Afghanistan turns tables on Washington

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A new path for socialism? Revolutionary renewal in the Soviet Union and Cuba – from FRFI 87, June 1989

independent 1993 1 1

When the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan on 15 February there was a great deal of crowing in the US and British press about 'the defeat of communism', 'freedom on the march' and such like. Afghanistan was about to fall into the hands of the counter-revolutionary Mojahedin. So, on 6 March the Mojahedin attacked Jalalabad, 'the gateway to Kabul', intending to establish their 'provisional government' in this city close to the Pakistan border. It would fall 'in a few days'. Nine weeks later the siege of Jalalabad was broken by the Afghan army and patriotic volunteers; the news-vendors sang a different tune: 'These days nobody talks of capturing Kabul. The snows have thawed and excuses run out.' (Financial Times, 15 May 1989)

Government troops were initially taken by surprise by the ferocity of the firepower of the counter-revolutionaries. The CIA had recently equipped them with long-range heavy artillery, much of which was manned by Pakistan Army gunners. Mojahedin attacked from the south east, then north and west of the city to try and cut off the lifeline to Kabul. Soldiers and volunteers defending Jalalabad fell back forming a tight cordon around the city. The Mojahedin were forced into direct frontal assaults. On a single day, 10 April, over 18,000 rockets, shells and mines rained down on the city. Just eleven civilians and three troops were killed, but schools, temples and homes were reduced to rubble. For many Afghans previously sympathetic to the Mojahedin, almost overnight the 'anti-Soviet freedom fighters' had been recast: now they were tools of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, killing Afghan people. The Afghan government appeared to more and more people to be what it always was: the defender of Afghan self-determination against imperialism.

The Mojahedin and their coterie of international press fans had assumed that Afghan government troops would defect upon Soviet withdrawal. Some did. Their bodies were cut into tiny pieces by the Mojahedin and left for public display. The Afghan government soldiers understood it was fight or die. Pakistani army soldiers were captured. After four weeks of failed assault the Mojahedin, the Pakistan intelligence service ISI and the CIA were passing the blame around. The Salang Highway from Kabul to the Soviet Union was kept open. Precious Soviet military and food supplies were ferried into the Afghan capital, and from there by helicopter to Jalalabad. By mid-May government troops had broken the siege of Jalalabad. Positions taken by the counter-revolutionaries en route to their Pakistan bases were recaptured.

Imperialism Bent on Outright Victory

When US Secretary of State James Baker visited Moscow on 11 May, he made it clear that the USA would neither cease military supplies to the counter-revolutionaries (a violation of the 1988 Geneva Agreement) nor would they back a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan war. For the US government the Geneva Agreement means nothing more than Soviets get out and to hell with anything else it says about ending outside interference in Afghanistan. Ever since 1978 and the April Revolution the US has been intent on arming counter-revolution. A full year before Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan the CIA had established 30 training bases for Afghan terrorists. Then, as today, with the US supplying billions a year in aid to the Mojahedin, the US is prepared to reduce every village and town in Afghanistan to rubble to defeat the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government.

Pakistan military intelligence, ISI, played a key role in planning and directing the assault on Jalalabad. Senior Pakistani, Saudi Arabian and US army officers were flown by helicopter-gunships into the Jalalabad region. The Pakistani ruling class sees Afghanistan as critical to its strategic position vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and India. It also wants to dispose of up to five million Afghan refugees on its territory. Afghan President Najibullah can convincingly claim that the Mojahedin are political heirs of the bought puppets that Britain repeatedly tried to foist upon Afghanistan in the last century, and right down to 1929 when the infamous Lawrence (of Arabia) had Habibullah Ghazi proclaimed emir. He lasted ten months before being executed.

Soviet President Gorbachev responded firmly to the imperialists' belligerence in a letter to a Pakistani politician: 'There can be and there will be no military solution to the Afghanistan problem.' With the Afghan forces well equipped and performing successfully, President Najibullah has stepped up the diplomatic offensive, attempting to widen the division in the Mojahedin ranks. They exist: even as the assault on Jalalabad commenced, rival factions were looking over their shoulders to see who would stab them in the back and usurp the title of 'victor'. However, Najibullah's main thrust has been to dissociate the field-commanders based on the feudal village structures inside Afghanistan from the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois allied to US capital based in Pakistan. Field-commanders have been offered food, fuel and significant degrees of military and political autonomy to end their attacks on government forces. Responses have been inconsistent. Speaking to The Independent (8 May, 1989), PDPA Central Committee member Najmuddin Kawyani explained 'the field-commanders are beginning to find themselves under conflicting pressure from Pakistan, which wants them to attack, and from local people, who say if they attack it is the people who will suffer when the government responds'.

