There’s a gruesome neat symmetry to the 9/11 Falling Man imagery and the doom-scrolling of the Kabul debacle; as people fall off planes leaving the airport. Remember it was the 9/11 attack was the pretext to entering Afghanistan – a war that has killed between 171,000 to 174,000 people and cost over $2 trillion – and at the time the US was boastful of its supremacy talking of “we will never forget nor forgive and will act at the time of our choosing”.

The entire “war on terror” fiasco is exposed and the US and Britain are utterly humiliated. This was never about ‘nation-building’ and always about ‘counter terrorism’. Framed like this, and understood like this, the military intervention was always doomed to fail, because the task was not the task it presented to be.

We’ve seen this movie before. This is Suez for the West. This is not just a military defeat it is a defeat for the notion of international ‘order’, progress and universal rights.

As Tariq Ali writes: “The fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021 is a major political and ideological defeat for the American Empire. The crowded helicopters carrying US Embassy staff to Kabul airport were startlingly reminiscent of the scenes in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – in April 1975. The speed with which Taliban forces stormed the country was astonishing; their strategic acumen remarkable. A week-long offensive ended triumphantly in Kabul. The 300,000-strong Afghan army crumbled. Many refused to fight. In fact, thousands of them went over to the Taliban, who immediately demanded the unconditional surrender of the puppet government. President Ashraf Ghani, a favourite of the US media, fled the country and sought refuge in Oman. The flag of the revived Emirate is now fluttering over his Presidential palace. In some respects, the closest analogy is not Saigon but nineteenth-century Sudan, when the forces of the Mahdi swept into Khartoum and martyred General Gordon. William Morris celebrated the Mahdi’s victory as a setback for the British Empire. Yet while the Sudanese insurgents killed an entire garrison, Kabul changed hands with little bloodshed. The Taliban did not even attempt to take the US embassy, let alone target American personnel.”

Talk of a different, more progressive Taliban regime is more liberal framing. An “inclusive” Taliban regime with better social media comms is like a medieval regime with brighter flags.

Media-friendly spook Rory Stewart, piped into your streams as the acceptable face of Toryism says: “He (Biden) embraced a policy largely indistinguishable from former president Donald Trump’s isolationism, leaving with no adequate transition in place, apparently indifferent to the horror in its wake.”

While that’s true it seemingly absolves the entire cadre of politicians that endorsed and pursued this policy for twenty years.

The chaos of the Afghan regime represents not just a military failure of NATO it’s a failure of Western imperialism and a complete failure of the “special relationship”. It collapses the distinction between neoliberal expansionism and liberal expansionism. It’s an epic humiliation and completely inevitable. But if the debacle is a moral failure it is also a security and intelligence failure of massive proportions. Tory ministers expressing “surprise” today is bizarre. As they line up to cry – as if some kind of performative act of male expressiveness counters your geopolitical imperialism – you are left shuddering with the level of dysfunctional stupidity of these people.

In the Green Zone

Now, in the next stage of brutality, the west is joining hands to exclude the people dispossessed by their actions:

Open Democracy reveals: “The UK government has rejected more than 32,000 Afghan asylum seekers since the Western invasion of the country in 2001”.

The entire escapade is like a metaphor for western failure.

Tariq Ali again: “The brilliantly lit Green Zone was always surrounded by a darkness that the Zoners could not fathom. In one of the poorest countries of the world, billions were spent annually on air-conditioning the barracks that housed US soldiers and officers, while food and clothing were regularly flown in from bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It was hardly a surprise that a huge slum grew on the fringes of Kabul, as the poor assembled to search for pickings in dustbins.”

Remember too this is a NATO project. For all the blaming and shaming that should be remembered. This is the NATO project the SNP are committed to. We should reject everything about it.

This sense of cycles of tyranny and imperialism is palpable – with nothing but a forthcoming film proposal to act as remembrance. In the film the American’s will no doubt be both the victims and the heroes.

Little of this is new. Way back in November 2001 Alan McCombes reported for Scottish Socialist Voice from the Afghan exile communities and refugee camps just over the border in the North West Frontier Province:

“This was a journey from the Third World to the Fourth World, from the poverty-ridden slums of Peshawar in the heart of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province to the desolation of the Afghan refugee camps an hour’s drive away. I set out from a sparsely furnished house in the backstreet slums of this teeming city. Half the population of Peshawar are Afghan refugees. Millions fled the country during the Soviet occupation. More ed in the 1990s when the warring mujahideen ripped Afghanistan apart. Then came the Taliban in 1996, and a new wave of refugees flooded across the border.

Some left Afghanistan seeking to escape the tyranny of the new regime, with its ritual Friday evening amputations and executions in the football stadiums. Most left the country because they were starving. During 24 years of war, the economy had collapsed, and the country had been brought to its knees. Across the border in Pakistan, life is only marginally more tolerable. On the streets, women with tiny babies in their arms beg desperately for a few rupees. Little children, barefoot and in rags, scavenge among the market stalls for scraps of food.”
Now, to add to the brutal tragedy we are joined with a combination of victim-blaming:
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said: “What we’ve seen is a military and political collapse which was not anticipated…because ultimately the Afghan political situation failed to stand up to the Taliban. This failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we’re seeing today.”
… and narrative shifting.
Very quickly we’re being told how heroic the US is in “protecting Kabul airport” and just how much WAS achieved by the British.
While now we’re being told the mission was all about ‘nation-building’ not so long ago the British government was a bit less sanguine about our real motivations. This from 2009 tells a different picture:

“Phil Woolas provoked fury yesterday by claiming British troops are fighting in Afghanistan in part to keep immigration under control. The gaffe-prone Home Office Minister told MPs the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK would ‘significantly increase’ if troops were withdrawn.The Taliban would take over and large numbers of Afghans would flee to Britain to claim refugee status, he said.

During a meeting of the home affairs select committee, Mr Woolas said: ‘If this country and others were to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban were able to take control of Afghanistan our evidence is that the number of asylum seekers coming to the EU would significantly increase.”

Idrees Ahmad has noted that “as long as the west’s engagement with the Muslim world is defined exclusively in terms of threats—specifically migration and terrorism—it will merely perpetuate the crises by ignoring people in favour of crisis managers. In two statements, the perennially tone deaf Emmanuel Macron illustrates the problem: 1) By seeing Afghanistan exclusively as a security problem 2) By treating ordinary Afghans as a threat. This is why after 20 years and billions of dollars, the west failed to generate any goodwill.”

This is correct. But also we should not be surprised that going to war doesn’t create peace, that armed invasion doesn’t solve conflict and that alliances with the US doesn’t end well. We’ve seen this movie before.

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Comments (23)

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  1. Lordmac says:

    Getting involved in others peoples issue’s and getting inside information from. The people, for your advantage . now means you are responsible for their safety for information given and should. Be given a safe place to live in the USA, and the UK. If you don’t give. Help. To the Refugees you have to go back in and fight for their wellbeing as genocide could be the next issue

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The thing is, Lordmac: we don’t get involved in other people’s issues; rather, we involve them in our issues.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        An important distinction, Colin. Well said.

        In the 19th century Afghanistan was the ‘Great Game’ (Kipling) or ‘The Game of Shadows’ (the appellation used by Tsarist Russia).

        This ‘adventure’ has ended the way all the many invasions did, in humiliation, bloodshed, and a destruction of the economy.

        My feeling about the speedy success of the Taliban is that a significant proportion of the peoples of the country saw them as the least worst option. As has happened in so many places across the globe, European and American imperialists have supported corrupt local leadership who exploited their own people and, many of the people have said, “Fuck youse, at least the Taliban come from here and speak our languages.”

        If some of the tales in the western media are correct, then there are concerns, especially for women, but, with few exceptions (such as our our David Pratt) we do not trust our own propagandist media who still beat the imperialist, jingoist, white man’s burden drum.

  2. John Learmonth says:

    The west no longer has the stomach (rightly or wrongly) for ‘imperialism’ i.e interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
    China and Russia have though and equally couldn’t care less about ‘western’ ideals of human rights.
    Watch this space, within 10 years Afghanistan will be one huge open caste mine producing minerals for China and the Taliban leadership will be living the life of riley in Dubai.

    1. Mark Bevis says:

      Although the average life of your usual Afghan peasant will not be any better.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        The Afghan peasantry is still frozen in old feudal land relations, which have inhibited agricultural growth and social sustainability in the region. The Saur Revolution failed to collectivise agricultural production, which left the traditional socioeconomic tribal structure of rural Afghanistan intact. It was from this social milieu that the mujahidin revolt against the Revolutionary Council drew its strength.

        It was the failure of the Revolutionary Council to liberate labour from the vampire qolçomaqlar that ultimately, led to the region’s subsequent 43 years of conflict.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          I think if the Soviet Union had never invaded and as a consequence the CIA had not set up funded and trained the Taliban (including a certain Osama Bin Laden) on the ‘my enemies enemy is my friend principle’ the whole country would not now be in the position it is.
          Kabul back in the day was a stop on the hippie trail until it became a victim of the ‘great game’ as it had been in the C19.

          1. Derek says:

            What has revolutionised agriculture, though, is solar power. People manage to grow two drug crops per year rather than one, thanks to solar-powered irrigation.

            Trouble is that they’re using up groundwater, so the real desert’ll turn up in a wee while. Much like Nestle and anywhere that they can steal from, I suppose…*

            * (cough) “allegedly”

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Of course. That’s what I meant above about us involving others in our own issues rather than involving ourselves in theirs. Our involvement in Afghanistan since 1979 has been that of participants in a proxy war.

