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Monday, Dec. 3, 2001

Afghanistan: another tragedy in the making

First Kosovo, now Afghanistan. In Kosovo, the election victory of moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova shows the bankruptcy of the Western, mainly U.S., policymakers who had tried to impose their own solutions. Expect similar mistakes over Afghanistan.

Kosovo began with an attempt by ethnic Albanian militants, the Kosovo Liberation Army, to drive out a beleaguered Serbian minority. Labeled in the West as an attempt by the Serbs to drive out the ethnic Albanians, the policymakers then decided to give full backing to KLA leader Hashim Thaci despite the KLA's history of gangsterism, gun running and drug dealing.

As I pointed out at the time, if the West was to intervene in Kosovo then the obvious choice for support should have been Rugova, who had over the years built up an alternative ethnic Albanian administration there -- schools, doctors, banks, etc. -- which the Serbian authorities had come grudgingly to tolerate. He had strong local support. With Western support he could have gained even more concessions from Belgrade.

But Rugova was dismissed as a wimp and an elderly has-been, as an impotent, scarf-wearing, academic philosopher. The young, handsome, dynamic Thaci was seen as eminently superior, particularly in the eyes of that feisty lady, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. When at the height of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, Rugova arrived in Belgrade to discuss a compromise solution with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the U.S. and NATO propaganda machines went into apoplectic condemnation. Since then he has had to keep a low profile, with his key adviser assassinated, probably by KLA militants.

Yet in the first postwar Kosovo provincial elections, Rugova thumped Thaci by a margin of two to one. If the West had backed Rugova from the start, Kosovo would have already moved peacefully to semi-independence. By backing the KLA, the West guaranteed the vandalistic bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, KLA bandit control over much of Kosovo today, intensified KLA ethnic cleansing against the Serbian minority, continued misery for many of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population, the need to indefinitely station NATO troops, and now KLA-backed efforts to destablilize Macedonia.

In Afghanistan we see the same policymaking shambles, with the U.S. today denouncing as terrorists the very people it once praised as freedom fighters. Claiming it was attacked because it was a democracy, Washington immediately solicited help from a range of ugly Middle East and central Asian non-democracies while ignoring Iran -- the one fairly genuine democracy in the area.

The U.S. says it seeks to establish a regime that will emancipate women and promote modernizing reforms. But that precisely was the goal of the progressive, pro-Moscow regime the U.S. was so keen to have destroyed 10 years ago; one of the more striking media images to emerge from that period were the bodies of a young man and woman sent to open a school in a remote village who had had their throats cut by antagonistic, antieducation, antifemale emancipation mujahedin supported by the U.S.

In the name of Cold War opposition to Moscow, a once viable society had to be destroyed, tens of thousands had to be killed, and the seeds of the Sept. 11 events were sown. Today the U.S. befriends a not very different Moscow as an ally for the further destruction of Afghanistan.

The same Cold War hysteria led to Western, mainly U.S., encouragement for the destruction of the Congo, Angola and Mozambique, unspeakable cruelties in Latin American nations ranging from Guatemala to Chile, the atrocity of Indochina, and 50 years of interventions in the Middle East, which also led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

In those days the mindless, blanket condemnation of "communism" was enough to justify this ugliness. Today we see the cultivation of another pejorative term, "terrorism," as yet another catchword to justify yet another round of brutal interventions and repressions worldwide.

U.S. President George W. Bush constantly refers to the Afghanistan events as a struggle between virtue and evil, between God and the forces of darkness. Frankly, I see little godlike in the world's most powerful nation using its overwhelming air power and keen desire to test new military gear to drop cluster bombs, fire bombs and "daisy cutter" bombs on a poorly armed people willing to fight and die for their cause.

U.S. opinion is understandably horrified by the carnage of Sept. 11. But how many even begin to understand what happens on the ground during a B-52 bombing raid -- hundreds of humans turned into lumps of flesh in seconds, with many of the survivors shell shocked for the rest of their lives.

These are not one-off attacks. They have been a regular feature of U.S. military strategy ever since Indochina. Total casualties go far beyond the Sept. 11 attacks.

In Cambodia the ceaseless bombing was largely responsible for the emergence of the Khmer Rouge, whose brutality, by a miracle of confusing cause with effect, was then used by the West to convince itself it was indeed fighting evil. We saw similar cause and effect confusion in Kosovo, with Serbs condemned for brutalities that occurred after, not before, the brutal NATO attacks. Even small children can handle cause and effect sequences better than that. Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it aptly when he said the dividing line between good and evil does not lie between nations. It lies deep in the mind of each individual.

Gregory Clark is honorary president of Tama University, and a member of the "Private Discussion Committee" set up in September by the Foreign Minister, Makiko Tanaka, to discuss international affairs.

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