Afghanistan; State-building project in the era of warlords
The previous section examined the history of land reform in Afghanistan. We will examine the situation in the 1990s in this section.
Many sources have been used in writing this article, some of them historically significant. One of these sources is a long analytical article published by a political/labor collective in Iran. Its revolutionary historical and class analysis led me to use it to write this collection of essays. The discussion of recent events in Afghanistan has important historical aspects, so I thought it necessary to describe them briefly. This series of articles on Afghanistan is a political analysis and a historical study to describe how the context of continuing proxy wars handed the country into the hands of the Taliban.
In practice, establishing a united Islamic state has proved to be more difficult than Washington could have predicted. Now the former jihadists were fighting over who was in control of one region, each claiming sovereignty.
Afghanistan had become a land of a thousand states and warlords’ paradise, and the Brotherhood government in Kabul (Burhanuddin Rabbani – Ahmad Shah Massoud) was short-lived. This period was characterized by rape, looting, killing, confiscation of land by warlords, and in a word, the law of the jungle. These warlords relied heavily on narcotics cultivation and sale for their income during this time.
Within a decade Afghanistan’s narcotics production increased from 100 tonnes a year (70s) to 2,000 tons in the early 90s .
Under these circumstances, former Mujahideen jihadists (led by Mullah Omar) armed with a more fundamentalist ideology (Talibanism) declared their determination to build a state. As a result of 15 years of civil war in Afghanistan, Mullah Omar selected his troops from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan; many Taliban soldiers were orphaned youth and adolescents who spent their childhood in Pakistani refugee camps. Their knowledge of agriculture and rural life was limited, as were their skills with land work and social culture in Afghanistan. Their entire lives were spent in the religious schools of the refugee camps (where Saudi money was used to teach a copy of Salafi Islam with the help of the Pakistani government). The appeal of Talabani’s pure ideology to create an Islamic utopia had attracted these children of war.
Taliban’s war against Afghan warlords (each attacking villages and towns to rape and plunder the people) and imposing the rule of law (even violently) in a jungle without law initially won the support of some villages. Furthermore, the Taliban’s iron fist, which promised a united government, appealed to the United States, so much so that it left its old state-building candidates (Rabbani-Shah Massoud) alone and found a new ally in the Taliban. US believed this ideology could have fast-tracked Afghanistan’s transition to a unified government with guaranteed capital security, which the Taliban achieved.
In contrast, women’s rights activists in the United States had protested against the US government’s alliance with the Taliban,  while the Clinton administration had casually encouraged American oil companies to do business with the Taliban. The director of the American UNOCAL corporation described the incident as “very positive” during the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, calling it a foreshadowing of a “unified government” in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, the same company began talks with the Taliban to move the pipeline to advance its $ 4.5 billion project in Central Asia. A deal that brought in up to $100 million a year for the Taliban. Additionally, UNOCAL and its Saudi oil partners, codenamed “Peace,” attempted to reconcile the Mujaheddin and Taliban factions to form a unified government (which, of course, failed to work).
Mullah Omar’s advance would not have been possible without the arrival of new Taliban fighters from Pakistan and without the U.S.’s permission. A decade ago, the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia funded a project that linked jihadism and now Talibanism to Afghanistan. During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
The US tacitly supported the Taliban until 1998 (when bin Laden attacked the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania). In response to the attacks, the United States demanded bin Laden surrender from Taliban, and relations between the United States and the Taliban soured when they refused to bid him farewell.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company. Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Return to the New Government-Building Project in Afghanistan (2001-2010)
Since 2001, the United States has brought together a handful of “most loyal” warlords and its former allied jihadists for a post-Taliban state-building project. The likes of Karzai-Abdullah, along with a number of export technocrats from European and American military academies (such as Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank staffer), formed the new Kabul governing body.
However, it took a decade for the United States to prove that this artificial, Kabul-limited government (just like in the 1990s) was incapable of fulfilling the functions of a “state” at the national level.
Transforming Former Warlords Into a parvenu (2001 onwards)
Kabul’s puppet government after the fall of the Taliban (the same yesterday’s mercenaries and today’s businessmen whose main sources of income were looting and confiscation of land and opium cultivation and narcotics production in the 1990s), now after achieving the presidential palace, the Taliban saw an opportunity to receive dollars pumped into Afghanistan in the name of “loans”, “aid”, “poverty alleviation” and “reconstruction”.
Afghanistan quickly reached the top of the list of world government corruption due to its massive bribes, embezzlements, and thefts! There was so much corruption that even political visits to foreign countries made by Afghan leaders such as Karzai were so extravagant that they were often mocked in newspapers.
Since Afghanistan’s non-industrial economy was completely dependent on the government’s distribution system, corruption engorges the urban services budget, thus impoverishing the urban population. After the US invasion of Afghanistan began, a new class of rentier politicians emerged who had neither the motivation nor the will to fight the Taliban, nor the desire to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. For them, the continuation of the war, incidentally, was guaranteed by rents that went straight into their pockets in the name of “foreign aid” or “contracting for the US military.”
The example of “Gul Agha Sherzai” provides a concrete example in this regard; A former warlord and war criminal trained by the United States with Karzai in the 1990s.
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Sherzai created a lucrative business that supplied US military needs such as renting land, selling fuel and supplies, and hiring simple workers. He received government positions (from adviser to minister to governor) due to US trust. His performance as governor of Kandahar is a good example of how Afghan warlords-businessmen formed the official government of Afghanistan.
The United States handed over control of Kandahar to Sherzai after taking it from the Taliban. Under his administration, drug cultivation and trafficking grew by 50% compared to the Taliban era (he himself benefited from the drug trade), and the public security situation deteriorated due to theft, trafficking, and rape of women and children. [3 text in Farsi] According to US government estimates, he also embezzled 300 million dollars by creating a self-made (illegal) tax system from traders.
Similarly, as Nangarhar governor, he used foreign dollars as grants to finance reconstruction projects with his own companies (including the Jamal Baba company). This was also the case in Nangarhar province, where traders were taxed (or extorted) in the same manner. As news of the corruption spread, the central government ordered an end to the illegal taxes, and Sherzai sought to refuse to follow government orders with the support of local supporters. Then, in order to avoid further scandal, he transferred the funds from these taxes to his charity!
Sherzai’s example illustrates the parasitic dependence of these parvenu (old warlords) upon the United States. While their Western allies are well aware of the looting and theft of people like Sherzai and Karzai, the corruption of these parvenu to the United States is insignificant as long as they do not cross the US political “red lines.”
Obviously, this meant for the United States as long as these puppets solved the “main problem” on Afghan soil for the United States (i.e., the establishment of a unified government)! Despite a decade of battle and billions of dollars spent, the United States still saw that half of Afghanistan had been captured by the Taliban and that state-building project (i.e., territorial domination, law, and a standing army) was at zero or close to that point.
With the outbreak of uprisings in the Middle East (Arab Spring), NATO turned its attention to newer and more fruitful fronts (Libya and Syria), and has been intervening there ever since. Due to these circumstances, US think tanks put forward the “Taliban inclusion” strategy to the Afghanistan government.