The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Afghanistan:
Seven Years into a Worsening Quagmire

Nov 9, 2008

The U.S. and its allies are in the midst of a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The following article about that war originally appeared in the November-December 2008 issue of Class Struggle magazine, put out by Workers Fight, a Trotskyist group, in Great Britain.

For most of the past seven years, the issue of Afghanistan may have been relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers, but the country has nevertheless been the scene of an on-going war.

The invasion of Afghanistan, on October 7, 2001, was designed to show America’s shocked public that the Bush administration was going to do something in response to the 9/11 terror attacks in New York. But the Taliban regime was easily overthrown by the carpet-bombing carried out by the heavily equipped U.S.-led coalition forces.

Thereafter, Western operations in Afghanistan were portrayed as an “anti-terrorist hunt,” from which the Afghan people had nothing to fear. After all, weren’t these operations exclusively targeted at an elusive al-Qaeda “network,” which was blamed for 9/11, and its regional allies? Besides, hadn’t “regime change” in Kabul freed the Afghans from the stranglehold of an oppressive regime and from the brutal rule of the heroin barons? Hadn’t it freed Afghan women from the bigoted diktats of reactionary clerics? In fact, in the West, many of the politicians who opposed – albeit largely symbolically – the invasion of Iraq, managed to find in such justifications grounds for supporting the on-going occupation of Afghanistan or, at least, for not opposing it.

Such cynical pretense, however, changed nothing with regard to the casualties and the destruction caused by the West’s “anti-terrorist” bombs and missiles. That the Afghan population would be made to pay with its blood for the dubious “privilege” of being used as a pawn in Bush’s worldwide “war on terror” did not deter second-rate imperialist powers, such as Britain and France, from taking part in the invasion right from the beginning. They then joined in the occupation of the country, for the sake of retaining their seats at the top end of the imperialist table. Other industrialized countries followed suit, within NATO’s so-called “International Security Assistance Force” (ISAF).

Thus, although always a junior partner in this new imperialist power game, Britain’s contingent in Afghanistan became the second largest. Due to their commitment to the “special relationship” between London and Washington – that is, to the special relationship between British and American finance – Blair and his Labor ministers chose to play second fiddle in Bush’s war crimes. And, as the Iraq invasion later showed, this was only the beginning.

Western-Backed Warlords

The much higher-profile invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent war pushed the Afghan war into the background. It became the West’s “forgotten war.” There were all sorts of reasons for this. Afghanistan’s more backward society was far less urbanized than Iraq’s and street opposition to Western occupation could not take as high a profile as in Iraq, while the armed opposition was concealed for a long time by the fact that its strongholds were in remote areas which were not accessible from the towns usually visited by the Western media. But the main reason for the lower profile of the Afghan war was certainly that the level of casualties among the occupation forces appeared comparatively small, especially after the invasion of Iraq, where as many Western soldiers were killed in a single month as in Afghanistan over a whole year.

Nevertheless, what was taking place in Afghanistan was indeed a war, even though it appeared to be a “low-intensity” one. What was stressed for public consumption, at least in the first few years, was the high-profile hunt for Bin Laden’s supporters and the leading figures of the defunct Taliban regime, first in the caves of the Hindu-Kush mountain range – although this turned into a humiliating flop for U.S. command – and then, across the rest of the country. But, behind this facade the occupation forces soon came up against the resistance of the very same Islamic warlords who had been armed and funded by the U.S. in the past, against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. And this resistance proved all the more difficult to overcome as large sections of the Afghan population were hostile, right from the outset, to the new breed of foreign invaders – especially the majority rural population.

Eventually, the Western powers chose to cajole the warlords they could not defeat into obedience. They presented them with bribes and the promise of official positions in the future Western-backed regime. Thus came into being, in 2004, Hamid Karzai’s “democratic regime” which, on the whole, was little more than a loose coalition of warlords brought together by their common greed and their expectation of gaining regular access to Western funding.

