Afghanistan: Imperialism as Humanitarian Action Ruthless Criticism

Afghanistan: Imperialism as Humanitarian Action

[Translated from radio broadcast by Gegenargumente in Vienna: July 20, 2004]

With their troops from around the world, the leading powers of the democratic world are on the move in a humanitarian mission: they export democracy. Of course, with violence, fire and sword, which always counts as proof of the barbarian character of Islam when it is exported, as soon as one says such a thing. Its the reverse with democracy. This high value justifies every mess that is organized for it and in its name. Not only in Iraq, where the strong interest of world power number one in access to an important oil region is hard to overlook – and not overlooked by the European rivals – but also in countries in which nothing economically important is to be seen. In Afghanistan, the NATO allies take on some expenses for themselves in order to pacify violent disputes between enemy national inhabitants or between the central authority and members of the armed opposition and to introduce democratic customs.

The whole world finds this extremely decent. Even pacifists can see a lot of good in such humanitarian military deployments. A little thing this praise of “productive peace” ignores: they are certainly military deployments. The democratic major powers intervene in conditions which they themselves caused, also by similar extremely noble-minded military engagements. They considerably helped in the creation of the political conditions which now prove so awkward and can only be maintained because and as long as they hold the reigns by armed force. With their intervention, they then keep nothing else upright so much as exactly these wobbly conditions. And the reason they do this has nothing to do with humanity, nor the goals they pursue thereby.

The NATO front at the Hindu Kush

In Afghanistan, the leading powers of the democratic state world are doubly engaged. The financially strong capitalist nations invest money, and the Germans and others from the “European column” of NATO support 6000 military men who are now to be supplemented by approximately 10,000 for a construction project that at any rate may fail, according to the International Conference on Afghanistan. Not because the survival of human beings is at stake there, but the survival of NATO and “our freedom in the Hindu Kush.” Not because the strongest military alliance in the world ran into a serious opponent there, but because the NATO alliance wants to prove its exemplary ability there and everywhere in the world where it appears necessary to them to implant suitable political conditions. This is no easy task, because the strongest democratic world power is still busy fighting “terrorism” with 12,000 of its own and several allied soldiers, as well as the support of the Pakistani army, and is thus completing the destruction of the defeated Taliban “state,” leaving everything else a clean construction site for modern “nation building.”

1. A freedom-fighting, anti-terrorist work of destruction

The emergence of the pious Taliban regime was already a not quite planned achievement of western democracy: a result of NATO’s sponsorship of subversive actions by fanatical religious fighters against the partly “real-socialist” community which had initiated a progressive party inside Afghanistan with the support and, finally, intervention of the Soviet Union. After the “nation building” of Soviet design had been successfully annihilated, a war opened between the previously allied war parties, with the largest part of the country ruled by a disciplined Muslim group that, except for wretched living conditions, had nothing to offer to its people but idealistic benefits: nobody was called upon any more to serve socialist progress, instead they vegetated in obedience before Allah and in subordination under family authorities – freedom instead of socialism in Afghanistan! However, the USA, with its destruction of the Taliban regime, which had developed into a refuge for anti-American terrrorists, did not only dig out a criminals’ nest. With the devastation of their form of religious mania, traditional tribal customs and uniformly commanded armed troops – which is how the Taliban had ensured something like a force monopoly in the country – a second fierce conflict between the regional rulers was set free against each other, who for their part based themselves on force of arms, pre-political family loyalty in addition to religious morality, as well as the material basis of their power, a “political economy” of opium production and a black market in weapons and humanitarian aid supplies: far from a tabula rasa for a bourgeois-democratic constitution.

In NATO, a certain pragmatic clarity prevails over what would be needed in order to make a functioning commonwealth out of Afghanistan. An undisputed, all-encompassing force monopoly would be required as the first thing; also, a generally recognized state power functionalized in institutions for the survival of the society and the success of the nation, as well as objectified in the associated political groups. Secondly, they must also have something to organize, i.e. a political economy that makes the governed people into a productive means useful to the state and the living costs of employed persons a basis for the nation and it force. Thirdly, a people who are separated from personal and moral dependence, for without this a modern state is dysfunctional. None of this exists in Afghanistan; that is clear to the responsible persons of the country. Thus they put whatever they have left toward the re-establishment of a government authority.

