Afghanistan: ‘Liberation’ or mass oppression

"In much of what is once again the opium capital of the world, the return of the warlords has meant harsh political repression, lawlessness, mass rape and widespread torture, the bombing or closure of schools, as well as Taliban-style policing of women’s dress and behaviour."

This how the situation in today’s Afghanistan is described by journalist Seumas Milne. He continues:

"The systematic use by Ismail Khan, who runs much of western Afghanistan with US support, of electric shock torture, arbitrary arrests and whippings to crush dissent is set out in a new Human Rights Watch report. Khan was nevertheless described by the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently as a ’thoughtful’ and ’appealing’ person. His counterpart in the north, General Dostam, has in turn just been accused by the UN of torturing witnesses to his troops’ murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners late last year, when "he was working closely with US special forces." (The Guardian 21 november 2002).

The war against Afghanistan in October-November 2001 did not meet the same mass opposition as the plans to attack Iraq. The main reason was the mood following the September 11 terror attacks in the US, which were connected to Osama bin Laden, who was based in Afghanistan. Additionally, the reactionary Taliban regime in Afghanistan had few open supporters internationally. The war itself showed the weakness of Taliban support in the country. The US air bombing campaign was quickly followed by the take-over of Kabul by the Northern Alliance.

But what did Aghanistan get instead? What has the US led ’liberation’ achieved? The first weeks in 2003 have shown an increase in armed fighting. Seven German soldiers were killed in what was described as an "accident". Four US soldiers died in a helicopter crash. Further bombs have exploded in Kabul and other main cities like Jalalabad and Kandahar. The old warlord Hekmatyar, who in the 80s was supported by the US against the Soviet army, has joined Taliban military leaders. New training camps for al-Qaeda have been discovered. So-called ’steps forward’ are very limited and extremely tenuous. Three million children have restarted in school, including some girls, but not uniformly in all parts of the country. Nine out of ten women still wear the burka, partially out of fear, although in Kabul their previous enforced total isolation within family homes has lifted somewhat.

The government established by the US, with Hamid Karzai as president, lacks any authority outside its government buildings. Since the murder of one of the vice presidents, Karzai only trusts a bodyguard team made up of US soldiers. The capital is guarded 5,000 soldiers from 12 countries, led by Turkey. In the rest of the country 9,000 US special forces are supposed to hunt bin Ladin and his soliders as well as restore some kind of ’law and order’. So far this has completely failed. A traditional meeting of leaders, the loya jirga, "authorised" the president to rule but that did not change the total dependence on US imperialism. The planned Afghan army, 70 000 strong, remains on paper.

De facto it is the US which is attempting to build a new state in Afghanistan. US imperialism’s wish for a "stable" state is given added urgency because the US has initiated an agreement on a gas pipeline through the country from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, worth $3.2 billion. This is more than double the international aid promised to Afghanistan this year.

There are enormous problems in the country which are growing all the time. The most important industry is opium – the size of which has increased 15-fold since 2001. This is outcompeting other necessary cultivation. There are still 3.5 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. The one million who have returned often have no housing, water or even food. Weapons are everwhere and so are land mines, posing deadly threats in both cities and the countryside. More than half of Kabul has been totally destroyed.

The main vehicle of the US in ‘rebuilding’ Afghanistan is the military. But to achieve democratic rights and some kind of economic development is something completely different. The claimed freedom does not exist. The social and economic disaster has devastated the lives of the working class and the poor peasantry.

The so-called Afghan government has a budget of $460 million. That is just a fifth of the state expenditure for child benefit in Sweden, or the same as the council budget in Umeå in the north of Sweden. Alongside the economic crisis, new contradictions are building up. The Tajik leaders who dominate the government in Kabul lack roots in the majority of the population, especially the pashtuns. The UN staff and the Western soldiers are becoming increasingly hated.

All of this points to deepening crisis of the Karzai government. "His government needs to gain more credibility with ordinary Afghans this year if it is not to collapse, perhaps bloodily", wrote The Economist, adding that "Physically surviving 2003 will be a success for Mr Karzai".

The US war did not create stability and development in Afghanistan, and has not put a stop to terrorism. On the contrary, there has been an increase in terror attacks since the September 2001 attacks. Socialist mass movements, against war and exploitation, must counter US imperialism and global capitalism. We must fight for a democratic and socialist world – the only way out for the poor and working in Afghanistan and globally.

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February 2003