The chaos in Afghanistan is a direct result of 4 decades of imperial intervention and the Afghan people will once again pay the price.
The Taliban resurgence is the result of that history of violence. Their takeover is being greeted with fear and trepidation by many in the country. Although the Taliban of today is very different in makeup to the Taliban in 2001, the organization has a history of brutality and rights abuses, particularly against women.
The global community is expressing shock and anger that the Taliban has retaken all of the country so quickly after the departure of US forces. The scenes of Afghans scrambling to gain access to international flights out of Kabul while Chinook helicopters usher US embassy staff to safety have brought back images of the evacuation from Saigon in 1975.
Politicians and the media are using these developments to make the argument that the NATO forces should not have pulled out and left the Afghan people to such a fate.
However, the Afghan state is not – just now – descending into chaos. There has been chaos and violence in the country for the last 40 years. Over the last 20 years the main purveyor of that violence was the US-led occupation forces. Imperial meddling caused this situation to exist. More Imperial meddling will not solve it.
A brief history
As a central location of the “great game” to control central Asia, Afghanistan has been a plaything of US presidents since the Carter administration.
It was under Carter that the US armed the Mujahideen to attack Russian interests in the country and to goad them into an invasion. The goal for the US was to weaken the USSR – it’s main cold war rival. They had little concern for the Afghan people then and used them for their own geopolitical aims at the cost of thousands of lives.
The subsequent civil war, where various armed factions – flush with new US weaponry – fought to control the country was followed by the Taliban takeover in 1996. The rule of various warlords during the civil war was so bad that when the Taliban emerged onto the scene they were able to take over much of the country with little resistance.
It did not take long after their ascendency however, before it became apparent that they would rule with an iron fist motivated by a fundamentalist philosophy.
However, the US didn’t care about what type of government the Taliban would run. They were only concerned with their own interests and particularly control of pipeline routes from the Caspian region to seaports.
The US even hosted the Taliban during the George W. Bush administration to secure both pipeline routes and mining rights. The Taliban was not however under the thumb of the US and granted pipeline control to other interests. At that point they became a liability for US imperial policy.
The September 11 attacks in 2001 gave the US all the leverage it needed to overthrow the Taliban. The fact that the Al-Qaeda network maintained bases in Afghanistan justified the initial invasion but competition between the US and rivals Russia and China remained the backdrop and the key reason why Afghanistan was important to the US.
The US led invasion swept the Taliban away with little fighting. The people of Afghanistan were largely glad they were gone. There was even a glimmer of hope that the new NATO led occupation may help to end decades of violence. But that hope was short-lived. The occupation forces, with little understanding or concern for the Afghan people began a brutal rule themselves.
Crucially, the US decided that they would instal the same warlords that had terrorized the people a decade earlier in the new Afghan government. It did not take long before a resistance movement developed to end US control. As Afghan MP and women’s rights activist Malalai Joya stated at the time, the US installed a ‘Taliban Lite’ government that did nothing to advance women’s rights and freedoms.
The Taliban made consistent gains from that point forward. Despite pronouncements of progress against the resistance forces from politicians in NATO countries the resistance would continue to grow.
The Afghan government under the occupation
The government In Kabul had only marginal control outside of the capitol. Resistance fighters had been able to consolidate their positions in most provinces long before the US troop withdrawal was announced. And even in Kabul, Taliban attacks were commonplace in recent years. Far from being a shocking development, this collapse of the Afghan government was expected.
When the Trump administration was negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban they didn’t even invite the Afghan government to participate. That sends a pretty clear signal to any security forces that fighting to preserve this government was useless.
In a context where unemployment sits above 50 per cent, a job in the security forces was one of the few paycheques available for many. The fact that one could leave with more military training and with newly provided weapons made a quick foray into the Afghan forces something of a right of passage for many who opposed the US led occupation.
And these aren’t new phenomena. The first reports detailing the failures of the much lauded NATO led training programs were released in 2005. Soldiers themselves had little loyalty to the army which was corrupt at all levels. Officers frequently decided not to pay soldiers and many became very rich and lived in mansions in the cities while the troops went without.
