intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.12,000 additional US troops are to be deployed to Afghanistan by midsummer 2009.
Mr. Obama is preparing to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan over the next two years, perhaps to more than 60,000 from about 34,000 now.
While the article focuses on the current administration's problems with Afghan President Karzai, the impact of the US policy on the Afghan people is the issue at hand. As the NYT article says, the Afghans are experiencing
a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.The drug trade can be traced to the lack of other forms of work in a country where 53% of the population lives below the poverty line, inflation is at 30%, and 80% of the labor force is involved in agriculture. (From Wikipedia, "Economy of Afghanistan".) This economy is the result of US policy in how the development of the Afghan economy was handled after the US invasion, and in the lack of economic development prior to the invasion.
The rise of the Taliban is a definite result of the US policy towards this country. Following US policy, the US worked to undermine the secular, progressive communist government that governed this country and strengthened the most distorted, fundamentalist, and retrograde sectors of the society, to the benefit of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
As detailed in the article "How the CIA Created Osama bin Laden" (GreenLeft.Org, 19 September 2001),
“Throughout the world ... its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive — on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man — in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... [They are] freedom fighters.”The GreenLeft.org article continues,
Is this a call to jihad (holy war) taken from one of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden's notorious fatwas? Or perhaps a communique issued by the repressive Taliban regime in Kabul?
In fact, this glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today's supporters of arch-terrorist bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war against the “evil empire”, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8, 1985. The “evil empire” was the Soviet Union, as well as Third World movements fighting US-backed colonialism, apartheid and dictatorship.
In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in reaction to a crackdown against the party by that country's repressive government.Thus the Afghan people were treated as pawns in a cynical US cold war chess game resulting in millions losing their lives; a decades long policy that undermined the Afghan economy and central government, violated the right of the Afghan peoples to self-determination, and rained death and destruction on an impoverished people struggling to survive.
The PDPA was committed to a radical land reform that favoured the peasants, trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported strengthening Afghanistan's relationship with the Soviet Union.
Such policies enraged the wealthy semi-feudal landlords, the Muslim religious establishment (many mullahs were also big landlords) and the tribal chiefs. They immediately began organising resistance to the government's progressive policies, under the guise of defending Islam.
Washington, fearing the spread of Soviet influence (and worse the new government's radical example) to its allies in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf states, immediately offered support to the Afghan mujaheddin, as the “contra” force was known.
Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the mujaheddin factions. Other Western governments, as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia, kicked in as much again. Wealthy Arab fanatics, like Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.
Washington's policy in Afghanistan was shaped by US President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was continued by his successors. His plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw; rather it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to destabilise the Soviet Union.
The Obama administration appears to be acknowledging that the post-US invasion central government created by President Bush and lead by President Karzai does not extend beyond sections of the capital city. The
Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.
Evidently the Obama policy goals are very limited, focusing on achieving little more than policing:
“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on Tuesday. He said there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there as “our greatest military challenge.”The administration is focusing on pressing for anti-corruption initiatives. This runs the risk of appearing to abandon central government in that country.
“If it looks like we’re abandoning the central government and focusing just on the local areas, we will run afoul of Afghan politics,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy.”
Mr. Gates said
“My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective.”Thus the Obama administration continues one of the policy mistakes of the Bush administration, seeing Afghanistan and that region through the lens of a "war on terror". This policy ignores the needs of the people in the region, and ignores the long history of US intervention that is the underlying cause of the rise of retrograde and reactionary trends in the political society of the region.
There does not appear to be a concensus in the US peace movement on Afghanistan, in part because of the belief that it served as the home base for Al Qaeda when the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center took place.
This view ignores the US role in creating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in undermining civil society, and in fostering thirty years of war in the country and in the region with no regard for the needs and goals of the people living there.
The peace movement is involved in a discussion on the question of Afghanistan, reflected in the United for Peace and Justice Organizing Discussion on the question.
However, there is an active policy now in the Obama administration which demands protest. The US does not help countries that it invades and polices; it uses those countries for its own purposes. War does not destroy Al Qaeda and similar organizations, it acts as a recruiting tool. It is natural for a person to look at the cynical policies that the US and its allies have followed in the region and to see corruption and inhumanity whereever the US has extended its hand because that in fact is the reality of US policy.
The first important step in developing a clear position from the antiwar movement on Afghanistan is to generate more discussion about the situation there and how the peace movement can play a role in promoting peaceful solutions to the problems. We suggest several resources and critical questions for discussion which will help you in this process.
1. Organize discussions within our own group.
2. Raise questions with candidates.
3. Follow how your media is covering (or not) this issue and offer them resources to improve their reporting.
4. When your group feels it understands the issues well enough, organize a community forum.
Whatever our views on the U.S. military in Afghanistan, an escalation will mean more casualties, more hatred and more money wasted on war rather than rebuilding communities there and here. As the U.S. war machine tries to distract from its failures by shifting focus from the occupation of Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, we must adapt our strategy. It’s time to speak out now!
The peace movement can consider
- an end to the US war against the people of Afghanistan
- respect for the right of the Afghan people to self-determination
- withdrawal of all troops with no bases left behind
- no-strings attached help for rebuilding Afghanistan
In the periods of anti-colonial struggle the nationalist and Marxist ideologies that imbued those movements with such humanity and power were augmented by the existence of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and what ideologies and organizational forms people find available are those that the US created in its cynical and short-sighted battle against communism on behalf of exploiters and their allies.
It is no surprise that the anti-imperialist sentiment finds expression through these retrograde forms when those are what is available.
The US peace movement has a special task of looking beyond anger and fear to the struggles of the people against whom the US wages war, and building people-to-people, movement-to-movement bridges based on peace and mutual respect to overcome the wars, destruction, and the deaths. We can stand against US imperialism and cynical US policies that forget the people living in the countries it destroys.
We can say No War Against Afghanistan for the sake of our own youth and, just as much, for the sake of the struggling Afghan people.