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Afghanistan - NATO troops face a resurgent Taliban
THE RECENT horrors in Lebanon and the ongoing quagmire for the occupying forces in Iraq have pushed the war in Afghanistan out of the main news headlines. Yet the situation is bloodier in Afghanistan than it has been in the five years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime. This is underlined by the deaths of nine British servicemen killed in the 25 major clashes with Taliban guerrillas after taking over command in Helmand province in May this year.
The US army claims to have killed 600 'suspected Taliban fighters' during July in advance of handing over control to NATO forces in the southern provinces.
It says 1,700 people in total have died since the beginning of the year in the ongoing war. UK troop levels have been increased as part of this NATO force, to around 5,000.
Of course the phrase 'suspected Taliban fighters' is a telling one. How many of these are civilian deaths is hard to say, but as the BBC correspondent in Helmand province said:
"The overused phrase 'winning hearts and minds' is bandied about as a key objective, but bombing the infrastructure - the schools, hospitals, shops and houses - is not going to win the support of local people."
The plans of the US and British governments have gone badly awry in Afghanistan. Following the attacks of 11 September 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan was supposed to destroy al-Qa'ida and the Taliban regime that was harbouring them.
They then planned to 'reconstruct' the economy and install a stable pro-Western 'democracy'. In reality it was part of the US plan to reassert the world power of imperialism, the next step being the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Ironically Muslim 'radicals', including Bin Laden, had originally been funded and supported by the US in the war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
After their crushing by the occupying forces in 2001 it appeared that the Taliban were finished. However, as we pointed out in Socialism Today, February 2002: "So long as the conditions which turn people towards movements like the Taliban exist, there will always be more recruits.
"The failure of 'modernisation' on the Western capitalist model, extreme poverty, lack of education and healthcare, and especially the humiliation of domination by rich foreign powers, will continue to push strata of the population towards 'Islamic fundamentalism', or more accurately right-wing, Islamic parties and movements."
Five years after bringing down the Taliban regime, al-Qa'ida still exists, the Taliban are resurgent, Afghans still live in crushing poverty and the Kabul government controls very little of the country.
Even in Kabul, a glimpse of the disillusionment and anger at the occupying US forces can be seen in the riots and demonstrations involving thousands of people that took place in May after a road accident caused by a speeding US convoy. Reportedly troops fired on the crowd afterwards. Local people believe the arrogance of US forces is reflected in the recklessness with which they drive through crowded streets and this adds to the feeling of being let down by unfulfilled promises of economic help.
The BBC quoted one Kabul resident as saying: "There is a lot of poverty and a lot of problems with unemployment - I am not happy with the way the aid money is given out."
Five years of occupation and supposed 'reconstruction', Afghanistan has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world, life expectancy is 46 years, and one child in four dies before the age of five. National income per head is officially only $204 a year. That rises to $330 if you include the opium trade, now an estimated one-third of the economy.
Since the removal of the Taliban regime the production of opium has rocketed, and with it huge problems of corruption of officials and weakening control by government. 70% of the population depends on agriculture, and the destitution of farmers has inevitably led to the growth in production of poppies as the only way to get the money to feed their families.
In contrast to the lack of investment by Western donors, according to journalist Ahmed Rashid: "Drug smugglers and cartels now offer greater incentives to Pashtun farmers than aid agencies... opium traffickers provide improved varieties of poppy seeds, fertiliser, improved methods of cultivation, banking and loan facilities and organise large scale employment during the poppy harvest."
The provincial governors, police chiefs and administrators relied on around the country by the Hamid Karzai government have been the warlords utilised by the US in their war against the Taliban.
The Pashtun warlords loyal to Karzai in the southern provinces, where the Taliban are mainly based, have been involved in the drugs trade and discredited as being openly corrupt, further undermining support for the government.
After more than five years of fighting there appears no immediate end to the turmoil. At a time when the US is increasing its numbers of troops in Iraq despite its professed aim to do the opposite, there seems no "exit strategy" in Afghanistan either with the increased NATO deployment there.
Capitalism has no solutions for the people of Afghanistan; the only hope lies in the building of socialism there and internationally. An independent working class movement needs to be built which can offer a way out of extreme poverty and constant war for the masses both in the cities and towns and in the countryside.
In The Socialist 10 August 2006:
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