Afghanistan and the USA
Matin Baraki is a political scientist, interpreter and expert on development politics. He studied educational theory in Kabul, working as a teacher and also as a technical assistant at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Kabul till 1974, when he moved to the Federal Republic of Germany. He has taught international politics at the universities of Marburg, Giessen, Kassel and Münster and publishes on the Middle East and Central Asia.
5 June 2019
The war in Afghanistan has been continuing every day for almost forty years. What could bring it to an end?
The first attempt at the democratisation of Afghanistan, known as the “silent revolution”, failed in October 1965. Up to April 1978, there were nine subsequent governments, also nowhere near being able to satisfy the basic needs of the population.
According to UN statistics, Afghanistan was the most underdeveloped state in Asia. Despite the neo-colonial “development aid” granted to Afghanistan by the Western states over decades, the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated from year to year. The only thing that continued to grow was the debt, so that the situation became increasingly threatening for the monarchy.
The majority of the Afghan population had already been living on the edge of subsistence, and when, after the devastating drought of 1971/72, there were approximately a million and a half famine victims, this sealed the fate of King Mohammad Saher’s reign. On 17 July 1973, militia officers belonging to the Democratic People’s Party of Afghanistan (DVPA) staged a coup against the monarchy and installed Muhammad Daud (who had been Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963, and was the brother-in-law and cousin of the king) in power.
The Daud government, however, did not carry out any of the reforms which he had promised in his first “address to the nation.” In his foreign policy, he abandoned Afghanistan’s traditional policy of nonalignment by intensifying relations with the Shah of Iran, with Anwar Al Sadat of Egypt, with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Daud gradually excluded all left forces from important positions, proceeding to open repression against the party leadership of the DVPA in the spring of 1978. In addition, there was the political terror of the Islamists and the secret services, to which prestigious DVPA politicians and representatives fell victim. Mir Akbar Chaibar, founding member of the party and a member of the politbureau was shot dead in the street on 18 April 1978.
When Daud had the whole party leadership arrested with only a few exceptions and facing death, a military uprising under the leadership of parts of the DVPA took place against the Daud regime on 27 April 1978. This led to the beginning of the April Revolution. The military freed the party leaders and delegated the management of the state to them. Their secretary general, Nur Mohammad Taraki, became chairman of the Revolutionary Council and prime minister; Babrak Karmal became his deputy, and Hafisullah Amin the new foreign minister.
The Revolutionary Government began to implement reform measures such as the regulation of matrimonial and divorce matters (Decree No 7 of 17 October 1978), the Land Reform (Decree No 8 of 28 November 1978), as well as a comprehensive literacy programme to break up the feudal and semi-feudal structures. The fight against illiteracy was initially so successful that in half a year about 1.5 million people learned to read and write, for which Afghanistan received a prize from UNESCO. 27,000 permanent courses were set up throughout the country, with a total of 600,000 people taking part in them.
However, many mistakes were made in the hasty implementation of the reforms. Given the unpreparedness of the population, this inevitably led to the strengthening of counter-revolution. By the end of 1979, the situation was so hopelessly divided that the Afghan government was forced to ask the Soviet Union for military aid in total 21 times, among others in a telephone conversation on 18 March 1979 between N.M. Taraki and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, Alexei N. Kossygin.
The conflict in Afghanistan was internationalised with the Soviet military engagement beginning on 27 December 1979, based on Article 4 of the Afghan-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 5 December 1978 and on Article 51 of the UN Charter. The imperialist countries of the west were delighted to have lured the Soviet Union into a trap. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former security adviser of US president Jimmy Carter (1977–1981), emphasised this in an interview with “Le Nouvel Observateur”: “We have not urged the Russians to intervene, but we have deliberately enhanced the possibility that they should do so.”
Beginning in 1979, the largest secret operation in the history of the CIA was carried out against Afghanistan. Immediately after the April revolution, about 35,000 radical Islamists from 40 Islamic countries were restructured into powerful and armed organisations and unleashed on Afghanistan, under the direction of the CIA and its Pakistani brother organization Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). In this way, more than 100,000 Islamists have been directly influenced by the war against Afghanistan. In the financial year of 1985, the CIA supported the Afghan counter-revolution with the sum of 250 million dollars. This represented over 80 per cent of the CIA budget for secret operations. According to the German journal Spiegel, the Islamists were officially armed to the amount of “more than two billion US dollars” during the first ten years of the civil war in Afghanistan.
