Losing The War On Terrorism
The Taliban leadership have escaped unharmed. The Northern Alliance is brutal. So what are we fighting for?
Thursday, February 14, 2002
"In four short months," George W. Bush told us in his State of the Union address, "our nation has comforted the victims; begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon; rallied a great coalition; captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists; destroyed Afghanistan''s terrorist training camps; saved a people from starvation; and freed a country from brutal oppression."
The victims will be mourning and litigating for years to come. Not only is New York not rebuilding, it''s watching its corporate tax base scurry off to suburbia. The coalition is a gathering of real evil-doers, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that fund and arm anti-American Islamic extremists. The U.S. is no closer to apprehending Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammad Omar or their henchmen than it was back in September. And Afghanistan''s new interim government isn''t even slightly better than the Taliban it replaced.
"The last time we met in this chamber," Bush crowed, "the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school."
In all the ways that matter, they still are. Afghan women continue to wear the all-encompassing burqa, infamous symbol of Taliban oppression, out of fear of reprisals and terror of being raped by Northern Alliance soldiers. For the same reasons, they rarely go outdoors. Few schools have money to hire teachers. Women may be legally allowed to work, but Afghanistan''s male unemployment rate exceeds 95 percent. If and when economic activity resumes, male-run Afghanistan will take care of the guys first.
Nothing has changed in Afghanistan, simply because there has been no meaningful attempt to de-Talibanize. Well-known figures like Mullah Omar may be in hiding, but today''s Northern Alliance-dominated regime is almost entirely comprised of Taliban defectors. So while prime minister Hamid Karzai cuts a dashing figure with his green Tajik robe and impeccable English, the heavily-armed men ordinary Afghans come into contact with on the streets are merely gussied-up Talibs. Some liberation.
Nothing symbolized the excesses of Taliban rule more than that government''s orgy of Friday-afternoon stonings and amputations. "Our Islam is different," Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi, who took office on Dec. 24, told Agence France Press. Yet the Taliban''s Sharia law-a pastiche of Pashtun tribal traditions and fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran that served in place of a modern legal system-remains in full force. "People would not understand if we got rid of it," he said.
Judge Ahamat Ullha Zarif, a leading Northern Alliance jurist, described justice in the kinder, gentler Afghanistan bought and paid for by the American taxpayer: "There will be some changes from the time of the Taliban," Zarif announced. "For example, the Taliban used to hang the victim''s body in public for four days. We will only hang the body for a short time, say 15 minutes."
People who have sex outside marriage -this includes unmarried couples-will continue to be stoned. "But we will use only small stones," he noted. Smaller stones offer the condemned, or at least the hardier among them, the chance to escape. "If they are able to run away, they are free." As in America, this new soft-on-crime approach is contingent on cooperation and remorse. "Those who refuse to confess their wrongdoing and are condemned by a judge will have their hands and feet bound so that they cannot run away," Zarif explained. "They will certainly be stoned to death." The good news, such as it is, is that Sharia may assume a mellower form in some provinces. As law and order has vanished, a new civil war has fragmented the country into separate fiefdoms controlled by vicious U.S.-armed warlords. At the checkpoint separating the Abdul Hai Neamati and Ismail Khan sectors of Farah province in western Afghanistan, for example, each side flies a different Afghan flag. But both are equally committed to the identical core value-the joy of robbing and raping ordinary people.