Revolution #158, March 8, 2009
Afghanistan—Frequently Asked Questions
Part 1: “Isn’t the Taliban a horror for women? So shouldn’t the U.S. stay in Afghanistan?”
U.S. attacks in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are escalating. Recently the Obama administration announced it will send another 17,000 US troops (joining 36,000 already there) to Afghanistan with perhaps more to come later.
Yet there’s been far too little outrage and protest over U.S. crimes in Afghanistan, especially since Obama became President. I have run into a lot of different questions (and misunderstandings) about what the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan are really all about, and will be addressing them in the pages of Revolution. Readers no doubt have—or hear—others. Send those questions to Revolution so we can learn from and address them.
Here’s the first series of questions:
1) I don’t like the U.S. invading countries, and I know that those who make these decisions have their own agenda. But the Taliban are totally brutal toward women and enshrine it in law. So even if the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan isn’t perfect and innocent people get killed, isn’t the U.S. improving things at least a little bit for women in Afghanistan?
The Taliban are a horror for Afghan (and Pakistani) women (and for all oppressed people)—but the U.S. occupation has not made things better. During the 1990s, Taliban atrocities—like stadium stonings of women for “crimes” such as adultery—sickened people across the globe. Today, in the regions that they control, the Taliban continue to attack women for going to school and threaten ( sometimes even kill) women journalists, human rights activists, artists, and athletes.
Many feminists supported the October 2001 U.S. invasion because they convinced themselves that the Bush regime cared about their views and was actually waging war, even in part, to “liberate Afghan women from abuse and oppression,” as one May 2002 letter to President Bush signed by prominent feminists put it.
Reality check. A bloody invasion and nearly eight years of occupation have NOT improved things for Afghan women. Their lives are a nightmare—not significantly different or better than under the Taliban, and in many ways worse:
Today, now, under U.S. occupation…Thousands of young girls and women are confined to their homes, kept out of school or work. “Honor killings” of women are still carried out, and disputes or debts between people are often “settled” using girls as a form of currency. Men are routinely given custody of children in divorces. Violence against women and girls rose 40 percent in 2007, and today nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer abuse at home. “Across Afghanistan, women are setting fire to themselves,” the Guardian reports.
Today, now, under U.S. occupation… Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. Overall some 24,000 die each year due to diseases and during childbirth—25 times the number killed in the war. Up to 70 percent of pregnant women don’t get medical attention. 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate; only 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan; 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan.
And today, now, under U.S. occupation… The U.S. “liberation” of Iraq also made the situation for women worse! There are now 740,000 Iraqi widows, many who are destitute and forced into “temporary marriages”—a form of prostitution sanctioned by Islamic Sharia law. Reactionary religious laws have been more deeply enshrined in Iraqi law and governance under the new U.S.-installed regime than under Saddam Hussein. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that of Iraq’s 1.6 million internally displaced people, more than half are women or girls, who are more vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual violence.
This is not because Bush “messed up” the war on Afghanistan (or Iraq). It is because of the essential nature of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan—for reasons I’ll speak to in addressing the next question:
2) The Bush administration has made a mess of things. They took their eyes off the ball in Afghanistan to invade Iraq. But now that Obama’s in office, he’s focusing on Afghanistan, and he sees the importance of an all-around approach. So why can’t he do better, especially if we pressure his administration to do the right thing, especially for Afghan women?
First, everything Obama has done since taking office is escalating the trajectory the Bush regime set in motion in Afghanistan that led to these horrors and strengthened the Taliban: adding another 17,000 troops, stepping up U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing even more civilians, and even arguing that detainees in the notorious U.S. torture center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.
When the U.S. intervenes in other countries—whether militarily, politically, or economically—the overall goal is to strengthen the system of exploitation. That means fostering capitalist-imperialist economic relationships, and political structures that support those relationships. Those political structures are not, and cannot be, designed to unleash the energy and anger of the oppressed to end oppression and exploitation— that’s the last thing the imperialists want. Instead, they’re aimed at maintaining class and social divisions and keeping the people subjugated. Even when some outmoded feudal customs and social relations—such as not having women work outside the home—poses an impediment to the operation of capital, the imperialist powers have, historically and repeatedly, found it necessary to incorporate feudal and semi-feudal relations and oppressive forces into imposing and maintaining the political domination of oppressed nations. This is why imperialist powers and occupiers have a long history of installing, allying with, building up and ruling through all manner of tyrants, warlords, tribal chiefs, and religious obscurantists and reactionaries.
This is exactly what the Bush regime did in Afghanistan—where its goals were to defeat Islamist forces and bring Afghanistan and Central Asia more fully under U.S. control, not to bring democracy and liberation there. After overthrowing the Taliban, the U.S. empowered a reactionary cabal of warlords, gangsters, tribal chiefs and feudal lords who maintained Afghanistan’s suffocating economic, political and social relations, including traditional feudal and Islamist relations concerning women, despite a few cosmetic legal changes. The Taliban resurgence is fueled by growing hatred of the reactionaries that the U.S. put in power.
Even to the degree the U.S. imperialists tried to foster economic development and modernization, they had to proceed through, and ended up strengthening, the reactionary political forces they had empowered and were counting on to carry out their interests and maintain order.
And the truth is that Obama couldn’t do anything fundamentally different or better even if he wanted to because what the U.S. brings to countries around the world is not democracy or liberation, it’s capitalism-imperialism and political structures that support that economic system.
U.S. capitalism-imperialism is driven by profit, or the competitive accumulation of capital, and it can only do so by exploiting labor, markets and resources on a global scale. That in turn demands political and military domination of many countries and whole swaths of the globe, while preventing rivals from doing likewise.
This was illustrated very sharply by the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Despite calling itself “socialist,” the Soviet Union at that time was a capitalist-imperialist country with its own imperialist necessity. The Soviets tried to make some top-down reforms, including in the status of women (in line with their goal of supporting certain aspiring bourgeois forces and creating a loyal client regime), something the U.S. hasn’t even tried to do in seven-plus years of occupation. Yet because the Soviets were an imperial occupying power and weren’t about to lead the Afghan masses in tearing up all the old structures of domination, including patriarchy, they ended up trying to work through the existing rural power structure—which in Afghanistan is thoroughly patriarchal. So the Soviet experience ended up a case study of why an imperialist occupation cannot and will not abolish feudal shackles on women, even if some limited reforms are attempted. Because Obama represents and serves this same system of global exploitation and domination, he cannot break out of these fundamental constraints, and so won’t do anything radically different, no matter what he thinks of some of Bush’s particular moves.
In fact, it appears that because of the acute necessities now facing the U.S. rulers, in Central Asia in particular but globally as well, the Obama administration may be planning to focus more that Bush did on militarily trying to “stabilize” Afghanistan and working with reactionary rural and provincial authorities, and less on economic development and building a central government.
3) So are you saying that there’s nothing that can be done to support women in Afghanistan?
Not at all. There is plenty to be done. The March 7 International Women’s Day marches in Los Angeles—“Celebrate Resistance and Internationalism, ”initiated by revolutionary women from Iran and Afghanistan—were very important. And there is a presentation on March 8, also in LA, by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA “Women Hold Up Half the Sky—Only Communist Revolution Can Emancipate Women!” as well as revolutionary internationalist celebrations of International Women’s Day in other cities.
These International Women’s Day events highlight the fact that there are revolutionaries around the world taking up this question of ending women’s oppression for real, fighting both Taliban and Taliban-type oppression and also resisting U.S. imperialist plans to further escalate the war in Afghanistan or to attack Iran. Such forces urgently need people’s political solidarity and support. Strengthening them is crucial to breaking out of today’s vicious dynamic where imperialist invasions, occupations, and wars fuel Islamic fundamentalism, and Islamic fundamentalism, in turn, strengthens reactionary, pro-imperialist relations. It is crucial in bringing forward another—liberating—way forward for humanity.
So anyone who wants a better day for women in Afghanistan (or anywhere in the Middle East-Central Asia) should be doing all they can to support these revolutionary women.
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism.
What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.”
Bob Avakian, Chairman of
National Democratic Organisation of Afghan Refugees in Europe, 10/2007; Ms. Magazine; IRIN, 3/8/08, citing Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC); Guardian UK, 9/9/08; afghan-web.com/woman/; UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Afghanistan; New York Times, 2/23/09; “For Many Iraqi Women and Girls, 'Internally Displaced' Means Homeless,” Dahr Jamail, 2/24/09, http://www.alternet.org/story/128369/
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