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Reaction triumphs

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With the capture of Kabul by the forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud and the installation of an Interim Commission of the Mujahedin in power on 28 April the fourteen year long Afghan civil war came to an end. Another may follow, as Mike Evans explains

The human cost of the war in Afghanistan was enormous. One million died, five million fled the fighting across the borders into Pakistan or Iran, 300,000 have suffered permanent disablement, the rural and urban economy is in ruins, millions of land mines will continue to maim and kill long after the war is over.

Between 1978 and 1985 US military aid to the Afghan rebels cost $280 million. But this itself was only a drop in the ocean of the total amount mobilised by the USA from its allies. The Saudis promised to match the USA dollar for dollar and are thought during the war to have spent $1.5 billion!

For US imperialism the year 1978 was a decisive turning point. The Iranian Revolution saw the overthrow of the Shah, US imperialism’s main gendarme in the strategically vital Gulf region. In Afghanistan, a coup brought the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. (PDPA) to power, committed to a reform programme.

The USA and the CIA (wrongly) saw the loss of the Shah and the rise of Khomeini, as well as the PDPA regime in Kabul, as evidence of Soviet expansionism. They envisaged Soviet influence spreading down to the Indian Ocean, isolating their Pakistani and Saudi allies, undermining them with radical “anti-imperialist” Islamic fundamentalism and setting off a domino-effect in the whole region.

These events became the catalyst for the US ruling class abandoning the policy of détente which they had adopted to extricate themselves from the débâcle in Vietnam. They launched the Second Cold War. In this offensive Afghanistan was to be one of the three arenas for a “hot” proxy war with the Soviet Union, the others being Nicaragua/El Salvador and Kampuchea/Vietnam.

The Soviet military intervention into Afghanistan in December 1979 provided the USA with all the pretext it needed. In reality of course Brezhnev was never interested in any sort of progressive revolution in Afghanistan let alone in absorbing Afghanistan into the Soviet Union. The Soviets had always distrusted talk by the PDPA of revolutionising the country. All the USSR required was a secure buffer state. The Kremlin installed their favourite “moderate” faction, led by Babrak Karmal, in the presidential palace. But the USA, and its Pakistani and Saudi allies, had their excuse.

A great hue and cry was set up about the Soviet “rape” of Afghanistan. Whilst the USA’s other anti-communist crusades in Kampuchea and Nicaragua were never popular, Afghanistan fooled many leftists and liberals world-wide. In Britain organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and papers like Socialist Organiser rushed to support the reactionary Mujahedin against “Soviet imperialism”.

Their pretext was that the Afghan resistance was a national liberation struggle against this imperialism. This was a ridiculous claim which the whole course of the war has exploded. The war could only have been waged with the massive military aid of the USA and its puppets. Even then the Mujahedin probably spent more time and ammunition fighting one another than they did the “godless communists”.

Their forces were not “soldiers of god”, as they called themselves, let alone “freedom fighters” as they were dubbed by the CIA and their “leftist” dupes. They were little more than gangs of bandits, swollen to gigantic proportions by US and Saudi dollars, bandits who are now fighting over the spoils.

The success of the Second Cold War and the crisis of the Stalinist leadership in the USSR forced the withdrawal of the Soviet Armed Forces in 1989. The Najibullah regime in Kabul could not survive the ending of all aid after Yeltsin’s seizure of power in August 1991. From then on the Mujahedin forces, despite their disunity, were able to advance on the capital.

But their victory will not bring relief to the masses in Afghanistan. On the contrary, armed conflict between the warring factions and bitter repression, will be the results.

Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Tajik commander of the armed forces of Jama’at-i-Islami (the Islamic Society) was in the strongest position to seize Kabul as the Najibullah regime collapsed. After Najibullah’s arrest key elements of the government forces decided that Massoud was the lesser evil and had to be supported against the more radically fundamentalist Hisb-i Islami forces. Massoud, the “lion of the Panjshir”, is now being touted as the moderate, the leader most likely to run Afghanistan as the imperialists and their Saudi and Pakistani allies wish.

Massoud’s main rival is the “Islamic radical” Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Pashtun leader of Hizb-i Islami. He is a Muslim fundamentalist belonging to the reactionary Saudi Wahhabi sect and has strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood. He is also a virulent Pashtun “nationalist” unwilling to make any concessions to the ethnic minorities of central and northern Afghanistan. He was backed for a long time by the Saudis and by the Pakistani army secret service who virtually commanded his guerilla forces.

Nevertheless the Hizb-i Islami has a modern party structure, is not so tied to the big landowners and the mullahs and has drawn its members and fighters from the urban and rural poor and the sections of the intelligentsia. It talks of the need for an Islamic revolution. Hizb-i Islami also has a reputation for destroying not only the “godless communists” but all other political forces in the regions it controls.

In the struggle for Kabul it appears that Hekmatyar overplayed his hand and was badly mauled by the “lion of the Panjshir”. At present, the regime of the new ruling council, a coalition of leaders, is trying to drive all the remaining armed supporters of Hekmatyar out of the capital. But it is unlikely to succeed for long.

The ruling council is weak and divided, and the situation of the masses in both town and countryside is desperate. Hekmatyar could come to appear as the champion of the Pashtun “majority” (40% of the population), used to ruling Afghanistan but now faced with losing this absolute dominance. Massoud, as a Farsi (Persian) speaking Tajik (25-30% of the population) will head a creaky coalition of the minority peoples plus the Pashtun rivals to Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar has been unceremoniously dumped by his Saudi and Pakistani godfathers. But if he wants to continue to challenge for power, to carry out the “Islamic Revolution” then he has to go into armed opposition. If the latter is the case, the downfall of Najibullah could be but a short breathing space in a continuing civil war.

But even without continuing war or Islamic revolution, the prospects for the Afghan masses are bleak. Not only has the country been devastated by the war but all the forces making up the new regime aim to overturn any remaining progressive measures taken by the PDPA government. They will punish the civil servants, teachers and workers who supported and tried to implement, the spread of education, literacy, land reform and basic civil rights for women. They will plunge Afghanistan into a new dark age.