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War In Afghanistan: Paying the Price of 'Victory'
"REJOICE-REJOICE" wrote the Daily Telegraph as Kabul was 'liberated' from the Taliban on 14 November. The Mirror, on the other hand, had the headline "Our 'friends' takeover" with a graphic picture of a Taliban fighter mutilated and killed by avenging Northern Alliance troops. CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at the real significance of recent events in the war in Afghanistan.
THE COLLAPSE of the Taliban across most of Afghanistan is undoubtedly a victory for US imperialism and the war coalition. But it is a double-edged victory that will eventually haunt them.
It will not end terrorism; it will not bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and it will not usher in the "new international order" which Blair dreams about. Instead, it will foment further instability and unrest in Afghanistan, in the region of Central Asia and more widely.
The "military strategy has been vindicated" declared Tony Blair. Many commentators are now arguing that bombing works. It's unfortunate that innocent civilians have been killed in the process, they argue, but it was a price worth paying to win the "war against terrorism".
As we pointed out, it was always likely that the biggest and most powerful economic and military force in the world would eventually defeat the Taliban, although how quickly it was impossible to predict.
The vicious aerial bombardment did destroy some of the Taliban's military capabilities and undermined troop morale. But the Taliban's narrow social base was an important factor in their downfall.
This was never going to be a direct repeat of the Vietnam war in the 1970s. Then the Viet Cong were able to secure firm social support amongst the Vietnamese peasants because of their relatively progressive economic and social policies - particularly land distribution. The Taliban however, represented a backward, reactionary ideology which limited its roots amongst the Afghan people.
The Taliban were themselves initially welcomed in 1996 as 'liberators' from the anarchy and violence of the rule of the previous incarnation of the Northern Alliance - the Mujahidin. But their tyrannical and repressive regime alienated many, especially in cities such as Kabul and Herat.
The US still had to fight a proxy ground war through the Northern Alliance troops which are now causing a major political headache. The US initially held off from bombing Taliban frontline forces in Kabul, precisely because they feared that the Northern Alliance would take Kabul before a post-Taliban political arrangement was in place.
By week three of the bombing, however, the coalition was beginning to lose the propaganda war. Reports of bombs hitting civilian targets and killing and maiming children; the growing humanitarian crisis with millions fleeing their homes and facing starvation, shifted public opinion in Britain and other countries towards calling for a halt to the bombings.
The US and the coalition were under pressure to "get results" to justify the slaughter that was taking place. It was then that they switched to bombing frontline positions and stepping up supplies and support for the Northern Alliance - desperate to secure a military victory before Ramadan and the onset of winter. Once Mazar-i-Sharif was taken the Taliban rapidly collapsed in most of north and east Afghanistan.
"YOU DROP hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bombs to bring about the re-emergence of warlordism" commented one aid worker (Guardian, 15 November). "Post-Taliban Afghanistan is beginning to look alarmingly like pre-Taliban Afghanistan", wrote the Financial Times (16 November).
People in Kabul might be able to fly kites and listen to music; men might be shaving their beards and some women removing their burqas but the Northern Alliance do not represent any real progress over the Taliban as far as the Afghan workers and poor are concerned. As one woman put it: "The Taliban beat first and ask questions later. The Northern Alliance ask questions first and beat later".
Forces making up the Northern Alliance have a bloody record of rape and torture. Once Mazar-i-Sharif fell, reports immediately emerged of the massacre of 500 Taliban students.
The 'United Front' as the Alliance prefer to be called, was united by one thing only - opposition to the Taliban. Now that the Taliban have been ousted from power in most of the country, the Alliance forces are already fighting amongst themselves for territory, power and influence.
In the four years before the Taliban took control, in-fighting between rival Mujahidin warlords resulted in up to 50,000 civilian deaths in the Kabul area alone. We could now see the 'Balkanisation' of Afghanistan, as rival warlords, local commanders and tribal leaders carve out spheres of influence in different parts of the country in a patchwork of regional and local fiefdoms.
