Wednesday, January 6, 2010


In Afghanistan the war of national resistance to imperialist invasion and occupation, led by the Taliban, is intensifying. The NATO led forces are having to send in around 40,000 extra troops to try to beat back the popular insurgency led by the Taliban. Yet despite widespread opposition among progressive people in the imperialist countries to the imperialist assault upon Afghanistan there is a definite coolness, if not hostility, to the Taliban who are leading the armed struggle against the imperialist forces.

It is, of course, the reactionary ideological outlook and practice of this fundamentalist Islamic movement that is the reason for the lack of enthusiasm for the anti-imperialist struggle being waged by the Taliban. In particular it is their view as to the position of women in society, a very subordinate one to men, which outrages progressive people in the “advanced” capitalist countries. On all major social issues – civil and women’s rights, education, culture, etc. - the Taliban are far more reactionary in theory than their imperialist opponents. For this reason some “leftists” actually hope – more or less covertly - that the imperialists will triumph in Afghanistan on the grounds that this would help the people of Afghanistan to throw off some of the shackles of feudalism.

This sort of perspective on the Taliban is very much one taken from the standpoint of people living in developed, Western capitalist societies. It fails to take into account the fact that Afghanistan is still in the main a traditional feudal society in which the vast majority of people are peasant farmers deeply immersed in Islamic religion. Any project to bring about the liberation of the Afghani people has to take into account the complex and crosscutting contradictions present in that society – ones of class, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.. The modern history of Afghanistan demonstrates that attempts from “above” to impose progressive change on the Afghani people backfire and have actually resulted in the strengthening of oppressive feudal structures rather than their weakening. In no aspect of Afghani life is this more apparent than in the case of women.


The young Amanullah became the ruler (Amir and later King) of Afghanistan in 1919 and embarked upon an ambitious modernization programme. He managed to free the control of the country’s foreign affairs from British imperialism. By the mid-nineteen twenties he was trying to impose by decree bold measures of women’s liberation – lifting of the veil, education for girls, an end to polygamy, raising minimum marriage ages, etc.. This produced a very strong reaction among the mullahs and tribal leaders who successfully conspired, with the active encouragement of the British Raj, to remove Amanullah from power.

During the nineteen sixties a government headed by Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan, a relation of the then King, again attempted to introduce the same sort of reforms with some degree of success mainly in the capital Kabul but not in the rural areas where the great majority of the people lived. In 1978 the Parcham faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), who claimed to be Marxists, staged a military coup and established a government in Kabul . They announced a wide ranging set of reforms on land tenure, the position of women and usury. This provoked an immediate hostile reaction in rural areas – where the PDPA had no mass base of support – and the Government had to call for Soviet military intervention to try to maintain their position. The death and destruction that the resulting war of national resistance brought to Afghanistan in the nineteen eighties is well known. It also brought about a revival and strengthening of traditional Islamic practices, in reaction to the attempt to impose reforms from above, especially placing tight restrictions on the place of women in society.

It is very clear that in Afghanistan misguided attempts to liberate women by means of central government decree have produced the opposite, a strengthening of the subordinate position of women as specified by fundamentalist interpretations of traditional Islam. It is strange that many Marxists supported such initiatives from above given that it is a central tenet of Marxism that oppressed people have to be the agents of their own liberation if they are to be truly free, that liberation has to come from below. In fact there were some people in Afghanistan who did have a good grasp of this principle. During the nineteen sixties and seventies a new democratic movement called Eternal Flame, led by Maoists, was working among the rural masses to bring about democratic reforms such as land redistribution and women’s liberation. The PDPA regarded Eternal Flame as mortal enemies and one of the first tasks the Soviet invaders carried out was for the KGB to round up thousands of Eternal Flame cadres and execute them. Thanks to the PDPA and their Soviet allies “communism” was widely seen as the Number One Enemy of the Afghani people. Consequently the surviving remnants of Eternal Flame had to pretend that they were Muslims in order to be able to fight the Soviet invaders!


