Afghanistan: A Major Defeat for Western Imperialism

The seemingly endless imperialist war in Afghanistan has finally concluded after more than 20 years of senseless slaughter. The fall of the NATO puppet regime in Afghanistan this week has been spectacular, the sight of fleeing Afghanis falling to their deaths while trying to cling to fleeing American airplanes a potent symbol of the disaster. As Joe Biden himself referenced in his speech announcing the defeat, Afghanistan has proven once again to be the “Graveyard of Empires”.  While there are whispers of possible insurgency by ISIS or the remnants of the Northern Alliance, as well as small protests in some of the cities, the Taliban appear to be in firm control.

The Americans had declared that they would withdraw from the country by the 31st of August. The Taliban’s spectacular offensive took the world by surprise, with Kabul and the government both being in their hands by August 15th. In many ways their offensive has been an exemplary case of guerrilla warfare, with the Taliban advancing from their strongholds in the South to capture all rural areas, before advancing on the cities for the strategic offensive stage. The Afghan regimes military forces, propped up by NATO to the tune of billions in equipment and training, totally disintegrated, with forces refusing to fight, fleeing or even joining the Taliban forces. It is obvious that support for the puppet regime has never been much more than a figment of the imagination. The occupation of Afghanistan cost the occupation coalition $30 million per day to maintain and only weeks to take apart.
There was much speculation that the advance of the Taliban recently was the result of the lengthy negotiations between the US Occupation forces and the Taliban. However, it seems clear that the sheer speed of the onslaught and capture of all major cities took America by surprise, with barely enough time provided to evacuate their Embassy personnel and destroy all documentary evidence of the occupations countless crimes against the people of Afghanistan. Regardless of what arrangements have been made, this represents a major defeat for Western imperialism, the greatest they have suffered since Vietnam in 1975. The Brits, America’s junior partners in the Afghanistan adventure, have reacted predictably to this humiliation, with MP’s demanding a British-led reinvasion. The supposed opposition in Keir Starmer’s Labour announces that withdrawal is a mistake. The newly invigorated British jingoism since Brexit means politicians across the political spectrum must bang the war drums and thump their chests to maintain any relevancy.  

How the new Taliban government will navigate international capitalism remains to be seen, but already there are indications of what direction they will take. A Taliban spokesperson speaking to the BBC declared that they would allow US corporations to continue to operate in Afghanistan. The Taliban has also had meetings with the Gulf States and China and has made other declarations showing a willingness to encourage investment and protest business interests. It is quite likely that the West’s imperialist competition in China and Russia could benefit most from the newfound status quo in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban government has also declared concessions on various social questions, declaring that they will allow women to continue employment and access education including up to third level. This contrasts with the previous Taliban regime that made women virtual prisoners in their own homes, although wearing the hijab has been declared obligatory in the interests of women’s “security”. Whether this is all PR will no doubt be exposed soon. A myth has sprung up with increasing regularity in the past few weeks that the NATO occupation was a major safeguard of women’s rights, a laughable bit of propaganda made all the more ridiculous when the record of the puppet regimes record on women’s rights is scrutinised.

In the past the Taliban have also been blatantly oppressive towards other non-Pashtun ethnic minorities, but so far the new administration has said they will protect their interests in the name of “national unity”. While the Taliban is largely a reactionary and even feudal force, it appears that to some degree the movement has taken on some of the trappings of a National Liberation movement as it has grown and advanced, in particular in terms of the deals and compromises it has made with local tribal groups to keep the peace. It could well be that the Taliban don’t wish to provide any excuses for further military intervention, and that a lighter hand will ensure greater stability as well as multi-national investment. Whether these promise and alliances will be maintained is uncertain, and it is not surprising that there has been a large exodus of refugees from Afghanistan in the past few weeks with many fearing the worst.  

The withdrawal of the NATO forces of occupation is undoubtedly a positive step. Unfortunately, what is certain is that the Taliban cannot ever represent the real interests of the working class and peasants in Afghanistan. The Emirate it will establish will be semi-feudal and theocratic. The most that can be hoped for from their new government is small concessions compared to the Taliban Emirate that existed pre-2001. There is every indication that they will go down the path of allowing the people and resources of Afghanistan to be exploited by foreign corporations. Hopefully the removal of imperialist troops will produce the conditions that will allow progressive, socialist organisations, such as from the Afghanistani Maoist tradition, to provide the future the long-suffering people of Afghanistan deserve.

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