By Sheraz Mel
The longest war in the US history, culminated in the so-called peace agreement, cynically titled “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” in February last year. It was rather an Instrument of Surrender of the mighty United States by which the US and NATO forces (except Turkey) had to withdraw from Afghanistan in about a year. Joe Biden chose September 11th 2021 as the withdrawal date, in a ploy to hide their desperation and emotionally link it to the events of 20 years ago. The Americans cowardly and suddenly abandoned the Bagram Airbase, which is strategically important and the centrepiece of Afghanistan’s defence. This along with the Taliban’s rapid advances in the outskirts is casting the dark shadows of another civil war. After 42 years of wars and imperialist aggression, Afghanistan is caught in a new “Great Game”.
In 1979, six months before the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, the CIA opened terrorist training camps in Pakistan under the covert operation “Cyclone”. They started carrying out bloody guerrilla attacks against the “Saur” or the Spring Revolution. The US imperialism with the support of Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Kingdom, Iran, and China orchestrated a proxy war. The Americans wanted to entice the Soviets into Afghanistan to avenge their debacle in Vietnam. The Soviet Union entered Afghanistan due to subjective problems, objective conditions and based on erroneous reports. United States along with dozens of NATO member countries started piling up dollars and arms for the war in Afghanistan. Reactionary insurgents were propped up and labelled as Islamic Mujahidin. Fundamentalist warriors from across the world, especially from the middle east congregated on both sides of the Durand line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. Seven dollar jihad were created and foundations were laid for the internationally infamous terrorist group Al-Qaeda and the US used the thousand-year-old term of “Jihad” against a progressive revolutionary government of Afghanistan. Bin Ladens were political and family friends with the Bush dynasty. A young Osama Bin Laden was made head of this group and appointed in Peshawar, Pakistan with the help of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal. Participation of such rich Arabs and others like Ayman al-Zawahiri was meant to make this war attractive, respectable and holy. Drug cultivation, processing and trafficking networks were established to finance this war. These shadowy enterprises are still making billions of dollars every year and are dominated to this day by religious fundamentalists groups and the CIA. Other than their mutual interest in preventing social transformations and revolutions, this black money kept imperialists and the fundamentalist allied against the masses. Narcotics was the oxygen for their terrorist activities. With this, the US along with its allies created a quagmire only to be sunk in it along with their arrogance. In 2001, the US allied by its toddy Britain invaded Afghanistan. After expending two thousand four hundred Billion dollars, which is eight times Pakistan’s total economy, with around two thousand five hundred dead soldiers, the US is running away in defeat. The greatest military power in the history of the world, flew out of Bagram base in the darkness, while even the Afghan commander of the base was not informed. This chaos and rout inevitably led to the fall of morale among the Afghan National Army and the Taliban moved into some countryside to fill the vacuum left by the Americans. But this is not the end of the war.
Imperialist World Order in Decline
After the fall of Berlin wall and degeneration and collapse of Soviet Union, Capitalism was jubilant and a unipolar world was envisaged. In their euphoria, they claimed it was the “End of History”. In the 90s, drunk with their triumph and inspired by the neoliberal ideology, US imperialism unleashed airstrikes, invasions, mercenaries, proxies, bullying, destruction in Eastern Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous countries. And now the American President Biden has to admit that “Trickle-down economics has never worked”. Feeling invincible, the US, NATO and their allies ravaged Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yamen and the entire middle east and terrorist outfits like ISIL and Al-Nusra front destroyed the ancient civilizations to the stone age. With the fall of USSR, the US corporations couldn’t wait to exploit the natural resources and the markets of Russia and Central Asian republics. US petroleum giant Unocal was awarded such a project. Unocal formed a consortium with Delta Oil of Saudi King Abdullah and Turkman Gazprom of Turkmenistan. For this, the Taliban were propped up in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan. The plan was to build an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan, through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, to South Asia and the straits of Hormuz. A railway line and road was also planned along the route. This would meet the oil demand of Pakistan, India and the world market while the transport network would make the central Asian markets accessible. With American dollars, Saudi rials and Pakistan’s influence the Taliban came to power in Kabul. However, conflicting state interests and warring proxies caused incessant mayhem and bloodshed and this project could never materialize.
