Vijay Prashad is Professor of International Studies at Trinity College,
Hartford, CT. He is an author and political columnist whose works appears in
the Indian magazine, Frontline. In the US, he has written for Z Magazine,
Dollars & Sense, Monthly Review and Political Affairs. Professor Prashad has
recently published "War Against the Planet: The Fifth Afghan War, US
Imperialism and Other Assorted Fundamentalisms." (To order a copy, contact
LeftWord at leftword@...
In this article, Vijay Prashad presents his analysis on Bush's war in
Afghanistan. He says, "Drop Bush, not the Bomb."
Read and reflect.
October 30, 2002
Accounts of the Fifth Afghan War
By Vijay Prashad
On the 3rd of October, 2001, I wrote a ZNET commentary called "Forward into
the Past: US War Aims." This was four days before the bombardment began.
Already the war aims of the administration seemed to escalate as each day
went by. First we heard about retaliation for 9/11, perhaps the capture or
murder of bin Laden and the top al-Qa'ida leadership.
But, since the Bush doctrine spoke about "those who harbor" terrorists, it
had become clear that the Taliban would face the barrage as well. But the
jargon of political science departments flew from Bush's mouth: he did not
want to conduct "nation-building," we heard, although "regime change" was on
As I wrote then, "US war aims, then, are simultaneously as brutal and
unfocused in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq - to overthrow one corrupt
regime and put in place another, but this time friendly with the US." When I
wrote of Iraq then, I meant the Gulf War of 1990-91, not the impending
So it is fitting, one year later, to assess the war aims, to see what the US
has done both with the war and with the region, to tally up the accounts of
the Fifth Afghan War.
(1) The Taliban is gone from power. Of course the Taliban greatly
exaggerated its own sense of military prowess to itself: a half-baked army,
that only took power in Kabul in 1996 because Pakistan's ISI gave it
logistical support, the Saudi's gave it money and the CIA gave it expertise.
The Taliban could not have defeated Rabbani's forces on its own. To think
that it could withstand the barrage of the US army was absurd, that it would
stand against a force whose annual budget (then to the tune of $320 billion)
is far in excess of the total GNP of Afghanistan (even with the poppy) was a
In the first three Afghan Wars (1839-42, 1878-80 and 1919) the Afghan forces
watched the British enter the Bolan and Khyber passes, faced them for a few
skirmishes, then fled to the north toward Mazar-e-Sharif, to wait out the
invasion till winter sent the British back south to India. This time, too,
the Taliban boarded their fancy trucks, fled the northern battle-fields
toward Kandahar, disappeared into the rural hovels and bomb-filled fields
from which they came or else fled across the border to Pakistan and
(2) The aerial bombardment killed a considerable number of people Marc
Herrold of the University of New Hampshire estimates at least four thousand.
The US government has not released an official figure. But the civilian
casualties continue. The tale of the wedding party is one story, but then
there are the other tales of drones firing on tall men (who are mistaken by
the surveillance devices for bin Laden).
In Kunduz Province alone, the British NGO Halo Trust, estimates that
eighty-three civilians were killed by cluster bombs that fell in fields,
remained dormant, and exploded as farmers went to work their fields. In all
the northern provinces of Afghanistan, the government reports that these
bombs have killed over eight hundred people. The United Nations estimates
that the removal of these bombs will take ten years and cost upwards of $500
Warlordism continues, as the various factions continue to hold their arms,
fight against each other and persist in the militarization of the country.
But Afghanistan is not the only place to bear the burden of violence.
Consider the four women murdered by their Special Forces spouses at Fort
Bragg after the men returned from the war. These four women are also
civilian casualties of the war.
(3) After the Taliban fled, the US imposed a government on the people. First
it seemed as if the elevation of Hamid Karzai (along with the troika from
the Northern Alliance - Abdullah Abdullah at the Foreign Ministry, Mohammed
Farim at the Defense Ministry and Younis Qanooni at the Interior Ministry)
was only provisional, that when the Afghan elders convened the loya jirga,
their will would produce the government.
Now this is far from democracy, but there is a racist tendency to invoke
"cultural relativism" to justify these undemocratic practices elsewhere than
in the white lands. However, the White House could not countenance even this
limited specter of liberty. When it seemed that Zahir Shah, late of a Roman
suburb, might become the leader of the country by dint of a peculiar
nostalgia for the monarchy, the US intervened and told him to withdraw his
Flanked by Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, the old king, how much prefers chess
and good coffee, stepped down. When Karzai was chosen as head of state,
Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South Asia and former
foreign policy adviser to Senator Sam Brownback (Republican-Kansas), said of
him, "To us, he is still Hamid, a man we've dealt with for some time."
Khalilzad is the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and, before 9/11, the
National Security Council's advisor and only Afghan specialist in the Bush
White House. Born in Mazar-e-Sharif, Khalilzad left Afghanistan to study at
the American University in Beirut in the 1970s, did a PhD at the University
of Chicago, then joined Columbia University's faculty of political science
(to work beside former Carter man, Zbigniew Brzezinski).
In 1984, Khalilzad took a post at the State Department and became its
resident expert on Afghanistan as the CIA-backed jihad against the Soviets
intensified. He worked with ultra-hawk Paul Wolfowitz, left the Reagan
administration for the Rand Corporation and then returned to the state
department in the policy-planning department under Wolfowitz during GHB's
The Karzai-Khalilzad team acts as a proxy for US interests, but the US
government of course has not funded the project of "nation-building" beyond
the use of its troops in the country. The US sent Tommy Thompson to
Afghanistan on 8 October 2002, where he announced that the government was
not interested only in "forcing out oppressive regimes," but also "helping
meet the everyday needs of your people."
