Afghanistan: Washington’s Forty-Year Folly

The US war on the people of Afghanistan is supposedly over. At the least, the ground troops are gone, the mercenaries have left, and only the CIA remains. Unfortunately, US aircraft—manned and otherwise—remain nearby ready to launch deadly assaults on command. The modern Taliban are currently in control of Kabul and much of the rest of the countryside. The government they are putting together struggles to take care of those Afghans left in the devastation forty years of conflict brought to their land. Meanwhile, in the capitals of the west, it seems only armchair warriors, angry veterans, a few politicians and media mouthpieces even think about what was done in that Himalayan nation.

Despite the cries of concern echoing faintly in the west, the fact of the matter is that most of the Afghan people are better off. This should be obvious, given that there are no longer planes and drones bombing their villages or troops kicking in their doors in the middle of the night intimidating families and taking away the men and boys. However, the truth is that some policymakers still believe Afghanistan would be better off if the US and its cohorts were still engaged in those actions. Of course, those policymakers are wrong.

It is certain that the immediate future for Afghanistan is desperate. The level of desperation could be minimized if Washington and other NATO nations would free up the Afghan funds they are currently holding hostage. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening is minimal. It’s clear from the past few decades that the United States would rather let Afghans suffer than help them rebuild on their own terms. Indeed, it is quite clear that Washington would rather guarantee that Afghans suffer than help them rebuild on their own terms.

The histories of the US war on Afghanistan are being written as I sit here. The Pentagon has its go-to think tanks collecting data and analyzing it, all in preparation for a document the generals and their advisors will use to plan the next invasion and occupation of a country on Washington’s shit list. If any parts of that document are released to the public, they will not tell the whole truth. One can almost count on that version being sanitized and misleading. In fact, it might even state that the US was successful in its mission. Unless a conscientious civil servant imitates Daniel Ellsberg or Chelsea Manning, the whole truth about US involvement in Afghanistan will not come from the Pentagon. That task is left up to other historians and writers and would, by virtue of their disconnectedness and differing access and viewpoints, require a lifetime of reading and consideration to come up with something approaching a complete survey.

This in itself is a good reason to read Tariq Ali’s recently published collection of articles and essays titled The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold. By no means a complete history, Ali’s work is important, in part because it was written in real time. The history of the conflict is told in articles written for different newspapers beginning in 1980 and ending in the late summer of 2021. Some of the earliest pieces are from various British newspapers that were associated with the Trotskyist tendency Ali was identified with at the time. However, the politics of the journals have little bearing on the observations and news Ali writes. Indeed, I would argue that Ali’s understanding of Afghan politics at the time was considerably more informed than that of most other left-leaning writers. It seems fair to attribute his understanding to Ali having been a political activist in Pakistan until he was forced to leave the country in the late 1960s because of his activism. After all, the role of Pakistani intelligence and military services in the history of Afghanistan covered in this text is crucial to what took place. Ali knows and emphasizes this throughout the book.

There are certain drawbacks to this type of book; occasional repetition and some lack of background are a couple that comes to mind. The immediacy of the writing makes up for those shortcomings. Reading the articles in this book in chronological order provides the reader with a timeline of the growing involvement of the US and other nations in the destruction of Afghanistan. It also reminds the reader of the shifting rationales for that interminable involvement. Unlike pro-interventionist liberal and even conservative interpretations of Afghanistan’s recent history, Ali’s anti-imperialist understanding provides the glue that binds the bloody tale together. The devastating interference in Afghanistan’s affairs was not a mistake, an accident, or series of accidents, but an intentional part of Washington’s never-ending quest for world domination. Any history which fails to acknowledge this is incomplete at best.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: