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afghanistan before the Taliban
by George Snedeker
22 November 2001 02:37 UTC
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 Afghanistan: A Forgotten Chapter
> By John Ryan
> Canadian Dimension
> November/December 2001
> I was in Afghanistan on an agricultural research
> project in October and November of 1978. Through Kabul
> University I conducted my research project with the
> assistance of an agriculture professor. A Marxist
> government had come to power only six months before, so
> I was there at a significant period in the country's
> history.
> The bulk of Afghanistan's people in the 1970s were
> farmers, but the landholding system hadn't changed much
> since the feudal period. More than three quarters of
> the land was owned by landlords who comprised only
> three per cent of the rural population. The king was
> deposed in 1973, but no land reform came about and the
> new government was autocratic, corrupt and unpopular.
> On April 27, 1978, to prevent the police from attacking
> a huge demonstration in front of the presidential
> palace, the army intervened, and after firing a single
> shot from a tank at the palace, the government
> resigned. The military officers then invited the
> Marxist party to form the government, under the
> leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a university
> professor.
> This is how a Marxist government came into office -- it
> was a totally indigenous happening -- not even the CIA
> blamed the U.S.S.R. for this. The government began to
> bring in much-needed reforms, but with restraint and
> prudence. Labour unions were legalized, a minimum wage
> was established, a progressive income tax was
> introduced, men and women were given equal rights, and
> girls were encouraged to go to school. On September 1,
> 1978, there was an abolition of all debts owed by
> farmers. A program was being developed for major land
> reform, and it was expected that all farm
> families (including landlords) would be given the
> equivalent of equal amounts of land.
> Everywhere life seemed peaceful and there were few
> police and soldiers on the scene. This was a genuinely
> popular government and people looked forward to the
> future with great hope. Admittedly, the issue of
> women's rights and education for girls was
> controversial, and fundamentalist mullahs conducted
> campaigns against this. It was these people and their
> converts, along with landlords, who migrated to
> Pakistan, as refugees.
> But there was a much more powerful opponent to the
> government -- that was the U.S., which objected to it
> because it was Marxist. The CIA, along with Pakistan
> and Saudi Arabia, almost immediately began to provide
> military aid and training to the Muslim extremists.
> Afghan Marxists have claimed that one of their
> countrymen, Hafizullah Amin, while on visits to the
> U.S., had been "converted" by the CIA and became their
> agent in the Taraki government. He worked his way to
> the top, and, as defence minister, in September, 1979,
> carried out a coup, took over the government, and had
> Taraki killed. All his loyal supporters were killed,
> jailed, or exiled. He then proceeded to undermine and
> discredit the Marxist government. He enacted draconian
> laws against the Muslim clergy, to purposefully further
> alienate them. Progressive reforms were halted and
> thousands of people were jailed.
> Meanwhile, the CIA's trained and armed mujahedeen came
> in by the thousands to attack parts of the country. In
> a matter of three months, Amin had essentially
> destroyed the Marxist government and had planned to
> surrender to the mujahedeen, and become the president
> of a fundamentalist Islamic state. But at the end of
> December, 1979, Amin was overthrown by the remnants of
> Taraki supporters, and, under the leadership of Babrak
> Karmal (who had been in exile in the U.S.S.R.), they
> invited the U.S.S.R. to send in a contingent of troops
> to help ward off the well-armed mujahedeen invaders,
> many being foreign mercenaries.
> The advent of Soviet troops on Afghan soil tragically
> set the stage for the eventual destruction of the
> country. President Carter's national security advisor,
> Zbigniew Brzezinske, saw this as a golden opportunity
> to fire up the zeal of the most reactionary Muslim
> fanatics -- to have them declare a jihad on the atheist
> infidels who defiled Afghan soil -- and to not only
> expel them but to pursue them and "liberate" the
> Muslim-majority areas of the U.S.S.R. And for the next
> ten years, with an expenditure of about 40 billion
> dollars from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and with the
> recruitment of 30,000 non- Afghan Muslims into the
> jihad (including Osama bin Laden), this army of
> religious zealots laid waste to the land and people of
> Afghanistan.
> The Soviets succumbed to their Vietnam and withdrew
> their troops in February, 1989, but the war raged on.
> Somehow it is generally thought that the Afghan Marxist
> government collapsed as soon as the Soviets left, but
> that's not true. Seeing the viciousness of the
> mujahedeen, the bulk of the Afghan population,
> especially the women, supported the Marxist government,
> and without a single Soviet soldier on their territory,
> they fought on for another three years. (In fact, their
> government outlasted the U.S.S.R. itself, which
> collapsed in December of 1991.) But they couldn't match
> the unending supply of superior American weapons, and
> after the Marxist defeat in April, 1992, the mujahedeen
> fought amongst themselves until the Taliban captured
> Kabul in September, 1996.
> During the years of war, Kabul was totally destroyed,
> as were most other cities -- with the greatest damage
> occurring after the Marxist defeat during the
> internecine fratricidal conflict. The Taliban
> introduced a horrific reactionary regime. The landlords
> came back, and a virtual war was declared on women, who
> were not allowed to work or have doctors treat them,
> and girls were forbidden to go to school. Terror, in
> all its forms, became the basis of the regime -- a
> regime of fascist Muslims.
> So, who is to blame for this? Both the USA and the
> USSR. What stupidity for the Soviets to send in troops
> to try to salvage a Marxist regime that was under
> attack by hordes of religious fanatics. Their mere
> presence on Afghan soil intensified American resolve
> and mujahedeen fanaticism. If the Soviets had simply
> provided weapons for the Afghan Marxist government,
> they may have survived the "barbarians at the gates" --
> because ordinary Afghan people were not fanatics and
> they had supported the government's progressive
> reforms. And even if they lost to the mujahedeen, in
> time they might have prevailed and restored a
> progressive secular government. But now, because of the
> protracted war and the complete destruction of the
> country, and a Nazi-type regime in control, ordinary
> Afghan people are indeed defeated S and without hope.
> But if the Soviets are to blame, how about the U.S.,
> Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? The U.S. "Communist
> paranoia" was such that they supported and recruited
> the most reactionary fanatic religious zealots on the
> earth -- and used them as a proxy army to fight
> Communism and the U.S.S.R. -- in the course of which
> Afghanistan and its people were destroyed. As for the
> mujahedeen that this conflict created, they took on a
> life of their own, and have now spread throughout the
> Muslim world and are apparently in cells everywhere.
> Having defeated what they called Soviet imperialism,
> they have now turned their sights on what they perceive
> to be American imperialism.
> For decades the U.S. has interfered in the affairs of
> countless countries in the world -- Afghanistan is only
> a case in point. And all the while, U.S. foreign policy
> makers felt that they could act without any adverse
> consequences to the U.S. land and its people. They were
> a superpower, and they felt invulnerable. But now,
> ironically, a creation of their own making has turned
> on them -- and despite America's overwhelming
> technological, economic and military power, this force
> has shown that America is vulnerable. So, foreign
> policy decisions do have consequences S but despite
> what has happened, it may still take a while for this
> truism to sink in.
> If we are to learn anything from this, it is important
> to understand that if the U.S. had left the Marxist
> Taraki government alone (in the same way that they
> should have left Iran alone in 1953), there would have
> been no army of mujahedeen, no Soviet intervention, no
> war that destroyed Afghanistan, no Osama bin Laden, and
> no September 11 tragedy in the U.S.
> John Ryan is a retired professor of geography and
> senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg.
> __________________________________________________
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