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Afghanistan: the larger picture
by Louis Proyect
04 October 2001 17:30 UTC
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(posted to the Marxism list by Henry Liu)

History does repeat itself, though never with the same specific details. I
do not know whether religious fundamentalism is fascist, suffice to say
that the President of the US, leading a chrous of mainstream opinion after
the attacks of 9:11, 2001, has officially declared it so, at least in its
extreme forms. This perspective provides a useful starting point to analize
the big picture.

In the 1930s, modern fascism in Europe received support from the captains
of capitalism who, out of fear that global economic depression would turn
the world over to communism, were looking for a surrogate to channel the
unrest of the masses into nationalistic construction. German capitalists
thought they could control the Nazis, and that Hitler was a man they could
do buisness with. Domestic politics in the US also accepted rising fascist
tendencies, in political leaders such as Huey Long and others, as a counter
force to popular acceptance of communist ideology. The US did not recognize
the USSR until 1933 and the League of Nations did not admit the USSR until
1934. The Soviet Union under Stalin, leader of the sole communist power,
having been rejected by the European powers to take part in the
negotiations leading up to the Munich Pact in 1938, responded with a
non-agression pact (August 23, 1939) with Nazi Germany which was turning
increasingly hostile to the capitalist West, hoping that a death struggle
between state fascism and capitalist democracy built on colonialism would
leave a world open to communism. WWII officially began on September 3, 1939
when Britian and France declared war on Germany after German troops invaded
Poland two days earlier. But it was a phoney war with no real activities
until the Spring of 1940 when German forces overran Danmark, Norway,
Luxumberg, the Netherlands and Belgium and pushed the British Expedition
Force back to the British Iles from Dunkirk by June 4. German military
conquest of Europen was complete with the surrender of France on June 22,
1940. When Germany attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941, a good six month
before Pearl Harbor, the right wing in the US cheered. After Pearl Harbor,
Germany decalred war on the US. After WWII, the US spent the next five
decades fighting communism around the globe through the Cold War.

Religious fundamentalism was used by the US as a convenient tool against
communism as practised by the USSR in Afganistan. The US also used
religious fundamentalism to keep the secular Arabic and Central Asian
regimes in line, to keep them from turning left in their domestic politics.
Religious fundamentalism was also behind the ethnic separatism that the US
supported against Russia and China. What the US did not figure was that
religious fundamentalism would identify the US itself as its chief enemy.

King Amanullah of Afganistan, proclaiming unilaterally the independence of
his country in 1919 without waiting for the reaction of the British, sent
out a roving delegation to establish diplomatic relations with the
different countries of Asia, Europe, and America. The first stop of that
delegation's mission was Moscow, where it was received in October 1919 with
open arms by the leaders of the new Soviet government. It was the first
diplomatic delegation to visit Moscow since the bolshevik revolution of
1917. So, Afghanistan was the first country to recognise the new "state of
workers and peasants of all the Russia". The new regime in Moscow not only
recognised the independence of Afghanistan but even "hastened to offer the
young state of Afghanistan her moral and material support in her heroic
struggle against the British imperialists". This was the beginning of a
"special relationship" between the two neighbouring countries which lasted,
with ups and downs, for sixty years until the invasion of Afghanistan by
the units of the Red Army in December 1979. This was the first
geo-political manifestation of an ideological allaince between communism
and anti-imperialism. The 20th-century traiangular relationship between
capitalism, communism and fascism has parallels with the 21st-century
traingular relationship with capitalism, socialism and religious

From 1919-1929 relations between the USSR and Afganistan were very amicable
though superficial. The two new governments needed each other. Afghanistan,
having broken her century-old traditional bonds with Great Britain, turned
towards the Soviet Union for all kinds of support and assistance. In this
way, for the first time in the history of relations between these two
countries, many Russian technicians and instructors arrived in Afghanistan
to set up telephone and telegraph communications, and to train young Afghan
technicians, so that the first pilots of the Afghan air force were trained
in the Soviet Union. At the same time, Soviet goods came onto the Afghan
market which had, up to that time, been monopolised by the British.
Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia was century-old geo-politics, though
the political ideology assumed a new dimension with the introduction of
communism as an anti-imperialist movement. Communist ideology never
satisfactorily resolved its contradiction with tribalism which remained the
organizing force in Central Asian society. British influence among the
Afgan elite remained strong, the notion of class being more comfortable
with tribalism.

This "flirtation" with the Soviets did not appeal to the British,
particularly as anti-colonial and anti-capitalist Bolshevik propaganda made
its way slowly across Afghanistan into India. The reaction of Great Britain
was brutal. King Amanullah, in his nationalistic, patriotic zeal, had
started a series of reforms which were too bold and hurried, modeled along
Turkish lines, without taking into consideration conditions peculiar to his
own country, or the negative attitude of the religious factions towards
these innovations, or their influence on the tribat scoiety. The result was
the fall of the reformer monarch and the establishment of a regime which
was both conservative and favourable to British policy.

The accession of Nader Shah, in 1929, marked the beginning of a new phase
in relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Some referred to
this phase as the "closed borders era". In fact, under the reigns of Nader
Shah and the early part of Zaher Shah (who was King until the 1973 coup
d'etat organised by his cousin Daoud), the relations with the USSR were
limited to diplomatic representation and commercial exchanges of no

This was the situation until the end of the Second World War, during which
time Afghanistan was able to maintain its neutrality because, at least
during the last three years of war, its two powerful neighbours were
fighting on the same side.

In 1947, the political status quo in this area was fundamentally changed by
the withdrawal of the British from the Indian sub-continent, an event which
left a political vacuum for Afghanistan.

The impact was so strong that the conservative government of Prince Hashem,
elder uncle of the young King Zaher Shah, and a strong-minded man, who as
Prime Minister had ruled the country since the assassination of his older
brother, King Nader Shah in 1933 fell, and his brother, Marshal Shah
Mahmud, came into power as Prime Minister. In order to fill the
geopolitical vacuum, the new government asked the US to take the place
vacated by the British, at least in the economic and technical fields, by
initiating research works to explore the natural resources of the country,
and by building irrigation and communications systems. The Afghan
government offered substantial incentives to American commercial firms, in
the form of very favourable contracts, in order to develop large areas of
so far unproductive land in the Hilmand valley, in the south of the country.

The US was not impressed with the political and strategic importance of
Afghanistan, and looked on the Afgan intiative as another post war effort
to get American aid to develop doubtful resources in a backward country.
American interest had much better fish to fry.

In 1951, Shah Mahmud personally presented a request to President Truman for
the purchase of American arms. The Cold War" was beginning and the American
government was developing a strategy to contain the USSR and China. This US
strategy drawn up and implemented by Eisenhower and Dulles focused on NATO,
CENTO and SEATO, covering the entire zone from Europe to the Far East, in
which Pakistan was to play an important part as a link between Central and
South East Asia.

Since 1947, Pakistan and Afghanistan had a political dispute over the right
of self-determination of the Pashtun and Baluch tribes who live along the
frontier between the two countries. The Indian government was on the
Afghan's side and these two factors led the American government to consider
the request for arms as a prelude to a new Kashmir situation in the Area.

Faced with the negative response of President Truman, Shah Mahmud made a
very significant remark, which was widely commented upon by the press. To a
journalist, who had inquired whether the Afghan government would turn to
the USSR for arms, he replied: "Muslims are forbidden to eat pork, except
when a Muslim is dying of hunger!".

Prince Daoud, a cousin of King Zahir, who meanwhile had come to power,
tried once more to convince the US of the Afghan government's good will and
of its desire to settle the dispute with Pakistan through diplomatic
channels. He met Vice-President Nixon during his short visit to Kabul in
1953. But another prerequisite was demanded, namely that Afghanistan should
abandon its long tradition of neutrality to join Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and
Turkey as a party to the Baghdad Pact. This was enough to push Prince
Daoud, who was already tired of American lack of comprehension into the
open arms of Moscow whom the Afgans regard as much more benign.

The Great Assembly (Loe Jirga), at a special meeting convened to decide on
the Pashtunistan situation and the purchase of arms, unanimously, decided
that arms "should be bought wherever this was possible".

In Moscow, the new post-Stalin leaders were following these events with
great interest. They had started their Peace Policy towards the Third World
and were eager to draw Afghanistan into their sphere of influence, in part
to isolate China with which the USSR was heading for an open split.

In December 1955, Bulganin and Khrushchev stopped in Kabul, on their way
back from a trip to India, to assure their new client of the full support
of the USSR, not only in terms of arms, but also on the Pashtunistan issue,
and a long-term loan of the equivalent of US$100 million was granted to

Numerous Soviet experts started exploring the country; thousands of young
Afghans were sent to the USSR to complete their studies in various fields,
but mostly to ge military training. Large projects were undertaken by the
Russians, mostly in the communication sector and the research of natural
resources. Several main roads and airports were built; gas, oil, iron and
copper resources were carefully studied. A large polytechnic institute in
Kabul and several smaller ones in the provinces were built. During the
years 1958 to 1973, 50% of the young officers and army technicians were
trained in the USSR, or under the supervision of Russian instructors in

During the whole preparatory and transitional period, the Western powers
which, in spite of the growing Russian influence had maintained a presence
in Afghanistan, were quite happy at this unprecedented peaceful competition
with the USSR. For example, Kabul's airport was built by the Soviets and
the technical equipment was supplied by the Americans.

A few Afghans, who were familiar with the Russians' methods, and in
particular with their way of dealing with the Muslims in Central Asia,
voiced some doubts about their impartiality.

They were able to convince King Zaher that his cousin was going too far in
his relations with the USSR, especially after relations with Pakistan were
severed in 1961, making the country totally dependent on the USSR.

When signs of Marxist ideas were becoming apparent and were reflected in
the press, the King, who was quite slow in making up his mind (this was due
to the many years during which all decisions were taken by his uncles and
then his cousin), came to a drastic decision.

He "accepted the resignation" of Daoud and, for the first time, appointed a
Prime Minister who belonged neither to the Royal family, nor to the
aristocracy. Dr. Muhammad Yusuf, who was Minister of Mines and Industry in
the Daoud government, presented his cabinet, composed of technocrats and
intellectuals, in March 1963. He suggested that a new Constitution be
prepared with a view to changing the country to a constitutional monarchy.
The King agreed to that proposal, and the new constitution was drafted by
Afghan experts, in collaboration with foreign legal advisers (a Frenchman,
an Indian and an Egyptian). It was based on the principles of classical
democracy, but maintained the traditional values, so deeply rooted in
Afghan society, of Islam and monarchy. It also excluded all members of the
Royal family from the political scene.

The Constitution was adopted in October 1964, with only one vote against
it, and ratified by the King. General elections were due to take place in
October 1965, and, therefore, the interim government had sufficient time to
prepare and promulgate by Royal decree the laws for the first democratic
general elections.

For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, political parties were
allowed, on the condition, however, that their aims and activities should
conform to the fundamental principles of the Constitution: Islam
fundmantalism, constitutional monarchy and individual freedom. Therefore,
the formation of leftist parties of any tendency was indirectly excluded.

The law on freedom of the press, prepared by the interim government and
promulgated by Royal decree, allowed leftist groups to gain strong popular
support and overtake all the other political groups. To a large extent, the
leftists were helped by conservative pressure groups, who were ready to go
to any lengths to retain their power, by using leftist unrest as a excuse
to oust the group which had drawn up and defended the new Constitution
before the Constituent Assembly.

After the first student riots, organized by leftist elements after the
opening of the first democratic Parliament, the conservatives suggested
that the government should be changed, in spite of the fact that the
government had just won a vote of confidence by large majority.

Muhammad Hashem Maiwandwal, a former Minister of Information and former
Ambassador to Washington, was asked to form a new government. This event
was the beginning of the failure of the experiment in democracy in
Afghanistan. In was not unique. All over the former colonial Third World,
democracy was aborted to stop countries from turning left.

The workers started to get organised and became very active in the
industrial areas of the country; the demonstrations, which had begun on the
campus of the University and in the secondary schools of Kabul, soon spread
to the provinces: riots became more and more frequent; the King was openly

An agreement was reached in 1971 between two officers belonging to the
"Parcham" group and Dr. Hassan Sharq who was acting on Daoud's behalf.
Prince Daoud was to lead an army coup which had been prepared by the
Parchami officers in Kabul and under the direct supervision of Soviet
military advisers.

The opportunity came when the King traveled to Europe for a medical
check-up. The Heir Apparent, Ahmad Shah, was to replace the King; the
government was led by Muhammad Musa Shafiq, an intelligent young
intellectual but without experience, and General Abdul Wali, a cousin and
son-in-law of the King, who was the commanding officer of the armed forces
in Kabul.

