A WORLD TO WIN    #24   (1998)


Cutting through the Darkness in Afghanistan

By M. N. Cham

In a major military thrust in August 1998 the Taliban succeeded in forcing the Northern Alliance out of large sections of the country previously under their control. Although this changed the balance of forces dramatically, the situation is far from settled. Shortly thereafter, the US imperialists launched an air attack on the camp of the Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan, in what they said was retaliation for the bombing of the US Embassies in eastern Africa. This was a case of trying to discipline their own child, however, since the US and the CIA in particular had overseen Bin Laden’s rise as one of the Taliban’s main recruiters in the Afghanistan resistance war against the Soviet social -imperialists. This article was written before these developments but sheds light on many aspects of the political scene in Afghanistan today. AWTW

For most of us Afghanistan rhymes with war. Even for those born before the pounding of rockets drowned out all other sounds, the past twenty years of bloodshed have cast an ominous shadow on the memories of the past. In 1979, in a deadly move to re-enforce its lackeys against rising opposition, the Soviet social-imperialists invaded Afghanistan. In the absence of a revolutionary party capable of uniting the people into a people’s war against imperialism and feudalism, the resistance of the masses was in the main organised under the leadership of various feudal and bourgeois forces. These forces were unwilling and incapable of unleashing the full potential of the masses in a war that would target not only the invading army, but also the age-old oppressive relations that weigh heavily on the masses. Instead they turned to US imperialism and reactionary states in the region and became instruments of inter-imperialist rivalry.

The USSR was finally forced to pull out in 1989, leaving behind a faction-ridden government, which in turn was ousted in 1992. The take-over of Kabul by an alliance of Islamic forces was only a realignment of troops in the bloody battlefield of Afghanistan. The forces making up the subsequent government were quickly plagued by infighting and in 1996 were themselves forced out by the newly formed Taliban, a US-backed group; but this was far from the end of the conflict among the reactionary warlords.

Every time an area is captured by one of these armies there are rapes, mass murders and executions. Inhabitants of whole cities have been forced out. Women are excluded from all aspects of social life. The country is saturated with mines, most of its infrastructure is destroyed, food is scarce and so are health-care and other social services. War has ravaged Afghanistan for almost twenty years. Almost 10% of the country’s 18 million people have lost their lives, and many more have been mutilated. One third of the country’s people live in exile.

For many, a revolutionary turn in the present situation of Afghanistan seems impossible. But like any phenomenon, Afghanistan is a unity of opposites, and where there is oppression, there is the possibility for genuine revolutionary change. Different reactionary states in the region such as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been sponsoring one or another Islamic warring party. The US, West European and Russian imperialists have propped up and armed the most backward elements in Afghanistan as weapons in their quest for profit and power. Inter-imperialist rivalry, regional conflicts and the contradictions among various warlords have created a situation where for many years now none of these forces has been able to dominate effectively. They need the masses as cannon fodder for their endless war. But the interests of the vast majority of the people are fundamentally opposed to the semi-feudal, semi-colonial structure these forces are defending, and years of war under their rule have further exposed the true nature of the warlords and their masters, making it more and more difficult for them to mobilise the masses to fight for them. Moreover, in Afghanistan there is a vanguard, the Communist Party of Afghanistan (CPA), a participating party of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), which bases itself on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM). This crucial factor can catalyse the explosive contradictions in the society and unleash and lead the process of revolutionary change.

Some background

Afghanistan is a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country where before the anti-Soviet war 85% of the population lived and worked in the countryside.

The modern history of Afghanistan begins with British colonisation in the 1800s. Following two Anglo-Afghan wars, the British set up a central state to act as a buffer zone between the Russian Empire and British India. This centralised feudal-colonial state was established through the brutal suppression of numerous revolts and the subjugation of different clans and ethnic groups; needless to say, it did not attempt to change the feudal structure of the country.

It was not until independence from Britain, declared in 1919 by King Amanullah Khan, that the doors were somewhat opened to foreign capital and half-hearted attempts were made at reforms to deal with feudalism. The British disapproved and backed the feudal opposition that ousted Amanullah Kahn in 1929.

In the late 1950s, with British control weakened following World War II, the government of Afghanistan developed strong ties with the new capitalist rulers who had overthrown socialism in the Soviet Union in 1956. The bureaucrat comprador class, aided by Soviet capital, gained strength. At the same time, links with the West were also maintained. Afghanistan was again considered a buffer zone, this time between the USSR and US-sponsored states in the region (the CENTO pact). Foreign investment was low, and the state remained a nominal centralised bureaucracy incorporating different local feudal authorities.

