Aftermath for Afghanistan


Since the 1970's Afghanistan has been shredded by bloody conflict between rival gangs of rulers and the regional and global imperialisms which subsidise them. The infrastructure of the society ruined, lives and bodies maimed, millions forced over the border into miserable refugee camps and hundreds of thousands of people cut down by hunger or high explosive.

The most surprising thing about the fall of the Taliban was the extent to which many people found it surprising. There was a close link between Taliban military successes and the considerable support they received from the ruling elite of Pakistan. Starved of that, even without American bombing they would have crumbled albeit somewhat later.

As it was no tin pot rag bag force could withstand the mailed fist of a superpower. There's nothing novel about that either, the machine guns and artillery of the late 19th. centaury empires rarely met defeat from the spears of the natives and this is just the modern day equivalent. (1)

One eyewitness relates "Vast craters dotted their defensive lines, while the village of Karabah which housed their headquarters looked like it had been blow-torched from above. Mud buildings are flattened and trees reduced to eerie twisted stumps, the result of repeated B-52 strikes on one day, when I saw bombers come in every five minutes to blast the same area with their sticks of bombs." (2)

Imperialist Rivalry

Over the years the Afghan wars have been fuelled by the USSR on the one hand and the U.S.A. on the other and then with Iran, India and Russia backing up the Northern Alliance while Pakistan did the same for the Taliban. The conflicting interests of rival imperialisms are still at play in Afghanistan.

With marines on the ground and B52's in the sky the American influence is apparent and in a development without precedent the U.S. now has bases in what was formerly territory of the 'Soviet' Union, to the north of Afghanistan.

The new Afghan government consists of two halves, one the Northern Alliance, and the other the Rome group, which is to say formerly exiled monarchist figures close to Zahir Shah, the deposed King. The monarchist faction is dependant on U.S. support, as unlike any of the splinters forming the Northern Alliance, it doesn't have an Army and didn't play any real role in the overthrow of the Taliban. The King, despite, or perhaps because, he hasn't been involved in the country for thirty years, is a genuinely popular figure.

Of late the U.S. military have been openly supporting various sides in warlord disputes. Herat in the east is the fiefdom of Ismael Khan, a Mujaheddin warlord deposed by the Taliban and recently reinstalled with a considerable Iranian subsidy. Gulbuddin Hikmetyar another Mujaheddin warlord, who has been promising jihad on the infidels since the September is being kept on a leash in Iran itself. He has recently offered to leave Iran if that would help ease tensions between it's government and that of the U.S., but given that his intended destination is Afghanistan perhaps the world could do without his help.

While the Hazari militias of the Hizb-i Wahdat have had a long relationship with Iran, this must be somewhat strained at the moment as allegations are surfacing that Khan is supply Iranian arms to General Dostum, their rival for control of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Recently allegations have surfaced that Khan's forces have been the victims of American cruise missile strikes and a lot of the American military effort in the country at the moment would seem to have more of a purpose if it's intent was reminding the various other factions what happens to people who displease the global cop. Furthermore there have been low level guerrilla attacks on American and British forces. Who is responsible for them? (this included attacks in Kabul &endash; not a Taliban stronghold).

Whatever the case is there is certainly the potential for further conflict, not just because of imperialist rivalries but because: "these sold-out warlords will have no scruples in once again putting themselves up for sale at a cheap price to old and new proxy-seeking powers, and consequently will once again invite the interference of their foreign masters if their sordid parochial and personal ambitions and interests are fundamentally compromised" (3)

Under the Northern Alliance

At the moment 'Northern Alliance' rule is taking a form along similar lines to the situation between '92 and '96 &endash; prior to the Taliban, when the country was last in the hands of the factions which now make up the Alliance. A pattern of endemic banditry, persecutions, and barons shaping up for turf wars. A change from one despotism to a hundred despotisms. But thus far with nothing like the extent of the bloody carnage inflicted in the four years of in fighting before the rise of the monolithic and uncompromising Taliban forced the rival mini kingdoms to unite.

In other words with out the Taliban to unite them and the war to occupy them they seem to be returning to their old ways. They are particularly singling out as victims, Pashtuns, the ethnic group from which the Taliban come.

Barely one month after the establishment of the power sharing executive in an article headed "We felt safer under the Taliban" the Hindustan Times read "Murders, robberies and hijackings in the capital, factional clashes in the north and south of the country, instability in Kandahar and banditry on roads linking main centres are beginning to erode the optimism that greeted the inauguration of the interim administration on December 22." (5)

Something of an arms race is under way with rival forces drawing new recruits from desperate refugees. The principal infighting has been around Mazar-e-Sharif. A three way struggle with General Dostum, a former military commander of the pre-'92 "Soviet" backed regime in one corner, the Hizb-i Wahdat militia, formerly close to Iran in another and then supporters of the former President Rabbani, all jostling for control.

