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Afghan SolutionCrimes in the name of democracy

Review by Peter Arkell

The blood-soaked adventure in Afghanistan, headed by the United States and Britain, is deadlocked. The battle for hearts and minds was lost a long time ago and there is no prospect of an outright military victory for the US-led forces after more than 10 years of fighting.  The asymmetric type of warfare waged by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda means the conflict could go on for ever. And it has seriously de-stabilised Pakistan, until now a key Western ally.

The recent suicide bomb in Kabul that killed 60 Shia pilgrims and the killing by “friendly fire” of 24 Pakistani border soldiers by a NATO helicopter point up not only the failed strategy of US-UK political leaders and war planners since the rush to war in 2001, but also the lack of a coherent strategy for the future. There is a range  of outlooks within the coalition, so much so that policy is made up and changed on the hoof.

The day before the massive Kabul bomb exploded, Lt. Gen James Bucknall CBE, the most senior British military commander in Afghanistan, claimed that coalition forces were succeeding in pushing the Taliban back. “We almost owe it to those who have gone before to see the job through”, he said. “Having made this investment in blood, I am more determined... I am confident we can do it”.  The politicians by contrast are desperate to find a way of disengaging “with honour”.

The true extent of the ignorance of those who launched the war, and of the CIA and MI5 who provided the strategic intelligence, is well described in Lucy Morgan Edward’s book, The Afghan Solution: The inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and how Western Hubris lost Afghanistan.  An  aid worker turned journalist, with a deep knowledge and love of Afghanistan, she writes: “I believe that the story I have to tell is one that those groups who have re-cast the narrative to fit their own interests would rather you did not know about.” Indeed.

Her story burns with indignation and contempt for the short-sightedness of blind bombing and aggression. She constantly asks why the US and British warmongers preferred the “shock and awe” approach when there was a non-violent but credible alternative, based on the history of Afghanistan and its culture. It originated from within the country instead of being imposed by military force. And it could have united the people of the different tribes and religions against the Taliban on the one hand, and the unpopular and brutal warlords of the Northern Alliance on the other.

It was Abdul Haq, a member of the prominent Arsala family, famous throughout the country for his guerrilla exploits during the jihad against the Soviet army in the 1980s, who conceived and fought for this plan. He appealed to the American and British governments not to start a bombing campaign, or at least to postpone it until his own strategy was given a try. He claimed that many Taliban commanders were ready to support his peace plan. This would have involved toppling the Taliban and setting up a government of national unity, including all sections of society. A number of Taliban commanders had fought with Haq against the Soviet Union and only joined the Taliban forces out of hatred for the Northern Alliance warlords and the US, who supported and armed them.

The Taliban, Haq claimed, would, in certain circumstances, crumble from within. He had won the loyalty of many fighting groups in the country, and his overall vision was free of the prevailing ethnic and religious hang-ups. The exiled King Zahir Shah, a popular figure in the country due to the peace that prevailed under his rule, would return as a constitutional monarch. Haq was a Pashtun (as were 45% of the people including the king), but also commanded the respect of other ethnic groups because he was not a Pashtun nationalist, and had a perspective for a future stable Afghanistan based on agreements between all parties, tribes and religions.

But this perspective naturally clashed with that of the Bush administration, which launched its onslaught after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The military-industrial complex would benefit from a full invasion, the Taliban needed to be taught a lesson for its anti-American policies and for its support of Al-Qaeda, and the country is crucial for lucrative oil projects.
The chances of the US and its obsequious ally, Britain agreeing to a peaceful strategy of transformation from within, quickly faded.  

In the event, Abdul Haq was captured and executed by the Taliban while attempting to carry out his plan without proper backing.  The British had given him 40 telephones and nothing else.  The coalition bombing campaign, which drove many of the Afghan people into the arms of the Taliban, had already started.

Edwards sees the refusal to back Abdul Haq as a lost opportunity and as a tragic mistake rather than a deliberate policy decision. There is little doubt that Haq’s plan would have stood a good chance of succeeding if it had had the backing of the West, and possibly even without it, had the invasion been postponed by a few weeks, as Haq repeatedly requested. It was well worked-out, and much of the book is taken up with examining the recent history of the country and the complicated loyalties of the various forces involved in order to prove the viability of the peace plan.

Having assembled a very strong case, she refutes the notion that the plan has lost its importance due to Haq’s death. She rightly insists that any lasting peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved by imposing a “Western” form of democracy at the point of a gun. The solution must come from within;  there has to be a system of justice in place and atrocities must be punished; the traditional tribal ways of doing things must be respected, and President Karzai, as a puppet of the West, must be replaced – otherwise the Taliban will continue to grow.

As an eye-witness, she writes with colour and conviction.  She was present at the 2002 meeting in Kabul of the Loya Jirga, the first Grand Assembly of Elders to be held for 20 years. Over 1,000 delegates had been elected in their regions. Peace was in the air, even though the Taliban were not represented at the gathering. There was a strong hope that an agreement could emerge. But suddenly, she writes, a number of shining black Landcruisers burst onto the scene “laden with armed men, surging back and forth, like wild horses in a coral...”. The warlords had arrived, evidently with the encouragement of the US ambassador. They went on to dominate proceedings at the assembly.

There is one crucial question that is not asked in the book: what kind of government would be in place if Haq’s peace plan had succeeded? It could not have been anything other than a weak capitalist government which would fall into the orbit of global capitalism.  Even if a new government was initially representative and tolerant of all parties, religions and tribes, it would tend to represent the narrow and selfish interests of the bourgeoisie, however weak that class might be in Afghanistan. New tensions would have arisen between the mass of the people and their new government, especially in a period of acute global crisis, and the Taliban and /or the warlords of the Northern Alliance would most probably have prevailed.

What policies should be pursued by revolutionaries in former colonial countries has been much debated over the last 100 years or so, particularly by Leon Trotsky in his Theory of the Permanent Revolution.  The US-British pipe-dream of facilitating a bourgeois democratic model in Afghanistan – and the vital importance of the principle of self-determination – has been well and truly exposed by the utter failure of the Afghan adventure.  This historic inability opens up the possibility of the mass of Afghan workers, small farmers and tribal peoples taking power themselves and creating a truly democratic Afghanistan with socialised property relations.

It is of course the masses who force the revolutionary change, and not the capitalist class, who stand on the sidelines until they can move in afterwards to take advantage for themselves. The argument of the theory of Permanent Revolution is that the masses could and should hang on to the power, rather than surrender it.

In the last 30 years, the invasions, first by the Soviet Union and then by the US-led forces, stirred up a hornet’s nest of resistance from all sections of society, for the most part aimed at expelling the invader. It is impossible that the people, once called into action, would have stood by to watch a new government establish itself if it only represented the narrow interests of the privileged middle classes, of the bourgeoisie. The book does not make clear what was Haq’s vision nor what would be the character of any government that came to power in the event of the plan succeeding.  Nonetheless, it is refreshing to discover a point of view which insists that the Afghanistan’s future must be in the hands of its own people.

3 January 2012

The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris lost Afghanistan by Lucy Morgan Edwards. Bactria Press. £18.99.

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