‘Talks with Taliban better than continuing slaughter in Afghanistan’
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has released its annual report, saying the country saw a high number of civilian casualties during 2017.
Although losses were lower than the previous year, 2017 marked the fourth year of more than 10,000 civilian deaths and injuries. The report also says a fifth of these were caused by pro-government forces and international troops.
Last August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy for resolving the conflict, calling for a 50 percent increase in US troops.
RT: According to the UN report, a fifth of all casualties have been caused by the Afghan government and its allies. How alarming is that?
David Swanson: Extremely alarming. But even more alarming is that we know that these sorts of counts are five to 20 times lower than scientific counts and estimates done after the fact in a thorough way. And so this slight reduction in what they have been able to identify doesn’t tell us the real story. These are civilian deaths that are absolutely unnecessary in a war initiated by the US at a time when the Taliban was willing to negotiate. Just as it is now appealing to the US public to negotiate and Trump wants to send more troops, and [US Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis tells him he has to “prevent a bomb in Times Square,” when eight years ago, half way back to the beginning, the guy who tried to blow up a bomb in Times Square said he was doing it to get the US troops out of Afghanistan. And yet the US public heard about that. And the US public has not heard about a peaceful proposal from the Taliban, which does not represent the people of Afghanistan but has made a perfectly reasonable proposal to end this thing.
RT: The Taliban recently issued an open letter to Americans calling for dialogue to end the war and saying US airstrikes have proved useless. Will Washington listen?
DS: I think the Taliban, for all its hideous flaws and crimes, is absolutely right to try to reach the US public. The question is whether we can find the media outlets including this one, that can manage to try to reach the US public with that proposal and whether the US public can have any sway over their so-called representatives here in Washington. That is the big question. But the White House has made very clear that it does not want to listen and it will not talk with the Taliban unless the Taliban agrees to abandon and foreswear violence, as if the Pentagon is about to do that. The Taliban doesn’t represent the people of Afghanistan, who need to find a solution to the Taliban. But they will find that solution more quickly when the US stops exacerbating the problem.
RT: Are you surprised that the Taliban has issued an open letter?
DS: A little bit. I found it a nice headline to grab people’s attention. But I don’t think it was a headline on the front page of most papers or on the top of most television programs here in the US. And I think it is certainly should be. It is not news, it is news to most Americans if they hear it, as similar proposals have been in past years. And most Americans still don’t know that the Taliban was willing to negotiate turning [Osama] bin Laden over to a third country for trial way back when, that this was a war of choice and that it has been making things worse and worse with each subsequent year. It is finally time – as it has been since before it started – to get the US military out of there.
RT: There have been several serious terrorist attacks in Kabul, including on the Intercontinental Hotel, which fueled anger against the Taliban. Has this ruined the possibility of peace talks between pro-government forces and the insurgents?
DS: Anything is possible. It is certainly possible if there is the will. And if we can help generate the will to make it happen. The problem is the limited ability of such talks to represent the people of Afghanistan and shape a secure and peaceful future for them. One band of homegrown thieves and resisters against foreign band of thieves – not the way to plan a democratic and representative country going forward. But it is better than continue the slaughter of human beings. It is a first step in the right direction. And of course, it is possible. We have to help make it happen.
RT: Is there any way in which the international community could broker a deal between the warring sides and finally end the war?
DS: I think the international community could urge the International Criminal Court to finally proceed with what it claims to be doing, and that is its investigation of US war crimes in Afghanistan. I think the international community could begin a targeted campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against the US government here in Washington DC. I think the international community could demand that the US adheres to the same standards that it tries to impose on others and end its criminal behavior. And send in actual aid rather than so-called military aid to Afghanistan. You are not going to have paradise any time soon. But these are initial steps in the right direction that the international community could find the will to act on.