SOUTH ASIA SOLIDARITY INITIATIVE (SASI) is a U.S. based organization that is in solidarity with progressive social movements and democratic politics in South Asia. For more information: email@example.com, http://www.southasiainitiative.org/
1) Why is South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) opposed to the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
SASI opposes the war on three grounds: (a) The war will not achieve what the American government claims are its stated goals, (b) The war is unethical and illegal, and (c) The war perpetuates imperialist domination and is thus a criminal war.
a. US claims and its feasibility: The wars on Afghanistan and Pakistan are justified by the US state on two broad grounds: (1) that Osama Bin laden and Al Qaeda (AQ) are sheltered in the area and (2) to liberate Afghanistan from the anti-democratic Taliban regime. There is little or no evidence that the AQ has a significant presence in Afghanistan. However, the sensibility that AQ is present in Afghanistan is perpetrated through a consistent elision between all ultra right Islamic groups – the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar e Taiba, the Jaish e Mohammed and a range of other groups. If we hold this elision at bay for a moment, then in as much as the Taliban is an internal group from within Afghanistan, it will, in the end be defeated only by peoples’ organizations from within the region – Afghanistan and Pakistan. It should be amply clear by now that the American occupation does not help the development of such a trajectory. Even communities that are opposed to the Taliban are just as vehemently opposed to the American presence. Indeed, all ultra-right forces are increasingly strategically allied together by the presence of the American troops, making it tougher for people’s movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan to combat them effectively. A thought experiment maybe useful here. Imagine that the Christian right gains ascendancy in the US under an ultra-right Christian President, and a series of degenerate policies are just about to be promulgated. Would a Coalition of the Willing, primarily made of the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, Indians and some European nations be acceptable as a liberating force? Would broad sections of the American people who are opposed to the Christian right be able to unite behind this “foreign” coalition? With few exceptions, internal right wings have to be defeated from within for any long-term peace and justice.
b. Beyond the infeasibility of achieving the publicly stated goals of the US government is the problem that the war is built on a very thin (if any) ethical and legal basis. Apart from the continuing assaults on civilian human lives and dignity which makes this war truly denuded of even its usual ethical fig-leaf, the attacks on Pakistan have never been ratified even by a weak and ineffective UN mechanism. The ratification of the war on Afghanistan was obtained under duress and at a moment immediately following 9/11 and like many other things in that period didn’t undergo significant scrutiny. A proper scrutiny of the conduct of the war would clearly place it as both unethical and illegal.
c. With the emergence of China (and to a lesser degree India) as powerful actors, and with the world capitalist economy entering a double crisis caused by financialization and ecological devastation, the Middle East/South Asia wars can only be understood as setting the conditions for imperialist dominance in the 21st century.
All those seeking an end to this war and who are in solidarity with the vast majority of the people of South Asia would thus work along two lines: continuous and maximum pressure on the American state to withdraw from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and thoughtful and cogent action that strengthens democratic forces in South Asia that stand opposed to ultra-right forces on the one hand and American imperialism on the other.
2) What are the geopolitical and economic interests for the US in the region?
In order to build an effective anti-war movement against the present US-led war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is critical to understand the complex web of American interests not captured in the officially stated goals. Apart from obvious geopolitical, militarist (arms race and sales), and cultural aspirations of the US seeking to retain its dominant status as a world superpower, the strategic geopolitical location of Afghanistan and its importance for accessing and marketing the enormous oil and natural gas resources in Central Asia is a significant part of the effort to bring Afghanistan under American control. Much of Central Asia and Caspian Basin are sitting on enormous oil and natural gas resources which are a major attraction for energy hungry nations and oil companies. In 2001, the untapped oil reserves in Kazakhastan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were estimated to be worth $ 2 trillion. Many of these countries are landlocked and thus dependent on neighboring countries for transporting their oil and natural gas to the outside world. Due to the longstanding Russian domination of the Caspian and Central Asian oil production, the energy pipelines from these countries were built through Russia. Afghanistan and Pakistan are perfectly situated geographically as ideal transit points for the Central Asian gas and oil without ceding any control to other US rivals such as Russia, China, or Iran. The ongoing US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a long term strategy to gain control over these areas to maintain its hegemonic status and control over energy resources and remain a relevant force in any decision-making in this region.
3) Is the Indian State playing a role in the current conflict? If so, what?