Liberal Nationalists and the Left in Afghanistan
After the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush accused their own creation Al-Qaeda and started aggression on Afghanistan in October. To justify this bloodshed, objectives were coined like reconstruction of the country, human rights, an end to fundamentalism and establishment of liberal democracy in Afghanistan, whereas the real motives, in addition to the brute show of imperialist power, were to exploit Afghan mineral wealth including Lithium and Uranium, drug money to finance CIA’s operations and proxy wars around the world and strategic presence in the region to counter China and Iran. Liberal Nationalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan blindly believed the imperialists and towed their line. These liberals believed that the US would root out fundamentalism from this region and hand them over a developed and democratic Afghanistan and deliver them from national oppression and deprivation. During the last twenty years a new generation has grown up but these liberals have not organized at all in Afghanistan. Disregarding organization and party building in Afghanistan, in typical third-world fashion, they relied on exaggerated cults of personalities and wasted these precious years. The same was the case with the left-wing in Afghanistan, who have their roots and contacts in every town and village in the country. They could have formed a united front to create a political force that could defend the Afghan masses from the forces of darkness. Instead, they preferred the jobs of advisors and assistants in government ministries. In this political vacuum, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) rose and got a massive following and support among the youth. But the leadership did not build any organizational structures and relied solely on the momentum of the movement. Contradictory ideas in the movement expressed themselves. Now one faction of the movement, along with some liberal left personalities is about to form a new party from above for traditional politics. This has weakened the movement. Except for a little lip service, the movement is silent over the unjust, and unconstitutional imprisonment of one of its leaders, an elected member of the Parliament, Ali Wazir. Despite having the ability to maintain peace in the region, especially on both sides of the Durand Line, the PTM has almost lost this golden opportunity. The liberals were in for a rude awakening when the US imperialism allowed the Taliban’s advances. The Afghan government was humiliated by keeping them out of the negotiations. Whereas the Taliban were treated with extraordinary reverence. In the heat of the battles, the Afghan army’s calls for air support or reinforcements were delayed or denied altogether. Before the US invasion in 2001, the Taliban were hated by the masses and were very close to being rejected by the people. After 20 years the US imperialism is doing everything to impose them back on society. In Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and beyond, the Imperialists have always abandoned their allies and fled. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The Defeat of US Imperialism and NATO
On October 17th 2001, the greatest military power along with its allies invaded the most primitive country with an extremely disorganized militia. Inside Afghanistan, the Iranian and Russian backed Northern Alliance, former dollar mujahidin warlords like Rasheed Dostum, Toran Ismail, Rasool Sayyaf and others joined their new masters. Some of the Taliban’s armed gangs spread across the country. The leadership and a big number of them crossed the Durand Line into their safe havens in Pakistan. Whereas Al-Qaeda and other terrorist outfits went into hiding in the mountains. The Americans with their B-52s and other bombers unleashed carpet bombings on Taliban controlled areas. It failed to hit any major target or substantial military gains. On December 17th 2002 the Taliban government fell and Hamid Karzai was appointed interim leader by the Jirga (Council) in the Bonn conference. He was elected as president in the 2004 elections. In the mid-19th century, the British coronated Shah Shuja as the puppet King in Kabul. The soviets made Babrak Karmal the head of Afghan government surrounded by their tanks and jet fighters. Hamid Karzai was no different. But Afghanistan is the graveyard of all three empires. However, the last two empires were not only defeated on the battlefield. It is the crises of their systems that we have to understand.
After the withdrawal of Soviet Union, the revolutionary Afghan Government stayed in power for another four years despite attacks from the Jihadi forces (including Al-Qaeda) with military support from Pakistan. In 1988 the Jihadis launched an all-out offensive on Khost and Jalalabad, which was repelled by the revolutionary army, especially by the women’s units with such ferocity that the fundamentalists and their masters still remember it. There were other factors responsible for the fall of Afghan Revolution, most of them internal.
When the US invaded Afghanistan, first in the 90s through the Taliban and later in 2001 directly, they were riding the wave of a relative upswing of Neoliberal capitalist economy. However, the stock market and currency crash of south-east Asian economies in 1997 reduced the so-called Asian Tigers to chickens. It was to benefit from the cheap Chinese skilled labour, cheap raw materials, low tariffs that industry and technology was transferred to China on a massive scale in order to maintain the rates of profits. After a brief respite, China and its commodities became a problem for the US and Europe. The west leaned on speculation to maintain their profits which resulted in the crash of 2008. US and western governments bailed out the banks and corporations with billions of dollars and tax benefits. However, that barely got the economy crawling. The crisis has led to massive budget deficits and debts. The US is the most indebted nation in the world. There’s no money for infrastructure which needs 3000 billion dollars. The real wages of American workers are falling. There are record level of unemployment and people are unable to make payments on their houses etc. Millions are below the official poverty line. The youth rose up in movements like BLM. Waves of the Covid pandemic not only paused the international supply chains but also exposed the fragility of US healthcare and economic system. These historic crises forced first Barak Obama to give a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, followed by Trump’s agreement with the Taliban and the deadline for evacuation. President Biden said that the Soldiers who first went to Afghanistan in 2001, now their children are fighting that war. Will their grandkids be next? Biden endorsed the withdrawal plans of previous administrations.
One of the major reasons for the defeat of US and its NATO allies was the enemy spread across vast mountains, wilderness and populace. The US bombed civilians and killed and maimed women, children and non-combatants. This infuriated the local population against the foreign invaders while the Taliban found sanctuaries on both sides of Durand Line with the collusion of Pakistani policymakers. This helped the guerrilla warfare of Taliban. On the other hand, there were contradictions within the imperialists. Different states and departments had conflicting interests, that prolonged the war which caused fatigue and anxiety. US contractors and the military industrial complex wanted the war to go on. Whereas the mining interests were not able to extract mineral resources in the atmosphere of war. Similarly, the Pentagon and White House administration were chasing conflicting goals. It is on record that many CIA officials, diplomates and military officers were involved in drug trafficking. That required the war to continue. Additionally, all the neighbouring countries felt threatened by the presence of American troops. These states backed the Taliban and provided them with logistic and intelligence support, armed them and gave moral support. Taliban were able to establish diplomatic relations with all bordering nations. That is how the greatest military power in history was defeated and humiliated in the poorest country.
Will Taliban Capture Kabul?
US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley stated that after the US withdrawal, Taliban will have the strategic upper hand. According to the US intelligence reports Taliban can take over Kabul within six months. International news and print media is also saying that Taliban will take over the country very soon. This is mostly an exaggeration. By the time they map Taliban and Government-controlled territories, by that time Taliban has advanced to more land and the map becomes irrelevant. According to Taliban, they control 85 per cent of the country. But fifty per cent of Afghanistan’s land is inhabitable mountains. There are vast deserts in the southwest stretching down to Herat. Most land is a plateau and sparsely populated. Southeast is fertile plains and populated. The fact of the matter is that out of 34 provinces (wilayat), the Taliban has not captured a single capital. In 1994 Taliban captured Kandahar shortly after their rise. And then advanced towards Kabul from two directions. On the northern front, they were repelled after heavy losses at Mazar-e-Sharif. On the eastern front, Robert Oakley was paving their way by negotiating with the warlords and they arrived at the gates of Kabul without any significant resistance. Even after capturing Kabul, the Taliban could never advance towards the north. This time they are employing a different strategy. Instead of capturing Kandahar, they are consolidating their positions in all four regions of the country. This includes Islam Qila close to Herat, Wakhan corridor bordering China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan Border crossing of Sher Khan Bandar and the border crossing with Pakistan at Spin Boldak near Kandahar. Control over important towns and areas is being fought for. Under the pretext of Inter Afghan dialogue, the Taliban has offered to talk to the Afghan government in a month. According to the experts, the Taliban want to use the psychological advantage after US withdrawal and capture important strategic objectives. After one month they will offer the Afghan Government the “Peace Plan” to resign and transfer power. And declare amnesty if they resign. On the other hand, the Afghan Government is allowing the Taliban to capture remote and far-flung areas, more than Taliban are capable of and defending the populated areas where necessary. Except for Spin Boldak, there is no area under Taliban control which the government cannot retake in a short time. There is only one unit among Taliban forces that has the capability to fight on the front lines. After capturing a location, they hand it over to ordinary armed Taliban and move to another front. The real danger of the Afghan Government’s defeat or disintegration is due to the possibility of warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others defecting to the Taliban at critical junctures. On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah who is the leader of the Northern Alliance and head of the Afghan Peace Council can connive with the Taliban for power-sharing. That will almost certainly lead to isolation and the fall of the government.
