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Proletarian issue 61 (August 2014)
Afghanistan: In imperialism’s bloody wake
Lessons of yet another useless vicious and predatory war.
In March, British soldiers completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, aside from two bases in Helmand. In some corners, the move has been portrayed as a largely symbolic one, since Nato countries will continue to fund and train the Afghan forces that they set up in the hope of creating enough stability for ‘peace’ to be declared and business to be resumed.

In fact, however, this presentation is rather wide of the mark. Despite the continuing presence of a small contingent of highly-armed British troops – who will no doubt continue to wreak wanton destruction on the lives and livelihoods of Afghan people – and despite the best-laid plans of the imperialist invaders, the withdrawal actually marks a humiliating defeat for British imperialism in Afghanistan.

Despite the massive advantages of finance and equipment, Nato’s armies have totally failed to defeat the Afghan people’s resistance. In one of the poorest countries in the world, fighters with flip-flops and Kalashnikovs have seen off the drones, helicopters, B-52s and super-charged ground forces of the most advanced armies in the world.

In a remarkably frank 26 July report, the New York Times admitted that:

Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The report went on to note that the Afghan resistance had “found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar”.

However: “Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

In other words, the situation is so dire that the flagship newspaper of the US ruling class feels constrained to point out that both the US aggressors and their local stooges dare not admit the truth as to the real extent of their predicament, floundering as they are on the edge of defeat.

For their part, the resistance is further probing the enemy for weaknesses, in the time-honoured traditions of guerrilla warfare. The New York Times report continued:

“‘They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,’ one western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. ‘They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait’ until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

The newspaper’s interviews with “local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district centre. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighbouring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

And, further confirming the reality of a nationwide insurgency, a popular war of liberation, the newspaper report continues:

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“‘The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,’ said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.” (‘Taliban making military gains in Afghanistan’ by Azam Ahmed, 26 July 2014)

Presidential elections

The above-cited report also notes that the resistance surge comes at “a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government”. Following the 14 June run-off between the two leading presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the country has been in political gridlock, with both candidates alleging fraud and Abdullah claiming that he has been cheated of victory, whilst periodically threatening that he would unilaterally declare his own government.

The ensuing crisis has seen panic visits to Kabul by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in so-far-unsuccessful attempts to knock the two puppets’ heads together in order to cobble together some sort of credible political order.

The New York Times reported: “‘If Abdullah goes for it and declares himself president, forget it, this is over,’ said a former Afghan official who remains close to many of Afghanistan’s top security officials. ‘Fighting the Taliban won’t even be an issue because who is going to do it? The army will be split. So will the police.’

Indeed: “Some western officials have begun to warn that the crisis poses a greater immediate threat to the Afghan government than the Taliban.” (‘Kerry pushes for solution to Afghanistan election crisis’ by Mathew Rosenberg and Carlotta Gall, 11 July 2014)

Clearly, as in Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Libya, in Afghanistan, too, US imperialism has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Human cost of the imperialist defeat

While the cost to the country’s people has been huge, nevertheless they are steadily seeing off the invaders and have made it impossible for them to achieve either their real aim – the domination of this strategically vital corner of Asia – or any of the stated aims that have been cobbled together at various times since the invasion for public consumption.

Afghanistan has long been a country blighted by imperialist design. In the 19th century, the competition between the Russian and British empires for control there was dubbed ‘The Great Game’. In recent history, a progressive, socialist-leaning revolution was subverted by US imperialism through a proxy war that cost millions of Afghan lives, destroyed infrastructure and turned back the clock on all the country’s social progress, bringing religious fundamentalism to a country that had formerly been famed for its tolerance.

Since the Nato imperialist invasion of 2001, more than 13 years of war have taken a tremendous toll on the country. While Britain has lost 448 soldiers, and the US has lost 3,450, with many thousands more wounded, nobody on the imperialist side has bothered to take a full and accurate count of the Afghan casualties. Conservative estimates put the civilian death toll at 20,000, but the true numbers are extremely hard to determine.

Australian academic Dr Gideon Polya, author of Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950, believes that a scientific analysis of the available figures leads to an estimated violent death toll in post-invasion Afghanistan of between 850,000 and 1.7 million, and he estimates the avoidable non-violent death toll – resulting from disease, poverty and all the other associated ills of the war – to be as high as 5.5 million, leading to a total avoidable death toll of 7.2 million people.

This is a genocide in the true sense of the word – and one that is totally hidden by the complicit western media. No wonder US General Tommy Franks announced from Iraq that, “We don’t do body counts.” (See the Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide website)

As well as creating some 2 million external and half a million internal refugees, the invasion and occupation have brought Afghanistan to such a pass that it now has the distinction of having the highest infant mortality rate in the world (187 deaths per 1,000 live births) by an extremely large margin (war-torn Somalia is in second place with 106). To put that in perspective, Libya had a comparable rate (185 per thousand) in 1950 under the BP-backed monarchy, but this declined rapidly and consistently after the revolution, so that by 2011 it had fallen to 12.26.