Bogged down in a hopeless war they could not hope to win, Soviet forces had withdrawn from Afghanistan by early 1989. The Soviet Union continued to supply the PDPA regime until early 1992 which enabled it to hold onto the capital Kabul . Meanwhile rival Mujaheddin warlords, especially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud, were closing in on the remaining areas held by the PDPA forces while at the same time fighting each other to gain overall supremacy in the country. After the fall of the PDPA Government in 1992 the rival warlords continued to fight over who would be dominant. The country was plunged into even greater chaos than during the previous period. The warlord armies were able to oppress and rob the people without any significant opposition. Although proclaiming themselves as defenders of Islam the warlord armies were no respecters of women, engaging in widespread prostitution and rape on a large scale.

It was in order to oppose the criminal rule of the warlords that in 1994 some veterans of the anti-Soviet war came together. They were led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and given their devotion as students of Islam called themselves the “Taliban” (students). Within a few months they had rallied large numbers of the people and inflicted heavy defeats on the warlord armies. By 1996 they controlled most of the country, with the warlords hanging on in the north, and in September 1996 took the capital Kabul . There can be no doubt that at this time the Taliban was a hugely popular movement in Afghanistan .

The Taliban regime imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law banning employment outside the home, education and sports for women as well as restrictions on the mass media. The movement was essentially Pushtun-based and they tended to treat other ethnic groups, e.g. Hazaras, as inferiors. Also they were very ruthless in suppressing any opposition to their rule. Although popular in the countryside, the Taliban regime was experienced as oppressive by many people in the relatively Westernised cities of Kabul and Kandahar . One thing they did achieve was to virtually eradicate opium poppy cultivation because it is offensive to their religious beliefs. Also they cracked down on criminal gangs and established civil security throughout the areas they controlled.

By contemporary Western standards the Taliban are no angels. They are fiercely intolerant of dissent from their rule. As Sunni Muslims they regard Shia Muslims as heretics and the Hazaras as non-Muslims. They enforced a very restricted, traditional Islamic life style upon women but they do not prostitute or rape them. Compared with the criminal, murderous warlords – who in theory as just as committed to Sharia law - their rule was relatively civilized.


Following the 9/11 attack by al-Quaeda on the Twin Towers the US Government, together with Britain and some other imperialist governments, supported the Northern Alliance warlords with US Special Forces and massive bombing to overthrow the Taliban regime. The justification for this attack was that the Taliban had tolerated training camps in Afghanistan run by Osama bin Laden’s organization al-Quaeda. The Taliban regime was overthrown within a couple of months and the Taliban dispersed into the countryside. A warlord government was installed in Kabul and under the leadership of Hamid Karzai and has proceeded to rule the country with the same mixture of corruption and criminality as when they were in power back in the early nineteen nineties. Under this regime the warlords have become the biggest suppliers of illegal heroin to the rest of the world. Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has described it as a “narco-state” and called for it to be cleaned-up. The US-led NATO coalition occupying Afghanistan has recognized that the national elections held in 2009 were clearly fraudulent. Trying to impose a system of capitalist parliamentary democracy on a feudal society such as Afghanistan makes as much sense as would trying to impose a system of government by tribal elders on contemporary America or Britain.

Given the deterioration in the lives of most Afghanis since 2001, it is hardly surprising that the Taliban have made a come-back with the insurgency they lead spreading to many parts of the country. They may control around seventy per cent of the rural areas, particularly the ones where there are Pushtuns living. It would be impossible for the Taliban to sustain armed resistance on this scale if they did not have mass support among large sections of the people. The NATO coalition admit that they are not succeeding in crushing the resistance and in 2010 are sending in at least another 37,000 troops. This situation is hardly congruent with dubious opinion polls which claim that the great majority of the Afghani people are opposed to the Taliban-led resistance to imperialist invasion. It should be remembered that the Taliban are not one highly centralized, monolithic organization but rather a loose amalgam of different factions. (The NATO imperialists are aware of this as they hope to divide and rule by winning over some sections of the Taliban to the Karzai Government.) Also it seems that many peasant farmers who are not specifically Taliban supporters are taking up arms and joining the insurgency.


The fact of the matter is that the Taliban is the only effective resistance to the imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan . There are other groups who claim to oppose the imperialists, e.g. Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, but they have no effective military presence inside the country. Whether or not the Taliban are supported by the majority of Afghanis is difficult, if not impossible, to establish. However, this is not the essential point. National resistance movements often involve the active participation of only a minority of a country’s population, e.g. France during World War II. The point is whether or not the activity of the resistance is in the objective interests of the people.

If after 2001 the Taliban had faded away then Afghanistan would be ruled by the fractious, incompetent and corrupt warlords supported by the NATO imperialists. The situation would be rather like the one that prevailed in the early nineteen nineties which originally gave rise to the Taliban. We should not deceive ourselves that the imperialists would make any serious attempt to clean-up such a regime. Their claims that this is what they want to do with the current warlord regime are made only because of the advance of the Taliban. More likely is that apart from establishing some military bases NATO would leave the Afghanis to the mercies of the warlords. The protestations of the imperialists that they want to help “develop” Afghanistan ring hollow. Even their puppet President Hamid Kazai has complained that much of the promised international development aid has not materialized.

It is very clear that the people of Afghanistan are the victims of imperialist aggression. In the case of the British State it has been attacking Afghanistan , on and off, ever since 1838. The people of Afghanistan have never constituted any threat to the people of Britain or any other country. None of those who carried out the 9/11 attack or subsequent terrorist acts consequent upon it - in Britain , Spain , America , etc. – have been Afghanis. Some of these people have trained with the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan but they were not agents of the Taliban. They were Muslims outraged by imperialist attacks on Muslim people – in Palestine , Somalia , Iraq , Afghanistan , etc. – who independently decided to take retaliatory action. What is remarkable is that so far the Taliban have not sent undercover teams to the imperialist countries to carry out counterattacks.

Recent imperialist incursions into Afghanistan – first by the Soviet Union and then by NATO – have done nothing except bring death and destruction to the Afghani people. The same is true of the rule of the rival warlords within the country. The truth is that it was when the Taliban ruled most of the country during the late nineteen nineties that there was relative peace and stability. Thus, in terms of what is practically possible at the present time, it has to be concluded that the Taliban movement, both as an effective anti-imperialist force and as a future effective government, is the best hope for the Afghani people in the foreseeable future. Thus progressive people in the rest of the world should desist from demonizing the Taliban, from representing them as just as bad as the imperialist invaders and the war lords, and instead focus their efforts on trying to undermine the imperialist assault on Afghanistan . The best place to do this is within the imperialist countries.


Following 9/11 and the launch of the so-called “War on Terrorism” large anti-war movements were formed in the imperialist countries such as the Stop the War Coalition in Britain which will be focused upon here. Whilst campaigning against the imperialist attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan these organizations have taken up a less than enthusiastic position with respect to the elements within Iraq and Afghanistan waging armed resistance to the imperialist military forces. This is because from a Western, secular point of view the various resistance groups which are religious and nationalist are the “wrong” type; they are not socialist and communist. Although the right of the victims of imperialism to resist is grudgingly recognized, these peace movements stop short of an outright anti-imperialist position of calling for the victory of the national resistances. Instead they call for the withdrawal of imperialist forces as expressed in the Stop the War Coalition’s current slogan of “Bring the Troops Home”.

Furthermore, Stop the War has taken up an essentially neutral stance with respect to the British armed forces. They are represented as the innocent pawns of the British Government who are being misused. This is the position of the Military Families Against the War wing of Stop the War. It consists of relations of military personnel who have been killed and injured in these wars. They complain that the troops are not properly equipped and protected. Their opposition to the wars is not so much that they are an unjust attack on innocent people but that they are pointless and cannot be won. They do not recognize the British armed forces for what essentially they are; an instrument to enforce the rule of the capitalist state both at home and abroad, an enemy of the great mass of the people in Britain and elsewhere.

In the meantime in Britain the British Government and media have been waging a vigorous campaign to boost the image of the British Army in the eyes of the British public. For the last couple of years or so troops returning from Afghanistan have been put on public parade and hailed as “heroes”. No opportunity is lost to project the military as selfless, principled people whose most fervent desire is to help the Afghani people, especially women. (Since when has the British Army shown any particular concern for the rights of women?) This propaganda has been highly effective as can be seen by the thousands of people who turn out on the streets to welcome returning troops. The opinion polls show that a majority of people in Britain favour a withdrawal of British forces for Afghanistan . But for what reasons? It is because they are concerned about British military personnel being injured and killed. For the most part the opposition to the British military presence is not because of the death and destruction they are dealing out to the Afghani people. If as a result of the increase in NATO forces in Afghanistan British military casualties fall and Afghani ones rise then presumably the opposition in Britain to British troops being in that country would diminish.

In Britain it is necessary to campaign against the British Armed Forces and those people who support them. The soldiers should be clearly and firmly told by means such as picketing recruiting offices, military parades, barracks etc. that what they are doing is unacceptable. They should be encouraged to disobey orders and desert. Even though the troops are heavily indoctrinated some of them do have serious doubts about what they are doing. The British media have dropped any pretence at objective reporting of what is happening in Afghanistan so it is necessary to publicise what British and other NATO forces are actually doing on the ground as well as the criminal behaviour of the corrupt regime which they keep in power. In Britain there are large numbers of Muslims who are shocked by what NATO imperialism has done to their co-religionists in Iraq and Afghanistan but they keep their heads down for fear of being seen as disloyal. One result of the “War Against Terrorism” has been for people of Muslim background in Britain , especially young people, to retreat from the wider society into their traditional cultures. The British Muslims should be encouraged to stand up, together with other people, to oppose the unwarranted attack on Afghanistan by the British armed forces.


The likely future for the people of Afghanistan is unenviable. Given their longstanding historical tradition of opposing imperialist invaders, especially the British, they are unlikely to succumb to imperialist occupation. (NATO now have far more troops, mercenaries and other supporting personnel in Afghanistan than did the Soviet Union during the nineteen eighties.) Past experience of rule by rival warlords, with or without imperialist support, would be a grim prospect. The other possibility is the Taliban prevailing against both the external and internal enemies of the Afghani people.

Given their ethic and religious sectarianism it is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to unite all of the Afghani people against their enemies. But the experience of the nineteen nineties gives some reasons for believing that they could establish a regime that would bring peace and stability to most of the country. This would be a very rigid, feudal way of life abhorrent to most Westerners but one probably preferable to most Afghanis than the present chaos. Whether or not more progressive secular political forces could develop in such a situation is difficult to predict. In the eight years since the fall of the Taliban Government nothing significant of this kind has emerged so imperialist occupation certainly does not seem to provide a favourable environment for the emergence of new political trends.

Progressive people in the imperialist countries such as Britain should stop using their negative view of the Taliban as an excuse to mount only half-hearted opposition to the NATO war on Afghanistan . It should not be forgotten that the NATO imperialists are the aggressors and the Taliban are trying to defend their country against foreign invasion and occupation. What we should be doing is mounting a vigorous campaign against the governments and armed forces prosecuting this criminal war. Solidarity with the people of Afghanistan begins at home.



Harry Powell

January 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the best article written by any Western writer on the US and NATO imperialism in Afghanistan and on the resistance forces, led by Taliban. I live in the Belly of the Beast, the US, but was born in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan. I fully agree with the author on the class analysis of Afghan society and its implications for the changes that are possible. I also had written an article on a related subject on my own blog, with the following link:

Fazal Rahman, Ph.D.