The bombing of Afghanistan has now begun. The most powerful and richest country in the world, the USA, is bombing one of the poorest countries on this planet. And Britain, as usual, is behaving as an obedient lapdog to US imperialism. However they may try to disguise it, this war is not about “justice” or “fighting terrorism”. The aim is to terrorise the peoples of the former colonial countries, to bully them into submitting to the will of the rich and powerful. It is a warning: 'either you do as we say, or you get bombed!'
They have blamed Osama Bin Laden for the death of over 5000 people in the WTC Twin Towers in New York. They have produced a lengthy document in which they claim to "prove" his guilt. But the very same document says that this so-called evidence would not stand up in a court of law! It boils down to us having to trust Bush, Blair and the CIA! What they conveniently leave out is that Osama Bin Laden is a creature of US imperialism. He was supported and financed in the past when he was useful to US interests in overthrowing the Soviet backed Afghan regime in the 1980s. The US also supported the various Islamic fundamentalist groups, both those in the present Northern Alliance and the Taliban. The western imperialists didn’t bat an eyelid when the people of Afghanistan were suffering under these various fundamentalist cliques as they fought each other for control over what remained of Afghanistan after years of warfare.
Plenty of money for bombs! No money for welfare!
Each cruise missile costs one million dollars. In the first wave of bombing they have launched 50 of these missiles at Afghanistan. The overall cost of this "war" will run into billions of dollars. Capitalists have no problems in spending this huge amount of wealth when it comes to protecting what they see as their vital interests. But when it comes to spending money on welfare, housing, water supplies, etc., they complain about lack of resources, that they have no money for such things.
If instead of spending so much money on weapons of destruction this wealth were used to alleviate the dire social and economic conditions facing millions of human beings around the planet we would not be facing the present unstable and potentially explosive world situation. But the capitalist system is not about solving social problems. It is about prestige, spheres of influence and profit. It is about extracting every last drop of surplus value out of the millions of workers of the world. The capitalist system cannot behave in any other way. Anyone who thinks that we can have capitalism without war, without poverty and degradation is living in a dream world.
For the past twenty years or so the capitalist class internationally have been waging an incessant onslaught on the working and living conditions of the workers. In the underdeveloped countries that has meant unbearable pressure on the masses. Poverty is rampant.
This is what has spawned terrorism, racism, ethnic conflict and wars. In the ultimate analysis the rich of the world - the capitalists - are to blame for the situation we are now facing.
The propaganda machine has been preparing the masses for this war. Every day we are told how bad the Taliban regime is, how badly they treat women, how little they care for the ordinary Afghan people. But how is the bombing of Afghanistan back into the stone age going to solve the problem? Rather than stabilising the situation the war that has just begun is going to further destabilise it. As millions of poor Afghans are displaced and thousands die under the bombs of the "civilised West", terrorist organisations such as bin Laden's 'Al Qaida' will find plenty of willing recruits prepared to carry out attacks in the West. So even the so-called aim of eliminating terrorism will not be achieved, rather it will be the contrary. The problem will be enormously exacerbated.
One of the stories that have been spread by government officials to further justify action against the Taliban regime relates to their involvement in the heroin trade. According to this the Taliban are holding massive amounts of heroin which they will release onto the world market. It is quite true that the Taliban regime finances itself partly through the production of heroin, however what Washington and London are conveniently forgetting is that this is not a new feature of the Taliban movement but rather one which goes back to the time in the 1990s when they were supported by the West and Pakistan in the Afghanistan civil war between different Islamic fundamentalist war lords.
However, this piece of propaganda ("the Taliban are going to flood the West with heroin") faces a little difficulty for the West, since the Northern Alliance, which are now on Bush's side of the 'war against terrorism' are also known to finance themselves through the lucrative heroin and opium trade. In fact, last year the United Nations reached an agreement with the Taliban regime to stop the production of opium. According to Mohammad Amirkhizi, senior policy adviser at the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, the Taliban did enforce the ban on growing the poppy, and as a result, most opium produced in Afghanistan is now in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance! According to the same UN agency, "growers in Northern Alliance areas harvested about 150 tons of the opium poppy this year" in the 10% of the territory they control, as opposed to 50 tons harvested in the 90% of the country's territory controlled by the Taliban regime.
The Farce of Humanitarian aid
As part of the propaganda war which is being fought to convince people that this is a war which has a humanitarian dimension, the US and British forces dropped some food parcels together with the bombs and Cruise and Tomahawk missiles. The grand total of food "delivered" was 37,500 parcels. According to some estimates at this rate it would take about 6 months of deliveries to feed the millions of Afghan people for one day! Furthermore aid workers have made it clear that this method is completely ineffective. Will Day, chief executive of Care International, said: "Air drops make great TV, but they often represent a failure to respond to a food crisis." Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam added that "trucking of food is cheaper and is tried and tested. Air drops are risky, random, expensive, and likely to meet only a fraction of the need. Aid workers would be put in a difficult position if food aid came to be viewed as part of a military effort". (Guardian, Monday October 8, 2001) Not only that, but US and British policy in the area is making a bad situation worse by instructing neighbouring countries to close their borders with Afghanistan and not allowing the hundreds of thousands of refugees out of the country. In fact, the threat of military action, and now the cruise missiles, are one of the main factors why people are fleeing Afghanistan. As for the humanitarian concerns of US imperialism we just have to remember that during the bombing of Yugoslavia three years ago they even bombed an aid convoy which was crossing Kosovo.
It is going to be a long drawn out war
They have now started with aerial bombing. Early reports indicated that the bombing has been aimed at destroying the Taliban's capability of air attacks. Thus they have bombed airstrips to try and stop the Talibans using their warplanes. But they have also destroyed a power station. Afghanistan's limited infrastructure has already been heavily damaged by years of internal warfare. Now the rich west is destroying what little is left!
Bush has explained that this heavy bombing campaign is preparing the way for the sending in of ground troops. Once that happens the situation will begin to change among "public opinion". A ground war in Afghanistan will inevitably lead to the loss of US and British troops. The conditions in which they would have to fight would be those of almost man to man combat in very mountainous terrain. No one has ever completely dominated Afghanistan. When it was a British colony the mountain areas were still in the hands of the local chieftains.
At the moment outright opposition to the war is not strong in the industrialised countries. However, neither is there one homogeneous bloc in favour of the war. Already there have been demonstrations against the war, even in New York itself. We have to remember that mass opposition at the time of the Vietnam War did not develop immediately. It took time. But opposition will inevitably grow as time goes on, as the masses begin to realise the real nature of this war. This will also lead to a growing questioning of the system that brought about this situation. Thus a process of radicalisation will inevitably come about.
Today they may take Kabul, but that will not mean a total victory. Eighty percent of Kabul's buildings have already been destroyed in the fighting between the different rival Islamic fundamentalist groups. Many of Kabul's inhabitants have already fled. the serious fighting will not take place in the cities, but in the surrounding mountains. Already Blair and company have warned that their will be casualties among US and British troops.
This very fact also explains the nature of the so-called "international coalition" of 40 or so countries. While they boast of this wide coalition, only two countries have actually taken part in the bombing, the USA and Britain. As one expert pointed out, it is better to have a small coalition when it comes to the actual fighting. In the bombing of Kosovo there were many arguments about targets. Each country had to take into consideration the mood and the sensibilities at home. The mood in many NATO countries today, for instance, is not one of conviction about the war aims. In countries like Greece and Italy there have already been big demonstrations against the war.
Opposition to the war will grow
The strategists of capital know that the mood will also change in the USA and Britain. That is why Bush has explained that it is going to be a long and difficult war. It also explains why they have taken so long to launch the attack. In the past few days it was clear that some sections of the US ruling class were hoping the Taliban could be brought down through external pressure. They had forced Pakistan to withdraw its support for the Taliban regime. Without this support the Taliban could not survive for long. But the Taliban are not going to go away of their own accord. They are now a desperate regime. In the past they have meted out a terrible vengeance on their opponents. If they lose power they could face the same fate. They could lose control of the main cities but they will only withdraw to safer bases in the mountains and continue their fighting from there.
The US and their allies are trying to patch together some kind of alternative government to replace the Taliban regime. The so-called Northern Alliance is part of this plan. But when the Northern Alliance were in power they were a corrupt and despotic regime. It was this that allowed the Taliban to present themselves as "liberators" who would rid the country of these corrupt elements. The Northern Alliance were just as bad as the Talibans who replaced them. Furthermore, the Northern Alliance is ethnically based on Tagiks and Uzbeks, whereas the majority of Afghans are Pushtoons. A government based solely on the Northern Alliance would not have the authority to govern. It would not lead to stability. Far from it. That explains why they have even involved the former king!
The Financial Times (8.10.2001) quoted one diplomat as saying that "The scenario could be a coalition government, committed to disarming the warring groups, supported by UN peacekeeping forces." That means that US and British troops would have to occupy Afghanistan and oversee this process. It could only work for a period by having these troops permanently stationed in Afghanistan. Whatever government was formed it would not solve any of the problems of the Afghan people. It would serve the interests of the imperialists who had placed it in power. Thus the western troops would find themselves facing a hostile population.
It will destabilise the whole region
A sustained bombing campaign is going to lead inevitably to heavy casualties among the civilian population. This is going to enrage the Arab and other Muslim peoples of the world. It is interesting to note that the US have not pressurised Saudi Arabia to allow its bases to be used in the bombing campaign. The situation in Saudi Arabia is symptomatic of what is happening in the whole region. Income per capita is now $7,000 a year, compared to $16,000 in the early 1980s. There is growing youth unemployment. In these conditions, with no genuine left alternative on offer, some of the youth can see bin Laden as some kind of anti-imperialist hero. And Saudi Arabia is one of the richest Arab countries. In the other Arab countries the situation facing ordinary workers and youth is far worse!
The situation is already destabilising Pakistan. Under enormous pressure from the West (most likely to do with financial aid and debt repayment) the Musharaff military regime has come out in support of the bombing. But interestingly Musharaff himself made a speech in which he stated that it would be a quick operation involving no civilian casualties with the sole aim of capturing the "terrorists". But it is not going to be a short military operation. It is going to be long and many people are going to be killed. This will have an effect on the masses in Pakistan. There have already been demonstrations organised by the Islamic fundamentalists. These have been small with only a few participants. This reflects the weakness of fundamentalism in Pakistan at the present moment, but as the fighting escalates the opposition movement could grow. Thus instability would spread also to Pakistan.
Opposition in Pakistan is not only limited to a layer of the masses. Musharaf has just removed from their positions two leading Generals who have strong sympathies for the Taliban. Up till very recently the whole regime was supporting the Taliban, and doing lucrative trade with them. Many generals will not be happy at the new situation and thus Musharaff could also be threatened from within the army elite.
Workers need an alternative
The workers of these countries rightly blame imperialism for the poverty that is afflicting them. And they see their governments as mere puppets of imperialism. Bin Laden knows this. In his recently televised speech he made a direct appeal to the masses in all Islamic countries to rise against their governments. He is exploiting the plight of the Arab masses for his own ends. He is a reactionary demagogue. He had no qualms in the past in dealing with the CIA and receiving aid from them. He is no friend of the Arab masses. The Taliban regime reflects his kind of thinking. No organisation or group based on the ideas of elements such as bin Laden could ever defend the real interests of the Arab workers, or of the workers in any of the other Islamic countries.
This situation can only arise where the leaders of the labour movement have abdicated their role. The masses are looking for a way out throughout this region, but no one is giving them one.
The US and its allies are aiming to overthrow the Taliban regime. Any government that they put in its place will only be their puppet.
The task of overthrowing the Taliban regime belongs to the Afghan people themselves. Many may scoff at this. But we would like to remind them that when NATO was bombing Yugoslavia we said that the task of overthrowing Milosevic belonged to the Serbian workers. We were told that was not realistic. All the bombs had no effect. But Milosevic was brought down by the movement of the Serbian masses, vindicating what we said.
Today the same applies to Afghanistan. The workers and peasants of Afghanistan cannot place any trust in the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, the exiled King or any politician the West is going to impose. They can only count on themselves. It is the duty of workers around the world to help the working masses of Afghanistan. Especially the workers of Pakistan, India, Iran and the other surrounding countries have a role to play. If the workers of Pakistan were to come to power with their own independent revolutionary workers' party the situation in Afghanistan would be dramatically changed. The future of Afghanistan, due to its extremely underdeveloped nature, cannot be separated from that of the countries surrounding it.
In the last analysis the problems of the Afghan masses can only be solved within the context of a Socialist Federation of the Indian Subcontinent. Unless the corrupt cliques that rule these countries are overthrown by the workers themselves there will be no lasting solution.