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May 20, 2010

Afghanistan: Troops Out – Peace Now!

by Robin Wylie


Afghanistan, which has cost 151 Canadian lives, over 20 Billion dollars, and repeatedly undermined Canadian civil liberties and democratic governance, is Canada's longest war, from the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 to a commitment to end major combat operations in 2011.

It is a war that has been waged in the name of bringing democracy, development, and women’s rights to one of the world’s poorest countries. It has, in fact, been a war waged by the west for an American imperial world order. As such, it is a war that should end immediately with the withdrawal of all foreign troops and a peace agreement that creates space for secular, Afghani civil society to struggle for a more democratic, socially just order.

The tragedy of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a landlocked nation of 28 million people in Central Asia divided among four major ethnic groups (Pashtun, 42%, Tajik, 27%, Uzbek and Hazara, each 9%, plus another 13% minorities). The country has suffered from three decades of constant warfare. In the 1960s and 1970s one Kabul government after another, the monarchy, a liberal republic, a socialist republic, tried to modernize the country. The socialist republic of 1978 attempted a social transformation, from land reform to women’s education, to complement investment in modern infrastructure and modern governance.

Social modernization, as conducted by Stalinists, led to civil war, couched in ethnic and religious differences, that became a global proxy war between Eastern and Western imperialism. Russia invaded to support the Kabul government and found itself in a guerilla war sustained by the United States through an Islamic Mujeddin movement and ethnic warlords. The result has been the death of over one million Afghanis and, in the 1980s, the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Russia withdrew in 1989 and the country descended into competing, anarchic authorities, the Northern Alliance (Tajik), a rump secular government in the capital Kabul, and Islamic Mujeddin warlords. In Kandahar City, the centre of the Afghani Pushtan southeast, a Sunni student fundamentalist movement arose in 1992 (the Talib), under the leadership of Mullah Omar. By 1996 the Taliban captured Kabul and reunifed most of the country – but as a repressive theocracy that supported terrorist Islamic movements like Al-Qaeda, who went on to plan the 9/11 bombing in New York City.

Striking the United States from Afghanistan made the country a target for American repression. In October 2001, with a few thousand American troops in support of the Northern Alliance, the Taliban government was chased out of Kabul, and Al Qaeda from Kandahar province, to seek refuge in Pakiston’s Tribal Areas.

The United States went on to construct an interim government at the 2001 Bonn Coalition Conference, which installed Hamid Karzai as President. Karzai had been a reliable CIA asset in the 1980s war, being from the more traditional Durrani clan (than an ideological Islamic fundamentalist). He was also a nominal leader, being from the Pashtun majority but without a Pashtun base, governing over Northern alliance warlords. The United States obtained international UN sanction for a Security Force (the ISAF) to maintain this western created state (enter Canada as part of the Kabul garrison). In 2004 the first Presidential election was held and Karzai apparently received a majority mandate to build a new Afghanistan, with a new constitution and parliamentary elections in 2005.

However, this new state has been built on corruption and drugs. The US strategy of a 'light footprint' or 'economy of force' combined with warlord alliances has led to Afghanistan becoming one of the most corrupt places on earth, according to Transparency International, and the world centre of opium (heroin) production.

It is estimated one half of the total national economy is based on drugs, supplying 90% of the world’s heroin and for every three dollars of development aid and tax revenue, two dollars are siphoned off by corrupt government legislators and administrators. In 2010 the UN estimated that 23% of the GDP is consumed by corruption with ordinary Afghanis spending a third of their income on bribes.

It is any wonder that twenty five percent of the Afghan army deserts every year, torture is common, and that the National Police, often not paid, live from violent bribery?

From the Bush government’s proclamation that a new Afghanistan could be created as an alternative to fundamentalist Islam, a parasitic, dysfunctional, human rights abusing, warlord power has been created. Such conditions have seen the resurgence of the Taliban, with violence dramatically increasing each year, and with a shadow, parallel Taliban state over half the country.

The Obama or Imperialism Lite Alternative

While the Bush government invaded and destabilized Afghanistan, its priority was always the war in Iraq. With Iraq apparently stabilized, the Obama administration has refocused on the other imperial war America is waging, and losing, in the Middle East. Beginning in 2009 at The Hague Coalition conference, at a West Point speech, and now at the London Coalition conference in early 2010, a new, large-scale counterinsurgency strategy has been developed, based on the mantra of democracy, development, and defense.

In terms of democracy, the Obama administration has had no more luck than the Bush administration in guaranteeing representative government (despite the Afghan Compact against corruption in 2006).

Karzai was re-elected in 2009 in what is commonly agreed to have been a fraudulent process. It is estimated that two thirds of the national parliament consist of warlords and their henchmen who commonly use assassination to settle political challenges.

Malalai Joya, one of the few elected women, must frequently move house and travel incognito with a team of western-funded bodyguards to survive. Warlords have tried to assassinate her four times for openly naming them, western countries, and Islamic fundamentalists, as the fundamental barriers to Afghanistan self determination.

Provincial and district leaders are appointed from Kabul and seem to be distinguished mostly by their drug business, not development, activity. Walid Karzai, the President’s younger brother, has become the richest man in the country at the head of the Kandahar drug trade.

The Obama administration will rely instead on a two track military strategy to bring some order to the situation: a surge of 100,000 troops (with an additional 35,000 NATO troops) that doubles the current force power of the western occupation, combined with an urban occupation (‘hold’) strategy in the Pashtun south, from villages to cities. (Canada is pioneering this model in a set of villages just south of Kandahar City).

As well, there will be an attempt at negotiations with the Taliban. Secret talks have been held on and off since 2007. This spring, however, an open national peace council (jirga) process is to be launched by Karzai with Saudi Arabia as broker. While it is clear that the preferred American option is the surge, to defeat or buy off Taliban fighters and leaders (with guaranteed cash and jobs, and exile for leaders), an American commitment to draw down its forces in July 2011 creates a powerful incentive for a negotiated alternative.

Opposing the War

Whatever the twists and turns of the new American strategy, which is still premised on the United States having a permanent military presence, the people of Afghanistan need a respite from decades of war - from arbitrary treatment, dispossession, economic chaos, and violence.

The people of Afghanistan also need a respite from the sectarian, warlord dynamics unleashed by imperial intervention. They need this respite to exercise self-determination, to build progressive initiatives, in very difficult circumstances, with genuinely autonomous foreign solidarity groups.

Such a respite can only come from ending western intervention. That is why the anti-war movement says 'Troops Out'! It is also why the Canadian peace movement, StopWar and the Canadian Peace Alliance, call for a negotiated peace settlement.

However, socialists within the anti-war movement need to insist on no illusions about the role of western states in bringing democracy and development to the Afghan majority, especially in arguments for Canadian 'peacekeeping'.

Western states, including Canada, have made it clear that the ultimate goal is order. If Al-Qaeda is excluded, if Afghanistan can be stabilized as a factor in the region’s competitive dynamics (especially with Pakistan’s strategy to keep Afghanistan weak as part of its 'defence in depth' strategy against India), and if the oil and gas of the region can be safely transported through Afghanistan, questions of democracy and development will fall by the wayside.

For anti-war activists the real social content of Troops Out and Peace Now is for the Afghani people, especially peasants and workers, to have an opportunity to create a more democratic, socially just, and tolerant society.