In 1978 the revisionists of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDP), which represented pro-Soviet bureaucrat-comprador capital, seized power through a coup, which was concentrated in the cities. The PDP consisted of two factions, Parcham (flag) and Khalq (people), and ruled the country on behalf of the Soviet occupiers. Under Soviet-backed rule, thousands of democratic and revolutionary forces were imprisoned and killed, torture became commonplace, and Soviet helicopter gunships led US Vietnam War style search-and-destroy missions throughout the countryside.

Afghanistan is a colourful carpet of different nations and national minorities. The Pashtuns are the largest minority, with about 40% of the population; most of them live in the southern and western regions. The Tajiks are one of the larger minorities, and other smaller national minorities include the Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen, Baluchis, Nuristanis and some smaller groupings. Most ethnic groups have cultural and language ties outside the country. The most widely spoken language is Dari (or Tajik – different names for the same language that is also spoken in Iran, where it is called Farsi).

The Pashtuns have historically been the dominant nation. The formation of the centralised state under overall British rule saw a strong rise in chauvinism. This has been a constant source of contradiction with non-Pashtuns, who constitute the majority of the population. Not only was much of the arable and pastureland that belonged to non-Pashtun tribes and clans given to Pashtuns, but many men and women of Hazara origin were also taken into slavery. (Slavery had been formally abolished after independence.) The “Afghanising” of the country (locally Pashtuns are referred to as Afghans) was symbolised in the changing of the country’s name to Afghanistan and local geographical names to Pashtun names. In most of the country’s recent history, Pashtuns have held a virtual monopoly on the higher ranks of the state, including the army.2

At the same time, far from being united, the Pashtun ruling classes are divided along clan lines. The contradictions between these clans have continued to be a source of conflict among different Islamic Pashtun parties during and after Soviet occupation.

The dominant religion in the country is Islam. The Sunni branch of Islam is the most widely practised, including by Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks. About 20% of the population, including in the Hazara areas, follow the Shiite branch of Islam. Different sub-branches of both Sunni and Shia, such as Ismaili, are also practised, and there is a small Sikh and Hindu minority as well.

The Rise to Power of the Islamic Alliance

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989 there was a plethora of meetings between assorted warlords, state officials from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, and secret service members from the imperialist countries. All were anxious to broker a solution that would best represent their interests. The pro-Soviet Najibullah government, which lasted from 1987 to April 1992, lacked a strong base, and its army was not able to consolidate country-wide power. The opposition fronts controlled major sections of the countryside, but the armies were divided along clan and national lines and lacked a centralised command.

The failure of the pro-US Mujahedeen to take over and hold onto the major cities when the Soviet troops departed left them too weak to seize power on their own. Under the supervision of the region’s governments, a coalition of some of the Islamic forces was formed, and in 1992, in collaboration with pro-Soviet/Russia forces, they ousted Najibullah. This was a relatively non-violent take-over, which these forces called the “Islamic revolution”.

The resulting government was a coalition of forces representing and defending the semi-feudal semi-colonial system. The seizure of power was accompanied by a campaign of terror against the masses, particularly women, in order to force them into submission. The government called for foreign aid and demanded the land be returned to the big landlords. Furthermore, this coalition not only did not represent all the armies in the field, it was not even able to mediate its own internal differences. From the very beginning different factions initiated wars, through varying alliances, to gain a bigger share of power. Kabul and its surrounding areas, which had been mainly spared during the Soviet occupation, now became the central battlefield.

Major players at this point included the pro-US Ekhvani forces; Abdul Rashid Dastom of the National Islamic Movement (NIM), a strong Uzbek-based militia formed by the Soviets; Burhanuddin Rabbani of Jamaat-e Islami and its commander Ahmed Shah Massoud of Shora-e-Nezar, a Tajik-based feudal-comprador grouping with ties to France, Russia and Iran; and the pro-Iranian Hizb-e Wahdat-e, a Shiite fundamentalist grouping based in the Hazara region.

The government at that time was led by Rabbani (as President) and Massoud (as Defence Minister) and consisted primarily of Tajik and other non-Pashtun forces. The main man of the US and Pakistan, Hikmatyar, proved incapable of exerting any real power in this alliance. The contradiction between the various warlords was extremely difficult to solve, and none had enough military strength to hold country-wide power.

Afghanistan is situated between the Central Asian republics in the north, which gained nominal independence following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and Pakistan and the Indian Ocean to the south. The imperialists and reactionary states in the region were anxious to develop new political and commercial ties in this area, and thus needed a solution to end the war.

