Afghanistan: Obama’s Vietnam?
International secretariat of the IWL-FI
The new Obama administration, elected for its “democratic and popular” rhetoric, has turned the Afghanistan war into its top priority. Beginning during his electoral campaign, Obama has been defending the idea that Afghanistan is the site of the “main battle against terrorism” and that there, unlike in Iraq, American troops have the possibility of victory.
After taking office, Obama intensified the war effort by sending an additional 30,000 soldiers into Afghanistan. Right now, there are 68,000 American soldiers and 32,000 from the NATO countries (100,000 in all) and yet it looks increasingly like the USA is in a tight spot: the f u r t h e r they go, the harder they find it to get out of there.
A Just War?
Obama uses the same arguments that Bush used: this is a “just war” against “terrorism”. He promised to “destroy, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and their extremist allies”, including the Taliban. Another argument also used to justify the military occupation, which could have also been used by Bush, is the need to prevent a new repressive and reactionary regime of the Taliban. They point out the Taliban’s repression of women, the legal requirement that women wear the “burka”, the exclusion of women from education, etc.
And yet, eight years after the invasion, the facts prove that those arguments are nothing but excuses. Yes, the situation did change, but for the worse. Occupation brought bombings that indiscriminately hit the population and have already killed tens of thousands of civilians. The allegedly “democratic” political regime is based on corruption and electoral fraud, violence and, above all, is reliant on the occupation troops. The degree of backwardness, which produces violence against women, has not changed, and even the widespread use of the “burka” remains. Once these excuses have been shown to be false, what is absolutely clear is that the real motive for the military occupation was the need of the US to control the key country in the region. Afghanistan is key because it is situated between Iran and the republics of Central Asia that used to be part of the USSR and Pakistan. Oil is also a central motive for the war. One of its aims was to allow the construction of an oil duct that would carry the produce of the countries of Central Asia through Afghanistan, directly to the Pakistani ports without depending on the transport through Russia. It is becoming increasingly difficult for imperialism to defend that this is a “just” war. But the worst thing for them lies within the military and political scope.
A Political and Military Situation Getting Worse
Numbers alone reveal a lot. American troops have been occupying Afghanistan for eight years, a period 50% longer than the period of US participation in the two world wars. And yet, after all these years, Taliban (who were thrown out of office during the 2001 invasion) are constantly waging guerrilla warfare in practically the entire country.
According to the British center of research, International Council on Security and Development, (quoted by O Estado do Sao Paulo 09/11/2009), the Taliban is active on 97% of the territory. The center says that the presence of rebel forces is permanent in 80% of this area. This percentage has been increasing rapidly according to the above quoted source: in November 2007 it was 54% and in 2008, 72%. A map traced by the Institute shows that nearly half the country is under Taliban control or in danger of their raids. During the last months, those rebels have increased their attacks on the north of the country, a region so far regarded as “peaceful”. American casualties keep on increasing and so do those of the NATO forces, and they have reached a new peak this year. Occupation troops can only control the region of the capital city, Kabul, but even there they cannot avoid attacks, like the bombing raid that killed 7 people in front of the General Quarters of the NATO.
And yet, the military situation of a war cannot be explained except through the political situation, of which it is “the continuation by other means”. And it is within this scope that imperialism is most in trouble. A comparison with the war in Iraq, where American troops have already withdrawn from the cities and are programming their definite exit by 2011, proves that the outlook in Afghanistan is tremendously dismal for American imperialism. In Iraq, the USA, left the control of the state apparatus to the Shiite bourgeoisie, a majority sector in the country, allied to the Kurds who control the northern region. These sectors agreed to become part of a puppet government, manipulated by USA, which took up the task of reconstructing the army and the police force so that they could repress the resistance. But there the puppet government used the pre-existing state apparatus as its foundation. This state apparatus is relatively modern and was built with the money coming from oil sales.
In Afghanistan, the state apparatus and infrastructure are practically inexistent due to the underdevelopment of the country, as well as geographic difficulties and almost thirty years of permanent war since the invasion of the country by the former USSR. Even the Afghan army, the most important institution in any state, is nothing more than a collection of the odds and ends of the armies of the “lords of the war” who control the different ethnic groups in the country.
