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Afghanistan: 4 years after the US-led invasion

10 October 2005. A World to Win News Service.

As the counting of the votes from the September parliamentary election in Afghanistan continues, 7 October marked the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion. Since the election is the last step in the plan worked out by the big power-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany, shortly after the December 2001 invasion, this is an appropriate time to take stock of what the invaders have achieved.

In addition to moving against its enemies in Al-Qaeda and getting rid of the Taleban, whom the US had brought to power but found unsatisfactory, the invaders declared that their guns would bring much good to Afghanistan – peace, democracy and the liberation of women. This, they said, was why they had to bomb the people and wreak even greater destruction on an already demolished country. But the US had its own agenda, usually hidden from the people but openly stated in American political and strategic studies journals. They considered Afghanistan a key piece in their quest for global domination.

The US and its allies handpicked Afghanistan’s participants at the Bonn conference, representatives of Islamic fundamentalist jihadi, tribal notables, warlords and other reactionaries no less hated by the people than the Taleban. The conference’s choice for head of the provisional government, Hamid Karzai, a US puppet issued from and approved by the country’s most backward forces, was a signal indicating what sort of regime would be imposed – or in other words, what kind of social system Afghanistan would have and what kind of relationship would prevail between the country and the world’s dominant powers.

The transfer of power from the Taleban to Karzai was not peaceful, as claimed. Instead it was made possible by the British and US forces in the most violent fighting Afghanistan had witnessed in decades. The subsequent steps called for in Bonn – including the December 2003 Loya Jirga (grand council) that approved the constitution and the presidential elections – have brought no change at all to the country’s real status. Now, after the parliamentary elections marking the end point in the Bonn plan, the invaders have announced they will step up the number of occupation troops, with an end to the occupation farther from view than ever.

The political situation

The US imperialists control the Afghanistan government’s foreign and internal policies. Karzai is allowed at most to comment on tactical points or make empty speeches for public consumption.  US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad openly led the configuration of the new regime at Bonn, during the Loya Jirga and at other key points. He is now playing the same role in Iraq. The electoral democracy that the occupiers are building for Afghanistan is nothing but a regime that suits their interest and has been enforced on the people of Afghanistan in the same way as similar regimes imposed by the British in the 19th century and the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

Some people who opposed the invasion of Iraq thought that the occupation of Afghanistan had more justification. One reason is because they very mistakenly believed it could bring at least some good for the people there. Another reason, often related to that, is that unlike the invasion of Iraq this one was sanctioned by the UN and so appeared less like a unilateral US move. But the fact is that the Europeans and US had common interests in occupying Afghanistan, or at least Germany and France wanted to take part in the occupation for their own interests, perhaps because they didn’t dare let the US exclude them. The fundamental point is that the fate and political life of Afghanistan is, right now, being shaped by the interests of imperialists, especially the US.

Karzai claims that US and other foreign forces are not occupiers but friends who came at Afghanistan’s request. The traitor khans and emirs (clan and feudal rulers) during the British colonialist era claimed the same thing. The Parcham and Khalq (pro-USSR revisionist parties) made the same argument in favour of the Soviet invasion.

This is a big lie. Karzai didn’t bring the foreign forces to Afghanistan and they have not stayed on at his request – the truth is the other way around. They have all the guns and therefore all the power and Karzai has none. The foreign forces brought him to power and protect him. They can get rid of him if he doesn’t obey or fails to satisfy their interests.

The military situation

These occupiers seek complete control of the space of Afghanistan and have divided it among themselves. They are carrying out the occupation in four forms:

1. The occupiers in the “anti-terrorism” alliance under direct US leadership that controls more than 30 military bases all over the country. They are the main troops fighting fundamentalist insurgents and ex-Taleban. 2. The ISAF  (International Security Assistance Forces), led by Nato – which in this case means the European powers. They seized Kabul to provide security for the puppet regime and their own activities and prevent clashes among hostile bands and groups. 3. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). In the name of protecting local reconstruction projects, these military units have widened their activities in many regions and are busy gathering information (spying) to strengthen the occupation. Most are under US leadership, but other invader forces like the British and Germans run some of these teams. 4. Private security forces. Their officers and mercenaries – professional killers and criminals – have a completely free hand and are not accountable to anyone except the governments of their respective countries. They supposedly provide security for personnel and buildings in various projects, although their activities sometimes range far more broadly.

