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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 November 2001

AS BUSH and Blair rain bombs down on Afghanistan, they also make big promises to rebuild the shattered country. Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has pledged that a post-Taliban Afghanistan will mean "self determination, with the United Nations (UN) taking the lead in the political process, a massive reconstruction programme..." However, NIALL MULHOLLAND exposes their record of "international peace keeping" and "reconstruction", using the example of the Balkans.

Rebuilding Afghanistan? Lessons Of The Balkans Conflict

IT IS more than five years since the US pressed all warring sides in Bosnia to sign up a 'peace deal' in Dayton, Ohio.

During that time $5 billion (3.5 billion) has been pumped into the country. Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into two administrative entities - the Bosniak (Bosnia Muslim) and Croat-dominated Federacija Bosna I Hercegovina (the Federation) and the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS).

The country has a rotating tripartite presidency with a Serb, Croat, and Bosniak member. The Federation and RS also have a president, vice president and cabinet.

Yet, despite the 'aid', and the complicated administrative structures imposed by the powers, "the country is still as far from unity as it was when the guns fell silent." (The Guardian, 16/04/01).

The imperialist powers never had any intention of bring the communities together. The Dayton structures more or less reflected the deep ethnic divisions reached through war and "ethnic cleansing" by 1995.

These administrative structures have actually increased divisions on the ground.

Although the country's government is charged with overseeing foreign, economic and fiscal policy, the UN Office of the High Representative (OHR) has extensive powers of intervention and can, for example, remove elected politicians from office.

This undemocratic power is backed up by S-For, the 20,000 strong multinational troop forces. Overall military authority is in the hands of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander.

A similar situation pertains in neighbouring Kosovo/Kosova, where a virtual Western 'Protectorate' has been established. In this case, the right of self-determination is denied to the majority ethnic Albanian population by the powers.

After fierce fighting earlier this year between Macedonian government forces and the minority ethnic Albanian rebels, NATO has again imposed its will, establishing a military force in the country and attempting to have the parties come to an "agreement".

No 'peace dividend'

THE OVERRIDING aim of the big powers' interventions in the Balkans has been to prevent local conflicts gaining an explosive wider dimension.

They want to maintain stability, not for the sake of the millions of people who have suffered a decade of war, but in order to get down to the business of exploiting the rich natural resources and cheap labour of the region. The US especially is taking advantage of its footholds in the ex-Yugoslavia to impose its power and influence.

The much heralded "peace dividends" have failed to materialise for the great majority of working people. In many cases, conditions have worsened. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Bosnia-Herzegovina unemployment rates for 1999 were between 35%-40%, and Macedonia's reached 35% in the same year - before the recent heavy fighting!

Most of the 'aid' has gone into the hands of big business and local ethnic gangsters. Poverty and mass unemployment are fertile grounds for the right-wing ethnic politicians and warlords, further destabilising the region.

The Western powers had hoped the removal of Serbian nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic, by a popular revolt and the coming to power of more pro-Western government, would lessen ethnic tensions in Bosnia. If anything, the new Belgrade regime, and the recent election of a more pro-Western Croatian administration, has led to new anxieties and fears amongst Bosnia's ethnic communities.

In the absence of a clear class and socialist alternative, the hard-line nationalists have made some gains. Last December, the SDS, the party of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb warlord, emerged as the strongest party in the Serb areas of the Republika Srpska. In Bosnia's Croatian areas, the reactionary nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, the HDZ, won nearly 90% of the vote.

Bosnia's Muslims have not voted in the same numbers for openly hard-line nationalist parties but they have more to lose from the break-up of the country. They also have gained materially, to some extent, from the economic spin-offs of the large presence of Western forces in the capital Sarajevo.

The common political institutions, such as the parliament and the three-man presidency, are hardly operating. Now even the Serb and the Muslim-Croat entities are beginning to come apart.

According to one Western diplomat, "the Serbs got their Mafia statelet. The Muslims got the country as a whole. The Croats got nothing. Now they want a statelet like the Serbs got."

Last March, the HDZ set up an illegal Croat parliament and appealed to the Croat soldiers to defect from the Muslim-Croat federation army, apparently with little success.

The city of Mostar is a symbol of divided Bosnia. Depending upon where they live, people pay their bills to different branches of the phone and electricity companies.

