In August 2021, US and NATO forces finally withdrew from Afghanistan, “closing” one of the largest chapters of the two decades running War on Terror. In its wake they left a country destroyed by decades of war. Despite the billions of dollars of international aid given to the US-backed government, the impact of systemic corruption, bombings and drone strikes, and military occupation left the country without vital infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and healthcare centers, and much less so developed national industry.
This situation was further worsened by the harsh sanctions imposed on the new Taliban government by the United States, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank as well as the freezing of the country’s overseas assets.
According to a report by UN agencies the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 55% of Afghans, around 22.8 million people, will be facing crisis levels of acute food insecurity from November 2021 to March 2022.
This humanitarian crisis coupled with concerns over the protection of fundamental rights of minority groups in the country by the Taliban government has roots beyond the 21st century. The impact of the US’ Cold War machinations against the revolutionary government in Afghanistan led by the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) is a central contributing factor to the situation faced by the people of Afghanistan today. The US boosted the growth of several religious terrorist outfits and promoted a protracted war in the country from the 1970s to 1992.
To understand these crucial links Peoples Dispatch spoke to Abdul Qadir Fazli from www.esalat.org, organ of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), regarding the party’s take on the political upheavals in Afghanistan and the role played by the various political entities in the country.
Peoples Dispatch: What is your take on the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August? How do you evaluate the US-led War on Terror in the country?
Abdul Qadir Fazli: The Taliban seized Afghanistan as a result of the agreement with the US and Pakistan. US’ war in Afghanistan was never a war against terrorism. On the contrary, the US supports terrorism in the world, including in our country, Afghanistan. The US occupied Afghanistan under the pretext of the war against terrorism.
Read more: “Regressive and conservative forces historically promoted by imperialist forces in Afghanistan have prolonged wars”
PD: How did you react to the Taliban’s swift takeover immediately after the announcement of the withdrawal of NATO forces? Do you view it as an orchestrated maneuver with tacit agreement between Taliban, Pakistan and the US leadership?
AF: The Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country immediately after the announcement of the withdrawal of NATO forces was not astounding to us. We see this as a planned maneuver that happened exactly as was agreed between the Taliban, Pakistan and the US leadership before.
PD: What was the popular reaction in different regions of the country to Taliban’s return? What possibilities remain for resistance against the Taliban in today’s Afghanistan, which stands betrayed by the US and beleaguered by Pakistan?
AF: People in different parts of the country have been tired of war and bloodshed. But, it should be noted that a few days after the Taliban came to power, women were demonstrating and marching in Kabul city and several other Afghan cities for their rights and freedoms. In present-day Afghanistan, only supporters of Ahmad Shah Massoud, led by his son Ahmad Massoud, have tried to fight with the Taliban, that too from their home terrain of Panjshir. After the Taliban seized Panjshir province, they fled into the mountains and had sporadic clashes with the Taliban. As of now, there is no longer any domestic force in the country that can offer a major challenge to the Taliban.
PD: In your opinion, did the NATO forces bring any significant development in Afghanistan during their period of occupation? What is your take on the two NATO-sponsored governments and their policies in developing institutions of governance, infrastructure development, defense capabilities, public services, social justice and other reforms?
AF: Occupation brings no progress for any country except destruction, bloodshed and looting. Our country was also occupied by NATO forces, lost everything, was looted and razed to the ground. The result of the policies of NATO-backed governments was obvious to our people and to the world. These governments were just puppets, and by no means did the slightest improvement in various fields benefit the toilers. For example, if defense capability had been developed in the country, the Taliban would not have come to power today! About social services and social justice, that can’t be talked about at all.
PD: Do you believe the rhetoric on social media and in the press about a ‘reformed’ Taliban? In your opinion, how disastrous was the previous Taliban regime for the Afghan people?
AF: These slogans are demagogic, and we don’t care about that kind of rhetoric. The Taliban have not been reformed, they have neither changed ideologically nor can they change. The Taliban have changed only behaviorally. The group has become more politically realistic than ever before and is said to have started tactically dealing with some issues now. These ‘changes’ are more of a tactic and they will soon resort to their true behavior which promotes violence. The previous Taliban regime has undoubtedly been very disastrous for the Afghan people.
PD: Can you tell us a bit about the origin of the Taliban and the sections within their current leadership? What is their social composition and from where do they draw their support and militant base?
