On 29 February, the USA signed a deal with the Taliban to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan within 14 months.
The US has been at war in Afghanistan with the Taliban, an Islamist movement based in the lawless north-west of Pakistan, for over 18 years.
In December 2019, the Afghan women’s right activist and secularist Malalai Joya, on a visit to Italy, declared that in 18 years of what she called “NATO occupation… things have just gotten worse” in Afghanistan.
The longer the troops have stayed, the worse the prospects when they withdraw have become. Solidarity has long supported withdrawal.
But there is little to celebrate in the deal. For a start, it may not produce actual withdrawal. In 2014 US president Obama declared a plan to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2016, but it never happened.
Donald Trump campaigned for president in 2016 on a promise to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan, but then increased the troop numbers in 2017.
Two rivals staged competing inaugurations on 9 March as president of the US-protected government of Afghanistan, both claiming to have won the presidential election of 28 September 2019 which in any case drew only 1.8 million voters out of a population of 37 million, an even worse turnout than in other elections since 2001.
Neither of the rival “governments of Afghanistan” was party to the deal, and both may seek and be able to stall it.
The deal includes annexes on the staging posts required for the withdrawal to go ahead in 14 months’ time, but those annexes are secret.
There is no sign yet of a strong democratic political force emerging in Afghanistan which can assert itself both against the Taliban, against the US, and against the warlord factions under US protection. So, if the US decides that the deal is more than an election ploy by Trump, and goes ahead with withdrawal in 2021, a new civil war is likely.
In Italy, Joya said that about 100 people die in the country every day due to terrorist Taliban attacks, war or unexploded mines.
If there has been any everyday economic improvement over the 18 years of war, it has been almost entirely for those well-placed to soak up the spending of the US and its allies on their military presence and show projects. A survey has ranked Afghanistan as the 176th most corrupt economy out of 180 in the world, ahead only of Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Joya herself says she has to wear a burka to be safe in the capital city, Kabul.
The sequence of events which have led to this impasse started with a military coup in April 1978 by a chunk of Afghanistan’s officer corps who, many of them trained in the USSR, saw the way to social progress in this economically very little-developed country as through imposing from above a system like the USSR’s.
Some of their measures were progressive in the abstract, but they provoked uncontrollable revolt in the countryside, led by a variety of Islamist reactionaries.
The USSR invaded in December 1979, aiming to reshuffle the pro-Stalinist regime and, by cannier tactics and with the advantage of overwhelming military force, to save the regime and consolidate Afghanistan as a satellite of the USSR.
The USSR, however, soon became mired in an unwinnable colonial-type war. After vast bloodshed, it withdrew in 1989. The USSR had, so it turned out, not only lost the war, but also shattered its own system in the attempt to win it.
The forerunners of Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty demanded from the start that the USSR withdraw, and argued that the reactionary sequels of withdrawal would be worse the longer withdrawal was delayed.
So it turned out. Rival Islamist factions soon dominated almost the whole country bar the city of Kabul, where a Stalinist regime held out until 1992. After four more years of inter-Islamist war, the Taliban took control of the whole country bar its north from 1996 to 2001.
The 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York by Al Qaeda, then closely linked with the Taliban, led to the US sending military support to the warlords of northern Afghanistan, who then quickly routed the Taliban.
From all accounts, the big majority of the population was glad to see the Taliban gone. But the inability of the warlords and the USA to install a minimally functioning regime soon led to the Taliban reviving. And so it has been for 18 years now.
It has not got better recently. US troop numbers, at 14,000, are down from their peak, but up on the 9,000 of late 2016. 8,204 Taliban attacks were counted in the fourth quarter of 2019, the highest figure for a decade.
The deal is, probably, a cruel mockery. Socialists give as much solidarity as we can to the women’s movement and other democratic forces in Afghanistan, and solidarise with the defence of the cities against the rural-based ultra-Islamists.