USA: Oppressors, Not Liberators in Afghanistan

Revolutionary Worker #1128, November 25, 2001, posted at

It seemed like the blinking of an eye. Suddenly, almost overnight, the fundamentalist Taliban left the major cities of Afghanistan. As we go to press, reports claim that the Taliban are even about to abandon their southern stronghold, Kandahar. In the northern city of Kunduz, thousands of Taliban forces were encircled and held out. But most places changed hands with little combat. The Taliban forces simply pulled out—moving south and east into the ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, dispersing into the country’s mountains and isolated villages. Significant Taliban forces have reportedly crossed over into Pakistan, into the Pashtun areas there, where their movement originally arose.

The hated Taliban was gone. For five years, their fundamentalist police had beaten women on the streets for showing their face in public. Women and girls were literally imprisoned in their homes—forbidden to work, or be educated, or participate in any social life outside their family. They were forced to cover their bodies and faces in the burkha—seeing the world only through a narrow strip of gauzy veil. Backward codes from religious texts had been enforced as law, including strict censorship of music and culture. People accused of sex outside marriage were publicly stoned to death. People charged with theft, including hundreds of children, had their hands cut off. Revolutionary and communist activists faced execution if they were caught by Taliban police.

Now, suddenly, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue was abandoned in Kabul. The brutal religious police disappeared from the streets.

In Kabul, political prisoners rose up in the enormous Pulechakri jail, and all 4,000 inmates made it out. According to Iranian radio, crowds of people in the western city of Herat stormed the local prison, on Monday, November 12, freeing 1,000 prisoners. They broke into the police headquarters and freed 360 prisoners there and emptied a special jail for "religious offenders."

Men lined up to shave off the required beards. Young women flashed big grins as they bathed their faces in the sunshine. In a few places, there were reports of bonfires of the oppressive burkhas.

But in most places, excitement at the departure of the Taliban came mixed with intense dread. The Taliban was gone, but this moment was anything but liberation. The armies that moved in to take the Taliban’s place in the major northern cities, including Kabul, are the brutal and reactionary Northern Alliance.

In some provinces, the local feudal warlords took off the black Taliban turbans and simply switched sides—declaring allegiance to the Northern Alliance, or declaring independent power for themselves. In other areas, hated figures from the past showed up to seize local power. Sometimes competing forces claimed power, and their armed cliques squared off for a new fight.

The U.S. and its allies in Pakistan and the Saudi ruling class had spent the 1980s arming and funding the most vicious and fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan—to bog down the invading Soviet army. The CIA had trained these reactionaries to wipe out any progressive, revolutionary and secular forces in the country. And what emerged, in the mid-1990s with U.S. and Pakistani support, was the Taliban controlling most of the country.

And now, in 2001, the U.S. has bombed Afghanistan from afar, killing thousands in an air campaign that has now forced the Taliban from the major cities.

And where has this left the people of Afghanistan? They remain under the guns of hostile oppressive forces—facing even more imperialist attack.

Key points of their country are in the crosshairs of foreign invaders. British and U.S. squads have occupied the strategic Bagram airbase outside Kabul (without bothering to inform the Northern Alliance of their takeover)—and are preparing to move in their warplanes for a new stage of the deadly air war. Highways are watched by roaming commando units of imperialist troops—who call in air strikes at will against "suspicious" convoys and gatherings.

In Kabul, the first move by Northern Alliance General Gul Haider was to send in 1,200 soldiers to take over the Taliban’s arms warehouse—to make sure the masses of people could not arm themselves.

What will happen now in Afghanistan is unclear. But one thing is clear: The U.S. war on Afghanistan has not, and will not, bring liberation to the masses of people there. The U.S. has targeted the Taliban—their own ugly creation that dared defy them. It has relied on the equally ugly Northern Alliance to be its proxy army on the ground. And the U.S. is now seeking to gather around itself a rogue’s gallery of political forces in Afghanistan willing to collaborate in a post-Taliban colonial arrangement.

The White House Discovers Women

We must not allow things to be cast in—and confined to—the question of which forms of oppression and exploitation, and reactionary dictatorship, are "better."