The puppet regime has no air force. The occupation forces are building an Afghan army in a way that cannot challenge them on the ground either. In the name of protecting the electoral process and fighting the increase in pro-Taleban insurgents, and also faced with the rise of mass anti-occupation protests, the occupiers and especially the US have been trying to sharply increase the number of foreign troops. The US, however, cannot spare soldiers now fighting an increasingly difficult war in Iraq. In fact, the Bush government would like to be able to bring some American troops there from Afghanistan. Donald Rumsfeld, at a recent Nato meeting in Berlin, asked the Nato countries to increase their forces in Afghanistan. This was opposed by France, Spain and Germany, which have a different strategy there. But Britain agreed to send 4-5000 more soldiers. Canada and Holland also responded positively, and Australia and New Zealand, though not in Nato, have also indicated that they might comply. In all, Nato recently agreed to boost its forces from 10,000 to 15,000, although there is still a dispute about the degree and way in which they will take part in fighting in the increasingly unstable eastern and southern part of the country.

Security for the people in Kabul is bad, and outside Kabul it is even worse, certainly worse than it was under the Taleban. If anyone leaves town, they do so in convoys. Even the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières was forced to leave after years of activity even during the Taleban regime. Five of its staff members were murdered last June. But the 17,000 US forces, with their guns and Apache attack helicopters, are controlling the land and they are using the haze of fear and uncertainty that has taken over the country to advance a draconian war against the people.

To justify the invasion, the imperialists and their columnists claimed that because the country had seen war for so long, the people want and need peace more than anything else – more than, for example, having their own country. But the bombers, missiles and ground forces of the US and its allies have inflicted horrible atrocities on the people without letup ever since. US jets are still bombing defenceless villagers. On 5 July, the Guardian reported that American air raids killed “17 villagers, including women and children”. On 11 August, US warplanes bombed houses in Zabul province in southwest Afghanistan, killing several civilians and wounding others, including a baby. In the version of this incident given out by the American military, “18 suspected guerrillas and one US soldier died in the clash.” (Guardian, 12 August). Some of these continuing incidents are reported in this distorted way and many are not revealed at all. US forces continue launching midnight raids on villages and harassing families. Amid rising anger, the arrest of a woman and two men in predawn raids sparked a massive demonstration in Jalalabad last December.

The economic situation

The so-called reconstruction of Afghanistan has been mainly limited to building some roads and rebuilding parts of Kabul in order to meet the occupation’s communication and transport needs. There has been a rise in certain kinds of economic activity among entrepreneurs linked to foreign capital – last year a billion dollars worth of pre-paid phone cards were sold in Afghanistan. At the same time, the people lack the most basic necessities. Joblessness is a scourge, and widows suffer the most. Office workers earn $20 per month, while monthly rent for a small house could be as high as $100. Many people in the cities are homeless. Often powerful figures or government organs have confiscated their homes. Some 90 percent of the country’s budget is dependent on foreign aid. Little of Afghanistan’s economic infrastructure has been rebuilt.

The occupiers have shown no sign of interest in restoring agriculture. In fact, growing poppies for opium is Afghanistan’s only real productive activity. A heavy price is paid in the rising number of people whose lives are destroyed by drugs, not only here but in many other countries, since the bulk of the world’s heroin originates in US-occupied Afghanistan. Despite empty noise about fighting drugs and sometimes real harassment of peasants and the eradication of their crops, the situation is worse than ever. When Karzai’s Interior Minister, one of the regime’s most powerful figures, resigned recently, whatever his motives he complained that the regime and its supporters run the drug trade.

The overproduction of poppies has led to a sharp drop in the price of opium, as even the British officials in charge of opium eradication have admitted. Some US representatives criticise the British and Karzai for not tackling the problem vigorously enough. They advocate harsher methods against the peasants. But first of all, opium is the heart of Afghanistan’s economy, with high officials, warlords and the authorities on every level from top to bottom deeply involved. The two main reactionary sections of Afghan society allied with the occupiers, the feudals and comprador (imperialist-dependent) capitalists, draw their nourishment from it. So far, at least, the occupation has not been able to do without opium.

Secondly, what is the real effect of the anti-opium measures that have been carried out?

Reducing the amount of poppies on the market could bring a rise in the price of opium, which would especially benefit those involved in the global drug network, including top officials in and outside Afghanistan.  But these measures bring the peasants disaster. The farmers are completely under the thumb of the moneylenders (usually associated with warlords or other feudal authorities) who advance them the money to buy seeds for their crop. If the crop is destroyed, the moneylenders want their pound of flesh anyway. The International Herald Tribune (29 September) describes a peasant who “could not pay off a loan of about $1,165 because his crops had been eradicated. [Instead], the farmer offered his 14-year old daughter. The practice of giving away a daughter to pay a debt is expected to increase sharply after the aggressive campaign against poppies.” Harassing the peasants only tightens the chains of semi-feudal exploitation and oppression gripping all of Afghanistan’s countryside. 

The liberation of women

The occupiers said they came to liberate women, but women have been the worst affected by the invasion. It is true that in some areas of Kabul, women might be able to exchange the burqa, which completely covers the eyes and the whole face, for another kind of Islamic hijab (head scarf). Legally girls are now allowed to go to school, a right that was taken away by the Taliban. Women can work in some parts of the capital. But these legal rights are highly conditional on real circumstances. Women can work, but only if someone gives them a job. They can go to school, but only if they have enough money, if they are willing to risk rape and kidnapping by military groups working for the government and other jihadi forces, if their schools are not burned down, and many other "ifs".  Today more than 65 percent of girls do not attend school because their families can’t or won’t pay or because they are afraid. And this is not the worst of it.

The situation for women has remained unchanged in many aspects or has even become worse under the occupation. A few months ago a woman accused of adultery was stoned to death by a local court in Badakhshan, while the man was sentenced to a beating. Women are still persecuted and imprisoned for adultery on the say-so of their husband or other men. There are more and more cases of young women burning themselves alive. In the fourth year of the occupation there has been a fifty percent increase compared to the previous year. Women are at much greater risk of rape and kidnap now than before the invasion. Wearing a burqa is no longer legally compulsory, and women might not get beaten by the Taleban morality police anymore, but instead they might get raped or kidnapped or both. Forced marriage is as standard as ever. Girl children are sold for a couple of hundred of dollars. Since the invasion, prostitution has increased tremendously. Violence against women by family members is still as widespread as before, if not worse. The situation of women in Afghanistan cannot be judged by the few women in certain limited areas of the capital who might now wear a scarf and drive a car. It should be judged by the hell that more that 90 percent of the women are going through. 

The imperialists and their flunkies are incapable of liberating women or even radically improving their situation, because they are not going to change the fundamental semi-feudal economic and social relations on which the severe oppression of women in Afghanistan is based. In fact, they have been helping to strengthen these relations for 25 years by allying themselves with the most reactionary economic, social, political and ideological representatives of these relations. And if they want to continue the occupation they have no choice but to rely on these forces and strengthen these relations. The interests of the imperialists are dependent on that, no matter what they might want. But in fact, Bush, Blair, Schroeder, Chirac and company and their Karzai have chosen to do as little as possible. 

The constitution endorsed by the second Loya Jirga in December 2003 gave equal importance to Sharia law (Islamic law) in conducting the life of the people and established the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Not only will these laws not end the oppression of women, but they will also strengthen the semi-feudal relations that are the basis for it. Bush and Blair can brag that their guns brought elections to Afghanistan, but the electoral democracy imposed by the imperialists is a form of rule by the traditional backward classes propped up by the world’s biggest reactionaries. It is a thin cover for the general oppression of the people in which the domination of women is a keystone. 

Rising people’s resistance 

The people are responding to the imperialist occupiers and their puppets with their struggle. They are clearly raising their voices louder and louder.  

Upwards of 10,000 people took part in the demonstrations in Jalalabad and Nangarhar last December. In a series of protests last May in Kabul, Harat and other cities, students, joined by teachers and workers, clashed with security forces and even occupation troops and occupiers and burned the flag of Uncle Sam. A dozen students were killed. The massive demonstrations against rape in Badakhshan and many other places are additional signs of the discontent of a people who are becoming more and more clearly opposed to the occupiers and their puppet regime. Resistance is growing in different forms. This heralds difficult days ahead for the occupiers.