It was vital that Afghanistan would not be allowed to become an example. Already the Iranian February Revolution in 1979 had swept away the Shah, the most important ally of the western world alongside the NATO partner Turkey, and the US had been forced to move its spy stations from the Iranian-Soviet border to Turkey, to withdraw its 40,000 military advisors, and to close the headquarters of the CIA’s regional headquarters in Teheran.
When the Afghan leaders failed to resolve the conflict politically, they decided to capitulate, paving the way for Islamisation. The new leaders of Afghanistan, led by Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil, Najmudin Kawiani, Farid Masdak (all three were members of the Political Bureau), and Najibullah’s former deputy and successor Abdul Rahim Hatef decided to transfer power to the counterrevolutionaries on 27 April 1992. Subsequently, Sebghatullah Modjadedi, their exiled president, became the first head of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The peace, so long desired by the people, however did not return. Because of their divergent political and economic interests, the Islamists did not manage to rule the country together. On the contrary, the war continued with unprecedented brutality. Big cities, including Kabul, were laid waste: observers spoke of the incineration of Kabul. This historical failure of the Islamists was contrary to the political-economic and strategic interests of their foreign backers, who wanted a regime in Afghanistan which closely cooperated with the US and Pakistan to create conditions for stable investment of US and Pakistani capital in the Middle East region, particularly in the Central Asian Republics.
This was the birth of the Taliban, brought into existence by the United States.
Afghanistan, long forgotten by the world public, only became the preeminent topic of the international media with the public appearance of the Taliban in September 1994, their conquest of Kabul on 27 September 1996 and their fundamentalist policy of extreme hostility against women and culture which culminated in the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamyan (Central Afghanistan) at the beginning of March 2001.
Although the Taliban did not appear publicly until September 1994, they had already been set up as a combat group in North-Eastern Afghanistan as early as in 1985/86, according to General Aslam Beg, the former chief of general staff of Pakistan. First they had been educated there at the “Madrasah”, the religious schools, both in fundamentalist religion and in military arts. In the summer of 1984, the French Afghanistan expert Olivier Roy had already observed activities on the Taliban fronts in the southern regions of Afghanistan, Orusgan, Sabul and Kandahar. There it was essentially a question of transforming a rural Madrasah into a military front. They were recruited, for example, from the ranks of Afghan orphans in the refugee camps in Pakistan. Under direct command of the Pakistani army and the secret service ISI, they were deployed with the various Mujahedin groups as required. According to General Beg, the Mujahedin were “generously financed by the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and perhaps the United States.”
The 11 September 2001 disaster in Washington and New York might have turned into a turning point for Afghanistan, had the international community taken into account not only the particular interests of certain powers, but also those of the Afghans. However, while the US war against Afghanistan was still going on, a government for Afghanistan was being formed on the Petersberg near Bonn on 5 December 2001, under the leadership of the UN. This was attended by representatives of the Mujahedins, who knew each other from the long-standing civil war. Those who were gathered were mostly those forces that had played a major role in the destruction of Kabul from 1992 to 1996, with more than 50,000 civilians dead. The Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum, the only secular militia leader of Afghanistan, had not been invited.
Among the international observers, the United States alone was represented by 20 persons, and they prevailed with their nomination of Karsai as Prime Minister, although he was not present in Petersberg, but was on a US warship somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
In short, the international community under US leadership spoke of a “democratisation” of Afghanistan, but it brought power to Islamists, warlords and war criminals.
Attempts at integrating the Taliban (2013)
With its war against Afghanistan, the Bush administration declared the obliteration of the Taliban and of al-Quaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden its immediate goal. After realising that the Taliban were not as easily crushed as al-Quaeda, let alone being driven out of the country, western strategists attempted to integrate them into the colonial-like political structures at the Hindu Kush. Firstly, in order to implement this strategy successfully, pressure on the Taliban was to be increased by driving wedges between them as well as by physically eliminating individual field commanders.
Then, western strategists discovered “moderate” Taliban as possible negotiation partners, and the Taliban opened their first liaison office in Qatar’s capital Doha, on 18 June 2013. There, Islamists, the US and the Afghan government were to carry out their negotiations.
US interest in negotiations was rooted in the fact that the war had simply become too expensive. According to official statistics, the war cost 1.5 billion dollars every week in its peak phase.
The Taliban furnished their Doha base with a banner reading “Islamic Emirate Afghanistan”, thereby laying claim to a parallel government, seen as an affront by the Kabul administration. Until that point, the Taliban had always rejected talks with the latter, seeing President Karsai as a mere puppet of US interests.
At the end of the negotiations, the Taliban were supposed to take a role in government, provided that they would accept the 2004 Afghan Constitution. The Taliban, however, invoked Sharia Law. A breakdown of the negotiations in Doha became inevitable, due to the maximising demands on both sides.
At the beginning of 2016, a new failed attempt was made at rekindling the deadlocked peace process in and around Afghanistan, when, on January 11, representatives of the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US met in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in order to develop a roadmap for peace for the country on the Hindu Kush.
Now two new players – the governments of China and of the Russian Federation – tried as neutral intermediaries to facilitate a political solution. Since the People’s Republic of China is a strategic partner for Pakistan, the Taliban have expressed their approval. As a neutral mediator, Russia is accepted by all parties involved. The Kabul administration sent a head of the department to a 2017 meeting in Moscow, where representatives from China, Iran, India and Pakistan and the five Central Asian ex-Soviet republics were involved, as well as experts from Russia and Afghanistan. The United States and the Taliban were also invited but both rejected participation, which was tantamount to a boycott.
The participants of the conference enjoined the Taliban to attend peace talks. Their leaders should move away from a violent resolution of the conflict and start negotiations with the government in Kabul, said the Russian Foreign Ministry on 14 April 2017. Possible peace talks could take place in Moscow.
Instead of participating in the peace negotiations, the US Army dropped a bomb worth 16 million US dollars in eastern Afghanistan on the eve of the Moscow peace conference.
In Afghanistan as elsewhere, external factors have not solved the conflict. On the contrary, foreign interests have been transported to Afghanistan and in this way, political solutions have been destroyed. For this reason, people are leaving Afghanistan en masse. It is time to let the conflict be resolved by Afghans, in Afghanistan, and in Afghanistan’s national interests.
Thirty-nine years of war are more than enough. We must seriously seek new ways to peace. The following theses might serve as a basis for discussion:
– Unilateral and unconditional cease-fire on the part of NATO, initially for at least six months.
– Replacement of the NATO units by an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) consisting of units of Islamic and of non-aligned states. Four-fifths of all UN blue helmet soldiers stem from non-aligned states, so why should that not be the case in Afghanistan?
– Dissolution of all NATO military bases and strongpoints as well as of contracts concerning this matter concluded with the Kabul administration.
– An invitation to follow a national reconciliation policy with all political groups, including those of Islamic character, such as the Taliban, the Hesbe Islami of Gulbudin Hekmatyar and the Haqani Network.
– Formation of a truth commission according to the model of South Africa.
– Dissolution of all military and paramilitary associations of the warlords as well as of foreign and Afghan private security companies.
– Preparation for countrywide elections in villages, regions, districts, etc., to a national Loya Djerga (council), under the control of independent international organisations such as movements for peace, for women, as well as students and trade union movements.
– Constitution of a popular Loya Djerga elected by the people, and no appointment of their deputies by the President.
– This Loya Djerga is to elect a provisional government and commissions to devise a constitutional draft, based on the abolition of the presidential system. They should also work on laws concerning elections, political parties and trade unions.
– Implementation of general, free parliamentary elections, controlled by independent panels.
– Election of a new government directly by parliament, without a prior proposal from the current interim prime minister.
– Abolition of open-door policies and initiation of an economic, financial, customs- and fiscal-policy based on national interests.
– Measures for the reconstruction of the destroyed country, for which a quarter of the NATO war expenditure would have to be spent. These funds are to be parked on an independent trust account and can only be used on a project-linked basis.
– The neighbours of Afghanistan should be given priority in the reconstruction work. This will foster regional cooperation and stability.
– In the region around Afghanistan, a mid-South Asian Union should be aimed at, with, in addition to Afghanistan, the five Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as well as Iran, Pakistan and India as members. All these countries have many similarities, such as languages, religions and history.
– As a trust-building measure, Afghanistan should be the first country to begin to dissolve its national army after about five years.
– A Central South-East Asian Union could contribute to a definitive resolution of the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan and the Durand line conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
– Then it would be time to reduce and abolish the nuclear arsenal of India and Pakistan. As a result, one of the regions of most conflict on the Asian continent could become a zone of peace, stability and prosperity.