Within Kabul itself, after an initial period of bloody in-fighting over the most profitable positions on offer, Karzai’s new allies more or less behaved themselves – although there have been on-going turf wars between the departmental strongholds they have built for themselves within the new administration.

Kabul, however, has been under the close scrutiny of large contingents of Western soldiers and civilian officials. But what has happened in the provinces has been a very different story. A provincial governor rarely survived in his post if his appointment was not approved by the warlords who held sway in his province. At the level of small towns and villages, mayors and police chiefs were direct appointees of the local strong man – whether he was a Karzai supporter or not. The local strong man was usually also the biggest local land owner, so that the survival of a whole section of the local population has depended on him, making it even more difficult for the occupation authorities to counter-balance his power – even if they really wanted to. These strong men have formed a complex hierarchy, defined by ethnic or religious links and semi-feudal allegiances, which is, in turn, dominated by the relatively small layer of regional warlords, whose political clout is based on long-established armed militias.

As a result, most of the same warlords, who sat in Karzai’s government or held vital positions in its departments in Kabul, were busy running their own provincial strongholds as semi-autonomous territories at the same time. But since Karzai needed their support to maintain a minimum of credibility for his regime, he chose to give up any attempt of asserting his authority in these warlords’ backyards. Instead, all provincial institutions were left under the sole control of these provincial warlords. And the occupation authorities went along with this choice, promptly forgetting about their much proclaimed commitment to “democracy,” in order to accommodate warlords who were nothing but brutal, feudal dictators, using ethnicism, religion and tradition as a means to force the population into submission.

The War Intensifies and Spreads

All along, Western occupation forces have tried to maintain an appearance of control over the country – but without much success, despite their overwhelming military advantage. Their real sphere of control has never extended much beyond the barbed wire surrounding the two dozen heavily defended ISAF/U.S. bases scattered across the country and the central area of Kabul where Western embassies and government ministries are located. But, as a number of spectacular terrorist attacks carried out over the past years have shown, not even this central area of Kabul could be considered really safe.

Outside Kabul, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country, whenever occupation troops left their compounds, they entered unchartered territory, where the danger could come from just about anywhere, from home-made roadside bombs to long-range rocket attacks and short-range sniper bullets.

Far from improving from this point of view, the situation has been deteriorating steadily over the past years. By the second half of 2005, it became clear that the level of attacks faced by the occupation forces was increasing. During that year, the number of U.S. casualties suddenly doubled, reaching 99.

These attacks were not concentrated in one specific part of the country. Nor could they be blamed on a particular group of insurgents. In fact, even at that early stage, there were indications that these attacks were carried out by different currents, each with its own agenda – even if they all appeared to be using Islam as their banner. In particular, as opposed to the original Taliban, who were based exclusively among the Pashtun minority (the country’s largest ethnic group), armed opposition to the occupation emerged from among the Tajik minority, which had been the fiercest opponent of the Taliban’s rise to power in the early 1990s.

However, it was undoubtedly very convenient for the imperialist leaders to blame what they described as a “Taliban resurgence.” This allowed Bush to present the increase in military resources allocated to Afghanistan as a necessity for the very safety of America, which was dictated by the alleged links between these “Taliban” and Al-Qaeda.

In Britain, Blair was more cautious at the time, denying that the additional British troops would be used for anything other than what he described as “reconstruction.” This was nothing short of a lie, of course. In January 2006, 3,300 additional British troops were sent to take responsibility for the southern Helmand province – one of the hotbeds of the growing resistance. Less than six months later, it emerged that the newly-arrived British contingent had joined U.S. and Canadian forces in the so-called “Operation Mountain Thrust” – described as an unprecedented land offensive across several provinces against the “Taliban bases,” although without much success, as it happened.

