High stakes

America’s Longest War
T G Jacob

Afghanistan, the fabled land hosting what the Greek historian Herodotus characterized as the healthiest people of the whole world known to the Greeks, is a most contentious land-mass today also. The Persian Empire builders could make it into a Province/Satrapy and Alexander of Macedonia could traverse it with lot of heartburn. This landlocked mass of the planet characterized by needle point peaks of the Hindu Kush, Pamir ranges are still predominantly inhabited by pastoral, peasant peoples divided among themselves on the basis of tribal identities. The narrow patches of grey-black soil in the hatchets of the mountains produces more than sixty varieties of grapes apart from a variety of other fruits marketed as the costliest/healthiest dry fruits across the globe. Whatever soil is there in the slopes of the mountains and the valleys is extremely blessed. The war that is raging there now has a distinct continuity from the past counted in terms of millennia. Currently, the corporate capital of the world is enmeshed in this trap in Central Asia.

During the more recent past the British colonialists waged several wars to colonize Afghanistan. In all these wars the cannon fodder was overwhelmingly Indian peasantry-turned soldiers. The weapons included corruption of tribal chieftains with all other weapons used in the conquest of India. The wars were a failure. During the 19th and early decade of the 20th centuries the Russian oligarchy was also continuously involved in trying to convert Afghanistan into its fiefdom and viewed the land as the gateway to India in line with the Central Asian conquerors. Anglo-Russian rivalry for subjugating Afghanistan was rampant during the 19th century; in fact, it continued up to the victory of the Russian revolution and a 'reversal' of the foreign policy of Russia. This reversal was conditioned by the Bolshevik perception of British imperialism, which in its turn considered Afghanistan as a potential bulwark against the expansion of the Bolshevik sphere of influence in Asia. The Russians had the active design of making Afghanistan into a base for further operations in Asia. In fact, the Bolsheviks were very friendly with the monarchical ruling powers in Afghanistan, and Lenin was actively sponsoring efforts to use the Pathans and other hill peoples as an armed force to intervene in colonial India. The staunch anti-British positions of the frontier tribes, conditioned by the foreign policy of the colonialists towards Islamic spirituality and temporal power, as evident during the First World War, was considered enough to be the important political reason for such an approach. The fledgling Communist Party of India was expected to play the role of ideological facilitators in tune with the then current understanding of communist internationalism.

Afghanistan also experienced very intense religious upheavals. In the wake of the invasions of Alexander of Macedonia a strong current of Buddhism was introduced among these nomadic, pastoral peoples. The next major religious intervention came with the powerful entry of Islam during the 9th century and the consolidation of powerful chieftainships culminating in the rise of empire builders. The Mongol interactions of the several Khans in the region acted as powerful psychological incentives for the emergence of empire builders. Inter-tribal affinities and under-standings played no small role in this consolidation and outward thrust. It was such a sustained thrust that produced the Moghul Empire in the Indian subcontinent. This was a period when the whole of Central Asia was undergoing a cultural and political resurgence, which continued for centuries up to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire with which the First World War ended.

The end of this War also witnessed a remarkable increase in the Western European and American influence in Central and West Asia. In fact, several important countries, especially in West Asia which had a long history of fighting against Turkish autocracy, had to continue the fight, now to overthrow the rule by "mandate" of imperialist countries like France and Britain. But Afghanistan continued to be an irritant while being a subject of contention between the victors of the First World War and the Soviet Union in which many Central Asian nations were federating units. These nations were also Islamic and tribal and predominantly pastoral/agricultural like the adjoining Afghanistan. It is also important to note that the Bolshevik party and its government in USSR spared no effort in nurturing a pro-Moscow social democratic force concentrated in the cities. It was this force that became the proxy rulers of the country after the massive invasion by Soviet troops in 1979. The Soviet military invasion proved a costly failure within no time; even in its best time effective control, dependent on battle tanks and fighter bombers, was generally confined to the capital city of Kabul. Both China and the US actively aided the rebels who were fighting the occupiers and their puppets on the ideological platform of militant Islam and strong tribal identities. The Taliban, which is being incessantly demonized by the US and its allies, was ably aided by the same forces in the anti-Soviet war. For the Western imperialists it was a proxy war against the USSR, while for the Afghans it was an uncompromising war against foreign occupation. When it became clear to the Russians that the war was fast becoming a dead loss they salvaged their installations like pre-fabricated extensive military townships, and troops, and retreated leaving the Islamic militants in the role of victors. In this context, it is important to note that militant Islam, the sole political force left in the arena, did not originate during the anti-Soviet liberation fight but was a growing ideological force during the pre-Soviet rule by kings.

The Western backers of the jihad obviously felt let down when the new rulers did not show any inclination to tie Afghanistan completely to the apron strings of Western capital and thus become a client state. The result was that the country did not enjoy a breather after the Russians fled the place. Intensified Western manipulations were met by intensified Islamisation of internal social, political processes, which was utilized by the global media calling it "medieval barbarism". American strategists started working overtime on how to prevent the sliding and intervene effectively, directly and in a decisive manner. The collapsing of the World Trade Centre in New York gave a splendid alibi, though not transparent, for the NATO intervention of extensive aerial bombardment which included low intensity nuclear weapons followed by airlifting of troops. Pakistan as a strategic regional ally, who in any case was bound to get hopelessly enmeshed in the developing situation, facilitated transport of supplies. There was intense lobbying for dragging India into this 'dirty' war which succeeded in wresting logistical support for ships and aircrafts, supplying manpower for auxiliary services and maintaining diplomatic activities and hyping up the military and intelligence presence in the diplomatic community, and providing trainers/consultants outside the embassy. India had become a low key partner of the NATO forces right from the beginning of the intervention. China is facing a broadly similar problem in East Turkistan, which makes it a mute spectator in spite of the geo-political risks involved. Afghanistan was clearly viewed by the aggressors as the key component in the overall strategy of control over Central and West Asia as well as South Asia which makes any defeat for them a serious blow to the perceived goal of global domination.

The social base of the Russian invaders was the petty bourgeois 'intellectual' class who were drawn to social democratic world view, far removed from the ground level reality. The Americans got their social base among the corrupt elements from among the moderate Islamist forces they could influence and control through high pressure military tactics combined with liberal "aid". These elements had been conditioned for quite some time to American ovelordship through close relations during the anti-Soviet fight. However, creating a corrupt section of people to work through is an inalienable component of the neo-colonial mechanism. There is no basic difference between the broad strategies taken up by the Soviet and American variety of imperialists, both resorted to puppets to maintain control and both found it extremely tough going. The Russians were ignominiously beaten back; the Americans are getting visibly jittery about the evolving consequences of an unjust war. And the Allies are also not feeling all that comfortable. But it is not a repeat of the Russian performance.

One important difference was the Russian socialist facade but with underlying built-in structural weaknesses of this "giant with clay feet." It was already a disintegrating political entity due to its own internal contradictions and Afghanistan was a desperate adventure to block this disintegration. But what actually happened was the hastening of the disintegration process that was in any case irreversible. A few years after the retreat from Afghanistan the whole political system of USSR broke up and even before that the Warsaw Pact became non-operational. The invasion of Afghanistan became a turning point in the process of disintegration of the Soviet Union. More than through the cases of Hungary and Czechoslovakia the Soviet system got exposed as social fascist through Afghanistan. Such a brazen invasion and miserable failure made it absurd that the Central Asian Republics forming part of USSR should continue in that political status. Eastern Europe, as the backyard of Russian social imperialism, was in any case seething for a longer time with the result that the entire edifice of Soviet empire crumbled in a highly predictable manner. Among the erstwhile Warsaw Pact East European countries, some of them underwent severe convulsions, but ultimately they got adjusted into the neo-colonial framework of the dominant powers—the NATO bloc. But in Afghanistan war broke out without any delay.

