Karzai, the other warlords and the Taleban: Why the Afghan elections were postponed
30 May 2005. A World to Win News Service. Recently Afghanistan╝s parliamentary elections were postponed for at least the third time. Contradictory statements by the Afghan regime run by US puppet Hamid Karzai and his US masters have given rise to questions about what is really behind these repeated delays. The US has given tremendous importance to holding elections in occupied Iraq, and until now, occupied Afghanistan. What the US defines as democracy in any country under its domination is a ômulti-party╜ election. It doesn╝t matter if all the parties are US lackeys or if they have been oppressing the people for years û in fact these are some of the pre-conditions for the US to consider such parties ôlegitimate╜ and for a country to be considered ôqualified╜ to go to the polls. This is what the US means when it talks about exporting democracy.
The voting held in Afghanistan last year that magically turned the US-appointed Karzai into an elected president was a caricature of an election by any standard, since the scale of cheating was scandalous. Further, the US-led occupation has not improved the situation of Afghanistan╝s people.
The strongest example of this is the situation of women. Women are under tremendous pressure to stay home, stay out of social and political life and submit to male domination. Recent reports indicate that suicide by self-immolation is still common. Over just the past few months, at least 52 women in the province of Herat burned themselves to death, often to escape an abusive marriage. Afghan doctors and officials say at least 184 women brought to Herat╝s regional hospital during the past year are thought to have set themselves on fire, and more than 60 died as a result. The real number of self-immolation suicides and attempted suicides is likely to be even higher because only those brought to a hospital are registered. Two recent cases of execution of women by public stoning (for ôadultery╜) have come to light. The latest is a woman known only as Amina, aged 29, in Badakhshan province, northeast Afghanistan. The selling of women and young girls is on the rise. These crimes are signs of the degree to which the occupation has continued and reinforced feudal relations. They are some of the hallmarks of the ôdemocracy╜ the US-led occupation has generously given the people.
The US and other Western media call Afghanistan╝s planned parliamentary election another step in the country╝s ômarch to democracy╜. But it is to be nothing more than another step in legitimising the occupation and the puppet regime born out of it û and the problems in holding it are revealing about the difficulties the occupiers are having in setting up a more stable puppet regime. Speaking about this election last January while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Afghanistan╝s Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told the Associated Press, ôEven if it is not on time because of technical preparations, which are needed, it will be around one or two months from the original time, during summertime. This would be OK, and the people would accept that.╜ But the parliamentary election was originally meant to take place at the same time as the presidential election. When, after delays, the presidential elections finally took place in October 2004, the parliamentary elections were postponed until March 2005. Then they decided to postpone them another two months. Finally, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Afghanistan, the authorities announced the parliamentary voting would be held next September.
The official explanation for the delays was that the increase in the cultivation of poppy (used to produce opium) and ôsecurity╜ were the main obstacles to parliamentary elections. Ironically, later they announced that poppy cultivation is falling this year, but the elections were postponed again anyway. Obviously opium was never more than a pretext. Not that there is no drug problem in Afghanistan. Poppy plants are the country╝s number one crop. The economy is highly dependent on opium and heroin production, which supplied 60 percent of the country╝s GDP in 2004, and this reliance is increasing dramatically. In all, 87 percent of the world╝s opium supplies come from Afghanistan. Most of the heroin on the streets in Europe and much of it in the US is now said to originate from Afghan opium. The US government╝s narco-politics are at least as old as the CIA-run drug trade that brought powdered death from South Asia to the ghettoes of America during the Vietnam war. In the 1980s, CIA-sponsored drug trafficking in Central American financed the US╝s secret war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. This would lead fair-minded observers to ask if the US really considers opium a problem in Afghanistan. The publicly touted idea that the country╝s opium dependence can be ended in a few months (in time for the next elections) only adds to a sense that the US is not serious about this situation.
The regime╝s use of its ôsecurity╜ problems as an excuse is just as much a lie. The reality is that the regime needs to come to a deal with the Taleban, the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists who were first brought to power with US backing in the 1990s and then removed by the American invasion in 2002. On 26 March, Kabul Online reported, ôHinting that the moderate Taleban leaders would be permitted to contest the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, President Karzai has said some of them would be invited for talks soon by former King Zahir Shah.╜ In fact, this is not the first time that Karzai has attempted to make such a deal. But in early April the offer was extended even further to top Taleban leader Mullah Omar and Islamic Party head Gulbudin Hekmatyar, the notorious fundamentalist who received over half of the money and arms the US supplied Afghani forces during the war against the Soviet Union. This was explicitly stated 9 May when a so-called independent commission headed by Seghabatolah Majaddedi (a veteran Mojaheddin who was the first president of the Islamic regime installed before the Taleban) offered the two men amnesty ôif they lay down their weapons, respect the constitution and obey the government.╜
However Taleban spokesman Abdol Latif Hakimi turned down this offer almost instantly. ôWe don╝t need any guarantee of safety,╜ he told the Reuters news agency, and added that on Mullah Omar orders, ôWe have increased attacks on US forces in recent weeks and will continue this.╜
It is true that the attack on US and Afghan government forces has been increased in recent weeks. The mass movements and demonstrations also on the rise in different parts of Afghanistan reflect mass opposition and uneasiness with the US occupation and its puppet regime and the other warlords. So the situation is ripe for reactionary forces such as Taleban to take advantage of this situation and heighten its activity after a period of relative calm due to an extremely cold winter.
But behind Karzai╝s talk about improving ôsecurity╜ lies another political agenda. Ever since the invasion there has been a power struggle among the forces that helped the US oust the Taleban and occupy the country. Karzai has been a favourite of the West and the US. During the last three years, with the help of the US, Karzai has been trying to either bring the others under his control and American leadership or drive them out of power completely. Now after having successfully staged a presidential election, he is bidding to secure his power and reduce as much as possible the power of the other warlords within the promised parliament. He has already forced a few warlords to recognise his dominance. For instance, after a round of armed clashes, Karzai made Ismail Khan give up his post as governor of Herat province and take a ministerial job instead. Burhanuddin Rabbani, another president of Islamic regime before the Taleban and a leading figure in the powerful Northern Alliance, switched over to ally himself with Karzai. General Qassim Fahim was removed as Karzai╝s vice president before the presidential election. Recently the powerful Uzbek warlord Rashid Doustum reluctantly agreed to give up his governorship and become head of the national armed forces.
To some extent, Karzai has been using the Taleban as a club to force other warlords into line. But he would be happy to include the Taleban in the government. He feels he can use them to strengthen the dominance of the Pashtun nationality in power, since the Taleban and Hekmatyar are all Pushtun. Most of the other warlords outside the government and many of those now in it are other nationalities, mainly Tajik, Hezara and Uzbek. Pashtun dominance has been a source of friction since the Russian withdrawal. The reactionary feudal class among the Pashtun wants to keep its traditional dominance, while the other reactionary feudals want to share power or rule and govern in their own part of the country. This ethnic infighting has nothing to do with the interest of the people or the nation û it is simply an _expression of reactionary class interests. Karzai told Hekmatyar there is a ôreserved seat╜ in the upcoming election for him. Ostensibly this means he will be allowed to be a candidate for parliament, but what does not need to be said is that he will be guaranteed a seat.
The entry of some Taleban forces into the Karzai regime is rapidly shaping up, despite the continuing fighting. Partly this is because there is no fundamental difference between Karzai╝s puppet regime and the Taleban. Both serve the interest of the reactionary landlords, warlords, tribal leaders and imperialism. The US never objected to the Taleban as such, but only to their alliances with Al-Qaeda. Just before 11 September 2001, the US gave the Taleban government $400 million to implement its oppressive rule and bring about stability, among other reasons so that the American oil company Unicol could run a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. At this point in time, Karzai╝s regime reflects the interests of all the major Afghanistan reactionaries including the Taleban and Hekmatyar, and the interests of the US occupiers. An article in the weekly newspaper Omid said that the only difference between Karzai╝s regime and the Taleban is that now the Taleban are now being asked to go ômoderate╜ û to switch from pyjamas and turbans to suits and ties!
The real reason behind the postponement of the elections is not ôsecurity╜ but the need to strengthen and consolidate Karzai╝s position, which means the US╝s position. The US needs time to work out a long term plan and secure the kind of stability that serves its interests. The fact that the postponement was announced at the end of Rice╝s visit probably means that it came as a result of the US╝s orientation and recommendation, and that it has more to do with American policy than with problems with drugs or ôsecurity╜ in Afghanistan. This is the real face of the US╝s ômarch to democracy╜. Everything is to be planned and carried out according to the interests of the American occupiers.
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Afghanistan: an American narco-colony
30 May 2005. A World to Win News Service. Following is an abridged article from the March issue (no. 5) of Sholeh, publication of the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan.
After invading and installing the Hamid Karzai puppet regime, the US and their allies announced that eliminating drug trafficking was their first priority. In the last three years they have emphasised their efforts to wipe out opium. Supposedly they have spent 100 million dollars on this campaign. But instead of going down, drug production and trafficking has gone up.
Informed sources from inside the country and the foreign press both indicate that Afghanistan is still the world╝s number one drug producer. These sources indicate that this year opium production has increased by 60% in terms of acreage planted in comparison to last year. Now poppy plants, from which opium and in turn heroin are made, are being cultivated in regions where they never were before. Sources say that the total value of opium produced in Afghanistan will be 24 billion dollars this year, with 3 billion going to Afghans and 21 billion to international crime organisations.
The Taleban made Afghanistan╝s economy totally dependent on drugs by boosting drug trafficking. The organisation╝s Amir Mullah Mohamad described opium as Afghanistan╝s atomic bomb. Although at the end of its days the Taleban regime reduced opium production to some extent, after its collapse opium production shot up. At the height of opium production in Afghanistan during the Taleban regime, it reached 3,000 tonnes. After Karzai came to power, it jumped from 3,500 tonnes in his first year to 4,000 in his second and 5,000 in the third.
A few days after the elections announcing Karzai as president, he called for a ôjihad╜ against narcotics. He stated that war against the production and trafficking of drugs is more important than the ôwar against terrorism╜. The regime╝s council of Akhonds (mullahs) issued a decree calling for a boycott of the production of and traffic in opium, which it labelled an act of ôinfidelity╜.
But despite this rhetoric, the Washington Post, using information from some Western and especially European diplomats, exposed the fact that some powerful Afghan government authorities are strongly linked to opium cultivation. The newspaper concluded that as long as these authorities are not removed from power, drug eradication programmes will continue to fail. This article spurred the puppet regime to call an emergency meeting of all the cabinet ministers and vice presidents to refute the article as shear lies. The meeting issued a statement labelling the Washington Post pieceundocumented, baseless, and irresponsible, and claimed that the Afghan government is fighting against narcotics with all the powers at its disposal.
About a week after this high-sounding declaration, the regime╝s Interior Ministry put out a statement agreeing with the Post article. It admitted that the reason for the failure of the anti-drug campaign is that some governmental authorities have links with traffickers. In addition to the fact that government resources are extensively used in the cultivation of opium, the authorities disrupt and block police activities as well. No further cabinet meetings were held to refute this position of the Ministry of Interior, nor was any counter-statement made. However, Karzai once again raised his slogan of ôjihad╜ against narcotics.
In order to launch this ôholy war╜, Karzai has included a new post in his cabinet, a ôMinistry to Fight Drugs╜. Certainly such a Ministry would concern itself with drugs in Afghanistan. But how? Would its role be to fight drug production and trade, or to make this production and trade more profitable? Let╝s examine the situation of the regime and its masters, the occupying imperialist forces.
Helmand, Urozgan, Qandhar and Nangarhar provinces have been considered the most important opium cultivation areas for a long time. The governor of Helmand is a member of the Akhoundzada family, old-line warlords who have controlled the province since the war against the Soviet invasion and who now support Karzai. The governor Nangarhar is the brother of Haji Ghadir, a vice president under Karzai who was killed a couple of years ago. The family inherited the control of opium production and trade in the province. In Qandhar and Urozgan provinces, Karzai╝s brother is now the biggest trader in opium and heroin. He used the income from this business to become the region╝s biggest landlord. The governor of Ghazni province has remarkably close relations with Karzai and everyone considers him ôKarzai╝s man╜. He controls the chief transportation network for opium and heroin traffic, the main Kabul-Qandhar highway, especially the section running from the capital to Ghalat, a city in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan.
The governor of Bamian (a mainly Hazra nationality province in central Afghanistan) is a leader of the Islamic Unity Party. He created a task force that put one of his family members in charge of the military groups controlling the road connecting Bamian to the northern part of the country so as to protect drug shipments along this route. This man has become one of the richest in the Hezarajat area. In Ghataghan and Badakhshan in northern sites Afghanistan, gangs related to the Jamiat-e-Islami and Shoraye Nezar parties (both part of the former Northern Alliance) control drug production and trade. These gangs are connected to several old warlords recycled as politicians, Marshal Qassim Fahim, Yunes Qanooni and Karzai╝s Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Through Ahmad Zia Massoud (Karzai╝s main vice president and the brother of the late Ahmad Shad Massoud), they are also connected to Karzai himself. The governor of Balkh (in the north), a Jamiat-e-Islami veteran, is similarly situated. He was previously involved in a fight for control of the drug with one of the commanders designated by Karzai, but for now he has close relations with Karzai and worked with Ahmad Zia Massoud to ensure Karzai╝s election as president.
In short, a chain of networks of drug production and smuggling stretches from the presidential palace to the lowest levels of civilian and military authorities. These networks are in constant contact with the Hotel Intercontinental Centre in Kabul, a security headquarters controlled by the US generals. Afghan and American private security groups are particularly involved in drug transportation. All this is no secret to Afghans; this information circulates daily among the people.
But why did a regime that is the main controller of drug production and trafficking declare a ôholy war against drugs╜ and create the ôMinistry to Fight Drugs╜? Why do the Westerner powers and the US in particular make so much noise about drugs but do nothing in practice? And finally, is the regime╝s current noise about drugs serious or just a propaganda gesture?
At the present time drug production and trade is one of the most profitable sectors of the world market. The trade amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars and the profits to tens of billions. Like other spheres of the world market it is ultimately controlled and led by the oligarchy of imperialist finance capital, i.e. the monopolies. But at the same time the production and trade of drug has a very specific nature because it is ôillegal╜. This is what makes it possible to produce that kind of profit. Otherwise, there would be no difference between trading wheat or corn and trading opium. From this point of view, keeping the trade illegal is a necessity and extremely important to ensure its spectacular profitability.
In the last three years the cultivation of opium has become legal in practical terms, if not formally. Opium production increased by a thousand tonnes this year. The flooding of the market has greatly changed the relation between supply and demand on the world market. To counteract the drop in opium prices, intensive measures were needed. The declaration of ôholy war╜ against drugs is in the service of this goal. Otherwise, the price would continue to fall and cause billions of dollars in losses for imperialist capital over the next few years. In other words, this ôholy war╜ on drugs serves the interests of imperialist capital.
In fact, Karzai╝s ôholy war╜ against drugs is similar to the fatwah (religious order issued by Taleban leader Mullah Omar prohibiting the cultivation of opium. At that time the price of opium had also fallen greatly, while thousands of tonnes of opium lay accumulated in storage sheds. If opium cultivation had not been reduced, not only future poppy crops but also the already processed opium would have lost even more ôvalue╜, amounting to billions of dollars. The re-establishment of the illegality of drugs would limit the cultivation of opium and the production of heroin in Afghanistan, but at the same time ensure its massive profitability and concentrate control even more in the hands of the occupiers and their puppet regime. In fact, one of the aims of this plan is to cut off the hand of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda forces involved in the drug trade and ensure that puppet regime officials monopolise it. The occupiers and in particular the US imperialists not only support this situation, they planned it and their soldiers enforce it.