Afghanistan: a decade of war and the decline of US imperialism
Friday 7 October marked the 10th anniversary of the US-led predatory war against the people of Afghanistan. During these ten years, Afghanistan has been subjected to wholesale destruction, with tens of thousands of Afghans losing their lives at the hands of the imperialist occupation forces. Imperialism, too, had to pay a heavy price for this unjust war, which has claimed the lives of 2,500 Nato troops, of whom 1,750 were US and 382 British soldiers. The Afghan war has up to now cost the US $500bn and Britain £18bn; presently the US is spending $100bn a year ($2bn a week) on the war in Afghanistan.
War for domination on the pretext of 9/11
On the pretext of the 9/11 events in New York and Washington, the US embarked on the path of a series of wars, dubbed as the ‘Global War On Terror’ (GWOT), shaped by the neo-con doctrines of pre-emption and the ‘freedom agenda’. These doctrines, coined by the ideologues of the most bellicose and reactionary sections of US finance capitalism, were enshrined in the National Security Strategy (NSS) published in 2002, which promised permanent US hegemony and showed complete contempt for its Nato allies.
The initial easy victory of the US-led forces, which ousted the Taliban Afghan government with the aid of the warlords of the Northern Alliance, only whetted the US appetite and paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The invasion of Iraq, and the resultant regime change in Baghdad, was regarded by the Bush administration as merely a prelude to dealing with an “axis of evil”, including the DPRK, Iran and other governments deemed hostile to the US, or standing in the way of its total domination of the world. Not surprisingly, then, the US forces went to war against Iraq without the support of Germany, France and Canada. Even Nato was ignored, with the US asserting that the “Mission determines the coalition”. That being the case, it works the other way round just as well and enables other Nato members to decline to join the US in military action they deem harmful to their interests – thus rendering Nato more and more irrelevant.
US increases troops to avoid defeat
As the US got stuck in the mire of the Iraq war, the Afghan resistance to occupation grew in strength and, by the beginning of 2006, had become a veritable threat to the presence of the imperialist armies of occupation. When Barack Obama assumed the US presidency in January 2009, the military situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated to such an extent that he had to decide either to pull out of Afghanistan or to send further reinforcements in a desperate attempt to reverse the gains of the Afghan resistance. Under pressure from the US military-industrial complex, he opted for the latter course. Within a year of becoming president, Obama oversaw the tripling of US troop numbers in Afghanistan. On 1 December 2009, he announced the latest surge, whereby 33,000 additional troops were to be sent to Afghanistan, with the promise that they would be brought home by July 2011, a promise which has been honoured in the breach – just like many of Obama’s other promises. Now it turns out that 5,000 US troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan this summer and another 5,000 are to be withdrawn by the end of the year. The remaining 23,000 of the additional troops are scheduled to return to the US by September 2012. Even after this, however, around 67,000 US troops – twice the number who were in place at the time Obama took office – will continue to be stationed in Afghanistan.
Night raids and air strikes
At the same time as the US put in place the increased troop numbers, it intensified air strikes and special forces raids. Under this strategy, initiated by General Stanley McChrystal, and further escalated by his successor, General David Petraeus, special forces operations have increased 6-fold during the past two years, and presently, on average, 20 attacks take place every night. The soldiers taking part in these operations are allowed under the rules of engagement to kill ‘enemy combatants’ even if unarmed and presenting therefore no obvious threat. As a result, thousands of innocent men, women and children, have been categorised as ‘enemy combatants’ and murdered in cold blood.
The striving for domination has forced the imperialist powers into such a state of degeneration that troops are given a free hand to commit murders of innocent people on an industrial scale in lands far away. Nearly 6,000 members of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), with the help of special forces from Britain and other countries in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), aided by the notorious mercenary organisation, Blackwater, now re-named XE, are active in Afghanistan. These forces, with their routine indulgence in extra-judicial assassinations, systematic torture, bombing of civilians and search and destroy missions, are the ultimate incarnation of savage brutality, and arouse the wrath and anger of the Afghan masses. According to Nato figures, the Special Forces conducted 2,832 night raids in the second quarter of 2011, twice as many as in the same period a year ago, killing 834 ‘insurgents’ and capturing 2,941. As a result, the US is claiming that the resistance is “on the run” and that its “momentum has been reversed”. Nato’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made the boastful claim in May that the “Taliban is finding it harder to launch complex attacks”. The reality on the ground, however, belies such wishful thinking.
As a matter of fact, US tactics have had the opposite effect to that intended by their perpetrators. Far from pacifying the resistance, they have only managed further to galvanise the masses into supporting the forces fighting against the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the Afghan people are opposed to the occupation, and more than 50% said that their attitude had become negative since the surge in US troops, according to a survey by the International Council on Security and Development earlier this year.
Response of the resistance
To the intensified air strikes and night raids by US special forces, the resistance has responded by intensifying its attacks on the occupation and assassinations of high-profile Afghan officials. Nearly 700 Nato troops were killed in 2010, surpassing the number killed in 2009. July 2010 was the deadliest month for the occupation forces: during that month, 66 US soldiers were killed. Nearly 200 imperialist soldiers were killed during June and July 2010, including 38 British soldiers.
According to the US Defence Department figures, between October 2010 and May 2011, resistance attacks had increased by 54%, while US troop casualties had gone up by 56% as compared to the same period in the previous year.
The ‘Ring of Steel’ set up by the American army round the capital, Kabul, has been regularly breached by the resistance. On 28 June, the eve of a meeting of provincial governors to discuss the handover in July of security to Afghan forces, anti-occupation fighters wearing suicide vests stormed the Intercontinental Hotel and held off Nato and Afghan forces until air strikes killed the last of the attackers.
The 5-hour gun battle at the hotel between Nato and Afghan forces on the one hand and the resistance on the other was a stunning reminder of the reality just as the US prepares itself to start withdrawing most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Far from disappearing, the resistance is gathering strength.
In this, one of the most audacious attacks in the capital, the resistance squad carried tape recorders blaring forth the war songs of the resistance as it stormed the hotel lobby. The attack was clear evidence of growing confidence on the part of the resistance as it operates over a larger swathe of eastern Afghanistan, including Kabul, which accounts for 20% of the country’s population, building a shadow government in the vacuum left by a weak or non-existent state.
In a blow to number 10, Cameron’s attempt to trumpet military triumphs in Afghanistan was shattered on Monday 10 July after the disappearance of Scott McLaren, a British soldier later confirmed dead, obliging the British prime minister to cancel his trip to Helmand city, which had been singled out by the defence chiefs as an example of the success of British troops in transferring control of security to Afghan forces.
Contrast this with the boastful and blood-curdling threats issued by Lt-General Sir Graeme Lamb, a special advisor to General Stanley McChrystal, 18 months earlier. On 1 December 2009, revealing that operations involving crack commandos – including the SAS – had increased five-fold over the previous months, Sir Graeme said that British troops in Afghanistan would hit the resistance “until their eyeballs bleed”. Notwithstanding the brutal treatment meted out to the Afghan combatants and civilians alike, obviously it is the imperialist soldiery who are suffering from the affliction of bleeding eyeballs.
On 18 August, suicide bombers belonging to the resistance stormed a British Council compound, killing 8 people during an 8-hour armed confrontation.
On 13 September, the resistance lobbed rockets at the US embassy, fought the police and detonated suicide vests in a series of highly-coordinated attacks in Kabul aimed at undermining the faith of the Afghan people in the Karzai government and its imperialist masters’ ability to secure the capital. This sophisticated attack exposed the total helplessness of the Afghan government and its inability to guarantee security in the most heavily-guarded districts. The attack was launched from the upper floors of a half-completed high-rise block, from where members of the resistance fired rockets at the heavily fortified US embassy, the Nato headquarters and the offices of the Afghan intelligence agency, the NDS.
Although Nato attempted to dismiss the incident as a propaganda ploy that had failed to inflict casualties on its intended target, this highly coordinated attack was the third spectacular assault on the capital in as many months and displayed the ability of the resistance to launch sophisticated and deadly attacks in the heart of the city. If this is the situation now, with 140,000 ISAF troops and their 100,000 mercenaries, how will the Afghan forces cope with the resistance by the end of 2014 when the bulk of Nato forces are due to leave?
A few months earlier, in April, 500 resistance fighters escaped from the high-security Sarpaza prison, preceded by the killing of Haji Khan Mojayed, the Kandahar police chief. A Government unable to protect its police chief inside his headquarters and keep prisoners in prison cannot be relied upon to bring stability to the country.
In May, 15,000 people chanting “Death to America” attacked the Nato Reconstruction Team base at Taloqan with rocks and grenades following a special forces raid which killed several civilians. Security forces fired on and killed a dozen demonstrators in a corner of the country considered to be the most stable.
In the last week of May this year, Mohamed Daud Daud, the police chief in charge of northern Afghanistan and the commander of the elite 303 Pamir Corps was killed by the resistance in a roadside bomb attack; on 12 July, Ahmed Wali Karzai, younger brother of president Karzai, a notorious drug baron, was shot dead by one of his security detail who is believed to have been acting on behalf of the resistance, depriving the US of a linchpin in its strategy for containing the resistance and sending shock waves through Kabul at the vulnerability of the inner circle of the puppet ruling clique. 17 July witnessed the killing of Jan Mohammed Khan, a top presidential advisor. On 27 July, Ghulam Haider Hameedi, the mayor of Kandahar, was eliminated, as was the city’s police chief, Abdul Razia; and on 20 September Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president, chair of the High Peace Council, charged with negotiating with the Taliban, was killed in a suicide attack in his house in Kabul. President Karzai himself has survived four serious attempts on his life. During the first six months of 2011, an estimated 191 government officials and government figures were eliminated, and quite a few since then. In addition, Afghan army and police personnel have often turned their guns on their Nato patrons. According to Nato figures, between March 2009 and June 2011, 57 foreign troops were killed in 19 such attacks.
On 28 July, the resistance stormed the Tarin Kowt office of RTA state broadcaster in Uruzgan province, which left 22 killed, including Ahmed Khpalwak, a BBC reporter shot dead by US troops in a case of alleged mistaken identity when they were counter-attacking against the resistance. Ten days earlier, on 18 July, in an attack on a checkpoint in the southern city of Lashkar Gal, the capital of Helmand province, seven policemen were killed. This incident took place just two days before the Nato-led troops handed over security to the Afghan forces – one of the first seven areas to be given over to them notwithstanding their documented incompetence, characterised by a high defection rate.
On 6 August, the resistance shot down a Chinook helicopter in eastern Afghanistan, resulting in the worst toll in a single day for US soldiers since the start of the predatory war against Afghanistan 10 years ago. 31 US special forces (Navy Seals) personnel were killed. The US soldiers in question belonged to the same unit which, in blatant violation of Pakistan’s national sovereignty, had intruded deep into Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden on 2 May this year.
All the above attacks show that the resistance can penetrate even Kabul’s ‘Green Zone’ with ease and at will. The killings of senior political and security officials, as well as attacks on heavily-guarded and high-profile targets, such as the US embassy, Nato headquarters, the British Council and the Intercontinental Hotel, have exploded the myth about the Afghan security forces’ ability to provide adequate safety and security, and thus driven a coach and horses through Nato’s strategy of withdrawal of the bulk of its forces by training the Afghan police and security forces and handing over control to them – for it is abundantly clear that the resistance can penetrate even the most secure strongholds of the capital, through a combination of frontal assaults and internal assistance, in order to effect a series of carefully selected, methodically planned and professionally executed eliminations of government officials and security personnel. The killing of Rabbani delivered a shattering blow to another aspect of Nato’s strategy, namely, to negotiate with the resistance so as to provide the occupation imperialist forces with a face-saving formula for a not-too-humiliating exist by making provision for the continuation of parts of the puppet administration it has created since the invasion in 2001.
Matthew Green, writing in the Financial Times of 25 September 2011, sated: “The ease with which suicide bombers can infiltrate the Kabul police’s so-called ring of steel to attack hotels, lob rocket-propelled grenades at the US embassy or kill prominent Afghans intensifies the increasing impression that this is a city up for grabs. The situation is far worse in provincial towns where senior officials keep being assassinated”.
Continues Mr Green: “Can the slide to civil war be stopped? Nato has failed. There was nothing more striking about a three-week stint I spent embedded with US ‘surge’ forces last summer than watching three men with spades, AK47s and fertiliser calmly plant a roadside bomb while an F-18 Hornet circled overhead. Armoured vehicles were scrambled, but to no avail – the men vanished”.
He ends with the obvious conclusion: “The insurgency cannot be beaten on the battlefield. Nor can the Taliban be forced into a deal” (‘Hurtling down Afghanistan’s road to perdition’).
On 18 July, General Petraeus handed over the command of UN and Nato forces in Afghanistan to General John Allen, a former deputy director of Central Command, which handles US operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. During his posting in Afghanistan, Petraeus presided over a three-fold increase in pursuing ruthlessly the policy of killing or capturing members of the resistance through night raids and air strikes, in which thousands of innocent civilians, in addition to actual combatants belonging to the resistance, were killed. But he nevertheless failed miserably to reverse the perception that Afghanistan today is far more dangerous for the imperialist occupation and its puppets than it was even a year earlier when he took over command from General McChrystal after the latter was sacked by President Obama. Petraeus has since returned to the US to become the director of the CIA, from where he is sure to assist in the continued implementation of the very policy which palpably failed to bring any joy to the occupation forces.
Dissension in the reactionary camp
What is more, this policy so enraged and alienated the Afghan people that even Karzai, a creation of the occupying powers, was compelled to raise his voice against it. He infuriated Nato officials when, on the eve of the Lisbon Nato Summit held on the weekend of 20-21 November 2010, he called for an end to night raids and the intrusive presence of foreign troops in Afghan daily life. Reflecting the rage of the Afghan people and the utter failure of the Nato forces in overcoming the resistance, Karzai’s views on global events, US intervention in Afghanistan, the future political course for his country, and Nato’s role and stance, it would appear, have undergone dramatic change. He has become critical of the ability of the US to bring peace or secure Pakistani compliance with Afghan and Nato demands that it cease giving sanctuary to the Haqqani group. The late Richard Holbrook, Obama’s AfPak representative, and Petraeus, had a heated discussion with Karzai at the time. Some western officials even went to the extent of briefing the media that Karzai was mentally unbalanced, suggesting that he was on drugs.
Karzai’s statements caused much anger in Nato circles, especially as they were preceded 6 months earlier by his visits to China and Iran in the course of a single week (March 2010) – visits which set alarm bells ringing in Washington. Before visiting Iran, Karzai had, a few days earlier, received the Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, with visible warmth, while the then US defence secretary, Robert Gates, was also on a visit to Afghanistan. Washington made its displeasure known, while Obama hurriedly flew unannounced into Kabul on Sunday 28 March 2010 for an “on the ground update” from Karzai.
Again, in June this year (2011), Karzai and Pakistani president Zardari visited Tehran at the invitation of Iranian president Ahmadinejad. Their talks covered the completion of the planned Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through Afghanistan, following which an agreement for security cooperation between Iran and Afghanistan was concluded.
Karzai angered the occupying forces yet again when, speaking at the funerals of civilians murdered in recent Nato raids, he criticised them in the following strong terms: “They [the occupiers] are here for their own purposes … and they’re using our soil for that. Our demand is that the war be stopped. This is the voice of Afghanistan. History is witness to how Afghanistan deals with occupiers”.
Undoubtedly Karzai is speaking with a forked tongue, with the hope of convincing the resistance that it can have a peace deal with him which would be mutually beneficial. All the same, it is clear that Karzai no longer fully supports the ‘war on terror’ as defined by Washington. He further alarmed and infuriated Nato by saying that there was a political alternative to it, that is, to depend more on regional countries, especially Iran and Pakistan, to end the war and reach a settlement with the resistance. The rift between Nato and Karzai, although papered over, cannot fail to furnish an added boost to the resistance in the latter’s struggle to force the US out and bring down the Karzai administration.
Shifting rationale for the war
For obvious reasons, the imperialist powers waging war against Afghanistan, unable to openly and honestly state what drives this, as other, imperialist wars – the striving for domination – have provided a shifting set of rationales for the war, which has been seen through even by the bourgeois political commentators. To begin with, it was to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the events of 9/11, and to eradicate Afghanistan as a “haven for terrorists”. Until Afghanistan is stable, the argument went, the west cannot risk withdrawal. It is reliably estimated that there are no more than 100 al-Qaeda affiliated people, and most of those are in Pakistan, which hardly warrants the presence of 140,000 imperialist troops and 100,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan.
In any case, despite the presence of a vast number of soldiers from the US, Britain, Germany, France and other countries, as Gideon Rachman correctly pointed out in the Financial Times of 27 July 2010, “… there is very little evidence that Afghanistan is becoming more stable. On the contrary, the fighting is intensifying, casualties are mounting and the Taliban is becoming more confident.
“So perhaps it is time to rephrase the question. Rather than asking, ‘Why are we in Afghanistan?’, we should ask, ‘If we are in Afghanistan, why are we not also in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan?’ All three countries are now plausible bases for potential terrorists.” (‘Somali lessons for Afghanistan’).
In the words of the late Richard Holbrook, “the enemy are al-Qaeda in Pakistan, so why are we fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan?”.
David Cameron says, as did his predecessors, Blair and Brown, that British troops are in Afghanistan to make British streets safe by bringing stability to Afghanistan and thus ensure that it does not become a base from which to launch terrorist attacks on the streets of Britain. Yet Mr Cameron contradicts himself by saying that British troops will return home by the end of 2014 come what may, that is, regardless of the situation in the battlefields of Afghanistan! What is more, far from reducing the danger to the security of citizens in the imperialist countries, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya only serves to increase it, as was clearly demonstrated by the bombings in Madrid and London. That is the considered view even of people like Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5. Only the likes of Tony Blair, Ken Livingstone and David Cameron can mindlessly assert otherwise. If 70% of the British people want British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan “immediately” or “soon”, they surely must know, even if instinctively, that their security is in no way enhanced by the bloodletting of which the British, American and other foreign troops are the instruments.
All the previous guff about improving the position of Afghan women, bringing democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and instituting good governance, have been quietly dropped.
The imperialist powers have come to realise that they cannot win in Afghanistan. So they have devised a twin-track strategy, if it can be called that, whereby they would, on the one hand, negotiate with the resistance and, on the other hand, they would build up the puppet army and police in sufficient numbers to be able to assume responsibility for security at the end of 2014. This strategy exposes the hollowness and hypocrisy of the claim by the imperialist powers that they are waging the war against the Taliban ‘terrorists’, for they have been holding face-to-face meetings with these same ‘terrorists’. The first such meeting between Taliban representatives and US officials took place in a village outside Munich on 28 November 2010, chaired by a German diplomat. The second encounter took place in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on 15 February 2011. The third meeting was again held in Germany on 7-8 May.
On 17 June, the UNSC accepted a US request to treat al-Qaeda and the Taliban separately on a 13-year-old UN list of global terrorists. From now on there are to be two separate lists, and the UN sanctions against members of al-Qaeda will not necessarily apply to the Taliban, thus making it easier to take them off the list – in an effort to facilitate dialogue with them.
The problem for the US, however, is: why should the Taliban negotiate if they are convinced, as surely they are, that they are winning?
As far as they are concerned, the presence of foreign forces is part of the problem; ridding Afghanistan of the foreign occupation forces has been the most resounding cry of the resistance.
As to building the Afghan security forces, the US has spent $22bn in 2010 and 2011 to train and equip the 300,000-strong Afghan security forces. Obama has requested the Congress for an additional $12.8bn for next year to build the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). The problem with the Afghan forces is that they attract very few recruits from the Pashtun areas. Despite the US troop surge, Pashtun recruits are actually dwindling, though there is a desperate need for such recruitment if the Afghan national army is to reflect the ethnic and geographic reality of the country. Kandahar and Helmand provinces, with a combined population of 2 million, have since 2009 contributed a mere 1,200 soldiers to the Afghan army, representing less than 1% of some 173,000 recruits in that period. Nobody from the Pashtun heartlands dare join, even if they were so inclined, for the resistance and its intelligence are stronger than the government.
Another problem is that most of the new recruits to the Afghan army are illiterate, incompetent and unreliable, likely to desert at the first whiff of gunpowder. As was shown during the resistance attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel, the British Council, the US embassy and the Nato headquarters, without the help of the occupation troops the Afghan soldiers would simply not have been able to do much.
After 10 years of this predatory war, there is no security in Afghanistan. It’s health, education provision and infrastructure are a shambles. Opium production has increased 1,400%, the opium trade has risen 40-fold, and income from narcotics accounts for 60% of the economy. Life expectancy stands at a miserable 44 years, and infant mortality rates are the worst in the world. And there is all-pervasive corruption that affects all levels of the government and security services.
Such is the state of affairs in the sphere of security that even the Kabul-Kandahar highway is strewn with checkpoints manned by corrupt police, criminal gangs, warlords and members of the resistance – all making it unsafe for ordinary Afghan travellers.
Turning the tide since the surge of US troops, the resistance has stretched its grip on the north-east and west of the country. Instead of subjugating Afghanistan, the imperialist war has managed to spread anti-imperialist militancy across the border into Pakistan. No one doubts any more that the Afghan resistance is on course to inflict a humiliating defeat on the combined forces of imperialism. “So when I flee the country, of course my son will join the Taliban”, said recently Haji Mohammed Almas, a warlord and former Mujahideen commander who fought against the Soviet forces, adding, “What will become of him?” The US and its allies “are dressing up defeat as victory and heading hotfoot for the exit” is how Philip Stephens, writing in the Financial Times of 30 September 2011, described Nato’s strategy in Afghanistan. He added that, a decade after the fall of Kabul to the US-backed Northern Alliance, “Afghanistan is an all-too-present source of grief and embarrassment”. “What on earth”, he says, “the politicians can any longer say to the families of those blown up in the deserts and bazaars of Kandahar and Helmand?” (‘An indecent rush to the Afghan exit’).
But, of course, the Americans are not leaving completely – not just yet. Afghanistan is too important for that. In the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security advisor, “Eurasia is the chessboard for global supremacy … [The US must] prevent the emergence of a dominant antagonistic Eurasian power” – an obvious reference to China and Russia. The Americans are negotiating with the Afghan government to keep half a dozen bases in the country for the foreseeable future, from which, after the departure of the bulk of their forces at the end of 2014, the US and its allies would continue to deploy military trainers and special forces and use drones to contain the resistance. While prolonging the agony of the Afghan people, such a course would do no more than postpone the day of reckoning when, under relentless assault from the resistance, imperialist forces will be compelled to leave the country, lock, stock and barrel. A prolongation of the presence of imperialist armies may possibly even result in the Pakistani state losing control over the Pashtun population on both sides of the border to the Taliban – giving rise to the emergence of a united Pashtunistan, 50 million-strong, and threatening the integrity of Pakistan.
War brought to Pakistan
As expected, the last surge of US troops, announced by Obama at the end of 2009, has become a major source of destabilisation in Pakistan as it has led to the spill over of the Afghan fighters against the occupation into Pakistan, as the Pakistani premier, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had warned in late 2009. By its increasingly frequent use of drone attacks on Pakistani targets, as well as through coercing the Pakistani army to move against the Islamist militants, the US has managed to rouse the wrath of the Pakistani people (who are overwhelmingly opposed to the US war on Afghanistan) against the US and their own government alike. The drone attacks, which have killed thousands of Pakistanis, the frequent US military incursions into Pakistan, and the collusion of the Pakistani military in the US’s ‘war on terror’, have angered the Pakistani people as nothing else.
The Pakistani military has long used religion as a tool to keep its grip on Pakistani politics, especially on the country’s defence and foreign policy. It has also since the early 1980s used religion as an ideology to create militant organisations and train armed young men to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir to gain what it regards as “strategic depth”. Begun under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military government, at the behest of US imperialism desperate to secure a plentiful supply of trained Islamic holy warriors to fight the Red Army in Afghanistan, this process, in which the Pakistani Mullah-military alliance set about changing the political discourse through the creation of a network of Madrassas funded by the US and Saudi Arabia to instruct their pupils in the most bigoted version of Islam, has ended up by creating over a period of three decades a veritable Frankenstein monster.
After the death of General Zia in 1988, this process was kept up by the Pakistani establishment, even as its pernicious ramifications began to spread in Pakistan. Then came the events of 9/11, which found the US, the erstwhile progenitor and patron of Islamic Jihadis, fighting its own progeny. With the US war against Afghanistan, the Pakistani military establishment was faced with the stark choice of either deserting its assets, the Taliban, in Afghanistan, or acting in open defiance of the US. Not unexpectedly, it decided to go along with the US demand that it stop its support for the Taliban. All the same, while it took action against the Taliban in the border regions with Afghanistan, the Pakistani military continued its support for the militant Islamic groups which it believed were not harmful to Pakistani interests, especially those openly against India.
However, the attempts of the military to maintain this delicate balance have led only to complete failure, as is attested to by the bloodshed over the last 10 years, which have claimed the lives of 35,000 people through acts of terror perpetrated by the Jihadis – giving clear proof that the Jihadi groups are more than willing to bite the hand that feeds them. The 22 May 2011 assault on the Pakistani Navy’s Mehran Airbase in Karachi by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is only the latest proof that Islamic Jihadi outfits in Pakistan, including those formed to be deployed against India, such as Lashkar-i-Taiba, are willing and able to operate, not only independently of, but also against, the Pakistani military. The assault on the Karachi Airbase came in the wake of the US attack on a residential compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad. This attack, resulting in the killing of Osama, humiliated the Pakistani military, violated Pakistani sovereignty, and aroused widespread anger among the Pakistani masses against, and hatred of, the US – continuing the fallout from the arrest and subsequent release of a CIA agent, Raymond Davis, who had shot dead two Pakistanis in January.
The continued war in Afghanistan, the increasing US interference in, and military intrusion into, Pakistan, with the resultant growth of anti-imperialist sentiment in Pakistan, which in turn brings grist to the Jihadi mill, the room for manoeuvre of the Pakistani army has gone, and its ability to hunt with the hounds of US imperialism and run with the hares of Jihadi militancy has reached the end of the road.
Deteriorating US-Pakistani relations
Relations between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated to such an extent that senior US officials have begun openly to accuse Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, of fomenting terrorism in Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, the then-outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Congressional Committee on 22 September that the Haqqani network, responsible for killing US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, “planned and conducted” the assault on the Intercontinental Hotel with the support of the ISI, characterising the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm” of the ISI. Speaking before the Senate armed services committee, Admiral Mullen said “We have credible evidence … that the Haqqani network was responsible for the June 28 attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul” and a host of smaller operations. He went on to say that Pakistan’s government has chosen to “use violent extremism as an instrument of policy [something that the US would never contemplate, oh no!], adding that “by exporting violence, they have eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic wellbeing”.
This barely-veiled threat is designed to put pressure on the Pakistani military to make its choice: back the US without reservation, or continue secretly to support the Taliban and other groups fighting US soldiers in Afghanistan and risk losing US military and economic aid and possible national disintegration. Pakistan is in a bind, for as long as it sees India as its main enemy, and its security under threat from India, it is likely to continue to rely on the Jihadis.
Pakistan shares a 2,500km-long border with Afghanistan. So long as this border remains even partly open, the resistance in Afghanistan cannot be defeated – Pakistan and the Afghan resistance are joined at the hip. The Afghan Taliban enjoy great popularity in Pakistan; most Pakistanis quite correctly see the Afghan Taliban as freedom fighters resisting foreign aggression. In this situation, if the Americans continue to attack targets in Pakistan with drones, if they continue to intrude into Pakistani territory, the result can only be to turn Pakistan into a raging anti-American inferno, whose government and military leadership will be at risk of being pushed aside if they continue their collaboration with the US. For this reason, if for no other, the Pakistani army and its espionage agency are likely to continue backing their proxies, such as the Haqqanis. Besides, the Pakistani military would not find a settlement which strengthens the position of India in Afghanistan at all appealing. It is up to the US to decide the extent to which it is prepared to destabilise Pakistan further still.
After a decade-long costly and frustrating war in Afghanistan, it would not be very sensible for the US to get deeply embroiled in Pakistan. However, imperialism would not be imperialism if it could act in accordance with such human reasoning. All we can be sure of at the moment is that the US has decided to scale down its war effort in Afghanistan.
Ten years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the US emerge much weakened financially, and its prestige is at its nadir. During these 10 years, US defence spending has doubled to $700bn a year (2011). The cost of these two wars is likely to be $4tr when long-term veteran support costs are included, according to a study by Brown University. Since 2001, the US has spent $3tr on homeland security. The American people have suffered a serious erosion of their civil liberties under the Patriot Act, enacted in the wake of 9/11, which gave the FBI, spies and police, the expansion in powers to search physical and electronic records and detain ‘illegal’ immigrants that they had been seeking for years.
Whereas in 2001, the US had a budget surplus, today the projected deficit for 2011 stands at $1,580bn. If the price of Brent crude then stood at $28 a barrel, today it oscillates around $115 a barrel. The US economy is in a mess following the worst-ever crisis of overproduction, the near-meltdown of the financial system in 2008, and the continuing debt crisis. Admiral Mike Mullen described the national debt as the greatest threat to US national security. Standard and Poor’s recent downgrade of America’s credit rating merely served to confirm the steady decline of the US.
