Anti-West Riots, Resurgent Taliban Roil Afghanistan

Officials in Afghanistan have pledged to prosecute an American soldier involved in a deadly traffic accident in Kabul that sparked an anti-Western riot. Alex Chadwick speaks with Rachel Morarjee, reporting from Afghanistan for the Financial Times newspaper, about the rush-hour truck crash. Madeleine Brand discusses the Afghan public's views of U.S. forces, the Afghan government and the resurgent Taliban with Geoffrey York, a reporter for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Coming up, one reporter's take on the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. First, the news from Kabul after the huge riots that followed a deadly traffic accident on Monday when a U.S. Army truck ran into several civilian cars.

We're joined again by Rachel Morarjee of the Financial Times. Rachel, what is the latest from the Afghan parliament there?

Ms. RACHEL MORARJEE (Reporter, Financial Times): The parliament held a special meeting today to look at what happened with the riots and how they can avoid it, what they need to be going toward.

And it's called for the U.S. to prosecute the people that are responsible. They've called it compensation which the U.S. have already said that they're going to offer to pay the victims and the families of the victims, people who were killed and injured.

At this point, the death toll and exactly what happened on the scene remains very murky.

CHADWICK: Well, what have you heard from the U.S. military there? I've seen statements in the last day, I think, that the brakes failed on the truck?

Ms. MORARJEE: That's right. They said that the brakes failed, as the truck driver was careening down a hill, that he tried to plow the truck into a number of unoccupied vehicles to slow it down but failed to avoid traffic at a busy intersection. And the truck plowed into, you know, a number of civilian vehicles, we think around 12.

And the U.S. said that they are investigating what actually happened on the day. But they said that they don't feel that the man should be prosecuted and that he acted responsibly, that the accident was not his fault.

It remains unclear, however, whether or not the U.S. military did fire on the crowd or whether they fired over the heads of the crowd. What is certain is that a number of people died on scene of gunshot wounds.

But who was behind the guns is still very much in question.

CHADWICK: But you are saying that the procedure of the U.S. military is to look at this accident that happened and determine whether or not they would prosecute the soldier involved. And they're saying he didn't do anything wrong. We're not going to prosecute. And that contravenes what the Afghan parliament would want.

Ms. MORARJEE: Well, the Afghan parliament can make these resolutions but they don't have a binding power to see that they're carried out.

CHADWICK: Rachel Morarjee of the Financial Times reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Rachel, thank you.

Ms. MORARJEE: Thanks, Alex.

BRAND: Geoffrey York just left Afghanistan. He's a reporter for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. He says the violence there is a direct result of inaction by the U.S. and its coalition partners, a failure to make good on promises.

Mr. GEOFFREY YORK (Reporter, Globe and Mail): When you look at the strategy that they're supposed to follow, I mean, they're supposed to be doing the so-called three Ds: development, diplomacy, and defense.

But in fact it's the defense, the military, that's dominating everything. And as a result, most ordinary Afghans are only seeing the heavily armed soldiers inside heavily armored vehicles. And they're not seeing much reconstruction. They're not seeing much development or diplomacy.

BRAND: And worse, do they think that the soldiers are not actually there to help them but are there to support a government that they don't like?

Mr. YORK: Yeah, exactly. There's a great concern that what the soldiers are doing is propping up a very unpopular government that is seen as corrupt and not very moral. And you're actually seeing, among some people, a kind of a strange nostalgia for the Taliban regime because the Taliban, at least, were seen as not particularly greedy or corrupt themselves.

And so you didn't see, you know, suspicions about big villas being built in Kabul by politicians in the current government or suspicions that western aid is being siphoned off by corrupt bureaucrats.

So right now you've got the military that's basically in league with a very unpopular government. And that's actually dragging down the level of support for the soldiers themselves.

BRAND: And what about aid agencies, international aid agencies or NGOs who are not affiliated with the military? How are they received?

Mr. YORK: The big problem is the lack of security, the danger of their assignment. In Kandahar, for example, even one or two years ago you had about 20 or 25 NGOs active in Kandahar province. Now there's only about four or five.

If you look at the U.N. agencies, I talked to one U.N. official who said that, you know, his own agency, up until a couple years ago, was active in every one of the 17 districts of Kandahar province. These days, it's really only active in three or four districts.

So they've all had to withdraw because the Taliban has gained control of the rural areas. So, to some extent, what's happened is the western military coalition has wasted the last four years or so. And only now are they trying to boost their numbers, bring in more reinforcements from NATO and so on, and get out into the rural areas.

But the question is whether it's too late or not.

BRAND: That the Taliban have amassed too much power.

Mr. YORK: Yeah, and of course they don't need to really control the cities. They don't need to actually be administering anything or exercising power on a day-to-day basis. They merely have to paralyze the situation, which is what they're doing now, in order to kind of grind down the western troops and drag this out longer and longer.

The Taliban's gamble, of course, is to hope that they can outwait the west. And they are much more patient. And they see all the invasions and all the foreign troops that have come and gone in Afghanistan from Soviet troops and so on.

And they just think that they can outwait the Americans and the Canadians and just grind them down. And as the war becomes less popular, they're hoping that the western troops will eventually withdraw.

BRAND: Well, Geoffrey York, thank you very much.

Mr. YORK: You're welcome.

BRAND: Geoffrey York is a reporter for Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper.

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