And it wasn’t just in the military that corruption flourished. Corruption was endemic and bribery was the norm. These were not failures specific to the Afghan government, however, but were a result of graft and greed from corporate interests in the NATO countries themselves. The country was awash in development funds with little or no oversight or plan. Corruption was innevitable.
The report Afghanistan Inc. detailed how billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan was funnelled – not into development projects but into the coffers of western corporations. Much of the billions in funding for development never left the home countries. Social development by NATO forces in Afghanistan was a myth.
For western corporations lining up at the trough, bribery of Afghan officials was a necessary price of doing business. That corruption filtered down to all levels of the police, and judiciary as well.
The lack of support for the Afghan government can be traced to both the conduct of the government leadership but also to the conduct of NATO itself.
As early as 2006 the mainstream Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that the biggest single reason for the resurgence of the Taliban was the presence and conduct of the NATO forces. Kill teams, mass bombing campaigns and drone strikes killed more than 100,000 civilians and resulted in widespread opposition to foreign troops.
The NATO forces, despite any goodwill that may have existed among the soldiers themselves, were part of a killing machine that didn’t distinguish between civilians and resistance fighters.
Each time a civilian target was hit it built more support for the Taliban and brought the country closer to the scenes we see today.
And the use of US “black sites” to torture Afghans suspected of being part of a resistance movement spread and expanded over the 20 years of the occupation. For Canadian politicians this became a particular problem and led to Stephen Harper proroguing Parliament in 2009 to avoid publication of files linking Canadian forces to the transfer of prisoners to torture sites.
In sum, NATO forces spent 20 years and $2 trillion to prop up a corrupt government using torture and brutal military tactics. History teaches that no such situation will last forever. People will fight back. While the Taliban don’t represent a path to liberation, the removal of imperial forces is a prerequisite to the true liberation for the Afghan people.
Canada used the war in Afghanistan to develop a much more aggressive posture for it’s forces abroad. In the earliest days, Canada confined itself to Kabul but the role expanded over time. The Chretien government sent thousands more troops to Kabul in early 2003 to free up US troops for the attack on Iraq. But it was the announcement in summer 2005 that Canada would be taking on an advanced combat role in Kandahar that made the war front page news and a battle of ideas emerged in this country.
The right wing – both Liberal and Conservative tried to rally Canadians behind the flag and support for “our troops”. The decades long propaganda campaign calling Canadian forces “peacekeepers”was tossed away and the role of combatants emerged. When General Rick Hillier told a press conference that Canada was heading to Afghanistan to “Kill detestable murderers and scumbags”, that shift was complete.
For Canadian capital Afghanistan was seen as a prime investment opportunity when it was discovered it was sitting on more than $1 trillion in mineral deposits, Canadian mining companies wanted to line up for their share. As recently as 2014, Canadian mining corporations were bidding on resource contracts in Afghanistan.
However, the new Afghan government was not able to provide the security environment needed for a pillaging of their land. Alan Dowd Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute
in the article, Afghanistan’s Rare Earth Element Bonanza, lamented that the Afghan government had failed “to embrace economic freedom, the foundations of which personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter and compete in markets, and property rights“. Corporate interest in stealing the resources did not wane but it was apparent that the security situation was unable to make their investments profitable.
And the Canadian military used the war to further advance it’s interests abroad. The building of a new Canadian base in Kuwait is being followed by new bases in Jamaica and Senegal to protect Canadian corporate investments.
Our politicians would like to use the situation in Afghanistan to argue for the benevolence of military intervention. They spent decades falsely telling Canadians that this war was winnable and that our troops were making advances. They lied. They, like the US has only had their own interests at heart. If they really cared about the Afghan people they wouldn’t have spent a decade sening innocent civilians to their graves or to torture at the hands of the occupation government.
There is only one way for countries that have been destroyed by imperial forces to achieve liberation and that is through self determination.
As Malalai Joya famously said, “No nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”