A WORLD TO WIN    #30   (2004)


A Trail of Broken Promises

Based on a series of reports from A World to Win News Service

With the US-imposed regime change in Afghanistan came promises of a better economy, stability, democracy and women's liberation. The US and its allies pledged "aid" to reconstruct the country and have tried to justify their presence in Afghanistan in the name of bringing security to the people.

Two years after Karzai and the warlords took over the reins of government, reconstruction and the economy of Afghanistan are as bleak as ever. The backward and restrictive social conditions for women are legitimised by the state, and so-called political stability is nowhere on the horizon. With a solution stamped "Made in USA", there is little perspective that the situation in any of these areas is likely to improve.

"Reconstruction" and the Economy of Afghanistan

After US bombs carried out massive destruction, the US convened its allies to a conference in Tokyo in 2002 that pledged $5.8 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the next five years for reconstruction. More recently, the US promised another $1.2 billion and urged its allies to put up a billion dollars more. This is not very much money by international standards. The US alone is spending almost a billion dollars a month ($900 million) for its own occupation expenses in Afghanistan. But any ordinary person who sympathises with Afghanistan's people and who might think that the answer is to send more "aid" should consider how this money is spent.

Not much of it goes to rebuilding the country. As the British Observer newspaper pointed out on 25 May, "So far donor countries have committed just $300 million to road-building in all Afghanistan, by coincidence exactly the same amount of money as is being spent on reconstructing the US embassy in Kabul.... The contractor is Bechtel, the US construction giant." One of the two main Bush-friendly mega-corporations getting very much richer in Iraq at the moment, Bechtel charges almost $400,000 per kilometre of road constructed.

As for the rest of these funds, the US and the West are sending supplies and cash, both directly and through non-governmental organisations. Much of it is in the form of military aid for the central government or for the particular warlords supported by the particular donor country. It also includes so-called civilian aid, in the form of food or money to subsidise food imports from the West (another bonanza for American and other giant corporations).

Afghanistan's economy is basically powered by two things: opium and money sent home by Afghanistanis in exile. With four million abroad out of a population of 24 million, Afghanistan has one of the highest percentages of people forced to live abroad of any country in the world. The main reason for this and for why Afghanistan's economy has been strangled overall is very simple: the warlords and the feudal system they enforce.

The Communist Party of Afghanistan (a participant in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement) analyses Afghanistan as "a semi-feudal and colonial country". It is semi-feudal because it has a feudal economic and social system that has been influenced by capitalist relations. It is colonial because not only is the country under the political and economic domination of imperialism (like many countries considered semi-colonial), it is also directly occupied by imperialist forces.

Some warlords started out as local feudal rulers or with the support of such people. Others have used their guns to become feudal rulers or big landowners over time. About 75 per cent of the people of Afghanistan live in the countryside, and most of them are under the domination and control of these warlords. Almost half of the cultivable land belongs to the feudal and big landlords, and the other half is divided among the peasant farmers. This means that the vast majority of the peasants are either landless or are forced to make do with very small plots of land. The farmers who work on the feudal lands have to pay between 65 and 85 per cent of the crops to the feudal as rent. This could be even higher in the case of poppy growing.

The warlords and their armies enforce this exploitation - in most cases the warlords are the direct exploiters themselves. They grab the land of the people who have left the country and in some cases force the people to sell or even just abandon their land. Sometimes they collect taxes. They use the Islamic tax known as khoms to take 20 per cent or more of the crops. In a report from Shol Garah valley in Afghanistan, the New York Times wrote on 24 September 2003, "The fighting in this fertile bowl flared as the harvest neared, and that was not a coincidence. From bountiful crops of cotton, corn and wheat would come a cut for local commanders. The more land the commanders controlled, the more crop they could claim... Throughout early summer, men toting weapons roamed in pickup trucks. Gunshots echoed. Farmers watched helplessly, wanting nothing more than to be free of the men...."

Flourishing Opium Poppies,

a Fix for the

Globalised Economy

Poppy growing has become a golden opportunity for the warlord government and all those it represents to expand their capital and become a part of the new comprador class that US imperialism intends to reconstruct. Only a few months after the US and its allies invaded, it was clear that Afghanistan was going to become the world's largest opium poppy producer again. After the Taliban succeeded in banning this crop, less than 200 tonnes were produced in 2001. But this figure reached 3,400 tonnes in 2002 and it will probably be well over 4,000 tonnes in 2003. Today it is estimated that more than 3 million people and their families in the country support themselves directly from poppy cultivation. Several million more work in the poppy fields occasionally.

The farmers of Afghanistan are in fact driven to opium cultivation by powerful but merciless forces: on the one side a globalised world economy that gives them no choice but to grow something they can live from, and on the other side the imperialist intervention and what this has meant for their lives.

In the absence of irrigation systems and in a situation in which water is often stolen by big feudal landlords and more powerful people, many have turned to growing poppy. Poppy plants need less water than wheat or other basic food crops. Further, how can peasants afford to grow wheat when their crops will be undersold by cheap imports produced by subsidised farmers in the rich countries? American and European food "aid" to Afghanistan is almost as lethal as land mines. The rich countries are happy because they can sell their surplus wheat, but free or cheap imported wheat ruins Third World peasants and, by making the country dependent on food imports, eventually brings starvation.

