From A World to Win News Service

Afghanistan's Warlords and the West: A Marriage Made in Hell

Revolutionary Worker #1219, November 16, 2003, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

October 13, 2003. A World to Win News Service.The U.S. and other Western powers sent huge amounts of military aid to defeat the Soviet Union during the USSR's decade-long invasion of Afghanistan starting in 1979. These arms and other CIA support and tons of money went to backward, feudalistic warlords like Massoud (an ethnic Tajik, the powerful commander of fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami, who eventually became defense minister in 1992 after the collapse of the pro-Soviet government), Rabani (who became president of the Islamic state before the Taliban), and Hekmatyar, a Pashtun who was to become prime minister of that Islamic government.

When civil war broke out [in the late 1980s and early 1990s], the West didn't walk away but continued to support both sides in a destructive war between these reactionaries (Massoud and Rabani on one side and Hekmatyar on the other). The West didn't passively witness the destruction of Afghanistan; it actively fuelled it.

Then, when it came time to "reconstruct" the country--after U.S. bombs finished off its destruction--the U.S. convened its allies to a conference in Tokyo in 2002 that pledged $5.8 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the next five years. More recently the U.S. promised another $1.2 billion and urged its allies to put up a billion dollars more. This isn't very much money by international standards. The U.S. alone is spending almost a billion dollars a month (900 million) for its own occupation expenses in Afghanistan. But any ordinary person who sympathizes with Afghanistan's people and who might think that the answer is to send more "aid" should consider how this money is spent.

Not much of it goes to rebuilding the country. As the British Observer pointed out May 25, "So far donor countries have committed just $300 million to road-building in all Afghanistan, by coincidence exactly the same amount of money as is being spent on reconstructing the U.S. embassy in Kabul.... The contractor is Bechtel, the U.S. construction giant." One of the two main Bush-friendly megacoporations getting very much richer in Iraq at the moment, Bechtel, charges almost $400,000 per kilometer of road constructed.

As for the rest of these funds, the U.S. and the West are sending supplies and cash both directly and through non-governmental agencies. Much of it is in the form of military aid for the central government or the particular warlords supported by the particular donor government. It also includes so-called civilian aid, in the form of food or money to subsidize food imports from the West (another bonanza for American and other giant corporations). But it doesn't matter much if this "aid" ends up in corrupt private hands or not, because the government itself is a corrupt, warlord regime.

Afghanistan's economy is basically powered by two things: opium and money sent home by Afghans in exile. At four million out of a population of 24 million, Afghanistan has one of the highest percentages of people forced to live abroad of any country in the world. The main reason why Afghanistan's economy has been strangled is very simple: the warlords and the feudal system they enforce.

Some warlords started out as local feudal rulers or with the support of such people. Others have used their guns to become feudal rulers or big landowners over time. They represent a reactionary class who exploit and oppress the masses in the most evil way. About 75 percent of the people of Afghanistan live in the countryside, and most of them are under the domination and control of these warlords. Almost half of the cultivatable lands belong to the feudal and big landlords, and the other half is divided among the peasant farmers. That means that the vast majority of peasants are either landless or are forced to make do with very small plots of land.

The farmers who work on the feudal lands have to pay between 65 and 85% of the crops to the feudal as rent. This could be even higher in the case of poppy growing.

The warlords and their armies enforce this exploitation--in most cases the warlords are the direct exploiters themselves. They grab the lands of the people who left the country and in some cases force the people to sell or even just abandon their land. Sometimes they collect taxes. They use the Islamic tax known as khoms to grab 20 percent or more of the crops. In a report from Shol Garah valley in Afghanistan, the New York Times wrote September 24, "The fighting in this fertile bowl flared as the harvest neared, and that was not a coincidence. From bountiful crops of cotton, corn and wheat would come a cut for local commanders. The more land the commanders controlled, the more crop they could claim... Throughout early summer, men toting weapons roamed in pickup trucks. Gunshots echoed. Farmers watched helplessly, wanting nothing more than to be free of the men..."

Many of the main people in the current government and its closest allies are warlords who have been trying to take the opportunity to become comprador bourgeois by importing foreign products and direct or indirect involvement in exporting opium and other goods for the world market. (Compradors, also called bureaucrat capitalists, are the capitalists of an oppressed country who often base their power on feudalism and act as local business and political agents for foreign capital.) Some of them started during the war of resistance against the USSR. For example, emeralds are abundant in Badakhshan. Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah estimated that Massoud's troops collected as much as $5 million from emerald trade alone during the years of the war of resistance. Now these people are the ones who benefit most from Western aid and use their position to involve themselves with foreign capital.

Karzai, the U.S.-made "president" of Afghanistan, is often portrayed as a man opposed to the warlords and trying to bring them under control. Of course there are real conflicts of interest and struggles among all these thieves and flunkies for the big powers, sometimes reflecting the conflicting interests and rivalry between the big powers themselves. But Karzai's government is a warlord government itself.

Recently the UN Special Envoy on the Right to Adequate Housing issued a statement saying that Karzai's Defense Minister and Vice President (both Northern Alliance leaders and political descendents of the deceased Massoud) should be removed because of their involvement in land grabs in the capital. This is an especially sore point in Kabul, where thousands of residents lost their homes during the wars and take shelter in very cold improvised housing. Many people languishing in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran feel they cannot return to their country because they would have no place to live.

The Kabul police have been evicting families from homes in the Wazir Akhar Khan neighborhood where they have lived for decades. Bulldozers have flattened the homes of a dozen families, who resisted police eviction and are still living on the rubble. Another 250 homes are scheduled for demolition to clear sites for new houses for the very rich. Nearby, homes are being rented to Western officials and their local lackeys at prices comparable to posh districts in the West (Western "aid" at work, once again).

Shortly after, however, the head of the UN in Afghanistan disavowed this special envoy's statement. It seems that Karzai and his cabinet approved the evictions, so the police use of what the envoy denounced as "excessive force" against families was perfectly legal.

The Communist Party of Afghanistan (a participant in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement) analyzes Afghanistan as "a semi-feudal and colonial country." It is semi-feudal because it has a feudal economic and social system that has been influenced by capitalist relations. It is colonial because not only is the country under the political and economic domination of imperialism (like many countries considered semi-colonial), it is also directly occupied by imperialist forces.

The backwardness and oppression which makes Afghanistan a hell for so many of its people is reinforced and defended by the rulers of the world's most "advanced" countries. The best thing the imperialist West could do for Afghanistan would be to leave it alone. But the U.S. and the rest of them have shown that they will never do that until they are forcibly kicked out by the people's struggle.