Most of the long-suffering Afghan people would welcome the overthrow of the Taliban regime. However, neither the country’s opposition militias nor Western imperialism provide a solution to their problems as the experience of re-introducing capitalism into those former Soviet republics neighbouring Afghanistan show. Only a government of working people and the rural poor, as part of a socialist federation of Middle Eastern states, could peaceably rebuild the war-torn country.
War in Afghanistan
No peace and no justice
Like a scene out of Mad Max the thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan must be thinking: "what have we done to deserve this?"According to the United Nations, Afghanistan has the highest rate of population displacement in the world. Some five million people (one-fifth of the population) are refugees driven out of their homes by war and the worst drought in decades. Of these over two million are in refugee camps in Pakistan, one and a half million are in Iran and the remainder are ’internally displaced’. Even before the US threat of military action against their country, 2,000 people a day were arriving in the tented refugee camps of Herat near the Iran border. There they endure conditions of searing heat, water and food shortages and inevitably disease. With the UN stopping its food programme and many of the foreign aid agencies pulling out their staff, these conditions can only worsen. According to Oxfam (21/9/01): "Since last week, food has not been going in. You can imagine the scale that is required – 6,000 truckloads have to go in every month to keep those people going."To say Afghanistan is a desperately poor country is an understatement. Statistics are hard to come by but at the time of the Soviet army withdrawal in 1989 the average annual income for an Afghan was only $200. Since then a constant civil war, which has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, has compounded the poverty.Devastated landscapeWHEN THE Soviet army withdrew from its occupation in 1989 the fighting did not cease. After the pro-Moscow regime of Najibullah collapsed in 1992 the opposition Mojahidin guerrilla groups engaged in internecine warfare. The capital city Kabul was largely reduced to rubble with thousands killed by indiscriminate shelling. According to Times correspondent Nick Danziger who has travelled the country: "During the past 23 years more than one and a half million Afghans have been killed as a direct result of the wars that have taken place on Afghan soil. Most of those killed were civilians: children who were out on the street playing or in the mountains shepherding their animals, ordinary people like you and me. The local populace has never been spared – sometimes it was targeted in the belief that this would stop it harbouring the enemy.""… Much of Afghanistan is like a scene from Mad Max or some futurist [post-holocaust] movie. Everywhere is the debris of war: Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers with their turrets torn off; the wrecks of former clinics, schools and shops; razed walls; cratered and mined roads."
Creatures of Western Imperialism
When the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul, in 1996 they dragged the former President Najibullah from the United Nations (UN) compound, tortured him to death and hung him from a lamp-post. It set the scene for Taliban rule in Afghanistan.The Taliban has banned all opposition groups, political parties and trade unions. They’ve virtually enslaved women, stopping education for girls, preventing women working (many widows are consequently forced to beg) and have prohibited music, sports and games. (Despite being on a constant war footing, the regime has even banned boxing!) Transgressors of Taliban Sharia law are ruthlessly dealt with. Adultery is punishable by stoning to death, homosexuals are buried alive. A UN funded football stadium in Kabul is now used to stage public executions.This clerical dictatorship is led by the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar who is suspected of being under the thumb of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban is the Frankenstein monster of the US’s Cold War strategy. It was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) working through Pakistan’s counterpart spy network – the Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISI) – who financed, armed and trained Islamist guerrillas to fight the Soviet army. The Taliban control 95% of the country through a patchwork of alliances with local warlords but most of their support is drawn from ethnic Pashtuns. However, as much as 20%-25% of the Taliban’s frontline fighters are drawn from Arab volunteers and mercenaries throughout the Middle East. Opposition AllianceTHE NORTHERN Alliance which is backed by the US, Russia and Iran controls only 5% of Afghanistan. Bolstered by US support it has launched a new military offensive to recapture Mazar-I-Sharif from the Taliban. The main military forces are Jamiat-I-Islami led by General Mohammed Fahim Khan who succeeded the recently assassinated General Massoud. This group is based on ethnic Tajiks who make up 25% of the population. It is nominally headed by the ousted Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbini who still holds the country’s UN seat and has embassies in 33 countries.The second main grouping, Junbish-I-Milli-yi Islami, is led by a former opponent of general Massoud the ethnic Uzbek, General Abdul Rashid Dostam. After the Soviet withdrawal, Dostam, a former army commander under Najibullah, switched allegiance spelling the downfall of Najibullah’s regime.The third main force in the Alliance is the ethnic Hazari Shia groupings of Hizb-I-Wahdat led by Karim Khalili and Mohaqiq.The Alliance is clearly hoping that US military intervention will severely weaken if not topple the Taliban enabling them to take power. However, if such an outcome occurred it would more than likely lead to more internicine and inter-ethnic fighting. To mollify such criticism Massoud’s brother has said the Alliance would welcome an interim UN administration in Kabul. But judging by the UN’s lamentable peacekeeping record it too is unlikely to end the suffering of Afghans.
A Product of the Cold War
Lacking in political options to run a post-Taliban Afghanistan, Western imperialism is even floating the return of the exiled 86-year-old King Zahir Shah. Kevin ParslowThe king was deposed in a military coup in 1973 led by his nephew Mohammed Daud, who proclaimed himself president of the new republic of Afghanistan. But this government was also unable to solve the problems of the people of Afghanistan. Following a clampdown on opposition activity, huge demonstrations broke out in Kabul in April 1978. The government collapsed and was replaced by the pro-Moscow People’s Democratic Party and military officers trained in the Soviet Union.This government proceeded to take popular steps to secure its position. They developed education and the health service, they gave rights to women, and they decreed a reform of land ownership. But the most conservative layers in the countryside opposed these reforms and the government’s support was confined to major cities. The government divided into two factions, one favouring repression of the opposition the other favouring compromise. With neither able to resolve the conflict, the Soviet Union launched a military intervention in December 1979 to prevent the collapse of the regime and installed Babrak Karmal as leader. A collapse would have weakened the Soviet Union in its Cold War with the US.But the Soviet army found it no easier to suppress the opposition. Now funded by Pakistan and the United States, the Mujahidin or holy warriors could not be pacified by the Soviet army. The inhospitable terrain allowed the opposition a big advantage and Soviet convoys were attacked on the road. Najibullah replaced Karmal as president. He continued to spread the reforms but militarily his government fared no better. Finally, as part of Gorbachev’s capitulation to capitalism and following thousands of deaths, in 1989 the demoralised Soviet army was withdrawn. This guaranteed the eventual collapse of the regime, which finally occurred in 1992, replaced by a coalition of the Mujahidin groups. But this coalition of warlords fell apart and civil war broke out. In 1996 the Pakistan-armed and trained Taliban took power. Their rule has been based on extreme repression. Neither the Taliban nor US imperialism are able to save the Afghan people from a terrible future.