By ERWIN FREED
Twenty years of brutal U.S. occupation has left over 150,000 Afghan citizens dead, with countless more suffering debilitating injuries and traumas. The sum total of “accomplishments” by NATO-affiliated imperialists in Afghanistan has been to further militarize the conflict begun with CIA covert operations and Soviet intervention in the 1980s. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country in August presents a great opening for the anti-imperialist, democratic, and socialist struggles in the country. At the same time, the occupation is continuing under a new form—massively destructive sanctions against the Taliban-controlled government.
Between the initial invasion in 2001 and the U.S. departure in 2021, international actors, both states and non-governmental organizations, had unmatched control over the formal economy in Afghanistan. According to an article on the website of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, despite spending billions of dollars, by 2020 “[poverty rates] fell after 2001, but … increased and deepened in recent years and are now higher than they were in 2003, with more than half of Afghans again living in poverty.” The reason for this is the fact that on top of actively murdering Afghans, the occupation closed off real economic development prospects in the country. Instead of being directed by local groups, the Afghanistan economy derived the vast majority of its revenue from maintaining the occupation and highly conditional foreign “aid.”
A recent Afghanistan Analysts report describes the situation prior to withdrawal: “The Afghan economy was already weak, undiversified and heavily dependent on unearned foreign income, known by economists as ‘rent’ because it is income gained not through work or effort. That rent included civilian aid, financial support to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and money spent by foreign armies in the country. The rent was so huge, Afghanistan was categorized … as a ‘rentier state’ … Foreign grants, at around USD 8.5 billion per year, of military and civilian assistance comprised the equivalent of 43 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP and funded 75 per cent of public expenditures, 50 per cent of the budget, and around 90 per cent of government spending on security.”
The state that the U.S. and affiliated groups constructed through foreign military occupation encouraged cronyism, waste, and corruption. There was an explicit and active emphasis against constructing domestic institutions to provide social services, development, or investment. The major areas of economic activity—e.g., agriculture, transportation, and small stores—went almost completely untaxed, except in areas controlled by the Taliban. The only real guarantee for success was to get involved with foreign “aid” projects, which encouraged hardening tribe/clan relations and nepotism.
What is the U.S trying to accomplish?
The foreign “aid” propping up and holding back the Afghan economy was always based on maintaining a government that could be expected to basically follow the demands of Washington. While the Karzai-Ghani regimes occasionally strayed from the direct line laid down by the United States, in general they were seen as figures that would not fall into the camp of another imperialist or regional power.
Now, the Taliban’s rise as the governing party raises a question for world imperialism and regional powers: with whom will they align?
While often presented in popular consciousness as an ideologically and strategically unified group, there have always been large differences of opinion in the Taliban, occasionally transforming into small-scale civil wars. The newly appointed “Caretakers Cabinet” is an example of this diversity and contradictions. Just to list a few, Abdul Qayyum Zakir, Deputy Minister of Defense, is described by Afghan journalist Bilal Sarway as “an insurance policy to Afghan businessmen to Iran.” Meanwhile, Muhammad Yaqub, Minister of Defense, has links with Saudi Arabia—one of Iran’s main political opponents. Similarly, despite often being characterized as a puppet of Pakistan, the Taliban appointed Abdul Ghani Baradar as First Deputy Minister. Baradar spent eight years in Pakistani prisons, at least in part for not including the Pakistani government in negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghanistan Republic.
These are the pressure points that the United States and allied forces are attempting to push through economic coercion in order to move the Taliban decisively into their corner. The political representatives of these countries and their press use the Taliban’s reactionary policies as justification, but in reality the economic despair created by sanctions and other external factors make the situation in the country worse for women, oppressed nationalities, and working people.
Economy in free fall; sanctions kill
In the immediate aftermath of withdrawal, virtually all flows of foreign money going into Afghanistan dried up overnight. Making matters worse, international capital, under the main direction of the United States, put an immediate freeze on $9.5 billion worth of the Afghan government’s assets. That means that on top of not having the revenues that were holding up the old economy, domestic banks have been forced to institute a $200/week withdrawal limit. That limit also affects remittances and other money coming into the country, meaning that people are capped in what they can easily send to relatives and service groups in Afghanistan.
According to Reuters, all of Afghanistan is currently experiencing “Crisis” level food insecurity with the majority facing “Emergency” levels. “Emergency” level food insecurity is described as “very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality.” The situation will only get worse as the season changes to what may be a brutal winter.
End the sanctions! Open the borders! Reparations and self-determination for Afghanistan!
The Taliban is a reactionary, pro-capitalist force in Afghanistan. They came to power through direct negotiations with world imperialism and are seen as the “lesser-evil” among the constellation of groups vying for control in the country. At the same time, sanctions hurt working people and farmers the most. Women are especially affected by these measures, despite the fact that they are carried out in the name of protecting women’s rights.
In the United States, the government is using the influx of immigrants from Afghanistan as a justification to limit refugee intake generally. Similarly, there are a number of “qualifications” that Afghan immigrants must meet to be allowed entry into the country. In general, despite Biden posing as the “pro-immigrant” candidate, “[the] fiscal year 2021, which included the first eight full months of Mr. Biden’s presidency, the U.S. resettled 11,411 refugees, an all-time low” (CBS News). Afghan immigration is not limited to the United States. It has been estimated that 4000-5000 immigrants per day have been crossing the border into Iran. At the end of October, 28,000 were deported.
Workers and their organizations all over the world have a basic obligation of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. That means fighting for a program of ending the crushing economic sanctions, opening borders to refugees, and demanding that the corporations, states, and individuals responsible for the country’s crisis pay reparations. These cannot be conditioned in any way by who is currently running the country. Winning power away from the forces of reaction is the historic task of workers and farmers in the region. There is no possibility of a “progressive” solution as long as the imperialist vultures continue to make demands through threats and force.
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