May 21, 2022

Sunset of Empire

The Taliban’s swift capture of Afghanistan following the US’ military withdrawal from the region has left Tasmania’s Hazara and Afghan communities reeling. 

In examining the nearly 20 year-long conflict, we must be unafraid to name the US’ war in Afghanistan for what it truly was: a failed imperialist occupation paid for in the suffering of the Afghan people.

To understand the political context from which the US’ modern imperialist project emerged, one must look to the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 90s.  For the American ruling elite, the ‘unipolar moment’ represented an opportunity to establish a new global political order with which to further their economic interests.  

Testing the waters with the Gulf War and NATO bombings of Serbia, it was not until the horrors of September 11, 2001 that the US war machine was given the public support necessary to launch a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. 

Entering the region under the auspices of toppling the Taliban regime to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, the US soon shifted tact to propping up the newly founded Afghan government, spending billions in the process.  Far from fighting terrorism or offering freedom to the Afghan people, the installation of an Afghan client state provided the US crucial power projection in the resource rich Central Asia region, perhaps most importantly over a rising China. 

The humiliating defeat of the US backed Afghan government marks a significant decline in the prestige of the American empire, prompting the question: just how did the world’s sole remaining superpower lose?

The corruption at the heart of the Afghan government must squarely take the blame.  Comprised of opportunistic expats, local warlords and reactionaries, the puppet state was rife with those looking to make a quick buck at the expense of their own countrymen.

A 2016 report issued by the Special Investigator General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR) detailed the way in which high-level government employees suspected of corruption routinely escaped arrest.  The same year, former President Hamid Karzai was credibly accused of being paid millions each year by the CIA to buy American influence.  

One of the most significant symptoms of the Afghan government’s corruption was the prevalence of ‘ghost soldiers’ in its army and police force, with the SIGAR finding in 2020 that 50 – 70% of registered military and police personnel in Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan simply did not exist.  

Corrupt to the hilt and with an army severely overstated in size, it is no great surprise that the Afghan government fell to the Taliban’s seven-day blitz with little resistance. 

Save perhaps the single greatest transfer of wealth to the defense contracting industry in history, the US’ bloody nation-building project in Afghanistan amounted to nothing.

Above all else that can be said about the US’ criminal war, its most important cost has been the suffering of the Afghan people.  

Conservative estimates suggest that 71,000 Afghan civilians have died throughout the conflict, with generations of children growing up in fear of US drone strikes. 

As it stands today, over 3.5 million Afghans have been internally displaced by the war, with a further 2.5 million fleeing as refugees to neighbouring regions. 

Not only suffering at the hands of US barbarism, the people of Afghanistan are also now once again at the mercy of the Taliban.  

While offering empty promises of moderation, reports indicate that the ultra-reactionary fundamentalist group has already begun targeting women and intellectuals.  Taliban forces in Herat have turned away female students attempting to attend university and have instructed female bank employees to remain at home.  

To the south in Kandahar, they search door to door for journalists who’ve collaborated with American outlets.  All signs point to the return of pre-2001 Taliban rule in Afghanistan: a brutal, patriarchal regime denying Afghan women and ethnic minorities basic rights. 

The federal government must heed the call of Australia’s Hazara and Afghan communities and expand its refugee intake from the region immediately.

Considering our lapdog complicity to the US’ imperialist brutality in Afghanistan, highlighted through allegations of ADF war crimes levelled in the Brereton Report, the current proposal of 3000 humanitarian visas is but an offensive gesture. 

With the sun setting over the American empire in Afghanistan, the least those responsible for its atrocities can do is save the country’s most vulnerable from the fresh terror that awaits.

Image: Matt Brown


Co-Editor of Togatus and socialist troublemaker.