The United States has finally begun a massive military assault on Afghanistan, with military support from the United Kingdom. Cruise missiles, bombers and submarines have been used to attack what has been described as “a broad range of targets”, purportedly ranging from Taliban training camps to garrisons. The strikes, which began at 1625GMT, first targeted the Afghan capital Kabul and later hit the cities of Kandahar, Jalalabad, and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The attack has been justified on the basis of forming, in the words of U.S. President George Bush Jnr., “a new front” against terrorism, which will not target the Afghan people, but is aimed at the prime suspect Osama Bin Laden and the regime protecting him. Indeed, the President claimed, America is “the friend of the Afghan people.” An analysis of the facts illustrates that this is hardly the case.
The current military strikes against Afghanistan were planned long before the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As early as December last year, Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, reported that:
“[T]he United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden. Until it backed off under local pressure, it went so far as to explore whether a Central Asian country would permit the use of its territory for such a purpose.”
Meetings between government American, Russian and Indian government officials took place at the end of 2000 “to discuss what kind of government should replace the Taliban.” Starr observed that: “[T]he United States is now talking about the overthrow of a regime that controls nearly the entire country, in the hope it can be replaced with a hypothetical government that does not exist even on paper.” The U.S. also supported a one-sided UN resolution:
“é that would strengthen sanctions against foreign military aid for the Taliban but take no action against its warlord opponents, who control a mere 3 to 5 percent of the country’s territory. These warlords, when they ruled in key areas, showed a brutal disregard for human rights and for other minorities that was comparable to the Taliban at its worst. Yet the fragment of a government they support limps on and, with U.S. backing, occupies Afghanistan’s seat in the United Nationsé These shifts add up to a fundamental redirection of American policy toward the world’s largest and most vexed zone of conflict. All this is occurring without public discussion, without consultation with Congress and without even informing those who are likely to make foreign policy in the next administration.”
Canadian journalist Eric Margolis reported in the same month the existence of extensive military plans to invade Afghanistan, topple the Taliban regime, and install a government subservient to Western interests:
“The United States and Russia may soon launch a joint military assault against Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden, and against the leadership of Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto ruling movement. Such an attack would probably include US Delta Force and Navy Seals, who would join up with Russia’s elite Spetsnaz and Alpha commandos in Tajikistan, the Central Asian state where Russian has military bases and 25,000 troops. The combined forces would be lifted by helicopters, and backed by air support, deep into neighboring Afghanistan to attack Bin Laden’s fortified base in the Hindu Kush mountains.”
The plans clearly have little to do with aiding the Afghan people, and more to do with eliminating the current danger to US interests in the region. As the Guardian rightly observes, “Another missile attack will merely add to Afghanistan’s misery.”
The international U.S. rights monitors Human Rights Watch (HRW) elaborated on such concerns, pointing out that all factions, including the main opposition the Northern Alliance, are responsible for grave human rights abuses against Afghan civilians. HRW criticised UN Security Council measures to increase sanctions on the Taliban, urging instead “the adoption of an arms embargo against all combatants, not only the Taliban.” Indeed, a joint US-Russia draft resolution ignored the ongoing civil war, responsible for the humanitarian crisis, focusing instead “on the Taliban’s harboring of Osama bin Laden… [The resolution] would impose new sanctions only on the Taliban until it gives up bin Laden for extradition and closes camps allegedly used to plan criminal activities overseas. But the draft resolution does not directly address the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan, which has been accompanied by a severe humanitarian crisis.” Executive Director of HRW, Kenneth Roth, has pointed out that the international community’s failure to “address abuses by the warring parties now because they are an important cause of the continuing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan”, signifies that they are “inexcusably abandoning the Afghan people to suffer atrocities at home while focusing exclusively on the Afghan government’s role in attacks on foreigners.”
