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Editorial Afghanistan’s agony and the so-called ‘war on terror’

AFTER 20 years of war against the Taliban, the US’s own spooks predict it will have retaken Afghanistan’s capital in 90 days.

Retired generals deplore the withdrawal of US-led forces.

US President Joe Biden says the onus is on the Afghans to get themselves out of this mess. “They have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he says sternly as Taliban forces capture city after city. Indeed, they should “work out a modus vivendi with the Taliban.”

For Afghan citizens facing renewed conquest by an extremist religious army committed to institutionalised misogyny and guilty of the routine murder of civilians, these are terrifying times. But Biden’s insinuation that the US has done its best and now Afghans must learn to stand on their own feet is utterly disingenuous.

No country bears more responsibility for the triumph of reaction and barbarism in Afghanistan than the United States. Nor is Washington’s hint that the Taliban can be worked with as shocking as it might seem.

The propaganda narrative blared out across the West for two decades has presented the “war on terror” as a principled struggle between our own enlightened liberal governments and the dark forces of Islamist extremism.

If so, the results have been dire. Afghanistan is a battleground now not just for the Taliban but for even more nihilistic terrorist organisations such as Isis, which revels in its signature massacres of Shi’ite Muslims.

Al-Qaida has multiplied its forces across the Middle East, spreading murder and mayhem in countries it had no presence whatever in in 2001. Ideologically related organisations butcher “unbelievers” and kidnap schoolgirls for ransom, trafficking and rape across a swathe of west Africa.

In truth, the series of devastating wars launched by the United States from 2001 have almost never had anything to do with battling Islamist extremism.

In Iraq the Saddam Hussein dictatorship was an avowed enemy of Islamist groups. In Libya and Syria the US and its allies, including Britain, actually armed and funded radical jihadists in order to overthrow secular governments. 

The character of the “rebels” we assisted in Libya was demonstrated when one of them, Salman Abedi, murdered 22 people in the suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena in 2017.

David Cameron’s glib witticism that the forces we backed in Syria “were not people you’d invite to tea with the Liberal Democrats” was a cynical mask for the reality that these were organisations that beheaded small children for blasphemy, razed churches and hurled suspected homosexuals from the roofs of buildings.

There was nothing novel in any of this. US imperialism has always been happy to deploy extremists in pursuit of geostrategic goals.

The Taliban itself has its origins in the mujahideen, radical Islamists armed by the US to overthrow Afghanistan’s socialist government in the 1970s in a successful bid to “lure the Russians into an Afghan trap,” in the words of US strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski.

And do we need reminding that Osama bin Laden himself was once the feted “anti-Soviet warrior [putting] his army on the road to peace,” in the words of a headline in the Independent?

This was not some cold war gambit that went wrong. As Libya and Syria demonstrate, the same approach is applied today — signalled unmistakably by this year’s decision by the US to remove the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, another ideological bedfellow of al-Qaida but focused on separatist terror in China’s Xinjiang, from its list of terrorist groups.

The retired generals are wrong. Afghanistan’s agony is not the product of US withdrawal but of the malign role the US has played in the country for over four decades.

Solidarity with the Afghan people, as with all victims of imperialism, must take the form of support for home-grown democratic and socialist movements. No-one should be duped into thinking that Washington or its Nato sidekicks are ever friends of these.

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