Afghanistan – Insurgency, poverty and corruption

Taliban insurgency, poverty and corruption Afghanistan. Western strategy in tatters By Niall Mullholland Another grisly milestone has been reached in Afghanistan: over 300 British soldiers have now died, since the war began in 2001. The average age of those killed is 22. No such records are kept of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. It is estimated that thousands of Afghan civilians have been directly killed due to military action, including use of air strikes by the US forces. As well as this, possibly tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died indirectly from the war, as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment and violent crime. The fact that the British forces’ death rate this year is twice that of 2006 shows the UK and US’s war plans are going awry in this unwinnable and unjustified war. This strategic failure lies behind David Cameron’s comment at the recent G20 summit that British forces “can’t be there for another five years.”

US-led forces occupied Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, supposedly to end al-Qa’ida terror but in reality to further the geo-strategic interests of western imperialism. The puppet, corrupt Karzai regime, propped up by 100,000 western troops, presides over mass joblessness and poverty which fuels the Taliban opposition.

President Obama’s dramatic sacking of the US and Nato commander in Kabul, General Stanley McChrystal, brings into the open the US’s military crisis in Afghanistan. The Rolling Stone magazine article that prompted Mc-Chrystal’s dismissal indicated the serious divisions within the military and political establishment.

It is becoming clear that McChrystal’s much vaunted ‘counter-insurgency’ strategy is failing. The Afghan conflict is now America’s longest war – increasingly called ‘Obama’s War’ – and has no end in sight. This is not lost on the troops on the ground. A soldier quoted in Rolling Stone comments to McChrystal: “Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we’re losing, sir.”

“Scaling back”
Already the ‘international mission’ in Afghanistan has fallen back from “defeating” to “degrading” the Taliban. US and British strategists now talk of “scaling back objectives” and of trying to make deals with the reactionary Taliban.

This could see de-facto Taliban control over many of the southern provinces, with former Mujahideen leaders controlling the north. Or a Yemen-style ‘solution’, where a western backed government holds only part of the country. So much for the occupiers’ stated aims of bringing peace, security and women’s and children’s rights to Afghanistan!

While the British coalition government carries out draconian austerity attacks on working people, billions are wasted on this war. Since 2001, over £12 billion has been spent, which could have built new hospitals and schools and funded grants for students.

Due to growing domestic opposition to the war in the US and Britain, Obama said July 2011 would see the start of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. But he has also said that US forces could remain in “significant numbers” – following the pattern in Iraq.

‘Wars without end’ are the only guarantees under the rule of imperialism and crisis-ridden capitalism. Working people and youth in Britain, the US, Afghanistan and internationally can only rely on their own forces and solidarity to successfully oppose wars and imperialism and to fundamentally change society.

Our demands:

– Troops out of Afghanistan now. Let the Afghan people decide their own future.
– No support for the corrupt, undemocratic Karzai regime.
– For genuine democratic rights; stop the attacks on women’s rights.
– For the building of independent and democratic organisations of the workers and poor.
– For a massive reconstruction programme in Afghanistan, under the democratic control of the masses; for public ownership of the key industries and resources, including the nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits.
– For the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government on a democratic socialist programme, as part of a socialist federation of the region.
– Build a mass movement against the war! Stop Cameron’s cuts! Spend money on jobs and public services, not on war and weapons!
– For a socialist world, free from terror, exploitation and war.

Brown’s Afghan crisis deepens

By Dave Carr, Socialist Party England & Wales, 3 Feb 2010

With the body count of UK troops at over 250 and with a general election looming, Gordon Brown is desperate for an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

A recent conference of ministers and delegates from 70 countries and organisations that was hosted by Brown in London, agreed to “building up the Afghan institutions, the army, the police, civilian government”, and continuing to buy the loyalty of former Taliban fighters with a increased pot of $500 million.

However, one former Taliban commander, Mullah Mohammad, bitterly complained: “They [the peace and reconciliation commission] told us they’ll protect us, and that we would have the chance to have jobs. Now we have nothing.”

This reconciliation ‘strategy’ is on top of the additional 30,000 US troops pledged by US president Barack Obama to join the more than 100,000 Nato and foreign troops already fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Exactly how the Afghan institutions – riddled with corruption and dominated by violent warlords – are to be ‘built up’ so that they enjoy the support of the Afghan people, remains unclear. To start with, if Gordon Brown et al want to see ‘clean government’ in Afghanistan then why are they entertaining Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose re-election last year was widely condemned as fraudulent?

The reason why many Afghans are bitter and disillusioned after eight years of occupation by the western powers and being ruled over by a pro-western regime is that their plight has got worse.

Mass unemployment, widespread poverty, growing inequality, bloodshed, insecurity, and a lack of democratic rights combined with government corruption, have undermined any legitimacy that Brown and Obama are so desperate to see in Afghanistan and instead, have boosted support for the right-wing Islamist Taliban.

According to Actionaid, 40% of the country’s 25 million population are unemployed and a third of Afghans live on under a dollar a day – while suffering a 27% inflation rate. Five out of six people in rural areas have no electricity. And many Afghans remain as displaced internal refugees without work, land, schools and access to clean water. Religious extremism and feudalism has enforced women into semi-slavery despite an equal rights constitution.

Although official figures are not collected, an estimated 30,000 Afghans have been killed, thousands more maimed and injured, with 3.7 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Now the head of British forces in Afghanistan gloomily talks of another 40 years of occupation before there will be ‘stability’.

To bring an end to the continued cycle of war and poverty a political alternative is needed. All foreign troops must be immediately withdrawn and the Afghan people must be allowed to determine their own future.

Central to this is the need to support Afghan workers and poor peasants in forming their own independent political voice. Such a force could raise the demand for the creation of jobs and investment in education and health services.

Public ownership of the country’s raw materials and key industries could be used to invest in developing the economy and turning it away from opium production.

United by their common interests, workers and peasants across Afghanistan could create multi-ethnic defence forces to oppose the sectarian forces such as the Taliban and establish full democratic rights.

A socialist movement could transform the lives of ordinary Afghan people. Promoting international solidarity and linking up with trade union organised workers and socialists in the region, it could help threaten the corrupt and reactionary regimes throughout the middle-east and Asia and begin to lay the basis for a democratic socialist government of Afghanistan as part of a socialist confederation of the region.


End the war in Afghanistan
Bring the troops home now

By Ken Douglas Socialist Party England & Wales, 9 December 2009

This was supposed to be a war for democracy but the recent elections revealed widespread fraud, mainly on behalf of the incumbent Mohammed Karzai. Despite the fact that there was supposed to be a re-run, Karzai was sworn in anyway when his opponent Abdullah Abdullah pulled out.

This was supposedly a war to liberate women from the oppressive yoke of the Taliban but after eight years 87% of Afghan women are illiterate and only 30% of girls have access to education. A recent law passed by the Afghan parliament gave husbands the right to withhold food from their wives.

US president Barack Obama and Gordon Brown’s solution is to send more troops. Their only concern is that withdrawal without a clear victory over the Taliban would be damaging to their prestige. In reality, US and British imperialism have no solution to the quagmire that their policies have created in Afghanistan.

The occupation of Afghanistan has lasted eight years; it has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Now the US, British and other governments are preparing to send even more troops to their deaths. However, it has become clear that not only have they achieved none of their aims but the situation in the region is worsening.

The war has already cost the lives of over 230 British soldiers, 100 this year alone. There are over 1,000 casualties, including many with life-changing injuries resulting in double and triple amputations.

The US has spent over $200 billion, with the final cost estimated to be over half a trillion dollars; in Britain the cost has passed £12 billion – enough to build 23 hospitals and employ 23,000 nurses or 60,000 teachers.

Bush and Blair declared that the purpose of this war was to drive out the Taliban and reconstruct Afghanistan. But after eight years what has been achieved?

An estimated 97% of the country now has substantial Taliban activity and the conflict is spreading into neighbouring Pakistan. For ordinary Afghans, their country is a more dangerous place to live – the number of civilian deaths is at its highest since 2001.

According to the UN’s human development index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and income, Afghanistan comes 181 out of 182 countries. 42% of the population lives on less than one dollar per day.

However, opposition to the occupation is growing not only in Afghanistan but also in the main countries that have troops there. Millions of people have demonstrated against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 but so far have been unable to reverse the policies of Blair’s and Brown’s governments, despite a majority opposing the occupation at this time.

