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Debate on Afghanistan

September 29, 2006 | Page 12

Socialist Worker readers and writers continue a debate that has taken place on the Views and Voices page about the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Avery Wear: Don't assume the Taliban is anti-imperialist
Bill Linville: The goal of ending foreign domination
Sharon Smith: The Taliban's history of collaboration

Don't assume the Taliban is anti-imperialist

PHAM BINH takes John Green to task ("Imperialism is the main enemy," September 8) for providing "no evidence" to support his claim that Afghanistan's Taliban forces lack popular support.

Then Binh himself asserts, with no evidence, "the popularity of the Taliban has grown enormously since they were toppled from power almost five years ago." He goes on to claim that the Taliban are fighting "for an Afghanistan free of imperialist control." Therefore, his argument goes, our opposition to the ultra-reactionary politics of the group must not compromise our "support for the struggle they are leading."

We should neither assume the Taliban are anti-imperialists nor that they have popular support. The Taliban originally formed and ruled with the support of the Pakistani secret services, the ISI.

They, like other warlord factions in Afghanistan, have traditionally acted as puppets of regional as well as global imperialists. This may or may not be true today, but can hardly be ruled out off-handedly.

Nor is it clear that they aim to rule a united Afghanistan as opposed to a Pashtun breakaway state. And it is a big stretch to conclude from the recent (partly seasonal) increase in their activities that they have substantial popularity.

Authentic and popular national liberation movements can certainly be led by Islamists and other conservatives. But there are inherent contradictions when that is the case. Religious and ethnic sectarianism impedes broad nationalist unity. Gender and other social oppressions are alienating, and dampen mass participation and creativity in struggle.

That is why Hezbollah--which by the data of polls, votes and mass movements does indeed enjoy mass support in an anti-imperialist cause--has under pressure dropped or muted much of its sectarianism and conservatism. Had it not reneged on the goal of an Islamic state in Lebanon, and not openly allied itself with Christian factions, it would have gained less support, and so had less claim to the mantle of leadership in the national struggle.

From this side of the globe, it is difficult to evaluate the role of the Taliban today. But their hard-line sectarianism will not be unnoticed by Afghans. And genuine national liberation currents in Afghanistan may find them to be an obstacle.
Avery Wear, San Diego

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The goal of ending foreign domination

WHILE I agree with Nagesh Rao that the Taliban does not represent a genuine movement for liberation ("Taliban isn't a force for liberation," September 15), I disagree with his implication that socialists should support national liberation struggles on the basis of the relative progressive nature of a regime resulting from such a struggle.

Regardless of the broader political goals of groups leading struggles against foreign occupation, the struggle is democratic and progressive in that its success would end the oppression that came from foreign domination--and make it easier for all oppressed people to fight for their rights, with the acute oppression of foreign domination and occupation gone.

For example, we should support groups of Iraqis that resist U.S. occupation insofar as they cut against U.S. attempts to divide the country and aim to unite the whole of Iraq against foreign domination. Groups that oppose occupation, but primarily engage in sectarian attacks should not be supported because these groups actually play into the hands of the U.S. occupation and cannot build a national movement.

We should have no illusions that resistance groups in Iraq would implement a government that will necessarily grant rights to oppressed people within Iraq. But it is only after movements in Iraq and Afghanistan expel foreign occupiers that these rights can be won.

Since the Taliban is incapable of uniting the majority of Afghanis behind them, they do not represent a genuine movement for liberation.
Bill Linville, New York City

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The Taliban's history of collaboration

THE DEBATE in Socialist Worker's letters page over the Taliban's resistance to U.S. occupation points to the need for a clear methodology.

A national liberation movement is genuine only if it consistently opposes the aims of imperialism. Such a movement's success would indeed mark a victory for those oppressed by imperialism the world over.

To be sure, the Taliban today is resisting the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan. But when the Taliban ran the Afghan government between 1997 and 2001, it was no more anti-imperialist than Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in the 1980s.

The CIA itself created the Taliban during the final throes of the Cold War. The U.S. provided $3 million for the buildup of an Islamic fighting force, the Mujahadeen, to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

After the Soviet-backed government's defeat, the U.S. had no further need for the Mujahadeen and left its warring factions to battle for political supremacy in a bloody civil war lasting from 1992 to 1996.

An unstable coalition government calling itself the Islamic State of Afghanistan came to power in 1992. But the government was actually made up of seven Mujahadeen parties, each representing the fiefdom of a corrupt warlord.

Soon after the Taliban gained power in 1997, it sent representatives to Houston, Texas, who were wined and dined by Unocal oil executives eager to build a pipeline from Soviet Central Asia through Afghanistan. Afterward, Taliban representatives met with State Department officials to discuss the same aims.

The pipeline deal fell through, and by November 2001, the U.S. appeared to have achieved through bombs what it had failed to do by courting the Taliban, in a "regime change" that would further U.S. global dominance. The U.S.'s swift victory over the Taliban in 2001 involved striking a deal with the Northern Alliance--the same Mujahadeen warlords who ruled Afghanistan immediately before the Taliban.

It is now clear that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the U.S.'s post 9/11 strategy has backfired, and the Taliban is on the rebound. Should we therefore assume that the Taliban now represents a genuine national liberation movement?

Although the Taliban is fighting against U.S. and NATO forces, its prior history is one of accommodation--not resistance--to U.S. imperialism. Indeed, the Taliban's hostility toward the Northern Alliance--its other enemy in the current war--predates the U.S. occupation by a decade.

The suffering in Afghanistan today is the product of more than 25 years of nearly continuous wars and occupations. But no substantial national liberation movement has yet emerged. As Avery Wear suggests, "genuine national liberation currents in Afghanistan may find [the Taliban] to be an obstacle."

The Taliban's return to power would not necessarily require a resounding defeat for U.S. imperialism--if both sides resumed their previously collaborative relationship.

It is perfectly consistent to unconditionally defend the right of Afghans to resist U.S. occupation without fostering illusions that the Taliban is capable of liberating Afghanistan from U.S. imperialism--any more than the return of the Baath Party today would liberate Iraq.
Sharon Smith, Chicago

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