Saturday, September 29, 2012

The History of Afghanistan

The story of Afghanistan is in so many ways a tragic one. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished nations of the world. It is also one of the most war-torn, most ravaged, and most beleaguered of nations. It is a nation that has been repeatedly beset by invasion, external pressure and internal upheaval since before the time of Alexander the Great. Its people are a people who have endured more than most of us can ever imagine. In fact, for many Afghans, all that has changed in the last one thousand years are the weapons which have been used against so many of them. It is therefore with great sadness and respect that I tell the story of Afghanistan.

First of all, who are the Afghans? Afghanistan has historically been the link between Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. It is therefore a nation made up of many different nationalities – the result of innumerable invasions and migrations. Within its current borders there are at least a dozen major ethnic groups – Baluch, Chahar Aimak, Turkmen, Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Nuristani, Arab, Kirghiz and Persian.

Historically the Pashtun nationality has been the most dominant. The term Afghan, for example, generally is viewed by other peoples in the country to refer to the Pashtuns. The royal families of the country were Pashtun, and today the Pashtun represent about 42% of the total population. Tajiks come in second with
somewhere around 30%. 

Within the country there are tiny Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish communities, but the vast majority of the people are Muslims – at least 99% - and in fact many ethnic groups consider Islam to be one of the defining aspects of their ethnic identity. This is true of the Pashtun for example.

Islam was brought to
Afghanistan during the eight and ninth century by the Arabs. Prior to that the nation had been ruled by the Persian, Greek, Sassasian and other various Central Asian empires. Following a subsequent break down in Arab rule in the early Middle Ages, semi-independent states began to form in what is now Afghanistan. These local dynasties and states however were overwhelmed and crushed during the Mongolian invasions of the 1200s – conquerors who were to remain in control of part or all of the country until the 1500s, despite a constant series of uprisings and intense intermittent resistance to the Mongol occupiers. Following the collapse of Mongol rule, Afghanistan found itself in a situation much like what has continued into modern times – that is, caught between the vice of two great powers. During the 1500s, 1600s and the first half of the 1700s, the Mughals of northern India, and the Safavids of Iran, fought over the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Armies marched to and fro devastating the land and murdering the people, laying siege to city after city, and destroying whatever had been left by the invading army that preceded it.

It was not until 1747 that
Afghanistan was able to finally free itself of foreign rule. This was the year that Nadir Shah, the empire building Shah of Iran, died and left a power vacuum in central Asia.  This power vacuum was partially filled by Nadir Shah’s former bodyguard, an Afghan named Ahmed Shah. Ahmad was a Pashtun, and his Pashtun clan was to rule Afghanistan, in one form or another, for the next 200 years.

Ahmad was able to unify many of the different Afghan tribes, and went on to conquer considerable parts of what are today eastern
Iran, Pakistan, northern India and Uzbekistan. His successors though proved unable to hold his vast empire together, and within 50 years much of it had been seized by rival regional powers. Back within the core of the country there were a series of bloody civil wars for the throne, and for many Afghans it meant little that their lives were now being uprooted and destroyed by ethnic kin, as opposed to foreign invaders.

Beginning in the 1800s
Afghanistan’s internal affairs became dramatically aggravated by the increasing intervention by two new imperialist powers – the British Empire and Czarist Russia. The British were expanding and consolidating their colonial holdings on the India sub-continent, and were looking at the Hindu Kush mountains of eastern Afghanistan as a natural defensive barrier to prevent any invasion of India by its rivals. The Russians, for their part, were also expanding their empire, swallowing up several formerly independent sultanates and emirates in Central Asia. The two great powers essentially became engaged in a race for Afghanistan, and their fiendish seizures of land, overthrow of indigenous governments and reckless interference into the affairs of the remaining independent states in the region became known, at least among the European intelligentsia, as “the Great Game.”

Imperialists often give such trivial, and even humorous, sounding names to their interventionist schemes, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the peoples of the region experienced the consequences of these actions in a manner that they in any way would have interpreted as a game. For them the consequences were devastating. The arrival of European imperialism into the region simply accelerated, and made more even devastating, the wars, poverty and material destruction that had already been wracking the region for centuries.

During this time, on two separate occasions, British armies from
India outright invaded Afghanistan in attempts to install puppet governments that would be amenable to British economic interests, and that would oppose the economic interests of Czarist Russia.

The first, which became known as the First Anglo-Afghan War, took place in 1838. Outraged by the presence of a single Russian diplomat in
Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, the British demanded that Afghanistan shun any further contact with the governments of Russia or Iran, and that it hand over vast tracts of Pashtun inhabited land to British India (regions that are today part of Pakistan). Dost Mohammad, the Afghan ruler at the time, agreed to these humiliating demands.  The British, nevertheless, decided to invade anyway. The British seized most of the major cities in Afghanistan with little resistance, but their heavy-handed rule soon resulted in a popular uprising by the people.  This uprising forced the British occupying force, which numbered about 15,000 soldiers and civilians, to retreat.  Attacked by Afghan guerillas in the mountainous regions of the Hindu Kush, almost the entire occupying army was wiped out.  Only a few dozen Indian soldiers, and a single British citizen survived and were able to reach India.

This Afghan victory though would not be the end of Britain’s interventions into the country.  The British mounted a punitive expedition into the country in 1842, and recapturing Kabul, setting it on fire, and then abandoning it again.

A few decades later, British outrage over the uninvited arrival of another Russian diplomatic envoy in Kabul in 1878 resulted in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Again the British were able to occupy all of the major cities, but unlike the last time, the British got wind of an impending rebellion against their occupation, and brutally crushed it in a pre-emptive move. They did subsequently withdraw, but not before they set up a puppet ruler and forced the country to hand over control of its foreign affairs to Britain.

Afghanistan would remain a British protectorate until 1919. Things changed in Afghanistan in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which took place in 1917.  The Russian Revolution marked the first time in world history that working people had successfully seized and held onto political power.  This event was a powerful inspiration to suffering people everywhere.  It inspired a wave of workers’ and peasant uprisings that rippled across the globe.  Central Asia was not immune to this revolutionary tidal wave.  Inspired by the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent anti-imperialist struggles elsewhere, the new king of Afghanistan, Amanullah, declared his country’s full independence by singing a treaty of aid and friendship with the young Soviet Union.  He followed this up with a declaration of war on Britain. What followed was the Third Anglo-Afghan War.  After a brief period of border skirmishes, and the aerial bombardment of Kabul by Britain’s Royal Air Force, Britain was forced to concede Afghanistan’s independence.

For the next 10 years Amanullah carried out a series of progressive, and even radical reforms.  The country received its first constitution, a legislature was established, women were freed from having to wear the veil, a secular, co-ed education system was instituted, slavery and forced labor was abolished, a modern calendar, system of measurements and taxation were instituted, and the subsidies and privileges for tribal chiefs and the royal family were abolished.

More than a little surprised and stung by this turn of events, and worried about the precedent these progressive reforms were setting for its colonies, Britain began conspiring with conservative religious leaders and rich land owning elements within Afghanistan who were unhappy with Amanullah’s attempts to secularize and reform the country. In 1929, with British support, a reactionary uprising forced Amanullah to abdicate.  All of his reforms were quickly annulled. The country descended into chaos, with different warlords contended for power, until a new king, Muhammad Nadir Shah was able to seize power later that year. To give you an idea of the type of new ruler who now sat on the throne, it’s worth pointing out that the new king spent his first week in power looting and pillaging his own new capital city in order to fill his own coffers.  His violent rule came to an end four years later.  The son of a man that King Muhammad Nadir Shah had executed returned the favor by assassinating the King.  Muhammad Nadir Shah was then succeeded by his son, Muhammad Zahir Shah.  Zahir Shah was to rule for the next 40 years, though as fate would have it, he would also prove to be Afghanistan’s last king.

Zahir Shah’s reign, like that of most kings before him, was one of almost total autocratic power. The word of the king was the word of law. And while advisory councils and assemblies were sometimes called to advise the king, these bodies had no actual power, and in no way represented the people of Afghanistan. These bodies were made up of the country’s tribal elders.  It should be noted that “tribal elders” is a nice sounding term that in reality referred to the brutal large landowners and patriarchs of the country. And while some history books refer to this time of Afghanistan’s history as one where attempts were made to “modernize” the country – all this really meant was newer rifles for the army, the purchase a few airplanes for a token air force, the creation of a tiny airline to shuttle the ruling elite around, and the installation of some telegraph wires to allow the king to collect this taxes more promptly. Under Muhammad Zahir Shah’s rule all political parties were outlawed, and students were shot and killed when they organized protests.

Finally, in 1973, the king was overthrown and the new “Republic of Afghanistan” was declared. But unfortunately, this in reality represented very little as far as real change for the country. For the king had simply been overthrown by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.  Afghanistan’s new self-imposed leader simply decided to title himself president instead of king.

While it is true that under Daoud, a very modest liberalization took place, meaning that some of the most draconian realities of the monarchy were rolled back, by and large things stayed the same for the vast majority of the Afghan people.  Daoud was concerned with giving Afghanistan’s government more modern looking trappings to impress Western donors, but was not concerned with alleviating the grinding poverty of the working masses of the country, or challenging the power of the large landowners and the conservative elites, of which he was part of.  

Daoud’s coup though did result in rising expectations on the part of the Afghan people.  The ending of the monarchy led many to hope that things would change for the better.  More and more idealistic young people, for example, began to organize themselves into discussion groups and underground political parties.  A powerful political ferment was bubbling forth, at least in Afghanistan’s major cities, and this ferment would quickly prove too powerful for the old ruling elite to hold in check.

When Daoud organized his coup, he did so with the help of a small underground party called the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, or the PDPA.  Daoud and the PDPA had little in common politically; Daoud was a conservative politician, while the PDPA was a pro-Moscow communist party. The PDPA had aided and collaborated with Daoud initially though to end the monarchy, and in exchange for certain government posts in the new government. Daoud though quickly went back on his word - once he felt that he had consolidated his new power and that he no longer needed these controversial allies, he ditched them, and ordered a crack down upon the party.  Dozens of PDPA activists were arrested; the party was forced to once again go underground.

Daoud’s crackdown on the PDPA however ended up backfiring on him.  His crackdown made the PDPA a rally point for opposition to him.  A significant number of low-level government officials, university students, and even military officers, joined the PDPA and began plotting for how to rid the country of Daoud, and truly set the country on a secular, modern path.

In 1978 a prominent PDPA leader,
Mir Akbar Khyber, was killed by Daoud’s government.  30,000 angry Afghans turned out for his funeral.  Daoud was shocked by this outpouring of support for the murdered communist, and ordered the rounding up of all leftists.  Fearing that Daoud planned to exterminate everyone on the Afghan left, elements of the PDPA within the military seized power in a coup, ousting Daoud and establishing a new government, the “Democratic Republic of Afghanistan”.  This coup became known as the Saur Revolution.

After seizing power the PDPA began a series of reforms, such as declaring, more or less, a secular state, and that women were deserving of equal rights. They sought to curtail the practice of purchasing brides, and tried to implement a land reform program. But the new government quickly met with opposition from many sections of the old conservative elites, who sought to rally deeply religious elements of the population around their defense of the status quo. A number of tribal elders refused to cooperate with the new government, or to allow its reforms to be instituted in their villages.  The PDPA government’s response to this defiance was unfortunately very heavy-handed, which greatly aggravated the situation. Soon a number of rural areas rose up in open armed rebellion against the new secular government.

It’s necessary to point out at this time, that the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan was by no means a unified party.  Almost from its inception it had been divided into two different camps – the Parcham faction and the Khalq faction.  The Parcham faction (“Parcham” means “flag” or “banner”) was the more conservative of the two factions, and it advocated a more gradual path to socialism.  The Khalq faction (“Khalq” means “the people”) was viewed as the more radical faction.  It tended to advocate a more rapid path to socialism, and believed that it was wrong to compromise on issues such as women’s rights, and allowing any kind of formal role for Islam within the government.

It was the Khalq faction of the PDPA that had seized power in 1978, and that initially ran the government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.  Its response to the conservative opposition to its reforms was to execute many of the leaders of the opposition – both conservative Islamic elements, was well as more radical Maoist groups which it also viewed as a threat.  It also organized a drive to expel tens of thousands of opponents across the border into Pakistan.  Rather than break the conservative Islamic opposition to its reforms though, this heavy-handed approach seems to have only fanned the fire – and before long a full-blown insurgency had broken out against the government.

As can be expected, the Soviet Union took a keen interest in the unfolding revolution in its neighbor, Afghanistan.  Prior to the Saur Revolution, the Soviets had unsuccessfully tried to get the Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA to work together.  When in 1978 the Khalq faction successfully overthrew Mohammed Daoud and established the Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union quickly recognized the new government, and lent assistance.  It quickly became nervous though in response to what it perceived as the unnecessarily radical measures of the new government.  The Soviets urged a more cautious approach, and even encouraged PDPA leaders to try and cloak themselves in an Islamic veneer – suggesting that they start publicly attending mosques and talking up the more egalitarian and progressive elements of the Koran.   When this advice was ignored, the Soviets began planning for a more active and direct role in Afghanistan.

1978 and 1979 saw several power struggles within the new Afghan government.  While the Khalq faction initially controlled both the government and the military, the Khalq faction itself was divided between supporters of President Nur Mohammad Taraki and Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin.  The Soviets tended to side with President Taraki, and together they began planning to oust Prime Minister Amin.  Amin responded by having Taraki killed, and assuming the presidency in September 1979.  Amin then set out to purge his rivals in the PDPA, ordering at least 400 of them to be executed.  The Soviets decided now was the time to move.  On December 27, 1979 Soviet commandos descended on several key military buildings in Kabul.  President Amin was executed.  In his place Babrak Karmal, a leader of the more moderate Parcham faction of the PDPA was set up as the new president.  One of President Karmal’s first actions was to invite Soviet troops into the country to aid his government’s war with the growing Islamic insurgency.  The Soviets, with their troops already waiting at the border, moved 80,000 troops into the country on that very day.

