Farewell to Kabul

BRITISH and American troops made a final withdrawal from Afghanistan last Monday — only not quite a total withdrawal. Around 500 British “advisors” will remain and no doubt some United States “advisors” as well. And there will be the private security personnel contracted to various corporate enterprises and/or war lords with serious investments in the opium industry.

It was more dignified and less bloody than the British retreat from Jalalabad in 1842 but nevertheless it was a resounding defeat for western imperialism with its aims to secure Afghanistan as a safe western military base in a globally strategic area, while pretending they were fighting a war on terror. And globally, outside Britain and the US, the withdrawal is seen quite plainly as a defeat and retreat.

When the Nato allies invaded Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 they claimed they were intent on defeating Al Qaeda and the source of the terrorists who committed the 11th September attacks on New York and Washington. Bin Laden was demonised as a super villain who threatened world peace.

The reality was that Al Qaeda had its roots in Saudi Arabia — the great ally of the West — not in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was a financial facilitator for Al Qaeda. In global terms it was never a large organisation. It was a group of extreme right-wing Muslim fundamentalists who were angry at the continuing existence of US military bases — with all the “unholy” decadence that goes with them — on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia a decade after the end of the first Iraq War.

Al Qaeda did not have vast numbers of troops but it did have money to sponsor volunteer groups of would-be terrorists who came asking and had a viable plan of action.

The Bin Laden family, based in Saudi Arabia, had considerable wealth and they had helped out the Bush family in America when they got into serious financial problems.

And when Al Qaeda and the Taliban were first formed they had the backing of the US and other western powers because their first activities were based on destabilising the socialist government of Najibullah in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and Bin Laden also played a behind-the-scenes role for Nato in the former Yugoslavia, helping to sow the divisions that tore that country to pieces.

In 2001 the western media were full of horror stories about life in Afghanistan and the draconian rule of the Taliban, especially for Afghan women. But that media never pointed out that a few years before, under the government of Najibullah, Afghan women had been liberated, were allowed to walk about freely in whatever clothes they chose and had access to education and played an active part in social, economic and political life. The western media portrayed the country as one that had been continually trapped in rigid feudalism since time immemorial.

If the Nato powers had not intervened behind the scenes to destabilise the Najibullah government Afghanistan might still be socialist and its people spared the untold horrors that have tortured through the last three decades.

Britain and America declared they had gone into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban, Al Qaeda and to find and destroy Bin Laden. But their presence made the Taliban grow. American war leaders who have never personally experienced being on the receiving end of bombing raids can never understand the fear and horror they cause — and the resulting hatred engendered towards those who are bombing them. Since the Blitz history has shown that bombing alone does not win wars.

Their slap-happy approach to bombing turned thousands of Afghans who previously had not supported the Taliban to join them simply because the Taliban were the only force around that was fighting the invaders with their bombs and later also their drones.

It is a good thing for the Afghans that almost all the British and Americans have now withdrawn from their country. The longer they stayed the more damage they did. But the country is now a wreck, riven by contending warlords and the Taliban, which remains strong. Progressive forces there are likely to take a long time to recover.

Meanwhile Nato has plenty of work for the troops who have been withdrawn in other “strategic” arenas: Ukraine, Syria, Korea, the whole Pacific rim, Africa, Latin America and so on. They may even have to back into Iraq soon. One thing is certain; they cannot prevail on all these fronts at the same time.