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Proletarian issue 32 (October 2009)
Afghanistan: the days of colonial occupation are numbered
Inter-imperialist contradictions are being forced into the open by heroic forces of patriotic resistance.
No sooner had the polls closed in Afghanistan on 20 August than the leading representatives of the occupation regime declared this electoral farce a success. Nato’s Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, praised the Afghan people’s determination to build democracy, while the leaders of the US, Britain, Germany and France – the main participants in the imperialist predatory war against the Afghan people – rushed to pat themselves on the back for facilitating this alleged exercise in democracy.

In view of the fact that US President Barack Obama, who has characterised the US war against Afghanistan as “a war of necessity”, not of choice, is on record asserting that the August election was the most significant event in Afghanistan this year, even more important than the build-up of troops and civilian aid authorised by his administration, it is not surprising that he hailed the poll as “an important step forward” in the teeth of opposition from the resistance, and vowed that the US would achieve its goals, so that “our troops will be able to come home”.

The Financial Times , one of the most representative organs of British monopoly capitalism, in its leading article of 22 August, described it as “ something of a miracle that Afghanistan has been able to hold elections, given the circumstances, ” namely, “a raging insurgency, in which Nato forces have been unable to regain initiative ... a central government that has failed to provide security, services or jobs, and whose writ barely reaches beyond the boundaries of Kabul ”. The paper went on to laud the Afghans for having braved “the rockets and intimidation ” to come out to vote, even if in sharply reduced numbers as compared to the 2004 election. (‘Afghanistan votes and hopes for the best’)

Nothing according to script

The political, ideological and literary representatives of imperialism spoke too soon. A month after these farcical elections, while the result is still to be declared, everything lies in ruins. Nothing has gone according to the prepared script, which ran as follows: Karzai was expected to win in the first round by a wide margin, which would trump a low turnout; the US and Nato would claim ‘progress’; and despite the fact that his writ does not run beyond Kabul (if that far), the corruption engulfing his administration and its singular inability to provide security, jobs and essential services, and the increasingly lukewarm support for him in Washington – the blemished Mr Karzai would stay put in the presidential palace, confirming Pashtun primacy, lending a veneer of legitimacy to the imperialist occupation, and helping the latter to restore some sort of stability in the face of fierce resistance by the Afghan people to the occupation of their country by foreign powers.

In the light of the unexpectedly strong showing by Abdullah Abdullah, a low turnout, and the allegations accompanied by clear evidence of electoral fraud on a mass scale, this script must now be torn up. Within hours of the polls closing, Karzai and his chief opponent, Abdullah, both anticipated the results and claimed victory, so undermining Mr Obama’s endeavours to portray the polls as a success.

The US administration had been banking upon the elections as an instrument for reversing the gains of the resistance by attempting to convince Afghans that 100,000-plus imperialist forces were enabling the country to elect an accountable government. That forlorn hope has been smashed to smithereens amidst deserted polling stations, deep cynicism among the electorate, and gigantic fraud practised by the Karzai puppet regime.

Gigantic electoral fraud

Tribal leaders from the south of the country, who visited Kabul in the first week of September to lodge complaints against fraudulent electoral practices, spoke of tens of thousands of fake votes for Hamid Karzai at polling stations that were virtually deserted on polling day.

Haji Kamardin, a tribal leader from the Shomalzai district of southern Zabul province, stated that as a result of wholesale intimidation, out of a population of 200,000, a mere 50 people voted, adding that in the whole of Zabul province no more than 3,000 or 4,000 cast their votes as nobody was allowed to leave home. (‘Bombs kill top Afghan official’ by Matthew Green, Financial Times , 3 September 2009)

Haji Mohammed, a tribal leader from the province of Kandahar, related the offer he received four days before the elections from the local police chief. If he ignored a plan for vote rigging in favour of Karzai, the police would pass on to him empty ballot boxes to stuff in favour of his nephew, who was contesting for the provincial assembly. On Haji Mohammed turning down the offer, the security forces collected all the ballot boxes earmarked for 45 polling stations in the Shorowak and Ragestan districts and packed them with ballot papers marked in favour of Karzai. There was no election on polling day, all the ballot boxes having already been stuffed.

“The chief of Shorowak told me personally that 29,823 votes were cast in favour of Mr Karzai,” said Haji Mohammed.

Another tribal leader said, amidst laughter: “The whole population of animals and human beings in Shorowak cannot add up to 29,000.”

Abdul Zahir, a landowner from Uruzgan province, told a similar story of vote rigging and ballot-box stuffing in favour of Karzai, adding that, while no more than 40 people actually voted, 4,700 ballots were officially declared to have been cast for Karzai and 650 for Abdullah. (Information in the preceding three paragraphs is drawn from ‘Furious elders report widespread vote-rigging’ by Matthew Green , Financial Times , 7 September 2009)

The tribal elders gathered in Kabul accused Ahmed Wali Karzai, the puppet president’s brother and governor of Kandahar province, of organising vote rigging to ensure he remained in office, a convenient and comfortable niche from which to run his business empire, including drug smuggling on a vast scale. Not for nothing is this scoundrel nicknamed ‘King of the South’.

