Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden,
and the Taliban
by Phil Gasper
International Socialist Review, November-December
The U.S. war on Afghanistan is a brutal attack on a country
that has already been almost destroyed by more than 20 years of
foreign invasion and civil war.' The Soviet occupation, which
lasted from 1979 to 1989, left more than a million people dead.
Millions still live in refugee camps More than 500,000 orphans
are disabled. Ten million land mines still litter the country,
killing an average of 90 people per month. At 43 years, life expectancy
in Afghanistan is on average 17 years lower than that for people
in other developing countries. The countryside is devastated and
is currently experiencing a severe drought, with 7.5 million people
threatened with starvation. The death and destruction wrought
by the U.S. bombing campaign-and the cut off of food aid deliveries
it has caused-have already killed hundreds and produced thousands
more refugees scrambling to escape into Pakistan.
But not only is Washington attacking one of the poorest countries
in the world, past U.S. government actions are in no small part
responsible for the current situation in Afghanistan. The Bush
administration claims to be targeting Osama bin Laden, who it
says masterminded the September 11 terror attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon (even though it has offered no concrete
evidence to back up this accusation), and Afghanistan's Taliban
government, which is sheltering him. But as the Economist magazine
noted soon after September 11, " [U.S.] policies in Afghanistan
a decade and more ago helped to create both Osama bin Laden and
the fundamentalist Taliban regime that shelters him." An
examination of this history will reveal the extent to which U.S.
foreign policy is based on hypocrisy, realpolitik, and the short-term
pursuit of narrow interests.
Before the Russians invaded
Modern Afghanistan was created in the nineteenth century as
a buffer state between the Russian and British empires as they
played their "great game" in the region. This historical
circumstance, coupled with the country's forbidding mountainous
terrain, not only made it difficult for imperialist countries
to conquer Afghanistan (it did not undergo colonial rule), but
also resulted in little economic development.
The country contains many different ethnic groups. The Pashtuns-from
whom Afghanistan's traditional rulers have come-constitute 52
percent of the population. The Hazaras are 19 percent of the population.
The Tajiks in the north constitute 21 percent; Uzbeks, also in
the north, 5 percent. About 85 percent of Afghans are Sunni Muslims,
and about 15 percent, among the Hazaras, are Shia Muslims.
Afghanistan survived as a medieval island in the modern world,
characterized by backwardness and extreme poverty. In the postwar
period, some changes began to occur as a result of foreign aid
from the USSR and, to a lesser extent, the U.S., which were vying
for influence during the Cold War. Power shifted toward the state,
and an educated middle class began to emerge. But industry still
In 1973, following a severe drought, King Zaher's cousin Daud
overthrew Zaher's corrupt and repressive regime and declared a
republic. But government corruption increased and promised modernization
did not take place. Meanwhile, Daud began to collaborate more
closely with the Shah of Iran. Lower-level officials and members
of the middle class grew increasingly discontented. In April 1978,
as Daud attempted to move against his opponents on the left, he
was overthrown and killed by army officers sympathetic to the
pro-Soviet People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).
Following the coup, a broad ruling coalition was set up, controlled
by the Khalq, one of the PDPA's two factions. Nur Mohammad Taraki,
a well-known novelist, became president. Within a few months,
however, the Khalq pushed Barbrak Karmal and other members of
the rival Parcham faction out of the government. Karmal was made
ambassador to Prague, and other Parchami were also given diplomatic
posts. The new government lacked any social base outside Kabul,
and its program of reforms soon provoked a popular backlash. The
Kabul regime was completely isolated from the mass of the population
in the countryside:
[They] had neither survey information nor local leaders with
knowledge of actual conditions in the countryside. In short, it
would have been virtually impossible for them to devise a successful
land-reform program. As it was, their reforms were implemented
by blundering and often brutal officials from the city who dropped
into the countryside by parachute.
Rebellion and resistance started to spread around the country.
The resistance was spontaneous, but soon came to be led by an
alliance of conservative Islamic groups who referred to themselves
as "majahideen" (holy warriors). By the spring of 1979,
rebellion had spread to most of the country's 29 provinces. On
March 24, a garrison of soldiers in Herat killed a group of Soviet
advisers (and their families) who had ordered Afghan troops to
fire on antigovernment demonstrators. From this point, the regime
was no longer merely isolated from peasants in the countryside,
but divided by open hostility from an overwhelming majority of
all the people. The regime had no choice now but to crush much
of the population.... [Prime Minister Hafizullah] Amin's secret
police and a repressive civilian police force went into action
across Afghanistan, and army troops were sent into the countryside
to subdue "feudal" villagers.
Government repression was severe. "Mass arrests were
commonly followed by torture and execution without trial. Police
terror was common in the city as well as the countryside, where
virtually all social groups joined in the rebellion." The
rebels' tactics were equally brutal. The Washington Post reported
that the mujahideen liked to "torture victims by first cutting
off their noses, ears, and genitals, then removing one slice of
skin after another."
As the situation got out of control, the Soviets advised Taraki
to dismiss Amin, reunite with Parcham, and adopt a policy of "democratic
nationalism." But Amin got wind of the plan and arrested
Taraki in September, assassinating him soon afterward. Amin was
now in the position of publicly accusing the Russians of plotting
to overthrow the Afghan government while being totally dependent
on Soviet military and economic support.
In December, hard-liners in Moscow decided that Amin had to
go. They believed that he could be removed by a dramatic show
of force and quietly replaced by Karmal. On December 27, a force
of 5,000 Soviet troops advanced on Kabul, but Amin refused to
leave office quietly and fought back. On December 28, " [a]fter
twelve hours of bitter combat with Soviet forces at the presidential
palace, Amin was killed, along with 2,000 loyal members of his
armed forces." Having killed the man whom they claimed had
invited them into the country, the Russians proclaimed Karmal
to be president and flew him back from Moscow. Within a few days,
the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan had reached 80,000.
The figure later climbed to more than 100,000. What was to be
nearly a decade of Russian occupation had begun.
The CIA's anticommunist jihad
President Jimmy Carter immediately declared that the invasion
jeopardized vital U.S. interests, because the Persian Gulf area
was "now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan. But
the Carter administration's public outrage at Russian intervention
in Afghanistan was doubly duplicitous. Not only was it used as
an excuse for a program of increased military expenditure that
had in fact already begun, but the U.S. had in fact been aiding
the mujahideen for at least the previous six months, with precisely
the hope of provoking a Soviet response. Former CIA director Robert
Gates later admitted in his memoirs that aid to the rebels began
in June 1979. In a candid 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brezinski,
Carter's national security adviser, confirmed that U.S. aid to
the rebels began before the invasion:
According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the
mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet
army invaded Afghanistan [in] December 1979. But the reality,
secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: indeed, it
was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive
for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.
And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I
explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce
a Soviet military intervention.... We didn't push the Russians
to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that
That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect
of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.... The day that
the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President
Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its
The Carter administration was well aware that in backing the
mujahideen it was supporting forces with reactionary social goals,
but this was outweighed by its own geopolitical interests. In
August 1979, a classified State Department report bluntly asserted
that "the United States' larger interest...would be served
by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks
this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan."
That same month, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, State Department
spokesperson Hodding Carter piously announced that the U.S. "expect[s]
the principle of nonintervention to be respected by all parties
in the area, including the Soviet Union."
The Russian invasion in December was the signal for U.S. support
to the Afghan rebels to increase dramatically.
Three weeks after Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, Carter's
secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was in Beijing arranging for
a weapons transfer from the Chinese to the ClA-backed Afghani
troops mustered in Pakistan. The Chinese, who were generously
compensated for the deal, agreed and even consented to send military
advisers. Brown worked out a similar arrangement with Egypt to
buy $15 million worth of weapons. "The U.S. contacted me,"
[then-Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat recalled shortly before
his assassination [in 1981]. "They told me, 'Please open
your stores for us so that we can give the Afghans the armaments
they need to fight.' And I gave them the armaments. The transport
of arms to the Afghans started from Cairo on U.S. planes."
By February 1980, the Washington Post reported that the mujahideen
was receiving arms coming from the U.S. government.
