Pages from the history of Afghanistan

(from Communist Voice #28, January 2002)

. This issue of CV has five articles about events of past decades that set the stage for the present tragedy. They show the reactionary roots of the present rival groups of fundamentalists oppressing Afghanistan, and the evil fruits of the CIA's dirty war of the 1980s against the pro-Soviet regime of that time. They also deal with why the pro-Soviet regime of the 1980s couldn't carry through on the reforms it attempted, why it won the hatred of the Afghan people, and what the Soviet Union was up to in Afghanistan.

. The article From the Soviet withdrawal to Taliban rule deals in depth with what happened in the last decade. The other four articles were written in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (although one of these four, Background Notes, has been updated by CV to briefly cover subsequent events). They appeared in the journal that was our predecessor, the Workers' Advocate. They show that the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists of the day opposed both the Soviet occupation and the mujahedeen. These articles condemned the interference of both superpowers in Afghanistan, sought to encourage the development of an independent struggle of the working masses, and advocated the right to self-determination of Afghanistan. The basic idea behind these stands remains true today (although the lineup of the outside powers interfering in Afghanistan has changed).

Background notes on the situation in Afghanistan


. This article is based on the article with the same name in the Workers' Advocate Supplement of May 1988. The main change is that it has been updated with a brief account of events from 1988 to 2001. For a deeper discussion of these later events, see the article "From the Soviet withdrawal to Taliban rule".

Afghanistan entering the modern epoch
The rule of Amanullah
The reign of Zahir Shah
Prince Daud becomes Prime Minister
Political life emerges in the 1960's
The king is overthrown in 1973
The "April Revolution" of 1978
During the period of Khalq dominance
Ruling by repression
Soviet invasion
US-USSR accords of 1988 and Soviet pullout
The rule of the mujahedeen: 1992-1996
The rule of the Taliban:1996-2001
Immediate prospects

Afghanistan entering the modern epoch

. Afghanistan is a small mountainous country which has only recently begun to come into the modern era.

. Strategically located at the age-old invasion route from Central Asia into the Indian subcontinent, the area today known as Afghanistan has long been the scene of conflict between bigger powers bordering it. During the 16th through 18th centuries, this land was caught between the Mogul Empire in India and the Safavi Empire in Iran. In the 19th century, it became the focus of contention between Tsarist Russia advancing southward and British imperialism moving westward in its expanding control over India.

. Besides encroachment from outside, this land was also the scene of strife among the diverse peoples that lived here. The country known as Afghanistan in its present-day form really came into existence in the 19th century. It is sometimes said that Afghanistan maintained a true independence in successful wars against invaders. But the truth is a bit more complicated. The Afghan state was established as a buffer state between Russia and Britain. Despite wars against British incursions, the Afghan state had to acknowledge British overlordship, yielding to Britain control of its foreign relations.

The rule of Amanullah

. In 1919, Afghanistan finally took control of its foreign affairs. For a decade afterwards, Amanullah ruled as monarch of the country. In his foreign policy, he was generally friendly to the then-revolutionary Soviet Union and also opened up links with various European capitalist countries. At home Amanullah tried to introduce the country onto the path of modernization.

. He attempted some bourgeois political and social reforms. He was an admirer of the Kemalist regime then ruling Turkey and tried to carry out similar changes in Afghanistan. Many of his ideas were quite reasonable, such as the abolition of slavery and forced labor, various educational programs, discouragement of the veil and of the seclusion of women. Some were absurd, such as the demand that men wear European clothing and hats. Amanullah also attempted administrative reforms, such as a constitutional monarchy, a tax system, and a professional army. He sought to extend the influence of the central government to the outlying areas.

. But his regime was soon faced with revolts by tribal chieftains and religious conservatives. And there was also intrigue by British imperialism.

. The essential reason for the failure of Amanullah's reformist schemes was that there was no social base to carry it through in the face of reactionary opposition. There was no movement of the toilers to support democratic changes. There was no awakening of the peasants in the countryside, and the lack of economic development meant there was essentially no working class. Of course, a king would look not to a revolutionary movement, but perhaps to a liberal, monarchist bourgeoisie for support against the more backward elements. But the lack of economic development meant there was essentially no bourgeoisie either.

The reign of Zahir Shah

. The country more or less remained in turmoil until Zahir Shah became king in 1933. He reigned until his removal in 1973. Although Zahir Shah was formally the king, the Afghan government was, for most of his rule, actually run by other figures from the royal family. For example, until 1953, the king's uncles ruled for him. All along, though, the monarchy ruled in alliance with traditional tribal chieftains and feudal landlords. The Zahir Shah monarchy also established the dominance of the Pushtun nationality over other nationalities and tribes.

. From the 30's on, some capitalist development began, giving rise to the growth of urban upper classes, such as merchants, other businessmen, and government officials. The country's first bank was set up and capitalist interests emerged in trade and a few small industries. Most of the bourgeoisie was still quite small in wealth and the size of its enterprises. And there was also the emergence of an intelligentsia.

. In the late 40's, there was some motion by the petty bourgeoisie, within the bounds of a liberal bourgeois program. Voices were raised for political reforms. Press censorship was lifted in 1951, and several newspapers were published. As well, a student movement emerged at Kabul University.

Prince Daud becomes Prime Minister

. The government soon tired of its limited liberal experiment and cracked down. Student unions and newspapers were banned and many activists were put in jail. Many of the activists from this period were to become key figures in the political ferment that mushroomed in the 1960's. It is in the post-World War II period that capitalist development expanded. Much of this began in the decade during which the King's cousin, Prince Daud, was Prime Minister. Daud was an important figure in the Afghan military and he sought to economically develop Afghanistan in the Kemalist way as had taken place in Turkey -- with considerable state involvement and without allowing political liberalization.

. Both the U.S. and Soviet governments provided economic aid for Daud's economic plans. Soviet aid increased considerably during Khrushchov's rule. This was a time during which the Soviet Union stepped up its capitalist penetration of "third world" countries. The Bolshevik revolution had died out long ago in the Soviet Union, and a state-capitalist regime existed under both Stalin and his successors, such as Khrushchov.

. Not much industrial development however took place. It was mainly in the infrastructure, such as the building of roads, highways, transport, and electric power. There was also some growth of schools and university education. And the military was expanded. Soviet aid also went into this front.

. As a result of the economic growth, both the bourgeois and petty bourgeois classes grew. And the industrial working class, which could be earlier counted in thousands, now grew larger, although it still remained small. (By 1978 it had only grown to about 35,000 or so. )

. Not much appears to have taken place in the countryside. But some of the landed rich also took on business interests, in order to profit from state funding of road building and transport. There was no peasant movement.

. It should be noted that the economic growth mainly fattened the pockets of the rich, while the actual conditions of the poor worsened. Their wages were pitiful, prices rose, and the ranks of the unemployed grew.

. Politically the regime ruled with an iron fist. Its secret police supervised the urban areas. Arrests and jailings of political opponents were routine.

Political life emerges in the 60's

. Daud lost power in 1963 in a royal power squabble. But there remained considerable continuity from the Daud government.

. Pressure had been mounting for political reform. The monarchy responded with some half measures. In 1964, a new constitution was introduced and much noise was made about the so-called "new democracy". Parliamentary elections were held with a limited franchise but political parties remained illegal.

. Despite the restrictions on politics, there was widespread urban ferment, especially among the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and among the students. And there were also workers' strikes in this period.

. Student demonstrations emerged as a regular feature. There were many demonstrations and even an attempt to sit-in in the parliament. In 1969, there was a city-wide student strike in Kabul for a month and a half. Police attacks on student demonstrations were common.

. With a new Press Law in 1965 that eased censorship, a number of newspapers were launched. They reflected various political trends that were emerging. Many of the newspapers were, however, faced with bans fairly quickly.

. The political trends which emerged spanned the spectrum. The activists who led these trends and the non-government press were mainly from the intelligentsia but they reflected various class interests.

. On the right there were conservative Islamic forces and Islamic fundamentalists. These were connected to fundamentalist trends abroad and probably received patronage from Saudi Arabia. They were virulently anti-communist. They began to clamor louder and louder against what they saw as a dangerous slide towards secularism and modernization. The fundamentalists organized public demonstrations as well as such acts as acid-throwing on women who did not wear the veil.