Those who profit from the poppy business are certainly not the farmers. First come the gangs who charge the farmers to "protect" them against other gangs. Then come the armed groups of one or another warlord. Then come the officials demanding bribes. If the peasants refuse, they may see their harvest destroyed, or end up in prison. So a large percentage goes to all these parasites. Even if things work out for a peasant family, it is certain that they will make only a little money, which of course is better than starving.

Opium production is directly related to the predominance of feudalism and the rule of warlords in Afghanistan. But the political conditions imposed by the US have been a key factor. Poppy growing in Afghanistan might have a long history but it did not take place on such a large scale until the US began to back the Mojahadeen Islamic fundamentalist (and feudalistic) guerrillas in the war of resistance against the USSR in the 1980s. These warlords encouraged poppy cultivation in areas under their control to finance their war against the Soviet invaders.

Opium is grown in 24 out of 32 of Afghanistan's provinces, but most of the production is concentrated in five provinces that are strongholds of the warlords now allied with the US, including Badakhshan. That province was the stronghold of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a close ally of Europe, especially France. Now it is under the control of his Jamiat-e-Islami, a powerful faction of the former Northern Alliance. Poppy production now forms the biggest single part of the economy. One estimate is that it brings in $2 billion in foreign currency a year. It is central to the wealth and power of the social forces on which the US occupation depends, from traders and local warlords to big comprador businessmen and the highest-ranking government officials. It is intimately connected to the political and economic maintenance of the country's enslavement by backward feudals and foreign occupiers.

Afghanistan supplies 70 per cent of the world's heroin. It supplies Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, Russia and Eastern and Western Europe. Much of the addiction from Afghanistan's opium is concentrated in countries where the degradation of the people particularly suits US strategic interests. There are estimates of up to as many as six million drug addicts in Pakistan, nearly five million in Iran, around four million drug users in Russia, and many new addicts in the former Soviet states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan - all targeted for US domination. This is one of the major "achievements" of the US occupation of Afghanistan.

Imperialism is the Source of

Instability in Afghanistan

The ongoing power struggle within the Afghanistan regime, the lack of government control outside Kabul and on top of that the continued fierce fighting with the Taliban, underscore just how unstable Afghanistan remains. Many aid organisations have halted their activities, complaining that the situation is deteriorating.

Historically, Afghanistan has been a strategic prize for great powers anxious to expand their regional domination. The country marks the dividing line between Central Asia (historically dominated by Russia) and South Asia (dominated by the British and then the US). For the British and then US, Afghanistan was the gate to Central Asia. For Russia, it was the gate to South Asia and the open sea to the south. This contention has been the source of instability for more than a century. The exception was the period when the USSR was a socialist country. During those decades the Soviet Union had no designs on Afghanistan and there were several decades of relative calm.

Using the attack of 11 September 2001 as a pretext, the US tried to take advantage of its position as the only superpower to finalise the situation in Afghanistan. The aim was to ensure stability there in line with its own imperialist interests and pave the way for expanding American hegemony in Central Asia and the Middle East. But events proved this to be more difficult than the US ruling class initially thought.

Russia still considers Central Asia as its area of domination and Afghanistan as its backyard. It could not tolerate US advances towards its area of control. As a result, it has stepped up its support for the forces it backs in the power struggles within the Afghanistan government. For example, Defence Minister General Qasim Fahim is said to have good relations with Russia. No wonder there was a $40 million military deal between Russia and Jamiat-e-Islami, of which Fahim is a main leader. The contract calls for Russia to provide transport helicopters, gunships and spare parts directly to Fahim's ministry rather than to the Afghan National Army.

Other European imperialists no less eager to increase their influence in Afghanistan have nourished relations with certain opposition forces since the time of the Taliban. After the US-led 2001 invasion, the European countries sent their troops under UN and NATO flags to control Kabul. They have been asking for the expansion of the UN mandate to allow them to operate outside Kabul, so that they could expand their control in Afghanistan.

Other reactionary countries in the region are also interfering in Afghanistan. Pakistan is in the forefront. Its generals were the main promoters of the Taliban and, on American instructions, gave them vigorous help to seize power. After the fall of the Taliban, these generals have allegedly been helping the Taliban to regroup and to use Pakistan's border region as a base for operations inside Afghanistan. The relationship between Pakistan and the Jamiat-e-Islami is very strained. Pakistan's main concern is that it is locked in confrontation with India on one border and cannot afford to have hostile forces on the other.

From the other side, Iran has provided military aid to the private militia of Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat province in western Afghanistan. Huge amounts of imported goods are flooding into that region. The Islamic Republic of Iran is also trying to use the similarity of the Shia religion to influence forces in Hezarah Jat and is training and financing Islamic groups in central and north-western Afghanistan.

India is also trying to gain influence in Jamiat-e-Islami to expand its regional importance in competition with Pakistan.