More specifically, and more especially in present circumstances, we must not allow things to be cast in such a way as to fall in line with the notion (or the pretense) that the U.S. (and other) imperialists somehow represent "progress" or "liberation," either in terms of the oppression of women or more generally, with regard to Afghanistan or in the world as a whole.

Bob Avakian, "Imperialist Hypocrisy and the Taliban Oppression of Women,"
RW No. 1124

As this war moved into a new and uncertain phase, the Bush White House unleashed a propaganda offensive aimed at women. Laura Bush made a radio address denouncing the Taliban for oppressing women and seeking to export such oppression around the world. The same day, Cherie Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister, gave a similar speech in London.

The obvious intention is to rally support for the war by portraying the U.S. as a force for the liberation of women. The hypocrisy here is thick.

First of all, this Bush White House is famous for its close alliance with fundamentalist forces in the U.S. and for its close support for their anti-woman politics, including the attack on abortion rights, sex education, availability of birth control and affirmative action. This administration promotes private religious schools for the youth, in place of public secular schools.

And while they accuse the Taliban of trying to "export" their dogmas on the status of women—that is exactly what the U.S. government has done: One of the first acts of the Bush presidency cut foreign aid to any social work program in the world that even mentioned abortion. As for the anti-woman policies in the Middle East world: It is the U.S. that has propped up the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—which are notorious and extreme in their suppression of women.

The manager of the White House war room, Jim Wilkinson, told the press: "Afghan women had important rights and freedoms before the Taliban. The Taliban took those." This is an insult to history.

In fact, in the 1970s, there was a widespread movement among women, especially in urban areas, to set aside old customs and struggle for education and equality. Women were half the university students and civil servants, two-thirds of the teachers and 40 percent of the doctors. The bourgeois Afghan constitutions of 1964 and 1977 gave some legal rights of equality to women (on paper at least). The majority of women worked outside the home (mostly in the fields) and often took part in commercial life. Some wore burkhas, some wore conservative veils. There were increasing numbers who wore neither.

It was not the Taliban who launched the assault on all this—but the Mujahideen, funded and armed in the 1980s by the U.S. (and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). The CIA, the Pakistani intelligence service ISI, and their Saudi allies like Osama bin Laden worked to gather the most intolerant, reactionary, anti-woman fundamentalist forces to fight the Soviet Union.

The CIA promoted the fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to leadership of this Mujahideen. Hekmatyar made his name, as a student activist at Kabul University in the 1960s, by leading a group that threw acid in the faces of unveiled women students. Under his leadership, and with billions in U.S. arms, the Afghan Mujahideen violently suppressed any public activity of women—they were notorious for killing women teachers and blowing up their school buildings. When they came to power in 1992 they made the burkha mandatory for women.

The Taliban, who came to power in the mid-’90s, continued and built on these policies of the Mujahideen.

If President Bush wants to confront those who plunged Afghani women into hell—he should go talk to his father, the CIA-director-turned-Vice-President-turned-President, who helped direct the 1980s covert U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Now, the U.S. is busy trying to assemble a pro-U.S. puppet government to impose on Afghanistan. Conferences have been planned—for Rome, the United Arab Emirates, at the UN and elsewhere. But in the middle of its propaganda campaign around the treatment of women, the U.S. government has said that women are not going to be represented at the table of these conferences—or, presumably, in any puppet government that finally gets manufactured.

A Closer Look at the Northern Alliance

"We are back to the civil war problem. You drop hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bombs to bring about the re-emergence of warlordism."

Aid worker in Afghanistan

"Now that the Northern Alliance has captured Kabul, their minds are set on sharing power, not on hunting the Taliban, and certainly not on finding Osama bin Laden. Until the present, they were united by being against the Taliban. From now on, each leader has his own agenda, to get the biggest piece of the pie as possible."

Timothy Gusinov, former Soviet officer and
now U.S.-based Central Asian specialist

Western journalists report that there has been very limited rejoicing in Kabul over the fall of the Taliban. As we go to press, it is reported that women have been reluctant to drop the burkha and are waiting to see what comes.

