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February 17, 2010

Ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan

Yvonne Ridley

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As I write this, two NATO rockets have just slaughtered around a dozen innocent Afghan civilians during the latest military assault in the war torn country.

Ordinary Afghan men, women and children are paying the blood price for a war launched by politicians from the West.

Soldiers, including American and British, who signed up to escape the poverty in their respective recession-hit countries are also giving the ultimate sacrifice.

And all this is being done in the name of freedom and liberty by career politicians who are dripping in the blood of innocents – weasels who will never have to sacrifice anything.

And judging from Tony Blair’s callous demeanour as he gave evidence during the ongoing Iraq Inquiry, being a political leader whether Prime Minister or President, means never even having to say sorry.

Until we introduce a new system, which brings political leaders to account, they will continue to operate above the law.

So expect an Afghanistan Inquiry in a few years time when the new generation of Bush and Blairs line up to defend the indefensible.

The Afghan Army and British and US troops have so far driven tens of thousands of innocent people out of their villages in Helmand.

Already the town of Marjah has been evacuated, as part of the massive military assault on the Pashtun population of Helmand. The operation is called Moshtarak, a Dari name for "together".  And together these forces are taking part in what is nothing more than ethnic cleansing.

Quite how the legal advisers to Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have sold this is beyond me – but I am not a lawyer, merely an onlooker who is bound to raise the question: “Why is ethnic cleansing being carried out in Afghanistan?”

Furthermore, I believe Moshtarak will sow the seeds for endless civil war in the future once the foreign troops have pulled out as they inevitably will. So why do I say Moshtarak is nothing more than an ethnic cleansing exercise. Well consider this…

3-5 per cent of the Afghan National Army come from the southern areas of the country. Most are native Dari speakers rather than of Pashto, which makes the ANA outsiders.

42 per cent of the population of Afghanistan is Pashtun yet less than 30 per cent of the ANA are Pashtun.

25 percent of the population are Tajic but they now account for 41 percent of all trained ANA troops.

As I said before, I am not a legal expert but I am surprised that human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have not picked up on this fact.

Perhaps it is something they are investigating, so apologies in advance to Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific director, and others if they are preparing reports on this very subject.

Surely questions about the ethnic makeup of the Afghan Army should be raised not least of all because it is quite clear that American and NATO policies on Afghanistan are not working.

The issue of women’s’ rights was cited as the cause for going in to Afghanistan but we know that there are not huge numbers of career women emerging from the rubble.

The liberation of Afghan women is not a priority, never has been and never will be until women’s rights are taken seriously in the West. We need to put our own house in order before we start dictating to others about the treatment of women elsewhere.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, the US, UK et al have failed miserably on the ground because they have only sought to promote the interests of regional powers.

I understand that there are talks, albeit backdoor ones, between the West and the Taliban by those who realise there can be no peaceful resolution to the problem of Afghanistan without engaging with the Taliban and giving them a stake in the future of their country.

It’s not rocket science, if they are excluded from the peace process, there can be no peace.

This is the real solution in Afghanistan.  Jaw, jaw not war, war.

Which makes me wonder by Barack Obama and Gordon Brown continue to send brave young men into a battle which can’t be won in a country where another set of brave young men want to repel what they see as occupiers of their lands.

And this latest military operation might see those same NATO forces being charged with crimes against humanity by taking part in an ethnic cleansing operation … history has taught us, if nothing else, that it’s the grunts on the ground who end up in the dock.

I have visited Afghanistan many times now, and the message I receive is always the same: “Get NATO troops out of our country.”

It’s a message from Afghan women who are suffering more hardships than ever and are nowhere near being liberated … in fact many of them ask me what it means. What they want is security, education, a decent healthcare system and jobs for their men.

And to reinforce that, I met the amazing Malalai Joya, Afghanistan’s youngest ever woman MP, who was suspended from Karzai’s “democratic government’ for speaking her mind. She told me: “We are trapped between two enemies: the Taliban on one side and American and NATO forces and their warlords on the other.”

But who is going to listen to a mere Afghan woman?

Well certainly not Barack Obama or Gordon Brown and certainly not Hamid Karzai.

Whenever I return to the UK from Afghanistan I’m rarely asked my opinion by the mainstream media, because I carry a similar message and if we don’t tell the men what they want to hear then they won’t listen.

But it’s a message I receive as I travel around Afghanistan  talking to real people not politicians – I don’t go embedded with anyone’s army and nor do I stay holed up in a compound in Kabul … that is no reflection or criticism of  journalists who genuinely do want to get out like me and talk to real people.

Most of them from the West are restricted from moving around the war torn country by insurance companies – I have no such problem since few insurance companies will give me any cover since my arrest and detention at the hands of the Taliban in 2001!

The bottom line is that the war in Afghanistan is not being waged to liberate women: instead it is turning them into widows.

Nor does the war have anything to do with domestic security … the Taliban pose no threat outside their borders and never have.

Can anyone tell me the last time an Afghan was engaged in terrorism outside his country?

The Taliban have not launched a global jihad, but they are simply doing what the previous generation of mainly Afghan Pashtuns did during the time of the Russian occupation … they are putting up a resistance to foreign occupying forces and a hostile Afghan army and police.

The ANA and the police do not represent interests of the Pashtun people who are the majority ethnic group in the country.

If driving out Pashtun populations from their homes under Operation Moshtarak is not ethnic cleansing, I’d like to know what legal advisers in The White House, Downing Street and NATO call it.

And if NATO forces hold the same reservations as me then it is their duty not to obey illegal orders.

Yvonne Ridley is a British Journalist and author of In The Hands of the Taliban which is due to be updated and republished later this year. She is also a presenter for The Agenda and co-presenter of the Rattansi & Ridley show, both of which are broadcast on Press TV. In addition she is a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition as well as the RESPECT political party.

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