When the Bundestag vote on the Bundeswehr mandate to secure the evacuation of local forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Left Party will not be faced with an easy task. As a voice of the peace movement, it has so far voted against any deployment of the Federal Armed Forces. But the situation in Afghanistan is catastrophic, and for many people the security situation has become extremely dangerous. How at least some people can be saved is not a question that only those who are responsible for this NATO mission have to ask themselves – this task is the responsibility of everyone, including and especially the left. Because one thing is certain: neither the counter-argument of the violation of the sovereignty of an independent state nor the charge of asserting imperial interests play an essential role in the question of evacuation.
But the inner-left voices after the Taliban’s triumphant advance are diverse, a battle rages over the authority to interpret the political situation. In the social media timelines of some anti-imperialist left, there is sometimes an unbearable romanticization of the Taliban as an anti-imperial force. This assessment testifies to the ignorance of the regional power-political conflicts and their colonial roots.
There are leftists who welcome any rebellion against the imperialist policies of the EU or the USA and also states such as Iran as a positive point of reference – thinking here is strongly geopolitically dominated, accompanied by a romanticizing image of fundamental religious groups like the sometimes difficult to endure Taliban. The left magazine marx21 – usually known for more differentiated voices – published a few days ago an article that is exemplary of this ominous sympathy.
In the text entitled “Return of the Taliban: The End of Occupation”, the two authors Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale sometimes praise the Taliban’s judicial system. It is necessary for the Taliban to continue this fair justice system that protects against inequality: “Your previous record is advantageous”.
This assessment by the authors is based on the correct fact that, not least, the judicial system installed by the NATO powers was also highly corrupt. However, the actions that have been going around the world for weeks in pictures and videos from Afghanistan and have now been confirmed by the UN and Human Rights Watch remain irrelevant for the assessment of the Taliban’s justice system: Surrendering soldiers of the (now former) Afghan army are being carried out by Taliban fighters first humiliated, then executed. The image of the public flogging of a woman by the Taliban in Herat has also been circulating on social media for a few days. Her offense was a phone call to a man who was not her husband. According to Taliban standards, adultery is public stoning. A phone call is enough.
Also in Herat, after a Friday prayer, there was a parade at which several men were dragged through the streets by the Taliban. Their faces painted black to humiliate and desecrate them. The alleged wrong: theft.
Public executions of senior government officials in a stadium have taken place again in Kandahar. These are only the examples that can be proven with pictures and videos. Numerous (eyewitness) reports and narratives from those affected are condensing, which confirm forced marriages and kidnappings across the country.
Socialist united front with the Taliban
So what is behind these glossing over atrocities and the attempts to relativize groups like the Taliban in their cruelty in such a way? To put it simply, these attempts are likely to be based on the naive idea that fundamental religious ideologies such as that of the Taliban are just a variety of petty-bourgeois rebellion of the oppressed class. Even with groups like these, it is important to build a kind of united front against capitalism. The goal here must be for socialists to stand out at the top (Chris Harman, political Islam, p. 60 ff. 2012).
This idea and the resulting narrative of an oppressed class that has just been able to defeat imperialism leads to this narrative: The Taliban actually only have the wrong ideology, but a victory against imperialism and thus against one of the most aggressive forms of capitalism is still one Victory – and therefore somehow edifying. Raised your fist, or, as I read in a comment column discussion among people in a not unimportant position in left-wing organizations: Toast that first! After all, for revolutionaries in Europe and America, the young people falling from the airplanes are primarily images on screens, so they quickly fade out. After all, when was the last time you raised your glass of Lambrusco in this country to toast the overthrow of an order?
It is different
But anyone who speaks of a Taliban’s victory over imperialism or a failure of NATO has not understood the power politics of the world order after the Cold War. Why is NATO supposed to have failed? Who actually believed that the US or the NATO alliance invaded the country because of human rights and democracy? Indeed, more geopolitical thinking would be appropriate here. Even the belief that this US-led alliance wanted to completely “defeat” the Taliban is not correct. The invasion of 2001 was already accompanied by negotiations with the close ally Pakistan, an artificial, colonial and religious-fundamentalist state construct from the time of British colonial rule, which arose as a buffer zone to the Russian sphere of influence in the split from Afghanistan and India in 1947. The Taliban fighters have been given safe passage to retreat to the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not for reasons of humanitarian martial law, but because the Taliban government had been installed by Pakistan up to this point and they wanted at least the trained fighters to be sent back to the ally.
If NATO had wanted to defeat the Taliban, they would have fought their most important military advantage: their safe haven, the Pakistani border area with Afghanistan. Here the Taliban were provided for by ally Pakistan: medically, militarily, ideologically and with offspring. The families of the fighters and the economic trade and supply routes of the Taliban economy were always protected. During this time, the Taliban not only received substantial financial donations from Qatar, the Emirates and Pakistan, but also built a considerable economy of violence with income from the opium trade, protective tariffs and taxes and were able to easily reward their fighters financially many times over than the Afghan soldiers . At no point has Afghanistan been as important as the alliance with the nuclear power Pakistan, whose military budget the US supports with billions each year. The unchanged seat of the Taliban leadership is in Quetta, a major Pakistani city, and is now being relocated to Kabul without further ado.
No, imperialism was not defeated, the USA withdrew for domestic political reasons and a foreign policy that had been strategically fundamentally different since Barack Obama. In the end, they saw the Taliban as a more useful partner than the corrupt Afghan government. The US has been negotiating the withdrawal with the Taliban since February 2020, still under Donald Trump and excluding the Afghan government. In addition to the Taliban’s assurance that Afghanistan should no longer pose a threat to the USA, the result of the agreement even includes the requirement to maintain economic relations. The journalist Paul Nuki from the British Telegraph suspects a potential behind it „new US/Afghani narco hub“.
The US and NATO may have lost their reputation and credibility. The assurance of Afghanistan as a sphere of influence has been negotiated since February 2020. From now on, however, without ground troops and therefore cheaper than before – and also in line with the new domestic political situation and changed foreign policy. It was expressly stated in the negotiated document that the US would not recognize the Taliban emirate. A government that has not been recognized is easier to attack under international law, for example with mild means from the air – as a reminder of the agreement. Just in case.
Even if one considers it politically justifiable in the fight against imperialism to ignore all the threatening murders, the threatening rape, the threatening enslavement of women as “collateral damage” of geopolitical struggles: Who actually imagines an anti-imperialist “united front” with these Taliban can, he should urgently train himself in power-political and geostrategic questions – in order to be able to really take over the intellectual leadership in relation to the “poor peasants in sandals”, as Lindisfarne and Neal put it, which is currently in the military jets of the Qatar between Doha, Kandahar and Kabul jets.