Rob Gowland

In April 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), the previously underground Marxist-Leninist organisation in the country, led a popular uprising against the semi-feudal monarchy and the corrupt pseudo-democratic bourgeois regime that supported it. Known as the Saur Revolution, this event saw thousands of political prisoners freed from the previous regime’s jails. Even Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, welcomed the overthrow of the Daoud Khan regime.


Outside Kabul, however, the feudal beys and their hangers on saw the new regime as a direct threat to their privileges and especially to their domination of the land. US and British intelligence services were quick to seek them out. (British Intelligence had a long history of involvement in Afghanistan, dating back to the 1930s and the involvement of Lawrence of Arabia – under his pseudonym “Aircraftsman Brown”). The anti-democratic regime in Pakistan supported the counter-revolutionary elements in Afghanistan with the help of the USA and Saudi Arabia. Between them, the US and Saudi Arabia provided the counter-revolutionary forces (the so-called mujahideen) with an estimated US$6 billion to US$40 billion worth of cash and weapons, which included over two thousand Stinger surface-to-air missiles.

Within months, opponents of the new government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan backed by fundamentalist religious propaganda that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide. Pakistan’s government provided these rebels with covert training centres while facilitating the involvement of US, Saudi and Pakistani special forces. The beleaguered PDPA Afghan government appealed to the Soviet Union for assistance and several thousand Soviet troops went to their aid. This thwarted imperialism’s imminent military victory but gave them a great propaganda weapon to use against the USSR.

The PDPA prohibited usury, declared equality of the sexes, and introduced women to political life. The counter-revolutionary forces used terror against the families of those suspected of supporting the revolutionary program. The US built up, armed and trained the mujahideen forces that after the Soviet army withdrew in 1989 would metamorphose into the Taliban. In 1992 they captured Kabul and brutally murdered President Mohammad Najibullah.

Afghanistan is strategically placed in close proximity to Central Asia’s oil-producing regions as well as having common borders with Pakistan and China. It is a key component in the US strategy of surrounding China and Russia. Not surprisingly, the Bush White House used the 9-11 terrorist attacks as an opportunity for a massive escalation of US military involvement in Afghanistan.

But, as US journalist Anand Gopal says in his non-fiction book about the war in Afghanistan, No Good Men Among the Living, the system the US put in place “did not reward stability, legitimacy or popularity. Instead it rewarded those who could serve up enemies.” Commenting on Gopal’s book in Truthout, former US soldier Rory Fanning observed that “the US was quite content to cast a wide and bloody net over the country [Afghanistan]. Gopal relates stories of many who did everything possible to align themselves with US interests. But even these people found themselves imprisoned indefinitely without due process in Guantánamo and the like. The US saw little difference between innocent Afghans and members of the Taliban. They just wanted blood – anyone’s.”

For US commentators, the most “startling” part of Gopal’s book is the section dealing with the collapse of the Taliban in 2001. “The Taliban crumbled under the power of overwhelming US airpower. In the face of such an abject defeat, members of the movement – from the rank-and-file to the senior leadership – sought to save themselves by surrendering or switching sides.” Al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan within months of the US invasion. Comments Rory Fanning: “Everything that happened, the US casualties, the thousands of Afghan civilian deaths, and the half a trillion dollars spent not on infrastructure but destruction could have been avoided if the US had accepted the surrender. But the Bush and then Obama administration demanded unending blood.”

Because, of course, their strategy was not to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan or anywhere else: it was instead to establish and maintain the policy of “endless war”.

When the Cold War went quiescent, it was replaced by the War On Drugs, which in turn has been replaced by the War On Terror. Says Anand Gopal: “Terrorism has replaced communism as the enemy du jour. Once, the US allied with a host of unsavoury actors in the name of fighting communism; it engineered coups and undermined democratically elected governments, and funded proxy armies around the globe. Today, it allies with unsavoury actors and supports warlords, undermining the development of democracy in Afghanistan. All this is done in the name of fighting terror.

“Furthermore, the US experience in Afghanistan undermines the idea that you can defeat ‘terrorism’ – which, we should keep in mind, is a military tactic, not a political ideology – through the occupation of a country.

“By supporting a network of warlords [in Afghanistan], and by fuelling corruption through its contracts and private security companies, the US has helped create a culture of impunity and lawlessness. The extraordinary level of corruption that plagues the Afghan government is a direct result of the way the US and its allies have administered aid. A typical contract will be subcontracted a number of times, with US businesses, Afghan politicians and local warlords each taking a cut, before an ordinary Afghan sees a penny. Washington funds militias and strongmen who are the real authorities in the southern countryside, not the Afghan government. For these reasons, Afghan democracy exists mostly on paper.

One could say much the same thing about US democracy, of course. But that’s another story. In the meantime, the focus of the Pentagon’s war plans has shifted back to Iraq and Syria. Its proxy “Free Syrian Army” having been defeated, the US is now relying on the religious fanatics of ISIS to provide both pretext and cover for the US to conduct an air war against Syria, as it did so successfully against Libya. And the Australian government will be right behind the US. As usual.


Rob Gowland writes for the Australian weekly The Guardian


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