In Iraq, the USA could use a part of the immense oil wealth of the country in order to buy the service of the Shiite and Kurdish bourgeoisie. They even went as far as paying $60,000 a day to enable the militias of the Sunnite insurgency to function but ending any attacks on the imperialist troops. There is no oil in Afghanistan. The opium coming from the poppy plantations is their main export product with an estimate of 5,000 million dollars a year. 93% of the raw material for the world production of heroin is produced in that country. Imperialism often uses drugs as a political weapon, so we must be aware of the huge risk this poses. Unlike the sources producing oil, poppy plantations cannot be controlled, especially in the high conflict areas. That is why drug money is the Taliban’s main source of financing. The Helmand province, with strong Taliban presence, produces 70% of Afghan opium.
Furthermore, drug dealing has gained direct access to the apparatus of the puppet State. One of the main dealers in the country is Walid Karzai, Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s brother. From this point of view, the situation is increasingly similar to that of Vietnam of the 1960s: the major dealers of the country, Nguyen Van Thieu and Can KY were president and vice-president respectively of the puppet government of South Viet Nam.
A Very Fragile Puppet Government
In short, the Karzai administration has no state apparatus fit to be called by that name. Above all, it has no real army. The police is sinking in its own incompetence and corruption and the opium and heroin trafficking reach the top levels of the government. That means: it is an extremely fragile government, unfit to control the country or even as much as to subsist without permanent support from American troops.
This became clear in the latest presidential elections held on the 21st of August. The electoral process cost $300,000 and a lot of sweat on behalf of the organizers, but the outcome was more crisis. According to estimates, no more than between 40% and 50% of the 15,600,000 citizens entitled to vote actually voted. The result is far below the previous result (2004) when, according to the organizers, participation reached 70%.
The level of electoral abstention reveals the Afghan government’s fragility, as well as that of its institutions created by imperialism. Let one example suffice: in the city and province of Kandahar, in the south of the country, the sanctuary of the Taliban, abstention reached an incredible 95% out of a million registered electors, according to independent international observers. The voting process was marked by exposures of fraud in favor of president Karzai. Karzai wanted to win in the first round in order to avoid prolonging the electoral campaign by taking it to a second round, on 1st October. The conclusion is clear: these elections were pretty useless for the imperialist purpose of creating the image of a “democratic regime” and of a more stable situation, inspite of the war.
And yet, it is not only the elections but also the very existence of the regime that is a farce. An electoral process, carried out in a militarily occupied country cannot be democratic. The 100,000 American and NATO soldiers are the real power in Afghanistan. The Hamid Karzai administration is nothing but a puppet in the hand of American generals who are the ones who actually run the country. It was occupation soldiers who guaranteed the “security” in the cities and voting sites. The organisms behind the occupation troops paid for all the expenses of the organization of the elections. As if this were not enough, censorship of the press was decreed days before the elections, preventing newspapers, radios and TV stations from spreading information on the Taliban raids in order not to “cause undue alarms among the population.”
The US Government Is Trapped
Imperialism is facing a real dilemma at present: if they remain in the country, they are running the risk of losing more and more men and enormous amounts of money and there does not seem to be any possibility of stabilizing the country. If they pull out, the most likely outcome would be that the Taliban will topple the Karzai government and would return to power in just a few weeks, and that would not be acceptable for anyone in the Obama administration.
But the problems the imperialists face don’t end there. The situation in the region could get worse. The Afghani war has spread to Pakistan, a country of 172 million inhabitants. The Pakistani state has nuclear weapons and its potential destabilization would affect the entire region. The extension of the war to Pakistan happened as the result of geographic, social and political realities. Both countries share 2400 km of border, which, in reality, is the result of British imperialism’s artificial division of the region. This division is artificial because it divides the Pashtun people, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (about 40% of the population of the country), who are also on the other side of the border, in several Pakistani provinces and territories. Furthermore, there are 2,000,000 Afghan refugees concentrated mainly in the outskirts of the city of Peshawar.
The Taliban insurgents cross the porous and poorly guarded borderline and find refuge in the neighbouring country. They have become the dominant force in one of the regions, the Valley of Swat; there they imposed the Sharia Law, with the cooperation of the government. Recently, this government broke the agreement and attacked Taliban and drove them out of the Valley. However, this offensive of the Pakistani army produced over a million Pakistani refugees in their own country.
The war in Afghanistan may destabilise the entire region because the country has a strategic position in between the Middle East, a region that owns the greatest oil reserve in the world, Central Asia, also the site of important reserves, and the Indian subcontinent. Furthermore: the ethnic groups that exist in the country are the same as those in the bordering countries: Pashtuns, 42% with Pakistan; Hazaras, 9%, with Iran; Tadjiks, 27% with Tajikistan; Uzbeks, 9% with Uzbekistan; Turcoman, 3% with Turkmenistan. The remaining 10% of the population is constituted by minor ethnic groups.
Aware of that danger, the Obama administration is trying to get out of the mire by means of a double policy. First, he will try to fortify his military position: he has already sent another 30,000 soldiers. He sent 4,000 of them to the province of Helmand, one of the highest conflict regions in Afghanistan, in order to fight against the insurgents present there. But his real aim is to find a way out of the war by negotiating with the Taliban. Here, the military offensive is subordinate to the latter aspect of his policy. This means that the real aim of military reinforcement is to gain a more advantageous position at negotiations. Obama knows that simply sending more troops cannot change the course of this war, except if the numbers of troops are so large that they would not be accepted by American public opinion. According to a former CIA agent, it would take a million soldiers to defeat the Taliban and stabilize the country. Even conservative sectors, such as the known reactionary columnist of the Washington Post, George Will (author of the article “You Must Know When To Stop”) have started expressing negative opinions about the continuation of the American intervention in Afghanistan.
Obama has to deal with not only the problems Bush’s policy of military intervention created but also those created by past imperialist initiatives, for example, the fact that US imperialism is responsible for the creation of the Taliban through ISI, the security service of Pakistan. Later on, this movement, which was supposed to be easily controlled, turned against imperialism.
One of the ironies of this war is that the reactionary Taliban (oppressor of women, of workers and of the population in general) is at present up in arms against imperialism. This contradiction is not a coincidence: the systematic policy of recolonization of peripheral countries and the brutal attack launched by Bush ended up transforming a force that had been created by imperialism into one that would challenge it.
Due to all these elements, Obama’s strategy is not military victory, something that is clearly impossible. His real aim is clear in the statements made by his special envoy for the region, “It is possible to negotiate with the Taliban in order to reach some kind of agreement to stabilize the country”.
The Defeat of Imperialism Will Be a Triumph of the Exploited
The fate of the war in Afghanistan is in the interest of all the workers and exploited people in the world. A defeat of American imperialism would be a tremendous blow against the oppressor. We must fight so that this war can end as the “Vietnam of Barack Obama”. That is why the IWL calls on all the popular and democratic organizations in the world to expose the military occupation of Afghanistan and to demand the withdrawal of American troops. We call, especially, on the workers in the imperialist countries, who have occupation forces in Afghanistan, such as the United States, England, Germany and Spain, to mobilize to demand from their governments the immediate withdrawal of their soldiers. We are not neutral in this war that is being fought in Afghanistan . We are on the side of the oppressed against the imperialist invasion and occupation. The Afghan people are struggling to drive imperialist occupation forces out of the country and to achieve a real national independence. For this reason, the IWL supports the military actions of the resistance, without giving any kind of political support to the Taliban. The guerrilla warfare confronting imperialism, even if it is under the leadership of a reactionary bourgeois organization, is one of the fundamental reasons for the casualties and exhaustion of the occupation forces, for Obama’s decreasing popularity, and for the crisis in the occupation forces. This military struggle of the resistance, together with the demonstration and pressure from public opinion, above all in imperialist countries, is what can defeat imperialism.