Refugee camps have been divided up along ethnic lines, with persecutions and expulsions of whoever is the minority. Similar squabbles over the division of the victor's spoils have taken place in other cities. So much has changed that merchants are even talking of a dramatic increase in the sale of burkas, the total veiling enforced not just by the Taliban's Saudi Arabian funded religious police but also by the dead weight of tradition.

From out side of the good versus evil view presented by the propaganda of the war party this is not surprising. Although they presented the downfall of the Taliban as a liberation, in reality the splinter groups making up the Northern Alliance were always much the same as the Taliban.

It must be remembered that the "warriors of God" began their rebellion in the 1970's, before the arrival of any Red Army tanks, over various un-Islamic activities such as women being without veil in public and education for girls. In 1990 representatives of all the main Mujaheddin factions (united!) issued a fatwa banning women and girls from an education, similar fatwas were issued enforcing the hijab or banning women from working by different elements of the movement then characterised as 'freedom fighters' by the governments of the West.

Even the Taliban's aversion to Buddha statues was no innovation &endash; such artefacts had previously been blown up by Mujaheddin. They had fought bloody feuds for control of the heroin trade during the anti-Russian war, and when they finally overthrew the 'communists' they carved a bloody path of mass murder, rape and looting, turning the entire country into a shooting gallery. Destroying the secular urban society brick by brick.

Such is the heritage of most of the components of the Northern Alliance, the rest were the foot soldiers of the Kremlin backed puppet regime. A regime whose practises included burning alive entire villages. The Taliban did not land from outer space, but were sculpted from a stone which was one part age old authoritarian religious tradition and one part the arming of Islamist radicals with millions of dollars worth of weaponry by the U.S., Pakistan, etc., with the intent that they take over the country.

In short neither Islam nor Uncle Sam can wash their hands of the Taliban.

As the Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women put it: "In our opinion, the Taliban and other jehadi fundamentalist cliques of Rabbani, Sayyaf, Masoud, Khalili, Hekmatyar and their like are brothers in arms. They are all of the same hue, because: All of them have a Klashnikov in one hand and the Quran in the other to kill, intimidate, detain and mutilate our people arbitrarily." (6)

The Victims

As no one is counting on the ground, even if such a thing were possible, estimates of civilian deaths vary widely. One Washington Post article, arguing that 'it was worth it' claimed that the figure could be in the 8,000 to 12,000 range. This figure does not include deaths caused by a disruption of food aid supplies. This was after some research done on the matter, by American academic Professor Marc W. Herold, established the estimate of 3,767 for the first two months of the bombing.(7) As he points out this represents in proportion to population the equivalent of 38,000 deaths in the United States. Since then the bombing has continued, despite the ousting from power of the Taliban.

The killings on S11 are held up as justification of the bombing of Afghanistan, a logic we can only agree with if we conclude the lives of Americans are of greater value than the lives of Afghans, or perhaps a two or three to one ratio of value. You cannot argue that one is right and the other is wrong, either it is wrong to slaughter people in the 'wrong place at the wrong time' in revenge for their rulers slaughtering other people in the 'wrong place at the wrong time' or it is not.

Rather than being a 'failed state' the situation in Afghanistan is the product of two decades of successful competition between states, a competition which continues in the region today. Rather than being a solution to any of these problems the Imperialist intervention is part of the problem.


Terry Clancy lives in Ireland and writes for the Free Earth website (http://www.struggle.ws/freeearth.html). He is a member of the Anarchist Federation (http://www.afed.org.uk)

For space reasons this article had to be heavily edited, the full version of the article is on the web at http://struggle.ws/freeeaarth.html

Footnotes

(1) Of course the prospects of a guerrilla force, with outside support, would be different entirely. But this was not the case in this conflict and thus any analogies with say, Afghanistan in the 1980's would not be applicable.
(2) The Spectator 17 November 2001.
(3) Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women website http://rawa.fancymarketing.net/dec10-01e.htm
(5) Hindustan Times, January 25, 2002
(6) http://www.rawa.org/diffrence.htm
(7)http://www.cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm


This text is from the 'Against War and Terrorism' pamphlet, the rest of the pamphlet is available on the web and as a PDF file

Against war and terrorism cover
  • Enduring war and popular mobilisation
  • Aftermath for Afghanistan
  • Empire in Central Asia
  • Civil Liberties and Civil Rights in the USA
  • Israel / Palestine is a war zone
  • The modern schizophrenia of Islamic integralism
  • Why the Reversion to Islamic Archaism?

PDF file of the pamphlet or read the articles on the web