After the American withdrawal, there is a new sense in the Afghan people and even Taliban supporters of strong opposition to Afghans fighting with each other. In other words, there is opposition to the Taliban capturing Kabul by war. Because of that, the Taliban are rapidly losing the support within Afghan they once had for fighting the foreign invaders. Afghan Government forces can no longer be viewed as allies of an imperialist power. The majority of Afghans see the National Army as the only force to defend them against their intruding neighbours and their proxies. Afghan National Army has been handling all operations on the frontlines since 2017, whereas the occupying imperialist forces were limited to airstrikes, forts and Bagram base. Causalities of war further fuel this anti-war sentiment. Due to the inhumane treatment of ordinary people, particularly of women by the last Taliban regime, the Afghan Government has started to arm the citizens including women to defend themselves. Warlords and former dollar Mujahidin within the Afghan government like Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, the butcher of Kabul Hikmatyar, Mullah Salam Rockety etc have forcedly stopped this process. They fear that people once armed, might take on these bloodthirsty beasts who were being sheltered by American imperialism in the same of democracy and parliament, even before they fight the Taliban. Afghan Government is composed of individuals, groups, parties and warlords and militias with diverse backgrounds. Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani try to portray themselves as the continuation of Dr Najibullah’s (Left-wing President who was executed by the Taliban) government. More than half of Ashraf Ghani’s government is composed of former members of the Northern Alliance. Northern Alliance is composed of so-called ex Mujahidin and remanets of the Parchamite faction of PDPA (Khalaq Party), led by Abdullah Abdullah. Another Uzbek warlord is the illiterate General Rashid Dostum who was the Chief of Army Staff of President Najibullah. He was appointed after Najibullah had General Asif Shor and General Jaffar Sartir assassinated. Dostum resides mostly in Turkey and owns properties there. He’s a confidant of Erdogan and safeguards Turkish interests in Afghanistan. Dostum has threatened President Ghani that if his demands are not met, he will secede Uzbek, Aimaq and Turkmen areas into a Turkistan country. Erdogan has jumped into this great game using Dostum as his proxy. Turkish forces have refused to leave Afghanistan even after NATO’s withdrawal. Around 500 Turkish soldiers have occupied important strategic installations on the pretext of guarding the Kabul Airport. Erdogan, along with Pakistani rulers is negotiating the power structure of a future Afghan government. Publicly in his characteristic hypocrisy, Erdogan advises the Taliban to avoid war. Every militia and paramilitary group in Afghanistan are a proxy of a foreign state. The economic and state interests of these powers play a crucial role in determining the role of these proxies. The intervention of these conflicting interests complicates the situation manyfold. Pakistan, Russia and Iran have played a key role in helping the Taliban get to their present dominant position. A lot will be determined by how these powers and their allies act in future. Pakistan, under their policy of “Strategic Depth”, has been recruiting warlords like Hikmatyar and Mujadadi since the 70s and using them for their state interests and subservient governments in Kabul. Pakistan helped create the dollar Mujahidin. This time things are a little different. Pakistan’s deep state organized and supported the Taliban, provided them sanctuaries and training and medical facilities in order to fight against not only US invasion but also Indian Proxies. But unlike the past, they don’t have the supply of US dollars and a relatively stable Afghan government has made matters more difficult for them. On the other hand, the semi-fascist regime in Islamabad is an ally and dependent on the United States. They cannot afford a Taliban government in Kabul nor a major and prolonged war in Afghanistan. On the matters of domestic and foreign policy, Pakistani state policies are in opposite directions. Taliban’s advances are mounting more pressure on Imran Khan’s government than that on Ashraf Ghani’s. That is the reason why Imran Khan’s is distancing himself from the Military Junta and singing the praise of Xi Jinping.
Afghanistan has observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization SCO, which includes China, Russia and Central Asian nations. They view Afghanistan as a strategically important country in the middle of South Asia, Central Asia and Europe. China has been trying to gain influence in Afghanistan for a long time. The Chinses wants to include Afghanistan in the Belt and Road projects of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will connect Peshawar to Kabul and from there to the Silk Road in Central Asia. After the Taliban’s capture of the Wakhan corridor, China fears the spread of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (Religious fundamentalist secessionist movement) of Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang. Recently a visiting Taliban delegation called China a friendly nation and affirmed to resolve matters through negotiations with the Afghan Government. Russia has called two meetings of SCO in Dushanbe and Tashkent for the post US withdrawal situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was on the agenda for the special meeting of SCO foreign ministers. Russia is concerned about East Turkistan Islamic Movement and ISIL Khurasan section build up on the borders of Afghanistan. These fundamentalist groups can infiltrate the states adjoining Russia and carry out terrorist acts.
As explained before, in the 90s the US could act as the policeman of the world and could control rogue nations. The crisis of the capitalist economy and the failure of neoliberal policies has weakened the power of US imperialism. On the other hand, the rise and stability of China has enabled it to stand up to the US in Asia. Meanwhile, the Mafiosi Capitalism under a dictatorship in Russia has relatively stabilized the state which has led to a more aggressive foreign policy. As a result China and Russia, with their client states from the Pacific to South Asia, and from Central Asia to Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, have challenged the unipolar imperialist world order. American influence has declined and it had to focus on its domestic problems. Last week President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi sealed an agreement to end the US combat mission in Iraq.
The objective and subjective conditions that the Taliban had to their advantage in the 90s after the Capture of Kabul have drastically changed. In the extraordinary event of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, they do not have any program to solve the problems of the Afghan people and to develop the country. They have no plans to solve the miseries of Capitalism like poverty, deprivation, unemployment, illiteracy and lack of health facilities. They rely on a very barbaric and reactionary form of capitalism for their social and economic life. Anyway, Taliban’s rise to power will push the Unfortunate Afghanistan into an abyss of protracted civil war and bloodshed. US imperialism is moving its base from Afghanistan to the Gulf. For the benefit of the war industry and to avenge the humiliating defeat, the US will continue attacking with Cruise Missiles and Drones. This will be alarming for not only the Taliban but also Pakistan and Iran. In order to sabotage the Chinese Belt and Road project and to harasses Russia, the US will use terrorist outfits including ISIL Khurasan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan and others and this region will once again be ravaged by terrorism.
Peace and progress in Afghanistan are conditional with a revolutionary transformation in the region. But in order to stop the Taliban’s immediate advances and possible bloodshed and barbarism, the progressive elements, student and the workers’ organizations need an immediate plan of action, albeit on a provisional basis. To postpone the fight against the Taliban’s fascism until a revolution would be extremely insensitive and infantile. Similarly, despite all their corruption and anti-people character, the Afghan government and the Taliban cannot be viewed in the same way. So excluding the forces that are responsible for Afghanistan destruction, the need of the hour is an immediate joint strategy. First and foremost, an International solidarity of the working class is required to pressure the states involved in the destruction of Afghanistan (particularly the aiders and abettors of Taliban), through demonstrations and movements. And in the event of Taliban capturing power, use this solidarity to speak up against possible massacrers. Instead of warlords and former Mujahidin, the Afghan government should arm all the people and organize and mobilise them to fight the Taliban. For this, a mass people’s militia should be formed as soon as possible. In an emergency situation, an International peace force might intervene with air and ground support to stop the Taliban advance, but such a force would not be aligned with the interests and aspirations of the Afghan people, particularly if NATO, Iran or Pakistan were a part of it. This demand will expose the states that officially oppose the Taliban but act otherwise. Complete rights of organization and assembly for all organizations and political parties in Afghanistan except those with religious fundamentalist and fascist tendencies should be ensured. This could result in a movement to unite all progressive anti-Taliban tendencies in the region. Most importantly, the opportunities opened up by retreat and failure of Neoliberal Capitalism should be utilized to build revolutionary forces. The working masses are living in the misery of poverty and deprivation. Mass movements are rising again, this time on more radicalised bases. Under a revolutionary leadership, they can gather and wash away the exploitative system which is the real cause and source of imperialist horror and fundamentalist terror.