Latest posts by Paul Antonopoulos (see all)
- KASHMIR AND NORTHERN EPIRUS: A COMPARATIVE LOOK - September 16, 2019
- AFGHANISTAN IN FOCUS – PART THREE: OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM AND ‘THE THIRD GREAT GAME’ - September 6, 2019
- AFGHANISTAN IN FOCUS – PART TWO: DEFEATING PROGRESSIVENESS AND OPENING THE PATH FOR THE TALIBAN - August 21, 2019
The strategic location of Afghanistan at the foot of the Hindu Kush and being the entry point that connects Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East together, has meant the country has always been the centre of imperial conquest and rivalry. Despite many great empires reaching Afghanistan, including the Persians, Greeks, British, Russians and Americans, all have struggled or failed to subjugate the Afghans, giving the country a fierce reputation as being “unconquerable.“
With the downing of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 by Al-Qaeda, Washington did not hesitate to announce war against the Taliban for habouring terrorists. In what was meant to be a quick operation against the Mujahideen and the installation of democracy, the invasion has now lingered for 18 years. The war has gone on for so long that American soldiers born after 9/11 can now enlist.
However the US today is significantly different, as is the global order, then how it was when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The implosion of the Soviet Union and President George H. W. Bush’s announcement of a “New World Order” on September 11, 1991 assumed that a unipolarity had now been established, led by the United States which would ensure its dominance in the United Nations, NATO and other international organizations.
However, what was not envisaged was that “the Russian bear” would not always remain “caged.” Rather, Russia has seen a resurgence along with strategic cooperation with Beijing in the framework of a multipolar order, where the US ceases to be the sole superpower and major economic force as it was in the shortlived unipolar world, though it will remain a powerful military power nevertheless.
Although for much of the 20th century there were strained relations between communist Beijing and Moscow because of an ideological split, Sino-Russian relations in the 21st century have been conducted in a respectful and productive manner with an emphasis on mutual economic and geopolitical interests. The past decade, in particular, has witnessed Beijing and Moscow take a common stance on such key contentious areas like Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea, which has been in stark contrast to that of Washington’s. However it remains to be seen as to whether China-Russia relations will be challenged in contentious areas such as Afghanistan.
Various estimations to the cost of the US war on Afghanistan have been made from $841 billion to $2 trillion, all staggering figures, especially when considering that US debt stands at over $22 trillion. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the war on Afghanistan has significantly contributed to the precarious economic situation the US finds itself in today as taxpayer money is used to fund the occupation – all so that wealthy Americans with shares in the Military Industrial Complex can continue to profit from war. This is not to say that the US wars against Afghanistan, and even Iraq, is the reason for the economic decline of the US, there are a multitude of causes, but the wars have significantly contributed to it.
The next question must then be whether the US can be considered an empire that faced the beginning of its decline in Afghanistan. With the US maintaining over 800 military bases in 70 countries, and some of them illegally like in the case of Syria, it dwarfs Russia’s military presence in ten countries and China’s sole international military instalment in Djibouti in East Africa, the question must be seriously considered.
Expert Julian Go defines “empire as a sociopolitical formation wherein a central political authority exercises unequal influence and power over the political (and in effect the sociopolitical) processes of a subordinate society, peoples, or space,” while expert Charles Tilly explains that the core of an empire exerts “military and fiscal control” in every segment of its periphery.
When considering the more than 800 US military bases dotted across the globe and its orchestration of regime change in Latin America, Africa and across the Islamic world, while applying Go’s explanation that empires exercise unequal influence and power to subordinate and Tilly’s argument that empires exert military control, the US must be considered as a modern empire but still different to those seen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Whereas traditional subordination was only through direct military intervention as the US had done in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is not limited to these employments of domination. It also employs economic subversion as it does against Russia for example, especially when considering sanctions and Saudi Arabia‘s imposition of an oil oversupply in 2014 which directly targeted the Russian economy by lowering the price of oil.
If we apply the interior and exterior theory of an empire to the case study of the US intervention in Afghanistan, it can be seen that along with getting so-called “justice“ for the September 11 attacks, the diversion of Afghan capital to the interior of the empire (Washington), then it again further demonstrates the US is an empire. In this case it is the multibillion heroin industry controlled by the CIA where Afghan labour is being used for poppy cultivation rather than other agriculture. The control of Afghanistan’s capital and resources is especially crucial now that its been discovered the country has over $3 trillion worth of natural resources, with Russia and China being in prime position to exploit this wealth.
Russia, China and Pakistan have made significant moves to undermine US control over Afghanistan, especially when we consider the troika took a host of Taliban leaders off the UN sanctions list in early 2017. With the US sacrificing 2,430 military personnel as of July 2010 in the attempt to secure Afghanistan, the host of countries with vested interests in Central Asia are sure to ignite a cold war to control the pivotal region.
Therefore, part of the logic behind the US invasions of the Middle East was not only to weaken Chinese and/or Russian penetration into the resource-rich Central Asia, but also to contain Iranian influence by diverting Iranian and Russian attention onto Syria and Chinese focus onto the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula. This way the US could more forcefully penetrate Central Asia. The domination of Afghanistan was the first move in this strategy with the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power soon to follow. These twin interventions enabled the building of US military bases on the eastern and western axes of Iran, partly in an effort to contain and reduce Iran’s influence in the region.
However, with the US failing to fully subjugate Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban, it has provided Beijing and Moscow with an opening to engage with the country for their own economic advancements. Rather than controlling Afghanistan as the sole hegemonic power of the globe in 2001, the US will leave the country in a changed international system based on multipolarity with China and Russia as great powers and several regional powers such as Pakistan, Brazil and Turkey. This only furthers the mythology of Afghanistan being unconquerable.
This is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak when looking at Afghanistan, an introduction. In a whole series of articles to be found right here on Indus News, critical questions relating to Afghanistan will be explored and answered. What were the true reasons Afghanistan was invaded? What are the future geopolitical ramifications of the invasion? Where does Pakistan fit into this whole picture? Are the CIA really running a drug operation from the country? Why has Afghanistan become a focal point of rivalry between Eurasian giants China and Russia against the US? Is Afghanistan a staging point for India to undermine Pakistan? These are all critical questions, with many also unmentioned, that need to be answered and will be soon. But for now, as seen, Afghanistan maintains its fierce reputation as being an unconquerable land.