Imperialism and Afghanistan

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

War Against the Planet: The Fifth Afghan War, Imperialism, and other Assorted Fundamentalisms by Vijay Prashad; Delhi: LeftWord, 2002; pages 118, Rs.75.

SO enormously successful has the relentless imperialist propaganda since the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York (encrypted as the "watershed" 9/11) been that wide sections of the world's peoples and intelligentsia have come to believe that the "fifth Afghan war" has been about combating "Islamic terrorism." It is another matter that many governments know better, but have been only too servile in their willingness to align themselves behind the U.S. power machine. By now, it is obvious that America's deleterious ascendance to a lone super-power status, following the ruinous collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ruthless projection of U.S. corporate interests as "globalisation" backed by "international opinion," a euphemism for American/British national interest, has had much to do with such servility. Equally, the anti-democratic character of many 'nationalist' regimes, including India's, and their abject comprador capitulation to 'international' financial institutions controlled in large part by the U.S. imperialists has made them obliging collaborators in the so-called 'coalition against terrorism'. This is the situation even as stark contradictions at home stare such regimes in the face. The American double-speak on Afghanistan and Kashmir, for example, is a telling instance.

Vijay Prashad's focussed monograph could not, therefore, have come at a better time. However modest its self-definition (a "summary" Prashad calls it), the virtues of the little book far exceed those of a "summary". Prashad offers, in three succinct chapters, a clear-headed and consistent expose of the material/ideological structurations that led the U.S. and its cronies to attack a desolate, far-away and seemingly irrelevant Afghanistan, killing with customary impunity innocent children, women, and men - all in pursuit of its own intimate creation, Osama bin Laden, now re-christened the anti-Christ. While, according to all reliable accounts, including those from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Osama and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar lie safely ensconced in U.S.-friendly Pakistan, the "war on terror" continues to be sold to the world as a crusade for the good of peace-loving people everywhere.

Prashad sagaciously avoids casting his critique into a left-propagandist rhetorical mode, since such a mode carries diminishing purchase. Prashad's critique is solidly grounded in fact, and his conclusions and analyses are tellingly related to the evidence that he marshals. Writing out of extremely well-informed contexts of history, Prashad illuminates the "fifth Afghan war" by drawing upon highly germane workings of imperialism in so wide a swath as Indonesia, Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Jordan, Iran, and most revealingly, Saudi Arabia. The antecedents/history of the Saudi royal family is correctly seen as the ignoble centre-piece to imperialist purposes throughout the "Islamic" world. Prashad poses the question "why are the former allies of the U.S., the 'Afghan Arabs,' now so averse to the U.S. that they consider it to be dallaj or the anti-Christ?" His answer is that "the U.S. government, since the 1950s, has drawn on various radical Islamic groups to undermine both the communist movement in West Asia and Africa, but also to significantly demolish the legitimacy of the pan-Arabist or Arab socialist political parties."

Thus, through credible documentation, Prashad shows how the overthrow of the Mossadeg regime in Iran (1951), the anti-Nasserite Sadat coup in Egypt, the building of the Hamas in Lebanon, the destruction of Iraqi communists at the hands of the Ba'ath party, the enlistment of Saddam Hussein against an anti-imperialist post-revolutionary Iran, the liquidation of the communists among the Kurds, leading up to the setting up of bin Laden and the Taliban as a joint CIA/ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) enterprise against the progressive Najibullah regime and the Soviets have been seamless events in the U.S. imperialist design to maintain political control over the oil-bearing West-Asian/Middle-Eastern regions. Prashad's presentation reveals the full dimensions of the perfidies worked by the imperialists in league with either feudal or Islamist or terrorist elements to secure the defeat of pro-people social forces throughout the Muslim world. At the time of the Suharto coup in Indonesia, for example, half a million cadre of the PKI or the Communist Party of Indonesia were liquidated.

In the last chapter Prashad unravels the relevance to the U.S. imperialists of the oil- and gas-bearing regions of Central Asia. As he delineates the geo-political contours of those regions after the Soviet collapse, the central importance of Afghanistan as a carrier territory for U.S. corporates such as Unocal and, indeed, companies in which the U.S. Vice-President, Dick Cheney has vital interests, unfolds. Needless to say, nowhere in these shenanigans do the ordinary peoples and their everyday rights as citizens figure as an issue that deserves any consideration for the world's "leading democracy". Prashad is able to show how, especially since the "war on terror" was unleashed, democracy has been brazenly sought to be used to obtain the most gruesome decimations of all known democratic principles.

The worth of Prashad's project lies particularly in bringing home why the overt and covert assaults on socialist, even ordinarily democratic, forces in the Arab and Islamic countries need to be seen as inseparable preconditions to more commonly recognised imperialist interest in controlling the material resource of these regions. Here is a quote: ". . . Capitalism's addiction to oil is only a part of the story: the diabolical history recounted here is also about the U.S. fear of the Left and the Left's desire to use raw materials like oil for the people's benefit rather than for the voraciousness of capital."

While the world seems to be in the grip of one of the darkest phases of reaction, it must clearly be our task to expose relentlessly the humanist pretences which imperialism uses as a cloak to seek to impose its marauding hegemony over the toil of people everywhere, over the fruits of that toil, and over their truly lawful right to the political and material control of those fruits. Prashad's book on the continuing events in Afghanistan, rightly captioned War Against the Planet, is a fine instance of such an endeavour.

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