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The Truth about the U.S.A. and Afghan Women and about Ruling Class Amnesia


After the U.S.A. suffered its political and military defeat in Afghanistan last month, after 20 years of devastating the country with aerial bombing coupled with paternalistic payments to set up an Afghan Government, army and plethora of ONGs, commentators in the USA were wringing their hands over how women would now be left to suffer. As if the USA were the savior of women, and not the cause of women’s suffering at the hands of the extreme right-wing conservatives that the U.S.A. financed and armed from the 1978 onwards. The USA was on its quest to rid the world of Soviet influence, at any cost, in particular at the cost of Afghan women. In fact, the US provoked a Soviet invasion by destabilizing the Saur Revolution Government. Then the USA paid and armed the Mujahedeen to fight the Afghan Government that was by then propped up by the Soviet union. We had to refer readers in our article in Revi Lalit 145 (p 31) to a short John Pilger reality-check on Afghanistan’s recent history. He said recent history was best viewed starting with 1978 when the USA first put the women of Afghanistan in harm’s way by arming and financing an uprising against the first-ever secular Government, and not just starting with 2001 when the USA then came to remove those it had effectively put in power. Today we refer our readers to a fine interview of Noam Chomsky by C.J. Polychroniou titled‘War & Peace: The US-Led “War on Terror” Has Devastated Much of the World’ (Truthout, yesterday September 8, 2021). Link for the whole of the interview is at the end of our article.

There is a section in the interview on how U.S. media and pundits count the costs of the so-called “War on Terror” and, in particular, of the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan only in terms of its effect on Americans. Prof Chomsky is speaking mainly to an American audience. Of course, listening to these endless tumbrils on TV and reading them in the press jars on the ears, not to say the nerves, of all the rest of us in the world every day. American lives are constantly weighed in at worth hundreds of times more than anyone else’s lives. Worse still, in general the rest of us are invisible, including the Afghan people – except of course for the sudden interest in the truly dangerous future for Afghan women. 

After the section on the invisibility of the costs of this war of annihilation on Afghan society, Prof. Chomsky takes on the hypocrisy of this sudden concern for Afghan women’s rights. and this is the section we have chosen to reproduce; it is in part about women’s rights in Afghanistan under Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Here is what Prof Chomsky says, starting with today:

“There are also well-justified laments about the fate of women under Taliban rule. The laments sometimes are no doubt sincere, though a natural question arises: Why weren’t they voiced 30 years ago when the U.S. favorites, armed and enthusiastically supported by Washington, were terrorizing young women in Kabul who were wearing the “wrong” clothes, throwing acid in their faces and other abuses? Particularly vicious were the forces of the arch-terrorist, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, recently on the U.S. negotiating team. 

“The achievements in women’s rights in Russian-controlled cities in the late ‘80s, and the threats they faced from the CIA-mobilized radical Islamist forces, were reported at the time by a highly credible source, Rasil Basu, a distinguished international feminist activist who was UN representative in Afghanistan in those years, with special concern for women’s rights. 

“Basu reports

“During the [Russian] occupation, in fact, women made enormous strides: illiteracy declined from 98% to 75%, and they were granted equal rights with men in civil law, and in the Constitution. This is not to say that there was complete gender equality. Unjust patriarchal relations still prevailed in the workplace and in the family with women occupying lower level sex-type jobs. But the strides they took in education and employment were very impressive. 

“Basu submitted articles on these matters to the major U.S. journals, along with the feminist journal Ms. Magazine. No takers, wrong story. She was, however, able to publish her report in Asia: Asian Age, on December 3, 2001. 

“We can learn more about how Afghans in Kabul perceive the late years of the Russian occupation, and what followed, from another expert source, Rodric Braithwaite, British ambassador to Moscow from 1988 to 1992, and then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, also author of the major scholarly work on the Soviets in Afghanistan. 