Indeed, while the coalition’s overall troop levels increased by 45% during the 18 months up to the end of 2006 and its airborne resources were significantly beefed up with more aircraft carriers stationed off the Pakistani coast, the number of attacks against occupation troops went up by 50% over the same period. By the end of 2006, casualties among British troops had suddenly soared from an official total of 5 since the beginning of the war to a total of 39 for the year 2006 alone.

This trend has continued ever since, with U.S. casualties reaching 151 for the first 10 months of 2008 (a 30% increase over the number of U.S. soldiers killed for the whole of 2007) and 36 British soldiers killed over the same period. While the number of attacks against the occupation forces has kept increasing more or less at the same rate each year, this year, for the 10 months up to October, this number is already 44% higher than the whole of last year! By spring this year, a U.S. intelligence report estimated that only 30% of the country was really controlled by Karzai’s administration and its Western-equipped security forces.

An even more dangerous development is the fact that the war has now spilled over into neighboring Pakistan, on the southern border of Afghanistan. Given the artificial nature of the border between the two countries – the famous “Durand Line” inherited from the British empire– it has always been largely ignored by the local population on both sides, especially along the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), another legacy of the British empire, over which the Pakistani state only has limited control. After the Russian invasion of 1979, this porous border provided logistical bases as well as a steady flow of supply in arms and money to every Islamic armed group operating in Afghanistan, while allowing Afghan refugees to escape the fighting. Predictably, this happened again after the 2001 invasion.

With time, however, Islamabad’s support for the Western coalition in Afghanistan has become a political issue in Pakistan. The country’s Islamic parties have seized this opportunity to try to boost their influence by organizing contingents of “volunteers” to help the Afghan resistance. Under pressure from Washington, the Pakistani army has reacted with its usual brutality, deporting hundreds of thousands of inhabitants from the FATA and the surrounding border areas and shooting on sight whoever remained. But even this is not enough for the U.S. military. By now, U.S. bombings over Pakistan’s border area have become regular events, thereby threatening to precipitate Pakistan, if not into the Afghan war itself – although, even this cannot be excluded – at least into a civil war, especially at a time when, due to the world economic crisis, this country is faced with the prospect of social disaster.

The Resistance Feeds on Imperialist Brutality

Of course, these figures say nothing about the price paid for the war by the Afghan population which, for all its hatred of the occupation forces, is nevertheless caught in the cross fire between these forces and the resistance groups. And this is a terrible price – all the more terrible as the methods used by the Western forces are no less terrorist, but a lot more lethal, than those of the resistance.

In Iraq, a U.S. senior commanding officer once explained “we don’t do body counts.” Nor do they in Afghanistan. However, some anti-war groups have produced well-documented estimates which illustrate, without any possible doubt, the increasingly bloody methods used by Western forces against the population.

According to these estimates, just under 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed by the 14,000 tons of bombs dropped over the country during the carpet bombing which took place in the first two weeks of the invasion. However, between the beginning of 2006 and mid-2008, an estimated 1,488 Afghans were killed by just 1,458 tons of bombs. No doubt, the Western army bureaucracy must be congratulating itself for this increased “bombing productivity!”

This appears to be the result of the so-called “Close Air Support” strategy (CAS) which the occupation authorities have used since 2006. This strategy replaces the systematic bombing of areas designated in advance on the basis of intelligence with the bombing of areas designated in the heat of the moment on the basis of actual engagement. This means that any farm or village which seems to have been used as a firing position by a sniper or a rocket launcher is bombed on the basis of a simple request sent by radio. However, it takes some time for airborne support to arrive and, usually, this is more than enough for a mobile guerilla group to make a swift escape. By the time airborne support does materialize, the only remaining people in the target farm or village tend to be terrorized civilians, who become the only victims of this terrorist strategy. By a cynical twist, this technique is nevertheless described as designed to limit the number of “collateral” casualties among civilians!