The Taliban is a radical religious-traditional group. The majority of them are Pashtuns with minor contingents of Tajiks and Uzbeks. The Taliban was founded by Mullah Mohammad Omar in September 1994 in his hometown of Kandahar with his students of religion. On October 10, 1994, at the height of Afghanistan’s civil war, a group armed with radical Islamist ideas composed of religious students in Saudi-backed schools in Pakistan entered the Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban seized Kandahar province, Afghanistan’s fourth most important province, a month and two days after it announced its formation. The group infiltrated Afghanistan from the southern border with the slogan “Enforcing Islamic Sharia” and countering what it calls evil and corruption in Afghanistan, and quickly swept across different cities and provinces. Since 1994, the Taliban has grown using the money secured by transporting Turkmen oil and gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and others. In the middle of that decade, in 1995, the Taliban achieved its biggest victory by capturing the strategic province of Herat on the Iran-Turkmenistan border. A year later, on September 26, 1996, they succeeded in capturing Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the then head of the Mujahideen government, moved his government’s headquarters to Mazar-e-Sharif when Kabul fell. He also fell shortly afterwards.
The Taliban themselves are made up of several factions: The Quetta Faction (Quetta Council), which is the moderate and political wing of the Taliban led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. The Peshawar Faction-Peshawar Council is led by the Haqqani Network, led by the Jaluddin Haqqani family, which is highly influential in the cadres and also has the backing of Pakistan’s military establishments. The third faction is led by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, son of Mullah Mohammad Omar; which is influential in southern Afghanistan and enjoys the support of clerics and religious scholars and religious people from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
PD: Can you tell us about the historic Saur revolution which took place in 1978 ? In your opinion, how popular was the Saur revolution and what led to it?
AF: The Saur revolution, which the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) inspired and organized, opened the way for progress, prosperity and fundamental revolutionary developments before the Afghan people. The revolution was the result of the growth and deepening of the general capitalist crisis, and was inspired by the October socialist revolution in Russia. The PDPA-led revolution was won by direct participation of heroic officers and soldiers and the broad support of the masses of our country, shattering the foundations of the bloody dominance of the feudal monarchy and the aristocratic and fake republic of Mohammed Daoud Khan, and opened a new chapter in Afghanistan’s proud history. The revolution was won not by itself, but on the basis of revolutionary scientific theory and in accordance with the general law of social revolutions and the creative integration of these laws with the characteristics of Afghan society by the PDPA.
The Saur revolution had cleansed the state power from corrupt traditions of the past despotic governments and their affiliated circles. Those governments had been responsible for the severe backwardness and infinite sufferings of the Afghan people, coupled with imperialism and international reaction. The revolutionary government formed new relations in the field of international relations based on political sovereignty, and formulated domestic policies in the interests of the common people of the country and founded a new Afghanistan.
PD: Can you tell us about the formation, policies and campaigns of the PDPA? What were the major policy initiatives and historic achievements of the PDPA-led government in the country?
AF: The PDPA made a prominent contribution to the collapse of the foundations of the degenerate monarchy of the Naderi dynasty. It was a great historical turnaround that had placed our country within the borders of the “new world” and provided the way for a transition from long backwardness to comprehensive social progress. The establishment of the political rule of the toilers, as the great achievement of the Saur revolution, was the main lever of revolutionary transformations and a set of social and economic changes to the benefit of the toilers.
The revolutionary government paid serious attention to the construction of buildings and residential neighborhoods for toilers, and thousands of Afghan toilers became modern home owners. A worker’s casbah in Kabul city and residential neighborhoods in Sheberghan and Jalalabad cities, among other cities, is a striking example of this. The state power belonged to the deprived and oppressed class, and in practice the toilers decided their own destiny. The PDPA government ensured fundamental change in people’s social and economic life, started a campaign to eliminate illiteracy and provided free health services to all people of the country regardless of ethnicity, nationality, language, religion. It had introduced almost free urban transport services, establishment of government transport sectors, construction of water supply dams, canals of urban commissions, water and electricity dams and extension of hydro, thermal and diesel power cables in most cities of the country. The government also established cooperatives and all-in-one stores, installed and operated electric buses for the first time in the history of the country, and ensured government bread supply booths in parts of Kabul city and other parts of the country to prevent price rise.
PD: What was the reason behind the deep factionalism within the PDPA? Is it correct to say that the bitter factionalist rivalry between the Parcham and Khalq factions within the PDPA led to a crisis of governance and political instability in the country?
AF: There are several factors that contributed to the formation of factionalism within the PDPA. These include the general backwardness of socio-economic relations in the country, the lack of growth of political and class awareness, the low level of revolutionary education of the majority of party members and lack of creativity in dealing with this in certain conditions of our society, the weakness in full and correct understanding of Afghan society, and the lack of understanding of the tactics and strategies of the working class in the development of the revolutionary process. This led to the emergence of deviant ethnic, tribal, group, and opportunistic tendencies of the right and left within the cadres of the party. But, the crisis of sovereignty and political instability in Afghanistan was not inflicted by factionalism within the PDPA. It was inflicted by external factors more than domestic ones.
PD: Which sections in Afghanistan opposed the radical reforms initiated by the PDPA government, including the policies for women empowerment? How do you respond to accusations by certain historians that the PDPA government forcefully imposed radical reforms on hostile Afghan rural communities in haste without proper consultations or strategies?
AF: The opponents of the PDPA regime were the enemies of the Afghan people, mainly fundamentalist Islamist groups who lost their political grip over the people with the victory of the Saur revolution. They were against progress, democracy, freedom, equality and social justice, and were led by reactionaries like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Ali Mazari, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, Mojadadi, Gilani, and others. They opposed women’s freedoms and their equality with men.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Saur revolution, the PDPA government had made fundamental reforms without any proper tactics in a hasty and forceful manner on the people in the villages. But in course of time, all those mistakes were corrected and remedied with principled and correct policies.
PD: A large set of so-called liberals view the Soviet Union’s relationship with the PDPA-led governments in Afghanistan as imperialistic. Some academics have even called the whole tenure of the PDPA-led government in the country as a period of Soviet occupation? What was the real stake of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the days of the PDPA?
AF: You mentioned that a large group of so-called liberals see the Soviet Union’s relationship with the governments of Afghanistan under the leadership of the PDPA as imperialist. The Soviet Union was not an imperialist country whose relations with the Afghan government were imperialist!
The Soviet Union had not occupied our country. The Soviet Union was then a friend and great northern neighbor of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the first country to recognize our country’s independence in 1919. Under those circumstances, the Soviet Union assisted and cooperated with the government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in accordance with formal agreements.
In addition to military assistance, the Soviet Union contributed in all economic areas including health, agriculture, hospitals, schools, factories, bridges, electricity dams and dozens of public utility projects to help the government and people of Afghanistan.
The solidarity and military assistance from the Soviet Union was not a new issue as it was completely legal according to the will of the Afghan people. In the 1955 Loya Jirga, when Mohammad Daud was the prime minister, due to a dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the people of Afghanistan and even the clergy of Afghanistan agreed in a meaningful way that Afghanistan has the right to seek military assistance – from any friendly country – to protect its independence and its territorial integrity.
This was also approved in subsequent parliaments, and the Soviet military assistance was not a new issue. During the reign of Mohammad Zahir, the King of Afghanistan pursued such a policy and Soviet advisers were present in Afghanistan during the same period. Under the reign of Mohammed Daoud Khan, such aid existed, and after the revolution of Saur, the treaty was registered and enumerated in the United Nations in December 1978 and complies with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is just a propaganda of the enemies of the Afghan people.
PD: Who are the actual belligerents in the long-running Afghan conflict? In your opinion, to what extent was the resistance against the PDPA regime home grown as the belligerents ranged from the Mujahideen to Pakistan/US forces to even some Maoist groups? From the perspective of the common people of Afghanistan including the working class, women and youth, what was the balance sheet of that conflict?
The real saboteurs in Afghanistan’s long war include Islamic fundamentalist groups based in Pakistan and Iran and Arab reactionaries and their international and regional supporters on the behest of American imperialism. The people of Afghanistan were devastated by such a war waged by American imperialism and Pakistan with the help of Arab reactionaries. In the eyes of ordinary Afghans, the war against the PDPA-led Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was unequal, unjust and imperialist.
PD: In your opinion, what will it take to develop a sound democratic political culture and egalitarian civil society in Afghanistan? What will be the role of intellectuals, women and educated youth, including those who are currently in exile, to achieve this? Which sections in Afghanistan now dare to risk everything to fight the Taliban and other regional and international imperialists in order to secure a future free from medieval, feudal and theocratic madness? Will the Afghan working class become empowered again to provide militant solidarity in pursuit of a just future for the country?
AF: With the re-emergence of fanatical and religious fundamentalist forces such as the Taliban, it will take many years to institutionalize and then develop a democratic political culture and a civil society in Afghanistan. Of course, towards this goal, the role of educated intellectuals, women and young people is very important, especially those who are currently in exile because they have a lot of resources and they have to work more.
Our party aims to work as the forerunner of the Afghan working class, to work in cooperation relentlessly with other national, progressive, libertarian and democratic forces on a broad national front against all reactionary forces like the Taliban and imperialism for the sake of a free, independent and self-determining Afghanistan. Unfortunately, with the destruction of the entire country’s infrastructure as a result of the long-running wars, we lack an organized working class, the much required vanguard for a political and social transformation.