists of the Afghan national museum had hidden 80% of Afghanistanâ€™s treasures from the Taliban, and not one of them, for the duration of the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, ever broke).
So the Taliban occupied the whole of the south of the country, and the Northern Alliance, in the rough, mountainous north, protected the rest of the country from Taliban occupation. Massoud was a hero to almost all of the Afghan people for his spectacular stands against an overwhelming Russian force, but the Taliban wanted the whole country. Still, many in south were reluctant to see Massoud killed. He was more a hero for the Afghan people even than Abdul Haq. And Massoud and his spiritual brother, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, were Afghanistanâ€™s only real hope for a return to the normalcy that had existed before the Russian invasion.
Two days before 9/11, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar took an enormous risk. They ordered the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Punisher. They had to. They knew the United States would come for them if the 9/11 attacks succeeded, and that if Massoud were alive, the USA would have as aide an extraordinary general and really splendid leader. The USA would also have the first prime minister of the new Afghanistan.
Abdul Haq, having already lost a leg to the Russians, was still in the south â€“ and still resisting the Taliban and its ever-increasing replacement of the native pashtunwali legal system with ultra strict shariâ€™a law, aimed mostly at the total and vicious control of women and the subjugation of all religious minorities. There was no need to win hearts and minds here: an amputated arm or leg and a little acid in the face was, as they knew, all it really took.
But it wasnâ€™t Abdul Haq the Taleban and Bin Laden really feared. It was Massoud, who could raise an immense army, a man whom even his enemies in some way would always love. Al Qaeda had to eliminate him before 9/11. Two days before the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon was wounded and smoking from its ribs, two assassins entered Massoudâ€™s tent using the subterfuge that they were journalists there for an interview. One looked at him, and the sight of him inspired such awe that he froze. The other assassin shot his cohort and then set off a bomb hidden in a camera.
Massoud was blown to bits and died after a few hours of unbearable agony. That bought Al Qaeda time. But it America was in a drugged sleep â€“ and she was â€“ Massoudâ€™s death didnâ€™t go entirely unnoticed. A retired CIA, hearing of Massoudâ€™s assassination, tried to put through a call to the White House to warn the President: Al Qaeda, his logic went, would not take the risk of assassinating The Lion of Panjshir if there were not going to an attack in the West almost immediately. His message made its way through the veils and veils of vetting in the White House just a few hours after the 9/11 attacks.
Seven years later, on September 9th, 2008, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah led a rally in memory of his Massoud. It was Abdullah that Massoud had always referred as his brother, his friend, the one human being he really couldnâ€™t do without. And it is Abdullah now, who carries the banner of the Northern Alliance that is and always has been the only group in Afghanistan to overtly, completely, and with all integrity and honor oppose and fight the Taleban.
But what, you say, of Karzai? Oh, yes, Karzai.
The first thing said about Karzai among knowledgeable Arabists and Orientalists â€“ indeed by ordinary, reasonably educated people in Central Asia and the Middle East â€“ was â€¦ Karzai? They want Karzai? What for?
Karzai, a higher-up in the tribal leadership of the Pashtun, had spent much of the previous several decades as a playboy in the entourage of Zahir Shah, the former King of Afghanistan, whoâ€™d had his crown ripped off by his brother and uncles, who replaced him in a deal with the Russians, and who was now in exile in Rome, partying. Karzai was a thoroughly Westernized, extremely well-educated jet-setter with an absolutely astounding gift for languages. He had a terrible reputation among the holy of Afghanistan for his hedonistic ways, but he knew everybody. Eventually Karzai returned to Pakistan and threw in with the hero Abdul Haq, and a conscience took up residence with a vengeance after Abdul Haq telephoned his wife in Egypt to say he knew that the Taliban were closing. They shot him to death in a rocky pass just inside the Afghan border before the CIA could get a drone in to help him. The last recording of Abdul Haq is a jagged, noisy, desperately plea for help with time running out.
After 9/11, Karzai really did do a lot of very brave stuff. He made a deal with the CIA that he would deliver the Pashtuns, the largest tribal group Taliban stronghold Qandahar province. It qualified as the single most useful thing anybody could have done in the south. For six weeks Karzai made his way through the territory â€“ on horseback, on foot, on motorcycle â€“ sometimes five minutes ahead of the Taliban. And he delivered. He paid tribute to Abdul Haq at the river where they once rode together.
Now the Americans were coming. The Northern Alliance, now coordinated by a grief-stricken Abdullah Abdullah, moved into and took Masar-e-Sharif. While Karzai, largely on the demand for tribal loyalties, delivered Qandahar, the Northern Alliance delivered the rest of the country, coordinating with the U.S. military in Uzbekistan.
Then it was (somewhat) over. Karzai became a caretaker prime minister, and America and her allies poured troops, equipment, and money (always money) into securing the country.
And then the great betrayal came, and it came from Karzai and, unlikely as this would seem, from the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan â€“ the man who would become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations â€“ Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilizad.
What was the Great Betrayal? The Afghan Constitution.
Soon after Karzai came to power and the loya jirga was held, the Afghan Constitution, after some haggling, was adopted. Selling out the freedom and equal-protection guarantees of every woman in Afghanistan, all free speech, any hope of an independent judiciary and all press freedom, Zalmay Khalilizad and Hamid Karzai engineered a constitution with a repugnancy clause in it.
Whatâ€™s a repugnancy clause you ask?
A repugnancy clause is a clause that says that no law shall be passed that is repugnant to Islam.
What it means is that the entire judiciary, by default, falls into hands of judges of Islamic shariâ€™a courts, who may disallow any law they like. They may summarily arrest anybody they like.
Within two days of the adoption of the Constitution, one lawmaker was arrested, jailed, tried, convicted and sentenced for suggesting a law that the shariâ€™a court judges didnâ€™t like. Two journalists were jailed for complaining about the Constitution. Soon anybody who converted from Islam to Christianity of any other non-Muslim religion was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death. One young Afghan student was given the death penalty (eventually commuted to 20-year sentence) for discussing the possibility that women might deserve equal rights. A female newscaster was shot in the face in her living room for being on TV without having her face covered by a burqa. Is this different than what went on under the Taleban? Is it? No. Itâ€™s just a little less frequent and has a few more nice-looking frills hung on it.
In fact, what this repugnancy clause does is it turns all authority over to Islamic clerics. Period. That is what it does.
And why are men so interested in getting a repugnancy clause established? Women. Control of women. It was bad enough that Zahir Shah had allowed them to unveil, allowed them education, and allowed them freedom. Afghan women in the 1950s had every equivalent freedom to women in the United States or Norway or Italy. He gave it to them, he said, because it was the right thing to do.
Now, however, the Taliban had essentially retaken the country, only this time theyâ€™d had it handed to them by Karzai and Khalilizad. Karzai sold the countryâ€™s freedoms, he said, as a necessary compromise for peace in the land.
But notice that what is being compromised here is not the freedom of Sunni Islamic men. It is the freedom of all women and all religious minorities. And what else was sacrificed was freedom of Â speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the basic constitutional equal rights of women and equal protection under the law.
So, in fact, the â€œcompromiseâ€ that brought Afghanistanâ€™s constitutional Islamic repugnancy clause did not buy peace. It bought Karzai power, and that is all it bought. And it opened the door to the Taliban, because the Taliban have used it ever since to demand more and more. They throw acid into the faces of young girls because they go to school, and the shariâ€™a courts donâ€™t even try them. They kill women, and nobody tries them for it. They oppress or kill religious minorities. They run an extrajudicial legal system in Afghanistan that punishes people for breaking the rules of the Taliban, not the laws of the country.
Coming to the very recent past, Karzai, after seven years of selling out himself and everybody else, found himself at the edge of a very nasty precipice. Understanding, as he did, that his power was waning, and his support with the Afghan people was eroding rapidly, Karzai completed the descent into total corruption with two recent transgressions, both unforgivable:
(1) To buy the votes of Shiâ€™a Sunni men, he allowed them to draft a bill legalizing the total control of sexuality and movement of Shiâ€™a women. Shiâ€™a men demanded that they be able to deny their wives food if they did not perform sexually as often as and in the ways Shiâ€™a men wanted. And they wanted the right to restrict them to the house. The world human rights community screamed foul in the most vociferous of terms. Karzai appeared to back down, saying that he would not sign the bill into law. Then, secretly, he did so, acknowledging it within days of the election to signal to Shiâ€™a men that they should vote for him, despite his being a Sunni and despite his having allowed an incessant harassment of the entire Shiâ€™a community in Iraq by Sunnis, with their superior numbers.
(2) And, Karzai fixed the election. And everybody now knows it.
Forced now by the United Nations watchdogs and by the President of the United States to accept a run-off, a sulking Hamid Karzai just set the rules for the next election, to take place in November.
And Dr. Abdullah Abdullah now refuses to take part in the election, and he is correct to do so.
Why? Because the man running the November election is the same Karzai crony who had such a hand in rigging the last one. There is no way Abdullah can get a fair election, and he no intention of â€œpower sharingâ€ with the man who is, little by little, selling Afghanistanâ€™s peopleâ€™s freedoms to the Taliban and every extremist religious group in the country to stay in power.
The argument being made by the American press (as well as by Karzai himself) is that Abdullah should capitulate, let Karzai toss him a bone, and shut up â€“ for the stability of the country. That, Karzai tells us, will help ensure the peace of Afghanistan.
But as Abdullah points out, after eight years of Karzai rule, there is no peace and stability in Afghanistan and it is getting worse. Will another 40,000 troops help? Not if the prime minister of the country is encouraging the Taleban in everything he does!
No, six more months of Karzai wonâ€™t stability Afghanistan. The instability of Afghanistan is the result of the incessant pandering of Karzai to the Taliban from the very beginning. He is so accustomed to speaking out of both sides of his mouth that the Taliban know exactly what to do. When Karzai doesnâ€™t jump high enough, they blow something up, and then Karzai throws away more pieces of his peopleâ€™s rights and freedoms, which the Taliban gobble up, only to get fatter and hungrier for more.
This is the cycle that has gone on, and it is not Karzaiâ€™s or Pashtun or Taliban blood and treasure being spent. Itâ€™s Americans and Germans and English and Italians â€¦ Northern Alliance patriots and a few brave Afghan soldiers. They keep bleeding, because Karzai has not and never will take a stand against the Taliban. He will take authority on American firepower, and then he will sell his own people and ours to the enemy of all of us to stay in power and to keep the Pashtun Sunni tribe at the top of the Afghan tribal food chain. Oh, and by the way, Karzai has said he will welcome the troops that the Â Gates and McChrsytal want to send. Yes, Iâ€™ll just bet he does â€¦ more troops to make sure that there is â€œsecurityâ€ â€“ for him â€“ while he becomes King of the Taliban.
And that is why if the election goes forward in November, things will only continue to deteriorate. Because while coalition military planners try to hold off terrorist guerilla attacks â€“ the hardest form of attack against which to defend â€“ Karzai is feeding the Taliban with everything heâ€™s got. In what he does. In what he doesnâ€™t do. If the Taliban really wanted Karzai gone, heâ€™d be dead by now.
There is just one man left. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is not just the best hope for Afghanistan, he is the only hope for Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance was and is the only group in Afghanistan that from the beginning and to this moment, always and wholeheartedly fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They did it without us. They did without any money. They did it with courage and blood and guts and heart and soul and humanity and fairness and truth.
And the last one of them standing who has never betrayed his country and who will never sell either his own integrity or the rights of his people is Abdullah Abdullah.
It is a testimony to the failure of U.S. foreign policy from the first days of this conflict that it backed the wrong horse. Yes, Karzaiâ€™s help in the beginning was crucial. But he should have done that for his country because his country and his tribe deserved it from him.
But Karzai should never have been the prime minister of Afghanistan. That was Ahmad Shah Massoudâ€™s place to take.
And the only person to take it now is Massoud brother in spirit, integrity, honesty, and blood: Abdullah Abdullah. And Washington â€“ and the U.S. press â€“ should wake to the fact right now.
If the election is delayed, Abdullah may prove a handy scapegoat. But what happens to Afghanistan over the next six months, election or no election, will not be Abdullahâ€™s fault.
It will be the fault of Karzai and Khalilizad, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and a U.S. foreign policy that has been complicit from day one in a â€œpower-sharingâ€ racket that has placed authority in the hands of the very people who plotted and carried out the 9/11 attacks. It has been an appeasement for a peace that never came, and that never can come, because vicious authoritarian religious rule which enslaves the weak and buries all dissent is not peace: it is slavery.
And the only human being in Afghanistan who can change it now is Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Will the next six months be rough? Yes. It will be rough whether Karzai stays, is stalled and hamstrung, or ejected. But in six months the difference will be that Abdullah may get a fair election and Afghanistan may have a chance for the first time since the Russians marched in.
Letâ€™s hope for once the United States wakes up and does what is not only the right thing, but the only thing that will work â€“ that it stops trying to buy peace with the worst men in Afghanistan by selling out every woman in the country â€“ and that it supports Abdullah, whose integrity is beyond question, as the only leader in Afghanistan who can give this magical, beautiful and wonderful land the future it deserves.