"The war is going badly. Much of the south of the country is out of government control. A scattered, disparate insurgency has gained strength and risks turning into a widespread insurrection against Western forces and the elected government they are backing. In Britain, a sceptical public wonders what its soldiers are dying for. And as the costs and casualties continue to mount, Americans too will ask that question increasingly loudly" (The Economist 22/8/9.)
The fact that such an august publication as the Economist is posing such questions about the Afghan war is clear evidence that the official excuses for this military adventure are wearing very thin.
There were several justifications given for undertaking this war. The first and foremost of these, in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, was that the Taliban government of Afghanistan was supposedly involved in the attacks, or at least was ‘harbouring terrorists' such as Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaida group, who were directly implicated.
The ‘war on terror' - spearheaded by the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and then of Iraq in 2003 - was supposed to eradicate or at least combat terrorism. What has been the reality? The exact opposite - a massive exacerbation of terrorism across the globe. There has been no halt to the mobilisation of ‘radical' Islamist forces within the region. On the contrary, Afghanistan and Iraq have become the focus, the pole of attraction for al-Qaida and similar terrorist gangs.
The knock on effect has also been felt all over the globe - such as the bombings in Madrid in 2004 (Spain, under Jose Luiz Aznar were engaged in fighting in Iraq at that time) and London in 2005.
The Taliban are no longer in government in Afghanistan, but in many ways they have been strengthened: for example they have been instrumental in rallying disparate forces in Pakistan. They are still in control of the opium trade and large areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban use fear and murder to impose their authority in these areas, but there is no doubt that the increasing unpopularity of the government and the NATO occupation is pushing more and more recruits towards them. The growing toll of civilian deaths resulting from air attacks like the one at Kunduz at the beginning of September is certainly increasing this flow of recruits.
Another stated aim was to bring democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. Well, little has changed in Afghanistan. In the first place, the Karzai government has next to no control outside the borders of Kabul; indeed, given the number of attacks within Kabul itself, it seems they have less and less control there also. The regional warlords like Abdul Rashid Dostum have not relinquished one iota of control to the Kabul government - in fact they have tightened their grip on their regions, despite attempts to ‘bring them in' to the democratic process.
Secondly, the Karzai government has been marked by outright corruption and brutality - for many Afghans they are no different to those previously in power: "On the campaign trail, President Hamid Karzai has appealed to his enemies to make peace. But his government - inept, corrupt and predatory - does not look like a trustworthy partner. In parts of Afghanistan where insurgents have been driven out and the writ of the government has been restored, residents have sometimes hankered for the warlords, who were less venal and less brutal than Mr Karzai's lot" (The Economist, op cit).
This year has already become the deadliest year in Afghanistan since 2001. As of 25/8/9, 295 foreign troops have been killed there. Part of the reason has been the mini ‘surge' foreign troops have made in order to provide some semblance of ‘stability' so that national elections could take place. This has been a manifest failure. Not only has the surge not undermined the Taliban, but the election was held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Prior to the recent elections, 10 UK troops died in Babaji district fighting the Taliban, ostensibly preparing the ground for ‘full and free' elections. The result? "Reports that about 150 people voted there, out of an eligible population of 55,000, have not been disputed by officials in Afghanistan" (BBC 27/8/9). And since the elections were held, widespread evidence of vote rigging has come to light.
Related to the attempt to introduce the delights of democracy was the issue of protecting the rights of women in these backward patriarchal societies. Again, reality has been rather different. The new Afghan Constitution adopted 5 years ago promised equality and human rights for women. Since this time the Taliban have been busy closing down schools for girls. For his part, far from protecting women's rights, Karzai has made deals with religious groups and subsequently enacted legislation which effectively legalises rape within marriage.
Meanwhile the war in Afghanistan has more and more spread to Pakistan. The Obama administration has made it clear that it sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as being more strategically important than Iraq. There have been attempts in the media to present the Iraq war as more or less over in order to justify this change in focus, although the recent upsurge in deadly suicide attacks in Iraq have reminded us just how unstable the situation there really is. But in any case, with growing Taliban influence in the areas of Pakistan where the government has virtually no authority, the war there has already escalated, with increasing use of drone bombers by the US and new offensives by the Pakistan government. The latter has resulted in murderous fighting (the army claims to have killed over 1,600 militants) as well as the forcible evacuation of over 2 million people.
Real reasons behind the Afghan adventure
As the official justifications for the war become increasingly threadbare, its reality as an imperialist war has become more obvious to more people.
Since the collapse of the old imperialist blocs at the end of the 1980s, the USA has been faced with greater and greater challenges to its position as the ‘world cop'. No one disputes its military strength, indeed no one other power - or combination of half a dozen - is able to compete directly with it in this respect. However, this has not stopped the other powers disputing US domination in various regions of the world. Most notably today we have the rise of China as a gigantic economic entity which has been liberally using the money it has gained from trade to quietly buy its way into areas in which it had no prior interest. There is also the resurgence of Russia; and the US has not ruled out the danger of a challenge to its authority centred on the very heartlands of capitalism - in Europe, around France and above all Germany.
If the USA is to maintain its ‘leadership' in the face of all these challenges, it needs to control the strategically vital areas of the Middle East and Central Asia - vital both for the traditional geo-political reasons that lay behind the imperialist ‘Great Game' in the 19th century, and because of the key energy sources and supply routes they contain (oil and gas). The issue at stake here is imperialist in the widest sense: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being carried out at the behest of US oil companies hungry for quick profits, but because of the long-term needs of US state capitalism to maintain its waning global domination.
And Britain? When the blocs fell apart, Britain too began to look for a more ‘independent' path, as shown by its willingness to sabotage US efforts during the Balkans war in the 90s. But as a distinctly second rate power ‘independence' is an ever-receding mirage and since 2001 and the ‘War on Terror' in particular the British bourgeoisie has got itself more and more entangled with US military projects in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed in Afghanistan it is in the uncomfortable position of serving in the frontline of NATO forces, with its often poorly-equipped troops left exposed to an increasingly confident Taliban insurgency.
As more and more people, not least the families of soldiers serving in Afghanistan, begin to look for the reasons for this war, the ruling class will not abandon its false justifications: Brown, for example, continues to sell the war as a means of preventing terrorist atrocities in London or Glasgow. At the same time we are subjected to diversionary debates like the one about whether or not more money should be spent on buying the latest equipment for the troops, when the real questions are these: why is this society in a constant state of war; and how can we fight against war and the system that spawns it?