War President Obama: 30,000 More Troops to Afghanistan
Obama: “We Did Not Ask for This Fight”
Bush: “We Did Not Seek This Conflict”
Obama: “New Attacks are Being Plotted as I Speak”
Bush: “At This Moment … Terrorists are Planning New Attacks”
Obama: “Our Cause is Just, Our Resolve Unwavering”
Bush: “Our Cause is Just, Our Coalition [is] Determined”
Obama: “This Is No Idle Danger, No Hypothetical Threat”
Bush: “The Enemies of Freedom Are Not Idle”
Obama: “We Have No Interest in Occupying Your Country”
Bush: “I Wouldn’t Be Happy if I Were Occupied Either”
The war in Afghanistan turned 8 years old on October 7th, 2009. The War in Afghanistan has carried on longer than the Second World War, longer than the First World War and longer than the American Civil War.
When you talk to a person in the United States or Canada about the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, many are unaware that the conflict persists to this day (in fact, it is escalating). Despite the recent escalations in Afghanistan, most pay the conflict absolutely no mind in their day-to-day affairs. Why would they? But the Afghan resistance continues, in the face of a foe that is better armed, funded and supplied than the insurgency. In the face of this resistance, successive administrations of NATO commanders continue to give the same message on Afghanistan: “We cannot win.” How is it that the some of the poorest people on the planet earth are holding their own and continuing to give NATO forces in Afghanistan an ongoing fight and mounting casualties? More importantly why do the people of Afghanistan continue to resist?
Afghanistan: A Brief History
Afghanistan is a historical example of iron resistance to invasion. Alexander the Great, the Mongol Khans, the Persians, the British Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – no great power has been able to conclusively conquer Afghanistan or hold it indefinitely, no matter what the brutality towards the Afghan peoples inhabiting the region or the cost in human life. Every empire that has ever invaded Afghanistan has subsequently collapsed. The following account could have just as easily been written after the American conquest of Afghanistan in 2001, but it is an analysis of the British conquest of Afghanistan in 1839 (my emphasis added):
“The conquest of Afghanistan seemed accomplished, and a considerable portion of the troops was sent back. But the Afghans were noways content to be ruled by the Feringhee Kaffirs (European infidels), and during the whole of 1840 and ’41, insurrection followed on insurrection in every part of the country. The Anglo-Indian troops had to be constantly on the move. Yet, McNaghten declared this to be the normal state of Afghan society, and wrote home that every thing went on well, and Shah Soojah’s power was taking root. In vain were the warnings of the military officers and the other political agents….every insurrection during the summer of ’41 was successfully repressed, and toward October, McNaghten, nominated governor of Bombay, intended leaving with another body of troops for India. But then the storm broke out. The occupation of Afghanistan cost the Indian treasury £1,250,000 per annum: 16,000 troops, Anglo-Indian, and Shah Soojah’s, had to be paid in Afghanistan; 3,000 more lay in Sinde, and the Bolan Pass; Shah Soojah’s regal splendours, the salaries of his functionaries, and all expenses of his court and government, were paid by the Indian treasury, and finally, the Afghan chiefs were subsidized, or rather bribed, from the same source, in order to keep them out of mischief. McNaghten was informed of the impossibility of going on at this rate of spending money. He attempted retrenchment, but the only possible way to enforce it was to cut down the allowances of the chiefs. The very day he attempted this, the chiefs formed a conspiracy for the extermination of the British, and thus McNaghten himself was the means of bringing about the concentration of those insurrectionary forces, which hitherto had struggled against the invaders singly, and without unity or concert; though it is certain, too, that by this time the hatred of British dominion among the Afghans had reached the highest point.”
