Bracing for a new Afghan war - Report from Pakistan

"The dark clouds of war and destruction loom large over Afghanistan and Pakistan. As time clicks away the atmosphere of speculation, uncertainty, confusion and deep fear grips these impoverished societies. The threat of Imperialist aggression in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington is dangling like a sword over the heads of the people." Lal Khan, editor of the Marxist paper Jeddo Judh (Class Struggle) in Pakistan, explains the background to the coming to power of the Taliban, their relationship with the Western oil companies, who is Osama Bin laden and finally reports on the mood in Pakistan and the effects a war could have on the Musharraf regime.

Editors Note:

As we go on-line on the morning of Thursday the 20th of September, events are moving with lightening speed. The Taliban leadership, by referring the matter of Bin Laden to a conference of Islamic clerics, the date of which was subsequently postponed, was clearly only playing for time. The threat of a devastating American attack, which would deal a crushing blow against the Taliban regime, has obviously given them food for thought. Now there are reports that the Taliban has asked Bin Laden to leave the country. This suggests that there are serious divisions in their ranks, with one section in favour of retreating in the face of the American threat, and others standing firm. The withdrawal of Pakistan's support has struck a mortal blow against this convulsive and inherently unstable regime, and some of them at least are already thinking about saving their own skins.

However, as all other reports from Afghanistan, this must be treated with reserve. It may be just another manoeuvre to play for time by a divided regime which stands on the brink of the abyss and does not know what to do. In the meantime, there are other reports of a big build up of US military forces in the Persian Gulf. These are the only reports in which we believe with no reservations whatsoever. The entire logic of events is sliding irresistibly in the direction of war.

Bracing for a new Afghan war

Report from Pakistan

The dark clouds of war and destruction loom large over Afghanistan and Pakistan. As time clicks away the atmosphere of speculation, uncertainty, confusion and deep fear grips these impoverished societies. The threat of Imperialist aggression in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington is dangling like a sword over the heads of the people.

Tensions have mounted on the Pakistan-Afghan border. For the first time since the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, the Pakistani and Taliban border forces have taken up positions against each other. The Taliban border guards have installed 12.7mm anti aircraft guns close to the border with Pakistan. The Pakistani paramilitary forces, the Khyber Rifles which man the Pakistan-Afghan border at Torkham, have also taken up positions. Arab, Pakistani, Uzbek and Tajik militants in Afghanistan have left Kabul and have taken up positions at the posts held by former Mujahideen in Khak-I- Jabbar, Dardand village 40 kilometres South of Kabul. The Arab Mujahideen have moved to their former bases and together with the Taliban have reactivated them.

The rising tension however did not deter the ruling Taliban elite from sending their families to safe sanctuary in Pakistan amid fears of US strikes on Afghanistan. But the ordinary people in Kabul and other towns and cities devastated by the wars, draught, poverty and hunger and repression are suffering in extreme destitution. This new threat of Imperialist aggression is yet another episode of horror these wretched of the earth will have to endure.

Out of total Afghan population of 23 million, more than a million perished in the ongoing conflict in the last two decades. Five million of them are rotting in the refugee camps and countryside of Iran and Pakistan. With this new threat of a US attack 4000 Afghans are crossing the porous border to enter Pakistan in spite of the official sealing of the frontier.

The average age in Afghanistan is 43 years. Apart from a tiny privileged ruling clique, the overwhelming population of Afghanistan is devoid of sanitation, health facilities, safe drinking water and other basic facilities of human existence. The literacy rate has fallen below 25 percent. There are 200,000 widows in Kabul who are not allowed to go outdoors and hence cannot work. They have no other income or any means of subsistence. The girls are barred from schools and education. There has never been a railway line in Afghanistan, one of the most rugged landscapes in the world. Afghanistan is also the most mined country in the world. In case of an US assault the ones who will suffer will be, as always, the poor, the weak and the destitute. The prices in Kabul are already soaring. Fuel prices have risen by 20 percent in just three days.

The reactionary impact of the terrorist attack has also exposed the vicious and brutal nature of the US state. In this reactionary binge -- where they do not even claim to have solid proof of Osama Bin Laden's involvement-they are vowing to destroy Afghanistan. But this is not the Gulf war, with its targeting of reinforced bunkers, hanger's factories, bridges and the palaces of Saddam Hussain. Afghanistan cannot be bombed back to the pre-industrial age, because it is already there. What little infrastructure Afghanistan had before it descended into political chaos has long since disappeared into rubble. Even the roads have been obliterated.

The American attack will initially be from the aerial bombing and cruise missiles from its battleships in the Gulf. There will be massive carpet-bombing, which will further devastate Afghanistan, if at all that is possible any more. The main targets of the military strikes would include Taliban head quarters in Kandhar, government and Arab residential blocks in Kabul, some government-related structures in Jalalabad and 18 airports and bridges in all the major cities in Afghanistan. The US-led forces would have a tremendous range of weaponry, ranging from "smart bombs" to Tomahawk cruise missile as well as conventional bombing of precise targets from high altitude bombers to level the ground before any limited ground of action is launched.

These "softened-up targets" would then be attacked through hit-and-run missions carried out through commando actions. This ground assault, following aerial attacks against Afghanistan, would be conducted by special US forces, marines and elements from the 82 and 101 airborne divisions of the US army. It is not ruled out that the Pakistan army SSG (Special Services group, Commando units) - who have been carrying out joint exercises with the 82 and 101 airborne US army divisions - might be ordered to carry out the job. Incidentally, General Pervaiz Musharraf comes from this arm of Pakistan's military.

The United States has 25,000 military personnel on ship or land in the Persian Gulf region. Two aircraft carrier groups, each with 75 warplanes and 10 to 20 ships, are also in the region. The USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson would most likely be used if the US decided to raid Afghanistan.

Although the social and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan is in tatters the Taliban have a comparatively high level of military arsenal. Last year's military parade in Kabul showed that Taliban still have at least 50 shoulder fired US stinger missiles (one of the most effective anti-aircraft missiles) available to them. The militia also have an unknown number of left-over Soviet T-59 and T-55 tanks. They also have 130-155 calibre artillery guns, besides 122 and 107 rockets. The Taliban army is equipped with some M1 gunship helicopters and anti-aircraft guns. They also have a large arsenal of anti-tank missiles.

Although this arsenal is no match for the colossal military might of the USA, still it will not be a simple affair for the Americans. The US will certainly avoid a direct military attack of the conventional warfare type. But even a hit-and-run commando operation will not be without causalities and a protracted guerrilla war can ensue. The Americans themselves have trained most of the Talibans' military strategists in this guerrilla warfare

Osama bin Laden was recruited by Turki Al Faisal, the Saudi intelligence Chief way back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, together with Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the CIA's favourite and a puppet of Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami. Bin Laden became CIA's chief organiser of the insurgency against the left wing government of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Ever since the fall of the Najibullah government in Kabul the feuding Islamicist factions created a chaos that endangered the interests of those who had sponsored the so-called Afghan Jehad. Jehad (Islamic holy war) was a term that had been abandoned for almost a thousand years since the 10th century A.D. This term Jehad, was revived, along with all the other baggage of Islamic fundamentalism by US Imperialism in the second half of the 19th century.

With the anarchy prevailing in post "communist" Afghanistan and spilling into Pakistan, the CIA along with ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) started propping up the Taliban in 1994. Ironically this was taking place under Benazir Bhutto's so-called progressive regime in Pakistan The financial backing of this operation - apart from Saudi Arabia and the CIA - mainly came from UNOCAL and the big US oil conglomerates. They had their own vested interests in getting oil and gas pipelines from Central Asian republics - mainly Turkmenistan - through Afghanistan down to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. The deal was struck under the auspices of the then US under -secretary of state Ms. Robyn Raphael. Another US foreign office senior bureaucrat, Robert Oakley had become one of the directors of the UNICOL, as a result of his experience in the region. The ISI also persuaded the PDPA (People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan) military faction led by Shahnawaz Tanai to join the Taliban forces and used his pilots to fly MIG 23 and Sakoi fighters of what was left of the Afghan air force and drive sophisticated Russian Tanks.

The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. US $30 million was paid by UNICOL alone for the completion of this operation. The Americans were not at all disturbed by the ruthless and barbaric acts perpetrated by the Taliban upon the poor Afghan populace. They had no complaints about the repression of women by these monsters. In fact, after coming to power the Taliban started playing with various oil multinationals who were trying to strike deals on oil and gas pipe lines with them. In 1997 the Taliban sent two delegations to the two competing bidders, UNICOL and Bridas (an Argentinian oil giant) to Texas and Buenos Aires. At the headquarters of Bridas in Buenos Aires, all the female staff were asked not to wear skirts, but to put on long trousers and cover their heads with scarves. Similar instructions were issued in Texas, USA. The Taliban, however, deceived both: they took the advantages and then ditched the deals.

