Afghanistan: Russia defeated as…. US Abandons the Victims
Reprinted from Socialist Worker (Britain), 11 February 1989. This article represents a shift from the ostensible neutrality of document 2a.2 with its assessment of the victory of imperialist-backed reactionaries as “a boost for our side” and the comparison with Vietnam. In the original most sentences were separate paragraphs.
Russia’s war in Afghanistan appears over. The invasion that Moscow now calls a “political mistake” has ended in defeat. Russia intervened more than nine years ago to prop up a government which now looks incapable of surviving. Russian Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze’s last desperate attempts to preserve some members of the Najibullah government in an interim administration have floundered. mujahedin leaders based in Pakistan have refused to have any truck with the ruling party, the PDPA.
The defeat for the USSR is profound. Former leader Brezhnev ordered the invasion in late 1979 to protect Russian’s interests in Afghanistan and maintain a friendly state on its border. Now Gorbachev has been forced out by the popular resistance. The attempt to subjugate the country by force has been broken.
Far from subduing fundamentalism, Islamic influence will have been fuelled immeasurably by this victory. Opponents of Russia’s rule everywhere within the USSR and Eastern Europe will take enormous heart. But the legacy of the war and of decades of imperialist interference—not just by Russia but by Britain and the United States—is vast. The fighting is likely to continue.
Attempts to set up an interim government at a consultative assembly (shura) this week looked doomed. The mujahedin is split between the commanders in the field and the political leaders in Pakistan and Iran. The political parties are split between allegiance to Pakistan and to Iran—to Sunni or Shi’ite Islam.
The seven parties based in Pakistan are divided between those wanting a fundamentalist state and others backing a return of the king Zaheer Shah, deposed in 1973. The one unifying factor has departed—opposition to the Russian army. Neighbouring Islamic states Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing to fill the vacuum left by the USSR.
No one is concerned to aid the people ravaged by the war. More than one million of Afghanistan’s 15 million people have died. Two thirds of the population are refugees. The population of beleaguered Kabul has quadrupled and now hundreds of thousands face famine in a country that used to be self-sufficient in food. Tens of millions of mines and plastic bombs litter the deserted countryside. More than half the livestock has been slaughtered. Wells and irrigation channels lie in ruins.
Pakistan and Iran want rid of the millions of refugees inside their borders. Russia’s rulers want only to minimise the damage to their interests. The United States and Britain are refusing to help a United Nations relief effort, claiming it will prolong the life of the Russian-backed Najibullah government. So while the White House has been spending $600 million a year on arms for the mujahedin, it has given just $16 million in aid to the UN and a further $95 million to “private” relief agencies. With the Russian army gone, the US cares little for the mujahedin.
That shouldn’t lead socialists to see Russia’s defeat as anything but a boost for our side. Russia’s experience in Afghanistan resembles that of the US in Vietnam in everything from the effect on its forces’ morale—its troops bartering uniforms and arms for hashish—to the extent of the defeat.
It took the Pentagon years even to begin to recover. If anything, the consequences for Russia’s rulers could be more grave.