The Soviets insisted that they were responding to the legitimate request of the Afghan government, and claimed that it was the Afghan’s themselves who had overthrown and executed President Amin, not Soviet commandos.  History has proven that this was not the case though, and that the Soviets did indeed impose Babrak Karmal as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.  I feel the need to point out, at this point in the talk, that while a Marxist, neither I, nor Socialist Action, supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  We feel that it was a violation of the Afghan people’s right to self-determination – and that regardless of how reactionary some elements of the Afghan insurgency may have been – that does not forfeit the Afghan people’s right to determine their own fate.

The Soviet invasion was designed to save the PDPA government in Afghanistan.  Their hope was that if they sent in enough soldiers and modern weaponry, that they could crush the insurgency and create a stable puppet government in Afghanistan, along the lines of Mongolia or East Germany.  The invasion however proved to be a fiasco.

While prior to the Soviet invasion, the anti-government insurgency had been somewhat sporadic and isolated to certain parts of the country, it quickly grew to become a much more formidable force.  Many Afghans, especially those in the rural countryside, viewed the Soviets the same way they had the British, Iranians, Mongols and other various invaders that had come before them.  And while the new Parcham faction of the PDPA, which now controlled the Afghan government, attempted to present its government as pro-Islamic, it was largely unsuccessful in convincing the public in this regard.  Opponents of the government continued to claim that is was an atheist puppet regime of the Soviets. 

Islam instead became the primary rallying point of the insurgency.  The smaller Maoist lead insurgency was largely wiped out by the early 1980s, having been consistently and effectively targeted by the PDPA, the Soviets and the Islamic fundamentalists.  As a result of the now thoroughly Islamic flavor of the insurgents, they became known as the Mujahideen – holy warriors.  Many became based in the growing refugee camps located across the border in Pakistan, though some were based in the refugee camps located within Iran, or operated out of some of the more inaccessible mountainous regions within Afghanistan itself.

For its part, the United States government initially paid little attention to the PDPA revolution in Afghanistan; its attention was instead focused to the west, where a popular, anti-imperialist revolution has overthrown the U.S.’s most valuable Middle East ally, the brutal and autocratic Shah of Iran. This changed of course once the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan. The United States government quickly saw in the Mujahideen an opportunity to give their Soviet rivals a bloody nose. 

The Central Intelligence Agency was assigned to aid the Muhahideen with training and weapons.  The CIA’s aid was rather modest for the first couple of years, but by the mid-1980s the U.S. was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons into the conflict each year – making it the largest covert operation in history.  And on top of the massive U.S. military aid to the Mujahideen - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Egypt and the Peoples Republic of China each contributed tens of millions of dollars more in money and weapons, along with military advisors and other aid.  And it addition to money and weapons, some reactionary Arab states even allowed hundreds of their citizens to go and join the Mujahideen as volunteers as part of a global holy war against communism and secularism.  The young Osama bin Laden, for example, was one of these Arab volunteers of the time.

After offensive after offensive, year after year, gradually the Soviet military became discouraged by its inability to crush the insurgency. They were able to occupy and hold all of the major cities, just at the British imperialists had been able to the century before, but they were unable to subjugate the countryside. Soviet causalities began to mount dramatically, and with the CIA’s providing the Mujahideen with advanced Stinger missiles, even their control of the air was becoming a costly affair. 

Finally, in early 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew its troops, leaving the PDPA government to fend for itself. By the end of that year the Berlin Wall came down in Eastern Europe, and soon the Stalinist regimes throughout the Soviet Bloc came tumbling down.  The United States then lost interest in its mercenary forces now that they had accomplished their mission of bleeding the Soviets dry. The various Mujahideen factions, who had always had maintained only a very tenuous alliance amongst themselves, turned on each other and began fighting as much with themselves as with the PDPA government.

To the surprise of many, at least those who were still watching, the PDPA government of Afghanistan did not immediately collapse with the withdrawal of the Soviet Union.  In fact it survived for another three years.  It did so by basically adopting a strategy very similar to the one currently being carried out by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq.  It resigned itself to basically just ruling over Afghanistan’s major cities, where it still had some support, and was able to maintain a professional army, women’s militias, and other forces to maintain control.  It then used its ability to print money to buy off many of the rural local warlords and armed factions to serve as nominally pro-government militias, who were then given virtually total control of their respective areas.  This allowed the PDPA’s military, particularly its air force, to focus all of its resources on containing the more did-hard Mujahideen factions based out of Pakistan.

Things began to unravel though in 1992 as the PDPA government began to run out of money.  Not possessing its own printing presses for making currency, it had printed its money in the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union dissolved on Dec. 25, 1991, which led to the end of Afghan government’s access to Russian printing presses.  No printing presses, no money, no money, no bribed militias.  In March of 1992, General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Uzbek militia in the northern part of the country, angry at no longer being paid, switched sides and began a march towards Kabul.  Several other local warlords and militias also quickly switched sides, along with several divisions of the army and air force made up of disaffected members of the Khalq faction of the PDPA defected to Dostum.  As a result, the PDPA government’s whole military quickly began to collapse.  On April 17, 1992, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s last president, Mohammad Najibullah, resigned and fled to the United Nations compound in Kabul.

What followed was bloody chaos.  Different Mujahideen warlords occupied different cities and regions of the country, looting, raping, murdering their new subjects in a frenzy to enrich themselves and to try and snuff out the secular remnants of the PDPA regime.  While fighting frequently broke out between the different factions, they did manage to briefly cobble together the semblance of a new national government, which they called the Islamic State of Afghanistan. Burhanuddin Rabbani, one of the major Mujahideen warlords, was made president.  Soon though, all the Rabbani could claim to control was capital of Kabul itself.  Most warlords began to pay little, if any attention to the dictates of the new central government.

A civil war broke out.  The civil war quickly took on an ethnic dimension, with many of the warlords seeking to base their militias on their own ethnic groups, and leading them in pillaging raids against other ethnic groups.  Soon every major ethnic group in Afghanistan, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbecks, Hazaras, Turkmens, Nuristanis, etc. each had at least one, if not several, armed factions entering the fray.  And while the warlords tried to make the civil war one based on ethnic groups, in reality it was little more than a naked grab for power and resources by different factions of the country’s conservative elites.  The workers and peasants of the country, of all ethnic groups, ended up paying the price.

By August of 1992 even the capital city of Kabul was divided, with President Rabbani’s forces controlling parts of it, and other parts of it controlled by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the other prominent Mujahideen warlords.  Large sections of the city were destroyed – most of which has still not been rebuilt to this day.

During the next couple of years there were several attempts by the Mujahideen warlords to patch things up, but fighting inevitably broke again after each failed ceasefire.  Meanwhile thousands of civilians died, the economy ground to a complete halt and women were once again forced to wear the veil.

While the CIA, after having done such a fine job of instigating unrest and warfare in the 1980s, could care less about the aftermath, the government of Pakistan did maintain an active interest in the unfolding civil war in Afghanistan.  Itself a prison house of various nationalities, the ruling class of Pakistan became worried about the potential for Afghanistan’s turmoil to spill across its own borders. To prevent this from happening, Pakistan’s Intelligence Services were tasked with creating a new force to intervene and restore order in Afghanistan.  They turned to a budding Islamic fundamentalist student movement that was taking root in the Afghan refugee camps, which still dotted the western border regions of Pakistan.  This new movement became known as the Taliban (which is Pashtun for “students”).  Its leadership, and the bulk of its initial ranks, were made up of young people, almost entirely Pashtuns, motivated by the belief that they were ordained to bring stability and the ways of Allah back to their war torn land. They railed against the corruption, greed and factionalism of the contending Mujahadeen factions inside Afghanistan.

The new movement soon began conducting military operations on the Afghan side of the border.  In 1994 it achieved its first major victory when it captured the important southern city of Kandahar.  In 1995 they captured the important western city of Heart.  In September of 1996 they occupied Kabul, and declared a new government for the country, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Initially the Taliban were welcomed in many of the parts of the country.  Their seizing power at least ended the bloody civil war that had wracked the majority of the country since the collapse of the PDPA government.  The economy to begin to recover a bit, and a semblance of normal everyday life returned to some parts of the nation.  It also managed to eradicate the opium poppy trade, and a lot of the armed banditry that had plagued much of the country.  But it also rounded up and murdered numerous communists, and other dissidents.  And while the plight of women had been deplorable under the Mujahideen warlords, under the Taliban the banning of women from jobs and from school, as well as the requirement to wear the veil, became even more firmly enshrined in the law, and were now more violently enforced.

The Taliban however was never able to successfully occupy all of the country.  An alliance of the remaining Mujahideen warlords retreated to the north, where they tried to maintain their Islamic State of Afghanistan government.  In the West this alliance of warlords is always called the Northern Alliance, but it has always called itself the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.  During the rest of this talk though I’ll refer to it as the Northern Alliance for convenience sake.  The Northern Alliance continued to receive substantial support throughout the 1990s from Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Turkey and Iran. It attempted to retake Kabul in late 1996, but failed.  By 2001, after a series of military reversals and mutinies, the Northern Alliance had been reduced to holding only 10% of the country.

The Taliban, though, despite its military victories, had difficulty in securing international recognition for its government.  During the whole time of its existence, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was able to win diplomatic recognition from only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  The Taliban’s seizure and brutal murder of former PDPA president Najibullah from the United Nations compound in Kabul in 1996 was denounced by almost every country, including Islamic countries, as a violation of international law.  The Taliban also received international condemnation for its murder of a number of Iranian diplomats in the country in 1998, the blowing up of historic Buddhist statues, and its deplorable human rights record.

