Afghanistan’s destiny: socialism or barbarism?

The US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan are fighting an unwinnable war. This fact is seeping into the consciousness of millions of people in the west who are now opposed to the war. But also in Afghanistan there are signs that the ordinary people are tired of both the imperialist occupation forces and the Taliban. The only alternative to the present barbarism is the struggle for a socialist federation of South Asia, which would include a socialist Afghanistan.

For innumerable generations the masses of this landlocked country, known to the world as Afghanistan, have suffered terribly. Insurgencies, wars and proxy wars, invasions and occupations have brought havoc for the masses. And yet there have been periods of relative stability, progressive developments and high levels of cultural standards. At times the arts, culture, architecture, music and social liberation of women were envied by the populace of the adjoining regions. In the 1970s Kabul was known as the Paris of the Orient. The ruins of the city are a painful memory of those blissful times. Unfortunately, apart for these short periods of growth and development, turmoil, turbulence, violence and bloodshed have been the dominant features of Afghanistan’s chequered history. But the post 2001 invasion of US and NATO forces has brought death and devastation on a scale unprecedented even by Afghan standards.

Yet eight years on; this invasion has not achieved any of its proclaimed goals. The boasts of democracy, human rights, modernity, liberation of women, freedom, development etc are no less than an insult upon injury for the masses inhabiting this unfortunate land. The imperialist imposed democracy is a tragedy and a farce at the same time. Hamid Karzai, installed after the invasion by the US viceroy to the region Zalme Khalilzad, has proved to be one of the worst stooges ever imposed by imperialism in a backward country. The paradox is that he was not a favourite of the US strategists in the White House and the Pentagon in these latest elections. Yet he was able to rig the elections right under their noses, against their will, through a beleaguered, dithering and extremely corrupt state apparatus. In the turbulent south and eastern Afghanistan, mainly inhabited by ethnic Pushtoons, in a large number of ballot boxes there was unanimity of votes for just one out of 36 candidates listed on the ballot papers and of course that candidate was Hamid Karzai. His explanation was straight and simple “A bit of fraud is inevitable in any young democracy, but Afghanistan is a tribal society where people vote collectively, it is not odd for everybody in a district to vote for me”. (The Economist, 12 September, 2009)

However, the real reason was to be found in the threat of the Taliban against those who dared to vote. This had forced such a low turnout that the corrupt officials had all the time in the world for ballot stuffing to create these unbelievable results. During the election process in more than 700 polling stations for women there was no balloting as the female officials refused to conduct the poll due to threats to their security. In Kandahar two women had their fingers cut off by the Taliban as they had marks of voting ink on them.

The role of the imperialists was even more pathetic. According to The Economist, ‘In even a half perfect world the natural response to a cheated election would be to hold another one – indeed, America at first urged Mr. Karzai to re-rig the ballot so that he would win less than 50% and could thus at least hold a fairer second round. Sadly Afghanistan is a long way from even a half-perfect world; it is not even Iran. Another round would be expensive, dangerous and divisive… nobody has a decent census of the country. In practice then the west, alas, has little alternative other than to try to make Mr. Karzai a better ruler…” (The Economist, September 12, 2009)

What a rare and stark confession on the part of one of the most influential policymakers of world capitalism. This political and policy defeat is reflected even more stubbornly in the military aggression that is facing an ever more subtle resistance against it. Karzai’s government is infested with drug barons and warlords. Even his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was accused by General Musharraf of running one of the largest drug cartels. According to the US investigators he has extensive links to the opium trade. He was to be tried in the US but the state prevailed and the media hushed up the whole case.

One of the warlords that Karzai brought to fracture the Northern Alliance of his main rival and ex foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, was General Qasim Fahim. He was a former defence minister and a notorious warlord involved in crimes like drug trafficking, kidnapping, ransom and genocide.

Biblical poverty stalks the land. The vast majority of the oppressed Afghans are being subjected to ferocious bombings, so-called “collateral damage”, extortion and death meted out by the Islamic fundamentalists, poverty, misery, disease, lack of education and other basic amenities at which the tiny elite rejoices. These stooges of imperialism live lavish lifestyles in fancy new villas in Kabul and other cities. The imperialists have pounded Afghanistan with bombs artillery shells, rockets and modern weaponry costing more than 10 times the aid promised at the Bonn Conference for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

This large-scale use of weapons of mass destruction has conveniently saved the US government from having to dole out any bailouts for the Military Industrial Complex. Paradoxically the military corporate mercenary firms like Halliburton, Black Water and others are brimming with high rates of profitability.

Although the Pakistan Army was involved in the Afghan imbroglio since the beginning of the reactionary insurgency, now this conflict has spiralled into Pakistan itself. Again the imperialist ordinance and war contracting firms have expanded their businesses in large areas of Pakistan.

In the last sixty years, apart from the few early years of the 1970s, Pakistan has been a satellite state of US imperialism and n the imperialists have dragged it into this atrocious war, making Pakistan more unstable and pushing onto the brink of a conflagration. The semblance of sovereignty has been obliterated after the advent of this new PPP-led democratic regime. It is more of an American colony now than it was at the times of the Raj.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan's Kunar province in August 2009. Photo by Matthew Moeller.U.S. troops in Afghanistan's Kunar province in August 2009. Photo by Matthew Moeller. The upholders of Pakistani statehood and nationalism are in a dire state. One of the most prominent representatives of the establishment, the former chief of the ISI and a main architect of its Afghan policy, Lt. General Asad Durrani, in an article titled “Occupying hearts and minds” writes, “Afghans do not take too kindly to the presence of foreign forces in their country, but Pakistanis have traditionally been more hospitable. The elites, always game for a deal, can be relied upon even to sell their soul to the devil… The stage seems set for the ultimate melee for Pakistan’s remains. While the parasites within are bleeding it dry, it is inevitable that the vultures without would be raring to feast on its carcass. Some of us might have no stomach for this scrap, but what if there were still people around with guts to fight back.”

In spite of the fact that NATO “anti-terror” war effort is being intensified, the outcome for this imperialist aggression looks more and more bleak. The only thing positive for the capitalists reminds us of Lenin’s idiom “War is terribly profitable”. Conditions are deteriorating rapidly on the ground. According to most optimistic estimates, illiteracy is still above 70% in Afghanistan. For women it is far worse.

On the other hand Obama’s doctrine of building a viable “Afghan” army is a non-starter. Building a 400,000 strong army would be arduous to say the least. Apart from everything else, the annual cost would be more than 300 percent of the country’s GDP.

Most British Generals have a very pessimistic opinion on this war. They have a much better historical and traditional acquaintance with the situation here. The imperialists and the regime in Islamabad have in fact failed to sever the links between sections of the ISI and the Taliban.

The US and European strategists are not very optimist either. According to the report of the new US commander in Afghanistan, General McCrystal, leaked to the Washington Post, “The situation in Afghanistan is getting from bad to worse; the Taliban insurgency is resilient and growing; Afghans are experiencing a crisis of confidence and they trust neither the Karzai regime nor the NATO forces… The US effort faces failure in Afghanistan without an urgent infusion of troops…” (Quoted in The News, Islamabad, 26 September, 2009).

However, Obama, as on other policy issues, is wavering and becoming more and more reluctant to send even more troops to this graveyard of Empires. The Washington Post summed up the situation deftly: “Obama can send more troops and it will hit a disaster and he will destroy the Democratic Party. Or he can send no more troops and it will be a disaster and the republicans will say he lost the war.”

There is also an increasing resentment toward the war in Afghanistan within the US and other NATO countries. The Time magazine survey reveals that 59 percent of Americans who doubt the war in Afghanistan will be successful. The numbers against this war are even higher in Europe. Even The Economist laments, “Will the voters in the West agree to sink more blood and treasure in the Hindukush?” (September 5, 2009).

Now the Taliban are opening new fronts in the Northern regions like Kunduz, stretching the NATO forces even more. It was in the plains around Kunduz that the Taliban surrendered in late 2001. On polling day rockets were fired into the city for the first time since 2001. Neighbouring Baghlan saw the worst bloodshed of any province.

The Economist goes further, “And in the North, a region where securities have long been taken for granted, Taliban advances are rattling foreign forces.” (ibid). In the coming months the mass movement against the war in the USA and Europe can surge to the level of the Vietnam War days. The impending defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of antediluvian warrior monks is another example, after Vietnam, of history’s retribution for a one time superpower.

The US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan are fighting an unwinnable war. Drawing by Latuff.The US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan are fighting an unwinnable war. Drawing by Latuff. Some US strategists are hyping up the “need” to have a dialogue with the Taliban, in the face of an approaching defeat. They are trying to buy, rent or hire the warlords which mostly end up in an even greater setback. The Taliban have a better funding mechanism, mainly through the drugs trade which now finances more than 70% of the costs of their insurgency. This was the method the CIA had taught them in financing the reactionary insurgency against the left-wing PDPA government in the first place.

In the nineteenth century, the British colonialists had installed their protégé Shah Shujah as the ruler of Afghanistan. The British envoy William McNaughton pulled the strings of this puppet king according to instructions from Buckingham Palace. Within less than two years, on December 24, 1841 McNaughton was captured and murdered, his headless, limbless body later appearing in the main bazaar of Kabul for public display.

Shah Shujah was quick to claim credit for the British route. Today’s Karzai is only more corrupt, arrogant, cunning and weak. The British imperialists had devised other measures to defeat the local armed resistance. This included the Durand line treaty of 1893, apparently negotiated with the Afghan ruler King Amir Abdul Rehman and Lord Curzon the British viceroy to India. This was a border line drawn on the maps which was meant to divide a Pushtoon people with the same language, history, culture and traditions. It still exists today as an artificial imperialist device to perpetuate the method of “divide and rule”.

In reality it has never been accepted by the majority of Pushtoons on both sides of the divide. Czarist Russia, the British colonizers and the US imperialists played out the Great Game to control this strategic country from a military and economic point of view. Most Afghan warlords and tribal leaders were mere stooges. Some who tried to defy were removed through proxy wars.

However, in the last century the most significant event was the overthrow of the Monarchy and subsequently the Afghan bourgeois regime of Daoud in 1978. This was carried through in what is known as the “Saur” or the Spring Revolution of April 27, 1978.

This revolution took place in form of a bloody military coup. Obviously it was not a classical Marxist or a Bolshevik Revolution. It was mainly triggered by the assassination of Mir Ali Akbar Khyber the leader of the Parcham faction of the PDPA, People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the Afghan Communist Party).

A demonstration of 10,000 in Kabul against this assassination had shaken the weak bourgeois Bonapartist regime of Mohammad Daoud who was desperate and was planning to assassinate most of the PDPA leaders incarcerated in the notorious Pul-i-Charkhi prison near Kabul. These included the leaders of both the Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA.

However, the main officers who led the assault on the prison, and struck the Presidential Palace with MIG fighters, belonged mainly to the “Khalq” (people’s) faction. The plan of the coup was drawn up on the spur of the moment as Daoud was going for the massacre of the left leadership.

But the plans were kept secret from the Parchamites because of their close relationship with Stalinist Moscow. At the time Daoud had excellent relation with Moscow and was receiving most of his aid from them. Daoud was also in liaison with the Americans and was extracting substantial aid from them also. He was playing his own great game.

The armed corps tanks led by General Qadir Aashna bombarded the walls of the Charkhi prison and the left-wing officers were able to free their comrades and leaders including Noor Muhammad Tarakai, who was the leader of the Khalq faction. Meanwhile Daoud was killed in an air raid on the palace.

The new left PDPA government was installed and there were jubilations, especially amongst the students and intelligentsia in Kabul and some other cities in Afghanistan. President Tarakai introduced some of the most radical measures ever in the history of Afghanistan. These included a total ban on the sale of women and usury, massive land reforms, reforms in health and education and the expropriation of whatever private or foreign capital was in Afghanistan.

The interesting aspect of this revolution was that the Khalqites had ensured that the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow should remain ignorant about its planning and execution. In one of his rare, and even more rarely available, works Tarakai had written, “In the third world the Russian support of the liberation movements and revolutions end up not in the liberation but the imposition of the agenda of the interests of Soviet bureaucracy”. (Quoted by Hameed Sherazmel in Class Struggle, September 15, 2009).

Soviet BMP-1 mechanised infantry combat vehicles move through Afghanistan in August 1988.Soviet BMP-1 mechanised infantry combat vehicles move through Afghanistan in August 1988. In an interview with The Dawn (Karachi) after the Geneva agreement, Gennady Grassimov, the chief political advisor to Michael Gorbachev, had clearly said that at the time of the 1978 “coup” the Soviet Ambassador in Kabul and the Kremlin “neither had information or knowledge, nor did it permit or support the act.”

But the measures taken by the Tarakai government sent shockwaves through US imperialism and their stooges in the region. The clergy and the Mullahs were outrageous. Their hold of landed estates and other privileges based on obscurantism were being threatened. The US imperialists considered it a huge strategic setback. Hence the CIA launched its biggest ever covert operation in the form of a Jihad (an insurgency based on religious bigotry) in Afghanistan. Initially Saudi money was used and the main executioner of this Jihad was the ISI [Pakistani Secrete Services].

The leadership of the PDPA, that had split and reunited before in the 1960s, were bewildered by the economic, social and military avalanche of attacks on the new regime. Their training in Stalinist Russia had inculcated “nationalism” on the lines of the Stalinist theory of socialism in one country. The more pressure they faced the more they capitulated to nationalist pressures. The Pushtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other national traits became more dominant in the Central Committee than Lenin’s proletarian internationalism.

All this brought friction within the regime itself. Instead of opting for an internationalist approach, strategy and methods they veered into so-called “indigenous” cultures and traditions, which mainly represent the past rather than the future. This led to bloody infighting with the assassination of Tarakai in September 1979. This brought another Khalqite, Hafeezullah Amin to power.

Now the faction fight between the Khalq and Parcham had become open and bloody. Amin was overthrown and assassinated in late December 1979 when the Russians intervened for their own “national” interests. Babrak Karmal was installed, who was later replaced by Najibullah.

The most prolific analysis and perspectives of the Afghan Saur (Spring) Revolution was put forward by Ted Grant a few weeks after these stormy events took place. In the summer of 1978 Ted wrote:

“On the North West frontiers of Pakistan and among the Baluchis there is already endemic and simmering revolt, with these peoples looking towards a unity with their brothers in Afghanistan. The effect would be in widening circles, the repercussions of which could be felt in Iran and further afield, also in India.

“This is the road which the 'Communist Party', which holds power together with the radical officers, will take. The opposition of the old forces in Afghanistan, as in Ethiopia, will in all probability impel them in this direction.

“If they temporise, possibly under the influence of the Russian ambassador and the Russian regime, they will prepare the way for a ferocious counter-revolution based on the threatened nobility and the mullahs. If successful, counter-revolution would restore the old regime on the bones of hundreds of thousands of peasants, the massacres of the radical officers and the near extermination of the educated elite. For the moment - until there is a movement of the only advanced class which can bring a transition moving in the direction of socialism in the industrially developed countries - the most progressive development in Afghanistan seems at the present time to be the installation of proletarian Bonapartism.

“While not closing our eyes to the new contradictions this will involve, on the basis of a transitional economy of a workers' state, without workers' democracy, Marxists, in a sober fashion, will support the emergence of such a state and the further weakening not only of imperialism and capitalism but also of regimes basing themselves on the remnants of feudalism in the most backward countries.” (Ted Grant, The Colonial Revolution and the Deformed Workers’ States)

When the author of this article showed these documents to Air force and Army Generals who had led the insurrection they were flabbergasted. Some expressed deep regret and remorse at not having had this analysis at their disposal when they were in power. The revolution had begun to overthrow landlord and Capitalism but its survival in a country like Afghanistan on a nationalist level was sheer utopia. The more compromises they made with reaction at the behest of Moscow, the more they weakened their regime.

An Afghan Mujahideen demonstrates positioning of a hand-held surface-to-air missile in August 1988.An Afghan Mujahideen demonstrates positioning of a hand-held surface-to-air missile in August 1988. The Russians withdrew by February 1989. The Najibullah regime fell in 1992. But then it was chaos, anarchy and destruction. The warring Mujahideen factions pulverised Kabul and Afghanistan. The ruining of the architecture and the brutality of social, economic and cultural life was an unmitigated disaster. Thousands died, millions moved to the refugee camps in Pakistan and to some extent in Iran.

Such was the turbulence and conflagration that the Taliban began to organize, armed by the ISI in connivance with the CIA and other US corporate interests. Robert Oakley, the former deputy secretary of State and then advisor to the US oil giant UNOCAL, paid 30 million dollars in cash to Mullah Omar to capture Kabul. The Taliban took Kabul from other warring Islamic factions in 1996 with the guidance and support of the ISI, Pakistan’s secret services.