The Taliban (students of religion) appeared on the political scene of Afghanistan soon after a trip by a high-ranking Pakistani delegation to Turkmenistan to negotiate trade between the two countries, which would go through Afghanistan. Supported by Pakistan, the Taliban emerged with the slogan of securing the roads and fighting piracy. The banner of anti-corruption was raised, religious schools were emptied as the “students” joined the struggle, and it was not long before Taliban artillery were pounding the gates of Kabul, finally capturing it in September 1996. The Taliban have their roots in the pro-US Muslim fundamentalist forces, are Wahabi Muslims (a sub-branch of Sunni) and represent Pashtun chauvinism.7

The rapid advance of the Taliban was due partly to the co-operation or desertion of various Mujahedeen fronts and to the fact that sections of the military and bureaucracy from the previous regime, many of them Pashtun forces, joined in. They were finally halted in the northern parts of Afghanistan after pitched battles by an alliance of previously warring groupings, the Northern Alliance, composed of Jamaat/Shora, NIM and Hizb-e Wahdat-e. In the present alignment of forces, US imperialism supports the Taliban through Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both militarily and financially. (Pakistani soldiers have even been arrested while fighting for the Taliban, and higher-ranking Pakistani military men also assist the Taliban.) An axis of Russia and France, along with Iran, India and the Asian Republics of the ex-USSR, back the Northern Alliance. Russians not only provide them with arms, but Russian officers who had gained a rich knowledge of the country while posted there have now returned as military advisors for the Northern Alliance. The areas of influence of different reactionary forces have been more or less consolidated along national lines, with the Taliban mainly based in Pashtun as well as other regions of the west and south, adding up to two-thirds of the country. As of summer 1998, the components of the Northern Alliance controlled significant parts of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara areas in the North.

A 1996 conference of the US Institute of Peace on the future of Afghanistan stated that, “it is in the interests of the neighbouring powers, as well as of the oil companies operating in the region [which see Afghanistan as a passage for pipelines], to help Afghanistan survive as a country”. In the same meeting, Ashraf Ghani of the World Bank suggested that what “Afghanistan needs is an interim government of technocrats who could act as a central authority to prevent the country from collapsing”. The imperialists may not find this de facto division of the country and the continuing war to their liking, but inter-imperialist rivalry, as well as the contradictions among the various feudal comprador armies that the imperialists themselves have bolstered, and the conflicting interests of the region’s reactionary states are the main factors behind the continuing conflict. This has created a situation in which no force or alliance has so far been able to establish a stable regime, which could well add to the disorder in that whole region.

Islam as a Club against the People

For years Islam was propped up and used as a banner to mobilise the masses against the Soviet Union. Islam already had solid roots among the masses and was the ideology at hand to organise around. In addition, some of the early PDP attempts at land reform which aimed at reinforcing the comprador bourgeoisie and dependency on social-imperialism had pushed landlords and religious authorities, who historically had ties with the West, into opposition. Portraying the Soviet imperialists as “communists” and hence the anti-imperialist struggle of the Afghanstani  people as one between “communism” and the “soldiers of Allah” helped strengthen backward religious feelings amongst the masses and propped up the authority of the feudals and clergy. This was done with the full backing of the Western imperialists, who funded religious propaganda and armed the Mujahedeen as a weapon in their rivalry with the Soviet social-imperialists. In fact, US funding of these forces started at $30 million in 1980 and climbed to $630 million in 1987, where it remained through 1989.

But life under religious rule, both in exile in Iran and in the refugee camps in Pakistan (mostly controlled by Islamic forces), as well as in areas under Mujahedeen command inside the country, has left its mark. For years women were imprisoned in the camps, and even in their tents, so that men they did not know would not see them. Anyone who did not strictly follow religious rites was severely punished on accusations of being a “communist” and a “Soviet spy”. People were killed (most often with American bullets) for as much as holding a Western magazine, drinking Coke, and other such “crimes”. The sectarianism of Mujahedeen fronts made it difficult for urban youth to join the anti-Soviet resistance, and most had to leave the country. Those who went to Iran believing Iranian propaganda that Islam knows no borders, became targets of systematic anti-Afghani chauvinism there. They also witnessed the hell into which the Islamic rulers have delivered the Iranian people. Many of them have left Iran, also leaving their religious beliefs behind.

At the same time, even during the anti-Soviet resistance war, various Islamic forces have warred amongst themselves. This bloodshed carried out under Islamic flags has not escaped the eyes of the masses. When, after Soviet withdrawal, the armies of Islamic warlords entered the cities, they continued looting the businesses and robbing the people, dismantling the factories, leaving the urban masses with no source of income and with the bitter taste of “divine rule”.

Added to this are the purist fundamentalist practices of many followers of Islam, especially the Taliban, who are taking religious practice way beyond the traditional customs of the masses. People’s faith in religion and religious authorities is breaking down. Many who still practise Islam have become anti-clergy and are sick and tired of religious propaganda. The situation is such that (according to Communist Party of Afghanistan [CPA] sources), in many Hazara and Uzbek fronts the non-practising no longer see the need to pretend. This is an important change in a climate where only a few years back such boldness could well cost one’s life. As the reactionaries have more and more difficulty mobilising the masses under the banner of Islam, they openly complain that Islam is becoming “polluted” and naturally blame each other for this.

Religion as well as other backward beliefs and traditions cannot be swept away overnight. This requires a long struggle through mobilising the people to overthrow feudalism and imperialism, both in the base and superstructure, and moving on to socialism and communism. But the invading social-imperialist army waved the banner of false communism and phoney internationalism, helping to confuse the people and in fact reinforcing Islam, which was ceded the “national” flag. The practice of the Islamic parties, however, has itself contributed to shattering people’s illusions, making the ground more favourable for Maoists to expose religious falsehoods and the repressive class nature of theocracy and mobilise the masses for a people’s war against the Islamic rulers and their imperialist backers.

The National Question

During the Soviet occupation, the spontaneous mass movement, particularly in the rural areas, was an important part of the resistance. In the absence of a strong revolutionary force, these struggles took an ethnic and tribal form and led to a situation where reactionary elements of each region (and nationality) took control of the struggle in that area. According to the Basic Principles document of the CPA, “the struggle in this period against the occupiers seriously affected all the internal contradictions and the internal national contradictions did not surface in a major way....

“During the war the main lever of political power remained in the hands of the Pashtuns, but at the same time large areas inhabited by oppressed nationalities fell under local forces, ending direct rule of the Pashtun ruling classes.”

The Pashtun comprador bourgeoisie and feudals, who had already lost exclusive control before 1992 and saw themselves almost completely slipping out of power after the fall of Najibullah, found their representatives in the Taliban. Rape and murder accompanied their take-over of Kabul; everywhere they set foot they unleashed a wild chauvinist rampage against the masses of non-Pashtun people. Unfortunately, by fanning chauvinism among the Pashtun population, they have been able to mobilise part of the masses against their brothers and sisters of other nationalities. These atrocities have given rise to strong anti-Pashtun sentiment and nationalism among other nations, and the warlords of the Northern Alliance, who had lost their credibility to a great extent among the people, are now trying to seize on these feelings to recruit the masses into their ranks and to save their sinking ship. These forces, who have never missed a chance to sell their country and people to various imperialists and reactionary states, are now unabashedly claiming the national cause. Their “national” struggle, however, is nothing but a struggle for power with rival Islamic warlords, and its main brunt is against the Pashtun masses.

Neither of the two warring factions is interested in uniting the people against imperialism; both are fighting for the interests of several reactionary and imperialist countries. They have shamelessly spat on the heroic struggle of the people against the Soviet invaders and are closely working with Russian military advisers or the factions of the old state. The anti-imperialism of these national traitors is limited to the Taliban enthusiastically condemning Russian, French and Iranian interference, while the Northern Alliance are staunch champions of the anti-US, Pakistan and Saudi cause. All they have done is engage the masses in a fratricidal war for the interests of their masters.

Some secular intellectuals have aligned themselves with each of the Islamic parties fighting for power. Those of Pashtun origin are justifying their unity with the Taliban by saying they alone are capable of ending the war and establishing a central government that will unite the country. Others, including some secular-democratic intellectuals among the Hazara nation, are calling on people to rally to the banner of the various Islamic reactionaries of the Northern Alliance, under the pretext of “national unity” and the “anti-Taliban struggle”.

This is the same line that caused a lot of damage to the struggle during the Soviet occupation. The USSR’s false communism not only left the Islamic forces holding the national banner, but also provided grounds for right opportunism among many so-called left forces and intellectuals. Many of those who were clear about the true nature of the USSR did not go against the anti-communist wind. Instead, under the guise of fighting the foreign army first, they carefully concealed their real views and picked up the banner of “Allah Akhbar” (“God is great”). So, instead of striving to chart a road to genuine liberation, they assisted the Islamic parties in strengthening backward ideas and ultimately served feudalism and imperialism.

The current situation poses new challenges to the Maoists, who, by getting at the roots of national oppression, are exposing the reactionary nationalism of the Islamic parties and laying the ground for the only way to end this oppression. The CPA holds that the struggle against (internal) national oppression should be based on the unity of the labouring masses of all nationalities against imperialism and reaction, along with the right of each nationality to self-determination. They point out that “national chauvinism is in fact the ideology of the ruling class of the dominant nation and not of all the classes of that nation. This chauvinism obviously affects the petite bourgeoisie, the peasants and even the proletariat, but the national bourgeoisie most of all. Thus the reactionary classes of this nation try to use them as their tools and their social base for oppressing other nations. But national chauvinism and the oppression of other nations does not correspond to the masses’ historical interests and will become a means to perpetuate the control of the ruling classes over them.” [Eternal Flame, CPA central organ, No 16]

The national struggle in an oppressed country like Afghanistan is first and foremost a struggle against imperialism and feudalism. Without this basic orientation, the struggle of the oppressed nationalities will emphasise differences to the detriment of the basic unity of the people of different nations. The proletariat and peasants of one nation, instead of seeking unity among their class sisters and brothers in other nations, would unite rather with the national bourgeoisie (and even feudal and comprador classes) and will ultimately go under their leadership. The struggle against feudalism and imperialism then is taken off the agenda and national oppression will not be done away with. But if the centre of struggle, as the CPA comrades observe, “is that of the unity and interests of the labouring masses of all different nationalities, the ruling classes will be isolated,” the labouring masses of the dominant nation will themselves become a force in fighting national chauvinism, and strong unity can be forged capable of effectively sweeping away national oppression.

Women and Resistance behind the Veil

The rise of the Taliban was accompanied by savage attacks on women. Women are forced to wear dark veils covering them from head to toe; they are forbidden to work or go to school; they cannot walk in the streets, shop or seek care in hospitals unless accompanied by a mahram male (husband, brother or father), and even public baths are barred to them. Women are bought and sold, taken as war spoils, raped and killed. During the Soviet occupation, the Islamic parties prevented women from even taking part in the war against the army that invaded their land, bombed their homes, killed their kin. The Taliban are not alone, however; the other cliques also impose anti-women measures to various degrees, all very brutally, some with the rationale that this is part of the tradition of Afghanistan and so people are used to it.

The women of Afghanistan have strongly opposed this oppressive and patronising doctrine. The resentment accumulated through years of subjugation to male domination enforced by semi-feudal relations has started to surface. During a Taliban attack against Mazar-e-Sharif (at that time under the control of the Northern Alliance), women took up arms to fight them; there have been cases of women attacking the Taliban with kitchen knives. The protests of Afghanistani women in exile have made their way into the Pakistani press. Women have lost their lives in struggles to keep the public baths open, and underground schools are being organised to educate women.

The war has also pushed women into the workforce in order to provide for themselves and their families after the loss of male breadwinners. These women, who were mainly employed in Kabul industries and services, have tasted economic independence and have a passionate hatred for the Taliban, who are forbidding them to work.

It is important to note that without a revolutionary orientation against the real cause of their oppression the struggle of women can be narrowed down to an anti-Taliban struggle by other reactionary forces, some of whom make pretences of favouring less severe treatment of women. It is only under proletarian leadership that women can be fully mobilised to uproot the source of their oppression.

The CPA believes that without the active participation of women in the struggle against imperialism and ­reaction the victory of the new democratic revolution, socialist construction and communism is inconceivable. Moreover, the new democratic revolution must unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution and strike major blows to the patriarchal structure. The contradiction between women and men “is different from the class and national contradictions and requires different methods to solve it. But its existence is one of the main features of Afghanistan’s semi-feudal semi-colonial structure. Women’s oppression should in no way be considered a secondary question. It not only suppresses the individual and social rights of half of society, but the inhuman relations associated with this oppression... act as a major factor in preserving and strengthening the ruling semi-feudal semi-colonial relations.” (From CPA Basic Principles)

The CPA’s line and practice on this question are beginning to have an impact, as sections of women take up the struggle more consciously.

Immigrants and Refugees

At the height of the war during the 1980s, an estimated 3.5 million Afghanistani refugees lived in Pakistan and another 2 million in Iran, while thousands more fled to India and the West. In addition, an estimated 2‑3 million people were displaced by the war. After the Soviet withdrawal and the fall of the Najibullah government, refugees began to return. But the continuation of the war has created more internal displacement, and during the battles over Kabul, many left the city for other areas. At present, it is estimated that about 1 million refugees remain in Pakistan and about 1.5 million in Iran.

Even though the refugees belong to all strata of the society, the majority are from rural areas and during the resistance war some would even go back to work the land during planting and harvest seasons.

Most of those in Pakistan lived in the camps controlled by the Mujahedeen, through whom the bulk of UN aid was channelled, and they were subjected to strict Islamic-feudal rule. These camps were isolated from Pakistani society, and it was not until later that Afghanistani immigrants were able to work. Now many work in the coalmines of Pakistani Baluchistan.

A large number of these Afghanistani immigrants have been in Iran, either in the camps or working. The camps of the Islamic Republic of Iran are notorious for mistreating Afghanistani refugees, and hundreds of people have been massacred there. There have been several protests in Pakistan against the situation in these camps, including one involving several thousand immigrants, indicating the hatred of the inhuman conditions dished out by the Iranian rulers.

Those who work in Iran hardly have a better life. They mainly work in various cities as seasonal or permanent workers in brick making, construction and services as well as agriculture. They are forbidden to work in the food industry, such as bakeries, because they are considered dirty. Their wages, when they actually get them, are low, and the pay is more often than not confiscated by the Pasdaran (part of the Iranian armed forces) when they cross the borders to return home. The Islamic Republic spews reactionary propaganda against them, and has built up some anti-Afghani chauvinism among Iranians.

The crimes of the Islamic Republic against the refugees have not gone totally unanswered. In the past several years many immigrants have participated in the revolts of the masses in Iran against the state. They also often return with a new hostility towards Islam, and some of the more advanced elements are daring to openly denounce it.


The formation of the Organisation of Progressive Youth (PYO) in 1964 heralded the dawn of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement in Afghanistan. The PYO carried out active
struggle against Khrushchevite revisionism, social-imperialism and parliamentarism, upholding that political power grows from the barrel of a gun. The democratic journal the PYO published, the Eternal Flame, had such widespread support among the masses that to this day the genuine revolutionary and democratic forces are often referred to as “Flamists” (Sholei in Dari). The crisis prevailing in the international communist movement in the aftermath of the 1976 counter-revolutionary coup in China did not spare the young communist movement in Afghanistan, which at that time was losing many of its leaders and cadres in the execution fields and dungeons of the reactionary pro-Soviet state. Among them was Akram Yari, the founder of this movement.

The communists, however, were not easy to uproot. Individually and acting through various groups, they continued to play an important role in the anti-Soviet resistance war. The political struggle to forge a correct proletarian line continued under the fire of Soviet bombers and Islamic repression, and in the mid-1980s the Revolutionary Cell of Afghanistani Communists was formed. In 1990 the RCAC joined the Union of Marxist-Leninists of Afghanistan to form the Organisation of Revolutionary Communists of Afghanistan, which went on to found the Communist Party of Afghanistan in 1991. The Committee of Propaganda and Agitation of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought (PAC) joined the Party soon after its formation. The formation of RIM in 1984 played, from the beginning, an important role in focusing the line questions in the Afghanistan movement.

The CPA Basic Principles document declares, “The ideology guiding the thought and action of the Communist Party of Afghanistan is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism....

“The CPA’s programme in the present stage of the revolution in the country is the victory of the new democratic revolution and the establishment of the people’s democratic dictatorship. The accomplishment of the political, economic and cultural goals of Afghanistan’s new democratic revolution is the necessary precondition for the transition to socialist revolution in the country and the march to communism.

“The strategy of the CPA for the seizure of political power is the initiation and advance of the people’s war, a protracted war based on the vast majority of the people, especially the peasantry, under the leadership of the proletariat through its vanguard party. Up until the initiation of the people’s war all the struggles of the Party will serve its preparation, and after the people’s war is initiated all the forms of struggle and the fighting force of the Party will serve its advance and victory.” The CPA considers that its most important task at present in relation to the initiation is building and strengthening the Party.

The process of organising those “Flamists” who have remained true to the cause of revolution into the Party or as allies in a united front still continues, even though the CPA emphasises the importance of organising fresh revolutionary forces to take up MLM as the only liberating ideology. Besides struggle to strengthen the Party, the CPA have also been engaged in preparatory work for the united front: “It is clear that [a revolutionary united front] is based on worker-peasant unity, and its formation will be basically possible after the initiation of the people’s war and the establishment of revolutionary bases. But this does not in any way mean that in the present stage of struggle we should not strive to form a people’s revolutionary front or temporary and permanent alliances with freedom-seeking and revolutionary national-democratic forces and individuals against the theocratic rule of reaction.” [Eternal Flame, No 18]

Two Kinds of War

The CPA maintains that, “the new democratic revolution is a democratic revolution not only because it is an anti-feudal revolution but also because it is an anti-social-imperialist, anti-imperialist and anti-chauvinist struggle. ‘Land to the tiller’ is the central slogan of this revolution and the peasantry will benefit from the victory of this revolution more than any other class and strata.” The leading force of this revolution is the proletariat. The petite bourgeoisie will be a strong ally and the national bourgeoisie a vacillating ally. The goals of the new democratic revolution are: “to overthrow the feudal and bourgeois comprador classes and establish the democratic rule of the broad masses of all the peoples of the country...; to overthrow imperialist domination and achieve independence...; to overthrow national chauvinism... and recognise the right of self-determination of all the nationalities; to do away with male-chauvinism and establish equality between men and women....” ( CPA Basic Principles)