Support the Afghan Government

The Mojahedin have proved incapable of winning the set-piece battles that would be necessary to capture Afghanistan's major cities. Pakistan Army gunners are employed for the heavy artillery bombardment of Jalalabad. Set-piece battles require a specific training and discipline. The question now is will direct Pakistani military intervention increase? It is noticeable that Sandy Gall, and similar would-be media adventurers, are no longer reporting back from 'inside Afghanistan' alongside the Mojahedin. No doubt such reports would run the risk of embarrassing the Pakistan government with details about scales of casualties being endured by the counter-revolutionaries, over a thousand at Jalalabad, and of Pakistan's military involvement. The Danish press have reported Pakistani soldiers training Mojahedin in heavy artillery use in Khost province. In mid-May a heavy attack was launched on this city. Two US military advisers were reported killed in an exchange of fire with government troops in Kandahar on 14 March. The Mojahedin have said that they will open a second front in Kandahar this summer.

FRFI calls on all socialists and progressives to oppose the imperialists' aggression against Afghanistan. On his March visit to Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe repeated his call for an outright victory for the Mojahedin. Happily we can report that Afghan pilots speak derisorily of the British-supplied Blowpipe missiles. However, the people of Afghanistan are suffering at the hands of the US and British states and their clients.

A Chorus of Reaction - British Left Backs Imperialism

One of the first things Thatcher's first Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, did was visit the Khyber Pass and aim a rifle at an Afghan border guard. British soldiers have trained and equipped the Mojahedin. The British government supplies them with aid and diplomatic and political support. This band of counter-revolutionary mercenaries have an-other ally: much of the British left.

How can it be that so-called socialists and Marxists wind up on the same side as Margaret Thatcher and the same side as people who murder women who become 'too visible', as the Mojahedin did in a refugee camp recently, or who bomb the orphanages of the children of 'the infidels', or one of the biggest heroin smuggling outfits in the world? They side with reaction because while they pose as socialists they have no conception of British imperialism, the national democratic revolutions or the labour aristocracy in Britain to which they are appended.

Take this from Socialist Worker, paper of the Socialist Workers Party. The Soviet Union was 'forced out by the popular resistance. The attempt to subjugate the country by force has been broken' (11 February, 1989). Ronald Reagan's script writers could hardly have done better, but wait: 'Opponents of Russia's rule everywhere within the USSR and Eastern Europe will take heart'. 'Russian rule', that magical incantation that has accompanied every anti-Soviet enterprise since the attack on the Bolsheviks in 1918. Still, while the SWP is in jubilation sadly Afghanistan's 'cycle of misery ... can only continue. It won't be broken until genuine socialist revolutions in more advanced countries provide the resources to overcome its economic backwardness' (4 February 1989). Foolish to even try, Afghan socialists. What has this Eurocentric view of the world got in common with reality, the recent history of the Third World? Nothing! There will be no revolution in the 'more advanced countries' without the oppressed nations winning national liberation.

the next step, paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, offers a different brand of trotskyism. Two articles on 3 February and 10 February 1989 appear, at first sight, innocent enough: simple descriptive stuff but nowhere does tns see a national liberation movement, a patriotic war of resistance against imperialism. Instead it sees the power plays of Moscow: 'The best that Moscow could hope for is the return of the former king from Italy', 'Moscow may have to fall back upon a "Lebanese option"', 'Any resulting regime in Kabul would be too weak to pose a threat to the Soviet Union's Muslim region', etc, etc. Our boutique revolutionaries affect all the informed detachment of the BBC commentators they fancy themselves as. Nowhere do the Afghan people figure in determining their own fate. Nowhere is there a call for support for the Afghan government.

What of the Militant, an organisation whose faith in the Labour Party can seemingly endure any torment and indignity? 'When the Russian bureaucracy invaded Afghanistan, Militant came out in opposition. Any gains achieved through defending measures to abolish landlordism and capitalism ... would be completely outweighed by the adverse effects on the consciousness of the working class internationally' (10 February 1989). Quite apart from depicting the Soviet action as an invasion, note Militant's reasoning: for the 'consciousness of the working class internationally' read the chauvinistic, anti-Soviet prejudices of the British working class which Militant imagines to be in the vanguard of the global struggle for socialism. Make a concession to the infections of bourgeois propaganda not the Afghan revolution nor its Soviet allies, is the Militant's message.

Trotskyist or CPGB, it makes little difference. 'It gives us no satisfaction to say we told you so. But British communists opposed the use of Soviet troops to prop up the isolated and dictatorial regime [Militant chose to call it 'bonapartist and totalitarian'] the communists established after an army officer-led coup in April 1978... Had the original Afghan communist leadership ... understood that it is peoples who have to be won to create revolutions, they cannot be imposed by cabals of officers and bureaucrats, then a different, surer if slower start could perhaps have been made' (7 Days, 11 February 1989). Had the Afghan people not got their own history of revolutionary struggle against oppression, had the communist leadership not been in prison cells awaiting execution when they launched the revolution, if the CIA and MI6 had not been directing counter-revolutionary gangs even before 1978, if the revolution had been made in never-never land...

These are just samples of the chauvinism and Eurocentrism which characterise the British left. In practice they side with imperialism and counter-revolution.