The Washington Post, the highly influential American newspaper, reported that the top US general in Afghanistan predicted that the Taliban would collapse as a viable fighting militia over the next several months, and eventually accept the offer of national reconciliation from the US-supported Afghan government. This confident prediction was backed up by a note of caution; the general warned that the Taliban could still strike. But he was optimistic about the ‘progress’ of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. There is just one thing to note about this report; this prediction was made in April 2005. This month marks ten years since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the Afghan war shows no signs of abating.
Ramzy Baroud, editor of the Palestine Chronicle, remarked that after ten years of attacking impoverished Afghanistan, this war remains repulsive. Rather than making the world safe from terrorism, or crushing the terrorist training camps where the September 11 hijackers were supported (the stated reason for invading Afghanistan), the Afghan war has not only destabilised the region, it has embittered a new generation of young Afghanis against the United States, stoking the fires of anti-American hatred. The US has been fighting there not for the fake liberation of women, but to impose its exclusive military control over a region well-known for its petroleum and energy resources. Malalai Joya, a feminist activist and former parliamentarian in the Afghan National Assembly stated that Australia’s participation in this barbarous war is only making things worse in her country.
Afghanistan is rapidly becoming the host of a permanent US military garrison, with at least 700 US military bases in that country. This programme of building bases is rarely commented upon, but it is the platform on which the US occupation of Afghanistan depends. The base that is most heard about, if at all, is Bagram air field, the site where detainees are routinely tortured and brutalised by American soldiers. The Bagram airbase houses a secret prison, where suspected insurgents, and their families, and anyone unlucky enough to be arrested in the other decade long war, the ‘war on terror’ are detained and tortured. Some two-thirds of the prisoners held there have not been charged with any crime, and corruption in the Afghan police is rampant, the Truth-Out article documents. Bagram is becoming known as the ‘other Guantanamo’, the evil twin of the secret prison in Guantanamo Bay.
The United Nations has documented the systematic abuse and torture of detainees in Afghanistan’s prisons. The fledgling Afghan national army and police are being trained and mentored by US and Canadian troops, and the teachers are passing on their skills to the students. It is interesting to note that when the Soviets were in Afghanistan, propping up the socialist government of the 1980s, one of the main reasons the West cited for opposing the Soviet-backed regime was its (real or alleged) torture and imprisonment of political opponents by the Soviet-trained Afghan secret police.
The US war on Afghanistan, one of the main planks of the so-called ‘war on terror’ has aided the steady erosion of democratic safeguards and civil liberties over the last decade. Even basic legal principles, the right to a fair trial, habeas corpus, have all been violated by both the Bush and Obama administrations. The Bush regime declared that the doctrine of preemptive war would now apply – that means the US state has allocated to itself the right to plan and wage war on any nation or force that it deems hostile to its interests. This is a recipe for unrestricted warfare that was first advocated by the Hitler regime in World War Two; a doctrine outlawed by the subsequent Nuremberg trials. Obama has not only retained this doctrine of preemptive war, but expanded upon it. The ostensibly ‘anti-war’ politician of 2008 has escalated the militarisation of US foreign policy, and that is nowhere more evident than in Afghanistan. In his first two years of office. Obama has dramatically increased the number of unmanned drone strikes, the computerised warfare that is doing so much harm to Afghan civilians. Obama has authorised nearly four times the number of drone strikes in his first term of office than Bush sanctioned during his two terms in office. Obama the former law professor has become Obama the international war criminal and sponsor of state-approved terrorism.
Under this ‘war on terror’ title, Bush and Obama have created and vastly expanded the Department of Homeland Security, the hub of a police state apparatus. This police state structure and mentality is being used against anyone that the US regime deems a threat to its interests. The logical outcome of this martial-law ideology is the US-sanctioned assassination of its citizens abroad, and that is what happened to the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The extra-judicial murder of Awlaki, however repugnant his ideology, is the kind of behaviour that demonstrates to the people of the Middle East that the United States is a hypocritical power, professing liberty and respect for the rule of law, while violating liberty and carrying out acts of terrorism.
In 1985, after five or six years of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, Gorbachev began to ask serious questions about the viability of maintaining such a high level of Soviet presence in that country. By that year, the Afghan communist government was still fighting an anti-communist, Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. Rodric Braithwaite, author of the recent book Afgansty: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89, documents the strident debates within the Soviet Communist party’s leadership about whether to continue militarily supporting the Afghan communist regime, or seek some sort of negotiated political solution with the Afghan jihadist insurgency. From the late 1970s, the American government, the CIA and the associated intelligence community, began financing and training Islamist militias, the former landlords and mullahs that had been dispossessed by the Afghan communist government to fight and expel the godless socialists. The Islamic militants, composed of an assortment of warlords, drug traffickers, reactionary mullahs and tribal chiefs, were opposed to the reforms initiated by the socialist government.
Michael Parenti, an American political scientist, elaborated on how the Afghan socialist government, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) undertook extensive reforms in the country, introducing schooling for girls, a literacy campaign, education for women, legalising labour unions and seizing the large landed estates from the minority landlord class and redistributing them among the poor peasants. The Soviets had been assisting the PDPA government in launching agricultural projects, establishing health care clinics, and providing a secular education system. It took repeated requests by the PDPA government to Moscow before the Soviet leadership finally agreed to send in troops in late 1979. These collectivist policies angered the elites in Washington, Islamabad and Riyadh.
There were factional disputes that plagued the PDPA government, and these divisions harmed their cause. There were human rights violations, and the PDPA regime did use force against its opponents. But it also provided a standard of living for its people that has been unmatched by any subsequent Afghan non-communist government. The US sensed the opportunity, and they organised an anti-socialist jihad through their proxies in Islamabad and Riyadh. As Parenti explains “The CIA and its allies recruited, supplied, and trained almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from forty Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan itself. Among those who answered the call was Saudi-born millionaire right-winger Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.”
When the PDPA government finally abandoned Kabul in 1992, the former mujahideen factions began a civil war, fighting among themselves and devastating Kabul and the major cities in the process. The civilian population was terrorised, cities looted and burned, raping and killing Afghan women and girls, and returning the population to a regime of misogyny and servitude. The Islamist guerrillas were from the majority Pashtun ethnic group, and they began a campaign of ethnic cleansing, targeting the minority communities, such as the Hazaras and Tajiks. Heroin production began to escalate soon after the arrival of the main mujahideen factions in Kabul. Out of this cauldron came the ideological progenitors of Al Qaeda. The current US-backed regime of Hamid Karzai, traces its ideological ancestry to the fanatical US-sponsored mujahideen militias of the 1980s. The assembled coalition of tribal chieftains, narco-traffickers, and fundamentalist warlords that comprise the bulk of the Karzai regime do not care one whit about democracy or women’s rights.
Mahmood Mamdani, professor of government at Columbia University and author of the fascinating book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the cold war and the roots of terror documents how the American military-industrial complex financed and supported an anticommunist jihad for political objectives. As the disparate Islamist groups fought each other for control of Afghanistan after 1992, they devastated the country and could not form a politically stable, unified political authority to run the country. The former paymasters in Washington and Islamabad began to cast around for another force that could stabilise the country and effectively govern. As Mamdani explains, the Taliban were born ‘from the agony and the ashes of the war against the Soviet Union.’ A ‘talib‘, or student, studying in a madrassah – a religious school – was a prime recruit for the new army to be raised by Washington and Islamabad for the fundamentalist cause. Throughout the madrassas of Pakistan, religious students were recruited and trained by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. Many of them were refugees from Afghanistan, longing to return to their homeland. Promoting a Saudi-style purist, misogynist and ultra-reactionary ideology, the Taliban was born with a political mission and religious zeal.
In January 2011, Canadian activist Michael Skinner published a thoughtful article in the Socialist Worker that explains the strong financial and military motivations for the current US war in Afghanistan. After examining the history of foreign interventions in that country, Skinner explains that US policy planners recognise Afghanistan as a crucial bridgehead for confronting the main regional competitors for economic influence, Russia and China. Most of the economic development projects in Afghanistan are geared towards accommodating the influence and investments of private corporations, particularly energy companies. Rather than liberating Afghans, the purpose of this war is to liberate capital. As Skinner observes ‘If nothing else, the Global War on Terror opened Afghanistan for business.’ Back in November-December 2001, Lance Selfa, feature writer for the International Socialist Review, elaborated three basic goals of the US ruling class in Central Asia; projecting US military power into the area, undermining Russian and Chinese competition thus gaining greater access to the Caspian Sea’s vast oil and natural gas reserves, and increasing the US domination of the Middle East. These objectives remain the same until today. Afghanistan is geographically at the crossroads of a region that holds enormous energy resources. Establishing a secure pro-US regime in Afghanistan serves as the launching pad for further US incursions in Central Asia.
Ten years into this war, where are the American politicians with the same courage and foresight that Gorbachev had in his day? Are there American politicians asking the difficult and serious questions about the Afghan war? The one politician who has been asking pointed questions about the US debacle in Afghanistan, Dennis Kucinich, is a lonely voice in the US Congress. His plan to quickly withdraw foreign forces from Afghanistan was strongly rejected and voted down by the ideologically monolithic – ‘bipartisan’ is the euphemism – US congress.
Malalai Joya, the courageous and principled Afghan feminist, has written in her book Raising My Voice that all foreign troops must leave immediately. The warlords must be disarmed and their political rule ended. The US tactics in this war of night-raids, aerial bombardment and bribery of insurgent commanders to defect has only escalated the violence and created a climate of rampant corruption. All countries, the US, Russia, China and others, must cease peddling armaments to the various factions of warlords. It is this constant flow of arms that makes political life in Afghanistan a fatal enterprise. Empowering the democratic-minded and secular parties is the way to combat the influence of fundamentalism.
After ten years of escalating violence and destruction, and with Obama extending the war into Pakistan transforming this war into an ‘Af-Pak’ conflict, it is time to acknowledge that this is an unwinnable war. More than that, it has needlessly destroyed lives and caused untold misery to millions. It is time to mobilise political opposition to this war, and prosecute the war criminal politicians, like Obama, who are responsible for intensifying it.