The few attempts so far in subduing feudalism, either after independence or during the first years of the pro-Soviet regime, have not been carried out with the goal of liberating the peasants from the yoke of feudalism but aimed instead at strengthening bureaucrat capitalism, the comprador bourgeoisie and imperialist domination. Thus the peasants were not armed politically or militarily to overthrow feudalism and imperialism themselves. So, in the face of the opposition from strong feudal quarters, these governments have either been overthrown (in the case of Amanullah Khan) or ended up conciliating with the feudals (in the case of the PDP). Those landless peasants who had put their hopes in such reforms later found themselves alone and unarmed in the face of feudal armed gangs. Unlike the Islamic enforcers of feudalism who promise a better life in heaven (and whose heaven also carries all the vestiges of their perverted imagination), the people’s war the Maoists are preparing will mobilise the masses to prepare and exercise their own rule from the beginning. “It is only after destroying the armed forces of the counter-revolutionaries that the political rule of reaction can be overthrown, and it is only after the overthrow of their political rule that the political rule of the masses can be established. This process is as protracted as that of the people’s war and is realised through it. It starts in small pockets, consolidates and expands, and after the country-wide seizure of political power by the Communist Party and its political allies it spreads throughout the country.” (CPA Basic Principles)

War-weariness is a serious question for the genuine communists. One reason for the rapid advance of the Taliban was that they were portrayed as a force capable of ending the wars; but reality soon tore into that illusion as the Taliban joined the many armies of warlords roaming Afghanistan. The events since the “Islamic Revolution” of 1992 are testimony to the fact that, as the CPA says, theocratic rule in Afghanistan is characterised by reactionary wars between different Islamic groups. And the warring factions and their foreign backers have thus far had great difficulty moving for a definitive and successful peace deal among the reactionaries. Any agreement would be inherently unstable and could soon turn into yet another reason for bloodshed.

Moreover, even if any of these armies were able to bring peace, this would not be peace for the masses but the silence of the graveyard. Women condemned to forced labour inside the walls of their homes, workers and peasants slaving long hours in backbreaking conditions only to fill the bellies of a bunch of clergymen and feudals; meanwhile they see their children dying of malnutrition, petrol flowing underground and opium and heroin adding to the riches of reactionaries and imperialists.

The people of Afghanistan have fought heroically against an imperialist army and have accepted many sacrifices, but have gained nothing in return, nothing but more imperialism and feudalism. The people of Afghanistan know about war, but they have never had a chance to taste the fruit of their sacrifices, they have never felt the empowering freedom of breaking the chains of tradition. Only a genuine people’s war under the leadership of the MLM vanguard party can lay the basis for them to see a way out of the situation, because it is linked for the first time to a liberating programme and struggle to bring in new relations, where the masses themselves exercise political power, and put an end once and for all to the stifling weight of semi-feudalism.

In the battlefield known as Afghanistan, all reactionary forces speak through the barrel of a gun, but the people do not as yet have their own army. Until such a war is started, the voice of the revolutionaries will remain weak. “This in no way means that we do not value different forms of struggle at their present level, because it is by the principled and successful advance of these struggles that we can conclude this initial preparatory stage of our work,” the CPA maintains. Indeed, as the communists’ experience among women and proletarian youth has shown, boldly mobilising the masses around a revolutionary programme and leading political struggle against reaction’s rule is vital in enabling the Maoists to cut through the darkness and gather the necessary force to initiate people’s war. n

1 The Khalqs endorsed a policy of rapid economic change in favour of the bourgeois comprador sector and accelerated dependency on the Soviet Union. Parcham advocated a more conciliatory policy towards feudalism. During the first years after the coup Khalq led the government but its policies gave rise to serious opposition. The Soviets then opted for the Parchamis through a coup in which prominent Khalq leaders were killed. Land reform was then amended and the privileges of the clergy and tribal leaders restored. (For more background on Soviet puppets see “Afghani Communists Expose Soviet Ploys”, AWTW 1987/9)

2 In the Dari language, the word “Afghani” indicates someone of the Pashtun nationality. Hence, the CPA uses the term “Afghanistani”, instead of “Afghani”, to refer to people of all nationalities from the country of Afghanistan.