We urgently need to build a mass movement to force Brown to bring the troops back. But we also need to build a political alternative that can give a voice to all those opposed to the big business agenda of the main capitalist parties and their policies that lead to war, poverty and misery.

The solution lies with ordinary working-class people, in Britain, Afghanistan and worldwide. Only an independent, democratic, mass movement of ordinary Afghans could begin to sweep away the corrupt gangster politicians and warlords, establish genuine democratic rights and rebuild their country.

Hand in hand with ordinary working-class people in the countries whose governments back these imperialist policies, these movements have to be linked to a struggle for socialism. Linked to a fight for a society where the world’s resources are under the democratic control of the working class and poor and used for the benefit of the billions and not the billionaires and their corrupt politicians.


Afghanistan Will this be Obama’s Vietnam?

By Peter Hadden, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), August 2009

US and British military chiefs have been quick to label their July offensive against the Taliban in south east Afghanistan a “success”. In reality the main achievement of the British “Operation Panther’s Claw” and the US “Operation Thrust of the Sword” has been to refocus the attention of an increasingly sceptical public at home on the military quagmire and political impasse that is present day Afghanistan.

True, the Taliban have, for now, been pushed out of some parts of their Helmand stronghold. In the main this has been because they have switched tack, retreating from direct confrontation with the superior firepower ranged against them, to concentrate on guerrilla attacks such as deadly roadside bombs. In the words of one commentator, the offensive might more accurately be described as “Operation thrust sword into the air”.

The cost of the offensive to the US, British and other occupying forces has been the highest monthly casualty figures since the 2001 invasion. 75 US and NATO troops were killed in July. August has continued in the same vein with six more US soldiers killed in the first two days.

The scale of the current fighting is clear evidence of just how little has been achieved in eight years of occupation and this despite the more than $170 billion spent by the US and the £12 billion spent by Britain on this unwinnable war – and despite the almost 750 US and nearly 200 British troops that have died.

For the people of Afghanistan the cost, inevitably, has been much higher. As in Iraq, none of the occupying forces bother to keep an accurate count of the Afghan combatants and civilians who have lost their lives. The Independent on Sunday recently estimated that 30,000 have been killed. The true figure is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile 3.7 million Afghans have fled into exile, mostly to Pakistan and Iran.
A failed strategy

The new offensive and the change in tactics now being attempted by the Obama administration is an admission that the strategy pursued up to now has failed. A Centre for Stategic and International Studies (CSIS) report published in July warns that Afghanistan could become “Obama’s Vietnam” and concludes that: “the situation has deteriorated into a crisis where the Taliban and other jihadist movements are now winning.”

To date the strategy of the occupying powers has been to try to smash the Taliban and enforce the rule of the puppet Karzai government by military means. This strategy has backfired completely. The US has relied overwhelmingly on air strikes, mortar fire and night raids to try to push the Taliban back and extend the authority of Kabul. They have also attempted an eradication programme to destroy the poppy production that accounts for 60% of the Afghan economy and provides much of the Taliban’s income.

During the campaigns of the last two summers US bombers were dropping 22 tons of ordnance on Helmand every month. With this Cambodian-style assault it is little wonder that an estimated two-thirds of those killed by the pro-government forces have died as a result of air strikes.

Unremitting poverty
Meanwhile daily life for the vast majority of the population is little or no better than under the Taliban. Eight years on from the invasion and 77% of people have no access to clean water. Five out of six people living in rural areas are not connected to the electricity grid. For those who are, including those in Kabul, power is only available at fluctuating voltages for a few hours per day. Female literacy – at 18% – has barely improved on what it was under the reactionary rule of the Taliban. With 42% of the population forced to survive on less that $1 dollar per day, life for most Aghans is one of unremitting poverty.

When they first came to power, the Taliban were made up in the main of fighters trained by the Pakistan military with recruits drawn from the exile population. Having grown up in the refugee camps in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and other parts of Pakistan, they had few social roots and very little base in Afghan society.

The methods used by the occupying powers – together with the total failure of the corrupt Karzai government to improve the life of the people – have only served to broaden the base of the insurgency, with local tribes and disaffected young Afghans prepared to join the fight.

By the time Obama took office – and with Afghan presidential elections due to be held on 20 August – the Taliban were at the gates of Kabul with much of the Pashtun areas to the east and south under their effective control. The writ of the government did not run much further than the capital. Most of the territory nominally under its control was actually run by Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and other warlords, who pay lip service to Kabul while continuing to rule and enrich themselves in their own areas.

