Revolution#137, July 27, 2008

The following is from A World To Win News Service

Afghanistan: Protests against U.S. air strikes and home evictions

July 14, 2008. A World to Win News Service. Two notable protests against the occupiers and the Afghan authorities were reported in June. The security forces confronted them brutally, leaving at least one dead and dozens injured.

On June 14, according to the BBC Persian service, thousands of residents of the southeastern province of Paktia demonstrated against attacks on civilians by Afghan and foreign forces. Witnesses said that the protests continued for three days. BBC reported that at least 18 members of an extended family had been killed in an air strike. One protester also said that 11 members of another family were killed during a previous air attack in Zarmat district in Paktia province, in central-eastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan. The districts of Zarmat and Mateh Khan were targeted for three consecutive nights. The bombardment was so heavy that people had to leave the bodies of their many loved ones untouched for several days.

During the protests, outraged people chanted slogans against the invaders and warned the government and the occupiers that if this situation continues, they will react and then nothing can prevent them from rising up and taking revenge. Although the demonstrations started peacefully, they turned bloody when the police fired on the protesters, killing at least one and wounding 12 more.

One of the worst massacres of civilians came on July 6 in eastern Nangarhar province, after these protests. The U.S-led coalition denied initial reports that it had bombed a wedding party and insisted that all of the dead were “militants.” BBC reporter Alastair Leithead reached the village a week later. According to his report, filed July 14, villagers from one valley were crossing a mountain pass to reach the adjacent valley for a wedding. In three consecutive bombing runs, an American jet hit first a group of children, then a group of women, and then a group of three girls, including the bride, who had escaped the second bombing. Of the approximately 52 people killed, almost all were women and children who were escorting the bride.

It is especially infuriating that American authorities tried to defend their action by claiming that it is a typical Taleban tactic to claim that their troop concentrations hit by U.S. air strikes were really just wedding parties, since a similar incident—marked by similar American lies—took place in nearby Nouristan two days earlier, killing 17 people at a wedding. In fact, American aerial attacks on wedding parties have been a hallmark of the current occupation, just as they were during the Soviet occupation, since the invaders consider any large gathering of Afghans inherently hostile.

According to official sources, out of the 8,000 conflict-related deaths last year, some 1,500 were civilians. However the real number is much higher since U.S. and NATO and Afghan officials routinely count many of the civilian dead as Taleban insurgents or Taleban supporters. The Taleban and their allies have also killed many civilians, not hesitating to use murder themselves from early on and lately killing large numbers of civilians as they have increasingly adopted suicide-bombing tactics, their own version of America’s terrorist and indiscriminate “death from above.”

Protests against the eviction of poor people and the destruction of homes

The occupiers “gifts” to the people of Afghanistan are not limited to war, bombing, missile and artillery attacks and the torture of prisoners. In fact, their air attacks enforce and ensure the misery of the people.

Another protest took place June 12 against the Herat municipal government’s plans to destroy the homes of the displaced and internal refugees living in the “Sheidaee” camp five kilometers from this northwestern city, on the border with Iran and Turkmenistan. People tried to prevent this destruction by all the means they had at hand. They closed the main road between Herat and neighboring Badghis province to the northeast for a short time. It is reported that police fired at the demonstrators and that the protesters threw stones at the police. There were injuries on both sides. Thirteen people were admitted to the hospital, many with bullet wounds. The police claimed that some of the protesters had been armed. Police arrested eight people, later releasing three.

So much scandal was raised about the demolition of the homes of poor families who have been victimized by the war that even Herat mayor Mohammad Rafigh Mojadadi had to claim that what he had ordered destroyed were “illegally-built shops” and not homes. But western region police spokesman Abdol Raoof Ahmadi contradicted him with his own defense of the demolition, saying that the people had been building homes on state-owned land despite repeated warnings.

Over the last decade, about 30,000 people have settled in the Sheidaee camp near Herat. Many have had to flee provinces such as Badghis and Faryab to the northeast due to the growing insecurity, drought and famine; others were forced out of their homes by the local authorities. Living conditions in this camp are horrible. Over the past few years there has been talk of distributing nearby land to these refuges so that they could build simple homes for themselves. However, that never materialized. Now the municipality, with the help of the police, is trying to demolish the makeshift shelters made of sun-dried mud that people are living in. The authorities have tried to convince or indirectly force people to leave the area and go back to their home provinces. But the security problems and difficult conditions there, and the fact that many people have nothing left in their original region, have caused many to resist eviction, even if it means continuing to live in inhuman conditions.

In fact, the most important reason these poor people cannot go back to their original homes is that their land has been appropriated by old or new powerful people. They have nothing left to go back to. Now they face being driven out again because the land where the refugee camp is located has become valuable as well, which explains why the municipality and the police are so eager to evict poor people.

Land grabbing, especially in the big cities, is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. It started five or six years ago, not long after the U.S.-led invasion. With the return of many expatriates and the flood of various imperialist advisors, on the one hand, and a shortage of housing and land parcels on the other, prices sky-rocketed. So land grabbing and investing in property have become a popular way to get rich among powerful figures with government connections. Any house or lot that is vacant for any reason (such as the death, imprisonment or flight of the owner) is considered potential booty to be grabbed. If the original occupants come back, there is little they can do to reclaim their homes. General Ghassim Fahim, former defense minister in the Hamid Karzai government and a powerful warlord member of the Jamiat-e-Islami jihadi organization (the main organization in the Northern Alliance of warlords who supported the U.S.-led invasion), is reportedly involved in the land grabbing. Recently Ali Ahmad Jalali, who claimed to be “fighting corruption” while he was interior minister, was accused of involvement in a corruption scandal involving the appropriation of land for construction in Kabul. If some men are getting into trouble for land grabbing, it’s because other, more powerful men are grabbing too.

So when Abdol Raoof Ahmadi, the police spokesman, says that poor people must be evicted from where they have built their shelter because the land is “owned by the state”, he is actually partially revealing the nature of the Afghan state itself.

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