Two burqa-clad Afghan women walk past the war damaged Darlaman Palace in the west of Kabul, February 22, 2007, AFP/Getty Images

Why did our European and US governments invade Afghanistan? How many of us can recall the general rhetoric of a Just War fought in the name of an ‘Enduring Freedom’ to liberate Afghan women from the burqa and Afghan men from their long beards, as well as bringing to justice Bin Laden? The Afghan campaign has been a half military success, with US and NATO generals blaming each other for the other half failure, while Bin Laden, if not dead by natural cause, can celebrate Bush’s most evident flop. The Afghan war, while facilitating a new form of old corruption in the cities and capital, has increased the suffering of the rural population, often caught in battles of which they are only the victims. Yet some say that Afghanistan is now a better place since it is on the route toward democracy, though a fictional and corrupted one.

In the country the reality is quite dramatic, with an increased number of Afghan families relying on the cultivation of opium, which NATO forces tolerate to avoid reinforcing the Taliban insurgence with new alienated and angered, desperate people. Indeed the Taliban and their allies, as one respondent, who visited the country told me, pay their ‘seekers of paradise’, many of which are ready to fight for gaining their family bread, and in case of death, there is still paradise (in other words a ‘Pascal’s Wager’). Therefore, NATO and the US have decided to adopt less drastic measures than the Taliban did, with the result that today Afghanistan has an unprecedented record in the production of Opium. This is not the only negative side effect that Afghans have faced since their liberation. Today the country has for the first time seen people dying of HIV as well as experienced what people there often define as ‘western diseases’, prostitution and alcohol.

Of course, when people have more freedom, things can go wrong. Nobody, other than a blind minority, could, or can, consider the Taliban regime, with their unorthodox, tribal, interpretation of Islam an acceptable solution to social and political illness. Liberal Democracy, albeit suffering today a considerable and dangerous populist drift, remains the best system we currently have. Afghanistan now is considered a democratic country, collaborating with the West for a secure future. The European Community is assisting the Afghan government in the process of building a tolerant democracy. Italy has accepted the challenge of helping the Afghan government to rebuilt its legal system.
Bombs, destruction, resistance, insurgency, counter insurgency, terrorism, corruption, sufferance are high prices that the ordinary Afghan people are paying for a better future and the ‘de-Talibanization’ of their country.

However, we have now to ask how much support has the de-Talibanization. The reality is that the honeymoon with western democracy and values is ending every day more and more; the Taliban granted something that we cannot offer, other than betraying those same values we seem ready to spread even with bombs. Sometimes, in fact, we forget that our liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of political action, freedom thought and freedom of creed comes, like a powerful medicine, with dramatic side effects; the worst of which is lack of security and social instability. The new ‘democracies’ are not the only ones to ponder advantages and disadvantages. Today old Europe seems ready to give up much of the liberal freedom that we have paid for with the blood of millions of Europeans.

However, Europe, or at least some of the European countries, such as the UK, took centuries to develop its own tailored form of liberal (sometimes monarchic) democracies. Since 2001 the US and Europe wished to provide Afghanistan with Western tailored versions. The corrupted Afghan government, feigning innovation while maintaining Afghan warlord tradition, is losing even the last hopes of being seen as legitimate by its own people. The truth is that without the sophisticated alchemy of warlords, opium traders, and Islamic charlatan-clerics, Afghanistan would witness an acclaimed return of the Taliban and Mullah Omar. The reason is simple: it is better to suffer under one single band of violent fanatics than hundreds of them. Furthermore, as an Afghan respondent told me ‘at least [under the Taliban] we may still be under the illusion that deprivations and hardship are for the benefit of Islam and our soul’.

Two burqa-clad Afghan women walk past the war damaged Darlaman Palace in the west of Kabul, February 22, 2007. Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

Has the Afghan society changed since the NATO and US forces sent the Taliban back to the mountains from where their fight against the Russians started? If we leave aside the degrading effects of the War and the increasing differentiation between rich people in the cities and poor in the outskirts and villages, not very much has changed for the better for the ordinary Afghan people. Afghanistan, the Afghanistan which European and US politicians discuss, blaming only the insurgence and Taliban for the difficulties people suffer, is a masquerade. The demonstration? Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, an Afghan journalist sentenced to death for downloading material from the Internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies. We do not know what he was looking for, but it was material linked to the condition of women in Islam. I am sure that as an Afghan who spent time under the misogynist Taliban regime, he must have had legitimate questions about it.

Karzai’s government lacks even the attempt to respect basic fundamental freedom of speech and the Afghan government’s clear fear to upset Talibanish Islamic judges shows the incredible masquerade that the US and Europe is ready to accept about Afghanistan. Yet today we can read that David Satterfield, America’s Co-ordinator for Iraq, sees Afghanistan as the real failure of the forced democratisation of a country, what he calls ‘the bad war’. Maybe we have just uplifted another masque, the one which covered the real interest behind the invasion of this tormented country. It was a war of propaganda, a war which could have facilitated the acceptance of the real interest of Bush’s administration: Iraq and the redesigning of the Middle East. The hope of Afghan people and Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh’s rights (and possibly life) were never the real reason for the war.

Gabriele Marranci