Opium stockpiles
As for the opium eradication, the reality is that Afghanistan – Helmand in particular – has since 2005 been producing twice the world’s supply, much of it now stockpiled by the Taliban to keep up the price and ensure that the $3 billion or so annual income from this crop is maintained.

Obama has responded with a change in top military personnel and a change in tactics.

There is to be less reliance on air power and more on troops on the ground. The military objective is to take areas and then try to hold them and build support among the local population. Troop levels are to be increased to 100,000. But more troops on the ground and less air strikes to obliterate opposition inevitably mean more casualities. As more soldiers come home in body bags, and as opposition to this futile conflict mounts, the danger is that the war will not be lost in Helmand but on the streets of US and British cities.

The US and British governments have been forced to recognise that there can be no purely military victory. Their aim is to deal a stunning blow to the Taliban while working out some political arrangement that would “put an Afghan face on the way forward”. Thus they hope that – somewhere way down the line – an exit strategy will eventually take shape.

This may look well in the Pentagon’s war games rooms, but implementing it in Afghanistan is a different matter. The only “Afghan face” available at the moment is the Karzai government, and the chances that it ever could be made credible to the majority of Afghans are slender indeed. Although he was on only 15% in an early private opinion poll it is likely that Karzai will win the presidential election – but only because of the complete lack of any alternative candidate.

Hopes that a new Karzai government may be less corrupt and less inept than the present one have been dealt a blow by his decision to appoint notorious warlord, Mohammad Fahim, as his running mate.

The CSIS report advocates that, for the Kabul government to maintain control, it would need a 240,000-strong army plus 160,000 police. To date the efforts of the Coalition to build the strength of the police and army to 134,000 over three years have failed. The Kabul government is a fiction, with real power in the hands of the warlords, and the country, in reality, divided along national and tribal lines. The idea that this government can somehow acquire the authority to command a force of 400,000 seems little more than wishful thinking.

As Max Hastings, writing in the Financial Times, puts it: “If the west loses it will be for the same reason the US lost in Vietnam: ‘our’ Afghans may prove no more viable than were ‘our’ Vietnamese”.

George Bush’s “surge” in Iraq was, as much as anything else, a surge of money handed over to former enemies. In the Anbar area the US paid 100,000 Sunni insurgents $300 per head per month to recruit them as a peacekeeping force.  Now there are reports that the Obama administration, in its attempt to split the Taliban, is considering a payment of $150 per month to up to 250,000 current fighters if they switch sides.

The Anbar initiative worked for a period in Iraq, but at the cost of possible future clashes between Sunni forces and the Shia-dominated government forces. In Afghanistan things are much less likely to go according to plan. The Pakistan government has set a precedent with a series of deals with Taliban and other Islamic militants. All have come to grief – the collapse of the deal struck with the Taliban in the Swat valley area in February is only the most recent example.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the US administration – the situation in Pakistan. Imperialist intervention in this region over several decades – going back to the support given via the Pakistan military to the mujahideen groups who fought the Russians – has regionalised this conflict.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a line drawn by an Englishman, Sir Mortimer Durand, in 1893 to mark the limits of Britain’s military advance, not the recognition of any differences between the people of the area. Now the Pashtun areas on both sides of this line are in revolt. The Pakistan military, under US pressure, are conducting a brutal offensive against Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic groups, that, up until very recently, they had been arming and training.

The recent offensive in the Swat valley involved 40,000 troops and resulted in the displacement of two million people. These methods, if they are pursued in other Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas, threaten to create a second Afghanistan within Pakistan. Obama, while concentrating on his limited “surge” in Helmand, can find himself faced with a much wider insurgency that could pose the break up, not just of Afghanistan, but also of Pakistan.

This deepening quagmire is the legacy of decades of imperialist intervention in the region. It is the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who are now paying the price. At present they have only the choice of military oppression by government or foreign troops, or domination by warlords or reactionary religious zealots.

An alternative is needed. All foreign troops should be immediately withdrawn from the region. It is the people of the area who must find a way out. The working class, especially the working class of Pakistan, have the key role in fighting for a socialist alternative that would unite all the oppressed across tribal, national and religious barriers.

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