The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

U.S. war in Afghanistan:
Replacing one dictatorship with another

Nov 19, 2001

By the middle of November in Afghanistan, the sustained U.S. bombing and the advancing military factions of the Northern Alliance had appeared to score one military victory after another against the Taliban. First, the Taliban lost the key northern city Mazar-i-Sharif. It then fled the capital, Kabul. Within days, the Taliban was regrouping to make a last stand in Kandahar, its religious stronghold in the south of the country. It is unclear whether a part of the Taliban in conjunction with the Arab fighters in Osama Bin Laden’s Qaeda organization would eventually take to the mountains in order to launch a guerrilla war.

As the Taliban has left one city after another, the news media has made it seem like Afghanistan is being liberated, and that this represents the beginning of the end to a particularly barbaric chapter in the history of Afghanistan. They pretend that things will improve for the people in Afghanistan, that the constant state of warfare, despotism and misery that has taken such a toll for so long will finally end.

Of course, if that were the case, then all the forces that had oppressed the people of Afghanistan, fomented the wars, used the people of the country as their cannon fodder, would be driven out of the country and the region. But that is not what is happening at all. The Taliban may be on its way out. But this has only created a power vacuum that all the other Afghan warlords are vying with each other to fill. And behind these warlords are all the Western powers, starting with the U.S., along with the regional powers, including Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, etc. that support its so-called coalition.

To understand what kind of “liberation” that the U.S., along with the rest of its allies are getting ready to impose on the people of Afghanistan, one has only to look at how these very same powers have “liberated” the Afghan people over the past quarter of a century.

For the U.S., the initial involvement in Afghanistan came back in the late 1970s, after one of its key dictators in the region, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown. The growing unrest in the region was funneled into growing religious fundamentalist movements that threatened many other regimes, including in Afghanistan. When the Soviet Union, which shared a large border with that country, sent in troops to smash this unrest, the U.S. saw this as an opportunity to play both sides of the conflict. On the one hand, the U.S. was not displeased that the Soviet Union was squashing a social revolt that could also threaten other dictatorships that were linked to the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. also saw this war as an opportunity to weaken its main rival, to bog the Soviet Union in a conflict, just like the U.S. had been bogged down in Viet Nam. This is why the U.S. never officially got involved in the war, while covertly the CIA supported people like Osama bin Laden, as well as sent money and arms to Afghanistan through the Pakistani secret service.

Over the next decade, Soviet losses in Afghanistan mounted. Finally, in 1989, it was forced out, leaving Afghanistan in ruins, with the roads and agricultural lands destroyed, and with more than five million refugees, the largest refugee population in the world. But for the U.S. government, the fate of the Afghan people was of little or no concern. Instead, they considered that the main priority of the war, that is the weakening of the Soviet Union, had been met in a long and bloody war. So the U.S. left the country to the same war lords with whom it had allied itself during the war.

This rule of the war lords marked the second tragic chapter for the people of Afghanistan. With so much of the country destroyed, most of these war lords’ income came from control over such criminal operations as smuggling and the cultivation of the most profitable cash crop, poppies, for the production of heroin and opium. These same war lords, smugglers and criminals fought each other for control of parts of the country, along with control over the increasingly profitable smuggling operations. The war lords also vied for support from the surrounding countries, such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia – as well as India, which were also looking to gain influence at the expense of each other. All of these elements fed a more and more destructive civil war that lasted for seven more years.

The U.S. came to view this growing chaos as a problem that could destabilize the entire region. So the U.S. supported efforts by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to produce a force that could finally end the fighting in Afghanistan. The solution that these powers cooked up turned out to be the Taliban. With U.S. and Saudi money, the Pakistani secret police recruited the Taliban from refugee camps, indoctrinated them in government-financed religious schools and sent them into Afghanistan. Fighting alongside them were not only the Pakistani secret police, but religious fanatics from the rest of the Arab world, who had been recruited by the likes of Osama Bin Laden, as well as the Saudi secret police. With this kind of force and U.S. money behind them, the Taliban managed to secure their rule over most of the country.

Once in power, the Taliban proved that they had learned the lessons taught by their masters very well. Their rule was harsh, filled with atrocities, based on the barbaric teachings and practices that harkened back hundreds of years.

Yet, once again, this rule of a new set of warlords was not a problem for the U.S. government– so long as the Taliban was cooperative and ready to do business with it. In fact, when the Taliban took power, the U.S. news media and officials often pictured it as liberators. And leaders of the Taliban often met with U.S. government and business leaders. Only when the Taliban, along with some of its allies, like Osama bin Laden who had helped put it in power, began to play their own game, sometimes against the dominant power in the region, their U.S. sponsors, did they suddenly become a problem for U.S. policy-makers.

Whatever role the terrorist attacks of September 11 may have played in precipitating the U.S. war on October 7, clearly the U.S. had been preparing a military intervention in that region for at least a couple of years. The fact that the U.S. was able to mount such a massive intervention so quickly only bears this out.

No matter what happens next – if the Taliban were able to hold out in the mountains or not – neither will improve the situation of the people of Afghanistan. If the U.S. declares some kind of victory in the war, this will be no victory for the people of Afghanistan. All they will have gained is more death and destruction of their country.

Certainly, the U.S. has made it clear that it considers the question of who will run the country too important to let the people of Afghanistan decide for themselves. The U.S. leaders will themselves decide who makes up the new government, they will select the leaders, they will put in place the new army and police force in collaboration with other outside governments. They have also made it clear that they will base this new government on the very same warlords who made up the Northern Alliance, as well as those that supported the Taliban. Finally, to impose this rule, the U.S. says that it will get the U.N. to send in an occupying force made up of troops from the other dictatorships from the region.

At the recent Bush-Putin summit at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, the former U.S. and Russian adversaries during the Afghan War of the 1980s, no doubt met to decide how to divide the spoils and responsibilities after this latest Afghan War.

No, the U.S. war in Afghanistan does not open up a new phase in that region’s history. On the contrary, it is merely a continuation of previous disasters, disasters that will be paid for by the population, who are among the poorest on earth. Their fate is, unfortunately, a clear illustration of what the continued domination of imperialism over the planet has brought to vast regions of the world.