Early Sunday, US forces opened fire on Afghan civilians inside their homes in the district of Panjwaii in the southern province of Kandahar, killing at least 17 civilians and injuring several others. The Taliban militants said at least 50 people were killed in the massacre. Villagers said the US forces later collected 11 of the bodies, including those of four girls under the age of six, and set them on fire.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been a major source of tension between Kabul and Washington.
By M.A Niaz :
Pakistanis were not very surprised when an American soldier ran amuck
in Kandahar and shot up 16 Afghan civilians, which came hot on the
heels of another incident of American callousness in Afghanistan, i.e.
the burning of copies of Holy Quran at the Bagram Airbase. Just as
Pakistan had experienced the Raymond Davis affair, in which a CIA
contractor had shot two Pakistanis, with his rescue vehicle running down
a third, and had thus learned the hard way that CIA contractors were
not benign presences who could be given the free run of the country, so
have the Afghans learnt at the cost of massacre in Kandahar and the cost
of being occupied by the USA. The common aspect of both incidents is
that Washington’s dirty little secret is out!
If Europe sent its
‘remittance men’ out to the colonies, the USA is sending out those
murderous offenders who, if kept in the country, would soon spray either
the children at a school, or colleagues at a workplace, with bullets.
It is an unfortunate truth that in a culture that glorifies violence,
the armed forces attract the very kind of persons prone to such sudden
outbursts. They are not many, and military discipline normally controls
them, but under the sort of pressure that Afghanistan is providing for
the US army or Pakistan for CIA contractors, such incidents are bound to
One major source of pressure is that the USA is facing
is that of defeat. Obviously, the agencies present in the theatre will
have personnel, whose careers will thus be negatively impacted. Now CIA
contractors and enlisted army personnel would seem to be out of this
pressure, but they would be under the supervision of career-track
officers who would exert their own kind of pressures, themselves feeling
the pressure that is generated by impending defeat.
factor is that the military is not like civilian life, where murderous
tendencies are severely suppressed, even on the penalty of loss of life.
The military trains people to kill, and going into combat means killing
others. For Muslims, this constitutes a religious duty, but for
Europeans, either there must be continuous reinforcement of the lesson
(that killing is ‘OK’), or the barriers must already be weak. There is
none of the holy war feeling in European armies, which must rely instead
on professionalism, and group feeling, to make people kill others. Of
course, something may go wrong, and some soldiers, or one or the other,
may lose the inhibitions too much, enough to run amuck.
an inherent problem with American culture that is avowedly civilian, and
that also glorifies the gun culture, which is guaranteed by the
constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms. A recurring American
theme is that of the heavily-armed vigilante, who shoots up the ‘bad
guys’, suitably dehumanised by being given comic-book names, from the
‘injun’, the native American, brutally massacred during the Indian wars
of the 19th century, to the ‘jerry’, ‘jap’, ‘chink’ and ‘gook’ (Germans,
Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, the latter two from the Korean and
Vietnam wars) of the 20th century.
This makes sense not just of the My Lai massacres, in which American
troops slaughtered Vietnamese villagers, but of the massacres in Iraq
that also learnt the cost of being occupied by the USA, as well as of
the non-US, Nato massacres in Afghanistan, carried out by forces under
American influence, even before the close contact produced by joint
operations together. There were two massacres by US forces in Haditha
during the occupation. The first was in 2005, in which US marines killed
24 and then Blackwater military contractors killed 17 people in 2007.
Almost as if in a rehearsal for Salalah, an Apache helicopter crew
killed 12 in Baghdad in the same year. These killings, My Lai, Haditha,
Kandahar, all took place under occupation, and indicate the nature of
American occupation: It is not just neo-colonial, but it is staffed by
The first sergeant, who committed the Kandahar
massacre, has been identified as providing support for a Green Beret or
SEAL unit of the Special Operations Command. Special operations have a
tendency to be more attractive for the more physical of those with
disturbances, as such units are not only more challenging, but they also
provide the best opportunities of violence. The USA, which has the best
documented evidence of problems with its elite forces, plans to enhance
their role. Thus, Pakistan has a virtual guarantee of further trouble
if it continues its alliance. Though not under physical occupation, its
closeness to the main theatre of operations, combined with its close
alliance with the USA, has meant frequent comparisons have been drawn
with Cambodia, but one effect that Pakistan has experienced has been
that of undergoing periodic massacres. Because this does not affect the
ruling class, there is a desire to cosy up to the USA nonetheless.
However, there will be more such massacres, because the American
personnel coming here are products of their culture.
been protests in Afghanistan against both the Quran burnings and the
Kandahar killings, and the killings are just more proof that the
American occupation is a burden. There have been three consequences:
Second, the incident has caused
voices to be raised in the USA for an earlier withdrawal of troops.
Thus, indicating that anti-war sentiment is so high that any bad news,
even if it is, as in this case, not a military reverse, will serve as an
excuse to pack up and get out.
Third, it is an election year, and such incidents are not going to increase the re-election chances of President Barack Obama.
main thing for Pakistan is to notice that such incidents have parallels
to what the USA has done in the country. While Islamabad is heading to a
reset of relations with Washington, which implies that the Nato land
route for supplies through Pakistan is to be restored, there is nothing
to stop the USA from being its usual, gung-ho, cowboyish self, and
incidentally killing Pakistanis. There should be no dealing with the
USA. That has cost both Afghanistan and Pakistan dearly.
The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.