Reaping the Whirlwind - The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Book review)

"Pluto Press have recently published a new book, Reaping the Whirlwind, The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, by Michael Griffin. He has done a service in providing some quite detailed information about the origins of the Taliban and the background that led to their emerging as a force capable of taking control of most of modern-day Afghanistan."

Pluto Press have recently published a new book, Reaping the Whirlwind, The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, by Michael Griffin. He has done a service in providing some quite detailed information about the origins of the Taliban and the background that led to their emerging as a force capable of taking control of most of modern-day Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has always been at the mercy of foreign powers. It was created artificially as a buffer state between British dominated India and the Tsarist Empire. The frontiers drawn by the imperialist powers did not take into account the peoples that inhabited the area. This is now part of the problem in Afghanistan today, with warring groups based on the different ethnic groups living in the country. 

Apart from Kabul, most of the rest of the country remained at the level of the Middle Ages. There was hardly any working class, as industry was very sparse. In these conditions it was the army officers that took upon themselves the role of trying to push Afghanistan forward and to modernise it. 

As Michael Griffin explains, "by 1970, some 7,000 officers in the armed forces had received training in the USSR." This officer caste was able to witness the high level of development of the USSR and could compare the standard of living in the Soviet Republics such as Tagikistan, Uzbekistan and others, with the awful levels of underdevelopment in Afghanistan. That explains why the Afghan Communist Party, that took the name of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, was based heavily on the officers in the Afghan Army, who would eventually carry out a coup in 1978 and attempt to set up a regime modelled on that of the Soviet Union.

Whatever the bourgeois media may try and say today, that regime was undoubtedly the most progressive that Afghanistan has ever seen. It tried to impose land reform and compulsory education for women. It also attempted to stop the selling of women. These measures which would seem reasonable to any civilised person, were to provoke the reaction of the most backward elements of Afghan society. Within Kabul itself, and a few other cities, there was general support for these measures. Kabul was regarded as a vibrant and modern centre of culture. But in the more isolated rural and mountain regions there was another world. 

From these regions a jihad, a holy war, was launched with the aim of overthrowing the new regime in Kabul. That explains why the Soviet Union decided to send in its troops in 1979. The fall of the regime would have had the effect of destabilising the southern Soviet Republics such as Tagikistan and Uzbekistan. Thus the Soviet Union intervened for its own internal reasons. 

Although Michael Griffin gives us a lot of very useful information and insights into the situation in Afghanistan, we feel that he does make one important mistake. He claims that Taraki, the then leader of the PDPA, carried out his coup in 1978 "with support from Moscow". In reality Moscow would have preferred a cosy relationship with the former king Daoud. After all, the Stalinist bureaucrats in Moscow had supported the Indian bourgeoisie for years, just as they had done in several parts of the world. The Moscow bureaucracy had put a brake on many revolutionary movements around the world who turned to them for help. The situation in Nicaragua is one of the more blatant examples of this. 

In discussions with some of the officers concerned we know that the 1978 coup was carried out without support from Moscow. Moscow wished for no social change in Afghanistan. It preferred to keep Afghanistan as a buffer state and had very good relations with Daoud. But some of the factions within the PDPA had other ideas, especially after king Daoud had arrested some of the leaders of the PDPA. Rumours were spreading that these would be executed. At the same time the leader of the PDPA was assassinated. The young officers thought the king was responsible. [It later turned out that the KGB was responsible]. So they decided to organise a raid on the prison. They blasted the prison and bombed the royal palace. The Russians thus found themselves with a fait accompli and had to make the best of it. 

The coup of 1978 was an enormous step forward for Afghan society and there were many gains for the people as a result. But the huge areas of underdevelopment meant that there was a great potential for reaction. The Pakistani secret services, the CIA, the Saudis, and others, were keen to see the overthrow of the new regime in Afghanistan and thus began supplying aid and weapons to the so-called "freedom fighters". 

Michael Griffin describes in detail how the Islamic fundamentalists took over and how in turn these were replaced by the more virulent Taliban, He reveals their links with the CIA, drug barons and the oil tycoons. Today the US government condemns the Taliban as a "rogue regime", but it conveniently hides its past involvement in financing them when they were useful in their attempt to overthrow the PDPA regime and in pushing back the Soviet Army. 

Now these "freedom fighters" have imposed a despotic regime on the peoples of Afghanistan. The plight of women is especially bad. And Griffin gives a lot of information on their condition. Women have been banned from most jobs and are isolated to the four walls of their homes. As the book points out the Taliban "quickly came to be seen as an army of occupation". 

The book provides an interesting quote from Najibullah, the leader of the PDPA, overthrown by the Islamic fundamentalists: "If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a centre of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a centre for terrorism." (11.3.92) How true those word sound now! 

We would recommend this book to anyone seeking the truth about what has happened in Afghanistan.