The Talibanisation process was initially supported by imperialism as it was a potential source of what they considered relative stability. They needed it to lay their oil and gas pipelines and pursue other ventures of vulture capitalism.

Osama bin Laden was recruited into the “Jihad” by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security advisor way back in 1978. Al Qaeda established roots by mainly paying Saudi oil money to the Taliban to rent Afghanistan as their operational base. By now the monster created by the CIA had become a Frankenstein’s Monster. Then came 9/11 and the imperialist invasion in its aftermath.

Afghanistan today is amongst the 10 poorest countries in the world. It is the world’s largest producer and smuggler of drugs. The latest figures put the total drugs income at $52 billion.

The conditions of the masses have, however, further deteriorated under the US-sponsored regime of Karzai. Even more draconian anti-women laws have been passed by the façade of a parliament called the Loya Jirga. Health, education, safe drinking water and other utilities are probably some of the worst in the world.

Now, in this new great game there are new entrants including China, India, Iran and Pakistan. There is a semblance of National Unity of Afghanistan, but is only held together because 90% of the country’s official income comes in the form of donors’ aid and the ‘centre’ in Kabul has the distribution control.

Even if Abdullah is included in a coalition with Karzai it would hardly make any difference. The warlords in their fiefdoms are semi-autonomous. They will continue their politics of extortion, murder, kidnappings, ransom, smuggling, plunder, blackmailing and other crimes. There is no other power politics possible in this deteriorating socio economic system.

This society is a hotchpotch of tribalism, feudalism, capitalism under the imperialist yoke. The Mullahs will continue their Jihad that has become a most profitable enterprise. Those who had envisaged that a UN or NATO intervention would bring any stability can see – if at all they have eyes to see ‑ the catastrophic results. Only thugs like Karzai can remain at the helm, even when he criticises some of the imperialist attacks on civilians as an answer to attempts to control his gangster politics and corruption.

The imperialist media repeatedly tries to instil the phobia of Al Qaeda and uses the clichés of Islamic fanaticism to subdue the working class under severe economic attacks in the West. Similarly films like ‘Slum dog Millionaire’ are given Oscars and huge publicity to show the workers in the west how much ‘better’ their lives are even when they compel them to accept all the cuts in their living standards.

However, all this cannot go on for ever. The resistance to imperialist occupation is not only from the Taliban or other religious bigots. They are hated, probably as much as the Americans by the masses at large. Their bestiality cannot win them a social base. There are other secular nationalist, progressive, left groups and remnants of the former Communist Party who are also part of the resistance.

It would be a disaster for imperialist propaganda if these sections of the resistance were acknowledged, quoted or mentioned by the media. The social basis of the Islamic fundamentalists has been debilitated in the last few years in Afghanistan, the Middle East and in the countries of the so called Islamic World. It is only imperialism that props them up again and again. After all they are two sides of the same coin.

However, with the present regional situation the solution to Afghanistan’s misery is not to be found within its imposed borders. Developments elsewhere, especially in Pakistan and Iran, can have a gigantic effect.

There are already regular Marxist study groups in Kabul, Ghazni, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and other places. The whole history and experience of the last eight years of occupation and aid has shown that none of the democratic tasks can be achieved under capitalism. The so-called “modernity” brought in by imperialist capital has only aggravated and strengthened primitivism and the forces of barbarism in Afghanistan.

The April 1978 revolution, in a caricatured way perhaps, underlined the truth of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution. Without a socialist revolution Afghanistan is doomed. New tendencies are taking root and gaining strength in the countries of this region. Any development of a mass revolutionary party or even a socialist victory will have an enormous impact upon the youth and working masses in Afghanistan. After all it was the first country in the region that dared to embark on the road of overthrowing capitalism and landlordism. Only a revolutionary socialist victory can change the destiny of Afghanistan, smash barbarism, break the shackles of imperialism, make a decisive break with obscurantism and abolish the barriers between the peoples of the ‘Durand Line’.

It will be a leap from the realm of primitiveness into the realm of freedom. It will be part of a world socialist federation, a more advanced version of what the USSR originally set out to achieve, and it can begin here in South Asia.