It’s the perennial thorn in the colonialist’s side. It’s the war that won’t go away. It’s a wasp sting that swells, slowly choking the life out of the sting’s recipient. It is the nearly seven-year old occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and various NATO allies. Nearly forgotten by most Americans, the situation in that country has taken headlines away from the occupation of Iraq because of the resurgence of the anti-occupation forces. Nine US troops were killed in one day, easily topping any recent US fatality figures coming out of Iraq in recent months. The growing ferocity of the resistance was brought home to me when a young man whom I have been close to since he was three years old was removed from the battle zone with wounds serious enough to send him stateside for surgery and recovery. (He’s scheduled to get out of the Marines in October–hopefully he won’t get stop-lossed and sent back over there).
Like that wasp mentioned above, the Afghani resistance is not necessarily anything a Westerner can support wholeheartedly. Almost all of its elements, Taliban and otherwise, have a history of misogyny and antagonism toward values we consider essential to freedom. However, also like that wasp, their resistance to those attacking their lives and their homes is seen by them as essential to the survival of both. To carry the analogy a step further, the imperial forces arrayed against the Afghani resistance are like a predator insect that sets up a parasitic home on the host and then attempts to take over the host. There are those wasps that fight the invading parasite and there are those who merely exist within their nest. The US and NATO occupiers are the parasites hoping to install their host–represented in the person of Unocal president Karzai–on the people of Afghanistan. At this point the parasites have failed to achieve their goal. Because of this failure, the parasite army is planning to intensify their assault.
This is where we leave the analogy and ask why Washington thinks it can achieve what the British and the Soviets could not? The Afghanistan region has always been the piece of the puzzle known as the Great Game that refuses to fit into the proscribed plans of any colonial power. It is as if this particular puzzle piece was cut from another die. No matter how much firepower is brought upon the Afghani people, they have been able to resist any type of lasting fit into any of the pictures hoped for by the colonial power of the day. They have done so by manipulation of the invader’s desires and by playing the various invaders off each other; and they have done so through sheer determination and the unforgiving nature of the land. Most recently, they used the US secret services to fend off the domination of their capital by the Soviets, and now they are using their own devices to fend off the domination of their country desired by Washington.
Despite what the majority of the western media tells its readers and viewers, there is more to the Afghani resistance than the Taliban. In fact, according to a recent report in the US News and World Report, U.S. forces are facing an increasingly complex enemy here composed of Taliban fighters and powerful warlords who were once on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency. As a military official stated in the aforementioned article “You could almost describe the insurgency as having two branches. It’s the Taliban in the south and a ‘rainbow coalition’ in the east.” Add to this the various armed drug traders and their backers and you have a mix at least as volatile as that in Iraq during its worst periods over the last five years.
Despite the apparent failure of the armed approach taken by Washington in Afghanistan, both presidential candidates and the majority of Congress support not merely continuing this approach but intensifying it. McCain and Obama are not only in agreement that the Pentagon needs to send more troops into Afghanistan, they are also in agreement that it is the war that the US must win. Operating under the pretext that killing more Afghanis is somehow going to end the desire of Washington’s Islamist enemies to attack it has not only created the current stalemate in Afghanistan, it has also spread the anti-American resistance into the tribal areas of Pakistan and threatens to engulf the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The recent killings of civilians by US and NATO forces only adds to the resistance, especially when the US denies the killings ever happened.
As hinted at above, the Taliban and other resistance forces are difficult for most Westerners (and many others, as well) to support. Their stance against women and their distaste for certain values we consider essential to the human experience creates a quandary for some of us who understand the imperial nature of the US/NATO presence but find the fundamentalist society created by the Taliban in the wake of their defeat of the Soviets an undesirable alternative. Without going into the role the CIA and Pentagon played in the rise of the Taliban, suffice it to say they continue to exist primarily because they resist the imperial aggressor, not because the Afghani majority necessarily agrees with their understanding of Islam. Apparently less sophisticated than other religiously oriented anti-imperialist movements like Hamas and perhaps the Sadrist movement in Iraq that also feature a political wing more inclusive of those who don’t share either organization’s religious viewpoints, the Taliban would probably have no more political power than the polygamist Mormon sects in the US west if it weren’t for the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Back to US politics and Afghanistan. This is not the “good” war. It is just as wrong as the US adventure in Iraq. Likewise, it can not be won, no matter what the politicians and the generals say. The government put in Kabul by Washington is comparable to a new branch head of a multinational corporation. Its power is dependent on the whim of corporate headquarters and will never garner the support of those not on its payroll. There are clearly human rights being abused in Afghanistan, but those abuses are committed as much by the occupying forces as they are by the forces opposed to the occupier. The solution to Afghanistan begins, just like in Iraq, with the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the US military.