On 18 July 1973, Daoud made a radio announcement, informing the Afghan
people that the monarchy had come to an end and that a Republic was being
set up. The 1964 democratic Constitution was annulled; a temporary
government and a revolutionary council - both headed by Daoud - came into
power. Six members of the "Parcham" group were in the government, and half
of the members of the revolutionary council were Parchami officers.

The programme of the new government promised a fast and revolutionary
development of the country, based on democracy and socialism. This
programme was practically identical to the one published in the first issue
of the Parcham newspaper, four years earlier, especially with regard to
land reform, nationalisation of banks, large industries and social justice,

Daoud was not a communist, nor was he a man to accept orders from anyone,
especially foreigners. It may be that he believed he could get rid of his
demanding allies. At any rate, he tried to keep them to one side as he
strengthened his own position. Two years later, all the leftist ministers
were replaced. Some were sent abroad as ambassadors, some simply asked to

Moscow did not react immediately. Daoud had a new Constitution drawn up,
providing for one party only, on the model of Algeria and Egypt (during
Naser's time). Once more the Soviets tried to reason with Daoud; he was
invited to Moscow, but would not yield on this point which, for him, would
have meant total surrender. After this eventful meeting, the Russian
leaders decided that Daoud should be removed from power, and the first
condition to achieve this was the reconciliation of the two leftist groups
Parcham and Khalk.

After eight years of antagonism, the two groups united to become the
"People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan", under the leadership of Nur
Muhammad Taraki, the Khalk leader, who was to become President of
Afghanistan. Babrak Karmal, the Parcham leader, would only be
Vice-President, and later, for a few months, Ambassador in Prague.

After his visit to Moscow, Daoud became worried about his own safety, and
was ready, but too late, to follow the advice of other political leaders.
The machine of the KGB was already moving in his direction.

The new Constitution was accepted by the Constituent Assembly and he was
elected, in March 1977, as President of the Republic for a term of six
years. Daoud knew, however, that he could no longer count on either
Moscow's support, or the loyalty of the officers who had brought him into
power four years earlier. He had become unpopular with the military and
fundamentalists after his open "flirtation" with Moscow and his incredible
tolerance towards the leftist groups which had monopolised the political
scene of the country.

His only chance was to turn to the Muslim countries, at least to obtain
financial and moral support in case of total break-up with Moscow. His
trips to Kuwait, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, in March and April 1978, and the
reconciliation with the Shah of Iran, were desperate efforts which only
precipitated his fall.

Daoud did not have time to leave the presidential palace, where he, his
whole family, and his aids were killed, without even being able to call on
the half-a-dozen army camps which he had set up around the capital for such
an event.

Mir Akbar Khaiber, the theoretician of the party, who had opposed the total
take-over by the Soviets was murdered on 18 April 1978, and his funeral
provided the opportunity for the members and sympathisers of the leftist
parties to launch the protests and riots which were to last for several
days. All the communist leaders were arrested, and the open confrontation
started. The winner was the Popular United Khalk party, and the first
pro-Soviet government was thus established in Afghanistan.

Many have suggested Afghanistan as one of the factors in the demise of the
USSR. The effects of the Afghan War in the Soviet Union's domestic dynamics
and relate public opinion/opposition to the war, during and after the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Entering late in the Europeanization process (sixteenth century), Russia
adopted the finished product and thus had to deconstruct the progress while
playing catch-up. The defeat of Peter the Great in 1700 by the Swedish
King, Charles XII, focused Peter's mind on domestic shortcomings. The
Petrine reforms that followed covered about all aspects of Russian life.
Peter's forceful, ruthless, and willful attitudes dragged the country
toward progress. In 1712 Peter decisively defeated Charles; and by the end
of his reign, some argue, that Russia won the fear, if not respect, of
Europe- especially militarily. Catherine the Great (1762-96) brought Russia
closer to the European frame of mind. Under Alexander I (1801-25) Russia's
skillful army defeated Napoleon in 1814. And its here when a group of
officers known as Decemberists staged an unsuccessful coup against the
state government. The Third Department [a direct ancestor of the KGB] of
Nicholas I (1825-55) was established to stamp out nonconformity in Russia.
Moreover, this reactionary regime rested in Slavophilism philosophy, which
basically inherited the ideology that Russia had no need to borrow from the
West in order to make herself known to the world - as had argued the
Decemberists. Thus, the Tsar preached that Russia was uniquely capable of
an orderly, benevolent despotism rooted in the Orthodox church.

This ideology, however, was bypassed by Alexander II (1855-81) after the
death of Nicholas I, who freed the 43 million serfs. Alexander also
released the surviving Decemberists and eased censorship but refused to
relinquish absolute power or grant a constitution to Russia. It is under
him that the prestige of Russian military superiority comes to an end in
1854, when an Anglo-French army successively defeated the Russian army.
Wanting an easy and low cost victory to improve its military image,
Nicholas II turned to Asia and attacked Japan in 1904. Suffering a
disastrous defeat, Nicholas faced waves of strikes which paralyzed the
economy. As a result a consultative parliament, the Duma, was established
in May 1906. The new Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin, dissolved the first
Duma, and enforced great reforms - but was finally killed in 1911 for being
more effective then the Tsar, while disappointing the left and the right
wings with his reform policies. Never the less, in October 1917, after an
embarrassing defeat in World War I, the last of the Romanov dynasty, Tsar
Nicholas II, was executed by the victorious Communists.

The contradiction between limited economic reform (which plagued Lenin, who
reluctantly allowed a semi-Capitalism to revive the devastated economy) and
continued revolutionary a solutism came to an end with the Stalin's
launching of his twin drives of industrialization and collectivization,
which saw the total defeat of limited economic reform. Needless to say that
the World War II victory also contributed to this formula greatly. All
vicarious war lead to a strengthening of totalitarianism in the country,
and all unsuccessful ones have led to democracy.

Ironically, when the Soviet forces were compelled to withdraw from
Afghanistan (April 15, 1989), the Soviet Union was beginning to undergo the
initial stages of drastic reforms from above since the reign of Alexander
II. At the eve of Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the rotting effects of
revisionism and autocratic power on the national psychology had resulted in
corruption, collpase of discipline, responsibility and accountability which
fanned grassroots apathy, the same problems which had plagued Peter the
Great's administration before the Swedish War in 1700. And much like
Catherine the Great's Nakaz and the Potemkin villages, a glossy blanket of
false propaganda had covered the domestic degeneration.

To make further parallels, as Nicholas II, who made the mistake of
attacking the seemingly "weaker" opponent (Japan), Brezhnev invaded the
"easy" Afghanistan, totally ignoring local history and traditional
patterns. In the same light, Gorbachev, like Tsar Alexander, sought to
preserve and even to increase his personal power and to maintain the organs
of suppression which were so carefully nurtured by his predecessors. But
his position was challenged by the old school hard lined conspirators in
the 1991 failed coup, and was finally removed from power shortly after by
Boris Yeltsin, a man who sought his ideology from the bottle and introduced
gangster capitalism to Russia.

On the other hand, Afghanistan became a unified country in 1747 under the
leadership of an ethnic Pashtun leader, Ahmad Khan of the Sadozai (later
named Durrani) clan of the Abdali tribe. It is under this tribe that the
leadership of Afghanistan rested until the 1978 'revolution'. In the
meantime, the expansion of Russia southward by early to mid nineteenth
century posed a threat to the jewel of the British crown, India. The
British predicted that Peter the Great's dream of expansion could endanger
their possessions in India, thus adopted an anti-expansionist policy
(against Russia) which made Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Tibet a fence
around any further Russian expansion; and thus began "the Great Game".

In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan and occupied the capital, Kabul.
In January 1842, out of 16,500 soldiers (and 12,000 dependents) only one
survivor, of mixed British-Indian garrison, reaching the fort in Jalalabad,
on a stumbling pony. Fearing another Russian influence, the British once
again entered Afghanistan in 1878. In July 1880 the regiment was cut to
ribbons, while 'Abd al-Rahman Khan became Amir of Afghanistan, but agreed
to surrender Afghan foreign relations to the British. In 1919 (Third and
last Anglo-Afghan War), under Amanullah Khan, Afghanistan reclaimed its
foreign independence from the British, who were never to interfere directly
into Afghan affairs again. A lot of people accuse the Afgans of all kinds
of shortcoming, but none has faulted them for being poor warriors.

The question over the motive of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan may be
raised. Different authors have put forward a long list of issues which may
have enticed the Russian invasion, but they all agree that: both countries
had long and close relationship with one another; and the government of
Afghanistan was one of the first to recognized the Bolshevik regime.
Afghanistan had the largest per capita economic aid program with the Soviet
Union before the Communist coup; the Afghan military was trained in the
Soviet Union, and finally because the U.S. didn't supply military equipment
to the government of Afghanistan during Prime Minister (1953-63) and later
President (1973-78) Mohammad Daoud's office.

The notion of self identify and nationalism which had popular appeal in the
Middle East since the nineteenth century, reached Afghanistan in 1960's and
created popular dynamics resulting in the evolution of the leftist and
rightists parties. In 1964 a liberal constitution initiated by King Zahir,
permitted multi-party elections in the Parliament and other government
offices in Afghanistan. Moscow supported an Afghan Communist party. Thus
the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was established in
January 1965 by a group of intellectuals. Meanwhile, Conservative Islamist
opposition was formed during the 1960's when the Pakistani Jama'at-i
Islami, headed by 'Abdul 'Ala Maududi, tried to establish a sister
organization in Kabul, with the help of some theology professors (graduates
of Al-Azhar University, Egypt) at the Theology Department of the University
of Kabul, aiming to revive the ideals of Moslem Brethren. During the Soviet
occupation and the civil war that followed, these leaders emerged as the
major players on the Afghan scene.

The PDPA split into Khalq [People] and Parcham [Banner] factions, but were
reunited under close Soviet patronage in 1977. President Daoud tried to
eliminate the PDPA in Spring 1978 by arresting its leaders. This action
triggered a classic Coup d'etat the next day. An armored brigade took over
the presidential palace and killed everyone inside. Three days later the
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was declared, and Nur Mohammad Taraki
announced as the president. Although it is argued that Moscow did not
directly trigger the coup, one can point out that it did nothing to prevent
it either. Thus, the internal dynamics of the PDPA may have outpaced Soviet
strategy. Regardless, the damage had been done.

The neighboring countries were not however greatly alarmed by the PDPAs
take-over, because the regional balance of power still had not changed.
Only Pakistan was worried about a stronger and tougher Kabul and thus
supported the anti-government elements. The West, also, did not yet see the
1978 coup as a expansion of the Soviets toward the warm waters.

Hafizullah Amin's bodyguards assassinated President Taraki in September
1979 and he began a ruthless subjugation of the opposition which consisted
of two-third of the country. Shaken by peasant revolts, urban upheavals and
bloody internal feuds, the regime was on the verge of collapse when in
December 27, 1979 the Soviets decided to intervene, killing Amin and
replacing him with Babrak Karmal. After Karmal's failure to bring peace to
the country, he was replaced by Dr. Najibullah in May 1986. He was to
remain president until the Mujahidin coalition took power in 1992.

In establishing the parameters, one could not put a price on the
casualties, however it is necessary to apply some numerical figures into
it. In fighting the Soviets the Afghans suffered about two million dead
(mostly civilian), an economic devastation, over five million displaced
citizens, and such political and social disintegration that the very future
survival of Afghanistan as a state is still questionable. The war, for the
Soviets without much exaggeration, meant nothing less then national
suicide, even if one counts Afghanistan as a catalyst for the breakup
process of the Soviet Union.

Economically speaking, the cost of the war varies, according to the varying
Soviet figures, but the figure is given as $8.2 billion per year. As for
casualties, the official 15,000 dead is a gross underestimation. Experts
agree that at least 40,000 - 50,000 Soviets lost their lives in action,
besides the wounded, suicides, and murders. The ultimate political cost,
however, was at least the breakup of the surface glaze which had hidden
much of the internal decay for decades. This, in part, would not have been
possible without the great contributions of communicational technology
which became at the disposal of the populace [mostly after the Afghan War,
i.e. fax machines and the free and uncensored Media (due to Glastnos)], all
of which were capable of reporting the slightest news around the world and
all over the USSR.

