Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Before the Taliban

It is the tenth anniversary of Afghan capital. Kabul, falling to the Taliban. It is worth noting that the Taliban did not take power until seven years after the Russian withdrawal. By 1996, half of Kabul had already been destroyed by the mujahideen, who had been armed and supported by the USA. Tens of thousands were killed in fighting over the city.

Today Afghanistan is in the grip of warlordism and terror. Human Rights Watch has described the atrocities:: "committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001" and who have "essentially hijacked the country". The report describes army and police troops controlled by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery and arbitrary murder.

The report by Human Rights Watch spells out a desperate situation for education in Afghanistan. “Schools are being shut down by bombs and threats, denying another generation of Afghan girls an education and the chance for a better life. Human Rights Watch found entire districts in Afghanistan where attacks had closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education. Insecurity, societal resistance in some quarters to equal access to education for girls, and a lack of resources mean that, despite advances in recent years, the majority of girls in the country remain out of school. Nearly one-third of districts have no girls’ schools. ”

Afghanistan is now the world’s largest producer of heroin, in 2004 it produced 90% of the world’s crop. No alternatives exist for farmers and the promised new roads and irrigations projects that would allow diversification have never materialised. The UN World Food Programme reports that: “over 50 percent of children are malnourished in Afghanistan, while one in three of people living in rural areas are unable to meet daily basic nutritional requirements.”

So imagine a different Afghanistan. Imagine an Afghanistan where the main crop is not Opium but wheat. Where 26% of land is growing wheat producing 3 million tonnes per annum. Imagine an Afghanistan where raisins and cotton are grown for export, Imagine an Afghanistan which exported 30000 tonnes of cotton fibre, and 57000 tonnes of raisins per year (the 4th biggest world producer of raisins). Imagine an Afghanistan with an intact and extensive irrigation system to support this agricultural diversity. Imagine an Afganistan with an extensive road system to allow agricultural produce to be taken to market. Imagine an Afghanistan where the main export was natural gas not narcotics. Imagine an Afghanistam with 120000 tourist visitors per year.

Imagine an Afghanistan with a functioning railway network, financed by Iran and with French technical expertise. Imagine an Afghanistan where women had full legal equality, where a quarter of the government’s budget was spent on education, and secular schools were opening in every village, for girls and boys. An Afghanistan where Kabul had a university, and where there were schools of medicine, science, pharmacy and engineering. (The picture shows a Russian built hydro-electric dam in Afghanistan)

Imagine an Afghanistan under Communist rule. This is not science fiction or an alternative reality, this is Afghanistan as it used to be. And remember that the Russian military intervention was at the request of the legitimate Afghan PDPA government to counter an Islamist insurgency being stoked up by the Americans, who cared not one jot for all this social progress. The Kremlin were very reluctant to intervene, and at first KGB secretary Andropov vetoed any intervention as against the USSR's interests.

This is the Afghanistan that the US destroyed by funding and arming the Islamist militias during the 1970s and 1980s. This is the Afghanistan to which the US recruited, trained and armed Osama Bin laden to commit terror atrocities against.


Dave Marlow said...

Very enlightening and sobering post. America has lost Afghanistan in the course of our "War on Terror", something I am not proud of as an American. The points you make are spot-on, especially about heroin production. I was disturbed when I read an article on how large that market has gotten.

Phugebrins said...

Goodness me. I suspected things were a lot better under the PDPA, but this much...

The only real query I have is about the size of the tourism: 120,000 a year. A reservoir a few miles away from me gets a million a year. Either you're missing a nought or two, or that's not a vastly impressive figure.

AN said...

The Figures come from a French academic book about the war in Afghanistan written in 1988.

Afghanistan did not have a particularly developed tourist industry - I know two people who went there during the 1970s, and there wasn't a whole heap to see - and it is long haul from Europe. And remember this was before the era of mass tourism.

The real issue in mentioning it is that foreign visitors felt completely safe to visit. Whereas now ... ...

badmatthew said...

I love that old-style Stalinist school of glowing economic statistics, makes me very nostalgic. Reminds me of '1984' as well, with its air-brushing of history. Shouldn't something be mentioned of the prior coup in Afghanistan (making some consideration of whether the subsequent government was 'legitimate'useful)and the way in which the ruthless implementation of top-down reforms created the basis for mujaheddin opposition, that required the intervention of the USSR to keep control over the countryside; an intervention which involved atrocities of its own. Before we join in the Spartacist chant of 'Hail the Red Army' a few of these complexities considering.

AN said...

But Matthew, there were two coups, the April 1978 coup to which you presumably refer and which brought the PDPA to power replaced the Daoud government that had itself come to power in a coup in July 1973. In any event sovereignty definitely lay with the Kabul government that invited in the Russian military. To argue otherwise means we also have to dispute the legitimacy of the current British government that owes it legitimacy to a coup in 1688.

It is worth remembering that the event that precipitated the coup in 1978 was the assassination by person or persons unknown of PDPA leader Khayber, and following the coup the army returned power to civilan rule only 4 days after they took power.

The subsequent fast pace of reforms (remission of rural debts and cancelling of all mortgages on land (July), limitation of marriage dowries (October), agrarian reform (land to the smaller peasants), and a compulsory campaign against literacy, were hurried and inadequately prepared. But in terms of the reforms being “top down”, how could it be otherwise? The population were 1.5 million, of which only 30000 to 50000 industrial workers. The rural population were poor and dispersed, with a per capita income of $116, and only one telephone per 10000 inhabitants, and one car per 500 inhabitants.

In this context the government will always be “top down.” And while we are talking of “all hail the red army”, there are striking similarities between the political situation and the war in the 1980s, and the Red Army’s campaign and victory in the Basmatchi war in Khive, Bukhara, Turkestan and Daghestan in 1920. The military victory of Frunze’s army in 1920 was of course partly due to the absolutely correct use of extensive terror, but the “top down” reforms (that were externally imposed by Lenin’s government with the bayonets of Trotsky’s army) also gradually undermined the Islamic resistance as it undermined the economic basis of the landlords and aristocrats. However, the key difference between victory in 1920 and defeat in 1986 was not whether the reforms were “top down” or “bottom up” but that Frunze’s army went out of its way not too offend the Islamic religion, defending freedom of worship, and handing power to Moslem communists. The huge mistake of the PDPA was to combine their admirable reforms with a simultaneous campaign against the Islamic religion and promoting secularism, it was this that allowed the aristocrats and landlords to pose as defenders of traditionalism.

AN said...

typo - should have sid defeat in 1989, not defeat in 1986.