US imperialism and its allies are desperate to come up with some kind of political solution involving the different ethnic groups - Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and Pashtuns. However, having been forced to rely on the Northern Alliance (dominated by Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras) to defeat the Taliban, their "friends" could now be slipping out of their control.
The Alliance entered Kabul despite assurances that they wouldn't. Then Rabbani (who is internationally recognised as president of Afghanistan) snubbed the UN by stating that he didn't want a peacekeeping force in the country. Having tasted power the Alliance forces are not in a hurry to give it up.
The US will use its economic muscle to try and rein in the Alliance and install a provisional, multi-ethnic government in Kabul under the auspices of the UN and backed up by a multinational peacekeeping force - probably made up of Muslim troops from countries such as Turkey, Bangladesh and Indonesia. However, even if they succeed temporarily, they are unlikely to stabilise Afghanistan.
Remembering Vietnam, the US does not want troops permanently drawn into a quagmire of conflict. The UN is also unwilling to become directly involved in what one official dubbed "mission impossible".
Afghanistan faces a future of continuing conflict, instability and fragmentation. As we have explained, the Afghan people themselves should shape their own future, through a socialist government of workers and poor as part of a global struggle to end landlordism and capitalism.
The war in Afghanistan is now entering a new phase. It's not clear exactly what the US's current military plans are. They could continue to bomb targets in the south, although this risks alienating sections of the Pashtun community who they want to involve in a multi-ethnic government.
They also look set to deploy more special forces on the ground in 'search and destroy' missions. Although they deny it, these, and troops deployed for 'humanitarian' missions could also be used for trying to 'police' the Northern Alliance.
They could still get dragged into a protracted ground war. Having built up expectations they will have to push ahead in pursuit of Bin Laden. It's possible that he could be given up or captured or killed by ground forces but it is also possible that he could escape into Pakistan or other countries such as Chechnya or Kashmir.
The Taliban could retreat into the mountains or over the border into Pakistan in order to launch a guerrilla struggle. This would not mirror the struggle of the Mujahidin against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979-89.
The Mujahidin had US imperialism's financial and military might behind them. The Taliban could get some support from within Pakistan but it will be on nothing like the same scale. Also it's extremely unlikely that the Taliban would have the social base within Afghanistan to sustain a significant guerrilla struggle.
It's clear that even if the Al-Qa'ida network is totally destroyed within Afghanistan and Bin Laden removed from the equation, this will not lessen the risk of further terrorist attacks. Al-Qa'ida members will still be at large elsewhere.
And, of course, capitalism and imperialism by their very nature create the poverty, inequality and social and national oppression which lead people in a desperate situation to resort to terrorist attacks. This war in Afghanistan will have further aggravated these conditions.
US imperialism did not wage war on Afghanistan to end terrorism but to re-establish internationally its prestige and power, which were damaged along with the Twin Towers in New York.
Throughout the war, sections of the US administration have been straining at the leash to move beyond Afghanistan and take on the "unfinished business" from the Gulf War - Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Recent events in Afghanistan have emboldened these hardliners. As Martin Woollacott wrote in the Guardian (16 November): "Victory in war breeds new ambitions". US 'hawk' Richard Perle has said that having succeeded in Afghanistan the US could now move "from one liberation to another".
Defence Minister Dick Cheney also stated that the US would be prepared to use military action anywhere if it were required. Somalia is one country which has been mentioned. Some in the US would love to avenge what happened there in 1993 (see page nine) and consider Somalia a soft target.
THE US and other imperialist powers may well feel less constrained in intervening militarily around the globe whenever they consider that their economic and political interests are threatened, and to "teach a lesson" to anyone thinking of challenging their global domination. However, this entails enormous dangers.
War in Afghanistan has led to increased instability in Central Asia. The military regime in Pakistan could particularly be affected by the fall-out. Musharraf took a huge gamble backing US imperialism in this war. Economically he has been rewarded through lifting of sanctions, debt reduction and loans. But, he always risked provoking serious unrest amongst right-wing Islamist groups within Pakistan.
