The war in Afghanistan has re-emerged in the headlines as casualty rates for American and British forces have now reached their highest since the invasion of Afghanistan. Already more than one hundred American troops have been killed since the beginning of this year alone, whilst in Britain the news has been dominated by the deaths of eight soldiers who were killed in twenty four hours over the weekend.
Three of them were just eighteen. Although this has briefly seen a temporary rush of sympathy for the dead expressing itself in support for the army, in the long run this is only exposing Afghanistan as being an unwinnable venture which is seeing young working class people sacrificed in the interest of an insane neo-colonial war that is far from in their interests.
It is clear that the total death toll since 2001 of Afghans simply unknown and most estimates do not even factor in the effects that living in a war zone may have on access to medical supplies and the effect of the stress and duress of the daily pounding of bombs on young children and pregnant women etc. Alongside this an untold amount of damage has been done to the already precarious infrastructure of the country. The hunt against opium has seen thousands of acres of farm land burnt as peasant farmers struggle to survive whilst the wider ‘battle for hearts and minds’ is getting nowhere fast.
Despite the loud claims that Afghanistan was entering the twenty first century through a “western style democracy” following the elections in 2004, it is clear that the American led vision of dominating Afghanistan from afar, via a loyal and stable government in Kabul, is little more than a pipe dream. The elections themselves are very precarious affairs. Outside of the capital and the immediate surrounding areas their legitimacy is severely in question due to the involvement of local warlords, to whom the American led coalition are all too happy to give a piece of the pie in return for their cooperation. Mean while areas of the west of the country such as the Helmand province that lie under Taliban domination are effectively excluded from the process what so ever.
As a result the man who is in theory president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai has been branded the world’s most expensive mayor. Entirely reliant on the support of coalition forces his government has been completely bound to the interests of imperialism. In spite of the image the western media has presented of Karzai heading a supposedly reforming liberal government he comes from the same background in the Islamist Mujahideen as the Taliban. His government includes many warlords and recently in has gone as far as to propose legislation that would not only legalize the rape of Shia Muslim women by their husbands and prevent them from leaving their houses, attending school or registering for a doctor without his support. (Amnesty international 14/7/09)
The real origins of this situation go back to the Saur Revolution of 1978 which saw the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan take power through support in the military. Whilst in name a socialist revolution, the coup in effect placed a layer of progressive military generals in charge of the country. Despite failing to establish genuine workers democracy and perusing an agenda centred on protecting and furthering the privileges of the generals, the regime established a planned economy that made huge strides in health care, education and the reform of Afghanistan’s infrastructure.
The American response to this was to support the opposition in the form of the Mujihadeen guerrilla fighters who were funneled huge sums of money through the Pakistani state, in particularly its intelligence forces, the ISI. Eventually these forces overwhelmed the PDPA regime which finally fell apart in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union from which it drew material and political support. Basing themselves on a reactionary Islamist ideology the Mujihadeen was made up of a variety of disparate groups that based themselves on local strong men who often grew rich out of the trade in opium poppies. Eventually the hard-line Taliban faction took power in 1996, holding it until the US invasion in 2001.
Islamic fundamentalism, in both the case of Iran and Afghanistan, has proved to be a monster the US initially mobilised against social revolution but which eventually escaped its own control. From the fall of the PDPA regime in the early 1990s Afghanistan has been more of a land in between countries than a nation in itself as various factions headed by glorified gangsters have vied for control of the state. The Taliban regime fell from favour with the US as it grew too big for its own boots and various terrorist attacks, such as the attack on the US embassy in Kenya in 1998 and the attempt on the World Trade Centre in 1994, began to be traced back to training camps in Afghanistan.
The attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 proved to be the last straw and the perfect excuse for American forces to invade the country. Yesterday’s freedom fighter became today’s terrorist as the politicians sought to assert their domination over the country. Meanwhile the dollar signs showed in the eyes of the American and British energy companies, who sought to build their own pipeline to the Caspian Sea free from Russian influence. Evidently all were blind to the historical record of those invading Afghanistan! Seemingly the defeat of both the British army in the nineteenth century or the Soviet forces in the 1970s and 80s in Afghanistan did not cause them to think twice.
The invasion of Afghanistan has ended up in disaster. Whilst it is sickening but unsurprising to see opportunist politicians such as David Cameron cashing in on the needless deaths of young working class men who may well have had nowhere to turn but the army upon leaving school, the truth of the matter is no matter how many more helicopters are shipped over the situation will not change. As in Iraq and Vietnam imperialism has entered into a venture it cannot win and has attempted to subdue a people who will not be held down by military force. Sooner or later the Americans will be forced to come to a compromise with a section of the Taliban and, just as in Iraq, forced to march home with their tails between their legs - having only achieved a greater destabilisation of the region and a weakening of their allies and strengthening of their enemies.
This will unfortunately not answer the problems of the Afghan masses. It is the duty of socialists in all countries with troops in Afghanistan to demand their immediate withdrawal and an end to the occupation and national oppression of the Afghan people. However this in itself will not be enough. As long as Afghanistan lies under the domination of the gangster warlords, imperialism will keep trying to gain access to the resources of Afghanistan and, if paid handsomely enough, these leaders will only happily oblige.
The recent activities of the Pakistani section of the International Marxist Tendency, The Struggle, during the fighting in the Swat Valley demonstrated the way forward. By opening relief camps and running Marxist education workshops whilst providing aid to the refugees and mobilising the efforts of the local people to do so, they proved that the masses can resist the forces of imperialism and its ill disciplined mercenaries. It is only by standing for their own interest and taking the resources and infrastructure of their country under their control and in their interests that the Afghan workers and the peasants behind them can find a meaningful solution; that is to say through the socialist revolution.