Countries operate only in their own interest

Elton Wong

The United Nations has decided to slap sanctions on the impoverished nation of Afghanistan. Last Monday, protesters in Kabul burned a U.N. office to the ground, while other protesters across the country continue to attack other offices and burn U.S. flags and effigies of President Clinton. The sanctions were imposed last Sunday because the military government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, has refused to turn over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to the United States.

Bin Laden, a Saudi exile who is currently hiding in Afghanistan, is suspected of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, resulting in 224 deaths. His fundamentalist Islamic stance mirrors the attitude of the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mohammad Omar, who is called “The Commander of the Faithful.”

The sanctions have canceled the Taliban-run Ariana Afghan Airline’s only international flight, which flies to the United Arab Emirates. Afghanistan usually receives food, medicine and electronic goods from the United Arab Emirates. “No longer,” said Mohammed Daoud, an Ariana supervisor.

The poor of Afghanistan will be hit the hardest by these sanctions. Two weeks ago, the price of a kilogram of flour was about $1.50. Now, it is closer to $3.50. The impact will be especially great because much of Afghanistan is in ruins, and 70 percent of the capital city is reduced to rubble, after four years of factional fighting that ended in 1996 when the Taliban army threw out a coalition of Islamic parties headed by former president Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government. The economy of the country is in similar shape.

“It is America’s shame,” said mechanic Mohammed Jawaz, in an interview with the Associated Press. “To impose sanctions on poor Afghanistan when our people are dying, it is a shame for America.”

I find it hard to understand the logic behind these sanctions. It is true that Bin Laden, if he indeed orchestrated the bombings, is a terrorist who should be apprehended and punished for his crimes. This is only just.

However, it is unjust to punish innocent poor people to obtain this man. The poor of Afghanistan are not our enemy, but they are the ones who will starve. Bin Laden and Mohammad Omar will be the last to feel the effects of the sanctions.

Furthermore, it is bad policy on the part of the United States to support this action. By acting in this cruel manner towards the people of Afghanistan, the United States has created new enemies and laid fertile ground for the anti-American Islamic movement to take hold in Afghanistan. That is, greater hold that it already has.

When bin Laden and Mohammad Omar present themselves as heroes for standing up to the oppression of the western powers, the people of Afghanistan will believe them. Why shouldn’t they? If we as Americans think so little of the impoverished Afghans that we starve them to punish their government, I’m sure the people in that country have no qualms about supporting terrorist activity against us in the future.

The ironic thing is that America once supported bin Laden and his use of violence to achieve his ends. Bin Laden first came to prominence in Afghanistan in the 1980s, fighting alongside the U.S.-backed “mujahedeen” forces against the Soviet Army. I’m sure that is was only after bin Laden built up his anti-American-military al-Qaida movement that he was classified as a terrorist by the U.S. government.

This is a pattern one notices more and more in American politics. Take the case of Pinochet, the brutal military dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. His regime was based on suppression, torture and murder of his political rivals. About a year ago, he was arrested in Britain on a warrant from Spain and is currently in the process of being extradited for trial .

The international community and the news media celebrated the arrest as an example that no criminal is above the law, and that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.

These people conveniently forget that the U.S. government openly supported Pinochet’s coup in 1973. Furthermore, the General was able to remain in power thanks to support from America and Europe, in the forms of arms sales and credit. All this was considered allowable because Pinochet suppressed popular uprisings in Chile that were deemed communist.

When Osama bin Laden bombed the American embassies in East Africa, 224 people were killed. This is roughly equivalent to the number of Korean civilians killed by U.S. soldiers under a bridge at No Gun Ri during the Korean War. This many people will likely die in Afghanistan if sanctions continue.

No foreign official in a position of power would dare speak out against the United States about either of these things, not to mention do anything about it.

When looking at international politics, concepts like justice or law are not of much use in understanding the way things work. One should realize that the powerful countries will act to benefit themselves at the expense of the poor. When you keep this in mind, everything else makes sense.

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.