Monday 16 August 2021

Afghanistan's Shadow

You will have seen the appalling footage. Dozens of Afghans swarming around an American military transport as it taxis down the runway. Some cling to the fuselage, desperately hoping the mass of humanity swarming about its wheels and grabbing at its wings would make it stop. It did not stop. Later shots showed the transport after take off, with the tiny specks of a couple of people falling from it to their deaths. This extraordinary sequence condenses everything about the West's military occupation of Afghanistan into a short social media clip - its indifference to the people our governments spent 20 years saying we went to war to save.

Readers of a certain age will remember the lead up to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan well. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, there was precious little public debate about the wisdom of going in mob-handed to seize Osama Bin Laden and put the regime that sheltered him to flight. Indeed, some might recall the infamous Question Time of 13th September where audience members refused to adhere to the niceties of official mourning and linked these attacks to the violence of US foreign policy across the Middle East and elsewhere. The BBC hurriedly apologised and ate humble pie, but the establishment backlash against this episode set the tone for the subsequent public debate. Critical voices appeared in the liberal press, but the newly-launched Stop the War Coalition and other anti-war oppositionists were out in the cold. The popular mood was hesitantly supportive of action, which was acquiescence enough for Tony Blair, and off to war went tens of thousands of British troops.

This time, however, we were told it was going to be different. The history of past military interventions and occupations were pored over, and the public of the UK and the United States were told this was no smash and grab (not that there was anything left of Afghanistan to grab), but this was a long-term state building project. You might recall, if you were around, that similar arguments were fielded about Iraq too. Our presence in the country was a commitment to bringing Afghanistan into the modern world, rescue the population from medievalism, and liberate women and girls. The practice said something else. More money was spent on humvees and daisy cutters than rebuilding a shattered country. The statelet set up with some autonomy was riddled with corruption the occupying powers not only turned a blind eye to but encouraged - cash binds better than liberal iterations of the white man's burden, after all. And little illustrates this better than the deposed president Ashraf Ghani fleeing to Uzbekistan with literal bags of cash in tow.

Could it have been different? Opinion punditry is awash with assessments. Some will criticise the egregious corruption of the state, and the failure of Western governments to match the commitments made with money. But ultimately this is besides the point. These are features, not aberrations of occupation authorities - a point that should be well understood following centuries of Western colonialism, all-out war, and the "police actions" of the post-cold war period. It couldn't and can't be avoided by enlightened military government, because the fact of invasion and occupation is its root. Hence Stop the War, who sundry cheerleaders of Blair's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are, with impressive violations of the laws of logic, holding responsible for the Taliban's victory, have been proven exactly right. Progressive social change, they argue, can only be durable if the dynamism for it arises from within. If it comes on the end of drone strikes, it's an imposition.

What now? Reports are filtering out of the Taliban going house to house in Kabul seeking people on their "list", despite promises given to respect human rights. The future for Afghanistan does not look any better thanks to the West, with the even worse outcome being the Taliban and its allies fragmenting and descending into outright warlordism not an unlikely possibility. As for us in the metropolitan heartlands, the utter waste of the last 20 years will cast a long shadow over future military adventurism - a new political reality warmongers everywhere are going to spend decades lamenting. And, at least in Britain, there's going to be a sense of revulsion and loss among former military and their families. Why have they suffered and what did their mates die if Afghanistan has simply reset itself to where they began? Matters are not helped by the characteristic lack of seriousness shown by the Prime Minister, and the government's refusal, up to now, to discuss the country's obligation to the tens of thousands of Afghans it put in harm's way as interpreters and support workers. There is a political price to pay, and the Tories will try their damnedest, as they always do, to offload responsibility for this mess onto something or someone else.


Anonymous said...

You know, if my country had been invaded by a superpower for its own convenience and trampled underfoot for twenty years, I wouldn't mind seeing a few quislings dancing on ropes once we'd liberated it.

I think it's as well to wait a bit and see how the Taliban performs. The information you're getting now is, surely, mostly filtered through the processes of a desperate need to cover up the criminal corruption, incompetence and brutality of the imperialists by frantically trying to abuse their opponents.

As usual, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 08:45 the Taliban are not liberators. They are far-right fascists.

BCFG said...

Wow, after all these years ignoring imperialist issues, 2 come along at once! Like buses.

I mean you could have cataloged all the crimes carried out by the US and its allies in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, you could have cataloged the numerous crimes in other parts of the world, but now you want to present the imperialists leaving as some sort of bad news story. Or maybe you are just a media whore?

Read my lips, this is a great day not only for the people of Afghanistan but a beacon of hope for all oppressed peoples.

The message is clear, the gangsterist beast that is the USA must be fought with courage, discipline and dogged determination. That way they can be beat and the people freed from their tyranny!

Anonymous said...