The Pakistani dictatorship benefited enormously from the US sponsored Afghan war during the 1980s.They not only got economic privileges to stabilise their regime but also stole large chunks of financial aid and weaponry destined to reach the Islamic fundamentalist groups during their counter-revolutionary insurgency in Afghanistan. The generals made billions through their role in the largest covert operation ever launched by the CIA. The IMF, World Bank gave enormous loans to run the economy. The generals stashed away their spiraling incomes in the banks of Europe and America. The army and the ISI indulged not only in looting from the war money but also in connivance with CIA in the drug trade. Here they made more millions. But for Pakistan the chickens have now come home to roost.

The CIA initially created the ISI. The ISI up till now was the main architect of these Islamic terrorist groups. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the pull-out of the Russian troops from Afghanistan, this field of operations dropped way down the priority list of US foreign policy. The financial aid dried up and the US tried to stop the "operations" of its own creations. But the Genie had come out of the bottle. Conflict between the evil creator and its menacing creations was inevitable. This is what led Osama bin Laden to take on the "second Satan", his own mentor, the USA.

The Taliban had also benefited from Osama's vast financial empire, his training camps and his terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda with more than 13000 fanatics in its ranks. Mullah Omer the self proclaimed Caliph and "leader of the Muslim world" became very close to Osama bin Laden during this crusade. The one-eyed Mullah Omer and Bin Laden are also said to be related through marriage. The latest favour Bin Laden did for Mullah Omer was the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, Omer's most die-hard foe in the Panjsher valley. There are several other obligations of Bin Laden for which Mullah Omer is indebted. This means that the chances of Mullah Omar handing over Bin Laden to the West are bleak. He will even resist the factions within Taliban who would like to hand over Osama and avert the danger. Omar's house has been bombed before and there is ample evidence of the sprawling conflicts in the factional fighting which rages on amongst the Taliban leadership. The present crisis will further aggravate these contradictions.

But in all this the Pakistani regime is in the most precarious position. In spite of being a nuclear power the Pakistani regime is trembling in its shoes. This US assault on Afghanistan can have devastating consequences for Pakistan.

Pakistan's economy is in shambles. The US sanctions have further debilitated the economy. The growth rate has gone down from an annual average of 6.9 percent in the 1980s, and 4 percent in the 1990s to about 2.1 percent in the last two years. Pakistan would have defaulted, had the IMF not rescheduled its debt in the last few months. But the new loans are to continue the debt-servicing process. No major new projects are in the offing.

A major section of the Pakistan ruling class is in favour of outright subservience to the US Imperialism. Some are talking about getting a debt relief of 3 billion dollars through outright subserviance to US dictates. Most of the generals, top bureaucrats, judges and other members of the elite have enormous personal interests at stake. According to one report 28 individuals in the Pakistan elite have financial assets worth US $82 billion in the West. Pakistan has a total of $39.2bn foreign debt and $40.4bn domestic debt. It pays 65.5 percent of its budget in debt servicing and around 40 percent in military spending. Every economic year in Pakistan begins with the regime in the red. Pakistan GNP has shrunk to $67bn in the last few years. So the loot of the generals is at stake if they dare to defy the US Imperialism.

In case of an attack on Afghanistan, Pakistan could face other disasters too. The expected use of Pakistani air space by the US forces is intended in the first place to grip the attention of Pakistani military planners, who feel that an extensive use of US aerial power including Tomahawk cruise missile, smart bombs, B-52 bombing will be applied. These aerial arsenals will most likely fly over Pakistani air space. The dictatorship is fully prepared to ignore the violation of its air space but the regime is extremely worried about any air strike as many of the sensitive Pakistani nuclear facilities are located under the air passage likely to be used by the US or other allied forces.

Officials have said that Pakistan cannot afford to allow the possibility of any technical flaw in the aerial arsenal, especially when it will take its course in the air space that lies over the country's nuclear installations located at various secret points across the country. The bombing of the powdered milk plant factory in Baghdad during the gulf war and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade speak volumes for the precision and accuracy of these "smart" bombs.

Pakistan's desperate efforts to convince the Taliban to show flexibility and hand over Osama reflect the dilemma this state is in. In reality the state is being asked to disarm and crush those very organisations, which it created and with which it is in close contact to the present moment. General Mehmood Ahmed the head of ISI led the delegation sent to Kandhar to meet the Taliban elite. Incidentally, he was in the United States at the time of the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. It is an open secret that he got a good dressing-down by his bosses in America. But it is an impossible riddle for the ISI and the Pakistan state to solve. This situation is creating enormous strains on the already tense relations between different factions of the state. Although most generals are "united" in spite of deep hatreds and clashes of interests (loot), mainly because they see their survival by clinging on to this last edifice of a decaying state apparatus. Still, a coup against Musharraf and his pro-US cohorts cannot be totally ruled out.