For more than twenty years, war has consumed Afghanistan. In 1979, the
Soviet Union launched an invasion of the country in order to prop up a
pro-communist regime in Kabul. The United States and Pakistan played
leading roles backing various Afghan guerrilla forces, known collectively
as "mujahideen" (religious warriors), which gradually wore down the Soviet
occupying force. Afghanistan's civil war continued after a Soviet pullout
in 1989 as various mujahideen factions fought to fill the power vacuum. In
the past four years, a newer group called the Taliban has gained control of
most of Afghanistan. The Taliban, whose name means "students," have their
roots in the Pakistan-based seminaries established for Afghan refugees
during the Soviet occupation. The movement got a significant boost from the
Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, which reportedly provided extensive
organizational, logistical, and material support to the Taliban militia.
The core of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group, the largest
single group in Afghanistan but still a minority of the population.
Pashtuns are also a significant ethnic group in Pakistan, where they are
heavily represented in the military.

The Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1996, and now reportedly
control all but the Panjshir Valley and other smaller areas in northern
Afghanistan. They have imposed a highly restrictive form of Islamic law
throughout Afghanistan which Muslim and non-Muslim observers have described
as inhumane. Some see the Taliban's efforts to be not so much Islamic as an
attempt to impose rural tribal mores onto the rest of the country.
International concern is mounting about the treatment of Afghan women, who
are usually denied schooling, medical care, and freedom to travel except
under strict conditions. There have also been widespread reports of
extrajudicial killings throughout Afghanistan as well as reports of
massacres as the Taliban conquered new territory.

The Taliban reportedly support their regime partly from profits in the
opium trade. The Taliban directly tax domestic growers as well as traders
who traffic in the narcotics. Sharp increases in Afghan production have
left Afghanistan lagging behind only Burma as the world's largest producer
of opium products in the world, amounting to 2,800 metric tons in 1997. The
two countries combined account for 90 percent of opium production
worldwide. The Taliban have further angered the international community by
sheltering Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, who was linked by the U.S.
government to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in August 1998.
Later in the same month, U.S. cruise missiles attacked training sites in
Afghanistan associated with bin Laden. The Taliban insist that bin Laden
had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks that killed more than 300
people and wounded another 5,000, but they have only belatedly indicated a
willingness to help clarify his possible role.

The Afghan conflict may escalate into a regional one. Currently, more than
200,000 Iranian troops are amassed along the Iranian-Afghan border in
response to the killing of a journalist and eight people Iran says were
diplomats and the Taliban contend were military advisors. Relations with
other international actors are strained or nonexistent. International human
rights groups and aid missions have withdrawn from the country because of
the harassment and killing of aid workers. Despite the fact that the
Taliban control at least 90 percent of the territory of Afghanistan, only
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban
as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, and those relations are fraying.

Decades of foreign intervention have devastated Afghanistan, laying waste
to more than 75 percent of the country. From 1978 until 1996, foreign
intervention sharpened internal ethnic and ideological differences, tearing
the country apart. During this time, Russia, Iran, the United States, and
other countries ignored ethnically motivated massacres, rapes, and human
rights abuses. The recent international focus on the social conditions in
Afghanistan can be attributed to economic interests, and especially access
to the potentially vast energy resources in the Caspian Basin region.

Afghans of all ethnicities welcome the Taliban as heroes who have restored
peace to Afghanistan. Except for US missile attacks, most of the country
has been peaceful and disarmed, trade routes to Central Asia are beginning
to prosper, the value of the currency has increased, and agriculture has
improved. The Taliban are also effectively governing Afghanistan. They have
secured all borders except a small portion of the border with Tajikistan,
and control all major points of entry.

The Taliban's government claims it is accountable to the people and is
representative of all ethnic groups. The majority of the government's
cabinet members are from ethnic minorities, for example. The Taliban have
restored Afghan culture, Afghan-style self-rule is implemented in the
provinces, and the civil administration and justice system is based on
Islamic and Afghan traditions. President Reagan was one of its enthusiastic

Regarding terrorism, it was the former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who
invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. The Taliban inherited this problem,
and would cooperate with bin Laden's extradition if the U.S. government or
other interested parties could show evidence of his terrorist activities.
The missile attacked launched by Clinton in August 1998 to kill bin Laden
was ineffective.

If the US sends troops into Afganistan and sustains a lengthly occupation,
the war on terrorism will quickly turn into a regional conflict of
unpredictable complexity.

Henry C.K. Liu

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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