1) The invasion was justified as the Taliban had the opportunity to give up AQ, which they failed to do. They, therefore, facilitated an act of war against the US.
2) It was hopeless trying to export western traditions of democracy, just as it had been communism - it was bound to fail.
3) For anon above, who appears to believe the Taliban are somehow homegrown liberators - on the contrary, they were indoctrinated by Pakistini intelligence services to overthrow the previous Afghan regime and be a client of Pakistan. They are not liberators from imperialism, simply agents of Pakistani/ Saudi-funded Islamic imperialism.
4) The satisfaction with some on the left have greeted the American withdrawal is a bald reflection of their true moral compass, which they would rather have totalitarian barbarism over human rights if it scores as an anti-American win. A kind of political sociopathy.

DFTM said...

The brilliant Abby Martin making sense of events with great analysis:

Phil said...

BCFG, there has been nothing stopping you from starting up your own blog and cataloguing the outrages committed in Afghanistan by the UK and the US. In fact, your failure to do so is a severe dereliction of revolutionary duty.

Robert said...

You say there's nothing left in Afghanistan to grab but according to a geological survey done by the Americans there could be over a trillion dollars of minerals in the north of Afghanistan.

Russia and China have been in contact with the Taliban and have offered them a deal: provided they don't allow Afghanistan to be a base for terrorist activity they will recognise their government and invest in the country.

Russia and China don't give a monkey's what the Taliban do to Afghan women any more than the West gives a monkey's about Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses. They are entirely realist and amoral and just want a stable government they can do business with.

Anonymous said...

Anon 13.28 is right. I thought nation-building in that wonderful and fascinating* country was an insane idea, while I thought duffing up the Taleban for harbouring OBL was probably worth doing. I can't think of a great power in history that would have left a 9/11 equivalent unanswered.

The troops should have left in 2002/3 or as soon as it was apparent bin Laden couldn't be found.

We should all remember that bin Laden and the mujahideen were to a large extent a creation of US/UK, who sent money and weapons to the "brave freedom fighters" fighting against the Russian-backed Afghan government in the 1980s. We sent Stinger missiles to take down their Hind helicopter gunships, Sandy Gall reported for ITV on former Bradford Uni chemistry students, now fighting the Russians in the mountains. These were the good guys then, and the murders of teachers and health workers went unreported, just as the atrocities of Cameron's "moderate Islamists" went unreported in Syria. One of the Rambo films (remember them?) was dedicated to the brave mujahideen - the Taleban's spiritual and literal forebears.

Having said all that, the gigantic, unparalleled waste of blood and treasure over the last 20 years has had some beneficial results for the Afghans (none for the UK or US mind). Afghanistans population actually dropped by a million during the years of Russian-backed 'democracy', during the last 20 years its almost doubled - 20m to 38m. Literacy is well up too, I think 90%+ for males. But some of the ideas were crazy - gay pride flags, women's studies courses - as if they actually wanted to get up the noses of a conservative, male-dominated culture that hasn't changed much in hundreds of years and takes their version of Islam VERY seriously.

* the Brits who tangled with the Pathans (as they were then) in Victorian times and up to WW2 were fascinated by them and wrote a lot about them and their culture. I don't know if our latter-day Empire builders ever troubled to read any of it.

"There was among the Pathans something that called to the Englishman or the Scotsman - partly that the people looked you straight in the eye, that there was no equivocation and that you couldn't browbeat them even if you wished to."


South London said...

"The invasion was justified as the Taliban had the opportunity to give up AQ, which they failed to do. They, therefore, facilitated an act of war against the US."
Not the way I rememberit.

Anonymous said...

When you spend twenty years fighting a bloody and seemingly hopeless war against a vast foreign power which invaded your country for no reason except greed and corruption, and finally drive them out, I think it's fair to call you a liberator. Obviously racists and imperialists who support the aggression will disagree, as will those who are too ignorant or brainwashed to think beyond the racist and imperialist propaganda they are fed.

I would not be surprised if the Taliban did not receive some assistance from Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence -- they were the ones who originally set them up, after all -- but the sheer complete collapse of the regime set up by the imperialists and aggressors amply demonstrates that you cannot think of the Taliban as simply a Pakistani catspaw unless you are too ignorant and brainwashed to think beyond the propaganda, etc., etc.

As to being racists and fascists, by Afghani standards they seem very mild compared with the people whom the imperialists and aggressors co-opted to run their organised crime syndicate for them.

None of this means that the left should uncritically cheer for the Taliban's triumph. From a global perspective, the exposure of the corruption and incompetence of the U.S. imperialist system is obviously something good for the left. From an Afghan perspective it is very likely that the future for the country is likely to be better than it has been for the last two decades. But on one hand the Taliban behaved appallingly when it was previously in power and one cannot be sure that they will not end up the same -- they are Wahhabi, after all. On the other hand, the aggressors and imperialists will do everything they can to undermine Afghanistan, and they have plenty of capacity to do so.

