By Tariq Ali
The PDPA (---the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan----Afghan
Communist Party) which had a strong base in the army and air force
carried out a coup d'etat in 1978, toppling the corrupt regime of
Daoud. The people
welcomed the change. The PDPA was initially popular. It pledged
important social reforms and democracy. But the latter promise was
never upheld even though important educational reforms were pushed
through such as free education and schools for girls. In the cities
girls and boys began to attend the same schools. Medical care was
improved as well, but a bitter factional struggle led to the victory
of a Pol-Pot faction led by Hafizullah Amin who embarked on a campaign
massive repression. Meanwhile the United States decided to destabilise
the regime by arming the ultra-religious tribes and using the Pakistan
Army as a conduit to help the religious extremists. The Americans
were laying a bear-trap and the Soviet leadership fell into it.
They sent the Red Army to topple Amin and sustain the PDPA regime
by force. This further exacerbated the crisis and the United States
gave the call for a jihad against communism. The Pakistani military
thought it would help the jihad if a Saudi prince came to lead the
struggle, but volunteers from that quarter were not forthcoming.
Instead the Saudi regime suggested Ossama Bin Laden to the CIA.
He was approved, recruited, trained and sent to Afghanistan where
he fought well. In one action Bin Laden led his men to attack
a mixed school (boys and girls) and kill all the teachers. The
US watched this approvingly. The rest is history. The Soviet Union
was defeated and withdrew its forces in 1989. A civil war followed
and a coalition government consisting of forces loyal to Iran,
Tadjikistan and Pakistan came to power. Instability reigned. Then
Pakistan hurled the Taliban (students) it had trained in special
seminaries into the battle with open support from the Pakistan
Army.Kabul was captured and gradually the regime extended its
rule to the rest of the country.
American think-tanks till a few months ago were talking of using
the Taliban to further destabilize the Central Asian Republics!
Now the US and Pakistan are waging war to topple a regime they
created. Who said that history had ceased to be ironical?
What is specific about the Islamism of the Taliban?
It is a virulent, sectarian, ultra-puritanical strain heavily
influenced by Wahhabism---the official state religion of Saudi
Arabia. It was Saudi religious instructors who trained the Taliban.
They believe in a permanent jihad against infidels and other Muslims
(especially the Shias). Bin Laden, too, is a staunch Wahhabi.
They would like a return to what they imagine was Islam in the
7th century, during the leadership of Mohammed. What they don't
understand is that Mohammed was a very flexible prophet-politician
as Maxime Rodinson explains in his excellent biography.
What was the strategic aim of the United States in basing themselves
on the most hard-line wing of the Islamic resistance to the USSR,
and more generally groups such as that of Bin Laden in the Arab-Muslim
Throughout the Cold War the United States used Islam as a bulwark
against communism and revolution. This occurred everywhere in
the Islamic world, not just in South Asia. So we can say that
the Islamism we witness is a product of imperialism and modernity.
The key to what will happen in the region is Pakistan. What sort
of regime is it, what are its goals and what are the contradictions
it faces? It is a military regime, but not a vicious one like
its predecessor. It is a regime which wants to supervise neo-liberalism
in Pakistan. The Army, of course, is divided, but the exact strength
of pro-Taliban currents inside the Army is a matter of dispute.
It could be anything between 15--30 percent. The Islamists are
very weak in Pakistani society as a whole. Its important to understand
this fact. In successive elections, less people have voted for
zealotry in Pakistan than in Israel. That's why the Pakistan Taliban
decided to make 'entryism' inside the Army. If the United States
spills too much blood in Afghanistan then the consequences could
be dire within the Pakistan Army in a year's time.
For the moment President Musharraf seems to want to line up alongside
the US. Is it possible that Pakistan would be a logistical support
to an American intervention against Aghanistan?
Pakistan has agreed to give logistical support. In fact the Pakistan
Army is necessary for the whole operation. The United States planes
and troops will be stationed in the Gwadur base in Baluchistan
which they built during the Cold War. Don't forget that Pakistan
was a cold war ally of the United States from 1954-1992. Both
sides know each other well. The Pakistani elite is delighted that
the country's debt (36 billion dollars) has been cancelled and
more money has been pledged. In return for this they are prepared
to see the Taliban defeated and disarmed. Trouble will begin if
too many bearded men are killed. In my opinion one reason for
the delay in action is that the Pakistan Army is trying to make
sure that the Taliban do not resist the United States. The advice
being given to the faithful is: shave your beards and keep your
powder dry. The West will go away and then we'll see. Islamabad
detests the Northern Alliance which it defeated via the Taliban
when it took Kabul. I cannot stress enough that the Taliban is
sustained on every level by Pakistan. What is switched on can
also be switched off. The problem for Pakistan is that a wing
of the Taliban defected to Bin Laden and his praetorian guard
of Arab anarcho-Islamists. These guys will probably fight back
whatever the odds.
If the conflict becomes regional what effects would this have
on the situation in the region and the attitude of countries like
India, China and Russia?
All three countries are delighted by the 'war against terrorism'.
They are all Americans now! India wants to crush the opposition
Kashmir. The Turkish military wants to a final solution to the
'Kurdish problem'. Putin has already
destroyed Chechynia. China has the green light to do what it wants.
So it suits them all, but a great deal depends on how this adventure
ends. Are we witnessing yet another boost in and acceptance of
US world hegemony or is the Empire about to triumph itself to