[Reader-list] Q & A on Afghanistan

Ravi Sundaram ravis at sarai.net
Tue Oct 9 23:46:04 IST 2001

This version is courtesy Tariq Ali, our retired Trotskyist militant turned 
novelist, in www.counterpunch.org  . It's useful and old-fashioned at the 
same time....


Questions and Answers

About War in Afghanistan

By Tariq Ali

1. How can one analyse the evolution of Afghanistan since the Soviet 
invasion and the victory of the Taliban?

The PDPA (---the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan----Afghan 
Communist Party) which had a strong base in the army and air force carried 
out a coup d'etat in 1978, toppling the corrupt regime of Daoud. The people 
welcomed the change. The PDPA was initially popular. It pledged important 
social reforms and democracy. But the latter promise was never upheld even 
though important educational reforms were pushed through such as free 
education and schools for girls. In the cities girls and boys began to 
attend the same schools. Medical care was improved as well, but a bitter 
factional struggle led to the victory of a Pol-Pot faction led by 
Hafizullah Amin, who embarked on a campaign massive repression.

Meanwhile the United States decided to destabilise the regime by arming the 
ultra-religious tribes and using the Pakistan Army as a conduit to help the 
religious extremists. The Americans were laying a bear-trap and the Soviet 
leadership fell into it. They sent the Red Army to topple Amin and sustain 
the PDPA regime by force. This further exacerbated the crisis and the 
United States gave the call for a jihad against communism.

The Pakistani military thought it would help the jihad if a Saudi prince 
came to lead the struggle, but volunteers from that quarter were not 
forthcoming. Instead the Saudi regime suggested Osama Bin Laden to the CIA. 
He was approved, recruited, trained and sent to Afghanistan where he fought 
well. In one action Bin Laden led his men to attack a mixed school (boys 
and girls) and kill all the teachers. The US watched this approvingly. The 
rest is history.

The Soviet Union was defeated and withdrew its forces in 1989. A civil war 
followed and a coalition government consisting of forces loyal to Iran, 
Tajikistan and Pakistan came to power. Instability reigned. Then Pakistan 
hurled the Taliban (students) it had trained in special seminaries into the 
battle with open support from the Pakistan Army. Kabul was captured and 
gradually the regime extended its rule to the rest of the country. American 
think-tanks until just a few months ago were talking of using the Taliban 
to further destabilise the Central Asian Republics! Now the US and Pakistan 
are waging war to topple a regime they created. Who said that history had 
ceased to be ironical?

2. What is specific about the Islamism of the Taliban?

It is a virulent, sectarian, ultra-puritanical strain heavily influenced by 
Wahhabism---the official state religion of Saudi Arabia. It was Saudi 
religious instructors who trained the Taliban. They believe in a permanent 
jihad against infidels and other Muslims (especially the Shias). Bin Laden, 
too, is a staunch Wahhabi. They would like a return to what they imagine 
was Islam in the 7th century, during the leadership of Mohammed.

What they don't understand is that Mohammed was a very flexible 
prophet-politician as Maxime Rodinson explains in his excellent biography.

3. What was the strategic aim of the United States in basing themselves on 
the most hard-line wing of the Islamic resistance to the USSR, and more 
generally groups such as that of Bin Laden in the Arab-Muslim world?

Throughout the Cold War the United States used Islam as a bulwark against 
communism and revolution. Everywhere in the Islamic world, not just in 
South Asia. So we can say that the Islamism we witness is a product of 
imperialism and modernity.

4. The key to what will happen in the region is Pakistan. What sort of 
regime is it, what are its goals and what are the contradictions it faces?

It is a military regime, but not a vicious one like its predecessor. It is 
a regime which wants to supervise neo-liberalism in Pakistan. The Army, of 
course, is divided, but the exact strength of pro-Taliban currents inside 
the Army is a matter of dispute. It could be anything between 15--30 
percent. The Islamists are very weak in Pakistani society as a whole. Its 
important to understand this fact.
In successive elections, fewer people have voted for zealotry in Pakistan 
than in Israel. That's why the Pakistan Taliban decided to make 'entryism' 
inside the Army. If the United States spills too much blood in Afghanistan 
then the consequences could be dire within the Pakistan Army in a year's time.

5. For the moment President Musharraf seems to want to line up alongside 
the US. Is it possible that Pakistan would be a logistical support to an 
American intervention against Afghanistan?

Pakistan has agreed to give logistical support. In fact the Pakistan Army 
is necessary for the whole operation. The United States planes and troops 
will be stationed in the Gwadur base in Baluchistan which they built during 
the Cold War. Don't forget that Pakistan was a cold war ally of the United 
States from 1954-1992. Both sides know each other well. The Pakistani elite 
is delighted that the country's debt (36 billion dollars) has been canceled 
and more money has been pledged. In return for this they are prepared to 
see the Taliban defeated and disarmed.

Trouble will begin if too many bearded men are killed. In my opinion one 
reason for the delay in action is that the Pakistan Army is trying to make 
sure that the Taliban do not resist the United States. The advice being 
given to the faithful is: shave your beards and keep your powder dry. The 
West will go away and then we'll see.

Islamabad detests the Northern Alliance which it defeated via the Taliban 
when it took Kabul. I cannot stress enough that the Taliban is sustained on 
every level by Pakistan. What is switched on can also be switched off. The 
problem for Pakistan is that a wing of the Taliban defected to Bin Laden 
and his praetorian guard of Arab anarcho-Islamists. These guys will 
probably fight back whatever the odds.

6. If the conflict becomes regional what effects would this have on the 
situation in the region and the attitude of countries like India, China and 

All three countries are delighted by the 'war against terrorism'. They are 
all Americans now! India wants to crush the opposition in Kashmir, The 
Turkish military wants to a final solution to the 'Kurdish problem', Putin 
has already destroyed Chechnya, China has the green light to do what it 
wants. So it suits them all, but a great deal depends on how this adventure 
ends. Are we witnessing yet another boost to and acceptance of US world 
hegemony or is the Empire about to triumph itself to death?

Tariq Ali is the author of The Stone Woman. He lives in London.

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