BCFG said...

“The invasion was justified as the Taliban had the opportunity to give up AQ”

This is historically false and a revisionist lie, but hey what do we expect of the liberal pro imperialists!

But if we accept this moral logic, then an invasion of the US by Iraq is justified as they have failed to give up Bush and his cabal, same goes for the UK, as they have failed to give up Blair and his cabal (and the military leaders of these regimes).

“who appears to believe the Taliban are somehow homegrown liberators - on the contrary”

That is exactly what they are, they are Afghans, fighting an occupation of Afghanistan by a foreign power and have the overwhelming support of Afghans, as their rather speedy takeover amply demonstrates! What anon believes is that these ‘backward’ nations need a bit of white common sense to civilise them, and if these backward natives don’t agree then civilisation should be imposed by all force necessary (at least 200,00 people have been killed in the US’s ‘glorious’ occupation. Which anon seems not to give a jot about).

Speaking of the civilised white world, I have heard lots of questions about the Taliban’s policy toward women, but i have yet to hear what the Taliban think of the IPCC report, to remind you this was a minor little report that came out last week reminding us what Western civilised values had given to the world (although it now seems to be yesterdays fish and chip paper).

“would rather have totalitarian barbarism over human rights if it scores as an anti-American win”

It is clearly anon who would have the ‘barbaric backward’ Afghans being ruled by a totalitarian authority against their interests. If the Taliban did not represent the overwhelming reality of Afghanistan today they would not have taken over so quickly. What anon wants is a puppet regime to rule over the Afghan people and impose Western values, as if Western values can be imposed on a part of the world that has historically been raped and pillaged by imperialist powers, and that is not the destination for the world’s container ships. Those ships head West and come back empty!

If the West is serious about ‘liberating’ the Afghans, then they need to reduce their own energy usage by at least half, severely ramp down their consumption and put an end to the exchange system. The fact that they refuse to do any of these things shows clearly that the West, and come to that matter the vast majority of the left, couldn’t give a fig for the Afghans, or anyone else for that matter.

Anon (13:28) represents political slavery dressed up as political cretinism.

Anonymous said...

It comes as absolutely no surprise that BCFG and Anon 08.44 support the Taliban and that 'from an Afghan perspective it is very likely that the future for the country is likely to be better than it has been for the last two decades.'

Are they by any chance... men? The misogynist streak of the far left runs very deep indeed. No wonder they applaud these bearded barbarians putting women in their rightful place, and seek to silence dissent by cries of 'racist' and 'imperialist'. In their ideal world, weaklings like them would be on the top of the pile. Perhaps they should buy a ticket to Kabul, preferably one way.

McIntosh said...

And to think, our nuclear deterrant and aircraft carrier did not stop the Taliban taking Kabul. Did no one tell them we had nuclear weapons?

It seems a number of British politicans want to crticise the US for not being willing to lay down US lives and spend huge amonts of money to keep Europe safe. The perfidiousness of the US!

They also seem to want to criticise the Taliban for proposing to set up a society like Saudi Arabia. Just as well we don't have any links wwith that despotic regime that oppresses women, beheads internal opposition and kills children in Yemen.

David said...

For a historical perspective, see:

Have to say the authors have rather different political perspectives but both are clear that it is a very bad idea to tangle with the Afghans.

David Parry said...

No wonder they applaud these bearded barbarians putting women in their rightful place

As opposed to the paragons of feminism whom the occupying forces armed and bankrolled, and who ... *checks notes* ... legislated to ban female victims of violence from testifying in court?

BCFG said...

"In their ideal world, weaklings like them would be on the top of the pile."

In my ideal world there is no top of the pile. It is a shame for you that the USA, which has such a world renowned top of the pile, such a wonderfully humane top of the pile, wasn't successful and those 'barbarians', with their awful top of the pile, have won the day.

"No wonder they applaud these bearded barbarians putting women in their rightful place, and seek to silence dissent by cries of 'racist' and 'imperialist'."

I am not trying to silence debate, or even start a debate. I am simply pointing out what a wonderful time this is for the people of Afghanistan.

But thanks anon for so clearly articulating your belief that carpet bombing poor nations and installing totalitarian puppet regimes to rule over barbarian bearded men is a legitimate way to further women's rights.

On that score, how far would anon go? Does he regard the men of Afghanistan as too beastly to be allowed to carry on living? Maybe we could separate all the Afghan men over the age of 16 from the Afghan woman and children, put them on separate trains. Ship the Afghan men out to extermination camps and then populate Afghanistan with clean shaven white men (who also moisturize) and who know how to treat women with respect?

Can anon confirm if this is his policy?