He was just doing propaganda for the impending catastrophe in Iraq. Can you
imagine Tommy Thompson (the Butcher of Welfare) talking about the "everyday
needs of [the American] people"!
(4) So the global corporations are back in the saddle. On 30 May 2002,
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a $2 billion agreement to
construct the gas pipeline from Dauletabad gasfields to Gwadar port in
Pakistan. Pakistan's President Musharraf took time out from the tense
situation at the border with India to join Karzai and Turkmenistan's Niyazov
in Islamabad to sign the agreement.
Karzai-Khalilzad are old Unocal hands who are now in place to work for
global capital in general, if not Unocal in particular. In the mid-1990s,
Khalilzad worked as a consultant for the Cambridge Energy Research
Associates and he conducted a risk assessment of an Afghan pipeline for
Unocal under this auspices. While on retainer from CERAs and Unocal,
Khalilzad defended the Taliban in the Washington Post (October 1996),
"The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced
in Iran." The next year, he entertained Unocal's Taliban guests ("Four years
ago," the Post reported in November of 2001, "at a luxury Houston hotel, oil
company adviser Zalmay Khalilzad was chatting pleasantly over dinner with
leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban regime about their shared enthusiasm for a
proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline deal").
Karzai, too, was with the Taliban then, even offering them a financial
donation in exchange for their acceptance of him as the Taliban's ambassador
to the UN. Karzai, at this time, worked as a consultant for Unocal. When the
Taliban lost favor in 1998, Khalilzad joined with RAND colleague Daniel
Byman to co-author "Afghanistan: The Consolidation of a Rogue State."
While they argued, "Afghanistan is ruled by a rogue regime, the Taliban"
(already a departure from Khalilzad's 1996-7 assessments), the authors
returned to the world of oil: "Afghanistan itself occupies a vital
geostrategic position, near such critical but unstable regions as the
Persian Gulf and the Indo-Pakistani border. Indeed, the importance of
Afghanistan may grow in the coming years, as Central Asia's oil and gas
reserves, which are estimated to rival those of the North Sea, begin to play
a major role in the world energy market. Afghanistan could prove a valuable
corridor for this energy as well as for access to markets in Central Asia."
That same year, in denial of his work for Unocal, Khalilzad told the Los
Angeles World Affairs Council, "A California company called Unocal was
interested in exploring that option [of the Afghan pipeline], but because of
the war in Afghanistan, because of the instability that's there, those
options, or that option, at least has not materialized."
We can only look forward to the gas moving along the pipe-line, feeding the
ravenous market in India (a market that attracted Enron to build a
scam-heavy natural gas power plant).
(5) The New York Times offered us many, many reports on how Afghan women are
now "free." We heard that they now roam the streets alone, attend university
and, most importantly (because these stories predominated), we heard that
they now get their hair done and wear make-up. The Times, in the last month,
ran a story from Nigeria about the country's shifts in beauty standards
after a Nigerian woman became Miss World in 2001.
One woman said, thank god that this has happened because now the standard of
beauty would not be fat women. Beauty Pagents have a long history in the US,
but their role as the purveyors of overconsumption on the international
stage is less well known. The Miss World pageant was founded by Eric and
Julia Morley in 1951 as a promotional device for their company, Mecca, which
is what was called a "leisure group" (travel, entertainment at a high
In 1970, Julia Morley coined the phrase "Beauty with a purpose" and took the
pageant to the world stage. A few years ago I did a study of why so many
Indian women won these pageants in the 1990s, and came up with the answer
that this was perhaps to let us know that global firms wish to project to
the Indian consumer a vision of beauty, the advance guard not only for
beauty products, but also for the entire consumer goods industry (the
creation of desire transforms luxuries into necessities).
The same may be said of the African middle-class, who will now value the
anorexic body of the waif rather than the multitude of shapes of us humans.
So, the one thing American that has been exported to the Afghan middle-class
is the sexist view of the woman's body as the way to gauge freedom - here
restricted to the freedom to prepare oneself for the male gaze. This is not
quite the freedom demanded by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
(6) Finally, the region remains fundamentally unstable. There has already
been one assassination attempt on Karzai, so that now the US has to guard
him. We know that the recent elections in Pakistan had to be fair, because
in the provinces that abut Afghanistan (the Northwest Frontier Province and
in Baluchistan), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) or the United Action
Forum won a majority of the seats. The MMA is a union of pro-Taliban radical
Islamists who are against President Musharraf's alliance with the US, indeed
they are opposed to the US presence in the region.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the MMA told the press soon after it became clear that
the Islamists had made unprecedented gains that the MMA would demand that
the US vacate its bases in Pakistan. This itself is not a bad idea, but it
comes from a party that extols the Taliban and has come to power because of
the Fifth Afghan War. The adventurism in Kashmir is a mark of the war as
Instability is the order of the neighborhood as the US sets up a slew of
bases: two in Afghanistan, several in Pakistan (Jacobabad is the main one),
one at Khanabad, Uzbekistan, the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan, use of the Almaty
airport in Kazakhstan, bases at Khujand, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube in
Tajikistan and finally, use of Indian facilities as well as joint-military
exercises in India. The US Empire is present, but unpopular, a brew of
In sum, the balance sheet of the Fifth Afghan war does not augur well for
the Iraq campaign. We hear sounds of a military government, of a divided
Iraq, of the Iraqi generals being given the country. One must shudder at
each of these scenarios, and know that the embers of the Fifth Afghan War
still burn, and they remind us that imperialism cannot be taken at its word,
that the interest in not in people, but political power and the resources of
Drop Bush, not the Bomb. Or better yet, as the Iraqi Vice President put it,
let Bush and Saddam be in a duel. Or play chess.