It should be added that these figures take no account of the deaths caused by lost bullets or strafing by helicopter gun ships. Nor do they take into account those who lose their lives eventually as a result of Western direct or indirect action – whether it be following an injury caused by Western gunfire or because of the diseases that plague refugee camps, for instance.

However, the West’s “new” murderous methods have proved just as useless at containing the rise of the resistance groups as the old ones. In mid-October this year, a correspondent for the German paper Der Spiegel proposed a “simple barometer for the condition of the country: The cost of transporting one truckload along the notorious road from Kabul to Kandahar was about $1,800 in the spring. Because of the increased danger, the price is almost 10 times as high today.” In provinces like Helmand or Ghazni (which is only 100 miles West of Kabul), the resistance groups are now staging raids closer and closer to the provincial capitals, where the main bases of the occupation forces are located – usually in the form of the occupation of a small town for several hours, until the risk of retaliation becomes too high. If anything, the resistance seems to be finding a regular flow of new recruits despite – or rather, more likely because of – the terrorist methods used by Western troops against the population.

Using the Old Colonial Gimmicks

A number of high-ranking coalition officials have acknowledged the increasing support enjoyed by the resistance among the population, leading to a lot of soul-searching in military circles. This resulted, starting from last year, in boosting “cultural” programs such as the so-called “Human Terrain Systems” (HTS), managed so far for the coalition by British arms manufacturer BAE Systems.

HTS involved the integration in combat units of “Human Terrain Teams,” formed by five specialists each, including two “embedded” civilians – an anthropologist/sociologist and a “cultural analyst” who could double as a translator. The role of these HTTs was to provide army commanders with a “cultural” interpretation of every situation they were confronted with, so as “to avoid upsetting the local population needlessly” in the tit-for-tat fighting with the resistance groups. HTTs also organized “focus groups” with local elders in the hope of winning their support to the coalition, usually with the promise of some funding for local projects.

These programs were backed by studies summarized as follows in an article published earlier in the U.S. Military Review: “What has emerged overall from (..) the historical record of insurgency is a broad consensus that civil society in Iraq and Afghanistan constitutes the real center of gravity. The current insurgencies in the Middle East are manifestations of the unmet expectations and desires of large segments of the Iraqi and Afghani populations. Disappointed by their unrequited aspirations, the people tolerate and even support the presence of insurgents, thereby making insurgency possible. Such conclusions logically demand that past experience guide our understanding of how best to meet, in a manner that supports our own military objectives, the expectations and desires of the people at the heart of such struggles.”

But as a U.S. journalist noted half-jokingly in a lengthy account of an HTT’s activity published in Harpers’ Magazine, in September this year, the “anthropological methods” applied by HTTs consisted “simply of chatting with people instead of following the Army’s role method of reading questions off a standard civil-affairs survey form.” The same report mentioned with some irony how, as a result of the HTT’s efforts, a U.S. officer had come to the realization (at last!) that forcing his way into the compound of an Afghan family, in full combat gear complete with an automatic pistol ready to fire, was an insult which called for the family head to shoot the intruder!

As the Military Review summary pointed out, however, the decision to resort to HTS was not just aimed at meeting the actual needs of the population, but at meeting them “in a manner that supports our own military objectives” – which, obviously, meant something very different. Hence the fact that, in addition to the two “culture-focused” civilian members allocated to HTT teams, the other three were a regular career officer without any special training, to run the team, and two military intelligence specialists, including what the U.S. military call a “trained debriefer,” i.e. a trained interrogator! Intelligence gathering was a obviously a major part of the HTTs’ role and no-one had bothered to note that an engineers corps specialist, for instance, would have been of much greater help to “meet the expectations and desires” of the local population – proof that all that “cultural” talk was nothing but cynical hot air!

Such methods, purporting to give a high profile to local cultural traditions, are nothing new. They were USED in every colonial and post-colonial military venture of the 20th century. But they never allowed the imperialist powers to mitigate the effects of their bloody oppression nor the hatred this fueled among the poor masses. And there is no reason for Afghanistan to be an exception.

