No solidarity with the Taliban

August 27, 2009

NICK K. argues that socialists should provide "solidarity and support for a Taliban victory," on the grounds that "we support the right of oppressed peoples to fight for self-determination...without caveat" ("Should the left call for Taliban victory").

It is true that the politics of organizations resisting occupation cannot form a principled basis for socialists to withhold our support, however diametrically we may disagree with them. It does not follow, however, that it is possible to fight for self-determination irrespective of one's politics. In the case of the Taliban, ethnic Pashtun sectarianism and religious conservatism are practiced to such an extent that their ability to act as a genuine national liberation force appear fatally compromised.

Consider the case of expelled Afghan Member of Parliament Malalai Joya. She denounces the "puppet" Hamid Karzai, accuses his government of warlordism, corruption, and drug trafficking, and calls for an end to the NATO occupation. A fierce advocate of women's rights, she links the current government and the Taliban, opposing both and arguing that the oppressive sexism practiced by both sides is rooted in decades of foreign interference. By Nick's logic, she should support the Taliban.

But the far-right Taliban cannot unite such fighters behind itself. Nick makes sweeping claims about the total absence of an Afghan working class or even a "progressive petit bourgeoisie." Then where does Joya come from? Or the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which opposes the government and the Taliban?

The country is certainly devastated and overwhelmingly rural. But are we to believe that there are no airport workers, no transportation workers, no teachers, no medical staff, no miners, no natural gas industry? Claims about the lack of a working class in the poorest countries have become common on the left, and they are false.

As Anand Gopal has pointed out, even the Taliban's rural support is strictly excluded from Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and other areas. Recently the government passed discriminatory legislation against Shias (whose rights Joya defends). Clearly, the bigoted Sunni Taliban cannot capitalize on this to build resistance.

The Taliban are the most potent resistance force in Afghanistan today. But with their current, deeply rooted politics, they cannot lead the struggle beyond stalemate. Nor should the extent of their evolving "nationalism," or the attenuation of their religious conservatism, be exaggerated. Frankly, Nick's comparison of the Taliban to Hamas and Hezbollah in this regard is insulting to the latter two.

While demanding immediate withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO from Afghanistan as our primary responsibility, we should give no "support and solidarity" to the Taliban. The social basis for a genuine national liberation struggle in Afghanistan exists, in the countryside and the cities. The best contribution we can make to its maturation into an active, organized, conscious movement is to build an antiwar movement here.
Avery Wear, Lemon Grove, Calif.

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