Socialist Worker

The bitter legacy of Western intervention in Afghanistan

As Nato’s occupation comes to an end, Guy Smallman speaks to Afghans about its legacy of deep poverty and corruption

Issue No. 2398

Afghan girl in refugee camp in Kabul

Afghan girl in refugee camp in Kabul (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The majority of Afghans welcomed the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban in 2001. 

Latifa Ahmady, director of the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC), was one those celebrating their removal. 

During the years leading up to Nato’s intervention, triggered by the 9/11 attacks, OPAWC activists defied the Taliban’s ban on women’s education by teaching girls in secret at considerable personal risk. 

The removal of their oppressors had at first signalled great optimism for the future. 

But now, as 14 years of Nato occupation comes to an end, these women are bitter about its legacy.

Latifa is particularly blunt in her appraisal of foreign troops on Afghan soil. 

“They were supposed to bring peace, security and equal rights for women,” she said. “We have none of these things and that is why they must go.”

The statistics are depressing. Just 36 percent of Afghan girls are in school while only 12.6 percent of women are literate. 

Recent rises in violence against women are also linked to poverty and poor education. Presently one in 11 Afghan women will die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. 

Women also fear that legislation being drafted to appease religious conservatives will make domestic violence almost impossible to prosecute. 

Lawmakers are already accused of turning a blind eye to illegal arranged marriages of girls as young as 12.

Latifa is equally scathing about the Western-backed government that has run the country since 2002. 

“Millions of dollars were sent here for jobs, development and women but that money has gone into the pockets of those criminals who are responsible for war,” she said.

Most blame the West for installing a government packed with warlords and drug barons.

Meanwhile the country’s ruling elite continues to profit from misery and widespread corruption.

Kabul’s richest areas contain rows of mansions hidden behind concrete barriers, razor wire and heavily armed private security guards. 

The local people refer to them as the “poppy palaces”, a reference to the billions being made in the illegal opium trade. Opium remains Afghanistan’s biggest export, producing 90 percent of the world’s heroin. 

Over the past decade the drug has inevitably found its way onto the streets of Afghanistan, which has had devastating consequences.

And last Saturday saw much of the country locked down by 350,000 police and soldiers for the presidential elections. 

Hundreds of polling stations remained closed due to threats from the remnants of the Taliban. Reports of ballot rigging are also rife. 

Of the all-male slate it was perhaps unsurprising that anti-corruption candidate Ashraf Ghani made a strong showing. 

However there is likely to be a run-off before the West’s president Hamid Karzai is finally replaced.

Claims by Barack Obama and David Cameron that the increase in voter participation was a vindication of Western intervention ring hollow. 

Voters in the city of Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan told Socialist Worker that US troops had not been seen on the streets for over six months. 

They said now the end is in sight for the disastrous occupation they feel more safe and willing to vote.


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