Workers Vanguard No. 931
27 February 2009
Down With Occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq!
U.S. Out of Pakistan, Central Asia!
Obama Escalates War in Afghanistan
True to his campaign promise to step up the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on February 17 that he was reinforcing the U.S. occupation force with an additional 17,000 troops. This will add nearly 50 percent to the 36,000 U.S. troops that, along with a non-U.S. NATO contingent of 32,000, are currently ravaging that country. Meanwhile, since taking over as Commander-in-Chief, Obama has ordered at least four separate bombing attacks on Pakistani villages by remotely piloted drones, killing over 50 people.
U.S. air attacks in Pakistan—often with the approval of the Pakistani military-backed regime—have inflamed anger among the Pakistani population and exposed that country’s rulers as impotent lackeys of the U.S. imperialist overlords. That anger boiled over when Democrat Dianne Feinstein let slip in a public Senate hearing that U.S. drone attacks were launched from a secret base inside Pakistan. According to the New York Times (23 February), “more than 70 United States military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the country’s lawless tribal areas.”
Since August, the Pakistani military, under intense pressure from Washington to curb the growing power of the Taliban and its allies, has been waging a brutal terror campaign in the rugged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Entire villages have been razed in “search and clearance operations,” creating more than a quarter of a million refugees. The terror has only driven increasing numbers of people into the arms of the fundamentalists and the Pakistani government has repeatedly been forced to accept “truce” agreements, resulting in the creation of what are essentially fundamentalist ministates that are now the focus of U.S. drone bombing attacks.
According to the New York Times (21 February), the bombing raids ordered by Obama inside Pakistan have “expanded” the policy introduced last year by George Bush. The attacks ordered by Bush targeted what Washington claimed were “safe havens” in Pakistan for Taliban and Al Qaeda forces fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The attacks ordered by Obama on February 14 and 16 for the first time targeted camps run by Baitullah Mehsud. He is a fundamentalist leader accused of attacks against Pakistani security forces and political leaders but who “has played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.” In other words, the U.S. imperialists are now beginning to intervene militarily in Pakistan to support their client regime against fundamentalists seeking its removal. The client itself, meanwhile, alternates between terror and capitulation in dealing with the forces to whose destruction the American government is so committed. The bulk of the Pakistani army remains in the eastern part of the country, arrayed against Pakistan’s perennial main enemy (and fellow nuclear-armed state) India, locked together in intractable conflict over Kashmir.
In taking their Afghan war further afield, the U.S. imperialists may be making the worst of a bad situation. A recent article in Newsweek (9 February) observes that for U.S. forces “the situation in Afghanistan is bad and getting worse” and asks: “So why not just get out?” The answer given is that, in the resulting power struggle, “the winning side would likely be the one backed by Pakistan, which may end up being the Taliban—just as it was in the last civil war.”
During the presidential election, candidate Obama distinguished himself from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain by insisting that he would not shy away from intervening in Pakistan to chase down Taliban leaders. In office, Obama has not rescinded an order signed last July by Bush authorizing ground raids into Pakistan without prior approval by that country’s government. The Washington Post (4 February) reported that Obama officials have decided that “Afghanistan and Pakistan are to be treated as a single theater of war” (they are calling it “Af-Pak”). If Obama is moving toward full-scale military intervention in Pakistan, with its large area, mountainous terrain and large, ethnically diverse and fractious population, the U.S. rulers will find themselves with a far greater mess on their hands than the military quagmires inherited from Bush.
The arrogant U.S. imperialists seem undeterred in their ambitions by the unwillingness of the other NATO countries thus far to commit any additional troops to the Afghanistan occupation. And underlining its evident conviction that any number of perceived enemies can be targeted simultaneously, Washington has not ceased to threaten Iran over its nuclear program. It could not be clearer that, in the context of such threats, Iran needs nuclear weapons to deter an imperialist attack.
Obama’s escalation of the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan comes as the military situation in that country is rapidly spiraling out of Washington’s control. A December report by the International Council on Security and Development, a London-based think tank, reported that the Taliban “now holds a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan” and “are closing a noose around” Kabul. On February 11, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the Justice Ministry and two other government buildings in the capital, killing at least 20 people. A conservative military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote (Nation online, 10 October 2008): “We currently are losing,” adding, “We face a crisis in the field—right now.”
Meanwhile in Pakistan, fundamentalists opposed to the U.S.-backed regime have in the past several months dramatically extended their reach to more developed regions beyond the western tribal areas. Over 140 girls’ schools have been blown up or burned down in the North West Frontier Province. In September a suicide bomb attack demolished the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 people. Less than 100 miles from Islamabad, in the Swat valley, a relatively developed area of the North West Frontier Province that was once a leading tourist attraction and site of a ski resort, months of clashes between security forces and fundamentalists resulted in yet another “truce” last week in which the government accepted the imposition of Islamic law in the region.
Fundamentalist forces in Pakistan pose an increasing threat to the vital supply line that carries more than three-quarters of the provisions for U.S./NATO forces in landlocked Afghanistan. That route runs more than 700 miles from the port of Karachi, north to Peshawar and then through the Khyber Pass, a critical gateway since the time of Alexander the Great. Attacks on truck convoys and the bombing of a key bridge have turned the stretch of road from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass into a deathtrap. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is scrambling to come up with an alternative to the crucial U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, after that country’s president—within hours of being granted a hefty aid package by Russia—ordered the base to be closed within six months.
Obama took office pledging to draw down U.S. troop levels in Iraq in order to pursue what a significant portion of the U.S. bourgeoisie sees as more strategic aims, including the occupation of Afghanistan. A major consideration behind this policy is the encirclement of China. Ultimately, the U.S. imperialists aim to restore capitalist rule in the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, and for this they have a two-pronged strategy: military pressure combined with capitalist economic penetration. At the same time, the Democrats, backed by the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, have been in the forefront of those pushing anti-China chauvinist protectionism. It is vital for the international proletariat to stand for the unconditional military defense of China and those other countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown: Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.
Only Socialist Revolution Can End Imperialist War
In the lead-up to the 2001 and 2003 invasions, the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), stood for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against imperialist attack without giving any political support to the reactionary, woman-hating Taliban cutthroats or the bloody capitalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We underlined that every victory for the imperialists in their military adventures encourages more predatory wars; every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed the world over. Today, we call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia!
The bombings in Afghanistan and the devastation of Iraq have gone hand in hand with the capitalist rulers’ onslaught against working people, minorities and most everyone else domestically. The escalation of the conflicts into Pakistan by the new U.S. administration takes place as the economic base holding up America’s monstrous military power is undergoing a meltdown, which has now taken on international proportions. We have stressed from the beginning that the chief means of defending neocolonial Afghanistan and Iraq against the overwhelming military might of American imperialism and its allies is international working-class struggle, especially by the multiracial U.S. proletariat.
Giving this decrepit system a little boost, the reformist left embraced a perspective of “Anybody but Bush,” which meant barely pretending to care that candidate Obama promised continued imperialist depredations overseas. As Obama got closer to the White House, they pretty much allowed their “antiwar movement” to lapse; and when they did manage a peep of protest it was about Iraq, with barely a mention of Afghanistan, Obama’s “good war.”
Now these reformists are on honeymoon with Barack Obama. The purpose of their “antiwar movement” was not to struggle on behalf of the victims of U.S. imperialism but to forge a political alliance with supposedly “peace-loving” sections of the bourgeoisie (i.e., Democratic politicians). With Obama they have gotten what they wanted, while he delivers on his warmongering campaign promises. Now they will plead with him to change his mind and adopt more pacifistic and people-friendly “priorities.”
A case in point is the “National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations,” a lash-up that grew out of a gathering in Cleveland last June in which fake leftists such as Socialist Action, the ISO, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Workers World joined with an array of liberals. Endorsers included the Progressive Democrats of America and Cynthia McKinney, presidential candidate of the bourgeois Green Party. The National Assembly, which has called for demonstrations on March 21 demanding “Troops Home Now From Iraq and Afghanistan,” features on its Web site a link to a letter to Obama calling on him “to end the emphasis on militarism in U.S. relations with other nations and to set a goal of ending war in the 21st Century.”
The capitalist system cannot be pressured or reformed to work in the interest of human needs. The relentless drive for profits and spheres of influence by the rulers of the U.S. and other big capitalist powers necessarily results in neocolonial pillage and wars. Imperialist aggression and war are not “policies” that can be ended within the framework of capitalism—the entire system must be overturned! Only by wresting the means of production from the hands of the capitalist imperialist rulers and creating an international planned economy can the needs of the billions of toilers now consigned to hideous poverty begin to be met and the threat of war ended once and for all.
Islamic Reactionaries, the CIA and the Red Army in Afghanistan
Largely the creation of the Pakistani military and Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) as well as the American CIA, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are Frankenstein’s monsters turned on their former masters. The U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among others, armed, funded and trained reactionary mujahedin (holy warriors) to kill Soviet soldiers following the entry of the Red Army into Afghanistan in 1979 at the request of the modernizing nationalist PDPA regime.
That war, in which imperialist-backed forces threatened the southern flank of the Soviet Union, posed an acid test for revolutionaries. The Soviet military intervention was one of the few genuinely progressive acts carried out by the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Red Army intervened on behalf of a regime that sought to introduce minimal social reforms and faced a jihad (holy war) led by reactionary landlords, tribal chiefs and mullahs.
The U.S. imperialists seized on the Red Army intervention as the pretext for their revived anti-Soviet crusade (“Cold War II”). As the CIA undertook its biggest covert operation ever, Afghanistan became the front line of the imperialists’ relentless drive to destroy the Soviet Union. In 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to the Democratic Carter administration, boasted: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.” Today, Brzezinski is a key foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration.
The Soviet intervention was unambiguously progressive, underlining the Trotskyist understanding that despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally the planned economy and collectivized property. These were enormous gains, not least for women and the historically Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia, where conditions before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution had been as backward and benighted as in Afghanistan. For Afghanistan, which is not a nation but a patchwork of tribes and peoples, with its minuscule proletariat, progress would have to be brought in from the outside. The international Spartacist tendency, now the International Communist League, said: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and called to extend the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples.
In stark contrast, the bulk of the left internationally lined up with the imperialists by denouncing the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan. The anti-Communist International Socialist Organization (ISO) and its then-parent group in Britain, Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), criminally stood foursquare with the imperialists. The 12 January 1980 issue of the SWP’s Socialist Worker blared, “Troops Out of Afghanistan!”
Today, in a lengthy article in International Socialist Review (January-February 2009), the ISO essentially disappears the gains, particularly for women, implemented by the PDPA government and defended by the Red Army. While saying next to nothing about the hideous barbarities routinely perpetrated by the Islamic reactionaries, who burned down schools and flayed teachers alive for the “crime” of teaching young girls to read, the ISO rails against the PDPA regime for its “ruthless brutality” and “arrogance and violence.” Echoing Cold War lies about the Soviet Army targeting “entire groups” and “repressing resistance in a way that killed civilians,” the ISO reaffirms the stand it took at the time—on the side of the Islamic insurgency against the Soviet intervention.
When then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a vain attempt to appease the imperialists, withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, we denounced this as a crime against the Afghan and Soviet peoples. That betrayal by the Kremlin bureaucracy opened the road to mujahedin rule in Afghanistan and prepared the ground for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state itself in 1991-92, a historic defeat for the proletariat and the oppressed around the world. In 1992, the CIA-backed mujahedin marched into Kabul, opening up four years of horrific rule under a shifting “coalition” of warring fundamentalist factions that brought the city to the point of famine and devastation. Many of the reactionary warlords who today control the provinces as flunkeys of Washington are veterans of that brutal regime.
According to the New York Times (28 January), Obama officials intend to “put more emphasis on waging war than on development” and “work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government.” One provincial warlord who caught Obama’s eye is Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Nangarhar Province. Shirzai ran Kandahar in the early 1990s during the bloody rule of the mujahedin, when that province first emerged as Afghanistan’s opium capital. When then-candidate Obama visited Afghanistan last July, he snubbed Karzai (saying the president had not “gotten out of the bunker”), meeting first with Shirzai, who was later invited to the inauguration festivities.
Bush/Obama’s “War on Terror”
In Obama, the U.S. imperialist ruling class has gained an effective executive for pursuing its bloody aims abroad and its exploitation of working people at home. Thus, he is moving to clean up some of the most blatant excesses in the “war on terror” while maintaining the underlying policy laid down by the likes of Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and George Bush. Obama won plaudits from many liberal quarters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, for his promise to shut the CIA’s secret prisons, halt military commission trials and close (within a year) the notorious prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Yet Obama is a staunch supporter of the “war on terror”—which has served as the pretext for imperialist depredation abroad and the evisceration of democratic rights at home—including voting as a Senator for warrantless wiretapping and the renewal of the USA Patriot Act.
The headline of a New York Times (18 February) article by Charlie Savage pointed out that “Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas.” On February 9, the Justice Department rushed into court to announce it will continue the Bush administration’s invocation of “state secrets” to prevent access to the courts for torture victims like Canadian citizen Maher Arar, and on February 11, it sought to block those seeking to end the NSA’s wiretapping. As for the approximately 600 detainees at the U.S. Air Force base at Bagram in Afghanistan, the Obama Justice Department told a federal judge on February 20 that it “adheres to” the Bush administration’s position that they (and, thus, the thousands held in Iraq as well) have no legal right to sue for their release.
Most significant is the Obama administration’s endorsement of indefinite detention, a hallmark of police state dictatorships, which was the centerpiece of Bush’s war on democratic rights. Savage pointed out: “In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.” While Obama’s January 22 Executive Order on Guantánamo calls for a review to determine which detainees can be removed to other countries or prosecuted in U.S. courts, it also calls for “other disposition...consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” In plain language, that means continued indefinite detention without charges or any recourse to the courts. While opining that it’s “hard to imagine,” White House counsel Greg Craig admitted that Obama could be “the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law” (New Yorker, 23 February). We say: Immediate freedom for all detainees! U.S. out of Guantánamo!
Pakistan and Afghanistan: The Reactionary Legacy of Colonialism
Imperialists and their ideological spokesmen are increasingly voicing fear that the turmoil in Pakistan’s western regions could lead to the disintegration of Washington’s client state. The London Guardian (23 October 2008) expressed alarm at the “cycle of violence” that
“threatens the very fabric of Pakistan, an unstable nuclear-armed state that at times appears on the very brink of unraveling. Were that to happen the consequences both for the country and the region would be unthinkable.”
The U.S. imperialists are indeed playing with a bomb that could easily blow up in their faces.
Pakistan, like India, is a prison house of peoples, a legacy of three centuries of British colonial “divide and rule” in the region. That policy culminated in the partition of the Indian subcontinent by the British imperialists in 1947, unleashing the forced migration of millions of poor Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs accompanied by communalist slaughter of indescribable savagery. During the partition, Punjab and Pakistan’s North West Province were rent by murderous pogroms.
Pakistan’s claim to constitute “one nation” of all Muslims masks the domination of the Punjabi ruling class over Baluchis, Pashtuns and other oppressed nationalities. The myth of “national unity” has been imposed through brutal repression carried out by the Pakistani military. For most of the years since Pakistan was created, it has been subjected to direct military rule. In addition, the borders arbitrarily drawn by the British imperialists and inherited by Pakistan deliberately cut across the territory of virtually all the nationalities. The purpose was to undercut their power to revolt while creating a legacy of conflict that could be manipulated at will by the imperialists.
A prime example is the Pashtuns, who inhabit territory that today covers much of southern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. The border that divides them dates from 1893 when the British, smarting from the defeat of their second attempt to militarily subjugate Afghanistan, drew an arbitrary frontier through the mountains to demarcate Afghanistan as a buffer state between British India and tsarist Russia. The resulting Durand Line has been disputed by successive Afghan governments.
In turn, Islamabad has sought to use influence among Pashtun tribes to extend its influence in Afghanistan. According to Pakistani military doctrine this would provide “strategic depth” against the country’s perennial foe, India. Today, amid the powers vying for influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, Pakistan and India are playing their own version of the “Great Game,” the 19th-century jockeying for advantage in Afghanistan between agents of Britain and Russia. Last month India completed a $1 billion highway in southwest Afghanistan linked to a highway in Iran, thus creating a route from the Indian Ocean to Kabul—and beyond it, to energy-rich Central Asia—that does not go through Pakistan. Islamabad worriedly views that project as “encirclement.”
The high point of Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan came in 1996 when the Pashtun-based Taliban, with backing from the Pakistani ISI, drove the mujahedin regime out of Kabul. Five years later, when the Taliban was driven from power by U.S./NATO forces following the September 11 bombings, Islamabad was forced into a contradictory posture of backing its imperialist patrons in Washington and their “war on terror,” while seeking to maintain relations with fundamentalist forces ensconced in its western tribal regions. Just as the U.S. imperialists’ backing of bin Laden against Soviet forces in Afghanistan ultimately came back to haunt them, so Islamabad today finds itself trying to tame a monster it helped create.
Pakistan is an example of uneven and combined development, reflecting the impact of imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation superimposed on an underdeveloped and backward society. In Pakistan, women are subjected to purdah (seclusion) and jailed or stoned to death for adultery and similar “crimes” under Islamic law or murdered in “honor killings” by their own families.
At the same time, Pakistan has a significant working class that has shown a determination to struggle. In the past years, there have been major strikes in several industries. In 2008, tens of thousands of workers at the Pakistan Telecommunication Company struck for several weeks, gaining a 35 percent pay raise and regularizing contract workers. There have also been strikes by textile, sugar mill and transport workers. Reportedly, thousands of health care workers struck throughout Pakistani-occupied Kashmir in mid-February.
The task of liberating all the exploited and oppressed of the Indian subcontinent demands the forging of Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisies in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the establishment of a socialist federation of South Asia. Crucial to such a proletarian-internationalist perspective is the fight for workers political revolution in the Chinese deformed workers state, a fight that must be premised on the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and domestic counterrevolution. Only an internationalist perspective, uniting social struggle on the subcontinent with the fight for workers revolution in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries, can open the door to real social liberation for the impoverished masses.