But even if there is no successful coup, the safely and security of Musharraf and his camarilla is in grave danger. Although the chain of command, in the Pakistan army, created by the British, is such that the risk of a military coup from relatively lower ranks is minimal. But the resentment amongst the younger officers and ranks is enormous. This will be further exacerbated in the event of a US attack on Afghanistan.

The Taliban threat delivered by their ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef, on Saturday of invading any regional country that provides bases or air space to the American-led strike forces has been taken seriously by the regime.

Pakistani officials also believe that there is a real danger of sectarian terrorism erupting in the wake of the strikes because the Taliban continue to harbour some of the most wanted Pakistani sectarian criminals in Afghanistan. The other danger the regime is anticipating is random terrorism of the sort Pakistan has experienced emanating primarily from Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. Pakistan will have to deal with the blow-back of the inferno that Afghanistan will become when the US military operation starts.

Although the mainstream political parties, intellectuals, journalists and other sections of the ruling stratum have fallen into line with the US dictates, the situation on the ground is very different. At the moment there have been sporadic demonstrations and the anti-American movement has not taken a mass base. This could change very rapidly.

At present the main stalwarts of the "defence of Afghanistan" are the fundamentalists and Islamicist parties. The main support of these reactionary elements and the Taliban are the "Madrassas" or religious seminaries spread in the length and breadth of the country. The young students aged between 5-15 in these seminaries are mainly there because their parents cannot feed, clothe or educate them. They are chained at night in shackles, live in atrocious conditions and are indoctrinated in fanaticism and religious bigotry. The black money barons and the drug Mafia that are closely linked to the Taliban and the Islamic fundamentalists are the ones who fund these seminaries.

There are 5900 such seminaries throughout the country, in which about 500,000 religious students are being held. The Taliban themselves mainly came from Madrassas (seminaries) on the Pakistan-Afghan border, mainly in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier. They also provide fundamentalist zealots for the conflicts in Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. Similarly there are about 10,000 Arabs "graduates" from similar institutions who are with Taliban in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is the main co-ordinator of that part of the operation.

Apart from the fundamentalists, in the population in general there is a seething revulsion and hatred for the USA. The IMF conditional ties and the extreme exploitation being carried out at the behest of US Imperialism is evident even to the remotest peasant in Pakistan.

There was a general feeling of exhilaration amongst wide sections of the population at the new of attack on the WTC and the Pentagon.

Once the US aggression begins, the anti-American movement will start to expand and gather a mass base. The wider and the larger it gets, the weaker the control of Islamic fundamentalism will become. Whether Osama bin Laden is apprehended or not, the US attack will unleash such social unrest that it will become uncontrollable for the present military regime. A number of scenarios can open up. Another military ruler a new change of face with a civilian puppet or severe repression can ensue.

With the rapid economic decline, and the social and political upheavals that will flow from the US provocation, it would create a very dangerous situation for the state and the existing system.

In any case, the main victims of the US operation will be the poor, the innocent and the weak that have nothing to do with terrorism, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hence the US aggression has to be fervently opposed by the Marxists and the working class of Pakistan.

The leadership of the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) the main mass party in Pakistan is once again playing a treacherous role. In the last local elections they formed alliances with Islamic parties. Now when the same Jamaat-e-Islami called an All Parties Conference, to discuss the Impending attack on Afghanistan the PPP leadership refused to participate on the pretext that "there will be talk against America, hence we cannot participate in any such a conference". This has made the situation for the workers and youth more complicated and confusing. But once the movement erupts and the working class enters the struggle, the whole character of the movement will be changed. A revolutionary programme and slogans will gain a mass base and give a clear direction to this movement.

The US Imperialist aggression must be condemned - so should terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, represented by the monstrous Taliban regime and other Islamist outfits. An independent class position must be put forward with a clear revolutionary programme and strategy.

One of the fundamentalist army generals Hameed Gul sarcastically remarked a few months ago, "In the past those who were pro-Moscow used to call themselves progressive, now those who are pro-Washington call themselves progressives".

The reality is that, in this epoch of capitalist decay, Islamic fundamentalism and US Imperialism are two sides of the same coin.

These Islamic fundamentalists on one hand and the pro-Western NGOs and politicians on the other, are the products of this rotting system, whose economic crisis reflects in its social, political and cultural decay and decadence. As long as capitalism continues to dominate the planet, the horrors of imperialist aggression and fundamentalist terrorism will continue to torture and traumatise humankind. The only way out of this misery, suffering and barbarism is the overthrow of capitalism through the socialist revolution.

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