In July this year, the US, like many imperialist states before them, pulled their troops out of Afghanistan. The Americans were following in the footsteps of many foreign forces before them which had tried and failed to conquer the Afghan people.
Afghanistan in the bygone era was referred to by historians as the ‘roundabout of the ancient world’ because of the variety of cultures flourishing in that land. Among the early settlers were the Persians (now Iran) and Greeks who fought with Alexander the Great.
In the early first century, a Buddhist civilization flourished, its kings reigning in Bamiyan until the end of the 10th century. Subsequently, Arabs brought in the Islamic faith. In the 13th century Mongolian Emperor Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan. In the 1830s, Britain tried to bring Afghanistan under its direct rule but was badly defeated. Subsequently, the British captured large areas of Afghanistan between 1878 – 1870 and took control of Afghanistan’s external affairs. It also provided modern weapons and funded Afghan rulers to keep the Russian’s at bay.
In 1919, Afghanistan declared independence and drove the invader out. In the immediate aftermath of independence, land reforms were implemented, education facilities extended and its first constitution promulgated. Between 1964 and 1973 under ruler Zahir Shah, a representative form of government was established and intellectuals enjoyed greater freedom; and women began to enter the workplace and government.
In 1973, women’s rights were confirmed, Kabul was now full of students and its University was a hotbed of political ideology – both Communist and Islamic. Women and men studied together.
In the aftermath of a palace coup, cold-war rivals Soviet Union and the US began pouring aid into the country in an effort to court rival factions in that country.
Great power interest in Afghanistan was not surprising. The country contains over 1,400 mineral fields, containing barite, chromites, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, talc and zinc among many other minerals. Gemstones include high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and rubies. It also has proven oil and gas reserves equivalent to 299.8 times its annual consumption. This means it has about 300 years of gas left at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves. Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth is estimated to exceed one trillion dollars.
In 1978; after a communist inspired coup, chaos ensued. The Soviets fearing the US would take advantage of the chaos sent in troops and appointed a puppet ruler. The presence of foreign troops sparked a national uprising against the invader. Soviet forces responded by destroying agriculture and livestock to cut off supplies to the resistance. Russian bombing of villages claimed nearly one million Afghan lives.
The US poured in money and weapons to arm the opposition. Between 1986 and 1990, around US$ 5 billion worth of weapons went to the ‘holy warriors’ of the Afghan Mujahidin. One among who was Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden.
The occupation claimed around 14,000 Russian lives and cost the USSR more than US$ 5 billion a year.
Unable to control the uprising, the last Soviet troops were withdrawn in February 1989. The Soviet occupation left 1.5 million Afghans dead, five million disabled, and five million refugees.
Following the Soviet withdrawal, nearly 20,000 Afghan civillians died in the chaos that followed. In 2000, the Taliban emerged victorious. The US was hostile to the new regime claiming the regime oppressed women and in opposition to the country’s opium production.
Claiming Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 Arial attacks, the US demanded the Taliban hand him over to face US justice. Taliban refused, and on October 27, 2001 the US, backed by Britain launched ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. More than 12,000 bombs were dropped in just a few weeks. On November 13, the Taliban deserted Kabul and the US and its allies occupied Afghanistan. Ordinary Afghans rose up in arms against the presence of invading forces.
By the time the US withdrew from Afghanistan, over 46,700 Afghan civillians had been killed and its cities reduced to rubble.
Between 1979 and 1992, more than a fifth of Afghanistan’s population – over six million people were driven from the country in search of safety and the current number of Afghan refugees is estimated to be more than two million, residing mainly in Pakistan and Iran.
Neither the Soviets nor the Americans were or are worried about the Afghan people, their rights or the fate of women. Before the Soviet and American meddling, Afghanistan had its fledgling democracy and rights, which were lost because of interference.
The war was about Afghan resources.