The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory' | The Nation


The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory'

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As for Saudi Arabia, the remaining member of the troika, it had long been a bulwark of anti-Communism, its rulers lavish in their funding of antileftist forces around the globe--be it in Angola, Mozambique, Portugal or Italy. The fact that the population of Afghanistan was 99 percent Muslim was an additional incentive to Riyadh.

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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In Western hands, Afghanistan didn't transition to a "free market" system—but a particularly venal form of crony capitalism.

The US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance's financing, training and arming of the mujahedeen--recruited from among the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan--was coordinated and supervised by the CIA. The day-to-day management rested with Pakistan's ISI. All donations in weapons and cash to the campaign by various sources--chiefly Washington and Riyadh--were handled by the CIA. These amounted to about $40 billion, with the bulk coming from the United States and Saudi Arabia, which contributed equally.

The volunteers underwent military training and political education. Both were imparted by the ISI. In the political classes the mujahedeen were given a strong dose of nationalism and Islam. The fact that the Soviets were foreign and atheistic made them doubly despicable. The intention was to fire up militant Muslims to fight Soviet imperialism. Armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles in the later stages of the jihad, the mujahedeen made a hash of Soviet helicopter gunships, a critical tool of the USSR's counterinsurgency campaign.

From the start the ranks of the Afghan mujahedeen were complemented by non-Afghan volunteers eager to join the anti-Soviet jihad. The very first to do so was Osama bin Laden, then a young civil engineering graduate from an affluent family of construction contractors in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. He devised a scheme encouraging non-Afghan Muslims to enroll in the jihad. The 30,000 who did so in the eighties consisted of an almost equal number of Arabs and non-Arabs. Bin Laden, who attracted 4,000 volunteers from Saudi Arabia, became the nominal leader of the Afghan-Arabs. He developed cordial relations with the heads of the more radical constituents of the IAAM, including Mullah Mohammed Omar of the Hizb-e-Islami (Khalis group), who was later to emerge as the Taliban's supreme leader. Besides participating in guerrilla actions, bin Laden constructed roads in mujahedeen-controlled areas and refurbished caves as storage places for arms and ammunition. Working closely with the CIA, he also collected funds for the anti-Soviet jihad from affluent Saudi citizens.

On the wider propaganda front, Brzezinski's successors continued his intensive radio campaign (through Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe) to arouse and heighten Islamic consciousness and ethnic nationalism in Central Asia in order to undermine the Moscow-directed Soviet system. The glaring contradiction of the US policy of bolstering Islamic zealots in Afghanistan while opposing them in neighboring Iran seemed to escape both Brzezinski and his successors.

In the end, the Soviet Union collapsed, but for reasons that had nothing to do with the interreligious or interethnic tensions among its citizens, which the US policy-makers had tried to engender in Muslim-majority Central Asia and Azerbaijian.

Following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Afghan-Arabs, including bin Laden, began drifting back to their homes in the Arab world. Their heightened political consciousness made them realize that countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt were just as much client regimes of the United States as the Najibullah regime had been of Moscow. In their home countries they built a formidable constituency--popularly known as "Afghanis"--who combined strong ideological convictions with the guerrilla skills they had acquired in Pakistan and Afghanistan under CIA supervision. Having defeated Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan, they felt, naively, that they could do the same to US imperialism in say, Saudi Arabia, with its strong links to Washington since its inception in 1932.

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