by The Editors
August 17, 2021
There is no end to the catastrophes that capitalism inflicts on workers. Covid, climate change, Haiti, and devastating wars to control resources: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Vietnam, to name a few. After 20 years of US occupation in Afghanistan, the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban has taken power – again. Like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US is leaving Afghnistan without maintaining political or economic control. Altogether about 241,000 people, including 71,000 civilians and over 2400 American soldiers were killed from 2001-2021 and $2 trillion was spent by the US, to no avail.
Now the Taliban are back and, based on prior behavior, will install a sharia state of orthodox Islamic practices, from the relatively benign mandate of beards for men to the horrendous rules forbidding education and employment for women and girls. They punished enemies with beheadings, stonings, rapes, and imprisonment. However, to many Afghans they represent relief from the rampant corruption of the American supported government and military and from US drone attacks that killed and injured thousands indiscriminately. Primarily urban women and girls, who benefited from years of education, employment, and health care, will again be subject to the sharia practices of seclusion, burqas, and constant supervision by male relatives. Many Afghanis anticipate arrest, torture, and death because they have opposed the Taliban ideologically or cooperated with the US or the deposed government.
History of Imperialism in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been divvied up by imperialists since the 19th century, when Russia and Britain fought over the territory. In the 1890s, Britain drew the line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan while Russia conquered territory in the north. A monarchy was installed in 1919 with British support, then a republic in 1973, and in 1978 Babrak Karmal of the Afghan Communist Party assumed power.
It is at this point that President Carter began covert CIA operations to initiate the Islamic fundamentalist Mujahideen movement. . This project caused the USSR to invade in support of the Afghan government in 1979, after which the CIA recruited aid and Islamist volunteers, including Osama bin Laden, from three-dozen Muslim countries. Reagan escalated funding to $2-3 billion in arms, training and bases. In 1989 the Soviets withdrew, and three years later the leftist government fell. The country devolved into chaos while Pakistan, with US and Saudi support, promoted the Taliban whom they had been training in their fundamentalist schools. The Taliban swept in in 1994 and fought the Mujahideen and warlords until their victory in 1996.
The West’s interest grew in 1997 when gas reserves were discovered in Turkmenistan that could be most efficiently delivered through pipelines in Afghanistan to India without going through Russia, the TAPI pipeline. The Caspian Sea also had oil reserves that could flow along this route. Unocal, the gas company, tried to make a deal with the Taliban, even wining and dining them in Texas, to no avail. The Gulf states also agreed to invest oil revenues in US dollars, consolidating the domination of the dollar. After the US entry into Afghanistan, reserves of heavy metals and rare earth elements were also discovered.
Thinking that the US dependence on foreign oil would grow and wanting to maintain US supremacy in the oil producing region, three US ruling class reports written during the 1990s –Changing Our Ways, Project for a New Century, and National Security in the 21st Century (also know as Hart Rudman)- declared the need to use force to control the Persian Gulf. Hart Rudman also predicted terrorism that would help to mobilize Americans to support military ventures.
Meanwhile, bin Laden’s Al Qaeda was still operating in Afghanistan, and attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and then the World Trade Center in 2001. At that point, the UN as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia cut relations with Afghanistan, causing a humanitarian crisis. As predicted, the US had its excuse to launch its attack. Soon after invading Afghanistan, the US contrived the myth of weapons of mass destruction to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, a long held goal. Iraq actually had the world’s 5th largest oil reserves, not much less than Iran, an enemy since the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. Iraq was also threatening to stop dealing in dollars, another danger to US control.
What Happened to US interests?
After the end of an eight-year war in Iraq in 2011, although the US still has 2500 troops there, that nation’s oil is not controlled by US companies and Russia and China play increasing roles. In Afghanistan the TAPI pipeline never got built – construction on the Afghan portion only began in 2020.
Meanwhile, the US has itself become independent of foreign oil since the development of domestic fracking and has even become an exporter. However, the supply of shale gas will not last forever – 80 years is the longest estimate – and the US still wishes to control who prospers in the world by controlling the energy supply to Europe and Japan and limiting Russian production and exports. India and China get half their imports from the Gulf and other allies such as Australia, South Korea and the Philippines are even more dependent on this source. Part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is designed to insure that ever more of Gulf gas and oil flow to them and they have growing resources to pay for it.
In the big picture though, the main competition and danger the US sees in the world today is the massive expansion of China, now producing as many goods as the US and expanding its military and political reach globally. Thus the pivot to Asia policy of the US military establishment. Both in monetary and human resources, the US cannot conquer, occupy and intimidate the entire world. And since 1970, military conquests have not been successful in dominating even small countries. Moreover, the inescapable dangers of climate change will actually force a shift away from petroleum, unless the end of the world is truly to be allowed. Not a far fetched possibility under capitalism.
Lessons to Learn
Both Republican and Democratic presidents have sent troops to Afghanistan, as well as all the other theaters of war in the Gulf – and the world. While Biden absolves himself of any responsibility for the disastrous war and evacuation and points out that he opposed Obama’s troop surge, he promoted Obama’s “counterterrorism plus,” which bolstered Special Forces operations and drone strikes. He strongly supported the war in Iraq and long refused to give up the disproven weapons of mass destruction lie. All political parties and US politicians swear allegiance to imperialism, promoting US “interests, ” although their strategies may differ in degrees of aggression and involvement.
Workers cannot rely on imperialists to fight for their rights and security or for goodness and justice. The US may justify its invasions to protect the world from terrorism and support human rights, but that is never the real objective. When human rights are massively abused, as in Rwanda or Gaza, but no “interests” are at stake, the US is nowhere to be found. The abandonment of Afghan civilians exposes US lies, leaving journalists, allies, activists, and women terrified about being rounded up and disappeared, a tradition practiced under earlier Taliban rule.
There is no alternative to organizing a revolutionary party to unite all the different Afghan ethnic groups, fight the racist caste hierarchy, and establish an egalitarian government, a goal that is very far away. But it is part of the bigger goal of uniting workers around the world on the basis of class as opposed to nationality, ethnicity or religion, to fight capitalism and imperialism.
Center for Economic and Social Rights, Afghanistan Fact Sheet #2: A Brief History Focusing on 1979-2001