A Brief Background on Afghanista

A Brief Background on Afghanistan

Don Currie

July, 2007

The following is reprint of a presentation made to the Nelson Peace Coalition in July 2007.  It is being presented as part of the FOS contribution to the call by the World Peace Council for a response to NATO's Summit in Lisbon Portugal Nov 21 2010.  YES TO PEACE!  NO TO NATO! (Editor)

Afghanistan emerged from a feudal state late in its development. Most people were semi-literate. Literacy today is about 40%. Tribal society was roughly divided among Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Turkmen in the North and the Pushtans in the South. The Pushtan traditional territory straddles Southern Afghanistan and Pakistan while the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen populations inhabit the North.

Afghanistan shares a large western border with Iran, a large south and eastern border with Pakistan a large northern border with the former Soviet Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It shares a small border with China in the North.

Afghanistan throughout the two centuries of British intervention remained economically backward, dependent on animal husbandry and agriculture some light manufacturing and of late the cultivation of poppies used in the production of opium. The latter has served to criminalize the economy with the approval if not outright collusion of US and NATO occupation forces.

The country is 90% Muslim with both Sunni and Shiite populations. The role of the clergy, the Mullahs has been significant and of long standing and can’t be trivialized or ignored. (One is well advised to find an objective appraisal of the rise of Islam to correctly situate the religious influences in this struggle. We are currently reading “Islam - History, Faith and Politics – The Complete Introduction” by Paul Grieve. There are many such works but one is advised to get a recent work that includes contemporary politics.)

The simplistic notion that religious influence was always reactionary is not entirely true. Clergy often played a progressive role in the struggle against foreign intervention and for independence. However on balance the influence of the clergy at the highest level, as it is in all religion, has been used to keep believers enthralled and in an oppressed state and beholden to one or another type of oppression, in the case of Afghanistan it is feudal war lords.

The modern history of Afghanistan, that is the colonial era, can be broken into four periods.

1. The colonial period of the 1800’s to outbreak of the 1st World War.

From 1839 to 1919 Britain conducted 3 wars of aggression against Afghanistan and was beaten each time. British forces were forced to withdraw militarily but due to bribery of some war-lords maintained influence over Afghan foreign policy. Britain never recognised Afghan independence and treated Afghanistan as a protectorate. British Imperialism divided the country territorially (the Durran Line) and artificially split many traditional tribes and people’s to better control and influence them and subordinate them to British ambitions in the area. The struggle of Afghans against Britain for independence and territorial unity characterised the internal politics of the country for eight decades.

2. 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to end of Second World War.

Lenin, representing the Russian Soviet Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR) the forerunner of the Soviet Union (1919) was the first country in world to recognise the national independence of Afghanistan. The Soviet government signed a Treaty of Friendship and provided aid when Soviet Union was itself in need. In international meetings it insisted that Afghanistan’s national independence and respect for its territory be included in Brest Litovsk Treaty that resulted in Russia withdrawing from WW1. 

All British policy during this period was aimed at disrupting friendly relations between Soviet Russia and Afghanistan. Britain sent expeditionary forces into the Soviet border republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to support White Guard forces. The Red Army defeated them and the treaty of friendship and cooperation ensued. Trade and economic relations followed. RSFSR allowed goods to flow into Afghanistan from Soviet Russia and Europe duty free. Later, Afghanistan rebuffed attempts of Hitler to use Afghanistan as a base of attack on Soviet Russia during Second World War. Afghan neutrality was appreciated by Soviet Union. Friendship and cooperation characterised Afghan Soviet relations after war.

3. Post War Cold War up to and including April 1978 Revolution and Soviet intervention until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

United States emerged from the Second World War as the leading imperialist power and replaced Britain as the main imperialist influence in Central Asia. In 1955 the United States organised the Baghdad Pact (CENTO) an alliance of Asian and Middle Eastern Nations directed against the Soviet Union. CENTO later collapsed as the democratic revolutionary forces in the region developed. The US persisted in efforts to establish bases in Afghanistan on the boarders of the Soviet Union. It was rebuffed by Afghanistan. At the same time democratic revolutions were breaking out across Asia and Africa and the Middle East. The Afghan masses saw an alternative to the poverty and underdevelopment of their country. In 1978 national democratic forces overthrew the reactionary Mohammad Duad regime. The Afghan Revolution was national democratic in nature (not socialist), led by Communists but with wide support from clergy, peasants, intellectuals and a small working class  (only 50,000). The economic and social program of the Noor Mohammad Taraki regime and Babrak Karmal aimed to develop the economy, overcome illiteracy, build new mosques, expand trade and modernise agriculture. The Revolution attracted the support of women who wanted education and freedom. The foreign policy was based on non-alignment, neutrality and peace. The Government was a member state of the United Nations.

Counter revolutionary forces were the old privileged elite, mainly upper echelon civil servants, land owners and reactionary clergy. They worked to overthrow the regime. Prime Minister Taraki (a Communist) was assassinated by a CIA stooge Hafizullah Amin.  Amin, posing as a Communist attempted to discredit the revolution by conducting a regime of terror and jailed intellectuals and pro-revolutionary clergy. The democratic Revolution was in danger of being overthrown. Babrak Karmal, Taraki’s second in command backed by revolutionary forces in the army and clergy and youth overthrew Amin in 1979 and re-established a people’s democratic government and began to implement the progressive program begun by Taraki. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was recognised by the United Nations and majority of the countries of the world. The success of the Communist led popular revolution alarmed the US ruling elite who were especially irked at growing friendship between Afghanistan and Soviet Union.

The US military wanted to wreck SALT 2 talks and derail détente. CENTO had collapsed. The US had concluded a Treaty with Pakistan and established a NATO base in Turkey armed with nuclear rockets aimed at Soviet Union. The US was smarting at being rebuffed in its attempt to establish military bases on Afghanistan’s territory. The US Carter administration caved into CIA pressure and opted for a policy to de-stabilise and overthrow the Afghan government. The US Government began to arm the insurgents with high tech weapons.

The US in collusion with China, financed the training of counter-revolutionary forces in Pakistan and backed the Mujahadeen, a reactionary coalition of former privileged classes, reactionary clergy, and war lords, the same war lords who today are prominent in the Karzai Government. The Mujahadeen began military operations against the government. They resorted to terror. Their crimes were not less than that of the Taliban. They killed teachers, murdered women, spread terror and destroyed collective and co-operative enterprises established with Soviet assistance.

4. After repeated requests for help from the Afghan government the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan under terms of Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation.

The intervention fully conformed to article 51 of the United Nations Charter. During this period, Pakistan, which was embroiled in a dispute with India over Kashmir, used US funds and military equipment to train the orphans and displaced youth from Afghanistan’s war, and its own unemployed youth to form the Taliban as a shock force directed to overthrow the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The US encouraged the rise of the Taliban and its participation in the hostilities.

The combined forces of reaction (and I suspect internal dissatisfaction among the Soviet people since casualties were high and the war was a terrible drain on the economy) forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. The war needn’t have gone on as long as it did. The Soviet Government, headed by President Andropov sent a message to President Reagan in 1983 offering to withdraw all Soviet forces within six months if the US would cease arming the Mujahadeen. Reagan refused the offer and continued to arm the Mujahadeen with Stingray shoulder rockets and other high tech weaponry.

Despite the Soviet withdrawal, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan continued under the leadership of President Najibullah. The Najibullah regime was the last progressive government in Afghanistan.  The highly trained and US-Chinese equipped Taliban, inspired by reactionary religious fervour, overthrew the Najibullah regime, murdering Najibullah and his brother who at the time were under the protection of the United Nations Headquarters in Kabul.

