With Afghani soldiers and police now reportedly stripping off their uniforms and abandoning their posts, and with (now former) President Ghani now reported as having fled the country, the former government is gone for all practical purposes. Here are a few preliminary thoughts:
Further Weakening of US Imperialism
A politically inactive worker in Germany commented on the stunning abandonment of its allies by NATO forces, including the US and Germany, in Afghanistan – translators and similar types. If he noticed this, then people in every other country where the US seeks allies will surely notice it. Just as thou shalt not live by bread alone, thou shalt also not dominate the world by money and guns alone. That was the supreme conceit of the neocons and the US capitalist class in general, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US’s abandonment of its allies in Syria (the Kurds) is now followed by this in Afghanistan. Nor can this tendency now be blamed on one lunatic (Trump) alone.
The flight of US troops from Afghanistan is the final nail in the coffin not only of the neocon worldview; the flight also emphasizes and will accelerate the further weakening of US imperialism worldwide. Within the United States, it will be far harder to mobilize support for future US military adventures abroad.
Another point is the extreme importance of the national question. Like so many other former colonial countries, Afghanistan is a construct of Euro-American imperialism, with the border with Pakistan being drawn by the British. It divides the region of majority Pashtun people in half – one side in Pakistan the other in Afghanistan. This alone gives the Pakistani regime a vested interest in keeping Islamic nationalism alive, because the alternative – Pashtun nationalism – would threaten Pakistani national integrity. And overall inside Afghanistan ethnic/tribal loyalties trump any “national” identity or loyalty. This always gave and still gives the local tribal leaders – the “warlords” – outsized power and always meant a weak national government under US hegemony.
The one thing that united the entire government, from local police men up to national politicians – was corruption. This has meant that there is almost no loyalty to the government by the overwhelming masses of the population. Couple that with a corrupt military and rank and file soldiers being supplied with inferior supplies (from ammo that doesn’t shoot, to boots that don’t last more than a week) due to corruption, and you have a rank and file in the military that sees no reason to risk their lives to fight for this regime.
As for the Taliban: Back in March the Communist Party of Afghanistan (Maoist) predicted that the Taliban would reach a deal with the regime and would become part of the same rotten old system. Maybe the Taliban itself has been surprised and overtaken by the speed of their own military success. They are now at the gates of Kabul and in fact there are reports of Taliban forces inside the city. However, its spokesmen (and they are all men) are still saying that a peaceful and negotiated settlement will be reached and that its troops have been ordered not to fight their way into the city. Meanwhile, al Jazeera is reporting that President Ghani has fled the country.
But I think overall that the Taliban itself has learned a lesson from 9/11. I have the impression that prior to 9/11, it was under the influence of a few reactionary mullahs and sheiks in the Arab world and thought that was enough to remain in power. The swift – although temporary – military success of the US invasion and the collapse of Taliban rule taught it differently. It cannot rule as a total outlaw, alienated from all capitalist countries, even if for economic reasons alone. Its single greatest source of income is the heroin trade. Heroin, itself, has no use value. It cannot sustain a nation. So the landlocked Afghanistan needs trade routes. It must have some part in the capitalist “community of nations”, if for no other reason than to sell it’s #1 export. It will also need access to international banking and finance, as even every drug gang can tell you. (Maybe a new Taliban regime will adopt bitcoin as its official currency!)
The Taliban leadership says it will not return to the same extreme oppression of women, for example prohibiting girls from attending school. However, there are already reports of girls schools being emptied out in towns the Taliban controls. And in any case, the still existing oppression of women in Afghanistan will certainly increase. One thing: Women are the only force that could really resist the Taliban’s control with arms in hand. They are the only real force which has everything to lose. However, no capitalist force will arm the women. The warlords, whose base is in the more rural regions where misogyny is greatest, won’t. Neither would the (now apparently collapsed) national government. Nor would US capitalism. That is because while they don’t like being defeated by a capitalist rival, it’s even worse to arm any independent force.
Capitalist “Community of Nations”
But here lies the rub: If the Taliban abandons its more extreme aspects of Islamic fundamentalism – such as the most extreme aspects of oppression of women – then it seems to me that a layer of its supporters will tend to split off. It will also have to grapple with the interests and demands of the regional and ethnic/tribal “warlords”. In the past, it governed by extreme Islamic fundamentalist nationalism. But if it moderates that rule now, the regional ethnic/national loyalties will also reassert themselves.
This returns us to the national question: I don’t see how Afghanistan can ever achieve any semblance of even the beginnings of true national loyalty/identity, as opposed to regional ethnic/tribal loyalty/identity — or religious loyalty/identity. That can never resolve the crisis there. Al Jazeera reported that even prior to covid, 54% of the population was living in poverty. They report that that figure is now 72% post-covid. Surely, with millions of additionally displaced people the figure has skyrocketed. I have the impression that the actual working class in Afghanistan is tiny. For it to become a real force, a wider working class movement throughout the region would be necessary. For that, I think the working class in neighboring Iran could be key. (Incidentally, there are masses of Afghani refugees in Iran, with more entering there every day recently.) That working class is now in ferment.