Ten years after the withdrawal of the American army from Iraq, US intervention is again suffering a real debacle, this time in Afghanistan. We will have to see in the period to come to what extent this affects the claims of US imperialism to rule and manoeuvre global geopolitics as the world’s leading power, as it did in occupying these two countries by a criminal military force 20 years ago.
In the new millennium Afghanistan was the first of many to suffer such military assaults. The US foreign policy establishment had already identified China, Iran and Russia as the ones to watch out for. They were thus well aware that Afghanistan, apart from Pakistan, neighbours Iran, China and pro-Russia Central Asian Republics, the latter also having large relatively untapped sources of oil and gas.
The takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on 15 August was marked by bloodshed, abductions and displacements; it brings an uncertain future for the majority of 38 million Afghans. That the Taliban has again taken power – and done so far more quickly than the US expected – is a heavy blow to the political credibility of US imperialism. Its Afghan stooges have collapsed.
Chaotic upset for imperialism
The Taliban victory was facilitated by in many ways by US imperialism. The Doha Agreement with the Taliban paved the way for this takeover. With the direct or indirect involvement of Qatar, Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan, the US and the Taliban reached an agreement. The 20 years’ US-led war in Afghanistan achieved nothing. With the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the country has now been left at the mercy of an emboldened Taliban. At no point were the Afghan people involved in deciding their own fate. Donald Trump is now busy blaming President Biden. But in fact, both are complicit. Biden is continuing the imperialist policies of Trump, whether this is in regard to Afghanistan or to Israel, Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere.
While Trump pushed for this agreement, Biden implemented it. The US withdrawal testifies to the declining support in the US for the “forever war’ and allowed US imperialism to extract itself militarily from the quagmire in Afghanistan and focus resources elsewhere. The USA wanted to leave Afghanistan come what may. They pulled out in the worst possible manner without first organising the evacuation of civilians.
The unceremonious US withdrawal has drawn ire even from its allies. Among European politicians, angry they were not involved in US plans for withdrawal, there is renewed talk of the formation of an armed force that can operate autonomously from the US and NATO. While they celebrated with euphoria the takeover of Kabul by the imperialist forces 20 years earlier, the defeat and especially the rapid collapse of their puppet regime has opened up serious disagreements among the US allies. One of those jubilant partners of Bush in 2001, Tony Blair, condemned the “abandonment” of the country as “dangerous” and “unnecessary”.
China and Russia guarantors of Taliban regime
The return of the Taliban opens up the possibility of a further strengthening of the influence of US rivals such as Russia and China in the region. Unlike at the time of the US occupation of Kabul in 2001, China and Russia are no longer siding with US imperialism. Both countries are in serious discussions with the Taliban on how to “develop Afghanistan” and complete projects left by US imperialism. Russia and China are shamelessly ready to recognize the Taliban dictatorship. They do not even have to answer to their people what will happen to the Afghan people. Dictatorships have their own “benefits”.
The divisions among US allies and the strengthening influence of its rivals show the Doha agreement was a compromise for US imperialism. In its slow, tortuous decline it realizes it is unable to dominate events in the way the US government intended when they launched the so-called “war on terror” two decades ago.
A large and chaotic airlifting operation followed the Taliban takeover of Kabulis still going on at the time of writing these lines. The NATO forces have evacuated tens of thousands of people from the Kabul airport. With dozens dead as a result of the unrest and attacks, thousands more are still waiting for a miraculous escape from the country to avoid Taliban death squads. Despite thousands on the airport waiting for the US and NATO assistance, President Joe Biden isremained determined to end the dramatic evacuation operation by 31 August. Such is US apathy towards Afghans.
The US has now also frozen the 9.5 billion dollars foreign reserves held in their own central bank while the IMF is suspending $450m meant for Afghanistan as part of the coronavirus relief programme.
This means that Afghanistan, the world’s seventh poorest country, left at the mercy of the Taliban, will further slide into poverty.
What has been spent in Afghanistan in the name of development, “democracy” and training of the armed forces for the last 20 years was unprecedented in terms of investment. According to the Cost of War Project, the United States poured $2226 billion into Afghanistan. This money could have provided basic education and health care all over the world. According to a 2020 report by the US Department of Defense, the United States spent $815.7 billion on war expenses.
The casualties in this war can be estimated from the fact that by April 2021, 47,235 civilians, 72 journalists and 444 aid workers had been killed. 66,000 Afghan soldiers also fell victim to this war.
The United States lost 2,442 troops and 20,666 were wounded. In addition, 3,800 private security personnel were killed. Soldiers from 40 countries took part in NATO’s Afghan forces. Of these, 1,144 soldiers were killed. The number of people who sought refuge outside the country is 2.7 million, while 4 million have been internally displaced. US imperialism borrowed lavishly to fund this war. It paid an estimated $536 billion in interest alone. In addition, it spent $296 billion on medical and other expenses for returning combat troops. There was $88 billion spent on training the 300,000 Afghan soldiers who were surrendering without a fight, and $36 billion spent on reconstruction projects such as dams, highways, etc., then $9 billion spent as compensation so the Afghans would not cultivate poppy and sell heroin.
US imperialism used the danger represented by the Taliban and Al Quaeda to create secret camps and jails for torturing people, to perpetrate crimes against humanity, to use Guantanamo to jail people without due processing, to strengthen the CIA, the NSA, to adopt the Patriot Act, etc.
Collapse of violent, incompetent and corrupt regime
The US and its allies promised that their occupation would bring development and liberate women from the Taliban’s oppressive rule. But this did not happen. From its beginning, the occupation relied on corruption, violence and deals with repressive power-holders and former warlords rather than on genuine local support. As the Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women commented, “the occupation only resulted in bloodshed, destruction and chaos. They turned our country into the most corrupt, insecure, drug-mafia and dangerous place especially for women”. The occupation miserably failed in its claimed goal of eradicating poverty. At present, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 25 percent and the poverty ratio is 47 percent according to World Bank estimates. Ashraf Ghani & Co. were involved in mega corruption. The class divide was sharp.
Afghans did not fight for the Americans; why would they fight for their local agents? The Afghan people and soldiers had no ideological basis to fight on behalf of the regime against the Taliban. The regime collapsed not because support for the Taliban is overwhelming but because its violence, incompetence and corruption meant few were willing to fight for it. The historical lesson of Afghanistan is that the forces created by foreign military intervention cannot defend the country or significantly improve conditions for the majority. For 20 years, the US and NATO forces were stationed in Afghanistan, but their trained Afghan army dispersed without a fight. The previous Soviet occupation, which we similarly denounced, did not succeed in establishing a long-term regime either.
Ashraf Ghani and company represent the worst form of capitalism. The Taliban, on the other hand have been able to exploit religion cleverly. They have an idea of a religious state. Ashraf Ghani never made clear which state he wanted. There is little hope that a serious opposition to the Taliban will emerge in Afghanistan in the near future. Most of the warlords (often former Mujahideen) who sided with Washington for the last 20 years and have remained in Afghanistan are engaging with the Taliban in so-called “power sharing unity government” negotiations. They have accepted their defeat and are now eager to accept any crumbs that the Taliban might throw to them. Such warlords will be used by the Taliban, only to be prosecuted later as an excuse for failures in providing any relief to the masses. The so-called “anti-Taliban resistance” now celebrated by parts of Western media is made up of similarly discredited abusive warlords and are no alternative.
Taliban consolidating power through violence
The Taliban are consolidating their power through a mixture of strategies. On one hand, they are preparing and are involved in targeted killings of their opponents in different parts of Afghanistan, on the other, they are trying to win the support of tribal leaders and former government functionaries. This is to give an image of an all-inclusive government. These gestures of inclusiveness are nothing but a farce. With Kabul under their control, the Taliban can afford the luxury of awarding token power-sharing in return for the recognition of their regime.
At the moment, the Taliban are still working cautiously in Kabul, but for the past months, they have been showing their usual violence wherever they have occupied. The United Nations itself and Human Rights Watch have made statements on war crimes committed by the Taliban in the past weeks.
The Taliban means “barbarism is our politics”. Their real strategy is to keep people in fear and discipline them through terror. Therefore, savage punishments (cutting off nose and hands, stoning, public executions, dropping from helicopters) are awarded to spread fear as much as possible. Through terror and insult, they break the resistance.
Last time only the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan countries recognized the Taliban regime. But now, the governments of Turkey, Russia, China, Pakistan and other countries are signalling their willingness to cooperate with the Taliban. And while politicians of the western imperialist countries hypocritically condemn the violence of the Taliban, they too leave open the possibility of “engagement” with it in the future. History is replete with examples of US support towards reactionary movements both within Afghanistan and in the region. The US forged an alliance with the right-wing dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan and the reactionary Saudi regime to support a global network of jihadists against the Soviet-backed Afghan government. After toppling the Najeebullah government, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan as a result of a bloody, protracted civil war. Imperial geopolitics and competition are on display with all its ugly features. The price will be paid by the Afghan and other peoples of the world.
A new phase of civil war
The setback of US imperialism in Afghanistan does not mean a victory for anti-imperialist forces. US imperialism has been dealt a blow by a reactionary force which has nothing to do with democracy, human and women rights, ecology or social development of the peoples. The first tenure of Taliban regime from 1996-2001 was a nightmare for minorities, women and the general public in Afghanistan. The Taliban have not changed. They are only more resourceful and operate in a more sophisticated manner than in the past. The Taliban have a global agenda of “Islamic victory”. They will repeat in different forms and shapes what they did during their previous years of rule in Afghanistan. This time, the Taliban could remain in power for a longer period, unlike their previous stint in power.
The Taliban’s victory then is not a sign of peace but opens a new phase of civil war. The establishment of another fanatically religious state in South Asia will mean oppression within its borders and the promotion of religious sectarianism throughout the region. Peace will remain elusive. The Taliban victory is bad news for the progressives around the world. Our criticism of the American agents does not imply any support for the Taliban.
Any people’s resistance will face brutal suppression and face huge obstacles. Yet, we are seeing signs of resistance. It is not possible to dictate the people of Afghanistan with the barrel of a gun.
Opposition to both imperialism and the reactionary rule of the Taliban must continue. Only the victory of truly democratic and socialist forces can stop the future bloodshed in Afghanistan. Internationalist progressive and radical forces must do what they can to mitigate the disaster underway and open the way for an alternative in the future. Support for social organizations inside Afghanistan and for the social and political rights of the international diaspora are essential for the formation of an alternative to both imperialism and the Taliban.
• We demand that no country recognizes the Taliban regime as a representative government of Afghanistan.
• There should be no restriction to those seeking refuge or asylum and adequate provision must be made for them to stay or relocate to where they can.
• Rather than blocking humanitarian aid or using it as bargaining chip with the Taliban, aid must be given through local people’s organizations.
• Internationalist progressive and radical forces must try to build links with progressive organizations of Afghans wherever they appear and in particular offer support to calls from organizations of Afghan women.
• These forces must resist any attempt to organize a new imperialist intervention. They must oppose the racist propaganda that paints the Taliban as the product of “Islamic backwardness” instead of that of imperialism and intervention.
• No to imperialism, no to the Taliban.