The Western powers point to speeded up returns of refugees to supposedly show the success of their policies. Yet more than 800,000 Bosnians are still internally displaced, with another 300,000 living as refugees abroad. The small numbers of recent refugee returns are mainly made up of elderly people and therefore not regarded as a "threat".

The obvious failure of the powers to establish stability and genuine democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or to preside over a real improvement in living standards, makes all the more clear the disaster that awaits the Afghan people under Western rule.

Reconstruction myths

JACK STRAW promised that in addition to humanitarian aid, a new regime in Kabul would see a flood of reconstruction funding from global capitalist institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and development funds run by oil-rich governments in the Gulf.

But Afghanistan has been bombed back to the Middle Ages, without basic infrastructure or facilities. Straw announced the cost of rebuilding Bosnia has so far reached $5 billion and conceded that Afghanistan, with four times the population, could see the task of reconstruction "stretch into decades".

The enormous sums needed will not be forthcoming. All the present urgent talk by Blair and Bush of not "again walking away" from Afghanistan will in the long term be subordinated to the overall economic, military and strategic interests of the big powers.

Furthermore, the US and the world are facing a serious economic downturn, perhaps even a deep slump, which will result in a sharp contraction of capital going overseas.

If Bosnia, which is placed beside the richer economies of Europe, has not received the necessary funds for meaningful rebuilding and development, how can Afghanistan?

Just as in the Balkans, the real winners from reconstruction aid will be the likes of the big property developers, construction firms, lending banks, and administrators; all of which are usually linked to local gangster, ethnic elites. Indeed, funds sent to Afghanistan will be used to play a vital role in the attempts by the imperialist powers to buy off various mujahidin factions.

The main cause of continuing poverty in Afghanistan however lies in the fact that under the auspices of Western forces the system of capitalism will rule. Even though the market economy may develop somewhat from its present basic primitive level, the domination of big business will mean investment only takes place if capitalists believe they can make a profit.

It is estimated that Central Asia and the Caspian Sea areas holds more untapped oil reserves than even the Middle East. So billions of dollars can go into building a new lucrative oil pipeline across Afghanistan but precious little will be put towards health care and education. Millions will remain in abject poverty.

Post-Taliban regime

THE BRITISH foreign secretary and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, have proposed the creation of a "broad based" government in Afghanistan, representing all 55 ethnic groups and led by the ex-King Zahir Shah. Whether such a 'coalition' can ever be formed is open to question.

Whatever the character of a new regime, the US and Britain are short on details on how it would function, other than saying the UN would have to oversee it.

According to Tim Judah, a Balkans and Central Asia expert, UN officials are "horrified by the idea" (IWPR, 19/10/01). They "fear they will be asked to clear up the mess in the wake of the current bombing campaign." UN policy makers go on to complain, "we have been burned too often", referring to the UN's previous roles in Bosnia and Croatia.

The huge problems posed by putting 'peace keeping' troops in violently faction ridden Afghanistan led one UN source to despair: "What would the mandate be? Who is going to give the troops? Is the US going to put its troops in harm's way? This is no joke. It makes Bosnia look like a kids game." We could add, how will the UN ever be able to deal with the gigantic refugee problem in Afghanistan, given the organisation's failure in the Balkans?

At the end of the day, the UN is a tool of the big powers and will be forced to carry out their bidding. A new Western 'Protectorate' in Afghanistan would probably be run under the auspices of this organisation. UN representatives treat Afghans to the same arrogant contempt they display towards the peoples of the Balkans.

This means running a limited form of 'democracy' and consciously playing off ethnic, religious and tribal groups against one another. It can only result in further conflict and horrors for the Afghan people, and indeed throughout the whole region.

Any regime imposed on the people of Afghanistan on the basis of capitalism will be unstable and incapable of developing living standards.

Afghan working people and the poor have to decide their own future, just as the long-suffering people of the Balkans have to do. The international working class will give support to mass movements for real change.

A socialist government, as part of a socialist federation, is the only way to unlock the rich potential in these regions and to drag society out of medieval wars and poverty.

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In The Socialist 9 November 2001:

Paying The Price Of Bush And Blair's War

Capitalist Crisis Worsens: Fight The Bosses' Attacks

Desperate Measures Won't Stop Terrorism

World Economy: Deepest Downturn Since The 1930s?

Rebuilding Afghanistan? Lessons Of The Balkans Conflict

Protest in Brussels

Northern Ireland: An Agreement Based On Division

What Future For The Socialist Alliance?

Links With Labour Debated As Unison United Left Launched


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