–Friederich Engels, Afghanistan, 1857
While the British occupiers grew complacent in their conquest of Afghanistan, resistance erupted. Engels continues:
“ Nov. 2, 1841, the insurrection broke out. The house of Alexander Burnes, in the city, was attacked and he himself murdered. The British general did nothing, and the insurrection grew strong by impunity…. A few companies were sent against the thousands of insurgents, and of course were beaten. This still more emboldened the Afghans. Nov. 3, the forts close to the camp were occupied. On the 9th, the commissariat fort (garrisoned by only 80 men) was taken by the Afghans, and the British were thus reduced to starvation…In fact, by the middle of November, his irresolution and incapacity had so demoralised the troops that neither Europeans nor Sepoys were any longer fit to meet the Afghans in the open field. Then the negotiations began. During these, McNaghten was murdered in a conference with Afghan chiefs. Snow began to cover the ground, provisions were scarce. At last, Jan. 1, a capitulation was concluded. All the money, £190,000, was to be handed over to the Afghans, and bills signed for £140,000 more. All the artillery and ammunition, except 6 six-pounders and 3 mountain guns, were to remain. All Afghanistan was to be evacuated. The chiefs, on the other hand, promised a safe conduct, provisions, and baggage cattle.”
–Friederich Engels, Afghanistan, 1857
The British adventure in Afghanistan ended with the withdrawal of British troops and thousands of British soldiers dead with a disproportionately larger amount of the people of Afghanistan killed in the process. The later Soviet adventure in Afghanistan ended under similar terms. The mass resistance to occupation was enough to drive out even the most technologically superior foe. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, the period of Taliban rule began, which leads us to the current occupation which began in 2001.
“Cartoon” Muslims and Chauvinistic Orientalism
“These are detestable murderers and scumbags, I’ll tell you that right up front. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties.”
– Canadian Chief of Defense staff, General Rick Hillier.
The ongoing resistance in Afghanistan is written off by Western audiences as savage and the ongoing resistance to occupation is seen as a malevolent force that would just as surely wage a military strike on the United States itself, as well as allied countries, if ever given the chance.
The fighters in Afghanistan are seen literally by many Western observers as being in league with the infamous 9/11 hijackers. Of course, none of the 19 alleged hijackers were from Afghanistan (15 from Saudi Arabia, 2 from the United Arab emirates, 1 from Egypt, 1 from Lebanon), but nonetheless the parallel is drawn.
For this reason, as with resistance/national liberation fighters all over the Middle East, the Afghan resistance fighters are portrayed as two-dimensional cartoon villains, motivated purely by irrational religious fundamentalism. Of course, it is true to an extent that all political movements in contemporary Afghanistan (including the Karzai puppet regime) claim allegiance to Islam, as the majority of the population does.
The dehumanizing portrayal of all Afghan resistance fighters as bloodthirsty religious zealots—note that in most narratives, it is the occupied people of Afghanistan who are portrayed as the aggressors—coupled with “War on Terror” pop-Islamic theology, where the smug premise is given that the unwashed Muslim peoples of the world want nothing more than to end their own life and others in order to receive a celestial gift of paradise and virgins in the afterlife, has given rise to massive national-chauvinism and racism.
While Islam does perhaps have cases of condoning martyrdom, one must also remember that so do Christianity and Judaism, the other major Abrahamic faiths. The allegations of Islamic scriptural basis for the war in Afghanistan are flimsy, as it contrasts sharply with not only the long history of coexistence (including intermarriage) among Muslims and non-Muslim neighboring peoples around the world, but also contrasts with some of the teachings of Islam itself.
From the Quran:
“Be good to . . . the neighbor belonging to your people and the alien neighbor.” (4:36)
“Allah does not forbid you concerning those people who do not fight you because of your religion, nor expel you from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly.. . . Allah forbids you only concerning those people who fight you for your religion, and drive you from your homes and help others to expel you, that you make friends of them.” (60: 8,9)
“And you will always find treachery in them, except a few of them. So pardon them and forgive. Surely Allah loves those who do good to others.” (5:13)
These are words of peace and coexistence, taken from the same scriptures as those alleged to incite suicide bombings. It becomes clear at this war being waged in Afghanistan, and other wars waged in other parts of the Middle East against occupation, while they may assume Islam as their vehicle just as most Western conflicts acquired a basis in Christianity, it is not the Islamic faith that is the driving force behind their armed defiance. The actual reasons for their armed resistance are very worldly, very material and tangible—the continuation of capitalism and imperialism.