It is not hard to find the reason for this: The Taliban has been replaced in Kabul by the Northern Alliance. And people understand well that there are forces within that Northern Alliance that are also determined to maintain strict fundamentalist control over women. The Alliance’s deputy prime minister, Abdur Rasool Sayyaf, says that women should remain veiled and strongly condemns public mixing of the sexes. Sayyaf publicly opposes allowing women any voice in a new government—including any right to vote.

Meanwhile, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former head of the CIA’s Mujahideen, is now one of few Pashtun leaders of the Northern Alliance. This pitiless, fundamentalist warlord has just returned from exile in Iran and proclaimed himself the post-Taliban governor of Logar Province —where his forces are only 15 miles from Kabul.

Hekmatyar is one of many Northern Alliance leaders who are deeply hated and feared from the days in early 1990s when they held power in Kabul. In 1992, the fundamentalist Mujahideen finally overthrew the last pro-Soviet revisionist government in Kabul and its President Najibullah. What followed were four nightmarish years of plunder, mass rape, and intense civil war—50,000 people died as the Mujahideen broke into warring cliques that devastated the capital. Many of the leaders of that civil war are now the commanders of the Northern Alliance and have returned to power in the cities.

In a particularly vicious series of attacks in March 1995, General Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and others of the Jamiat-i-Islami carried out the destruction of the Kabul neighborhoods that were home to people of the Hazara nationality—a Shi’ite Muslim people from the central Afghan highlands. Sayyaf’s forces were notorious for systematically killing thousands and committing mass rape against Hazara women who they captured. Sayyaf, who heads the "Islamic Unity" party within the Northern Alliance, is now the deputy prime minister of the Alliance’s so-called "Islamic State of Afghanistan."

So it is not surprising that many people of Kabul are horrified to see the arrival of Northern Alliance forces. Many have packed all their belongings and are prepared to flee the city at the first sign of new fighting or massacres of civilians.

The Northern Alliance troops that entered Kabul are overwhelmingly Tajik, with many coming from the Panjshir Valley, including the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami forces. The moment they arrived, the Hazara elements within that same "Alliance" announced that they feared new genocide against the Hazara Shi’ite people of west Kabul. Hazara troops of the Hezb-e-Wahdat headed for the capital. It is reported that there are now Hazara militia units manning roadblocks in the capital, protecting Hazara neighborhoods from their own "allies."

This is just one example of the open warlordism that is breaking out as the Taliban disperse. There are reports of Northern Alliance atrocities—including mass execution and mutilation of prisoners—as they advance. Over 500 Taliban troops were reportedly crushed under tank treads as the Northern Alliance took Mazar-i-Sharif.

These descriptions have stirred concerns about the kinds of brutality these forces will exercise as they seize power, especially in ethnic Pashtun areas like Kabul.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is determined to look the other way—since, for the moment, they have no one else on the ground to serve them by seizing cities. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said on Nov. 15, "We believe the Northern Alliance has conducted themselves in a responsible fashion under the extraordinary circumstances that do exist."

This Northern Alliance (which is sometimes called "The United Front" or the "Islamic State of Afghanistan") is a bundle of mutually hostile forces—united only by their opposition to the Taliban and their eagerness for foreign support.

These are its main components:

The first one is the Jamiat-I-Islami, a force rooted in the Tajik nationality of northern Afghanistan. It backs the Northern Alliance’s Tajik Islamist Rabbani—who claims to be the official President of Afghanistan.

The second main grouping is Junbish-i-Milli-yi Islami, which is based among the Uzbek nationality of the north. It is led by General Rashid Dostum—a man famous for switching sides more often than anyone else in Afghanistan’s 20 years of civil war. Dostum, an Uzbek, was a leading general of the Afghan puppet forces who fought for the invading Soviet army during the 1980s. Infamous for his ruthless suppression of any opponents, Dostum’s forces now control the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, close to the border with Uzbekistan.

The third element are the Hazara Shi’ite groupings of the Hezb-e-Wahdat, led by Karim Khalili and Mohaqiq.

Finally, there are the small Pashtun forces aligned with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The Taliban emerged as a "law and order" alternative to the rape and war of the Mujahideen’s rule in 1992-96. The Taliban’s political program combined an extreme, chauvinist imposition of Pashtun traditions and the fundamentalist ideology of Islam’s Wahabi sect. Pashtun people are the largest nationality within Afghanistan —making up about 40 percent of the population.

