West spins ‘humanitarian’ tale over Afghanistan, China talks up war crimes

US trainers in Afghanistan
US soldiers overseeing training of their Afghan counterparts at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Image: IDN/The Indian Express

ANALYSIS: By Kalinga Seneviratne in Sydney

To cover up the humiliating defeat for the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, the Anglo-American media is spinning tales of a great “humanitarian” airlift to save Afghani women from assumed brutality when the Taliban consolidate their power across Afghanistan.

But, at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, last week the Chinese changed the narrative, calling for the US, UK, Australia and other NATO countries to be held accountable for alleged violations of human rights committed during the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan.

“Under the banner of democracy and human rights the US and other countries carry out military interventions in other sovereign states and impose their own model on countries with vastly different history, culture and national conditions [which has] brought severe disasters to their people,” China’s ambassador in Geneva Cheng Xu told the council.

“United States, the United Kingdom and Australia must be held accountable for their violations of human rights in Afghanistan, and the resolution of this Special Session should cover this issue,” he added.

Amnesty International and a host of other civil society speakers have also called for the creation of a robust investigative mechanism that would allow for monitoring and reporting on human rights violations and abuses, including grave crimes under international law.

They have also asked for the mechanism to assist in holding those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials.

However, they were looking at the future rather than the past.

Adopted by consensus
The UNHRC member states adopted by consensus a resolution which merely requests further reports and an update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2022.

China was extraordinarily critical of Australia in May this year when the so-called Brereton Report was released by the Australian government into a four-year investigation of possible war crimes in Afghanistan by Australian forces.

The findings revealed that some of Australia’s most elite soldiers in the SAS (Special Air Services) had been involved in unlawful killing, blood lust, a warrior culture and cover-up of their alleged atrocities.

It came as a surprise to an Australian public, which believes that Australian military engagement in Afghanistan was designed to keep the world safe from terrorists.

Today, Australians and the rest of the world are fed by a news narrative that the West saved Afghani women from the brutality of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime, and now they need to be airlifted by Western forces to save them from falling into the hands of the Taliban again.

Rather than airlifting Afghans out of the country, China’s ambassador Xu told UNHRC: “We  will continue developing a good neighbourly, friendly and cooperative relationship with Afghanistan and continue our constructive role in its process of peace and reconstruction.”

Reporting this, Yahoo Australia pointed out that Afghanistan was sitting on precious mineral deposits estimated to be worth US$1 trillion and the country also had vast supplies of iron ore, copper and gold. Is believed to be home to one of the world’s largest deposits of lithium.

The report suggested that China was eyeing these resources.

Accountability for the West
However, such suspicions should not come in the way of calling for the West to be accountable for its war crimes in Afghanistan, which have been well documented even by such organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The UNHRC has not taken up these issues so far, fearing US retaliation.

Speaking on Sri Lankan Sirasa TV’s Pathikade programme, Professor Prathiba Mahanamahewa, a former member of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission who went to Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission on the invitation of the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission in 2014, argued that Western nations had been instrumental in creating terrorist groups around the world like the Taliban to destabilise governing systems in countries.

“At the core of the Taliban is the idea of spreading Islamic fundamentalism and they have inspired similar movements in the region; thus, it is a big threat to countries in Asia, especially in South Asia,” argued Professor Mahanamahewa.

“There are parties that pump a lot of funds to the Taliban.”

He said that in 2018, Sri Lanka (with several other countries) fought at the UNHRC to come up with a treaty to stop these financial flows to terrorist groups.

“Until today, nothing has been done,” said Professor Mahanamahewa.

Producer of opium and hashish
He added that Afghanistan was a large producer of opium and hashish, and the West was a big market for it, thus “Talibans would obviously like to have some form of relations with the West”.

In April 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected its prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s November 2017 request to open an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity during Afghanistan’s brutal armed conflict.

Such an investigation would have investigated war crimes and brutality of both the Taliban and the US-led forces and activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The panel of judges concluded that since the countries concerned had not taken any action over the perpetrators of possible “war crimes”, ICC could not act because it was a court of last resort.

In March 2011, the Rolling Stones magazine carried a lengthy investigative report on how war crimes by US forces were covered up by the Pentagon.

After extensive interviews with members of a group within the US forces called Bravo Company, they described how they were focused on killings Afghan civilians like going to the forests to hunt animals, and how these killings of innocent villages who were sometimes working in the fields were camouflaged as a terror attack by Taliban.

The soldiers involved were not disciplined or punished and US army aggressively moved to frame the incidents as the work of a “rogue unit”. The Pentagon clamped down on information about these killings, and soldiers in the Bravo Company were barred from speaking to the media.

Documented incidents
While the US occupation continued, many human rights organisations have documented incidents like these and called for independent international investigations, which have met with lukewarm response.

Only a few were punished with light sentences that did not reflect the gravity of the crime.

After losing the elections, in November 2020 President Trump pardoned two US army officials who were accused and jailed for war crimes in Afghanistan. While some Pentagon leaders expressed concern that this action would damage military discipline, Trump tweeted “we train our boys to be killing machines, then persecute them when they kill”.

It is perhaps now time that the US indulged in some soul-searching about their culture of killing, rather than using a narrative of “saving Afghani women” to cover up barbaric killing when the US-led forces were involved in Afghanistan.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of one of India’s top think-tanks, the Centre Policy Research, argued in an Indian Express article that terrorist groups like the Taliban or ISIS were “products of modern imperial politics” that was unsettling local societies, encouraging violence, supported fundamentalism, thus breaking up state structures.

He listed 7 sins of the US Empire that contributed to the debacle in Afghanistan. These included corruption that drives war; self-deception like what happened in Vietnam and now Afghanistan; lack of morality where the empire drives lawlessness; and hypocrisy, a cult of violence and racism.

It is interesting that the Rolling Stones feature reflected the last two points in the way the Bravo Company went about picking up innocent villages for killing. But Mehta argued that “the modality of US withdrawal exuded the fundamental sin of empire. Its reinforcement of race and hierarchy”.

‘Common humanity’
He noted: “Suddenly, the pretext of common humanity, and universal liberation, which was the pretext of empire, turned into the worst kind of cultural essentialism. It is their culture, these medieval tribalists who are incapable of liberty”.

Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University, writing on the Al Jazeera website asked: “What can the Taliban do to Afghanistan that it and the US, and their European allies have already not done to it?”

He described the Doha deal between the US and the Taliban as a deal to hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban.

“As for Afghan women and girls, they are far better off fighting the fanaticism and stupidity of the Taliban on their own and not under the shadow of US military barracks,” argued Professor Dabashi.

“Iranian, Pakistani, Turkish and Arab women have been fighting similar, if not identical, patriarchal thuggery right in their neighbourhood, so will Afghan women.”

Republished under Creative Commons partnership with IDN – In-Depth News.

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