. Various bourgeois liberal and reformist trends also emerged. And there was also the emergence of left trends with influence especially among the students.

. The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was formed in 1965. It was a left nationalist party oriented in favor of Soviet revisionism. The PDPA had a reformist program and focused its work on parliament.

. The PDPA was really formed by two trends, and in a couple of years the party quickly split back into these two factions. One was the "Khalq" (Masses) faction. The other was the "Parcham" (Flag) faction. The two factions had differing views on tactical questions and also seem to have had different social bases.

. Parcham was the more rightist of the two revisionist factions. It was led by Babrak Karmal, who was the son of a prominent general connected to the royal family. It had many connections with the Kabul bourgeoisie. Parcham used to be derided by many as the "royal communist party".

. Khalq was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki. It appears to have been mainly based among petty bourgeois strata, especially from the provinces.

. A couple of radical left currents also emerged. One was called "Eternal Flame" which some say was the largest left group in Kabul by 1970. This group stood to the left of the PDPA. It opposed imperialism and opposed the king. It supported workers' strikes. And it fought against Soviet revisionism as well as the flabby reformist views of the PDPA factions.

. Another group which emerged was called "Against National Oppression" which organized among oppressed minorities.

. But open political life was again soon suppressed. Left publications were only allowed briefly. It may also be noted that much of the political awakening barely affected the countryside.

. However, dissatisfaction continued to grow among wide sections of society. Corruption was rampant in the government. The country's foreign debt burdens were considerable. The cost of living skyrocketed. The bourgeoisie and professionals chafed at being kept out of power and privilege. Students were leaving colleges but finding few job opportunities. There was opposition to the government's repression. To top it off, in the early 70's a famine hit the country.

. This generalized unrest was to be a backdrop to the changes to come.

The king is overthrown

. In 1973, a military coup proclaimed a republic, forced the king out, and brought his cousin Daud back into power. This was the same man who had been prime minister until 1963.

. Thus this was not all that much of a change. Daud was also a member of the royal family. And he represented the dominant bourgeoisie in Afghanistan. He had a particular base in the army. But unlike the king and his cronies, Daud and his supporters decided to rule in the name of a republic.

. The revisionists of the Parcham faction helped Daud to power. Parchamis even became cabinet ministers. Parcham's stand reflected their view that change in Afghanistan had to come through an alliance with the national bourgeoisie, which they identified with Daud and his supporters. But the Parchamis were cast aside as soon as Daud consolidated his regime.

. Daud talked of reforms but took minimal steps. He even talked about land reform but nothing was really done; he continued to rule in alliance with the traditional landed interests.

. Soon Daud, who the revisionists had championed as a bourgeois-democratic hero, turned towards stepped-up repression. A ban on the press was imposed in 1975. But a different kind of press quickly emerged in Kabul. This was the so-called Evening News, which consisted of anti-government mimeographed leaflets which were distributed at night by all opposition groups.

. Islamic fundamentalists had organized against the Daud regime quite early. Daud ruled with the support of the conservative mullahs, but he was not inclined to groom the fundamentalists. Faced with Daud's attacks on them, many of them fled to Pakistan. There they got the support of the Bhutto regime. (1) One of the Islamic politicians involved in this was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Islamic student activist from Kabul University. (Hekmatyar became head of the main faction of the Islamic Party which was one of the most rabid right-wing groups in the mujahedeen resistance of the 1980s and early 90s. This is the group which received the most lavish aid from the U.S. and Pakistan. )

. The left also continued to be active in this period. Details on radical left activity are sketchy. . The Khalq and Parcham revisionists are reported to have grown in this period. They recruited among schoolteachers, army officers, civil servants, etc. The two revisionist factions reunited in 1977 as the PDPA, although the factional divisions continued.

. In its foreign policy, the Daud regime remained friendly to the Soviet Union but also expanded ties with the Shah of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, his ties with the Shah's regime were extremely cozy and included military and secret police collaboration with the Shah's Savak.

. As time went on, the Daud regime was moving further and further to the right. His cabinet became dominated by extreme right-wingers. In foreign affairs his collaboration with reactionary Gulf regimes widened. And he clamped down hard with his police apparatus. Large numbers of leftists were thrown into jail.

The "April Revolution"

. In the face of increasing repression, a military coup overthrew Daud in April 1978. It is this coup which is known as the so-called April revolution.

. The military officers who organized the coup handed over power to a civilian-military junta dominated by the revisionist PDPA. Both Parcham and Khalq factions were represented. Taraki, leader of the Khalqis, became president, while Babrak Karmal, head of Parcham, became vice-president. However, Hafizullah Amin, a key Khalq leader, was soon to become the dominant figure in the regime.

. Was this a revolution?

. The old ruling aristocracy was indeed cast aside and a regime based more on the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie came to power. They sought to modernize Afghanistan by introducing social and economic reforms.

. But there was no mass revolution. Indeed, there was little mass mobilization in support of the new regime, even though the Afghan people generally greeted the new government with sympathy.

During the period of Khalq dominance

. Shortly after the April coup, the new regime went through some internal changes. The Khalq faction became dominant, and both Parchamis and bourgeois figures were cast aside or put to pasture. The next period saw Khalq trying to carry out its own vision of social change for Afghanistan.

. Khalq was basically a petty bourgeois trend, heavily based among schoolteachers and junior army officers. This was not a reformist party of the labor aristocracy as many pro-Soviet revisionist parties tend to be. In fact, the PDPA, unlike many other revisionist parties, does not appear to have done much organizing among the workers and peasants.

. The new regime introduced a series of reforms. In general they were quite reasonable. They included steps in favor of women's rights, steps in favor of the peasantry such as the abolition of usury and the cancellation of the debts of the poor peasants, a literacy program, etc.

. But the Khalq regime had mistaken notions of how to carry these things out. Its methods were a combination of schoolteacher messianic zeal and militarist commandism. Its conception of strategy and tactics did not include mobilizing the poor themselves into class struggle. And it did not include building organization among the masses.

. And it's not as if Khalq had a large base of activists. Quite the contrary. It had a narrow social base among the urban petty bourgeoisie, and it lacked much following among the urban and rural toilers. Its numbers were in the few thousands, and it had very little organization. What's more, even the old government apparatus, which the regime had inherited, had not really extended far into the rural areas. The tribal chieftains and landlords had been the power there. And yet it was in the rural areas that the majority lived, and it was there that the new government sought to extend its reforms to.

. Under these conditions the Khalq's reform program turned out to be a fiasco. For example, the regime decreed an end to usury and the cancellation of debts owed by the poor peasants to the rich moneylenders. This was at first favorably greeted by many of the poor. But the regime lacked organization and government administration in the villages. And it didn't provide alternative sources of credit or other financial help to the peasantry to replace usury. This left the peasants in a quandary. Under these conditions the moneylenders and rural rich cynically manipulated the grievances of the peasantry against the regime and were soon able to reverse the tables on the reform.

Ruling by repression

. Faced with this and similar fiascoes, the new regime turned more and more to military methods and repression. This was directed not just against the wealthy exploiters but also against many toilers.

. Indeed, the regime all along had a tendency to rule the masses by decree and military methods rather than persuasion, education, and organization. And it also widely resorted to repression. Quite early on, the radical currents in the left were attacked and jailed. And then the Khalq regime also used police methods in its internal factional struggle with the Parchamis and even among its own Khalq members.

. Racked by internal conflict, alienating the masses everywhere, allowing the traditional exploiters to rally mass discontent, the regime dominated by the Khalqis managed to turn virtually the entire population against itself. Discontent grew into armed rebellion around the country.

. At the same time, outside forces were also getting more and more involved in the Afghan civil war. Although the Khalq leaders sought both U.S. and Soviet assistance, the Kabul regime ended up more and more dependent on the Soviet imperialists' support. Military and police ties between the Soviet Union and Kabul had greatly expanded and Soviet military men were active in organizing the regime's war. Meanwhile, the Islamic fundamentalists on the Pakistan border had all along been groomed by Pakistan. And the Chinese revisionists, the CIA, and the Khomeini regime in Iran also began to get involved with the Afghan civil war.

Soviet invasion

. By the end of 1979, the Khalq regime led by Amin was on the verge of collapse. The Soviet Union tried to get rid of Amin through a palace coup by the other Khalq leader Taraki. But this failed and Taraki was murdered.

. Finally in late December the Soviet Union invaded. It overthrew Amin, who was labeled both a CIA agent and ultra-leftist. Instead, Moscow imposed its own favored regime led by Babrak Karmal. The Parcham leaders, who were more favorably looked at by Moscow ,were put in control, although the Khalqis were not shut out.

. Contrary to what is said by the pro-Soviet revisionists, and the "Hail the Red Army in Afghanistan" shouters of the trotskyist Spartacist League, the Soviet Union did not invade to advance revolution in Afghanistan.

. It invaded out of its big-power imperialist interests. It wanted to preserve, at a time when it was on the verge of being overthrown, a regime friendly to itself. It sought to expand its economic and political control of the country. Revisionist leader Brezhnev in Moscow also wanted to use the Afghan invasion to puff up his prestige at home by showing that Soviet revisionism was allegedly gaining in support abroad. (At the time, Moscow actually thought that this would be a Czechoslovakia-type brief adventure and not the morass it ended up as. )

. Far from invading to extend revolution in Afghanistan, in fact the Soviet revisionists and the new Karmal regime put a brake on reforms in Afghanistan. In fact, Moscow had never really favored the Khalq reform program. Despite its words, it wasn't that it opposed Khalq's methods, but that it wasn't really eager for pushing forward the social reforms. Its plan was instead for working hand-in-hand with the conservative elements in Afghanistan. So the Soviet occupation authorities and the new Karmal regime tried to woo many of the traditional elements into an alliance. The new Karmal regime made an honored place for those Islamic mullahs who were willing to support it. It retreated on women's rights. Its goal was a coalition with bourgeois and tribal interests, but dominated by the PDPA.

. But despite scattered victories here and there, Moscow did not achieve much success with this attempt. By adding to local grievances the inflammatory factors of a foreign invasion and a puppet regime, it added new fuel to revolt against the PDPA rulers. Mass opposition mounted. And it may be noted that Moscow waged its war on the Afghan people with great cruelty. This did not endear the masses to its side.

. Meanwhile, after the Soviet invasion, the other outside powers also stepped up their activity. Afghanistan became the CIA's No. 1 project, funded by $600 million yearly. The Saudis added additional funds. So did Pakistan, China, the European imperialists and others.

. Moscow's war did not go well. The revisionists ended up giving up most of the countryside and holding on only to the towns. And the war dragged on, year after year.

. Meanwhile, support from the CIA and Saudi and Pakistani reaction ensured that the most reactionary, barbaric, and right-wing sectors emerged as the dominant force in the resistance. This includes the "traditionalists" (i. e. , the forces connected to the old ruling elite under both the monarchy and Daud's republic) and also the Islamic fundamentalists. They have an uneasy alliance among themselves. But, as the prospect neared of the withdrawal of Russian forces, more and more splits and fights broke out among the mujahedeen groups.

The US-USSR accords of 1988 and the Soviet pullout

. In April 1988, the U.S. and USSR signed a deal over Afghanistan. Moscow agreed to withdraw, and it completed this withdrawal in February 1989. In effect, this was an admission of defeat. But the interference by both superpowers in Afghanistan continued. The US-USSR accords provided for them to continue pouring in huge amounts of weapons to their favorite allies.

. The pro-Soviet Kabul regime was now headed by Dr. Najibullah, the secret police chief who had succeeded Karmal a few years before the US-USSR deal. His government was expected to fall rapidly once the Soviet withdrawal was complete. In fact, with massive Soviet aid, it held on for a couple of years. The mujahedeen were divided among themselves, and the Najibullah regime was able to make deals with various reactionary forces. But, with the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, Russian aid dried up, and the Najibullah regime came to an end with the fall of Kabul on April 15, 1992.

The rule of the mujahedeen: 1992-1996

. The PDPA regime had turned out to be a mess for the Afghan people, but victory for the mujahedeen forces was yet another plague over Afghanistan. It did not even end the bloodshed. Officially a coalition came to power, with Burhannudin Rabbani as president. In fact, the mujahedeen fought among themselves. Thousands upon thousands of people were massacred in the endless fighting between factions, and the capital Kabul, which had survived until now substantially intact, was devastated.

. The mujahedeen had no program for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. They subjected the country to revenge, local power-seeking, and religious extremism. Women suffered both from fundamentalist oppression and from widespread kidnaping and rape. Regular economic life, such as ordinary agriculture, continued to decline, while smuggling, drug-growing, and warlordism flourished.

. Afghanistan's neighbors, such as Pakistan, the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and Iran, armed and backed their favorite factions. Meanwhile, when the Najibullah government fell, the U.S. government lost most of its interest in Afghanistan. It had been concerned to bleed the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and cared nothing about what happened to the people of the Afghanistan.

The rule of the Taliban: 1996-2001

. The Taliban emerged in 1993 among ultra-fundamentalists of the Pushtun nationality, and is the most extreme of the groups stemming from the mujahedeen. Heavily backed by the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, it came to power throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of 1996. Other factions continued to hold some territory, and formed a "Northern Alliance" to resist it. The Taliban government would never be recognized by more than three governments: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

. The Taliban gained popularity from suppressing the incessant fighting and kidnaping by the other factions. But it also massacred members of ethnic groups which formed the basis of rival factions, had no real economic program, enforced some of the most extreme fundamentalist bans anywhere in the world (against most activities of women as well as against music, kites, etc.) , and was corrupt itself.

. Insofar as the US government still had any interest in Afghanistan, it was concerned with the proposed UNOCAL gas pipeline deal. So the US looked favorably on the Taliban for several years. It thought the Taliban might end the fighting in Afghanistan and provide the stability needed if there were to be energy pipelines. The USSR had built some energy pipelines in Afghanistan during the 80s and guarded them with substantial military forces, yet they had proved notably vulnerable to attack.

. Some frictions arose between the US and the Taliban, but it was the Taliban's close connection with bin Laden and al-Qaeda that proved decisive. On Aug. 7, 1998, American embassies were bombed in Narobi and Dar es Salaam. Two weeks later the Clinton administration launched cruise missiles against suspected bin Laden camps in Afghanistan (as well as against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan). From now on, the bin Laden issue would dominate US-Taliban relations.

. In 2001 the Bush administration reopened negotiations with the Taliban, but could come to no agreement with it on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Then, after bin Laden's terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Bush declared a "war on terrorism". The first foreign military operation was a new Afghan war, this time directed against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Bin Laden, whose operations in Afghanistan had been backed by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan war, was now the target, along with the Taliban regime.

Immediate prospects

. After heavy US bombing, the Northern Alliance was able to vanguish the Taliban, and its troops took Kabul and other major cities. US and UN pressure forced the establishment of a temporary government, combining the Northern Alliance with other reactionary forces. But the agony of Afghanistan is hardly over. It's not just that, as 2001 ends, the US-Taliban war isn't completely over yet. American troops are still in Afghanistan, searching for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. It's that the new government of Afghanistan consists of the same backward forces that plundered and raped Afghanistan in 1992-96.

. At this point, it's still not clear whether the present government will establish its authority, or break down into new factional fighting. In either case, the working people of Afghanistan face a difficult situation, with no large mass force acting in their defense against the exploiting classes that dominate the government and the various factions, and against the foreign powers that have made Afghanistan into a pawn for their own interests. The wars of the last 20 years have devastated the left. Both the pro-Soviet forces and the mujahedeen worked to crush any independent voice of the working masses. Moreover, the destruction of the economy has disorganized the worker and peasant masses who could be the basis of a powerful class struggle. On top of this, the left in Afghanistan faces the same crisis of revolutionary orientation as that of the rest of world. Despite all this, there are apparently small groups that have heroically continued radical work under the worst conditions. It will still be a long time before Afghan activists can build up a strong independent movement of the masses. But it is this work that will lay the basis for a way out of the Afghan tragedy.

. For now, this article must still end with the same words that it did in its original version in 1988:

. Unfortunately, at present there doesn't seem to be any progressive Afghan force which is strong enough to rally the masses against the various warring factions of oppressors. The working class is too small and lacks an independent voice, and there is still no revolutionary movement among the peasants. There is no radical current among the toilers which can function as a influential left revolutionary alternative. (However, some remnants of the old radical left currents may still be active in parts of the interior of Afghanistan and in the urban underground. )
. So the situation is still bleak for the Afghan toilers. This is Afghanistan's tragedy. Entering into the modern era only recently, the social forces that could move the country forward were either too weak or managed to turn the idea of democratic advance into a fiasco. This eventually strengthened the hands of the traditional exploiters and conservatives. As well, no small responsibility for this lies on Soviet revisionism which gained influence over much of the Afghan left. And shame on U.S. imperialism which has poured in billions of dollars to turn the clock back in this poor country. <>


(1) Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was president of Pakistan in the mid-70's. He was widely praised by many reformists worldwide as a progressive hero, and the Chinese leaders in the time of Mao also liked him. He himself paraded as a socialist and people's politician. But in reality he had a long record of reactionary activity. At the same time as he was supporting Islamic fundamentalists from Afghanistan, he was conducting a vicious war of national oppression against the Baluchi people in the west of Pakistan. In 1971, he had vigorously supported the Pakistani military's brutal war against East Bengal, which seceded to form Bangladesh. (Return to text)


From the Soviet withdrawal to Taliban rule

By Mark, Detroit


The collapse of the Najibullah regime
U.S. "freedom fighters" in power: 1992-1996
Rise of the Taliban
U.S. attitude toward the Taliban
Devastation of Afghan society

. In this article we trace various important developments in Afghanistan from the period when the pseudo-communist Soviet Union withdrew in 1989 through the period of Taliban control of most of the country. In general, this is a period of further carnage and ruin. The defeat of the state-capitalist Soviet Union's decade-long imperialist occupation of Afghanistan was welcomed, but instead of it leading to relief for the Afghan people, a new period of horrors descended upon them. Fanatical Islamic trends, which had been armed to the teeth by U.S. imperialism during the anti-Soviet war, now turned their energies toward imposing a reign of terror against the masses and waging endless bloody wars for plunder and power. The Pakistani and Saudi Arabian regimes were partners with the U.S. in bolstering the fundamentalists during the anti-Soviet war. After the Soviets left and U.S. imperialism's interest waned, these regimes continued to build up some of the worst warlord armies while Washington smiled on this. Eventually their efforts gave rise to the Taliban.

. Meanwhile, other capitalist countries were aiding their own favorite warlords, including Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian republics who had won their independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For both the big capitalist powers and the lesser ones, the Afghan people were just to be the human sacrifice necessary for the sake of insuring that the gangsters they backed would be strong enough to see after their respective bourgeois interests. All this had a devastating effect on Afghanistan's already dirt-poor masses, destroying the meager livelihoods of large sections of the population, creating vast armies of homeless refugees, and creating an extensive criminal and drug economy. The downward spiral in Afghanistan began during the occupation of the state-capitalist Soviet Union and the Cold War rivalry with U.S. imperialism. But it was completed under the unchallenged reign of world neo-liberalism, led by the U.S. bourgeoisie.

The collapse of the Najibullah regime

. The last of the regimes propped up by the Soviet occupation forces was that of Dr. Najibullah. Najibullah had been the head of the brutal secret police under the revisionist (phony communist) PDPA regime. He succeeded the government of Babrak Karmal of the Parcham faction of the PDPA. Karmal was installed in power by the Kremlin which toppled the previous ruler, Hafizullah Amin, a leader of the Khalq faction of the PDPA. Amin, in turn, had taken over via a coup against Nur Mohammed Taraki, another Khalq leader.

Najibullah and his Soviet backers hoped to stave off the mujahadeen forces which had been fighting the invading Soviet army for a decade. He tried to reach out to his reactionary opponents to form a coalition government, but this failed. Meanwhile the invading Soviet army, which kept Najibullah in power, was being worn down by the mujahadeen guerrillas who were acquiring more sophisticated weapons, like Stinger missiles, from their U.S. benefactors. In February 1989, the Soviet army packed up and left, though continuing significant Soviet military aid allowed Najibullah to hold on for a time. But as the Soviet Union itself headed for collapse, this aid dried up, and in 1992 the Islamic reactionaries deposed him. (In 1996 the Taliban savagely murdered Najibullah, who was then under UN protection in Kabul. )

U.S. "freedom fighters" in power: 1992-1996

. The Islamic warlords who came to power were hailed as heroes by the U.S. bourgeoisie. President Reagan had called them "freedom fighters" who were "an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence. "(1) The enthusiasm for the medieval reactionaries was bipartisan as demonstrated by Democratic Senator Bill Bradley's view that the warlords were "the sole legitimate representatives of the Afghan people" who were "developing a modern concept of an independent, neutral Islamic state. "(2) Throughout the 80s the U.S. channeled several billion dollars worth of weapons to these forces through the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) which was directly involved in organizing a number of mujahadeen military operations. The CIA also supported a pipeline of aid and fighters from Arab countries like Saudi Arabia which included none other than Osama bin-Laden.

. Behind all the fine words about "freedom", the real motive of the U.S. support was to draw their rival for world domination, the Soviet Union, into a debilitating struggle. This was admitted by President Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in a January 1998 interview in which he revealed that U.S. aid to the mujahadeen forces actually began even before the Soviet invasion. Brzezinski also boasted that the U.S. wasn't at all concerned about what the rise to power of their Islamic fundamentalist friends would mean since their main rival at the time, the Soviet Union, would be undermined. According to Brzezinski: "What was more important in the world? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"(3)

. Indeed, the U.S. policy was a resounding success in furthering the overall crisis of the Soviet Union, though the roots of the collapse of the Soviet Union lay in the contradictions of the state-capitalist system there itself. For U.S. imperialism at the time, the potential danger of "blowback" from some of its former Islamic fundamentalist allies was then considered a tolerable result. The fact that the Afghan population would now face a new disaster did not concern the U.S. government in the least. As far as the U.S. rulers were concerned, the Afghan people were just pawns to be sacrificed in the imperialist chess game.

. So it was that in 1992 a coalition of warlords including Burhannudin Rabbani (president), Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (prime minister) and Ahmad Shah Massoud (defense minister) came to power. Almost immediately, war broke out between members of this coalition. Rabbani and his top commander Massoud came under attack by Hekmatyar's forces for control of the capital, Kabul. The combatants had different ethnic power bases, with Rabbani/Massoud being Tajiks and Hekmatyar being Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar, one of the most ruthless and backward of the anti-Soviet mujahadeen, nevertheless had the enormous backing of the U.S.-Pakistan aid pipeline during the anti-Soviet war. Pakistan continued to place its hopes for influence in Afghanistan on him, at least until 1994 when they began to cultivate a new force, the Taliban. Another major warlord was General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum was not only a brutal butcher but also developed to an art the warlord habit of opportunistically switching sides in any conflict. He was a "communist" commander of Najibullah's northern militia forces, but joined the mujahadeen forces on the eve of the overthrow of Najibullah. Dostum initially backed the Rabbani regime when it came to power. But in 1994, Dostum abandoned it to hook up with Hekmatyar's war against Rabbani. (Later Dostum would ally with the Taliban, then return to the anti-Taliban warlord coalition. )

. While the warlords fought over Kabul, it was the masses who paid the price. Indiscriminate bombardment killed tens of thousands of civilians in Kabul and reduced the city to rubble. Warlordism was not confined to the capital but spread with the consolidation of the rule of various fundamentalist groups across the country.

. The victory of the mujahadeen warlords was accompanied by a campaign against women's rights. In Kabul, women attended university in equal numbers to men and occupied a high percent of professions like teaching and doctors prior to the warlords' triumph. This was intolerable to the Islamic fanatics. One of their first actions was to abolish the Afghan Constitution which included fundamental rights for women. In reality, these rights were abolished prior to 1992 wherever the warlords had control. An Amnesty International report in 1995 entitled "Women in Afghanistan: a humanitarian tragedy" noted that in Afghanistan, "women have been prevented from exercising their fundamental rights -- including the rights to association, freedom of expression and employment -- by Mujahadeen groups who consider such activities to be un-Islamic for women. " The report also cites an ordinance mandating "a veil that covers the whole body" for women and that forbids women from leaving their homes. As well, armed gangs abducted, raped, and murdered women with impunity. Today the Bush administration, wants to install in power a coalition of these same warlords while it hypocritically raises the extreme oppression of women under the Taliban as part of its justification for their so-called "war on terrorism. "

. The warlords had no intention of rebuilding society. They were mainly interested in simply plundering what they could. Drug-trafficking and other criminal enterprises sustained many of them. In Khandahar, a number of local warlords seized homes and farms to give to their supporters and stole what they wanted from merchants. Factories and even telephone poles were stripped to sell to Pakistani scrap merchants.

Rise of the Taliban

. As the rival warlord factions busied themselves with plunder, oppression and constant bloodletting, a new ultra-fundamentalist force was taking shape, the Taliban. The Taliban emerged around 1993, from the "madrassas" (religious schools) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions which were teaching a severe brand of Islam. The growth of religious schools was encouraged by the Pakistani government which also went a long way toward dismantling the public education system. The Saudi monarchy was also supporting the growth of these schools in Pakistan whose religious doctrine was similar to the Saudi rulers own fundamentalist doctrine, Wahibbism. The schools also provided military training and arms thanks to the Pakistani ISI, with funding from the Saudis and help from the CIA. Pakistan had been losing faith in Hekmatyar, and then-Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who ruled from 1993-96 (and previously from 1989-90), was a driving force behind the shift to the Taliban as its stalking horse in Afghanistan. In fact it was she who made public that the U.S. was financing the schools where the Taliban arose. While all sorts of religious backwardness existed in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban, their brand of ultra-fundamentalism was only a minor trend prior to the backing they got from Pakistan, the Saudis and U.S. imperialism. The Taliban was also fostered by the general backing of Islamic warlords by these same forces since the anti-Soviet war. For example, at one time Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had been a combatant in Hekmatyar's Party of Islam group (Hizb-e-Islami).

. The Taliban saw as their mission the purification of the Islamic holy war which had decayed into anarchy in Afghanistan. To this end, they were committed to conquering all the other groups and imposing their rigid religious code on everyone. Their foot soldiers were young men made refugees or orphans during the years of war. The influence of fanatical trends that gave rise to the likes of the Taliban was undoubtedly helped by the fact that refugee relief aid went through the Pakistani ISI, which made sure to direct it to the extremist Islamic groups. Besides the governmental backing already mentioned, the Taliban also received financial backing from merchant-transport criminal enterprises on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border. This "mafia" was upset at being shaken down by numerous local warlords as they attempted to move merchandise across Afghanistan and were happy to give the Taliban a cut of their profits in return for Taliban conquests clearing out the other warlords.

. After its initial military victories in 1994, the Taliban got a reputation as invincible fighters. In reality it was not their innate military abilities that allowed them to sweep through the country, however. The outside aid they got, as well as the inability of the rival warlords to stop slaughtering each other, were more important factors. Indeed, some of the Taliban's key victories were facilitated by the utter corruption of rival warlords and the propensity of local reactionaries to be bribed. For example, in 1995 the Pakistani ISI brokered a deal which resulted in General Dostum temporarily cooperating with the Taliban, which helped provide the Taliban with air power. In July 1996, the Taliban conquest of Jalalabad was aided by the defection of the local Islamic council following a $10 million bribe.

. While the Taliban had no program for the masses save religious intolerance, they initially had support from some part of the population based on their presenting themselves as a force that was interested in cleaning up the outrages of the other warlords and establishing some semblance of peace and order. While the Taliban had no plan to revive the economy, the fact that peace would allow a certain amount of normal economic activity to take place also had appeal and assisted their rise to power.

. But it did not take long for the Taliban to show their true colors. By the end of 1996, the Taliban had taken Kabul. Like Hekmatyar earlier, their shelling of the city caused great destruction and thousands more civilian casualties. Soon their repressive rule under Islamic Sharia law was imposed on the masses, with the worst reserved for women. Women were immediately banned from work and schools. Eventually women were forced to wear the oppressive head-to-toe "burkha" and banned from most hospitals. While the Taliban claimed they were protecting the virtue of women, in fact large numbers of women could now only support themselves by begging or prostitution. TV, videos, music and games were banned while compliance with all aspects of their particular religious cult was mandatory. Religious police roamed the streets, beating, jailing and killing those who violated their vision of Islamic law.

. It was also apparent that despite Taliban claims that they just wanted to oppose warlord violence, they behaved just like other brutal warlord factions, committing atrocities in a quest for unchallenged power. Some of the Taliban's most brutal crimes took place in its campaign to conquer the Shia Muslim regions and northern regions. The Taliban were mainly Sunni Muslims and ethnic Pashtuns from the south. In expanding the territory under their control they carried out ethnic cleansing against Shias and other ethnic groups. In these battles, there was also ethnic cleansing against the Taliban by the coalition of warlords that had retreated to the North, led by Massoud's Tajik forces and Dostum's Uzbek troops. By this time these forces were being backed by the newly-independent Central Asian regimes and Russia out of fear of fundamentalist revolts spreading to their countries. Those governments were quite repressive in their own right, but they were secular. The Taliban slaughtered Shia civilians on the way to invading the northern alliance stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif. After a popular uprising and Dostum's troops made the Taliban retreat, one of Dostum's commanders carried out a mass execution of 2,000 Taliban prisoners. When in August 1998 the Taliban again gained the upper hand in the city, 800 Uzbek prisoners were slaughtered. Then the Taliban, with the blessings of top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, went on a killing spree inside Mazar-e-Sharif, killing anyone and everything that moved for two days. According to some estimates, some 6,000 people were slaughtered.

U.S. attitude toward the Taliban

. When the Taliban began to conquer Afghanistan, the U.S. government had no particular objections despite the fact that the Clinton administration was well aware of their fanatical beliefs. With the ousting of the Soviets, Afghanistan was no longer a high priority on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The former large flows of aid to the fundamentalists dried up, though there was still an amount left over in the hands of the Pakistani authorities. However, the Clinton policy was mainly to let Pakistan interfere as it pleased in Afghanistan, provided no fundamental U.S. interest was threatened. Having unleashed the tyrannical Pakistani regime and their client warlords, the U.S. rulers' basic approach was to wash their hands of the tragedy that they helped set in motion. Insofar as U.S. foreign policy was concerned with Afghanistan at all, its attitude was largely informed by placating the Pakistani rulers and an attempt to reach a gas pipeline deal. The U.S. seriously refocused on Afghanistan only when their conflict with bin Laden heated up, at which point this issue trumped whatever other interests they had in Afghanistan. Eventually this led to war against the Taliban.

. Prior to the bin Laden issue dominating the U.S. stand on Afghanistan, however, various U.S. officials who dealt with the region had hopes for the Taliban. Part of this involved a pipeline being pushed by the American UNOCAL company which was putting together a consortium to run a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan south across Afghanistan to Pakistan. Building an expensive pipeline required a stable political climate, no matter how oppressive, and it was hoped that by conquering the other warlords, the Taliban would provide this. A CIA report concluded that the pipeline was feasible under Taliban rule. In May 1996, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel had already expressed worries about Afghanistan "exporting terrorism," but nevertheless, as the Taliban took Kabul, Raphel argued that "It is not in the interests of Afghanistan or any of us here that the Taliban be isolated. "(4) A U.S. diplomat even happily speculated in January 1997 that "The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did" since there will be "pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that. "(5) In other words, the U.S. government could get along with another tyrannical regime so long as the U.S. corporations were allowed to pursue oil and gas resources.

. It should be noted that the UNOCAL pipeline through Afghanistan was merely one of many pipelines via different routes being contemplated to transport gas and oil resources from the Central Asian countries. There was also a rival pipeline through Afghanistan being pushed by Bridas, an Argentine firm. (60% of Bridas' Latin American assets were later purchased by the U.S. company Amoco. ) The UNOCAL Afghan pipeline met the general criterion of the U.S. government for this and other pipeline proposals, namely bypassing Iran in line with U.S. sanctions against that country. As for any unique advantages for the Afghan route, there was some speculation that having a pipeline ending in Pakistan would make it easier to market oil in South Asia, an area experiencing much capitalist growth. While negotiations for the Afghan pipeline dragged on, U.S. oil companies with facilities in Central Asia grew anxious about an immediate route for transporting their oil and gas. In July 1997, Clinton briefly attempted to create an exception for these companies on restrictions on shipping through Iran. But Congress objected and these plans soon died and the long-standing policy of isolating Iran remained in force. Meanwhile, activists were exposing UNOCAL and the U.S. government for their attempts at courting the Taliban despite its brutal assault on women. This was an embarrassment for UNOCAL and the Clinton administration and created some complications in negotiating with the Taliban.

. But the turning point for the pipeline project and U.S. relations with the Taliban in general was when the contradiction over sheltering bin Laden came to a boil. Following the blowing up of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, Clinton fired cruise missiles at suspected bin Laden camps in Afghanistan. (As part of a concurrent action, the U.S. blew up a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, falsely claiming bin Laden owned it. ) This pretty much killed UNOCAL's Afghanistan pipeline hopes, and in any case by 1999 the company was curtailing many capital spending projects due to a plunge of world oil prices. By the time the present war in Afghanistan began, the pipeline project was dead. As well, there were already other projects to transport Central Asian oil underway, such as pipelines bypassing Iran by going under the Caspian sea and then linking up with pipelines ending up in Turkey, such as one of the Clinton administration's pet projects in the Caspian region, the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

. The new "get tough" policy marked by hurling missiles into Afghanistan, was somewhat mitigated by U.S. deference to the interests of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both of whom were intimately connected to the Taliban. The U.S. supported sanctions imposed against Afghanistan by the UN in October 1999. These sanctions hurt the Afghan economy and humanitarian relief efforts while, in reality, they had little effect on the Taliban. But at the same time, the U.S. did little to prevent the strong support given the Taliban by the Pakistani and Saudi regimes. In part, this seems to have had to do with the historic U.S. relationship to Saudi Arabia. U.S. imperialism was evidently concerned with not irritating the Saudi monarchy, whose vast oil resources had for decades made them a strategic U.S. ally, and, prior to September 11 anyway, this appears to have been a factor in the U.S. continuing to put out feelers to the Taliban.

. Indeed, despite hostility toward the Taliban, the Clinton and then Bush administrations still periodically made friendly gestures to the Taliban. In May 2001, the Bush administration praised the Taliban for harsh measures they instituted against the peasants who had been reduced to growing opium. In July, Secretary of State Powell announced $43 million in drought-relief for agencies involved in relief efforts in Afghanistan and promised more aid could be forthcoming if the Taliban did other things the U.S. government desired. Had the Taliban not persisted in support of bin Laden, it's quite possible that Bush would have continued to pursue reaching an understanding with the Taliban despite their medieval agenda.

Devastation of Afghan society

. Afghanistan has always been a poor and economically undeveloped country. But the Soviet imperialists' war against Afghanistan and the build-up of the Islamic warlords with U.S. support have led to over two decades of warfare which has driven down the conditions of the masses to previously unknown depths. An estimated 1. 5 million people have been killed. Nearly a third of the Afghan population of 22. 5 million people survive only because of international relief aid. Prior to September 11, about 3. 7 million Afghans were refugees, living mainly in Pakistan and Iran. Another million people were reduced to refugee status inside Afghanistan. Since the U.S.-Taliban war, millions more have fled their homes. One in four children dies before age five and 70% of the population is malnourished. Life expectancy is only 43 years. The educational system is destroyed, and half of adult males and almost 80% of females are illiterate.

. Before the Soviet occupation and the reign of the Islamic warlords culminating in the Taliban, the vast majority of the population managed to eke out a harsh existence in agriculture. Industry was always extremely weak and there was a tiny industrial working class. There was also a growing section of migrant workers who found jobs in the Persian Gulf countries and sent remittances home. In the cities there was a private merchant class and small businesses. There was a humble but functioning state infrastructure, and a system of state-controlled secular and religious schools was dominant over the private madrassas, religious schools such as those that later fostered the Taliban. The influence of the central government in the countryside was always minimal, however. For example, there were state decrees increasing the rights of women, but this progress generally didn't extend into rural areas.

. The period of the Soviet occupation and the build-up of the U.S.-sponsored fundamentalists contributed to the downfall of much of the agricultural economy. Constant warfare created great obstacles for both subsistence farming and rural trade, and this led to a great decline in food production for the population. Huge numbers of peasants had to flee their farms for the cities or other countries. Destruction of irrigation projects ruined some of the best agricultural regions such as the plains of the Hindu Kush mountains near Kabul. The decline in subsistence farming went hand in hand with an increase in growing certain cash crops. As well, the pro-Soviet regime pushed peasants to grow cash crops like sugar and cotton for government-run processing factories.

. Meanwhile, a number of mujahadeen commanders who were fighting the Soviet-backed government encouraged their own cash crop, opium. Opium production grew greatly among peasant farmers whose traditional farming was disrupted. It provided them with a crop with a guaranteed market, though the amount they got for the opium was a pittance compared to the criminal rings that processed and sold the drug. Islamic warlords taxed the opium crops and developed lucrative connections to criminal organizations involved in the drug trade. With the defeat of the pro-Soviet government, the Islamic warlords expanded these operations. For example, Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader recently murdered by the Taliban, helped the Russian mafia get drugs into Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan while they supplied Massoud with arms. For several years the Taliban was reaping a huge income from an opium tax. This helped finance their war efforts, while the official government budget was financed by the Pakistani government.

. The Islamic warlords grew economically powerful. Drugs were hardly their only income. Massive amounts of foreign money were funneled to the Islamic extremist groups via the Pakistan government. The Islamic warlords reportedly sometimes used their piles of foreign funds to make financial investments overseas. Sometimes warlords took control of local businesses and taxed them. As well, part of the humanitarian aid that was administered by Pakistani officials was skimmed by the Islamic groups as well as Pakistani officers.

. Smuggling was a very important part of the economic underpinning of the warlord groups and strong economic relations developed between surrounding countries and different warlords based on these smuggling operations. Smuggling of consumer goods, arms and drugs between Pakistan and Afghanistan was a very lucrative enterprise. It was a big source of income not only for the warlords but for corrupt Pakistani military officers and officials. Prior to being conquered by the Taliban, General Dostum's northern militias controlled trade with the Central Asian republics as well as the bazaar of Mazar-e-Sharif and customs checkpoints in the region. The western city of Herat, near the Iranian border was under the Shia warlord, Ismail Khan. This gave him control of trade with Iran and smuggling of goods sent from the port of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates into Pakistan, bypassing Pakistani customs duties. We have already mentioned Massoud's smuggling network with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There were many smaller criminal rings, too. These combined sources of income, along with the ruin of much of the former agricultural base, gave the foreign-backed groups the ability to bribe local tribal leaders and other rural exploiters.

. With the assumption to power of the Taliban, smuggling was not ended, just more under their control. The Pakistani-based rings benefited by paying a single protection tax to the Taliban rather than numerous tolls and tributes to local warlords as their goods moved across the country. Criminal transport networks were so dominant, that the World Bank estimated that in 1997 the value of smuggling equaled one-half the GDP of Afghanistan. It also accounted for 12-13% of all Pakistani trade. The United Arab Emirates, the departure point for so much of the illicit goods, also had a big stake in this since Afghanistan was its second largest trading partner.


. The prominence of a criminal-warlord economy has been one of the great "triumphs" of the Soviet intervention and U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi support for the most backward forces in Afghanistan as well as the intrigues of other neighboring capitalist states. The old Afghanistan was one of poverty, class exploitation and the rule of a royal family. The state-capitalist Soviet Union invaded under the banner of "socialism", and the U.S.-led the market capitalist countries backed their proxy warlord armies under the banner of "freedom and democracy. " What did these self-proclaimed pillars of civilization bring? They added mass slaughter and starvation to the already existing oppression and backwardness. The utter ruin of Afghanistan is one of the great crimes committed by the world capitalist (including "socialist" state-capitalist) states.

. Unfortunately, the development of class organization necessary to liberate the masses from their ordeal is going to be a long and difficult process. The mass dislocation of the population and the reduction of millions of people to surviving on foreign aid has weakened their capacity to be a force in their own right. Not only is there not an organized working class, but a working class barely exists. Even prior to the Soviet invasion, there had been no revolutionary motion among the peasantry and there is little to suggest that this will quickly change. While conditions would be daunting for any revolutionary political force in Afghanistan, as far as we are aware, there are only the tiniest left-wing forces and they apparently largely operate outside the country. Groups that really stand up to imperialism, the Afghan exploiters and the Islamic reactionaries face a situation where there is little chance they will be a mass force for a long time. Still, a start must be made, and those brave forces that undertake it deserve the support of the workers and progressive activists everywhere. <>


(1) March 12, 1983 Proclamation. (Return to text)

(2) Cited negatively by Dr. James Ingalls, Treasurer of the Afghan Women's Mission, a group promoting health clinics associated with RAWA (Revolutionary Afghan Womens' Association). See Ingalls' "U.S. Foreign Policy in Afghanistan" at

< http://www. sonaliaandjim. net/politics/ >. (Text)

(3) Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: militant Islam, oil and fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 130. (Text)

(4) Rashid, p. 178. (Text)

(5) Ibid. , p. 179. (Text)


Who are Reagan's 'freedom fighters' in Afghanistan?

Workers' Advocate, May 1988


. The regime of the People's Democratic Party in Afghanistan has clearly been a sad story for the Afghan people.

. When it overthrew the old bourgeois-landlord regime in 1978, it promised modernization for the country. It had some sympathy among the people who were fed up with the dictatorial and corrupt old regime. But the new government quickly made a mess of things. It quickly antagonized all sectors of society and turned to repression against one and all, including the toilers. The Soviet imperialists tried to save this regime which was allied to them. But since they trampled on the national rights of the people, virtually the entire population went into the opposition.

. But that's only one side of the Afghan story. What about the "freedom fighters' that Reagan has been so enthusiastic over? What about Dan Rather's favorite guerrillas in the third world?

. In the early days of the struggle against the Soviet occupation, the movement was somewhat fluid. The resistance included tribalist forces, religious fundamentalists, bourgeois groupings, and even a few left-wing currents.

. But the Afghan opposition quickly became the CIA's No. 1 worldwide project. The U.S. bourgeoisie decided to use the Afghan resistance as a tool to bleed the Russians. Both the Democrats and Republicans were enthusiastic partners in this scheme. The revisionists in China were a willing participant in the Afghan operation. So were the Pakistani military and Saudi Arabia who had long backed Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan. Khomeini's Iran too joined in the act.

. Each year, the CIA has funneled over half a billion dollars' worth of weapons and material aid to the Afghan resistance. All told, the mujahedeen go over $1 billion a year. And they also made money with their extensive involvement in drug running. The U.S. government also increased its bribes to the Pakistani dictatorship of General Zia, which provided sanctuary and acted as a funnel for aid to the Afghan guerrillas. Indeed, because of this U.S. aid, Zia's regime was bolstered against the Pakistani people.

. The result of this all-out U.S.-backed effort is that the most right-wing and reactionary sectors in the Afghan opposition came to the fore. The left-wing currents were quickly overshadowed, facing repression not only from the Soviet-backed regime but also attacks from the CIA-backed mujahedeen. Elements among them also tried to adapt themselves to the right-wing and religious views of the dominant forces. However, it is possible that in the interior of the country and in the urban underground, some resistance forces that originated in the Afghan left may still be around.

. Today the Afghan resistance is dominated by the parties based in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. These are the forces that have been funded and armed by the U.S.-led anti-Soviet alliance. These forces break down into two main political trends.

The fundamentalists

. First there are the Islamic fundamentalists, especially the Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This is the party which has received the lion's share of U.S. and Pakistani aid.

. The Islamic fundamentalists emerged with a base among students in the Afghan cities in the 1960's. They protested modernization and sought a fundamentalist Islamic order. They fought against the various left-wing currents that also emerged at this time. Their early activities included throwing acid on women who took off the veil.

. They tried to initiate an armed rebellion against the bourgeois-landlord republic which replaced the King in 1973. They conspired from bases in Pakistan where they were given support by the Pakistani government.

. However they did not have much success in drawing a mass following in Afghanistan. Only with the war against the Soviet occupation and with massive outside backing has this party become a major factor. Their goal is a capitalist regime run along strict Islamic lines, like Khomeini's Iran (although unlike Khomeini they belong to the Sunni, rather than the Shiite, Islamic sect).

The traditional parties

. Then there are the traditional parties, who are often being described as "moderate" forces. These are the parties organized by those who were part of the old monarchy and later the bourgeois-landlord regime which was overthrown in 1978. They include monarchists who seek a return of the King; they include tribal chieftains of different Afghan regions; and other semi-feudal and capitalist forces. These parties also fly the Islamic banner but do not want an outright fundamentalist order. They would like a restoration of the monarchy or a regime similar to the pre-1978 order.

. The two blocs may have their differences, as well as different shades within themselves, but let it be clear that all these parties are thoroughly reactionary. They have no progressive social program, for that matter, no social program whatsoever. They campaign against the Kabul regime and the Soviet occupation for such deviations as upholding women's rights and bringing education to the masses. Indeed, mujahedeen forces have been known to kill school teachers and they openly pledge to turn the clock back on women's rights in Afghanistan.

. In Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation has been a disaster for the people and must be opposed. We must also oppose "our" government's efforts to impose a reactionary order in Afghanistan with billions of dollars in CIA funds and weapons. <>


The U.S.-USSR Afghan accords:

a cynical deal that fuels more bloodshed

Workers' Advocate, May 1988


. Over the last decade, the people of Afghanistan have been caught up in the middle of a painful tragedy. Despite all the fanfare about the recent Geneva accords, the outlook for the Afghan people remains poor.

. In 1979, a civil war brought out in that country, bringing in growing military intervention by the Soviet Union. Soon Afghanistan fell under the occupation of Russian imperialism. Moscow unleashed a brutal war against the Afghan people. Meanwhile, the resistance to Soviet occupation became dominated by CIA-backed reactionary forces of tribal chieftains and Islamic fundamentalists. In this cruel war, hundreds of thousands have died, about five million Afghans have become refugees, and the country is in a shambles.

. According to the Geneva agreements signed on April 14, the Soviet Union will start pulling out its 115,000 troops on May 15. They are to finish their withdrawal in nine months.

. Although Moscow won't say as much, the Geneva agreements signify that its nine-year military adventure in Afghanistan has been a fiasco. For the Soviet Union, the Afghan adventure turned out to be a costly one. Thousands of Soviet troops were killed and wounded, pressure was mounting at home to get out, and the war itself kept dragging on. What's more, the Afghan occupation remained a major obstacle in Moscow's foreign relations.

. It's good that the Soviet troops will leave, although they plan to do it in a way which preserves their tentacles in Afghanistan. The department of Soviet troops does not mean that the misery of the Afghan people is over. At geneva the imperialists of both Washington and Moscow also made a deal to ensure that the Afghan tragedy continues to be a bloody one for some time to come.

A cynical agreement to fuel more bloodshed

. Besides the agreement on Soviet troop withdrawal, the U.S. and Soviet governments also arrived at another understanding. This allows both the Soviet Union and the U.S. to keep pouring in weapons to their clients in the Afghan conflict. They describe this cynical agreement as "positive symmetry. " (They rejected cutting off arms aid by both sides because that would have been "negative symmetry. ")

. Thus what the Geneva agreements mean is that the Soviet war in Afghanistan is being "Afghanized. " Soviet troop casualties are to be brought to an end but their puppet regime in Afghanistan is being armed to fight on. And the U.S. will continue to arm its guerrilla forces.

. It is likely, however, that with Soviet withdrawal, the Moscow-backed regime in Afghanistan will collapse like a house of cards. This government has not been able to widen its tiny social base; it is hated by the vast majority of the people; and it is torn up internally by severe factional strife.

. Meanwhile the armed opposition groups known as the mujahedeen have rejected the Geneva accords. These are the forces armed and backed by the U.S. , China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran to the tune of $1 billion a year. They pledge to fight till the Kabul regime is overthrown.

. None of the major contenders for power in Afghanistan offer anything positive for the Afghan people. The Soviet-backed regime was clearly a disaster. But the mujahedeen's goals are thoroughly reactionary. All of them seek one type of backward-looking Islamic regime or another; and the faction most heavily funded and armed by the CIA would like to establish an outright fundamentalist order, like Khomeini's in Iran. (See adjoining article, "Who are Reagan's `freedom fighters' in Afghanistan?", for more on these forces. )

. Factional strife is widespread among these forces. Frequently they are at war with each other. With the Soviet withdrawal and the impending collapse of the Kabul regime, the in-fighting among the mujahedeen is already on the rise.

. Thus with the Geneva accords, the stage is laid for bloody warfare between one and all factions, as each jockeys for influence and supremacy. It is the people of Afghanistan who are caught in the middle of all this, serving as cannon fodder and victims in a civil war in which no one offers a progressive future.

. Despite the planned Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan will remain caught up in the midst of imperialist rivalry. Neither the Soviet Union nor the U.S. has agreed to allow self-determination for Afghanistan. That has unfortunately long been the cruel fate of Afghanistan. For centuries, the people in the area which is now Afghanistan have been caught up in repeated rivalries of outside empires. And Afghanistan has been a land with little economic development, which was beginning to enter the modern era only a few decades ago.

. The Afghan people have to liberate themselves from this imperialist game and they will have to find their way out of poverty and backwardness. But none of the powers-that-be -- the tribal bosses, the landlords, and the urban bourgeoisie -- can do this. For Afghanistan to be free, sooner or later, the toilers of town and country have to build their own independent revolutionary movement. A movement which bases itself on the class interests of the exploited. A movement which seeks to transform society based on the struggle of the masses of urban and rural toilers. A movement which is free of the tutelage of the Soviet Union, U.S. and other outside reactionary powers. <>


Self-determination for Afghanistan!

Caught between Soviet occupation and a CIA dirty war

Workers Advocate, February, 1985


. Five years ago, tens of thousands of Soviet social-imperialist troops crossed their borders and invaded the southwest Asian country of Afghanistan. They still remain there, defending an occupation regime through a brutal war against the Afghan people. Thousands have been killed in this war and three million have fled to neighboring countries as refugees.

. The Marxist-Leninist Party, USA remains as firmly opposed to the Russian adventure in Afghanistan as we were when we condemned the invasion five years ago. This crime serves as a sharp indictment of the present-day Soviet Union. It stands as one more proof that the Soviet Union today is in reality an imperialist power and socialist only in name.

. But the Russian social-imperialist occupation of Afghanistan is only one side of the bitter tragedy that has engulfed the Afghan people. On the other hand, the just sentiments of the Afghan people to resist national subjugation are being cynically manipulated by a whole gamut of reactionary forces. The U.S. imperialists and their allies -- Chinese revisionism, Arab reaction and the Pakistani military dictatorship -- are backing a force of Afghan feudal chieftains who seek to enchain Afghanistan to the U.S. and place it under the rule of medieval reaction and religious backwardness. Recent disclosures show that the "Afghan operation" has become the biggest covert operation of the CIA since the days of the Viet Nam war.

. The Marxist-Leninist Party supports the sentiment of the Afghan people to fight Soviet occupation. But this does not mean that we support those who claim to be freedom fighters but have in reality sold themselves to the CIA. Those who are lovers of Reagan, the Pakistani generals and the Saudi monarchy can hardly be described as fighters for freedom.

. The Afghan people are certainly in a difficult situation. But those who sympathize with their plight cannot wish them to choose between two evils. No, the way out for the Afghan people lies in forging their own independent course, free of all imperialist enslavement. Such a course must be linked to the achievement of a real democratic revolution in the interests of the toilers.

A brutal war in the name of defending "democratic reform"

. In December 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in order to prop up a pro-Soviet Afghan regime which was threatened by widespread popular unrest. Since then the Soviet Union has stationed 100,000 troops armed to the teeth with tanks and artillery, helicopters and warplanes. An Afghan army of 30,000 also fights alongside the Russians. For five years these armed forces have been carrying out a war against the Afghan people.

. The Soviet war of occupation uses all the notorious methods of counterinsurgency war including carpet bombing of the countryside, retaliatory massacres against the civilian population, etc. Three million people have fled the country as refugees.

. The Soviet Union and its revisionist apologists around the world justify the Soviet occupation with the argument that the Russian army is there to defend social reforms and democratic progress. This is a cynical lie. In fact the Soviet army came in to prop up a hated repressive regime which had given rise to widespread discontent among the Afghan masses. What concerned the Soviet Union was that this was a regime loyal to it. Indeed the Soviet Union will sometimes acknowledge this fact. For example, Pravda wrote a year ago about the Soviet Union's aims that "of course, it also proceeded from the interests of safeguarding the security of its own southern borders. " (January 2, 1984) This is a frank admission of its imperialist motives.

. What about the issue of defending democratic reforms? It is true that within the opposition to the pro-Soviet Afghan regime there are Afghan feudalists who are upset about some of the policies of the Afghan government, such as education. But this is no argument for implementing education or other social programs through the bayonets of an occupation army. In fact by trying to link the banner of democratic reform to the war of an occupation army, the Soviet Union is helping to equate social reform with national subjugation. There can be no progress through national oppression. The force for social reform must be based on the social forces inside a country, above all on the workers and toilers.

. But the Soviet Union and its apologists actually exaggerate the extent to which social changes are being introduced in Afghanistan. The main issue long taken up by the Soviet Union is the maintenance of a friendly regime in Kabul. And everything is subordinated to this. For instance, the pro-Soviet regime there is working hard to accommodate itself to any feudal or backward element if they can be won over to support the regime. The Islamic clergy is supposed by state stipends, their tithes and landholdings are exempt from taxation, and compulsory education for women has been replaced by an optional literacy program. This shows that the Soviet Union will cast aside talk of reforms if it can win the feudal chieftains over to its side. The Russians' principal concern is that a large section of the feudalists have allied themselves with the Western imperialists rather than themselves.

A CIA-organized dirty war in the name of a "freedom struggle"

. There is much talk from the U.S. State Department and the capitalist press about the Afghan freedom fighters. While it is undoubtedly true that there are ordinary Afghan masses who hate the occupation regime and fight against it, the "freedom fighters" promoted by the U.S. are nothing of the sort. The Afghan groups promoted by Washington are a reactionary lot who have sold their souls to the U.S. imperialists and other criminal forces. They are an agency of Washington's imperialist rivalry with the Soviet Union.

. Indeed it turns out that the Afghan operation has become the biggest CIA covert operation since the days of the Viet Nam war. This year alone the CIA is funneling $250 million to the Afghan feudal leaders. This amounts to more than 80% of the CIA's annual expenditures for covert operations. Several other countries are expected to provide $200 million more. These include Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Afghan effort is also bankrolled by West Germany and Chinese revisionism, while the military dictatorship in Pakistan provides the Afghan operations with its bases and hands out the money to the various outfits.

. The Afghan aid operation is a thoroughly bipartisan effort. It was begun under Carter, and under the Reagan administration it took a big leap in the fall of 1983. This was after a visit to Pakistan by Democratic Congressmen Clarence Long (D-Md. ) and Charles Wilson (D-Tx. ). At that time CIA aid was at about $30 million a year. They championed the effort to step up the aid up to the huge numbers of today. This increase has had the enthusiastic bipartisan support of both Republicans and Democrats.

. The U.S. money goes to the leaders of the Afghan groups operating out of Pakistan. It is well known that these leaders are a bunch of thoroughly reactionary feudal chieftains. Some hope to reestablish the monarchy which was eliminated in the early 70's. Others seek to establish a medieval Islamic regime. A large part of the funds channeled to them are simply funneled off for their personal use -- even some Reaganite sources estimate this to be as high as 80%. Many Afghan leaders are well-known to have plush houses and bank accounts in Europe and the U.S.

. All this is well known to the U.S. imperialists, who know precisely what sort of forces they are backing. This shows the cynical aims of the U.S. government. It is not guided by any concerns for freedom or democracy as it proclaims. No, the U.S. government is simply guided by the desire to use Afghan lives to make trouble for the Soviets. The Afghan people are merely being used as pawns in Washington's inter-imperialist rivalry with the Soviet Union.

Down with the crimes of both superpowers;

self-determination for Afghanistan

. The Afghan people are indeed faced with a tragic situation. There are two disastrous choices that are being put before them. On the one hand they face an occupation regime of national subjugation that runs roughshod over the Afghan masses, that massacres them and turns them into refugees. On the other hand they face armies of groups who seek to enslave them to the U.S. imperialists and place them under medieval tyranny.

. Progressive people cannot suggest that the Afghan people must be forced to choose between these two rotten alternatives. No, we must expose the crimes being committed against the Afghan people by both superpowers. We must uphold the right of the Afghan people to self-determination. We must support all efforts by the Afghan people to seek out a truly independent and revolutionary course, which stands against all imperialist domination and upholds the banner of democratic revolution. <>

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