Afghanistan: Taliban continue growing in strength

In a blow to repeated claims this year by US and NATO officials that their 50,000-strong occupation force has Afghanistan's Taliban-led anti-occupation insurgency "on the run", insurgents used assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a heavily guarded official ceremony near the presidential palace in the centre of Kabul on April 27.

Reuters reported that Hamid Karzai, Washington's puppet Afghan president, "government ministers, former warlords, diplomats and the military top brass ducked for cover after gunfire sounded at the event to mark the 16th anniversary of the fall of the Afghan communist government to the mujahideen... The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said three of its fighters were killed."

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters from an undisclosed location: "Afghan and NATO authorities this year repeatedly said the Taliban are on the verge of annihilation... Now it is has been proved to them the Taliban not only have the ability to operate in the provinces, but even in Kabul."

The April 28 Christian Science Monitor reported that "Kabul itself has been largely free from the violence, but as Sunday's attack shows, there are signs that the Taliban's presence is growing here, too. On the sprawling, serene campus of Kabul University, where the nation sends many of its best and brightest, the Taliban has reached an unprecedented level of influence, students say."

"The population of Afghanistan is becoming disillusioned with the government", Halim Kousary, an analyst with Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank, told the Boston-based daily. They "believe there hasn't been enough reconstruction".

Ongoing poverty

More than six years of US-led military occupation has brought little improvement in the lives of Afghanistan's overwhelmingly peasant population. More than half of its population lives below the World Bank poverty line of US$1 a day.

While the Pentagon spent $24 billion in 2007 alone waging war in Afghanistan, according to the NGO umbrella group Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, of the $11 billion in aid provided by international donors in 2003-07, 40% was returned to the donor countries in consultancy fees and expatriate pay. Most of the rest was spent on facilities and services for foreign contractors and subcontractors.

Very little has therefore been spent on repairing the damage inflicted from the three decades of almost continuous warfare that has been the legacy of Washington's drive to destroy what Reuters called the "Afghan communist government".

This government came into existence in April 1978, when members of the pro-Soviet People's Democratic Party of
Afghanistan (PDPA) organised an uprising in Kabul that overthrew the despotic Western-backed regime of Mohammed Daoud.

The PDPA government sought to carry out an ambitious land reform program, waiving peasants' debts to landlords, and to provide women with employment, and equal education and health services. It also sought to eradicate Afghanistan's opium production by granting loans to peasants to switch to other crops.

Such policies met hostility from the country's large landowners, big merchants and its Muslim religious establishment (many mullahs also being landlords). They began to organise right-wing Islamic militias' collectively as the mujahideen ("holy warriors") to murder PDPA members, teachers and land-reform workers, and to bomb the government's new co-ed schools.

Mujahideen

Many of the recruits to these Islamist militias worked for big landlowners smuggling opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, out of Afghanistan. Expansion of opium production and trafficking soon became the mujahideen's main means of raising funds for its "holy war" against the PDPA "communists".

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Control (UNDOC), Afghan opium production jumped from 200 tonnes in 1980 to 800 tonnes in 1981, then to 1570 tonnes in 1990, accounting for half the world's heroin supply.

In 1979, the US government, under then-president Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, began
to covertly arm and train the mujahideen through the Pakistani military's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) service. Between 1979 and 1992, Washington provided at least US$6 billion worth of weapons and training to the various mujahideen militias.

Prior to 1992, US officials publicly claimed Washington had only begun aiding the Islamic fundamentalist mujahideen after the Soviet Union sent large numbers of its troops into Afghanistan to support the PDPA government in December 1979.

But in August 1979, a US State Department memo stated that the "United States' larger interest would be served by the demise of the [PDPA] regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets' view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate."

In his 1996 autobiography, From the Shadows, career CIA officer Robert Gates — who, in early 1979, was Brzezinski's executive assistant and is today US President George's Bush war secretary — revealed that the CIA began to channel aid to the mujahideen via the ISI in June 1979.

In a candid January 1998 interview, Brzezinski confirmed that US aid to the mujahideen began long before the Soviet "invasion" and was aimed at provoking it. "According to the official version of history", Brzezinski told the French Nouvel Observateur magazine, "CIA aid to the mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan [in] December 1979.

"But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: indeed, it was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.

"And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention... That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap."

In 1986, the CIA began to back an ISI operation to recruit Islamic fundamentalists from around the world to join its Afghan "jihad" against the PDPA government. In Pakistan, training and weapons were provided to these foreign, mostly Arab, jihadists by an ISI front organisation known as Maktab al Khidamar (Office of Services).

Saudi Arabian Islamic fundamentalist millionaire Osama Bin Laden, one of three people who ran the MAK, established al Qaeda (the Base) in 1987-88 to administer the jihadist training camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Taliban

In February 1989, Moscow withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan, after the US had signed an agreement in April 1988 to end its support for the mujahideen. However, the civil war continued in Afghanistan between the mujahideen and the PDPA government, and then, after this government's defeat in 1992, between rival mujahideen factions.

In 1994-95, with Washington's blessing, the ISI created a new Afghan Islamist militia, the Taliban, which seized control of Kabul in 1996. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan until November 2001, when the CIA bribed the country's local warlords to turn against them.

Karzai has survived several Taliban assassination attempts since he was installed by the US-led occupation forces as Afghan president in December 2002. He had acted as the mujageedin's chief liaison person with the CIA in the '80s, then served as deputy foreign minister in the first mujahideen government in 1992, before becoming a Taliban supporter in the mid 1990s. He turned against them in 1999.

Since the ousting of the Taliban, who suppressed opium production in 2001 to 185 tonnes, Afghanistan has again become the world's leading opium producer. UNDOC estimated that the country produced 8200 tonnes of opium in 2007, providing 93% of the world's heroin supply.

UNDOC estimates that 500,000 Afghan families support themselves by raising opium poppies and that last year those growers received $1 billion for their crops — about $2000 per household. But with at least six members in the average family, opium growers' per capita income is roughly $300 a year.

Drug trafficking

The April 6 Newsweek reported that the "real profits go to the traffickers, their Taliban allies and the crooked officials who help them operate. The country's well-oiled narcotics machine generates in excess of $4 billion a year from exports of processed opium and heroin — more than half of Afghanistan's $7.5 billion GDP, according to the UNODC."

The claim that the Taliban are the "allies" of Afghanistan's wealthy drug barons — and even that they are the chief beneficiaries of the opium industry — has now become standard fare in the Western corporate media.

However, according to an article on "Afghanistan's Drug Trade and How it Funds Taliban Operations" published in the May 10, 2007 Terrorism Monitor, put out by Zbigniew Brzezinski's Jamestown Foundation "national security" policy think tank, "Where the Taliban are able to enforce it — mostly in the south and some eastern districts — they are said to levy a 40% tax on opium cultivation and trafficking.

"A low estimate of the amount that the Taliban earn from the opium economy is $10 million, but considering the tradition of imposing tithes on cultivation and activities further up the value chain, the total is likely to be at least $20 million." A 40% tax on a $4 billion-a-year industry yields the Taliban $20 million, at most!

The tiny proportion of the earnings generated by this industry that actually flows to the Taliban is because it relies on the support of poor peasant farmers, not huge taxes levied on the warlords-turned-drug barons, who are actually allied to the Karzai regime.

As the November 24 London Times reported: "The dozens of drug-funded villas — 'narcotechture' in expat parlance — that have sprung up around foreign embassies in Kabul's Sherpur district are a testament to the untouchable status of former warlords ...

"Despite his repeated public denials, President Karzai's half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar's provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand [province] and out across the Iranian border."

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