WASHINGTON(IPS/GIN) – On the ninth anniversary of the U.S. military intervention in their country, a new report released in October found Afghans remain deeply distrustful and resentful of the impact and intent of foreign forces there.
Based on dozens of interviews and focus group sessions in seven provinces in western, eastern, and southern Afghanistan over the past year, the report by the Open Society Foundations found that Afghans tend to blame U.S.-led forces as much or more than the Taliban for the country’s continuing violence and instability.
“This reflects a growing divide between the perceptions of the Western public and policymakers and those of Afghan citizens about the intentions and accomplishments of international forces in Afghanistan,” according to the 25-page report, titled “The Trust Deficit: The Impact of Local Perception on Policy in Afghanistan.”
Moreover, policy changes adopted over the past year by U.S. and other foreign forces aimed at reducing civilian casualties and protecting the civilian population have not succeeded in reducing local perceptions of Western indifference or even malevolence.
“Overcoming Afghan resentment toward international forces and the Afghan government has been a key concern in the new counterinsurgency strategy, and recent policies have reduced civilian casualties, improved detention conditions, and increased strategic communications in an attempt to win Afghan ‘hearts and minds’,” the report said.
Indeed, a UN report issued in August found the Taliban and its allies responsible for 76 percent of the more than 3,000 civilian casualties registered in the first six months of this year, while U.S.-led forces were responsible for only 12 percent–down from 30 percent during the same period in 2009.
But “… these policy reforms have often been too little, too late,” the report said, noting that the “build up of mistrust and grievances from the past nine years” will make any Western-backed short- or long-term policy initiatives in Afghanistan, including possible efforts at reconciliation and re-integration of Taliban forces, much more difficult.
The report comes amid growing public pessimism here about the outcome of what has become Washington’s longest foreign war in its history.
That pessimism has been fed by a steady flow of reports regarding high-level corruption on the part of the government of President Hamid Karzai and his family; ballot-stuffing and other abuses in last month’s parliamentary elections; and, more recently, a sharp deterioration in relations between Washington and the Pakistani military–particularly its intelligence arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency which the U.S. believes is not only providing the Taliban a safe haven, but is aiding and abetting the insurgent group, as well.
Tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. spiked after U.S. helicopters, purportedly engaged in “hot pursuit” of Taliban forces, briefly crossed the border and hit a checkpoint on Pakistan’s side of the border, killing three soldiers.
Islamabad immediately shut down one of two major supply routes through its territory for international forces based in land-locked Afghanistan despite a series of official apologies by the U.S. and NATO.
Without Pakistan’s full co-operation in denying the Taliban and its affiliates safe haven–let alone intelligence and material support–most experts here believe Washington and its NATO allies will find it nearly impossible to definitively turn the tide in the war in Afghanistan in their favor, particularly by July 2011, the date when President Barack Obama has pledged to begin drawing down the 100,000 U.S. troops who are currently deployed there.
The new study also comes as the U.S. military is mounting a major counter-insurgency drive aimed at weakening and eventually evicting the Taliban from its traditional stronghold in and around Kandahar, which is also the heartland of Afghanistan’s Pashtun population.
The offensive is aimed at capturing or killing mid- and senior-level Taliban militants in the area, while enhancing the security of the local civilian population–a model that U.S. forces used with inconclusive results in the farming region of Marjah in neighboring Helmand Province over much of the past year.
But the new report raises serious questions about whether that approach can work, given the deep-seated distrust that has built up about Western forces not just in Kandahar, but in non-Pashtun areas of the country, as well.
While Western policymakers believe their forces are in Afghanistan to improve the situation, the Oct. 7 report said, Afghans, have an entirely different impression, based in important part on their experience of the last nine years.
“Incidents of civilian casualties, night raids, wrongful or abusive detentions, deteriorating security, and the perceived impunity of international forces have generated negative stereotypes of international forces as violent, abusive, and sometimes, deliberately malevolent in their conduct and nature,” it found. “Many (of the interviewees) were even suspicious that international forces were directly or indirectly supporting insurgents,” it went on.
“These suspicions, in turn, have fed into broader shifts toward framing international forces as occupiers, rather than as a benefit to Afghanistan. Today, each incident of abuse, whether caused by international forces or insurgents, reinforces these negative perceptions and further undermines any remaining Afghan trust.”
- Afghanistan: A war with no end ((FCN, 10-14-2010)
- Afghanistan: Marines’ mission doomed to failure (FCN, 07-23-2009)
- U.S. lacks capacity to win over Afghans, experts say (FCN, 05-15-2009)
- The “War on Terror” Exposed (FCN/Minister Farrakhan, 05-03-2004)
- Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States (Media Monitors Network, 05-02-2001)
- FCN Interview with Taliban Ambassador (FCN, 01-09-2001)
- Taliban in Texas for talks on gas pipeline (BBC News, 12-04-1997)