3 After the 1978 PDP coup, the US helped organise feudal forces and religious authorities into armed groups. Following the Soviet invasion these groups transferred their headquarters to Peshawar, Pakistan. Most of Saudi/Pakistani financial and military aid to the resistance was channelled through these forces which were called Ekhvanis (Muslim brothers) or Mujahedeen. Among these is Hizb-e Islami, headed by the arch-reactionary Hikmatyar, who was once one of the favourite US “freedom” fighters, enjoying arms shipment and cash, as well as regular ISI (Pakistani secret services) briefings during the Soviet occupation. Since its defeat at the hands of the Taliban in 1995, Hizb has been reduced to a relatively insignificant force.

4 This grouping was bred by the Soviet social-imperialists and for years loyally served them in carrying out their many crimes. The Northern Militias, as they are sometimes referred to, were formed as an alternative force so that if the government in place proved incapable of holding the fortress after the Soviet retreat, they could be relied on to defend Soviet interests. In fact when the government was seriously threatened, the majority of the leaders supported this formation and joined it. The leader of this group now is General Dastom, and its base is in the Mazar-e Sharif region. Most of Afghanistan’s industries as well as the country’s sources of natural gas are in areas under the NIM’s control.

5 Shora-e Nezar is a political-military organisation and in fact part of Jamaat-e Islami. Jamaat’s ties with Western imperialists date back to the mid-1970s. During the anti-Soviet war they received substantial help from Pakistan. Later they developed ties with Iran. Shora co-ordinates the commanders of Jamaat and is headed by Ahmed Shah Massoud, who commands a strong army in the northeastern region of Afghanistan with his headquarters in Panjshir. It is said that he started to form his army as early as 1975. Massoud, who a few years after the Soviet invasion signed a truce with the invading troops, had always maintained ambiguous relations with the Soviet army. In 1990-91 he also received substantial help from the US, along with other Jamaat commanders. He enjoys strong ties with France. The area under his control has many sources of precious stones (emeralds and lapis lazuli) and includes the opium‑growing area of Badakhshan, both of which ensure some income for this group.

6 Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, headed by Karim Khalili, is a fundamentalist Shiite party, a combination of different forces in the Hazara region who were united in 1988 by Iran. For years, even during the occupation, they have been engaged in internal civil wars in that region, inflicting damage and casualties on the people. The cliques forming this party are mainly led by landlords and Islamic clergymen

7 The Taliban have their roots in Harekat Enghelab Islami (Movement of Islamic Revolution), the first Ekhvani (“Muslim brothers”) group formed in 1979, with the administration of the ISI (Pakistani secret services), SAVAK (Iranian intelligence organisation during the Shah’s reign) under the general supervision of the US CIA. Harekat, mainly mullahs and religious students, continued operating in the southern areas during the anti-Soviet war. At the same time, religious schools (funded by US client states in the region) were mushrooming in Pakistan, attracting the flood of Afghanistani youth who took refuge there. The leading core of Taliban, including their main figure, Mullah Mohammed Omar Akhundzadeh, have all been part of the “student” core of Harekat, and the group’s backbone consists of the mullahs and students of the religious schools and Harekat along with sections of the military and ­bureaucracy of the previous regime. Following the fall of Najibullah, Mullah Omar was assigned by the ISI and CIA to an “anti-drug” mission, and the Taliban was formed. Following the same branch of Islam as Saudi Arabia, the Taliban divide the population into an elite of mullahs and students, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the populace, which they consider an “ignorant flock in need of a shepherd”. A myriad of generals, officers and secret service agents of the Soviet puppet regime who previously belonged to the Khalq faction of the PDP are now actively fighting alongside the Taliban.

8The oil companies are a major reason behind much of the atrocity committed in Afghanistan today. It is estimated that within the next 15 years, the Caspian region will become the world’s second-largest source of petrol and gas, after the Middle East. The oil-producing countries, along with corporations such as Exxon, Chevron, BP and UNOCAL, have invested heavily in regional energy development and are anxious to upgrade and extend the existing export network. But the development of alternative routes raises issues which are more strategic than financial. The option of upgrading the existing network of pipelines across Russia would mean Russian control. US policy towards Iran and strategic problems of concentrating most of the world’s (petrol-generated) energy flow through the hotbed of the Middle East (and the Gulf region) are factors against building the pipelines through Iran. Thus, the US oil company UNOCAL, one of the main exploiters of Central Asian oil, decided on a pipeline through western Afghanistan. This route was negotiated with the Taliban in 1995, before they even took over Kabul, in a visit to the Taliban’s camps by Pakistan’s former interior minister and the US ambassador to Pakistan. Economic interest in Afghanistan is not limited to oil. Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world with a production of about 2800 tons a year, equalling that of the South East Asian “golden triangle”. The Taliban took control of the drug-producing areas when they moved into Afghanistan, and now every year they extract millions of dollars on taxes from drug exports.