2. The “international community’s” democratic work of reconstruction

As a first step, a President who symbolizes that the age of a civilian community under a bourgeois force monopoly has been introduced in Afghanistan. Because he has no instruments of power, neither a private army like other ruling powers, still less such a thing as an assertive bureaucratic rule apparatus that is loyal to him, he instead gets a fearful American bodyguard as well as an international colonial force which controls the capital as well as the major city of a northern province and which represents the hopeful beginnings of a new state order. He should make its beneficial effects noticed by taking care of one or another civilian work of reconstruction so that the Afghans see what they would gain from a general peace in the country. For a civilian development, for useful survival conditions, no resources exist for the President to command. The 5.4 billion dollars which the friendly nations showcase under the heading “Afghanistan assistance” flows mainly into fees and expenses for assistants, advisors and construction brigades.

All the conditions are missing for a work of reconstruction such as was last tried by the Soviet Union with their vasal government: a bureaucratic apparatus which could tackle such a program; control over the country and people with whom it could be tackled; and the program itself – a planned economy – should not ultimately become a habit. The crucial authority, the “globalized” world market, does not have the slightest interest in Afghan workers or in the commodities which could be produced in Afghan workplaces. Except opium – lucrative business can be made with that; but only because it is illegal and therefore not quite a feasible basis for a political economy. The political representatives of its guardians insist that the government in Kabul make war on the cultivation of opium poppies, the only productive pecuniary resource from which the insubordinate provincial monarchs cover their instruments of power and from which a large number of the rural population lives. Because nobody counts on a serious anti-opium war – the NATO colonial force is explicitly not competent – the funds for the fight against drugs flow, first of all, into the construction of a security cordon around Afghanistan, through which the hot commodity is not to penetrate. Incidentally, the “international community” does not want to be liable for more material start-up assistance. Ultimately, the Afghans are to pay for “nation building” in the long run. For this, one knows the prescription in the world of imperialism; and it is one that has already been specified long ago: democracy!

3. The absurd ideal of free elections and the President’s real struggle for power

The friends of tidy conditions in the Hindu Kush know from their own politically strong capitalist homelands that power and rule function smoothly when the government offices are occupied on the basis of a free competition between similarly nationally-oriented parties and in accordance with a popular vote for those eligible for election. They hold it as their right and their obligation to supervise the rest of the world; they put forward the demand that the rest of the world should model itself after them. In this sense, the relevant protecting powers held meetings with tribal authorities, brought together by them to decide on an election which, if it takes place everywhere on a national stage, should ensure relations of rule that function the way they want them to.

Thus everything is posed upside down. If a free competition for power between ambitious political leaders is to go off peacefully and reliably, one which is to ensure a transition from arbitrary power to independent governing as it is known in the successful democracies, then there must already be an organized state power around whose practices the competition revolves, and an established national cause about whose optimal success the political rivals argue. Free elections are not a method to introduce such conditions, on the contrary: without a force monopoly and a fixed national agenda, the competition for electoral success turns into a struggle for power with the character of a civil war; because then it is purely about the seizure of the instruments of power by the victorious “party”; and with the conquered means they make their will to rule the law and not just the established capitalistic public interest of the nation is the basis for their “will formation.” This looms in Afghanistan. The election organizers have to do this not with tidy democratically equal party coalitions, but with competitive clans and tribes which mobilize their authority and their means of force, and the results of the election are already initiated while the electoral lists are drawn up. For these “parties,” the election is no more and no less than one scene in their struggle to extend their power, already in place anyway, which they assert against their rivals, and whom they certainly do not plan to subordinate afterwards as a loyal opposition to the government majority. The election campaign therefore has nothing to do with campaign theme songs, “fair play” and volunteers holding up signs, but is a gang warfare for zones of influence and available supporters.

The democratic godfathers of the new Afghanistan see this as no problem, or at least they act like they do. They want to know only about “organizational problems”; and if President Karzai, enthroned by them, shifts the date of the elections planned for autumn, then they maintain the fiction that this is only because of delays in the voting lists. They are set on a power struggle which in reality keeps in no way to their screenplay. The President, whom they inserted into office, whom they hold in power and on whose success they set, takes up the fight to subordinate the regional and local power holders step by step; not under an Afghan reason of state, which does not exist at all, but under his authority. In this way, he calculates with “free elections”; above all, however, he sets on the fact that he is worth enough in armed forces and billions to his democratic protection powers that they will not let him fail. They calculate, vice versa, with him. But not in such a way that the deployment of international troops decides Karzai’s fight for supreme power in the country, not to mention that it could make him superfluous.

Instead the NATO troops – between the urban rubble deserts and selective construction projects, between the forbidden opium growing and the rivalries between all the ambitious ruling powers in the country – are aimed at themselves. Because what the public imagines here as “nation building,” let alone what the president enthroned by the West in Kabul expects from his European and American godfathers, is not that simple.

4. The struggle of allied imperialists for mutual functionalization

The major powers which defend their “freedom in the Hindu Kush” with their military deployment follow an imperialistic calculation of the highest sort, one in which Afghanistan functions only as an exemplary scene and the nominal head of state as a chess piece. The USA leads its anti-terror war against the remnants of the Taliban regime and the anti-American “network” in the country; whatever else happens there they treat as a condition for their combat missions and their success. From their creature in Kabul and from the ISAF colonial force, they expect obedience.

For the European Union powers, which essentially put up the ISAF troops, their purpose is not to concern themselves with inter-Afghan struggles for power, but rather to intervene in America’s anti-terror war. They do not want to stand aside while the USA opens a front in central Asia in its century-long campaign against terrorism. However, they do not want to submit as “willing helpers” to the command of the superpower and allow their importance to wear thin. Therefore they support the military action of “Operation Enduring Freedom” with only minimal forces and concentrate on establishing alongside it a state-initiative with independent European responsibility over conditions in central Asia with its own mission, one defined and blessed by the UN. They make a political virtue of their relative military weakness. They do not try to match themselves against the USA in leading the war and the "pacification" of the country; they leave this to the exclusive command of the USA, thus also the whole burden – and benefit at the same time from the combat mission of their ally’s troops. Because what they position themselves for as independent tasks and tackle with their scarcely 6,000 men is no joke, and can only be undertaken because America is there with its guerilla war against the wrong fundamentalists, preventing an open revolt against the regime in Kabul and, with a mixture of threats and promises, keeping the provincial lords and mobs quiet to some extent. “Pax Americana,” which the USA imposed over the first episode in their century-long campaign against “terrorism,” is provoked by the Europeans to military interventions – and at the same time makes possible for them a mixture of their own calculations and visible force engagement; an engagement in which they do not come into conflict with the US war, but also do not make themselves serviceable to it; an engagement that does little for the Americans in their guerilla war and which nevertheless represents a contribution – an interesting new chapter in the useful relationship between NATO’s leading power and its European partners as practiced for over 40 years in the “cold war.”

The USA is not at all satisfied with this German-European policy of maximum imperialistic yields with minimal expenditures. They initiate the opposite calculation with their allies: what the Europeans carry out in Afghanistan does not have enough of the character of a respectable emergency service, is too meager and arbitary and does not relieve NATO's leading power as it desires. In the context of its alliance, it pushes for more respectable European contributions and would like its allies’ Afghanistan engagement to develop and become a model for a new strategy of the alliance – for an Iraq deployment, for example; ultimately, the world war that Washington has announced and initiated for the 21st century.

So the defense of western freedom in the Hindu Kush becomes an acid test for American-European cooperation in their alliance. It is not only about the very impressive practical proof that the alliance is able to eliminate anti-American partisans and terrorists and at the same time bring a devastated, divided country under the control of a somewhat durable and completely pliant – even democratic – central government. It concerns an exemplary whether and how, from whom and for whom that NATO lets itself be used as an instrument for “peace creating” wars all over the world. In exactly this contradictory sense, for the USA on one side and the representatives of the “European column” on the other side, it is about the usefulness and the continual “to be or not to be” of the alliance: America wants the pact to be a means for assigning tasks to its ambitious co-imperialist and to impose burdens on it; the Europeans, vice versa, want to use America’s supremacy for themselves, i.e. as a basis for their own interventions; but with the goal of gradually freeing themselves from their dependence on the USA.

Afghanistan is the venue, the President and his population the stuff of competition between the imperialistic nations on both sides of the Atlantic, which increasingly controls world events free from the former Soviet “troublemaker.”

The cynicism and single-mindedness of imperialism today

The leaders of the powerful capitalist nations, which see themselves destined to control the world of states, have never particularly respected foreign sovereignty. They define what they have caused in other countries – or the parties and leaders they have supported – in some cases as “failed states.” With this designation, they write off a bunch of members from their honourable “family of peoples” as state structures and partners of their capitalistic world order that can be taken seriously; at the same time, they push the blame for the disaster of these countries onto the local potentates and their footsoldiers; and leave the devastating collateral damage of their world order and its global economic mode – the raging misery, the neglect of whole peoples and the collapse of whole states – to the television cameras of go-getting reporters and charity groups. With this presupposition, those countries which always keep the whole world in view as a field of deployment for their capital and force become active as soon as they feel the need, and prescribe national reestablishment for a desolate country – “nation building.”.

If they decide on it, then they combine full access to the relevant state creation with the most emphatic refusal of any responsibility for its survivability – not to mention the population's. They install a state authority, equip it with a little military and financial start-up capital because these countries can’t do it themselves, and then they require the impossible of their creation: the “failed state” has to ensure that it functions on the basis of its own power and without any further help; at least to the extent that it suppresses disturbing activities and that the misery does not turn into a refugee problem. With the imperious desire for democracy, the sponsors intensify their demand that the required services on behalf of order function smoothly and free of charge; because the Allah-devoted people get the opportunity to elect their overseers again and again in all freedom. This cynicism of a foreign rule, i.e. of a rule in foreign interest but in the name of the people, enjoys public applause because the honorable title “democracy” kills every thought about its reality – even where it means nothing other than foreign rule without colonial costs.

Modern “conditions” hold “case-specific” challenges for the modern world order. A demand can possibly be misunderstood by its own creatures, and the Europeans must give a lesson to the “exaggerated” nationalism of the Kosovo Albanians. Elsewhere the state order completely dissolves into gang warfare, and a small colonial army must put a stop to the threatening stream of refugees from Haiti at the source. Afghanistan is one case; here a successfully promoted anti-communist holy war slipped out of the control of its sponsors; a violent recall was necessary; now the rubble is visited again so that a repeat of the danger is impossible. What the cost will be remains up to the free discretion of the guardians of the world order in each case, just like the decision to define each of the continuously resulting disasters as a challenge to their authority over the world order – e.g., black Africa is not worth that much to them. For their corresponding resolutions, they take each other's measure: how they “position themselves” in comparison to their peers if they do or do not do this; how much influence on the force budget of the world they are able to wring from each other – these are the criteria which determine the transition from the diagnosis “failed state” to “nation building.” If America defines the facts for interventions and permits itself to intervene, then it primarily follows the requirements of its campaign for a world purified of anti-Americanism; it has above all its most important business partner and rival allies in mind and attempts to integrate them as auxiliary workers and keep them away from a competitive influence. Vice versa, the EU decisively and increasingly turns to alternative maneuvers to their superpower ally in order to define their clear differences in these problem cases and to establish responsibilities for themselves.

Whether a “failed” state is judged to be a charity case depends on what importance is attributed to it and how far it veers off course, and ultimately on how much and how important it is perceived by the USA and the leading powers of the EU as a case for their competition and their use. That is not coincidentally reminiscent of the way in which the well-intentioned “west” fought its “cold” world war against the Soviet Union with “proxy wars.” At that time, however, emerging “third world” countries within this larger confrontation could sometimes hope for support to protect them from the fate of becoming “failed states.” The rival imperialists of the 21st century are not so generous anymore with the benefits of the world-political “peace dividend” of their common victory over the Soviet power.