The break-up of Pakistan and the overthrow of his regime were real possibilities as opposition to the war grew. Musharraf has backed the winner, yet he could still lose.
Above all, Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan. Before 11 September it backed the Taliban in order to have an ally next door. Now that the anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance have filled the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Taliban, Pakistan's influence has been seriously undermined.
Instability, conflict, even civil war in Afghanistan could flow over the border into Pakistan itself. Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, could fracture and the Musharraf regime still faces a possible coup.
The Pakistani regime will now be looking for new 'friends' in Afghanistan through which to assert its influence, possibly from amongst the Pashtun tribes in the south.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that there will be no return to the 'Great Game' of the 19th century when rival imperialist powers battled for control and influence in Afghanistan and the Central Asia area.
But a new 21st-century 'Great Game' is already being prepared, with regional powers such as Pakistan, Iran and Russia as well as US imperialism, all vying for leverage to promote their own economic and political interests.
Tony Blair has a vision of a 'new international order' where the West will wage 'humanitarian' interventions into the world's 'hot-spots' to bring peace and harmony. But this war has exposed the complete inability of imperialism to solve any of these problems.
Sharon in Israel has taken advantage of the war to intensify repression of the Palestinians. Fighting has escalated in Kashmir. The changing balance of forces within Afghanistan and the instability caused by the war could spill over into Kashmir and worsen relations between the two nuclear powers in the region - India and Pakistan.
US military attacks on Afghanistan have ignited tensions throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Any attempt to extend the war to Iraq would be akin to throwing petrol on fire that is already raging.
It would blow apart the 'coalition against terrorism' and risk the overthrow of the Saudi regime and other Arab countries such as Egypt. It could even be the catalyst for the downfall of Arafat in the Palestinian Authority.
The Taliban's defeat will be a temporary blow to extreme right-wing Islamist groups. But a political vacuum still exists internationally.
There are no longer mass parties that can voice the interests of the working-class, poor and oppressed in the Middle East and elsewhere. This means that right-wing Islamist forces, which offer no way forward, can still fill the political space.
International socialists have the urgent task now of building new mass parties which can channel the anger of working-class and oppressed people across the globe and fight for a socialist solution to poverty, war, oppression and the horrors of capitalism.
Big battles ahead
BOTH BUSH and Blair have been temporarily strengthened at home since 11 September. But Bush will remember how his father stood at 90% in the polls during the Gulf War - only to fall to 37% in the 1992 presidential election once the effects of the economic recession took hold.
Blair will recall how last year's fuel protests initially dealt a blow to his standing in the polls.
Democratic rights have been curtailed under the guise of fighting terrorism. Repressive legislation now being passed will be used in the future, not against terrorists but against protests by working-class people and youth against the capitalist system and its effect on their lives.
The most serious economic recession since the 1930s now haunts the capitalists internationally. Huge class battles are being prepared around the 'bread-and-butter' issues of job losses, pay and privatisation - issues which have been pushed to the background during the war.
Before the war, anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation protests were gathering momentum, with more than 300,000 marching in Genoa against the G8 earlier this year.
The 11 September attacks and war in Afghanistan, temporarily cut across this movement. But many young people involved in or touched by the anti-capitalist protests, channelled their anger against the war.
The anti-war movement still needs to be sustained and strengthened. But we could also see a revival of anti-capitalism - this time broader in scope and more politicised.
The Socialist Party in Britain and our sister parties in the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) elsewhere will be fighting to build new mass parties to take these struggles forward.
At the same time, we will be fighting to strengthen and develop our own forces so that we can offer an organised, socialist alternative to capitalism internationally.
War in Afghanistan - a decisive turn. The latest statement from the Committee for a Workers' International, to which the Socialist Party is affiliated. Available from the CWI website: www.socialistworld.net and from PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE.
In The Socialist 23 November 2001: