The US Left and the War in Afghanistan

We bring you a statement by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (dated October 2008; see the link below).  You may have already seen or read it.  We in FRSO/OSCL were in the process of drafting a statement on the situation when we came across this piece by RAWA.  It concisely summarized the current situation and the dilemmas for progressive and revolutionary forces on the ground in Afghanistan.  For a US audience, it also raises a question that many of us on the radical Left tend to avoid: how can we best support progressive and Left forces in Afghanistan in their dual fight against the US-led NATO occupation on the one hand, and the right-wing Islamists on the other.

The following is being submitted for your consideration by way of an introduction to the RAWA statement.  We wish to highlight a few points and then speak directly to the question of the US role.

(1) It is critical to recognize that the current disaster in Afghanistan is not simply the result of the US-led invasion in 2001.  It is also the result of the Soviet and US interventions and continued civil war that have wracked Afghanistan since the late 1970s.

(2) Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski openly admitted that following the coup by the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan, that the US engaged in provocative activity aimed at drawing the then Soviet Union into its own ‘Vietnam debacle.’  The US succeeded, and as a result, helped—with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—to create a monster that it could not control.  One piece of that monster was, of course, Al Qaeda, but there were other pieces including an increasingly strong and assertive Pakistani national security system that had an interest in turning Afghanistan into a quasi-protectorate.

(3) US involvement in Afghanistan, including the fact that it walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union was ousted, contributed to great instability in the region.  The civil war continued until the Pakistani-backed Taliban marched through the country and, under the twin banners of Islam and stability, succeeded in routing the feuding warlords.

(4) The Taliban is often mis-described as being Muslim fundamentalist.  This is not accurate.  They are drawn from the Wahabist school, which is a very puritanical current within Islam (and to some extent shares that in common with the Almoravid dynasty that dominated Iberia and much of North Africa during the 11th and 12th centuries A.D.), but they would be better described as “Islamic distortionists.”  They, along with Al Qaeda, created a brand of Islam that represented an extreme, intolerant, misogynistic and generally right-wing interpretation of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

(5) As has been well documented, and as displayed in Michael Moore’s now-famous Fahrenheit 9/11, the USA had no problem with the Taliban until the Taliban would not agree to the terms of a gas pipeline that was projected to cross Afghanistan.  Once the September 11 attack took place, all bets were off and the Bush administration was comfortable moving against their former friends.

(6) There is and was no doubt that Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.  However, Al Qaeda was not an arm of the Afghan government and was much more akin to the relationship of the Sicilian Mafia to the Sicilian (and indeed Italian) governments.  Although Al Qaeda was autonomous and tolerated, the Taliban never expected them to create a problem to the extent that they did, leading to the US invasion in 2001.

(7) It is important for us on the Left to point out that the entire rationale for the US-led attack on Afghanistan in 2001 would justify a US invasion of Mexico and Sicily.  In other words, criminal/military units that have played a destructive role are based in and often tolerated by “legitimate” governmental bodies.  The question is when does that justify a military strike?

(8) The US-led invasion of Afghanistan was and has continued to be described by many people, even progressives, as a “good war” because it was seen as a response to the September 11 attack. In answering those claims, we compare it to how the Sandinista-led Nicaraguans acted when the USA mined Nicaraguan harbors and openly supported a military operation against the internationally recognized government.  The Sandinistas went to the World Court and won a judgment because the USA’s actions were regarded as acts of war.  We cannot hammer at this point enough because it demonstrates the absolute hypocrisy of the USA on these matters.  None of this excuses, justifies or downplays the criminality of the clerical fascist attack on 11 September 2001.  What we are saying, however, is that an invasion of Afghanistan was not justified.

(9) The Taliban fell quite quickly and could, conceivably, have been destroyed in total except for several specific factors.  One, elements of the Pakistani military and security apparatus wished to see the Taliban continue.  Two, the US installed warlords who were criminals and perpetrated various crimes against the people, thereby antagonizing increasing numbers of Afghanis.  Three, Bush decided to invade Iraq.  Four, the US and NATO generally bungled the occupation.  Each of these factors is critical to keep in mind.  The US-led invasion never had the objective of “liberating” the people of Afghanistan, irrespective of the rhetoric.  Yes, they did wish to crush Al Qaeda, but they were just as concerned about building up protectorates along the border with China and Russia as part of a longer-term strategic gambit.

(10) Obama’s suggestion of moving greater numbers of US troops into Afghanistan brings with it a number of problems, not the least of which is moral.  The Afghanistan situation has now become enmeshed with the Pakistan-Kashmir-India conflict.  Key segments of the Pakistan military and security system are more interested in preparing for war with India than they are in taking on their former allies—the Taliban—in Afghanistan.  Additionally, there are right-wing Islamists in Pakistan who are basically calling for a united front against India and the cessation of hostilities between the Pakistan right-wing Islamists, the Afghanistan Taliban, and the Pakistan military.  Each time the US carries out a military attack inside Pakistan it furthers the objectives of the right-wing Islamists who suggest, quite correctly, that this is a threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan.

(11) Given this situation and the likelihood that Obama will proceed with a troop redeployment to increase capacity within Afghanistan, what approach should we on the Left and among the broader anti-empire camp take?  We would suggest a few points:

Withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan: As even the puppet leader Karzai recognizes, military victory will be difficult at this moment.  Vast sections of the population have been turned away from the occupation and the puppet government even if they have no love for the Taliban.  Thus, a negotiated settlement will need to take place.  Such a negotiation will need to involve Pakistan.  The United Nations will probably also need to be involved in order for this to be carried out. 

No more US military attacks on Pakistan:  Irrespective of the rhetoric of the US about selective targeting, such attacks invariably kill non-combatants and further inflame sentiment in Pakistan.

United Nations mediation of the Kashmir dispute: The situation in the Kashmir has become increasingly linked with the larger regional conflict, including but not limited to Afghanistan.  India and Pakistan are two nuclear-armed antagonists who have come very close to war over the past several years.  Kashmir has been in a long-term fight for self-determination, a fight that at times has been co-opted by right-wing Islamists but is still a legitimate struggle.  There will be no peace on the subcontinent until the Kashmir question is settled.  The Kashmir situation and Afghanistan will continue to overlap.

Support for Left and Progressive forces in Afghanistan: There is a strong tendency in the USA to assume that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.  This sometimes translates into the most bizarre forms of open support of opportunists and tyrants, e.g., support given by some on the Left to Saddam Hussein during his administration, and in other case, to silence in the face of injustice.  In the case of Afghanistan there is an on-going struggle against the occupation as well as against the right-wing Islamists on the ground.  It is critical that the Left promote information concerning the work of progressive and Left forces in Afghanistan as well as find means to offer concrete support.  While the most important support that we can offer is to challenge the policies of the USA with regard to Afghanistan, we can also offer forms of solidarity, including support for organizations such as RAWA that are in struggle on the ground.

The following is the RAWA statement.  Our posting it does not necessarily represent agreement with RAWA on the totality of its program, but we do believe that this is an important statement and one from which we on the US Left can gain great insight.  FRSO/OSCL looks forward to your feedback on our perspective as well as the RAWA statement, and we encourage you to circulate it as well.

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