The Taliban was far from unique though as far as brutal regimes go.  In fact by many measures, it was a less brutal regime than the one it had replaced.  Regardless, the western imperialist countries were content to continue to ignore the plight of the Afghan people until events unfolded on their own soil.

As was mentioned earlier, a number of Islamic fundamentalists from Arab Gulf countries flocked to join the Mujahideen in its fight against the Soviets in the 1980s.  After the Soviets withdrew, most of these Arab volunteers went home, including Osama bin Laden.  Osama was the son of a Saudi billionaire who made his fortune, in part, in the construction industry.  Back in Saudi Arabia, Osama was initially welcomed as a great hero, who had helped bring down the secular Soviet Union.  Shortly afterwards though he had a falling out with the Saudi government when he called on the Saudi king to not allow American forces into the country in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  Bin Laden called for an all Arab force to liberate Kuwait instead.  The Saudi government replied by putting Osama under house arrest.  He slipped out of the country in 1992 and moved to the Sudan.  In 1996 he moved back to Afghanistan, where he began to assemble his supporters, and set up training bases for him movement, which is commonly referred to in the West as Al-Qaeda.  The U.S. claims that bin Laden and his organization were behind the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa.  In response to these bombings, the U.S. bombed several targets on Aug. 20, 1998 in the Sudan and Afghanistan that it claimed were connected to Bin Laden.  It was during these attacks that U.S. missiles destroyed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, where 50% of Sudan's medications for both people and animals were manufactured. The Clinton Administration claimed that there was ample evidence to prove that the plant produced chemical weapons, but a thorough investigation after the missile strikes revealed that this was not true.  Also, during this time, despite the fact that it was against U.S. law to do so, President Clinton issued an order calling for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.  The U.S. however was unable to kill him, and the Taliban continued to grant Osama sanctuary, stating that it had no evidence that he had committed any crime.

Then came 9/11.  Within days of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the U.S. government demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden.  The Taliban replied that it could only do so if it was presented with evidence of his wrong doing.  It should be noted that initially Osama publicly denied being behind the attacks, and it has also become accepted that the Taliban was not informed of the attacks before they happened, and it fact was quite furious with Bin Laden about the situation.  Nevertheless, the U.S. refused to turn over any evidence to the Taliban government.  Early on Oct. 7, the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial in an Islamic court in Afghanistan.  The U.S. refused this offer, and later that same day, together with Afghanistan’s old colonial master, Britain, began bombing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

On Oct. 14, seven days into the U.S./British bombing campaign, the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden to a third country for trial, if the bombing halted and they were shown evidence of his involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks. This final offer was also rejected by U.S. President Bush, who declared, "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt.”  The bombing continued, including carpet bombing by huge B-52 bombers.  Thousands of innocent civilians were killed.  Adding to the carnage was the dropping by the U.S. of thousands of cluster bombs, colored and shaped much like the aid packages that were also being dropped over parts of the country – resulting in numerous children and others being killed or seriously injured by these yellow munitions.

The U.S. left almost all of the ground fighting to its new found allies, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.  Tons of military aid was airlifted into the Northern Alliance held part of the country, and the U.S. and U,K. waged a massive air attack against Taliban forces facing the Northern Alliance.  A major showdown took place between the Taliban and Northern Alliance near the city of Mazar-E-Sharif on Nov. 9, which resulted in a Northern Alliance victory.  Shocked by this defeat, many of the Taliban's soldiers, now questioning whether God was on their side, deserted, resulting in a sudden collapse of much of the Taliban’s military.

The Northern Alliance now drove south, and on Nov. 12 it occupied Kabul.  Soon the Taliban was reduced to holding only a couple of pockets of the country – Kunduz in the north, Kandahar in the South, and the mountainous area around Tora Bora on the Pakistan border.  By the end of December even those strongholds had fallen, leaving the remnants of the Taliban to flee into the countryside.

In the wake of the Taliban’s collapse the U.S. military flew into Afghanistan’s major cities and set up a military occupation government.  They began casting around for an Afghan to serve as a local face for their operation.  It didn’t take long for them to find their man – Hamid Karzai.

Who is Hamid Karzai?  An ethnic Pashtun, Karzai hails from a wealthy family that were active supporters of the country’s old monarchy.  In the 1980s he was a fundraiser for the Mujahideen, and he developed a close relationship with the CIA, and in particular with CIA head William Casey and with Vice President George H.W. Bush.  After the Mujahideen took over in 1992, he initially served at the country’s foreign minister.  He later had a falling out with the Mujahideen, and became an early supporter of the Taliban.  Karzai broke with the Taliban in the late 1990s after a member of his family was killed by them.  Living in exile in Pakistan, he spent the next couple of years actively promoting the idea of bringing back the Afghan monarchy.  Around the time of 9/11, Karzai, together with some of his supporters, went to northern Afghanistan to join the Northern Alliance.  In fact, during the U.S. air war, Karzai’s military unit was mistakenly attacked by U.S. warplanes, and Karzai was hurt in the explosion, with a number of his facial nerves being damaged.