In fact, by now, the consensus is, including among the highest spheres of the coalition’s officialdom, that the West has long lost the so-called “battle for hearts and minds” in Afghanistan.

War as a Social Catastrophe

An opinion poll recently conducted in Afghanistan by the U.S.-based NGO, Asia Foundation, reflects the population’s growing disaffection for the Karzai administration. The two main areas of dissatisfaction it reveals are economic conditions, especially the lack of jobs – and insecurity.

Indeed, under today’s “democratic” Western-backed regime, Afghanistan has become the poorest country in Southern Asia and the world’s fifth least-developed country according to the U.N. This means that conditions have become even worse than they were in 2004, when, despite the destruction caused by the blind bombing of the invasion and the two previous decades of war, the country was still in 6th position on the U.N. poverty scorecard. Overall, according to U.N. agencies, 20 million of the country’s 26 million inhabitants live under the internationally recognized poverty line. And such figures do not take into account the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who still live in refugee camps in Pakistan and in Iran.

The most recent official unemployment statistics date back to 2005, when 40% of the workforce had no job. Since then, countless factories have been closed down for lack of parts, lack of energy or due to attacks from resistance groups, not to mention those which have been destroyed by the coalition as a result of “faulty intelligence.” So that according to some estimates, the jobless count reaches as much as 80% in some of the country’s urban areas.

Even in the most urbanized parts of the country, electricity is seldom available for more than a few hours a day, when it is available at all. In Kabul, the majority of the four million inhabitants, most of whom flocked to the capital in order to escape from the rural combat areas, live in squalid conditions, without drinking water or functioning sewage systems. Destroyed buildings dating back to the Western bombing stand in the middle of makeshift squats and shanties. Only the rich Western-controlled central area enjoys the trappings of modern amenities. But these are out of bounds for ordinary Afghans.

The situation of women is especially dire. Karzai’s regime is not designated an “Islamic Republic” for nothing. With the exception of a small minority among the better-off layers, little has changed in the condition of women under this regime which, according to U.S. and British leaders, was meant to free Afghan women once and for all from the feudal yoke of Islamic fundamentalism. And against the backdrop of worsening material conditions, this also means worsening conditions for women: after Sierra Leone, Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

Worse of all, the economic situation of the population is deteriorating fast. In October this year, the Afghan authorities acknowledged that the country faces a deficit of 2 million tonnes of staple food – mainly wheat flour and rice – over the next six months. This followed an emergency 400-million-dollar appeal launched last July by U.N. agencies and Oxfam, warning that five million Afghans were threatened with “high-risk food insecurity.” However, so far only 40% of this appeal has been covered by donors.

Yet, what does this 400 million dollars represent compared to the cost of the war to the imperialist powers? It is estimated that Washington alone spends 100 million dollars per day of occupation, meaning that guaranteeing the survival of almost 20% of the country’s population would only cost the U.S. the equivalent of four days of occupation! But neither Bush nor his victorious rival Obama has volunteered such funding – regardless of the fact that the main reason why so many Afghans are threatened with starvation is precisely the damage caused by the imperialist invasion!

In fact, the “aid and reconstruction” provided by the occupation force is merely a cynical farce. No one should be fooled by the big fanfare which was made around British soldiers escorting brand new turbines to a power station along dangerous Afghan roads. Only 5% of the billions spent by Western powers on the occupation is earmarked for aid and 40% of that amount consists of bribes, contractors’ fees and salaries, before actually being used on the ground. So, for most Afghans, hardly any of this money ever materializes.

Corrupt Puppets and Drug Barons

Of course, part of this Western aid goes straight into the pockets of the strong men that the coalition has chosen to form the backbone of its puppet regime. Which is why another main subject of discontent revealed by the Asia Foundation opinion poll was the corruption of the government. From this point of view the development of the opium/heroin “industry” is telling.

Despite the emphasis put for many years by U.S. enforcement agencies on “eradicating” heroin production, this activity has remained the mainstay of Afghanistan’s economy since the invasion, accounting for over 50% of its GDP according to U.N. estimates. This does not only mean that a large stream of lethal drugs flows out of Afghanistan into the neighboring countries and, possibly – although this is less credible – further afield, into Europe, under the noses (if not under the protection!) of the 70,000 Western troops stationed in the country. It also means that a whole layer of drug barons and armed thugs are openly living off the enslavement of the population in this Western-backed “democracy.” Because poppy agriculture is like diamond mining – it implies the treatment of laborers as prisoners, for fear of even the pettiest theft.

And it is not as if these drug barons were all shadowy warlords living in areas which are inaccessible. One of Karzai’s own brothers, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been accused of being heavily involved in this lucrative trade. But numerous calls for a legal investigation into these allegations have failed. This became an embarrassment for the occupation authorities, to the point were they tried to get Karzai to agree to resolve the problem quietly. So, according to an article published in October this year, by the New York Times, on the basis of accounts of U.S. officials formerly posted in Afghanistan: “In meetings with President Karzai, including a 2006 session with the United States ambassador, the Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief and their British counterparts, American officials have talked about the allegations in hope that the president might move his brother out of the country.” However, not only did Karzai fail to make this concession, but the said brother has since been appointed head of the provincial council based in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city – in other words, at the heart of one of the country’s most unstable provinces. For the U.S. leaders, it was clearly not worth it to reduce the drug baron’s lethal activity if it meant rocking the boat of their puppet government!

Nor did British authorities prove more effective after taking over responsibility for Helmand province. This province was traditionally one of the heartlands of poppy production in Afghanistan. Under the “watchful” eye of Her Majesty’s forces, it became, by far, the country’s main source of opium, with an estimated 60% of total production. While the official U.S. policy of spraying poppy fields from the air with weed-killers could only be counter-productive, by antagonizing the farmers whose livelihood was thus destroyed, no serious attempt was ever made at implementing the grain-replacement programs advocated by a number of NGOs and U.N. agencies. These were considered too costly, too remote from the forces’ military brief and, above all, too likely to antagonize regional strong men.

Meanwhile the heroin capitalists are ostentatiously showing off their increasing wealth in places like Herat, for instance, a north-western provincial capital and a traditional smuggling conduit to neighboring Iran. There, in the middle of the vast amounts of rubble left over from three decades of war, among the derelict mud compounds where the majority of the population lives, extravagantly luxurious houses have sprung out of the ground, surrounded by lush gardens, which seem out of place in such arid surroundings. Their owners have no known source of income. But neither the Kabul-appointed provincial administration nor the Italian-led high command of the ISAF Western region, which is based in Herat, seems to see anything wrong in this.

A “Lost War” Leading to Worse?

Over the past years, numerous voices among the top spheres of the coalition authorities have acknowledged that the war in Afghanistan had already been lost – that is, short of flooding the country with enormous forces, something that none of the imperialist powers can afford, neither politically, nor economically in the present context.

This September, only a day after Bush had spoken about the need for a “quiet surge” of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (meaning an increase, like last year in Iraq), the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, admiral Michael Mullen, was testifying in front of the House of Representatives Services Committee. Apparently deviating from a prepared testimony approved by the White House, he declared: “I am not convinced we are winning the war in Afghanistan,” thereby causing a bit of a scandal.

This was followed, at the beginning of October, with a draft National Intelligence Estimate, a document which is supposed to reflect the assessment of all U.S. security agencies, which was leaked to the New York Times. In a nutshell, this document explained that Afghanistan was in a “downward spiral” and cast doubts on the capacity of the Karzai administration to stop the rise in influence of the resistance.

