PASSWORD RESET

Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Afghan crisis spilling into Pakistan

End the war now!
“These houses that were full of children and women and elders were bombed by planes,” an Afghan official told the Associated Press in the wake of a U.S. bombing on an Afghan village on May 5 that local residents say killed 150 civilians.

By Dan DiMaggio, Socialist Alternative (CWI – US)

Such is the reality of the war in Afghanistan, as the Obama administration shifts its attention from Iraq to what is increasingly being referred to as the “Af-Pak war.” Obama has announced an additional 21,000 troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the next several months, in addition to the 38,000 already there.

On top of this, there has been an expansion of the unmanned U.S. Predator drone bombing campaign in Pakistan and increased pressure on the Pakistani government to escalate its war against the Taliban, causing a massive humanitarian catastrophe. Nearly a million Pakistanis have fled homes in the border areas to escape bombings by the Pakistani army and U.S. planes.

Obama claims the war is necessary to prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and to root out Al Qaeda safe havens along the Pakistani border. Yet in reality, the policies of U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan and Pakistan are bringing misery to the peoples of Central Asia and wasting billions of dollars and thousands of lives, all in the interests of shoring up U.S. prestige and geopolitical power.

The conflict in Afghanistan is already the second longest war in U.S. history, behind only Vietnam, with no end in sight. 2008 was the deadliest year for American troops in Afghanistan, and casualties for the first few months of this year are already exceeding last year’s.

In a reflection of the deep skepticism among sections of the ruling class over the prospects for the U.S. in Afghanistan, known historically as the “graveyard of empires,” Newsweek even proclaimed it “Obama’s Vietnam” on a February cover.

The brutal U.S. bombing campaign alongside the seething anger at the massive corruption of the local elites in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have driven some into the arms of the Taliban. Obama’s policy of escalating the war will do little to weaken these forces.

In Afghanistan, the International Council on Security and Development claims that the Taliban now have “a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, up from 54 percent a year ago,” and “three of the four main highways in Kabul are now compromised by Taliban activity.” (Newsweek, 2/9/09)

They have also experienced growing success in Pakistan, in part “by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants” in the Swat valley (NY Times, 4/17/09).

Given the absence of a powerful, mass left-wing alternative, right-wing political Islamic groups like the Taliban are filling the void. They are increasingly posing as “Islamic Robin Hoods” in a country riddled with corruption, promising equal justice for both rich and poor under the strict code of Sharia law.

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has done nothing to solve the problems of the people of Afghanistan, some of the poorest on earth. The country ranks 174th out of 178 countries in a UN poverty index. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 42% of the country’s estimated 27 million people now live on less than $1 per day.

As the Center for the Study of Global Governance reports, “Even after almost seven years of reconstruction and development assistance, a large percentage of the population suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, and electricity, and cannot afford the rising price of food.”

Afghan women, promised “liberation” by the Bush administration, still “face the highest rates of illiteracy and maternal mortality in the world, and unemployment still hovers around 40-70 percent with few prospects available.” (Counterpunch, 3/30/09)

Rather than solving these problems, the occupation is only making them worse. As the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan put it, “What have the people of Afghanistan received from the Coalition? They lived very poorly before, and they still live poorly — but sometimes they also get bombed by mistake.” (Newsweek, 2/9/09)

In the U.S., polls show that an increasing number of Americans are getting fed up with the war. While the majority of Americans support Obama’s decision to send more troops, in a March USA Today/Gallup poll 42 percent said they thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, up from 30 percent in February and six percent in January 2002.

These numbers will increase as it becomes clear that the U.S. is fighting a losing battle at the expense of the lives of U.S. soldiers and the Afghan and Pakistani people. In addition, there is the cost of the war, set to rise to over $3 billion per month this year.

The task of antiwar activists is to explain that the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with preventing terrorism or bringing a better life to ordinary Afghans. Rather, the war is all about maintaining the prestige of U.S. imperialism. Already facing defeat in Iraq, the U.S. cannot also admit defeat (yet) in Afghanistan, which would be a devastating blow to its superpower image and give confidence to its rivals.

Additionally, there is the geostrategic significance of the region. Afghanistan shares borders with Iran, Pakistan, China, and three ex-Soviet states. The U.S. looks to use its influence here to weaken both China and Russia, as well as maintain influence over both India and Pakistan.

We call for:

* No to the surge in Afghanistan! Bring the troops home now!
* End U.S. bombings of Pakistan!
* Money for Jobs and Education, not War!
* End the cycle of war and terrorism! Fight for a socialist future!

Collateral Damage

A recent report by Iraq Body Count found that suicide bombers in Iraq have been less indiscriminate in their killing than the U.S. military. The report found that “39 per cent of those killed in air raids by the U.S.-led coalition were children and 46 percent were women.” (Independent (UK), 4/16/09)

U.S. bombings have routinely killed civilians in Afghanistan as well, sparking outrage from all sections of Afghan society. As the Independent (UK) reports, “From 2004 to 2007, the overall tonnage of munitions dropped from planes in the Afghan conflict rose from 163 tons a year to 1,956 tons, an increase of 1,100 percent. Since 2001, the US air force has dropped 14,049 tons of bombs in Afghanistan and 18,858 in Iraq.” (4/16/09)