Afghanistan today also boasts the second-highest under-5 mortality rate in the world. One in five children born there will die before they reach their fifth birthday. It is hardly surprising, combining such realities with the incessant threat of drone strikes and the incredible levels of impoverishment and insecurity, that an estimated two-thirds of the population now suffer from mental-health problems as a result of the 13-year war.

The costs of the war fall on taxes while profiteers make a fortune

The war we were led into by a social-democratic Labour government has so far cost the UK treasury around £30bn. It is a sad indictment of the imperialist system that such spending must always be prioritised over investment in schools, hospitals, or infrastructure. This is not a ‘choice’, but an inevitable result of a system that feeds off domination of the globe and the extraction of massive superprofits from oppressed populations abroad.

Tens of millions of pounds every year have been spent on private security contracts, awarded mainly to the government’s old friend G4S – the prisoner-losing public-abusing company that seems to be increasingly reaping what Nato governments sow. It was embarrassingly revealed in an inquiry held by the US Senate, who awarded more than £82bn in private contracts to a G4S subsidiary, that this money had largely been spent on funding local warlords.

Halliburton (formerly run by ex-VP Dick Cheney) gained $39.5bn in contracts in Afghanistan over the course of the war, with a further estimate of over $138bn US tax dollars going to private and publicly-listed firms. As of last year, there were over 110,000 private contractors in Afghanistan alone, many of which are private military contractors. These mercenaries are part of a sector that is now worth $100bn a year thanks to imperialism’s incessant warmongering, and its desire to keep the real body counts out of the public eye.

By contrast to these vast figures spent on destroying the country, Britain spends a paltry £180m a year on ‘aid’ for Afghanistan – almost half of which returns to Britain through contractors and corruption, according to a 2008 report.

Opium production

Despite the influx of soldiers and contractors – ostensibly brought to the country in order to ‘capture Osama’, ‘defeat al-Qaeda’ and ‘prevent terrorism’, and later kept there under various pretexts including ‘defeating the ‘Taliban’, ‘liberating women’ and ‘curtailing opium production’ – violence and opium production in Afghanistan have steadily soared since 2001, and the global market for opium is now worth over £35bn annually.

In fact, the only time Afghan opium production dropped was in 2001. A phenomenal 99 percent reduction (accounting for 75 percent of the global supply) was achieved after the Taliban-controlled government decided to ban poppy cultivation in 2000.

The invasion reversed the situation completely, however. Today, heroin users are enjoying the highest supply and cheapest prices of the drug since before the war began, and some 90 percent of the world’s supply is now of Afghan origin, with Nato soldiers routinely protecting the growers and the drug lords (sorry, ‘Nato’s allies in the struggle for democracy’).

If we take at face value the stated aims for the invasion of Afghanistan, then the war has not only failed, but has had the opposite effect in almost every case.

The ‘war on terror’ has done nothing to make imperialist populations safer, but has led to the deaths of millions of men, women, and children in Afghanistan, Iraq, and across Africa, killed en masse indiscriminately and in cold blood. It has resulted in a booming global trade in opium and heroin, the destruction of women’s rights, and a massive increase in global instability.

Loss of rights in Britain

The negative effects of the supposed ‘war on terror’ have been felt at home, too, although we have generally forgotten to be outraged about them any more.

Civilians in Britain are liable to be detained for up to 90 days with no charge under new anti-terrorism laws – introduced by the last Labour government, let us remember. Eighteen British muslims were kidnapped in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shipped off without trial to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay with the cooperation and connivance of British secret services, and many more have been tortured, rendered, extradited, imprisoned and assassinated.

We’re also just now discovering the extent of the huge increase in the surveillance of British people that has become the norm, both by our own state and by the US secret services. We were already the country with the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of the population anywhere in the world, but now we can add blanket wiretapping of phones and online communications to the list of paranoid and intrusive observations of British workers.

Imperialism is a paper tiger

Overall, however, the message for workers from Afghanistan is a positive one. Once again, it has been clearly demonstrated that while imperialist firepower and machinery can wantonly destroy the lives, infrastructure and the very fabric of a nation and its material achievements, the imperialists cannot subdue the people by means of their armed force alone, nor keep a people in subjugation once they have decided to resist.

The fact is that the death knell of open colonial domination was sounded with the victory of the October revolution. Every people on earth has learned from the anti-racism of the Soviets, who disproved in practice the prevailing racism of the European empires. They have learned from the ‘asymmetrical warfare’ of Chairman Mao and the Chinese communists, who showed how a weak, peasant population can defeat a strong imperial power. And they have benefitted from the technology of the USSR, which created that ‘great equaliser’, the AK-47 assault rifle, whose flexibility and sturdiness is legendary.

In such a world, imperialist invasions are ultimately doomed to failure. But since imperialism’s need to control markets and materials, as well as to extract superprofits by exploiting workers and keeping them in the most appalling conditions, knows no limits; and since economic crisis is built into the capitalist system, demands the destruction of previously-produced goods and leads to the intensification of the competition for sources of profit, imperialism will keep driving the world to war all the same, regardless of the doomed outcome, and regardless of the incalculable and unforgiveable waste of people and resources.

What better example could there be of this bloodthirsty system’s utter uselessness to humanity, or of the urgent need to rid ourselves of the exploiters who leech their wealth from the creation of so much unnecessary misery?

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