Afghanistan Neglected in 1988

Afghanistan – return to anarchy

By Gwydion M. Williams

When it became clear that the Russians really were pulling out of Afghanistan, a lot of commentators reckoned that the government they had left behind them must be doomed. Just as the Saigon regime was doomed, once the USA pulled out.

The difference is that in Vietnam, all opposition to the Saigon regime was controlled by Hanoi. Whereas in Afghanistan, there is a total muddle, with a great diversity of rival “freedom fighters”, and probable splits between the internal and external leaders of each faction.

Afghanistan is basically the high mountainous land that was left free when the Russian expansion southwards from Central Asia met the British expansion northwards from India. Its ethnic groups do not have a great deal in common with each other. And in fact, the modem borders of Afghanistan cut across most of them. Most notably the Pathans, the largest Afghan group, but half of whose territories are in what is now Pakistan.

The Communist regime that the Russians have left behind is the most coherent thing that can be found in the whole country. The various “resistance groups” will go on fighting it, no doubt. But they will also fight each other. And if one “resistance group” looks like becoming supreme, it is likely that the others will all gang up on it, perhaps in de facto alliance with the Communists. Thus nothing very definite is likely to happen in Afghanistan — not for decades to come!

[I missed the remarkable development of the Taliban. But no one else noticed, except probably the Intelligence Services of Pakistan, widely accused of having been behind it.

[With the benefit of hindsight, the USA should have the abandoned Soviet allies as the basis of a pro-Western government that would have kept the peace.  That would of course not given shelter to al-Qaeda when they planned the 911 attacks. 

[Similar people in Middle-Europe became some of the most effective imposers of Western values.  But the hysteric anti-communism and anti-socialism of the New Right prevented them from seeing it.

[Now in decline, the New Right still have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.]


This is an extract from Newsnotes, which appeared in July 1988, in Issue 7 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  One of many old articles now on the web.