When the U.S. occupiers were looking for a local Afghan to serve as their mouthpiece, they seized upon Karzai because of his previous connections with government officials in the U.S.  In December of 2001 the U.S. maneuvered to have Karzai chosen as the President of the Afghan Transitional Administration at a gathering of various tribal elders and √©migr√© politicians that the U.S. organized in Bonn, Germany – even though he was not the gathering’s first choice.

Hamid Karzai continued to serve as interim president until 2004, when the country held formal elections under U.S. auspices.  In a race for president that had 23 candidates, Karzai easily came out on top and won more than 55% of the vote.  Many decried the fairness of the election though.  The campaign was only allowed to go on for one month, during which time the media refused to give any coverage to Karzai’s rivals, and U.S. military planes toured him around the country on his campaign free of charge.  On Dec. 7, 2004 Karzai was sworn in as the first president of the new Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.   Karzai continues to rule as President to this day.  I would insist though that he be viewed as nothing more than a puppet of the United States.  This is made clear by the fact that he cannot even travel outside of Kabul without a bodyguard force made up of U.S. Marines.  He is often mockingly referred to as the “Mayor of Kabul” since that seems to be as far as his authority goes. 

Karzai, and his government, base themselves on the old conservative elites, the tribal elders, and the same Mujahideen warlords who ravaged the country from 1992 to 1996, before the Taliban came to power.  In fact, tragically, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the warlord who ruled over Kabul from 1992 until his ouster in 1996 is now back. During his reign over 60,000 people were murdered and thousands of women were raped. Northern Alliance warlord Rashid Dostum, who has been given the city of Mazar–E–Sharif, also ruled over it from 1992 until his ouster in 1997. Similarly the warlord Ismail Khan once again rules the city of Herat, which he also ruled from 1992 to 1995; and warlord Yunis Khalis is back in control of Jalabad, which he ruled from 1992 to 1996.  Karzai’s government is not a government of the people, but of the very warlords, patriarchs, corrupt mullahs, drug dealers (like Karzai’s brother) and large land-owners who have been responsible for so much of the suffering that the Afghan people have been forced to endure over the years. 

While the Western media likes to pretend that the repressive policies of the Taliban are a thing of the past – this really is little more than a cruel joke.  Apart from a tiny number of schools for girls that have been set up in the capital for the cameras, very little has changed.  The vast majority of women are still forced to live under the veil, sharia law is still the official law of the land, the drug trade is blossoming like never before, labor unions and radical parties are banned, and human rights are routinely trampled.

In the wake of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, in addition to trying to create a puppet Afghan government to do its bidding, the U.S. also tried to boost the appearance of legitimacy of its occupation by seeking the endorsement of the United Nations, and by getting NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – to take over official responsibility for running the occupation.  When one looks at whose hands are on the levers of power at the both the UN and NATO, one has to admit these international institutions are little more than fig leafs for U.S. foreign policy.  Washington calls the shots in Afghanistan, just like it does in Iraq.  The Afghan people are not served by the UN or NATO anymore than by Hamid Karzai’s puppet government.

During the time that the U.S. has been trying to consolidate its control through its puppet Hamid Karzai, the Taliban, and other opposition groups within the country, have regrouped.  In the Western media it’s only the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that are ever mentioned as fighting the U.S., and now NATO, occupation of the country.  In fact though there are a number of groups that have taken up arms, including some of the U.S.’s closest former allies in the anti-Soviet insurgency, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.  Non-Taliban and Non-Al-Qaeda forces make up at least half of the armed guerillas fighting against the U.S. and its allies.  Many Afghans, as can be expected, view the Americans in the same way they viewed the Soviets and British before them – as foreign invaders who do not have their country’s interests at heart – and, well, they’re right!
Since 2004 and 2005 the anti-U.S. insurgency has gained considerable momentum.  The Taliban, and other insurgent groups, have been able to mount a growing number of offensives, and as a result, are now in control of significant portions of the Afghan countryside.  U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces are largely restricted to the major cities and towns, and are only able to venture outside of the cities in large, armed convoys.  In fact each year the situation seems to be getting worse and worse for the imperialist occupiers.  Western casualties are going up, insurgent tactics are becoming bolder, and more effective, and with so many U.S. troops and dollars being spent in Iraq, it appears Washington is unable to do much about the deteriorating situation.

That brings us to the present.  Seven years into the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan almost 1000 NATO soldiers have died, about half of them Americans.  Public opinion in most other NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan, like Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and other Western European nations, has turned solidly against the war.  Here in the U.S., tragically, public opinion tends to still support the war in Afghanistan though, unlike the war in Iraq.  Time magazine recently put out an issue with a cover calling the Afghan war “The Good War.”  In the recent U.S. presidential election both the corporate owned parties, and their candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, tripped over themselves to try to portray themselves as the biggest supporters of the Afghan War.  Even some in the anti-war movement seemed to have mixed feeling about Afghanistan.

Among the Afghan people though, rest assured, there is no confusion about the war being a good war.  An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Afghans died during the initial U.S. bombings of that country during 2001 – more than the number of Americans who died on 9/11.  And since then thousands more have been killed each year.  The total number is a mystery, since it is U.S. government policy to try and deny civilian casualties, though increasingly aggressive U.S. military tactics have resulted in so many civilian casualties that it has recently been repeatedly denounced by both the United Nations and the Karzai’s government! 

RAWA, the famous Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women has this to say about the occupation: "The true nature of the U.S. 'war on terror' drama has been exposed today and we witness that they are killing thousands of our innocent people under the name of 'fighting terrorists'...the U.S. government and its allies are just pursuing their strategic, economic and political gains in Afghanistan and pushing our people to increasing destitution and disasters."

Afghanistan’s infrastructure, which had already been largely decimated by the fighting of the 80s and 90s, continues to suffer under the U.S. occupation.  International reconstruction efforts have largely been for show.  In fact, tragically, the majority of development aid that the U.S. and other Western powers have promised Afghanistan has not been delivered, even though most of the pledges were made several years ago.  Hamid Karzai has made several trips to the U.S. Congress to literally beg for more aid, but has gotten little in return.  Most of what has been donated has gone into funding the bureaucracy of the aid organizations and their numerous contractors, rather than towards actual projects on the ground.  And of the few projects that have been set up on the ground, almost all are in the capital city of Kabul – which is becoming something of a Potemkin Village.

While the U.S. government likes to claim, as they do for most of their military interventions, that they’re motivated out of benevolent concern for the suffering of the people, by a desire to liberate women and bring democracy to the downtrodden, that is clearly not the reality.  The question arises then, what is the motivation for the U.S. government’s war with the people of Afghanistan?

Tariq Ali, a respected British anti-war activist originally from Pakistan, offers this answer to that question.  What the U.S. really wants is to create a puppet Afghan government that has "an army able to suppress its own population but incapable of defending the nation from outside powers; a civil administration with no control over planning or social infrastructure, which is in the hands of Western NGOs; and a government whose foreign policy marches in step with Washington's."

It’s not that Afghanistan is sitting on a bunch of oil, or some other sought after natural resource.  It’s that it’s located at such a strategic spot on the globe.  For the same reason the British and the Russians were salivating to get their hands on Afghanistan a century ago, the U.S. is looking at Afghanistan as a strategic base for controlling a vital region.  Washington doesn’t just go to war for oil – it goes to war for bigger reasons than that: to establish its dominance in strategic parts of the world, to outmaneuver its economic rivals and simply to show that it can – to set the precedent that it can and will take on anyone who so much as looks at U.S. imperialism the wrong way.

In other words, the Afghan people are seeing their country torn apart and ruined, and are watching their loved ones drowning in a sea of blood because of yet another “Great Game” that is being played by the imperialists.  For the sake of Wall Street, Kandahar burns.  For the sake of Washington’s dominance over Tehran, Moscow and all of its other rivals, bombs tear up the Afghan countryside.  Because of American capitalism’s greed for money, power and position, innocent Afghan children have the spark of life snuffed out of them. 

May history look at those who are responsible for the suffering of the people of Afghanistan in the same way that we today look at the Hitler’s and Mussolini’s of yesteryear.  Shame on the politicians that strive to get elected on the backs of the Afghan people.  Shame on the corporations that get fat on the military and fake reconstruction contracts.  And shame on the journalists, preachers, pundits and other opinion makers who continue to shill for the lie that the Afghan war is “the good war”.

What is the solution for Afghanistan? What will end the suffering of its people? The first and foremost thing would be for the U.S. and its allies to withdraw their troops, and their support for the puppet Hamid Karzai regime.  “Reparations, Not Occupation!” is a good slogan that sums up what the American anti-war movement should demand of the U.S. government regarding Afghanistan.  The Afghan people deserve the right to self-determination, to choose their own leaders and their own form of government.  And self-determination can never happen in the midst of an imperialist occupation.  And while an end to the U.S./NATO occupation alone would not likely end all of the bloodshed and the fighting, it would create a situation where the workers and farmers of Afghanistan would be better positioned to once and for all cast off the warlords and reactionary feudal tyrants, to take control of their destinies, and create a society that is based upon cooperation and solidarity. Towards that end I call on all of you to join Socialist Action in redoubling our efforts to stop the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan!  Thank you

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