Such is the revulsion caused by the corruption, nepotism, intimidation and electoral fraud practised by the Karzai brothers that vast swathes of even the Pashtun community, which accounts for 45 percent of the Afghan population, and from which the Karzai brothers hail, have become disaffected with them to the extent that they have been willing to support Mr Abdullah, who is half Tajik.

Clear evidence of massive electoral fraud in the south has pushed Pashtun anger to such boiling point that Abdul Zahir, the Uruzgan landowner already quoted above, issued a warning that many thousands of his supporters would reject results fabricated in Karzai’s favour. He added: “They won’t go on to the streets to protest. They will go straight to the mountains and start fighting the government.” (Quoted in ‘Pashtuns lose patience with the court of King Karzai’ by Matthew Green, Financial Times , 5 September 2009)

Staged by the occupying powers with the intention of binding the country and legitimising the occupation by providing it with a façade of a democratically-elected and accountable administration, these elections have presented a spectacle of government ministers, district administrators, police chiefs, electoral officials, drug traffickers, criminal gangsters and some bought-off tribal leaders all stuffing ballot boxes in a “massive state-engineered fraud”, to use Mr Abdullah’s words, a fraud designed to ensure a Karzai victory.

This obscene spectacle obliged Michael Semple, a former UN political officer to Afghanistan and deputy EU representative there, to damn those who claim that the vote was a success as harking back to “a fantasy that is not tenable in the YouTube age”.

In view of the widespread knowledge of the mass electoral fraud, he says, “only those immersed in the fantasy of ‘reasonably free and fair’ could hope that a majority out of this mess would confer any legitimacy on government”, adding that trying to press on with a winner elected through fraud will leave the Afghan government too weak either to defeat the resistance or to negotiate with it. “Neither the Afghan population nor western electorates are going to tolerate much more investment in failure.” (Quoted in Financial Times , 3 September 2009)

The occupation powers find themselves facing an unpalatable situation. Should Karzai be declared the winner in an election marred by widespread fraud and an extremely low turnout, especially in the south of the country where the resistance is at its strongest, the US would be obliged to give its backing to a government that lacks even the semblance of legitimacy and into the bargain is packed with warlords and drug barons.

None of this augurs well for Obama’s hope of conjuring up a plausible administration so as to wean away popular support from the resistance.

Panacea turns into a cause of division

Staged as a panacea for the troubles of the occupation, these elections have ended up by deepening divisions within the camp of imperialism and its puppets in Afghanistan.

The gulf between the Karzai regime and its imperialist masters, between the presidential palace and the Afghan people, and between the various occupying powers has widened further, thus making it all the harder to wage war against the resistance, which is in control of most of the country and is threatening to close in on Kabul.

In defiance of western pressure to withhold further results, on 8 September, the Afghan electoral officials of the so-called Independent Election Commission made public a new batch of preliminary results giving Karzai 54.1 percent of the vote from 91 percent of the polling stations, with Dr Abdullah allegedly receiving 28.3 percent. If these margins hold, Karzai would secure the simple majority that he needs to avoid a run-off in October against his main rival.

Its decision to release the results puts the puppet Karzai regime on a collision course with the US at a time when President Obama is facing a crucial decision over further troop reinforcements. The electoral commission released the suspect results a few hours after the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission had stated that there was “ clear and convincing ” evidence of fraud in many provinces in the south and ordered a recount in some areas.

US-German relations under stress

Meanwhile, relations between US and German imperialism have become further strained following the incident on 4 September when a Nato aircraft fired on two hijacked fuel tankers, igniting a firestorm that burned 100 people and dealt a fatal blow to the recently-announced US policy of avoiding civilian casualties.

This carnage, on a river bank in the northern Kunduz province, took place close to the village of Omer Khil, where every family lost a relative. The strike had been called by Colonel Georg Klein, a German commander, at a critical time when the eight-year-long imperialist intervention is struggling to contain fierce resistance in the face of fast-vanishing public support for the Afghan war in the US and Europe.

The strike also sparked a furious backlash among Afghans, with even the leading puppets questioning the use of air power, which has thus far caused so many Afghan deaths and horrendous devastation.

After the strike, while the Germans dithered and attempted to deny any civilian casualties, General Stanley McChrystal, the US and Nato military chief in Afghanistan, publicly offered his apology for the civilian deaths, causing great embarrassment to Germany, which had in 2002 denounced references to pre-emptive strikes in the US National Security Strategy as undermining deterrence. Now, in bombing the fuel tankers on 4 September, the Germans were guilty of precisely that which they had been preaching the US to stop doing. It was the turn of the Americans this time to lecture the Germans about the perils of pre-emption.

The US administration is in a cleft stick. On the one hand, it is trying to portray the image of a power attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. As such, it is obliged to criticise the German action, even if it is along the same lines as US actions until only the other day and probably still continuing. On the other hand, it has to soften those criticisms in an attempt to keep together the fast-disintegrating imperialist coalition in Afghanistan, particularly in view of the fact that the Netherlands (1,600 troops) and Canada are due to draw down or pull out their troops in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

The air strike in Kunduz has shattered two German myths: first, that bad things don’t happen to Germans because they are good guys and somehow morally superior; second, that they are conducting a stabilisation operation, not a combat mission, in Afghanistan. The incident of 4 September cannot but force the German military high command to realise that it is waging a predatory war against the Afghan people, just as the US, Britain and other imperialist powers are, and that in this war of conquest, its soldiers, by the very position they occupy in the war, behave no better than troops from other imperialist countries.

The Kunduz strike comes at a very inconvenient time for the German government and the two parties, the CDU and the SPD, that form the grand coalition which has governed Germany for the last four years, for they face the German electorate in elections due to be held on 27 September.

The majority of Germans, including fairly large sections in all parties, are against the war in Afghanistan. The Left Party is the only parliamentary party to oppose the Afghan war and support for it has consequently risen by four points to 14 percent, according to the latest opinion poll by Forsa for Stern magazine. With its call to bring home the troops immediately, the Left Party could gather further traction and win more votes, helped by the revulsion felt by the popular masses following the Kunduz incident.

Such an outcome, with the emergence of the Left Party as a major force, could upset the electoral arithmetic and frustrate Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempts to form a CDU-FDP coalition following the elections at the end of this month. In equal measure, electoral gains on a major scale could oblige the SPD leadership to revise its previous decision not to ally with the Left Party.

Considering the gains by the latter in the regional elections in Saarland and Thuringia in August, such an outcome is by no means far-fetched. In both states, the CDU suffered double-digit losses, the SPD was weakened, and the Left Party obtained both its best ever vote (27.4 percent in Thuringia) and its best score in a west German state (21.3 percent in Saarland).

In addition, the mandate of the 4,500 German troops in Afghanistan comes up for renewal in December. Considering the political situation in Germany, such a renewal is by no means a certainty.

British cross-party consensus at risk

With British casualties mounting, public support for the war vanishing, and victory nowhere in sight, the opposition Conservative Party has used electoral fraud in Afghanistan as a pretext for breaking the cross-party consensus on the war, saying that British troops must not pay in blood to allow the Karzai government to stay in office following a “ corrupt ” election.

Writing in the Daily Mail of 10 September, William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, hinted that the Tories might withdraw support for the Afghan war if the government rubber-stamps a fraudulent election. This is a major departure from tradition, for bourgeois opposition parties do not generally question ongoing British military operations.

Mr Hague stated that the Electoral Complaints Commission had uncovered “ clear and convincing evidence of fraud ” and had on record over 2,000 complaints, 726 of which were recorded in ‘Priority A’ category. He went on to say that the EU’s monitors had confirmed “ large scale ballot stuffing” at polling stations, “including hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes accepted at the tally centre and included among the preliminary official results ”. “Is it wise,” he asked, “ to declare the results final and the election over if irregularities took place on such a scale?

Pointing out the failure of the occupying powers to win and retain the support of the Afghan people, William Hague went on to say: “ We may fatally undermine our standing in the eyes of the Afghans [too late to worry about that, Mr Hague, for this standing is already fatally undermined!] if we are seen to rubber stamp disputed election results which disenfranchise sections of the population. ” Such a course, he said, was bound to undermine further the military efforts of the occupation forces, for it carried the danger of violence from supporters of other candidates.

It would be a serious mistake, ” he wrote, “ to think that fraudulent results on a large scale can simply be accepted. If the next Afghan government is compromised and built on corrupt electoral practices, there will be little support for us too.

Mr Hague did not address, nor indeed would we expect him to address, the simple truth that there is no support for the occupation forces in Afghanistan; that whoever emerges victorious from this electoral charade, whether it is tainted by widespread ballot box stuffing and vote rigging or not, would still be a puppet of the predatory imperialist powers occupying Afghanistan and waging war against it; that such a regime and its imperialist masters would be totally alienated from the Afghan people and thus bereft of the latter’s support.

Leaving all this aside, the question arises: why are the Conservatives making such a fuss about electoral fraud in a country with whose subjugation by imperialism they have no disagreement – a subjugation that has disenfranchised the entire Afghan population, not just sections of it?

The answer lies in the fact that the Afghan war is increasingly unpopular with the British people and the Conservatives are attempting to tap into the popular resentment to secure some electoral advantage by deserting a sinking ship.

The Tories are just as capable of turning a blind eye to electoral fraud as are the Labour Party. There was plenty of electoral fraud during the 2004 Afghan election, but none of the bourgeois parties in Britain uttered a murmur about it then. The difference between then and now is that presently the war is going very badly for the imperialist occupying powers.

The victories of the Afghan resistance and the reverses suffered by the imperialist forces have caused dissensions within the ruling class. The Conservative first steps to break the cross-party consensus on the war are a reflection of these dissensions and disintegration in the camp of the British bourgeoisie, and are, as such, a most welcome development.

Cracks in imperialist alliance

To complicate matters further, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the leaders respectively of Britain, Germany and France – all members of Nato and contributors of troops in Afghanistan – have issued a call for a UN conference on Afghanistan to be held this year, to set “new benchmarks and timelines in order to formulate a joint framework for our transition phase in Afghanistan”, including handing power, security and policing over to the Afghans.

The three leaders agreed to build on the election of 20 August in Afghanistan, which they perversely claimed had marked “an important step in its democratic history”. “Now is the right moment, together with the new Afghanistan leadership, to set out at the end of this year how the transfer of responsibility will happen,” said Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

The proposal for a UN conference and Mrs Merkel’s remarks have set alarm bells ringing in Washington, for the US rightly perceives in them a wavering of commitment to the Afghan war on the part of its Nato allies. Mrs Merkel’s comments have been widely interpreted by western diplomats as hinting at an exit strategy far sooner than expected, and, as such, are causing much grief to the US administration.

Nato spokesmen are putting on a brave face and denying any split in the alliance. All the same, a Nato diplomat admitted that opinion polls in Europe and the US were worryingly moving against the war. “There is no wobble happening yet,” said the diplomat, “but we can see public opinion polls that are not encouraging and we need to show people that this investment [in training the Afghan military] is actually getting somewhere.” (See ‘Nato fear direction of Afghan debate’ by James Blitz, Matthew Green and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times , 10 September 2009)

Resistance winning

Meanwhile, ignoring the imperialist posturing on the Afghan elections, as well as the in-fighting within the camp of puppets of the occupation, the Afghan resistance is carrying on its fight for the liberation of Afghanistan from the imperialist occupying forces with relentless tenacity.

On 2 September, a suicide bomber killed at least 22 people, including Abdullah Laghman, the deputy head of intelligence, when he blew himself up in eastern Afghanistan. At least 40 people were killed the previous week in a car bomb attack in the city of Kandahar. On 8 September, hours before the Independent Election Commission released its results, a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle at Kabul’s main airport, killing three people, in the capital’s worst attack since 20 August.

On 17 September, in yet another blow to Nato’s efforts to subdue Afghanistan, a suicide car bomber rammed into a Nato convoy, killing six Italian soldiers and 10 civilians, while another 55 were wounded in the blast. The explosion led to growing calls in Italy for the withdrawal of the 2,800 Italian troops deployed in Afghanistan.

The US administration finds itself conducting this “war of necessity” amidst a massive electoral fraud, a grim assessment by US generals, a stretched army, a sceptical public and reluctant allies. Besides troops, the imperialist coalition can only be held together by resilience, mutual trust and loyalty – all of which are characterised by their near-total absence.

Last spring, soon after assuming the US presidency, Barack Obama sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total of US troops deployed to 68,000. General Stanley McChrystal, who assumed control of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan in June, believes this number to be insufficient. In the first week of September, General McChrystal filed a report to the president on the deteriorating military situation and a request for extra troops.

The request comes at a time of growing opposition to a war which the public thinks is unwinnable. More than half of US citizens oppose the war or consider it not worth fighting. The Afghan resistance has proved far more formidable than anticipated by Nato, quadrupling the number of successful attacks on Nato forces in the last two years. With three months to go, 2009 is already the deadliest year for Nato forces, especially the Americans, since the invasion of 2001. Nearly 190 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year. In July alone, 44 US soldiers were killed. Nato’s losses this year stand at over 300.

Before long, Obama will discover that his “war of necessity” is as unpopular and as unwinnable as was Bush’s “war of choice”. If he persists with this predatory war, he and his government will be just as much reviled as were George W Bush and his administration.

The days of colonial occupation have long past. For all its superior resources, overwhelming technological superiority, and up-to-date killing machines, imperialism will not prevail, will not be able to cow down the resistance of the Afghan people.

Refusing to learn the lessons of history, like all reactionary fools, imperialists are busy invading and occupying other countries. In the end they will have their skulls cracked and will doubtless be forced to make humiliating exits in a series of defeats at the hands of the oppressed peoples in the latter’s life-and-death struggles for liberation from imperialist war, occupation and exploitation.

Victory to the resistance!

Death to imperialism!
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