Turkey and Uzbekistan are eager to revive their support for General Dostum, a Northern Alliance member who is an adversary of other forces within the Alliance, and would like to boost him in the power struggle.

All this shows that the warlords are only small pawns in a "Great Game" played by the big powers and other reactionary states. The biggest players are the US occupiers and the other imperialists who have sent troops. They are the main source of instability. History gives little reason to think that any big power occupation or puppet regime could bring peace and stability, let alone the social change Afghanistan's people so badly need.

Harsher Oppression for Women

After the invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, many women across the country thought they would get at least some limited freedom. They thought they could at least lighten their Islamic covering, and leave their homes for work and school. They hoped they could take part in social and political activities. But instead a new nightmare awaited them.

Islamic cover may no longer be compulsory by law, yet no woman can go out without it. The burka, imposed by law under the Taliban, covering the entire body from head to toe, is generally common, and in most cases women must wear a burka to protect themselves against insult or rape. As a 2003 Amnesty International report put it, "During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she's raped."

The return of many girls to school is also running into obstacles. Some schools have been burnt down to deter parents from enrolling their children. In some areas soldiers and militiamen of the former Mujahideen groups are discouraging girls from going to school. As Human Rights Watch noted, these men have grabbed many young girls on their way to school and kidnapped and raped them. This organised harassment has added to parents' worries, so that returning refugee families who had sent their girls to school in Pakistan and Iran are now frightened and choose not to send their girls to school in Afghanistan. The state also plays a major role in reinforcing women's conditions: in November 2003 a law from the 1970s was upheld prohibiting married women from attending high school. This stifles any hope for many women to improve their lives, as many girls are forced into marriage at a young age, sometimes as young as 9 or 10.

Many cases of rape and sexual abuse of women are not reported because there is little support for fighting this in any part of the society and none in the government - neither in the executive power (run by President Karzai) nor in the judicial system, which is mainly in the hands of fundamentalists. In fact, the current rulers and their courts put the victims on trial, not the rapists. Women who are victims of rape or other abuse are often convicted of adultery (zina).

This form of oppression of women that makes the women property and thus the bearers of the "honour" of men is deeply rooted in the feudal and semi-feudal system. It is the very forces who are acting as US allies in Afghanistan, the feudal landlords and warlords, who embody and enforce this system.

A New and Reactionary


One of the greatest farces of democracy imposed on Afghanistan's people is the puppet regime's new Constitution, approved by the Loya Jirga (Grand Council) in early 2004. It is not much of a surprise, since basically it is the programme of the feudal and comprador class who have pledged allegiance to their imperialist masters at the expense of the masses of the people. In other words, the Constitution is designed to protect and consolidate the dominant semi-feudal economic and social relations and to ensure the dominance of imperialism over the country. This means a dictatorship of the reactionary classes, the feudalists and imperialist lackeys and their servants, over and against the people, who are the majority.

The tenets of Islamic ideology represented in this Constitution violate one of the most basic principles of any democracy - the separation of state and religion. The Constitution puts it this way: "No law in Afghanistan can be valid if it goes against the sacred religion of Islam and this Constitution." It also allows judges to make decisions using Islamic law as their guide. The judges must swear "in the name of God the Great" that they will "uphold justice and right according to the commandments of the sacred religion of Islam and the Constitution".

The Constitution allows political parties to be established as long as their programme "does not go against the principles of Islam" and they don't have "military aims" or "foreign affiliation". This means that communists and other atheists won't be allowed to form a party or other organisation. These conditions may also apply to religious minorities.

The Maoist movement in Afghanistan has a shining history. It started in the 1960s and gained broad support throughout Afghanistan. People call them Sholeii ("Sholeh-ists," after the name of the organ of the Progressive Youth Movement). The Maoists fought hard. Many were killed by the pro-Soviet revisionist government during the USSR's imperialist invasion, while some were murdered by the Islamic fundamentalists. Most people who know about the Sholeii respect them. But the new Constitution outlaws them, while Islamic organisations that have committed countless crimes against the people enjoy the freedom to rule and to commit more crimes in the name of the "law".

According to the Constitution, "The state encourages private investment based on a market economy, according to the rule of law, and guarantees its immunity." At the same time, it foresees no protection for the national economy and puts no restrictions on imperialist capital. Thus, there is no serious pretence of independence of the country, but rather a built-in freedom for invaders to run the economy, plunder its resources and exploit the masses.

The vast majority of the peasants in Afghanistan are landless or have very little land. But the Constitution does not even refer to the land question, one of the most essential issues for Afghanistan's people, nor provide for land distribution, which is one of the most basic democratic steps the country requires. Instead, it has an empty reference to "effective programmes" for helping peasants and promoting handicraft-making.

A very different Draft Programme has been published for a future united Communist Party of Afghanistan. That party will consist of Maoist parties and organisations, including the present Communist Party of Afghanistan, a participant in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. It declares that, "New-democratic revolution is the proletariat's minimum programme. This revolution overthrows imperialist domination and eliminates semi-feudal relations through agrarian revolution and carrying out the central slogan of land to the tiller."