Similar sound bites have been coming from Britain’s higher spheres. In September, a French weekly leaked the content of a message sent to Paris by the French ambassador in Afghanistan. It contained a report of a conversation with British ambassador Cowper-Coles about the situation of the occupation. He was quoted saying things like: “The current situation is bad, security is worsening, but also corruption and the current government has lost all credit. (..) Foreign forces are assuring the survival of the regime, which, without them, would quickly crumble. In doing so, they are slowing down and complicating an eventual end to the crisis (incidentally, probably a dramatic one).” Sending more troops, added Cowper-Coles, “would have perverse effects: it would single U.S. out even more clearly as an occupying force and multiply the number of targets.” Indeed, said Cowper-Coles, the coalition’s troops “are part of the problem not the solution.” His best scenario was that “in five to ten years,” after the departure of Western troops, the country “was governed by an acceptable dictator.”

Of course, this report was flatly denied by the Foreign Office. But, whether accurate or not, the fact is that it fits in perfectly with the policy currently being followed in Afghanistan by the imperialist powers concerned. Indeed, the idea of finding an “acceptable dictator” for the country was always the line followed by the coalition. Attempts were made to find “acceptable” partners, both among the former anti-Taliban forces and among the so-called “moderate” Taliban. Karzai himself was selected by the U.S. because, in addition to having long-standing links with U.S. business, he was the head of a clan which had sided with the Taliban during their rise to power.

As it happened, the weakness of Karzai’s regime proved a disappointment. New armed forces emerged, bidding for power, and the coalition found itself back at square one, but this time, without any identifiable negotiating partners. Since then, many voices have argued that it was necessary to “talk with the Taliban.” Thus, in October, a high-level meeting was held in Saudi Arabia between representatives of Karzai’s government and the armed resistance. Among those attending the meeting were also the head of the ultra-conservative council of Islamic Scholars of Afghanistan, two so-called “moderate Taliban” (the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and the former Taliban foreign minister). In attendance as well was a representative of warlord Gulbbudin Hekmatyar, a former CIA protege in the days of the Russian occupation who came to be known, after it ended, as one of the most bloody “mujahedeen” commanders.

Apparently, nothing came out of this meeting. But the mere fact that it took place - and the fact that it cannot have happened without the explicit endorsement of the occupation authorities – shows in which direction the imperialist powers are heading. As far as they are concerned, any dictatorship will do, including the most bloodthirsty, as long as it is “acceptable” – that is as long as it proves pliable enough to submit to Western diktats and also capable of keeping the population under control. The only problem for the imperialist powers, for the time being at least, seems to be that no such partner is willing to play ball with them.

It is against this backdrop that the U.S. reinforcements to Afghanistan championed by Barack Obama in his election campaign, including a move to go into Pakistan – and already backed up by Downing Street with the promise of more British troops – must be understood. As it always happens at some point in every war waged by imperialism in the poor countries, the purpose of these reinforcements is not to defeat the resistance militarily, which is probably impossible due to the hatred of the population against the occupation, but to create a relationship of forces such as to bring the resistance forces to the negotiating table, if possible in a position of weakness.

Never mind the fact that this “surge,” initiated by Bush and now underwritten by Obama and Brown, will mean even more casualties, devastation and suffering for the Afghan population, not to mention the consequences of a possible extension of the war into Pakistan! Never mind either, that the final settlement, if and when it happens, will spell even more suffering for the same population, after two decades of civil war and a decade of Western occupation, this time at the hands of a Western-endorsed “acceptable dictator.” Never mind, finally, if, in the process, more young Western soldiers, who never chose to fight this war, lose their lives in the killing fields of Afghanistan.

A decade-long war will have been fought, once again, for no reason other than to allow the richest imperialist powers to assert their domination over the world. If nothing else, this is one more reason to say that this capitalist system of worldwide oppression must be brought to an end once and for all. And one more reason to demand, in the meantime, that British and United States troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq and all the countries in which they represent British and U.S. capital and that they should be withdrawn now!

9 November 2008