The Indian state has primarily played a negative role in the current conflict and opposed the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. In 2009, the Indian Prime Minister warned US led forces against prematurely leaving Afghanistan stating that it would be detrimental for Afghanistan and destabilize the region. India sees a close relationship between Taliban and other militant Islamic groups, and the Intelligence Services of Pakistan (ISI) that would be strengthened by the absence of the US and challenge India’s control of Kashmir. The Indian state also perceives the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as detrimental to its growing economic and political interests in the region. India is currently the fifth largest donor to Afghanistan having pledged about 1.3 billion in aid related projects since 2001. The Indian state has multiple consulates and has deployed more than a thousand members of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border force in Afghanistan. Indians have also been involved in building the parliament in Kabul, assisting Afghani legislators and providing training to the military thereby currently being extremely invested in the region. Ironically, the Indian state while being in favor of the western intervention in Afghanistan has used its own increasing power to sideline one of the most significant contentious issues of the region concerning Kashmir, particularly disregarding the UN resolution demanding a free and impartial plebiscite by the people of Kashmir.
4) What is SASI's position on the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban?
SASI supports a vision of Pakistan that is pro-working-classes, pro-democratic and secular. To this end, we see all of our demands in the light of how they further fundamental long-term transformation in Pakistani society and the social relations it is built upon. These relations include relations between capital and labor, gender relations, relations within and among “religious” groups, relations of stratification based on caste, “tribe” and ethnicities, and the relation between the state and religion. The existence of groups such as the Taliban (which are primarily Afghan in origin and composition) within Pakistan needs to be viewed in the context of their origin, growth and longtime support by the USA and its military allies (including the Pakistani army) to strategically oppose Soviet occupation in Afghanistan since 1978. The use of Pakistani territory, military and human resources to prop up Islamist forces wherever opportunistic alliances could be made to further US geopolitical and global capitalist class interests needs to be acknowledged and made part of any analysis of the current kinds of oppression that are attributable to the Taliban. In many ways the “Taliban” has come to be a catch-all phrase for a wider array of not-so-cohesive actors (and some mutually conflicted actors) within Pakistan today and a very useful justification for an unjust war in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Thus, SASI stands
a) in support of those progressive forces within Pakistan (such as labor movements, struggles for women’s rights, and any genuinely left political party) who oppose the retrogressive practices and policies of the “Taliban” while simultaneously opposing both, the US imperialist occupation of Pakistan and the Pakistani military apparatus which purport to be against the Taliban while in reality only furthering the long-term interests of the “Taliban”;
b) in support of those progressive forces within Pakistani civil and political society who have spearheaded democratic people’s movements against the corruption and double-speak of the Pakistani state (such as the lawyer’s movement) which clearly does not act in the interests of the bulk of its citizens who are the working-classes, oppressed minorities and women;
c) in support of those progressive forces around the world who refuse to view the “Taliban” as an autochthonous and immaculately conceived “Pakistani-problem” inherent to and unique to Islam nor as engaged in anti-imperialistic actions that contain any measure of critique of capitalist structures and relations, but instead call for a radical understanding of all the internal and external relations of power and economy that produce and sustain forces such as the “Taliban” which are in many ways only the internal-face of imperialism in Pakistani society
To those who persist in asking questions about the “oppression of women” by the Taliban as if this were a phenomenon existing in isolation of all the above sets of national, regional and international relations and structures, SASI holds the view that such oppressions of women as perpetrated by the “Taliban” are
a) far more widespread and predate the “Taliban” within Pakistani society (as in other societies around the world) and require a full-fledged resistance by progressive forces everywhere who stand for gender equality but view it always as part of a more complex matrix of oppressions and exploitations
b) imperialistic in nature (being part of a larger goal of the total Islamization of Pakistan and control over the Pakistani state) and hence are impossible to be resisted by another sort of imperialism (the “secular” variety) be it that of the current US regime or any other global power acting always in concert with a national elite and military.
Finally, to those who genuinely wonder about the kind of popular support that exists for the “Taliban” within Pakistan, we invite the global solidarity movement to approach this question within the context of rising popular support for xenophobic, homophobic, racist, oligarchist right-wing “religious” groups around the world including in many “enlightened” Euro-American societies today. “Popular support” is also an ideological term that relies on the usual complex of fear, active disinformation, threats of violence and actual acts of physical and structural violence. In this sense, the “Taliban” within Pakistani society is one of an array of anti-people forces facing an immensely impoverished, malnourished, underdeveloped population which has nonetheless incredibly retained its historically demonstrated fighting power to advance a vision of an equitable and just society and state in Pakistan. In short, there is nothing in Pakistani soil, air, food or "blood" which tolerates any kind of oppression anymore than anywhere else on earth, and indeed there exists many historical traditions of genuine resistance to such oppressions that remain as resources for Pakistani people and those who stand in solidarity with them especially in such times.
5) What are the progressive organizations working in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
The western media almost exclusively focuses on Taliban, Al-qaeda and Northern Alliance as the primary political forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In both countries, there have historically been numerous progressive civil society, labor and left leaning organizations. In Afghanistan, currently there are groups like the RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), and Defence Committee of Malalai Joya that have received press in the US for their stance against the war, Northern Alliance, Taliban and the warlords (see http://www.rawa.org/index.php). In Pakistan, this decade has seen a number of efforts by groups such as the Lawyers Movement (led by the Supreme Court Bar Association), and the Labor Party Pakistan, National Workers Party and Mazdoor Kisaan Party which have focused their work both on the US led war and on the atrocities at home by the Army and fundamentalist militias.
Afghanistan (as a result of decades of military intervention from UK, Russia and the US), and Pakistan, more recently (building upon decades of US military and intelligence aid under Cold War imperatives), have seen escalations in military action that has resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and has enabled the religious fundamentalist groups to become more brazen in their attempt to control “tribal” territories. The US led war has also led to the Pakistan Army launching its own version of the “war on terror” within its borders, leading to killing thousands and displacing millions of citizens. Groups such as Pakistan Labor Party, while critical of the US-led military action in the border areas, have also been equally critical of their government and the armed forces. The people of Pakistan and civil society organizations are now caught between the onslaught by US military action on the one hand and the violence from military and Taliban on the other hand.
The corporate media in the US largely supports this imperialist and xenophobic war by reporting the anti-war and anti-imperialist critique in South Asia as simply anti-American. This is compounded by the fact that media in Pakistan, tightly controlled by the government does not report on the large-scale anti-war sentiments within the US. Only people to people contact and solidarity work across national barriers will bridge this gap.
6) What is the role of the US Anti-war Movement?
1) Amplify voices of Afghan and Pakistani people who speak publicly against the war.
2) Create accessible and popular educational resources for people to understand the realities of this war and the rich social histories of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3) Help multiply efforts of local governments in the US to end the war, such as installation of a large digital “cost of war” counter on the face of City Hall by the Mayor of Binghamton.
4) Re-engage Obama’s grassroots campaigners, particularly youth, in anti-war organizing.
5) Connect anti-war message with other issues like environmental justice, immigration, cuts in education, and health care and bring this message to unions, classrooms and workplaces in innovative ways using new educational strategies.
6) Build solidarity with Arab and Muslim communities targeted by repressive laws. Any anti-war strategy must be linked with working among Arab and Muslim communities organizing for civil liberties.
7) What are SASI’s demands for ending the war?
The South Asian diaspora is uniquely placed to be able to connect with US anti-war groups as well as the groups in South Asia. SASI has a unique role to play as an organization that has strong ties and knowledge of progressive struggles within Afghanistan and Pakistan. SASI is committed to taking on the task of popularizing the struggle of the Afghan and Pakistani people to shape their own societies and to expose the atrocities that US wars are causing in the region.
SASI calls for a full and immediate withdrawal of US troops and the use of corporate contractors and mercenaries from Afghanistan. We demand the closing of Guantánamo and Bagram bases. We call for an immediate end to drone attacks in Pakistan and removal of U.S. troops from Pakistan. As the US government continues to fight the “enemy” oversees, it has demonized and criminalized the Arab and Muslim communities at home as the “enemy within.” We demand the end of unlawful detentions, torture through solitary confinement, and use of special administrative measures.
The Pakistani state has willingly embraced the “war on terror,” and has been rewarded for it as one of the top recipients of US military aid. Pakistan has used this aid for military offensives in regions of Pakistan like Swat internally displacing millions of people. Pakistani military with the help of US training is strengthening and modernizing its operation. It continues to be inconsistent in its opposition to the militant groups like the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban. From the Pakistani State, SASI demands the demilitarization of FATA, NWFP, and Baluchistan along with the constitutional integration of FATA.
The people of Afghanistan, especially Afghan woman, face two enemies: The US/NATO occupation of the country for eight years on one hand and the repressive warlords and the Taliban on the other. Northern Alliance, which the US supports, is a faction of warlords and ethnic groups who have historically fought against the Taliban. Supporting the U.S. imperialists to defeat the Taliban or the Northern Alliance will not advance the interests of the Afghan people.
As the cost of war reaches 1 trillion dollars, it is up to the people in the US to challenge the continuation of this unjust and unnecessary war. In the first six months of 2009, Afghanistan saw close to 1,013 civilian deaths, an increase of 24 per cent as compared to the same period in 2008. There is a significant rise in US troops wounded in Afghanistan this spring in comparison to the same period in 2009. The unmanned US drone attacks are indiscriminately slaughtering 100s of people in Pakistan: 98% of the casualties are civilians. A majority of Americans now do think that the Afghanistan war has been not worth fighting, and seventy percent oppose troop increases. This is a crucial time to strengthen the anti-war movement in the United States.
SASI urges the US population to build a strong opposition to the imperialist US wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and support for democratic movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Sources: David Wildman & Phyllis Bennis: Ending the US war in Afghanistan: A Primer. 2010: Olive Branch Press; Northampton, MA; Adaner Usmani http://www.solidarity-us.org/current/node/2606