Afghanistan - Still the Crucible of Imperialist Struggle

Recent months have seen an escalation of the fighting in Afghanistan with NATO taking military control, first of the southern province of Helmand and then - at the end of September - of the whole country. The difficulties NATO is encountering militarily and the high casualties have brought with them the realisation that the Afghan war is far from over and may yet be lost. Very public attempts by Pakistan and the Kabul regime to blame each other for this situation indicate things are going badly. Over the last 5 years the invaders of 2001 have lost the support of much of the country.

The international think tank Senlis Council, in a September report described the situation as follows:

The policies implemented by the US led forces over the past 5 years have not only failed, they have undermined the creation of a legitimate government in the eyes of many Afghans. (1)

The report identifies 3 principal causes of the loss of support for the US; bombing raids which have destroyed hundreds of villages and killed thousands, eradication of poppy crops which has destroyed the livelihoods of the peasantry and lack of economic assistance. After 5 years of US rule there is now a situation of widespread poverty and a growing hunger problem in the south of the country. Refugee camps are appearing across this region and people are dying of starvation in scenes reminiscent of Africa.

The welfare of the Afghan people has never been a priority for the US. All it wanted was a stable regime with a puppet government which could safeguard US ambitions to transit Caspian oil and gas through the country to the Indian Ocean. Since 2002 the US has spent $82bn on military campaigns in Afghanistan and a mere $7bn on reconstruction.

In this situation, anything would be better than the US controlled “Karzai regime” so the Taliban is finding fertile soil for regrouping and attacking the US and NATO. The NATO strategy of supporting the Karzai regime and killing hundreds of Afghan peasants, who are opposing them, is only likely to make the situation worse. This is the context which allows the Pakistani leader Musharraf to speak of the danger of a “people’s war.”

The US has been keen to hand over military responsibility to NATO. On the one hand it sees this as a way of drawing reluctant European allies and rivals behind its own imperialist ambitions and thereby muffling the criticisms it faces over Iraq and Palestine. On the other hand it hopes that, by using NATO outside the European theatre of operations, it can strengthen its role as a tool of the US and undermine Europe’s infant “European Defence Force.” Afghanistan is supposed to be the war everyone supports. After the September 11 attacks NATO invoked article 5 of its constitution declaring the attack on the US an attack on all NATO countries and this has been generally understood as a commitment to support the Afghan war. Today, however, there is a marked reluctance of NATO members to commit troops to the Afghan quagmire. During September, when NATO was desperately trying to get reinforcements to the beleaguered UK and Canadian troops, country after country refused. Eventually Poland offered 1,000 troops for February 2007!

NATO lost its reason for existence with the collapse of the Russian bloc and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. The US saw the alliance’s future as that of a tool for its global imperialist ambitions. However, the major European members no longer felt compelled to shelter behind the US military or to back US imperialist aims. For the European powers the Bosnian campaign illustrated how the US was able to dominate NATO and use it for its own ambitions. They saw the need for a military force of their own which would be able to project specifically European economic and military interests, i.e. European imperialist ambitions. This led to the creation of the European Defence Force. From the start, this force has been opposed by the US who correctly saw it as undermining NATO. The splits in NATO became apparent during the run up to the Iraq war when France, Germany and Belgium vetoed US plans to send forces and equipment to Turkey. The US has since manoeuvred NATO into a position where it is again acting as a tool for its own ambitions in Afghanistan. The US sets the political agenda while NATO puts it into practice by force of arms. The danger for the US in all this is that the fissures in NATO will be reopened, especially if the military campaign starts to fail. This could lead to a fracturing of NATO, its collapse and the strengthening of the European Defence Force.

When the Cold War ended and the Eastern Bloc collapsed capitalists predicted a new era of peace. Revolutionaries retorted at the time that this was a utopia as capitalist contradictions in the imperialist epoch will always lead to war. We predicted that it would take time for new alliances to form (and they would be looser than the “blocs” of the past) but form they would. As we show in this issue, events right across Africa and the Middle East are confirming this scenario.

As we have mentioned above, behind the Afghan war is the struggle by the major powers to get their hands on the oil and gas reserves of the southern Caspian region. The Europeans do not support the US plans which they think will disadvantage them, but are now indirectly being drawn behind the struggle to implement these plans. Meanwhile other powers, namely Russia and China, have their own plans for getting hold of these resources and are planning and constructing pipelines running east from the region. They are quite happy to let the US and its allies stew in the Afghan cauldron. A century and half ago this part of Asia was the scene of conflict between Russia and Britain for control of its resources and trade routes in what was then called “the Great Game.” The competition for control of this region by the great powers continues today and will do as long as capitalism needs the region’s resources. Another chapter in “the Great Game” is opening and, as before, death and destruction are being brought to the Afghan people with a vengeance.

(1) See Report at .

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