Indeed, atrocities by the Northern Alliance – now being backed by the United States – against the Afghan people, are of exactly the same nature as those committed by the brutal Taliban regime that rules the majority of Afghanistan. British Middle East specialist Robert Fisk reports in The Independent that:
“[W]ithout a blush or a swallow of embarrassment, we’re about to sign up the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’ in Afghanistan. America’s newspapers are saying – without a hint of irony – that they, too, will be our ‘foot-soldiers’ in our war to hunt down/bring to justice/smoke out/eradicate/liquidate Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. US officials -who know full well the whole bloody, rapacious track record of the killers in the ‘Alliance’ – are suggesting in good faith that these are the men who will help us bring democracy to Afghanistan and drive the Taliban and the terrorists out of the country. In fact, we’re ready to hire one gang of terrorists é our terrorists – to rid ourselves of another gang of terrorists… The Northern Alliance, the confederacy of warlords, patriots, rapists and torturers who control a northern sliver of Afghanistan, have very definitely not (repeat: not) massacred more than 7,000 innocent civilians in the United States. No, the murderers among them have done their massacres on home turf, in Afghanistan. Just like the Talibané Urged on by the Americans, the Alliance boys have been meeting with the elderly and sick ex-King Mohamed Zahir Shah, whose claim to have no interest in the monarchy is almost certainly honourable – but whose ambitious grandson may have other plans for Afghanistané [T]he old king will be freighted in as a symbol of national unity, a reminder of the good old days before democracy collapsed and communism destroyed the country. And we’ll have to forget that King Zahir Shah – though personally likeable, and a saint compared to the Taliban – was no great democrat.“
Human Rights Watch has also noted the anti-humanitarian nature of U.S. support of the Afghan opposition. Sidney Jones, Executive Director of the Asia division of HRW, urged that: “The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with commanders whose record of brutality raises questions about their legitimacy inside Afghanistan. Any country that gives assistance to the Afghan opposition must take responsibility for how this assistance is used.” Abuses by the opposition in late 1999 and early 2000 have included “summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban.” HRW also describes the parties comprising the ‘United Front’ as having “amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996.” 
Clearly then, the United States had planned to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban regime a year ago, and had drawn up its military plans in coordination with Russia and India. The terrorist attacks against the WTC and the Pentagon in the U.S. have apparently provided a pretext to justify executing these long-standing plans. U.S. support of the Northern Alliance é which is as responsible for the terrorization of the Afghan people as the Taliban is – demonstrates that the motive behind the invasion of Afghanistan is hardly genuinely humanitarian. The United States is apparently perfectly happy with supporting undemocratic terror-toting proxies, as long as they serve regional U.S. interests. Indeed, U.S. indifference to tyranny, repression, gender-apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing is further demonstrated by the fact that the U.S. supported the Taliban from 1994-99 in order to secure its strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan.
Professor William O. Beeman, an anthropologist specialising in the Middle East at Brown University who has conducted extensive research into Islamic Central Asia, points out:
“It is no secret, especially in the region, that the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been supporting the fundamentalist Taliban in their war for control of Afghanistan for some time. The US has never openly acknowledged this connection, but it has been confirmed by both intelligence sources and charitable institutions in Pakistan.”
Professor Beeman observes that the U.S.-backed Taliban “are a brutal fundamentalist group that has conducted a cultural scorched-earth policy” in Afghanistan. Extensive documentation shows that the Taliban have “committed atrocities against their enemies and their own citizens… So why would the U.S. support them?” Beeman concludes that the answer to this question “has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity – but only with the economics of oil. To the north of Afghanistan is one of the world’s wealthiest oil fields, on the Eastern Shore of the Caspian Sea in republics formed since the breakup of the Soviet Union.” Caspian oil needs to be transhipped out of the landlocked region through a warm water port, for the desired profits to be accumulated. The “simplest and cheapest” pipeline route is through Iran – but Iran is essentially an ‘enemy’ of the U.S., due to being overtly independent of the West. As Beeman notes: “The U.S. government has such antipathy to Iran that it is willing to do anything to prevent this.” The alternative route is one that passes through Afghanistan and Pakistan, which “would require securing the agreement of the powers-that-be in Afghanistan” – the Taliban. Such an arrangement would also benefit Pakistani elites, “which is why they are willing to defy the Iranians.” Therefore, as far as the U.S. is concerned, the solution is “for the anti-Iranian Taliban to win in Afghanistan and agree to the pipeline through their territory.”
In 1996, Cable News Network (CNN) reported that the “United States wants good ties [with the Taliban] but can’t openly seek them while women are being repressed” – hence they can be sought covertly. The Intra Press Service (IPS) reported in 1997 that underscoring “the geopolitical stakes, Afghanistan has appeared prominently in US government and corporate planning about routes for pipelines and roads opening the ex-Soviet republics on Russia’s southern border to world markets.” Hence, amid the fighting, “some Western businesses are warming up to the Taliban despite the movement’s” responsibility for terror, massacres, abductions, and impoverishment. “Leili Helms, a spokeswoman for the Taliban in New York, told IPS that one U.S. company, Union Oil of California (Unocal), helped to arrange the visit last week of the movement’s acting information, industry and mines ministers. The three officials met lower-level State Department officials before departing for France, Helms said. Several US and French firms are interested in developing gas lines through central and southern Afghanistan, where the 23 Taliban-controlled states” just happen to be located, as Helms added, to the ‘chance’ convenience of American and other Western companies.