The Taliban installed a fanatical Islamic state, dismantled all of the reforms of the revolution, returned the country to the most despotic form of feudal rule and oppression. Its cruelty towards women outraged the whole world.

5. Post September 11, 2001.

Following the terrorist suicide attacks on New York and Washington, the work of Saudi Arabian Wahabi fanatics, the Bush administration determined to use the event as the pretext to invade Iraq. The US cobbled together an alliance of nations ostensibly to “defeat terrorism.” Because it was alleged that Al Queda and its leader Osama Bin Laden was using Afghanistan as a base of operations the US attacked Kabul, already devastated by war, and bombed it to total ruin, inflicting vast destruction and hundreds of civilian casualties. It is ironic that Bush now claims to be interested in rebuilding the devastation it created.

The current situation in Afghanistan is the outgrowth of two centuries of British imperialist intervention and rivalry with other colonial powers for dominance and control of Asia. The resistance of the people’s of Asia to foreign imperialist intervention has been the main factor determining the politics of the region and the resulting wars, interventions, occupations and revolutions. The struggles of the people in Central Asia, and specifically the people of Afghanistan cannot be understood in isolation from the long history of imperialist intervention in the entire region.

The canard that the Afghan people are yearning for western imperialist help to free them from the grip of indigenous despotic Muslim oppressors and it is the destiny of enlightened western imperialist powers led by the United States and supported by its NATO allies including Canada to “free” them, is the modern version of the medieval crusades mentality. It is made worse by the attempts of US propaganda to convince Canadian and US citizens that war, high tech war, directed somewhat indiscriminately against both civilian and military targets is the only means of “freeing” the Afghan people.

Whenever the Afghan people have had the chance to speak directly to the world and not through the filter of the corporate media, it has always been to say, they have had enough of war in all of its variants and that a US NATO war inflicted with increasing ferocity on their lives, homes and infrastructure is not preferable to some other kind of war. What the Afghan people are saying and what we in the peace movement are saying is that war is not the answer to the desire of the Afghan people to take the road of economic progress, social development, enlightenment and freedom. That is why we advocate a complete military withdrawal from the country as the first step to end the atrocities of war currently inflicted by the US and NATO forces. The war option is a disaster for all.

The current war in Afghanistan is in fact another front of the US war in Iraq. It cannot be separated from the US imperialist policy of regime change, and the use by the US of military power as the first option in its drive for domination and control of the entire region of Central Asia. The US has drawn up plans for another four years in Iraq. There is nothing in their policy that indicates they are considering withdrawal anytime soon.

The strategic aims of the United States are not about helping the Afghan people. The US strategic aim is to control access to the vast oil reserves of the Caspian and the natural gas reserves of the former Soviet Republics. The US global strategy is to establish permanent forward rapid deployment bases in the region to counter the growing influence of Russia, China and India. The region now has six nuclear powers involved in the region. The danger of a wider and possibly nuclear war is real.

Prime Minister Harper endorses the US strategic goals and at the request of NATO has committed Canadian armed forces to the most hostile and dangerous areas of the country. The conflict has no military solution. The danger of Canada becoming bogged down in a long and bloody conflict with rising casualties is real and has alarmed Canadian public opinion. There is skepticism and lack of support for the Government policy and it is likely to become a major issue in the October session of Parliament and in the next federal election.

Public resistance to the war is also fueled by the rising cost of the war. The perpetuating of the war means vast amounts of federal funds desperately needed to support Canada’s social support systems, to overcome poverty to address crumbling urban infrastructure and to implement a program to clean up the environment and combat green house gas emissions are lagging because we are at war.

The fact is that war means profits. Defense expenditures are rising. Military suppliers are getting rich. The attempt of the Harper Government to convince Canadians that there is no profit motive in perpetuating the war will sooner or later become an issue here as it has in the United States. I believe this latter point must become a key argument to be used by the peace movement in demanding an end to the war. It is not sustainable, not winnable and unjustified.