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Afghanistan - end the bloody occupation
For a socialist alternative to war and terror
EIGHT YEARS after US president George Bush - aided and abetted by his 'loyal lieutenant', UK prime minister Tony Blair - launched an invasion of Afghanistan, their 'war on terror' shows no sign of abating.
The current US president, Barack Obama, is considering sending another 40,000 troops (pending the outcome of the current Afghan election fiasco)to add to the present 36,000 US troops in Afghanistan, while Gordon Brown will send a further 500 to add to the 9,000 UK troops already deployed.
However, as Nick Chaffey explains, any additional firepower from Western governments will not solve any of the pressing issues in Afghanistan such as insecurity, poverty, unemployment and democratic rights.
WITH WIDESPREAD fraud having undermined the Afghanistan presidential election, and with the mounting death and injury to Afghans and coalition soldiers, US president Obama's Afghanistan strategy is in crisis.
Eight years ago, on 9 Oct 2001 the US bombed Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. At the anti-war protests in London that night the Socialist Party warned: "President Bush's administration is gung-ho about taking military action against Osama bin Laden and his Taliban hosts. But if previous US military engagements are anything to go by, the long-suffering Afghans will pay the price of operation 'Infinite Justice'" (The Socialist, 28 Sept 01).
Over those eight years, although official figures are not collected, an estimated 30,000 Afghans have been killed, thousands more maimed and injured, with 3.7 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. With US spending at $170 billion and UK £12 billion, the situation has worsened and after the deaths of over 800 US and over 220 UK troops, there is growing opposition to the war.
President Bush launched the 'war on terror' utilising the widespread revulsion towards the indiscriminate attacks on innocent people of 9/11. Under the guise of removing the Taliban, destroying Al Qaeda and spreading democracy, the US had the aim of reinforcing US influence in the middle-east for its own economic and strategic interests. The occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has bought misery to the masses of the region with no end in sight.
For the US and the UK governments an end to the conflict remains far off. General Sir David Richards, the head of British forces in Afghanistan, believes it will take another 40 years of occupation before there will be 'stability'. The attempt by the US to fly the flag of democracy in Afghanistan, as part of the war on terror, lies in tatters after the debacle over the current presidential election. With only half the population registered to vote, the elections were marred by violence, low turnout and fraud.
For the Afghan masses this was an election choice between differing alliances of warlords, religious leaders and tribal chiefs who remain in control of everyday life. The result has been delayed for weeks.
For the US this election was about trying to impose their favoured candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, in a second round run off, after tensions grew between the US and their former chief ally, incumbent President Hamid Karzai.
If as is possible Karzai 'wins' a clear victory and avoids a second round, the political situation for the US will become more unstable. Whoever is declared the 'winner', there will be no improvements for the majority of Afghans.
The 'war on terror' has left 77% of Afghans without access to clean water. Five out of six people in rural areas have no electricity. In Kabul power lasts for only a few hours a day. Female literacy stands at just 18%, and 42% of the population exists on less than $1 per day.
On the basis of a continuation of the US-led occupation, poverty, ethnic and nationalist tensions, and increasing violence will continue. There will be none of the promised stability, peace, prosperity or democracy.
As the occupation has continued, the presence of foreign troops and the corruption of the Karzai puppet government has fuelled support for the Taliban and religious extremism. Such is the lack of support among the population of Afghanistan for its 'government', Karzai has little control of any territory outside of Kabul.
More worrying for the US is the impact the Afghan crisis is having on the rest of the region, especially in adding to instability in Pakistan. Taliban attacks have increased over recent months, spectacularly shown in the recent attack on the Pakistan army HQ in Rawalpindi.
As the US occupation has continued so the support for the Taliban has grown in the Pashtun area straddling both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pressured by the US, the Pakistan government launched an offensive against the Taliban, sending 40,000 troops into the Swat valley. The ensuing fighting has created 2 million internal refugees. The chaos and growing instability in Afghanistan could spiral further into Pakistan, as shown by the current fighting in South Waziristan.
Hopes worldwide that an Obama victory in the US would mean a change in US foreign policy are fading. In response to the crisis, president Obama has called for a review of strategy but from the standpoint of US imperialism he has few options.
His doubt about sending more troops is at odds with the newly installed army chief, General McChrystal who has called for a doubling of the troop numbers to avert a 'failure'. Over 30,000 extra US troops have been sent to Afghanistan since May, and the number is already set to rise to 68,000 by the end of the year.
McChrystal's criticisms are an admission of past US failures. Along with the 500 extra British troops promised by Gordon Brown, the indication is that occupation will continue and the military conflict intensify.
Whatever the honeyed words from US politicians and military alike, the stark choice facing the Afghan people is military oppression by government and foreign troops or domination under the warlords and reactionary religious leaders. This is no real choice.
In response to the highest troop casualties in 2009 since the start of the conflict the anti-war opposition is growing in the US, Britain, Italy and elsewhere. Failure has led to a dramatic decline in the US for support for the war in Afghanistan. 54% of Americans now oppose the war (CNN, 8/6/09). Only 25% think more troops should be sent to Afghanistan.
In Germany, on a policy of opposition to the presence of German troops in Afghanistan, the Left Party won 12% of the vote in the recent general election.
To bring an end to the continued cycle of war and poverty a political alternative is needed. All foreign troops must be immediately withdrawn and the Afghan people must be allowed to determine their own future.
Central to this is the need to support Afghan workers and poor peasants in forming their own independent political voice that can challenge the US-sponsored warlords and religious leaders. Such a force could raise the demand for the creation of jobs and investment in education and health services.
Public ownership of the country's raw materials and key industries could be used to invest in developing the economy and turning it away from the production of opium.
United by their common interests, workers and poor peasants across Afghanistan could create a multi-ethnic defence force to oppose the sectarian forces such as the Taliban and establish full democratic rights.
Only armed with socialist ideas could a movement transform the lives of ordinary Afghan people. Promoting international solidarity and linking with trade union organised workers and with socialists in the region, could threaten the corrupt and reactionary regimes throughout the middle-east and Asia and begin to lay the basis for a democratic socialist government of Afghanistan as part of a socialist confederation of the region.
In Britain the Socialist Party, alongside our co-thinkers across the world in the Committee for a Workers' International, will continue to play our part in building opposition to all imperialist wars and occupation. The only alternative to poverty, terror and war is a socialist world!
In The Socialist 20 October 2009:
War and occupation
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reviews
Marxist analysis: history