Unlike the Russians who depended more on traditional weapons like high speed combat tanks, armored carriers, MIG bombers and helicopter gunships to survive in Afghanistan, the Americans pulverized the actual and potential rebel strongholds through a high technology air warfare exposing the ground forces to minimum risk so that the Vietnam experience will not be repeated. The method was to sanitize from above making the ground safe for the Marines, who were able to establish military bases in different parts of the country—the biggest of them in the few big cities. Expeditionary crack forces, preceded by fighter bombers, move out of these bases/fortresses to sanitize the rebellious countryside, which correctly functions as the base for the anti-imperialist fighters. Guerrilla attacks are galore but because of the extensive use of air power the casualties on the side of the invaders is minimized, a serious question for the American and European ruling classes. Keeping the number of body bags to the lowest possible level is very important for these ruling classes to avoid political heat at home. Unlike the Russian invasion which was a cumbersome affair the American invasion was designed as a sleek, highly programmed quick action. But whether sleek or clumsy the fates were no different. In fact, the crisis that now confronts the Yankees in Afghanistan is even more devastating than what the Russians faced there.

The Afghans don't seem to be in a hurry to have peace. The character of resistance has changed during the last couple of years. Now the offensives by the resistance are not confined to convoys or supplies but have escalated to deadly attacks on the urban military centers and clients themselves. Also there is a deliberate strategy of actively dissuading indigenous participation in actions carried out against the resistance. This is mostly done through large-scale attacks on training camps for Afghan soldiers and military police. Recruiting centers are under fire. This chain has continued to develop into attacks on the NATO forces by their Afghan colleagues. During the last one year there were more than sixty planned attacks by the Afghan component in the army of occupation. This has resulted in the stoppage of all further and existing training programs for the Afghan police and army in counter insurgency. Such trainings are clearly proving counterproductive. This is another strong index of the isolation of the invaders trapping them in a scooped-up condition.

Another natural development is the spreading of the war into Pakistan. For a long time the boundary between the two countries had become amorphous and indeterminate. The north western part of Pakistan had never reconciled to the political boundaries of Pakistan, and during the anti-Soviet resistance and war the whole region became an open arms bazaar with the ethnic tribes asserting their territorial, political independence. The situation crossed the erstwhile defined boundaries of both the countries with the strong possibility of the concrete emergence of the fight for a tribal republic with Islamic religious-ideological cohesion. The invaders are trying their best to force Pakistan to fight this part of the war on behalf of the NATO forces and, of course, Pakistan has its own reasons to fight the war there. But the directive initiative rests with the invading Western military command. And whenever they find it necessary they strike inside Pakistan killing civilians as well as members of Pakistan army. High technology air warfare cannot be very discriminatory or targeted and its limits have become nowhere more evident than in Afghanistan. Bombings by unmanned bombers inside Pakistan have become routine. Large parts of Pakistan have become part of the war zone while the rest is regularly torn by attacks by suicide guerrillas connected with the war developments in the region. The central leaderships are divided, with the judiciary, executive and armed forces on different levels rendering the overall situation further unstable. There are enough reasons of long historical standing for active escalation of the war zone to Azad Kashmir (Pak occupied part of Kashmir), and Kashmir has been seriously disturbed since 1946. The situation has become pregnant with multiple developing possibilities, all of which have the common potential to generate increased instability, violence and flux.

Another related question is the emergence of the Caspian region and sea basin as a rich depository of fossil fuels. Many of the riparian countries are ex-Soviet Republics still having military and other links with the Russian Federation. But they are not satellites, and both America and China are very much in the field. An unmistakable loss in Afghanistan is bound to react strongly on the balance of power in this sub-region of Central Asia, which is already strained because of the perceived and threatened war jingoism involving Iran and Israel/United States. Developments in other countries like Egypt, Libya, Palestine and Syria illustrate that a major part of the planet is getting into deeper conflicts involving the sustainability of the neo-colonial world order. In all these countries shades of Islamic militancy are in the role of "warriors" challenging it.

Limits of the World Neo-colonial Regime
The post-Second World War world order of neo-colonialism had a general theory. This general theory was based on the political and economic costs of direct occupation/exploitation of the major part of the globe and it emerged in the context of the utter untenability of the colonial mechanism of controls. The unprecedented expansion of the market forces as a hard hitting material force offered the owners of capital the grand opportunity of extraction of surplus from every part of the world using the levers of speculative finance capital as the leading component of the brute force of the market. Extraction using colonial control mechanisms gives capitalism a backward image which is politically counterproductive. Decolonization in essence is certainly politically progressive, and democracy became a catch word of neo-colonialism. Very soon the most powerful military and economic power of the world invented and arrogated the role of the guardian of "democracy", and manipulated change of rulers in neo-colonial countries became the order of the day. Central and South American countries became banana republics. Asia and Africa were maintained at striking distance. The most cardinal aspect of neo-colonialism rested with the lack of direct political visibility of the control mechanism. Apparently, the governments of the neo-colonial countries are politically independent and it is the choice of these independent governments and state structures to work in tandem with the global market forces because it is in the interests of their own economies and peoples. The entire rationale of imperialist globalization is this apology manufactured by the dominant global capital. This apology was whipped up to such an extent that the apologists started to project it aggressively as "inevitable", "no other way", "end of history" etc. In other words, imperialist globalization is projected as the one and only "development model" available to the world. The rubbishing of both the Soviet and Chinese models of socialism was juxtaposed as the abject failure of socialism in theory and practice leaving the model of imperialist globalization as the only viable/natural way for the world to go ahead.

Unfortunately for these apologists it took very little time for the world to recognize that the king is naked. The invisible laws of the market became visible very fast because the dynamics of capitalism is such that without ever increasing rates of profit the system is inevitably doomed to create chaos whether any viable alternative exists or not. It is systemic dynamics, and when finance capital became dominantly speculative in its striving for super profits the political borderline between colonialism and neo-colonialism started thinning and thinning and dominant global capital is compelled to go in for direct intervention whatever may be the political costs. The state structures in the so-called developed countries have no way but to be imperialist because the dynamics of capitalism is imperialist. It was possible to hide the real face of capitalism for only a very short time. In Afghanistan, state capitalism of the Russian variety showed the path with its greed for natural gas complemented by the geo-political exigencies of the bureaucrat state capitalist bourgeoisie in power. It took a suicidal step in Afghanistan, the big brother bullies laughed and stepped in. In the process the king who was always naked exhibited his nakedness explicitly. The camouflage of neo-colonialism as a benevolent global system promoting democratic values throughout the world was starkly exposed as the most brutal and rapacious phase of capitalism. The crisis of the production and reproduction of capital had assumed unbridled form and content. In short, the crisis exposed itself as a permanent one not amenable to masks plastered out of lies. The escalation of the crisis to many more countries in the region amply testifies to it. Afghanistan played a wonderful double role, first in exposing the rotten falsehoods of the state capitalists/imperialists, and then as an authentic exposure of Western democracy-mongering wolves in a remarkably short period of time.

What made these exposures really wonderful is the agility with which the people reacted. The Afghans used the big powers' contradictions during the Russian occupation to drive out the socialism-mongers but did not blink in launching fight against the democracy-mongers. When it was possible to use the democracy-mongers to thrash the socialism mongers they did it and did it well too. When it became the turn of the democracy mongers to be thrashed they are doing it well too. Afghanistan is a clear illustration of the futility of neo-colonialism's attempts to camouflage itself. This mountainous country of rugged people is doing a great service to the rest of the world by being a living exposure of the double-faced postures of neo-colonialism and as such it is of great value for everyone. Neo-colonialism survives on outright lies and deceit, but Afghanistan showed that no number of Nobel Peace Prizes is capable of whitewashing these lies and deceit. Even when the aggressors are trying to bring the Islamic militants to the negotiating table the latter are in no hurry because they know it fully well that the former are bogged down. Face-saving formulae are not that easy to come by at will, the initiative belongs very much to the "conquered" people too. When to negotiate and when not to negotiate simply cannot be decided arbitrarily by the aggressors. Afghanistan is clear enough proof.

It is not only questions of visibility/invisibility of the control mechanisms of the neo-colonial global regime but also the political military weapons utilized by neo-colonialists to wrest and sustain dominance over resources and markets that clearly shows continuity from the colonial regime. The prime colonial controlling method was "divide and rule" to bring about the fulfilment of the colonial mission of "white man's burden". The neo-colonialists are putting into effect "divide and rule" strategy in even cruder forms. What the oil giants and their executors are doing in the oil rich Niger Delta is an extremely crude version of "divide and rule". They are doing it in Syria, in Egypt and Libya, and they are doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a global strategy on which they are banking heavily. Inter-tribal issues either perceived or real, inter-nationalist frictions in multi-nationality countries like Iraq are all sought to be accentuated and utilized in the interests of global capital.

When global capital finds it convenient to prop up the most bloodthirsty autocrat to lord over the people and sell/hand-over wholesale the strategic resources of their land to it the democracy mongers stand exposed as paid pipers. When it comes to Libya it is a fight against autocracy, Saddam Hussein was their blue-eyed boy as long as he was faithful to the interests of global oil giants. But when he tried to broad base the oil exchange currency system he became an autocrat and mass exterminator who should be hanged at any cost. To make the point extra clear companies like Shell did not wait any time after "liberation" to grab most of the oil reserves of Iraq. Layers of lies are pasted over layers of lies continuously and this by itself is the greatest weakness of the global neo-colonial order. It is desperate, certainly not stable or sustaining. Central Asia, to be more specific, Afghanistan, brings out this brittleness of the neo-colonial order quite graphically. Creating chaos to maintain control is not paying but the systemic crisis of capital does not leave any other choice. It has no other way but to create ever more chaos and bloodshed. Capitalism is by nature violent and ridden with acute contradictions, but the neo-colonial variant of imperialist globalization is far more murderous than its classical predecessor. That its violence is far more multi-dimensional and far more mindless is nothing but the manifestation of the intensity of the crisis of capital and capitalism. Every measure that manifests this desperation is aimed at overcoming the crisis, but the dynamics of capital is such that every such measure only intensifies and escalates the same. It is a magnificent process that is unfolding, a process that promises great dynamism in creative thinking on social processes in this era of the discrediting of state socialism in theory and practice.

At home, in India, the manifestations of the global crisis are on the war march. Even when this huge country containing enormous disparities and diversities was launched full scale on the path of neo-colonial globalization in 1990, the present phase of the crisis of global capital had passed several years. In fact, India's full blooded endorsement of the neo-colonial regime is expected to significantly impact on the global crisis on the side of the dominant players. The results are already readable. The agrarian sector as a whole is in doldrums, indigenous manufacturing processes are receding into oblivion and now the huge retail trade sector is sought to be ruined. Its increasing military involvement in the various fights for global capital can by no means be ruled out. Its nuclear deal with the US at one stroke aims to significantly salvage the global nuclear industry, which is currently steeped in profitability crisis through becoming the dumping ground for several billions of dollars worth of dangerous, outdated/untested nuclear technology, reactors and raw materials. There is no reason to doubt that the ruling dispensation in India is hell bent on strengthening and multiplying the bonds with neo-colonial capital. It is simply illogical to think that it will ever be able to steer clear of external bondages. The phenomenal increase in the corruption index itself is only a reflection of the main structural trend. The background for explosions is being steadily and inexorably built up.

Vol. 45, No. 29, January 27- Feb 2, 2013

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