The US is much diminished, Europe has been sidelined, and Asia is in the ascendance. In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, Asia’s share of the global economy has risen steadily from 8% in 1980 to 24% in 2010. Asian stock markets now account for 31% of global market capitalisation, ahead of Europe’s 25% and within a percentage point of the US at 32%.
Last year, China became the world’s second largest economy, overtaking Japan, while at the same time surpassing Germany as the biggest exporter. This year China overtook the US as the number one manufacturing country; Chinese banks now rank among the largest in the world by market capitalisation; China has overtaken the US to become the largest market for cars – a dubious distinction, but a distinction all the same – and China surpassed the US to become Brazil’s largest trading partner.
The rise of Asia, especially China, the emergence of Iran as the dominant regional power in the wake of the US war against Iraq, the continuing stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the uprisings of the Arab youth in Tunisia and Egypt, and the resultant decline in US influence, of which the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ankara are just two visible signs, have all served to confirm a steep decline in the US’s standing in the world.
Nato, the instrument of the US’s military dominance, is a fractured alliance compared with what it was in 2001. Germany was not the only country to refuse to join the recent predatory war against Libya, for less than a third of Nato’s European members were involved in this war. No wonder, then, that the former US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, in his valedictory speech to his Nato allies in Brussels, warned that Europe faced a dim and possibly dismal future. In the face of budgetary restrictions and shrinking defence budgets, Europe, he said, won’t be a priority for the US, the focus of whose defence attentions will be Asia and the geopolitical contest with an emerging and assertive China. As a result, Nato would increasingly become an irrelevant relic, to be replaced by the coalitions of the willing and available as dictated by the needs of security challenges.
In the early days of the predatory war against Afghanistan and Iraq, shock and awe intimidated the media and bourgeois ideologues to paint the US as a 21st century Rome. This gentry did a bean count of the military hardware, while ignoring the US’s vulnerability all too openly and readily on display following 9/11.
Today, US power is contested as never before. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only serve to obscure the much bigger story of the last 10 years – the fast-rising economies of Asia and Latin America, and the resultant shift in the balance of power away from the West towards the East. The global order is no longer the patrimony of the imperialist powers. Instead of, as predicted at the beginning of the present century, the Chinese economy being of the same size as that of the US by 2050, it is expected to overtake the latter before 2020.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the resistance put up by the Iraqi and Afghan people against the imperialist plundering hordes, combined with the mother of all capitalist crises of overproduction, bringing in its wake the near-collapse of the financial structure of imperialism, resulting in an unprecedented sovereign debt crisis, have stripped away the remnants of the pretensions of European imperialist powers, denuded the US of its top credit rating, and seen a demonstrable shift in global economic and military power away from the principal imperialist countries. To paraphrase Mr Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, these developments have shown that the old powers are no longer the masters of globalisation and have buried the Washington consensus and the model of market capitalism in the debris of Lehman Brothers.
Mr Stephens concludes by saying that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which cost the US much in both treasure and prestige, “have ended up showing the limits, rather than the reach, of military might. Cruise missiles do not work against improvised explosive devices.
“What we are left with is a world betwixt and between. The sweep of history will record the past decade as a parenthesis –separating a brief period of unparalleled US might from a new, and chaotic, multipolar world. Al Qaeda had to be defeated. But for all the horror he inflicted on 9/11, Bin Laden did not really change very much at all” (2 September 2011, ‘9/11 did not change he world’).
Lionel Barber comes to the same conclusion in the following pithy paragraph:
“As for the legacy of 9/11, Gerard Lyons, chief economist of Standard Chartered Bank, says the three most important words in the past decade were not ‘war on terror’ but ‘made in China’. On present trends, he adds, the three most important words of this decade will be ‘owned by China’ (‘The end of US hegemony, the legacy of 9/11’, Financial Times, 6 September 2011).
For all the suffering that imperialism’s wars have inflicted on the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and lately of Libya, we cannot fail to express our satisfaction with the turn of events as they have unfolded in the past decade.
On Saturday 29 October there were a series of fatal attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan. In one attack a suicide bomber killed 17 people, including 12 Americans, and in another incident 3 Australian soldiers were killed and many others injured when an Afghan military trainee turned on them with a machine gun at an isolated patrol base.