Afghanistan: No Regrets
After two wonderful stays in Afghanistan starting in 1969, by 1978 I was living in San Francisco, fighting the good fight at home. My good friend, LGBTQ icon Harvey Milk had been assassinated by a deranged right-wing extremist and the "White Night Riot" that ensued-- after the fascist was given a slap on the wrist-- was not non-violent. The first-- and second and third-- police car turned over and set ablaze in front of City Hall was, I'm proud to say, the work of punk rockers. 61 police officers were treated in hospitals for their injuries. Meanwhile, there peace reigned in Afghanistan at that time.
As John Pilger wrote this morning, "a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Dawd, the cousin of King Zahir Shar. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise. Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported the New York Times, were surprised to find that 'nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup.' The Wall Street Journal reported that '150,000 persons … marched to honour the new flag… the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.' The Washington Post reported that 'Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned.' Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a programme of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned. Under the monarchy, life expectancy was thirty-five; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety per cent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched. For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 per cent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 per cent of its teachers and 30 per cent of its civil servants."
That enthusiasm was likely more pronounced in Kabul and perhaps in Herat, Kandahar and Mazar. But Afghanistan is at least 70% rural-- and just like in the U.S.-- rural people tend to be more conservative. Support for the mujahideen that overthrew the new government, came largely from the countryside-- and from the U.S., where conservative policy-makers were claiming-- inaccurately-- that the new government was a Soviet puppet state.
Pilger wrote this morning that Carter's Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, "later wrote in his memoirs: 'We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.'" But, unfortunately, Carter had hired Zbigniew Brzezinski as his National Security Adviser. Brzezinski was a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist with a distinctly fascist orientation who had a greater impact on Carter's policy choices that Vance. A determined warmonger from Poland was setting our anti-Russian foreign policy in Central Asia under the auspices of a very weak president. "On 3 July 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorized a $500 million 'covert action' program to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government. This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone. The $500 million bought, bribed and armed a group of tribal and religious zealots known as the mujahedin. In his semi-official history, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA spent $70 million on bribes alone." $70 million goes a very long way in one of the poorest counties on earth, much of it outside the cash economy.
Recruited from all over the Muslim world, America’s secret army was trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6... The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilise and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.
In August, 1979, the US Embassy in Kabul reported that “the United States’ larger interests … would be served by the demise of the PDPA government, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.”
Read again the words above I have italicised. It is not often that such cynical intent is spelt out as clearly. The US was saying that a genuinely progressive Afghan government and the rights of Afghan women could go to hell.
Six months later, the Soviets made their fatal move into Afghanistan in response to the American-created jihadist threat on their doorstep. Armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles and celebrated as “freedom fighters” by Margaret Thatcher, the mujahedin eventually drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
Calling themselves the Northern Alliance, the mujahedin were dominated by war lords who controlled the heroin trade and terrorised rural women. The Taliban were an ultra-puritanical faction, whose mullahs wore black and punished banditry, rape and murder but banished women from public life.
In the 1980s, I made contact with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, known as RAWA, which had tried to alert the world to the suffering of Afghan women. During the Taliban time they concealed cameras beneath their burqas to film evidence of atrocities, and did the same to expose the brutality of the Western-backed mujahedin. “Marina” of RAWA told me, “We took the videotape to all the main media groups, but they didn’t want to know…”
In 1996, the enlightened PDPA government was overrun. The Prime Minister, Mohammad Najibullah, had gone to the United Nations to appeal to for help. On his return, he was hanged from a street light.
Not entirely accurate; Najibullah and his brother were dragged out of the UN compound, tortured, mutilated, emasculated and hung from the street lights with their genitals in their mouths. and what ensued was incredibly damaging to Afghan society and to the Afghan people-- to the point that millions of people were dependent on emergency aid to stay alive. Pilger wrote of civilians mistaking cluster bombs for airdropped aid packages and being blown to bits.
"The invasion of Afghanistan," he wrote, "was a fraud. In the wake of 9/11, the Taliban sought to distant themselves from Osama bin Laden. They were, in many respects, an American client with which the administration of Bill Clinton had done a series of secret deals to allow the building of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline by a US oil company consortium. In high secrecy, Taliban leaders had been invited to the US and entertained by the CEO of the Unocal company in his Texas mansion and by the CIA at its headquarters in Virginia. One of the deal-makers was Dick Cheney, later George W. Bush’s Vice-President.
In 2010, I was in Washington and arranged to interview the mastermind of Afghanistan’s modern era of suffering, Zbigniew Brzezinski. I quoted to him his autobiography in which he admitted that his grand scheme for drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan had created “a few stirred up Muslims.”
“Do you have any regrets?” I asked.
“Regrets! Regrets! What regrets?”