The objective of the intervention, as spelled out by Brezinski,
was to trap the Soviets in a long and costly war designed to drain
their resources, just as Vietnam had bled the United States. The
high level of civilian casualties that this would certainly entail
was considered but set aside. According to one senior official,
"The question here was whether it was morally acceptable
that, in order to keep the Soviets off balance, which was the
reason for the operation, it was permissible to use other lives
for our geopolitical interests." Carter's CIA director Stansfield
Turner answered the question: "I decided I could live with
that." According to Representative Charles Wilson, a Texas
There were 58,000 dead in Vietnam and we owe the Russians
one.... I have a slight obsession with it, because of Vietnam.
I thought the Soviets ought to get a dose of it.... I've been
of the opinion that this money was better spent to hurt our adversaries
than other money in the Defense Department budget.
The mujahideen consisted of at least seven factions, who often
fought amongst themselves in their battle for territory and control
of the opium trade. To hurt the Russians, the U.S. deliberately
chose to give the most support to the most extreme groups. A disproportionate
share of U.S. arms went to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, "a particularly
fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater."' According to
journalist Tim Weiner, " [Hekmatyar's] followers first gained
attention by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to
wear the veil. CIA and State Department officials I have spoken
with call him 'scary,' 'vicious,' 'a fascist,' 'definite dictatorship
There was, though, a kind of method in the madness: Brezinski
hoped not just to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, but to
ferment unrest within the Soviet Union itself. His plan, says
author Dilip Hiro, was "to export a composite ideology of
nationalism and Islam to the Muslim-majority Central Asian states
and Soviet Republics with a view to destroying the Soviet order."
Looking back in 1998, Brezinski had no regrets. "What was
more important in the world view of history?... A few stirred-up
Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the
With the support of Pakistan's military dictator, General
Zia-ul-Haq, the U.S. began recruiting and training both mujahideen
fighters from the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and large
numbers of mercenaries from other Islamic countries. Estimates
of how much money the U.S. government channeled to the Afghan
rebels over the next decade vary, but most sources put the figure
between $3 billion and $6 billion, or more. Whatever the exact
amount, this was "the largest covert action program since
World War II" - much bigger, for example, than Washington's
intervention in Central America at the same time, which received
considerably more publicity. According to one report:
The CIA became the grand coordinator: purchasing or arranging
the manufacture of Soviet-style weapons from Egypt, China, Poland,
Israel and elsewhere, or supplying their own; arranging for military
training by Americans, Egyptians, Chinese and Iranians; hitting
up Middle-Eastern countries for donations, notably Saudi Arabia
which gave many hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year,
totaling probably more than a billion; pressuring and bribing
Pakistan-with whom recent American relations had been very poor-to
rent out its country as a military staging area and sanctuary;
putting the Pakistani Director of Military Operations, Brigadier
Mian Mohammad Afzal, onto the CIA payroll to ensure Pakistani
When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he found the
Democratic-controlled Congress eager to increase spending on the
Afghan war. A congressional staffer told a reporter, "It
was a windfall [for the new administration]. They'd faced so much
opposition to covert action in Central America and here comes
the Congress helping and throwing money at them, putting money
their way and they say, 'Who are we to say no?"
Aid to the mujahideen, who Reagan praised as "freedom
fighters," increased, but initially Afghanistan was not a
In the first years after the Reagan administration inherited
the Carter program, the covert Afghan war "tended to be handled
out of [CIA director William] Casey's back pocket," recalled
Ronald Spiers, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, the base
of the Afghan rebels. Mainly from China's government, the CIA
purchased assault rifles, grenade launchers, mines and SA-7 light
antiaircraft weapons, and then arranged for shipment to Pakistan....
The amounts were significant-10,000 tons of arms and ammunition
in 1983, according to [Pakistani General Mohammed] Yousaf-but
a fraction of what they would be in just a few years.
In March 1985, the Reagan administration issued National Security
Decision Directive 166,29 a secret plan to escalate covert action
in Afghanistan dramatically:
Abandoning a policy of simple harassment of Soviet occupiers,
the Reagan team decided secretly to let loose on the Afghan battlefield
an array of U.S. high technology and military expertise in an
effort to hit and demoralize Soviet commanders and soldiers....
Beginning in 1985, the CIA supplied mujahideen rebels with
extensive satellite reconnaissance data of Soviet targets on the
Afghan battlefield, plans for military operations based on the
satellite intelligence, intercepts of Soviet communications, secret
communications networks for the rebels, delayed timing devices
for tons of C-4 plastic explosives for urban sabotage, and sophisticated
guerrilla attacks, long-range sniper rifles, a targeting device
for mortars that was linked to a U.S. Navy satellite, wire-guided
anti-tank missiles, and other equipment.
Between 1986 and 1989, the mujahideen were also provided with
more than 1,000 state-of-the-art, shoulder-fired Stinger antiaircraft
By 1987, the annual supply of arms had reached 65,000 tons,
and a "ceaseless stream" of CIA and Pentagon officials
visiting Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters
in Rawalpindi and helping to plan mujahideen operations:
At any one time during the Afghan fighting season, as many
as 11 ISI teams trained and supplied by the CIA accompanied mujahideen
across the border to supervise attacks, according to Yousaf and
Western sources. The teams attacked airports, railroads, fuel
depots, electricity pylons, bridges and roads....
CIA operations officers helped Pakistani trainers establish
schools for the mujahideen in secure communications, guerrilla
warfare, urban sabotage and heavy weapons.
Although the CIA claimed that the purpose was to attack military
targets, mujahideen trained in these techniques, and using chemical
and electronic-delay bomb timers supplied by the U.S., carried
out numerous car bombings and assassination attacks in Kabul itself.
Bin Laden and the Arab-Afghans
As well as training and recruiting Afghan nationals to fight
the Soviets, the CIA permitted its ISI allies to recruit Muslim
extremists from around the world. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid
Between 1982 and 1992, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43
Islamic countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central
Asia and the Far East would pass their baptism under fire with
the Afghan mujahideen. Tens of thousands more foreign Muslim radicals
came to study in the hundreds of new madrassas [religious schools]
that Zia's military government began to fund in Pakistan and along
the Afghan border. Eventually more than 100,000 Muslim radicals
were to have direct contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan and
be influenced by the jihad [against the USSR].
In camps near Peshawar and in Afghanistan, these radicals
met each other for the first time and studied trained and fought
together. It was the first opportunity for most of them to learn
about Islamic movements in other countries, and they forged tactical
and ideological links that would serve them well in the future.
The camps became virtual universities for future Islamic radicalism.
One of the first non-Afghan volunteers to join the ranks of
the mujahideen was Osama bin Laden, a civil engineer and businessman
from a wealthy construction family in Saudi Arabia, with close
ties to members of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden recruited
4,000 volunteers from his own country and developed close relations
with the most radical mujahideen leaders. He also worked closely
with the CIA, raising money from private Saudi citizens. By 1984,
he was running the Maktab al-Khidamar, an organization set up
by the ISI to funnel "money, arms, and fighters from the
outside world in the Afghan war."
Since September 11, CIA officials have been claiming they
had no direct link to bin Laden. These denials lack credibility.
Earlier this year, the trial of defendants accused of the 1998
U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya disclosed that the CIA shipped high-powered
sniper rifles directly to bin Laden's operation in 1989. Even
the Tennessee-based manufacturer of the rifles confirmed this.
According to the Boston Globe,
Some military analysts and specialists on the weapons trade
say the CIA has spent years covering its tracks on its early ties
to the Afghan forces.... Despite the ClA's denials, these experts
say it was inevitable that the military training in guerrilla
tactics and the vast reservoir of money and arms that the CIA
provided in Afghanistan would have ended up helping bin Laden
and his forces during the 1980s.
"In 1988, with U.S. knowledge, bin Laden created Al Qaeda
(The Base): a conglomerate of quasi independent Islamic terrorist
cells spread across at least 26 countries," writes Indian
journalist Rahul Bhedi. "Washington turned a blind eye to
Al-Qaeda, confident that it would not directly impinge on the
U.S." After the Soviet withdrawal, however, bin Laden and
thousands of other volunteers returned to their own countries:
Their heightened political consciousness made them realize
that countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt were just as much client
regimes of the United States as the Najibullah regime [in Afghanistan]
has been of Moscow.
In their home countries they built a formidable constituency-popularly
known as "Afghanis"-who combined strong ideological
convictions with the guerrilla skills they had acquired in Pakistan
and Afghanistan under CIA supervision.
Over the past 10 years, the "Afghani" network has
been linked to terrorist attacks not only on U.S. targets, but
also in the Philippines, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, France, Tajikistan,
Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere. "This
is an insane instance of the chickens coming home to roost,"
one U.S. diplomat in Pakistan told the Los Angeles Times. "You
can't plug billions of dollars into an anti-Communist jihad, accept
participation from all over the world and ignore the consequences.
But we did.
Romancing the Taliban
As the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in early 1989, American
policymakers celebrated with champagne, while the country itself
collapsed into virtual anarchy. Almost a quarter of the population
was living in refugee camps and most of the country was in ruins.
Different factions of the mujahideen struggled for power in the
countryside, while the government of Muhammed Najibullah, the
last Soviet-installed president controlled Kabul. Eventually,
in April 1992, Kabul fell to some of the mujahideen factions and
Burhannudin Rabbani was de dared president, but civil war continued
unabated. Hekmatyar in particular was dissatisfied with the new
distribution 0 power. With his huge stock of U.S.-supplied weapons,
h began an artillery and rocket assault on Kabul that lasted for
almost three years, even after he was appointed prime minister
in 1993. "The barrage...killed more than 10,000 Afghans [drove]
hundreds of thousands into squalid refugee camps, created political
chaos, and blocked millions of exiles from returning." The
rest of the country disintegrated into isolated fiefdoms dominated
by local warlords.
In 1994, a new group, the Taliban (Pashtun for "students"),
emerged on the scene. Its members came from madrassas set up by
the Pakistani government along the border and funded by the U.S.,
Britain, and the Saudis, where they had received theological indoctrination
and military training. Thousands of young men-refugees and orphans
from the war in Afghanistan-became the foot soldiers of this movement:
These boys were from a generation who had never seen their
country at peace-an Afghanistan not at war with invaders and itself.
They had no memories of their tribes, their elders, their neighbors
nor the complex ethnic mix of peoples that made up their villages
and their homeland. These boys were what the war had thrown up
like the sea's surrender on the beach of history ...
They were literally the orphans of war, the rootless and
restless, the jobless and the economically deprived with little
self-knowledge. They admired war because it was the only occupation
they could possibly adapt to. Their simple belief in a messianic,
puritan Islam which had been drummed into them by simple village
mullahs was the only prop they could hold on to and which gave
their lives some meaning. Untrained for anything, even the traditional
occupations of their forefathers such as farming, herding or the
making of handicrafts, they were what Karl Marx would have termed
Afghanistan's lumpen proletariat.
With the aid of the Pakistani army, the Taliban swept across
most of the exhausted country promising a restoration of order
and finally capturing Kabul in September 1996. The Taliban imposed
an ultra-sectarian version of Islam, closely related to Wahhabism,
the ruling creed in Saudi Arabia. Women have been denied education,
health care, and the right to work. They must cover themselves
completely when in public. Minorities have been brutally repressed.
Even singing and dancing in public are forbidden.
The Taliban's brand of extreme Islam had no historical roots
in Afghanistan. The roots of the Taliban's success lay in 20 years
of "jihad" against the Russians and further devastation
wrought by years of internal fighting between the warlord factions.
Initially, villagers-especially the majority Pashtuns in the south
who shared the Taliban's ethnicity-welcomed them as a force that
might end the warfare and bring some order and peace to Afghanistan.
Their lack of a social base within Afghanistan made them appear
untainted by the factional warfare, and their moral purism made
them appear above compromise. Before launching their war to conquer
power, they first won some public support by appearing as the
avenger against the warlords' raping of women and boys. Of course,
they could not have risen so far and so fast without the financial
and military backing of Pakistan.
The U.S. government was well aware of the Taliban's reactionary
program, yet it chose to back their rise to power in the mid-1990s.
The creation of the Taliban was "actively encouraged by the
ISI and the CIA," according to Selig Harrison, an expert
on U.S. relations with Asia. "The United States encouraged
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to support the Taliban, certainly right
up to their advance on Kabul," adds respected journalist
Ahmed Rashid. When the Taliban took power, State Department spokesperson
Glyn Davies said that he saw "nothing objectionable"
in the Taliban's plans to impose strict Islamic law, and Senator
Hank Brown, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee
on the Near East and South Asia, welcomed the new regime: "The
good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at
last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan."
"The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There
will be Aramco [the consortium of oil companies that controlled
Saudi oil], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia
law. We can live with that," said another U.S. diplomat in
The reference to oil and pipelines explains everything. Since
the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991, U.S. oil companies
and their friends in the State Department have been salivating
at the prospect of gaining access to the huge oil and natural
gas reserves in the former Soviet republics bordering the Caspian
Sea and in Central Asia. These have been estimated as worth $4
trillion. The American Petroleum Institute calls the Caspian region
"the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle
East." And while he was still CEO of Halliburton, the world's
biggest oil services company, Vice President Dick Cheney told
other industry executives, "I can't think of a time when
we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically
significant as the Caspian." The struggle to control these
stupendous resources has given rise to what Rashid has dubbed
the "new Great Game," pitting shifting alliances of
governments and oil and gas consortia against one another.
Afghanistan itself has no known oil or gas reserves, but it
is an attractive route for pipelines leading to Pakistan, India,
and the Arabian Sea. In the mid-1990s, a consortium led by the
California-based Unocal Corporation proposed a $4.5 billion oil
and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
But this would require a stable central government in Afghanistan
itself. Thus began several years in which U.S. policy in the region
centered on "romancing the Taliban." According to one
In the months before the Taliban took power, former U.S.
assistant secretary of state for South Asia Robin Raphel waged
an intense round of shuttle diplomacy between the powers with
possible stakes in the [Unocal] project.
"Robin Raphel was the face of the Unocal pipeline,"
said an official of the former Afghan government who was present
at some of de meetings with her....
In addition to tapping new sources of energy, de [project]
also suited a major U.S. strategic aim in the region: isolating
its nemesis Iran and stifling a frequently mooted rival pipeline
project backed by Teheran, experts said.
But Washington's initial enthusiasm for the Taliban's seizure
of power provoked a hostile reaction from human rights and women's
organizations in the United States. The Clinton administration
quickly decided to take a more cautious public approach. Plans
to send the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan on a visit to Kabul were
canceled, and the State Department decided not to recognize the
new regime immediately. Nevertheless, Unocal executive vice president
Chris Taggart continued to maintain, "If the Taliban leads
to stability and international recognition then it's positive."
Tacit U.S. support for the Taliban continued until 1998, when
Washington blamed Osama bin Laden for the bombing of the U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and retaliated by launching cruise
missiles at bin Laden's alleged training camps in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's refusal to extradite bin Laden- not its atrocious
human rights record-led to UN-imposed sanctions on the regime
the following year. "Former Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright used to say that she cared about the women suffering
under the Taliban, but after the Taliban took over the U.S. accepted
very few refugees," points out journalist Laura Flanders.
"In '96 and '97 no Afghan refugees were admitted to the United
States; in '98, only 88, in '99, some 360."
Whatever the U.S. government's current rhetoric about the
repressive nature of the Taliban regime, its long history of intervention
in the region has been motivated not by concern for democracy
or human rights, but by the narrow economic and political interests
of the U.S. ruling class. It has been prepared to aid and support
the most retrograde elements if it thought a temporary advantage
would be the result. Now Washington has launched a war against
its former allies based on a strategic calculation that the Taliban
can no longer be relied upon to provide a stable, U.S.-friendly
government that can serve its strategic interests. No matter what
the outcome, the war is certain to lay the grounds for more "blowback"
in the future.
Phil Gasper is a professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame de
Namur University, and is also a member of the International Socialist
Organization in San Francisco.
Central Asia watch