“Braithwaite visited Kabul in 2008, and reported his findings in the London Financial Times

“In Afghanistan today new myths are building up. They bode ill for current western policy. On a recent visit I spoke to Afghan journalists, former Mujahedeen, professionals, people working for the ‘coalition’ — natural supporters for its claims to bring peace and reconstruction. They were contemptuous of [US-imposed] President Hamid Karzai, whom they compared to Shah Shujah, the British puppet installed during the first Afghan war. Most preferred Mohammad Najibullah, the last communist president, who attempted to reconcile the nation within an Islamic state, and was butchered by the Taliban in 1996: DVDs of his speeches are being sold on the streets. Things were, they said, better under the Soviets. Kabul was secure, women were employed, the Soviets built factories, roads, schools and hospitals, Russian children played safely in the streets. The Russian soldiers fought bravely on the ground like real warriors, instead of killing women and children from the air. Even the Taliban were not so bad: they were good Muslims, kept order, and respected women in their own way. These myths may not reflect historical reality, but they do measure a deep disillusionment with the ‘coalition’ and its policies. 

“The policies of the “coalition” were brought to the public in New York Times correspondent Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA. The goal was to “kill Soviet Soldiers,” the CIA station chief in Islamabad declared, making it clear that “the mission was not to liberate Afghanistan.” 

“His understanding of the policies he was ordered to execute under President Ronald Reagan is fully in accord with the boasts of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski about their decision to support radical Islamist jihadis in 1979 in order to draw the Russians into Afghanistan, and his pleasure in the outcome after hundreds of thousands of Afghans were killed and much of the country wrecked: ‘What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?’ 

“It was recognized early on by informed observers that the Russian invaders were eager to withdraw without delay. The study of Russian archives by historian David Gibbs resolves any doubts on the matter. But it was much more useful for Washington to issue rousing proclamations about Russia’s terrifying expansionist goals, compelling the U.S., in defense, to greatly expand its own domination of the region, with violence when needed (the Carter Doctrine, a precursor of the Bush Doctrine). 

“The Russian withdrawal left a relatively popular government in place under Najibullah, with a functioning army that was able to hold its own for several years until the U.S.-backed radical Islamists took over and instituted a reign of terror so extreme that the Taliban were widely welcomed when they invaded, instituting their own harsh regime. They kept on fairly good terms with Washington until 9/11.”

Read these last two paragraphs and think about what this means for Afghan women – then and now. And now, to Chomsky’s last paragraph: 

“Returning to the present, we should indeed be concerned with the fate of women, and others, as the Taliban return to power. For those sincerely concerned to design policies that might benefit them, a little historical memory doesn’t hurt.” 

Noam Chomsky’s short outline of the history of women in Afghanistan really exposes all the mainstream commentators for what they often are: a pro-USA-empire chorus. 

The rest of the Noam Chomsky interview is just as well said as this excerpt, and places the USA’s contempt for the Afghan people in the historical context of all US imperialist ventures’ contempt, and indeed in the context of other empires’ contempt for their “minions”. It really is a reality-check, in the face of all the analyses that end up in the Mauritian press and on-line on social media crying at the departure of the USA being the “cause” of women’s suffering in Afghanistan, when the cause was the arrival of US influence as from 1978 in financing and arming the 18-year insurgency of the ultra-conservative war-lords, then in setting up the Taliban in power in 1996. Women’s suffering at the hands of the new Taliban Government will be cruel indeed, because of the USA having given so much power over the decades to this reactionary band of war-lords, whose power is now indeed immense. What has happened now is that all the arms that the USA gave to the 300,000-strong Afghan Army it set up, fell into the hands of the Taliban within a week of the USA’s withdrawal. It took another four days for Kabul to fall. So, for Afghan women and men, the dictatorship that will rule over them will be mightily armed. They will need a lot of courage and organization, and all the support from working people world-wide that they can get to re-establish secular rule, let alone democratic rule. LALIT pledges support to the people of Afghanistan, including the women fighting for the right to work, to education and to participation in political life.

For the full Noam Chomsky interview: