Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
An ill wind from the West


Another round of outrage from the "international community", this time over the admittedly dreadful acts against the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Taliban apologists are telling us that the destruction is an act of defiance, even helplessness, in the face of international sanctions that are largely hurting poor Afghans. This is a spurious argument, but I do have serious problems with the way "the west" handles those it perceives as its enemies.

Set to one side the very real vandalism going on now in Afghanistan in the name of a Prophet who probably would not have allowed the statues' destruction since they aren't being worshipped by anyone. Set aside the powerful and understandable grief among scholars and the world's Buddhists, not least in Nepal. But am I alone here in detecting a note of hypocrisy from the United States and some other protesting voices. I also wonder if the verbiage doesn't conceal a deep political incompetence among the current crop of western leaders when faced with a powerful challenge abroad.

First the hypocrisy. A Nepali friend who works to improve the lot of women put it to me succinctly and savagely. "The Bush administration in Washington is worse than the Taliban," she declared. "The Afghans are smashing statues and forcing women back into the medieval times. But that's out of ignorance and fanaticism." She reminded of me how President Bush Jr took office in January and immediately imposed a ban on American overseas aid money to going to family planning or womens' health groups that have anything at all to do with abortion. "With that, he condemned how many thousands, how many hundreds of thousands of poor women to die at the hands of back street butchers. And why did he do it? Is he opposed to abortion? Maybe, but why doesn't he have the guts to ban it in his own country? Why does he pick on our poor women?" She has a point that must be put to Mr Bush.

Then there's the role of the west in encouraging radical Islamic behaviour in modern Afghanistan to serve a redoubt against Soviet expansionism in the hottest days of the Cold War. All the warring mujahideen groups, whose internecine squabbling led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place, got encouragement, money and weapons from Washington, London and the rest. As for the Taliban, they were supported, at least subtly, in their early days in those same Western capitals, ostensibly because they brought an element of peace to a battered Afghan countryside, in reality because that western petroleum interests stood to make money from the construction of a gas pipeline from Central Asia to Pakistan. The international posturings and occasional actions of our Globo-cops in Washington, London et al have got us precisely nowhere in almost every intervention that they've undertaken. Was it the relentless bombing of Serbia by NATO planes in the late 1990s that toppled Slobodan Milosevic and his corrupt and evil regime? No, it was a Jana Andolan, Serb-style, followed by free and fair elections. Meanwhile, his democratic successors have a shattered country to rebuild and a growing problem with Albanian gangsters in the UN-protected enclave of Kosovo, fuelling world demand for arms, drugs and contraband. Mark my words, Slobo, or his much worse counterparts on the fascist right, could well be back. As for Saddam Hussein, he's still there, having outlasted two, possibly three, British Prime Ministers and similar number of American presidents. True, George Bush Sr did see his son beat Uday Hussein to high office. But that's only yet another mark of how the outrage of the "international community" has enhanced the status of yet another evil dictator.

None of this is to excuse even one iota the behaviour of the Taliban. They have done wrong, and destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas is reprehensible. Equally, I refuse to accept that the self-righteous words of Bush, Clinton or Blair, can mask their own countries' responsibility for the demons their countries may once have helped create, and have certainly sustained with their hatred and opposition.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)