Many of Pashtun Mujahideen switched over to the Taliban—while many of the non-Pashtun forces set up their own feudal protection rackets and drug smuggling operations in non-Pashtun areas, especially in the North, and fought the Taliban—under the umbrella name of "the Northern Alliance."

In a fundamental sense, there is little difference between the Taliban and their rivals within the Northern Alliance. They are combinations of feudal and bourgeois forces—committed to upholding the oppressive social customs and property relations of traditional Afghan society and tied in various ways to the interests and dictates of foreign imperialist backers.

The masses of people in Afghanistan can expect nothing from any of these forces except more oppression, civil war and foreign domination.

Intrigue and Confrontation

There is much talk about the "ethnic" basis of the conflicts in Afghanistan—but in reality the underlying issue is that various political forces are tied to and inflamed by outside powers. The fight between the "ethnic militias" represents the colliding interests of the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Pakistan—who all claim to be "allies" in a common "war against terrorism."

The U.S. bombers cleared the way for the Northern Alliance to take Kabul, and now the U.S. is pursuing their manhunt against al Qaida in a country ruined by imperialist bombs and the inflaming of internal civil war.

For all their talk of "liberation"—the U.S. imperialists care nothing about the lives and future of the Afghan people. This war was about their imperialist interests: they are determined to make an example of al Qaida, their own CIA creation that has now crossed them. And they are determined ultimately to emerge with a tighter grip on this region and its resources.

For their part, Russia’s ruling class has played a cagey game. The Soviet imperialist collapse ten years ago left them weakened in Central Asia—a region they once ruled. And now, their "alliance" with the U.S. has enabled them to return as a player.

While Putin and Bush ate steaks in Texas, their proxies maneuvered in Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department insists that the Northern Alliance will only have a "very unsubstantial role" in any future government in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, announced that Russia is sending officials from its Foreign, Defense and Emergencies ministries to tighten its "working contacts" with the Northern Alliance forces in Kabul, who he describes as "the leadership of the lawful government of this state.’ "

Meanwhile the U.S. talks of flooding the region with "aid," meaning using food and arms to get their way in Afghanistan—to bribe the people and strengthen the political forces willing to serve U.S. interests, including those forces in the Northern Alliance who will go along. As the Communist Party of Afghanistan said about the Northern Alliance: "These lowly reactionaries have already been eating from the feed trough of Russia and India and their allies in the Afghanistan affair. Now they repeatedly declare they are willing to serve the U.S. imperialist aggressors with the hope that like vultures they will get a piece of the corpse to eat."

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld also hopes that the game of "show me the money" may cause someone to betray al Qaida and give the U.S. what it wants.

Colin Powell has called for Kabul to be converted into an "open city" under the control of a UN force led by troops from Muslim countries, including Turkey. The Northern Alliance meanwhile announced that a UN force was "unnecessary" and that the city was fine under their control.

Pakistan, meanwhile, twists in the wind. Pakistan’s military government reluctantly supported the U.S. attack on Afghanistan—which has destroyed the only visible force there allied to Pakistan, and sent waves of Islamic fundamentalists crossing the border into Pakistan with revenge on their minds. If the forces the U.S. is hunting take refuge in Pakistan—the political conflict there may become white hot.

Many things will only become clear in the weeks ahead. It is not known if the U.S. will succeed in capturing the leaders of the Taliban and al Qaida. It is not known how far the "balkanization" of Afghanistan will go, and if the air war will unleash new civil war across the country. It is not known if the collapse of the Taliban will destabilize the military government in Pakistan, or if the Taliban retains enough coherence to strike out at its opponents using guerrilla tactics.

But this much is known: The U.S. actions have brought new disaster to the workers and peasants of Afghanistan. This superpower has not come as liberator but as imperialist—determined to make an example of anyone who opposes them, eager to tighten their grip on this region and Central Asian oil.

Every action and development demands of people within the U.S. and around the world that they expose and oppose these imperialist crimes—where feudal rapists and high-tech bombers both come wrapped in Washington lies.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online<BR><a HREF="">
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)