Monday 1 June 2009

Could the Taliban be much worse?

If it were any other country, we would be calling for boycotts and protesting outside embassies across the world at the activities of President Karzai’s regime in Kabul. The publication of Amnesty International’s annual report on the country is both shocking and shameful.

Its summary is uncompromising: “Millions of people living in southern and eastern Afghanistan, terrorized by the Taleban, other insurgent groups and local militias ostensibly allied with the government, suffered insecurity that further restricted their already limited access to food, health care, and schooling. Indiscriminate attacks, abductions and the targeting of civilians reached unprecedented levels. The Taleban and other anti-government groups significantly expanded their attacks to cover more than a third of the country, including areas once considered relatively safe in the centre and the north. Increased military attacks between anti-government groups and US and NATO troops resulted in more than 2,000 civilian deaths. The government failed to maintain the rule of law or to provide basic services to millions of people even in areas under its control.”

The catalogue of human rights abuses is endless: a ministry of justice that refused to cooperate with the country’s human rights commission; trials for former Guantanamo prisoners that “failed to meet national or international fair trial standards”; failure to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses; the state execution of 17 people in 2008 and the upholding of 131 death sentences; the lack of a systematic programme for assisting those injured by Afghan and international military forces; the decision by NATO and US forces to continue to hand over detainees to Afghanistan’s NDS intelligence service, which is known to perpetrate human rights violations including torture and arbitrary detention.

Then there is the intimidation, both by the government and the Taliban, of journalists, several of whom have been killed or injured. In one particular notorious incident, in September 2008, Ahmad Ghous Zalmai, a journalist and former spokesperson for the Attorney General, and Mullah Qari Mushtaq were each sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for publishing a Dari translation of the Qur’an without the Arabic text alongside.

There are other serious human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians, both by the Taliban and by Coalition and Afghan government forces. There is little oversight of private military contractors. Several hundred thousand people in Afghanistan are internal refugees. Many women and girls are denied the right to education.

Where does this leave us morally? Looking at it logically, in the name of democracy we are spending billions of dollars propping up a backward, repressive, religiously conservative government. Perhaps you can live with that, but do you really think that the Taliban could be much worse?

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