            The Saur Revolution failed to abolish the traditional socioeconomic tribal structure of rural Afghanistan by collectivising agricultural production. The mujahidin exploited the conservative resistance to land reform to foment a rebellion. The USSR invaded on the basis of the Brezhnev Doctrine that an attack on communism anywhere is an attack on communism everywhere. The forces of capitalism – primarily the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom – immediately threw their weight behind the counter-revolutionaries on the basis of the doctrine that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. After the fall of communism and that friend, in the form of the Taliban, which emerged victorious from the subsequent tribal wars among the mujahidin, became the new enemy’s friend, the forces of capitalism turned on it and invaded on the principle that the friend of my enemy is my enemy. And the rest, as they say, is history.

            The present state of affairs in the region has arisen because the revolution failed in Afghanistan and the country became instead a proxy battleground for larger geopolitical issues around capitalism.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    I remember seeing an Adam Curtis documentary years back where he talked to some army big wig who had been stationed in Afghanistan. The guy told him it had been a complete waste of time and everyone hated the US & “UK” soldiers, not just the Taliban. The average Afghan detested them because they were shoring up a corrupt government. I would imagine there will be people in the Taliban who hate the Taliban but fought with them because they hated the invaders even more. It’s no surprise they swept to power so swiftly. There would be few on the government side willing to die for their corrupt, US puppet president.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The Taliban is rooted in the Pashtun, which is the largest tribal group in the region and the one we historically identified as ‘Afghan’. These ‘Afghans’ make up about 48% of the population of ‘Afghanistan’.

      During the civil war into which the region descended between the fall of communism and the US invasion, the Taliban succeeded where the communists failed in shifting power away from the Mujahideen warlords. During the period of its previous rule, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban cleansed the region of ‘non-Afghan Afghans’ through massacres, the burning of vast areas of land and homes, and the denial of UN food supplies to the enfamined.

      I’ve no doubt that, now it’s back in power, the Taliban will resume its ‘innovative’ regime of Hanafi sharia law and Pashtunwali (Pashtun social and cultural norms).

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Thanks Colin. The the current Tory regime unchained would bear an uncanny resemblance.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          In what respects?

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Inhumanity. With the Tories we’re talking about people who would think nothing of wiping out a small country if it added another meaningless zero to their bank balance.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            But, unlike your Tories, the Taliban isn’t about wiping out a small country to add another meaningless zero to its bank balance. It’s about establishing Sharia law, as defined by the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, and enacting the cultural edicts of Mullah Omar against both Western modernism and the traditional tribal and feudal structures of the region. Such fundamentalism is the new ‘radical’ response to capitalism and its globalisation. This is what makes it so ‘sexy’ among so many disillusioned young Muslims and drives them to the renunciation, sacrifice, and martyrdom of true revolutionaries.

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            They certainly won’t have the rights the “UK” population will have in Britannia Unchained (food banks for example). The cultural edicts of Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            And, of course, the equivalence between our respective regimes means that, really, they’re no worse off than ourselves.

          5. Tom Ultuous says:

            You think? God, what will it be like if Britannia does become unchained?

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            Indeed, Tom; it would be like living under the Taliban – worse even.

  4. Mouse says:

    There would have been, and will be plenty of wars in Afghanistan, without any third parties, and the Taliban are obviously quite popular with people there, but they may well have a war with northern Afghan warlords. I can’t see how the ISAF could ever think the results of their little interventions would be different. Looks like the Afghan army were fully aware of what was going to happen, hence they went home or joined the Taliban.

    But the reporting of all this here does come across as blindly ethnocentric, with a complete lack of understanding of cultures that are as far removed from ‘western values’ as you can get. The Taliban are mostly a cultural phenomenon. As far as Afghan refugees outwith Pakistan go, for Afghans they must be seriously wealthy. If you want girls to go to school, and women allowed out in public, you don’t go to Pakistan. It’s very possible their wealth involved the heroin trade, or large-scale corruption, or both. They can’t all have worked for the ISAF.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      The Taliban has been brutal in imposing its revolutionary change; it brooks no dissent or deviance from its values. It’s from this brutality that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing.

      More than half of the 6 million or so current refugees are sheltering in Iran. It’s a bit of a scaremongering myth that they’re flooding the West.

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    Darren McGarvey summed it up for me with this line “The only positive to come of this is that the unwieldy British national ego may finally have been whittled down to more appropriate size.”

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Ah, but they said that after Suez et al. ‘Finally’ never comes.

      But I agree: we should drop our ‘wha’s like us’ aspiration to lead the world in this, that, and the next thing. Laissez faire! Non-interference in the affairs of others. Leave the world unchained to its fate.

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