An article appearing in the prestigious German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, in early October 1996, reported that UNOCAL “has been given the go-ahead from the new holders of power in Kabul to build a pipeline from Turkmenstein via Afghanistan to Pakistan. It would lead from Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea to Karachi on the Indian Ocean coast.” The same article noted that UN diplomats in Geneva believe that the war in Afghanistan is the result of a struggle between Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and the United States, “to secure access to the rich oil and natural gas of the Caspian Sea.” Other than UNOCAL, companies that are jubilantly interested in exploiting Caspian oil, apparently at any human expense, include AMOCO, BP, Chevron, EXXON, and Mobile.
It therefore comes as no surprise to find the Wall Street Journal reporting in 1997 that the main interests of American and other Western elites lie in making Afghanistan “a prime transhipment route for the export of Central Asia’s vast oil, gas and other natural resources”. “Like them or not,” the Journal continues without fear of contradiction, “the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history.” The Journal is referring to the same faction that is responsible for the severe repression of women; massacres of civilians; ethnic cleansing and genocide; arbitrary detention; and the growth of widespread impoverishment and underdevelopment. In a similar vein, the International Herald Tribunal reported that in the summer of 1998, “the Clinton administration was talking with the Taleban about potential pipeline routes to carry oil and natural gas out of Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean by crossing Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
Even members of the U.S. Government have criticized U.S. covert support of the Taliban. One should note, for instance, the authoritative testimony of U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher concerning American policy toward Afghanistan. Rohrabacher has been involved with Afghanistan since the early 1980s when he worked in the White House as Special Assistant to then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and he is now a Senior Member of the U.S. House International Relations Committee. He has been involved in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan for some 20 years. In 1988 he traveled to Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Congress with mujahideen fighters and participated in the battle of Jalalabhad against the Soviets. He testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee:
“Having been closely involved in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan for some twenty years, I have called into question whether or not this administration has a covert policy that has empowered the Taliban and enabled this brutal movement to hold on to power. Even though the President and the Secretary of State have voiced their disgust at the brutal policies of the Taliban, especially their repression of women, the actual implementation of U.S. policy has repeatedly had the opposite effecté I am making the claim that there is and has been a covert policy by this administration to support the Taliban movement’s control of Afghanistané [T]his amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistané I believe the administration has maintained this covert goal and kept the Congress in the dark about its policy of supporting the Taliban, the most anti-Western, anti-female, anti-human rights regime in the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that this policy would outrage the American people, especially America’s women.”
Yet U.S. plans fell through. The Taliban has simply proved incapable of playing a suitably stabilising role in the region, particularly due its inability to remain subservient to U.S. orders. P. Stobdan reports that the terrorist antics of Taliban favourite Osama Bin Laden caused a rift in the blossoming U.S.-Taliban relationship, leading the American corporation UNOCAL to indefinitely suspend work on the pipeline in August 1999. It thus appears that not long after the U.S.-Taliban relationship soured, U.S. plans to topple the regime and install a new government began to be explored and even discussed with other powers.
The establishment of a strong client state in Afghanistan would strengthen U.S. influence in this crucial region, partly by strengthening Pakistan é formerly a prime supporter of the Taliban – which is the region’s main American base. Of course, this also furthers the cause of establishing the required oil and gas pipelines to the Caspian Sea, while bypassing Russia and opening up the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) bordering Russia to the U.S. dominated global market. This has been U.S. intention all along. Previously, it was hoped that the Taliban é regardless of its domestic record of terror, genocide and gender-apartheid é would be this strong client state; yet since that is not the case, a band of murderers of the same ilk as the Taliban é the Northern Alliance é can be installed most probably under the leadership of a former undemocratic King. Canadian foreign affairs commentator Eric Margolis é a specialist in the Middle East and Central Asia é observes that:
“The first phase of the U.S. ‘war on terrorism’ will likely be the attempted overthrow of the Taliban regime, which currently rules 90% of Afghanistan. Washington is massing powerful strike forces around Afghanistan and has unleashed a fierce propaganda offensive against Taliban.
“The Bush Administration says it will embark on ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan. Translation: imposing a pro-U.S. regime in Kabul that will battle Islamic militants and open the way for American oil and gas pipelines running south from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. Washington clearly hopes to make the Northern Alliance, a motley collection of anti-Taliban insurgents, the new ruler of Afghanistan, perhaps under its 86-year old exiled king, Zahir Shah.”
Concerns for democracy, human rights and socio-economic development are simply public relations exercised designed to deflect from the actual objectives.