COLUMN: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Posted 11:30 p.m. Nov. 30

By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

MANCHESTER, England – Today we are learning how the Geneva Convention is applied in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, ruthless and murderous beyond a doubt, are now in retreat and the Northern Alliance backed by American bombers and Special Forces is sweeping to control surrendered territory. However, with each success of the Northern Alliance, come an equal number of alleged human rights violations.

We must ask ourselves; what is the price we are paying for our support of these people? Have we swapped one horror for another? London’s newspapers Friday featured front-page spreads of Northern Alliance troops yanking the gold teeth out of the fallen Taliban enemy with a long wrench and Alliance soldiers kicking and spitting on bound Taliban corpses, desecrating to the last their fellow countrymen. The words “massacre” and “slaughter” were unavoidable. The massacre, or quelled uprising, at the prison of Qala-i Janghi in Mazar-e-Sharif is difficult to ignore. Eyewitnesses at the three-day battle describe frightening scenes of undisciplined troops from the Northern Alliance killing prisoners still bound awaiting interrogation. There were no survivors from the 500 prisoners held in the fort.

The United States has announced that it is also formally investigating the alleged killing of 160 unarmed Taliban prisoners near Kandahar, apparently in the presence of U.S. personnel who witnessed but were unable to stop the massacre while filming an Alliance attack.

Amnesty International has called for an investigation. Yet, Alliance leaders in Bonn have taken the proposed U.N. peacekeeping force off the negotiating table, claiming that “if additional security is required we will provide it.”

When President Bush addressed the world following the Sept. 11 attacks, he said that either you were for the terrorists or against them. That if you were harboring or aiding a terrorist you were a terrorist and directly accountable for their actions as if they were your own.

This was the justification for our involvement in the Afghan campaign against the Taliban. However, if one is to apply the same formula to our own behavior, the “anti-terror coalition” is responsible for the actions of the Northern Alliance as if they were our own.

There is no doubt that war is a nasty business. And in a war many people, and many innocent people will be killed, at times needlessly. However, if someone were going to kill innocents in the name of America I would rather it not be a Northern Alliance fighter. The practical result of the American cultural recalcitrance at military casualties, for more than a quarter of a century now, has meant that even after the “acts of war” of Sept. 11, we refuse to allow our army to do its job of fighting war.

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has spent a majority of our national budget, trillions and trillions of dollars, on maintaining a military capable of fighting a two-front world war. However, when an act of war has been perpetrated against us we have used a proxy army in our place.

In Afghanistan, we have supported a rag-tag group of fighters, trained and armed by the Russians, and bitterly opposed to the Taliban regime. They represent a minority within the Afghan nation and are so resented by the majority Pashtuns that the United States has been reluctant to support them at times in their remarkably successful rout of the Taliban.

Their fate within the proposed coalition government is also up for debate. We have let the Northern Alliance fight our war for us, sustaining nearly the full measure of casualties, and when it is all over, we are asking them to surrender control of their hard won territory and join a coalition government that will undoubtedly contain many of the groups that they have fought so hard against.

War is a nasty business.

This is in no way to diminish the involvement of the U.S. forces in combat in Afghanistan. Special Forces have been in the country for some time now, and due to the nature of their jobs, it is unlikely that we will ever know the full extent of their heroism and valor in the conflict. American pilots have also been in harm’s way for the duration of the Northern Alliance campaign, and doubtless is the main reason for their success.

What have we now created in our legitimate quest for the supposed mastermind of the worst terror attack in history? As numerous thinkers, more familiar with the record of the Northern Alliance have pointed out, the Alliance’s record as rulers is not a shining example of equality and freedom that the United States would proudly support. Women, for example, are banned in movie theaters in the newly liberated Kabul, and the list goes on. If the Taliban is responsible for the actions of the terrorists than the United States and all our citizens are responsible for the actions of those we support and aid. We have felled, or will soon fell, one monster but with what are we replacing it?

It seems a bit like the French being happy to see Robespierre guillotined and the dashing young Napoleon sweep into power. The reluctance at sending American troops to fight our war against the Taliban did reduce our casualties, however, it also forced us to support something that appears out of control. The news of massacred prisoners and the refusal of U.N. peacekeepers bodes ill for the stability of the region we are supposed to be liberating.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.