Afghanistan Reconsidered

The October 7 anniversary of the war on Afghanistan passed virtually unnoticed on U.S. soil. Mainstream news outlets spared the Bush administration the embarrassment of accounting for the subsequent fate of Afghanistan’s 30 million people five years after the U.S. launched the first “regime change” in its never-ending war on terror.

But an honest accounting is long overdue, not merely among those who have prosecuted this disastrous war-but also for the U.S. antiwar movement, whose sole focus on opposing the war in Iraq continues to sustain the fiction that the war on Afghanistan was a justifiable response to 9-11.

It was not.

Perhaps most damning is a BBC News report issued on Sept. 18, 2001-long ignored by the U.S. media-showing that the U.S. was planning to bomb Afghanistan well before Sept. 11. The BBC reported, “Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by mid-October.”

The events of Sept. 11 provided the U.S. with an excuse to set its sights higher, using the war against Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacking Iraq, with the aim of militarily reshaping the entire Middle East to suit its own interests.

With the benefit of hindsight, even a cursory examination of Afghanistan five years on provides ample evidence that the U.S.’ stated goals in Afghanistan were based upon a set of lies equivalent in scale to those used to justify the war on Iraq.

Lie number one: The overthrow of the Taliban brought a flowering of democracy to Afghanistan.

During his gloating 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush claimed the U.S. victory over Afghanistan “saved a people from starvation and freed a country from brutal oppression.” He then introduced former Unocal consultant and Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan” to thunderous applause.

In reality, the U.S.’ swift victory over the Taliban in 2001 involved striking a deal with the “Northern Alliance”-the same Mujahideen warlords, drug kingpins and mass rapists who ruled Afghanistan immediately before the Taliban seized power in 1996. To bolster the puppet Karzai’s wobbly government, Northern Alliance warlords were offered important government posts. Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dustum was described by journalist Robert Fisk in 2001 as “one of the most powerful Alliance gangsters, whose men looted and raped their way through the suburbs of Kabul in the Nineties. They chose girls for forced marriages, murdered their families Dustum had a habit of changing sides, joining the Taliban for bribes and indulging in massacres alongside the Wahhabi gangsters who formed the government of Afghanistan, then returning to the Alliance weeks later.”

With drug-trafficker and warlord Gen. Mohammed Daoud installed as Afghanistan’s Deputy Interior Minister (in charge of “cracking down” on poppy production), it is no wonder that Afghanistan is now setting record levels of heroin exports-supplying up to 92 percent of the world’s heroin.

Meanwhile, “Afghanistan’s people are starving to death,” according to a comprehensive report by the British-based Senlis Council issued last month. “One in four children born in Afghanistan cannot expect to live beyond the age of five, and certain provinces of the country lay claim to the worst maternal mortality rates ever recorded in the world,” the report added.

Lie number two: The war on Afghanistan aimed to liberate Afghan women.

After the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, President Bush gallantly ceded airtime in his weekly radio address to First Lady Laura Bush, who claimed:

“Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

U.S. bombs were never meant to bring about the liberation of Afghan women. Indeed, five years later, President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet has formally resurrected the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice-the Taliban’s notorious religious police renowned for beating Afghan women for revealing their wrists, hands, or ankles, or venturing in public without a close male relative.

Late last month, the Burqa-clad Safia Ama Jan, director for Kandahar’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was gunned down outside her home as she left for work. As a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) observed in an October 7 speech, in toppling the Taliban, the U.S. “just replaced one fundamentalist regime with another.”

Lie number three: The Taliban could not be negotiated with–and was therefore overthrown–for providing a “safe haven” for terrorists.

Five years later, the U.S. appears ready to negotiate with the undefeated Taliban. Senate majority leader Bill Frist admitted this in early October, arguing that the war against the Taliban can “never” be won militarily because the Taliban were “too numerous and had too much popular support.” It might be time, he added, to include “people who call themselves Taliban” in the Afghan government.

This idea has clearly gained some traction among policy wonks. With more than 3,000 Afghans killed so far this year, Afghan expert Peter Bergen from the New American Foundation argues that the Taliban is using insurgent attacks as bargaining leverage. “The fact that they are using these tactics doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about ways of dealing with them,” said Bergen. Asked whether bringing the Taliban into government is a good idea, he responded, “I think it’s an excellent one.”

Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution agrees that making deals with the Taliban might work. “Our true interest is in ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for al Qaeda,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Taliban, under Pakistani pressure, might ensure this if its own position was secured. This is distasteful, and might mean Karzai’s departure, but it does preserve our one core interest in Afghanistan.”

As the Senlis Council bluntly concluded, “U.S. policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy.”

SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at:



SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: