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More than 'unintended consequences'

Interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76*

Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?

Carl Bloice

In the hours after the U.S. - British bombing attacks on Afghanistan began television commentators were quick to discount the scenes of destruction being broadcast out of Kabul. What we were seeing could, they said repeatedly, be old rubble; after all, the destruction had been going on for 20 years, since Soviet troops entered the country. Not so. I was in Kabul the day the Soviet troops withdrew and the ancient and somewhat pleasant city was very much intact. The destruction of the capitol and other urban areas was carried out over the 10 years after that. It came during fighting between the reactionary feudal political factions that quickly filled the political vacuum left behind; a decade of almost unceasing conflict involving indiscriminate attacks on civilians, rape, and pillage. Between 1992 and 1996, says Sonali Kolhatkar, vice- president of the Afghan Women's Mission the warring Mujahedeen factions "destroyed Kabul, they rocket-shelled it. There's nothing left to bomb in Kabul anymore, it's just rubble."

The ruins flashed on the screen today are grim reminders of the fighting for control between those people Washington and London would now dislodge from power and those it plans to install.

With the onset of this invasion and this war, many words are being spoken and written about what lies ahead for that unfortunate land after the new round of death and destruction has been played out. If the past is any guide, it won't be good. In fact, things could get a whole lot worse.

All the talk about a "political disposition," or a "broad based government" or a "transitional" monarchy takes my mind back to the night before the Soviets left.

In the future, Najibullah said, Afghanistan would be a non- aligned country in a world still locked in the conflicts and tensions of the Cold War. In a large Kabul auditorium, the president addressed a gathering, including journalists from all over the world. Laying out the political perspective for the country, he said it would not be socialist but would continue the process of modernization and move toward increased social and economic justice and progress. The thrust of his remarks was conciliatory, appealing for national unity and extending a hand to the various political and religious groups in the deeply divided country to embrace shared leadership.

Over the next couple of days, starting February 15, 1989 in Jalalabad, a city east of the capital, near the border with Pakistan, the Soviet trucks, tanks and personnel carriers moved west and then north. Along the way many people came out to cheer and place flowers on the moving vehicles. What we were witnessing was hardly a goodbye to heroes. Rather, it was elation, an expression of a relief and an expectation that the conflict that had roiled the country and brought so much death and destruction was over.

But that was not to be.

The Soviet withdrawal had been in the making for over two years. The February 15, 1989 departure was only the final act; troops had already pulled out from most of the country where fighting had already stopped. The exit of Soviet forces was the outcome of two developments. The first was the decision by the leadership in Moscow to end the war. The second was an agreement concluded between the USSR, Pakistan and the United States to end their military involvement in the country.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said the decision to exit the conflict came because, "any armed conflict, including an internal one, can poison the atmosphere in an entire region and create a situation of anxiety and alarm for a country's neighbors, to say nothing of the suffering and losses among its own people."

A statement issued by the Soviet leader on February 8, 1988, one year before the withdrawal, praised Najibullah for pursuing a "patriotic and realistic course of national reconciliation."

"It was an act of great courage and bravery; not merely an appeal to cease armed clashes, but a proposal to set up a coalition government and share power with the opposition, including those who wage armed struggle against the government and even those who, while abroad, direct the rebels' operations and supply them with weapons and combat equipment obtained from foreign countries," said Gorbachev.

The Afghanistan-U.S.-Pakistan agreement involved a commitment by the parties involved to respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, non- interference in the country's internal affairs and the negotiation of a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations.

None of that happened.

Gorbachev declared outright that the troop withdrawal was not predicated on a political settlement and that Moscow would have no role in bringing one about. It was, he said, an internal Afghan problem and to the other governments involved he said, "it is none of our business. Or, yours, for that matter." In that he proved to be naïve - not for the first, nor the last time. After Soviets left Afghanistan, the reconciliation process continued under the UN but the involvement of outside forces continued.

Much has been made, especially by the military dictatorship in Pakistan of what is described as the U.S. "abandonment" of the region after the Soviets left. It is true that Washington shifted its attention elsewhere and the political and economic mess left behind went unaddressed. However the CIA and Pakistan were determined to overthrown Najibullah and they continued to support Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most ruthless and most virulently anti-U.S. mujahedeen leader. It was only after that mission was accomplished that the Western Power turned their back on the country. As far as the U.S. media was concerned, Afghanistan had pretty much ceased to exist. Starting in 1993 and continuing for the next two years nearly one-third of Kabul was destroyed in internecine warfare between mujahedeen factions. The forces of Hekmatyar continuously fired rockets into the city. During that same period, 45,000 people were killed and one million refugees fled to Pakistan.

In the 18 years that have followed the end of Soviet involvement in the country, Afghanistan has gone from being a country where there was once a prospect for peace and social advance to one marked by economic chaos and grinding poverty, extreme religious intolerance, cruel oppression of women, and a land continually still wracked by armed conflict.

The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan had its origin in Afghanistan's "Sawr Revolution" of April 27, 1978. In actuality, it was a military takeover, (not uncommon in the world at the time). A group of young leftist military officers seized power and declared their intention to launch a revolutionary process intended to modernize their country, end its isolation from the rest of the world and create a new and more progressive course of economic and social advancement.

Between the 1978 revolution and the overthrow of the People's Democratic Party government the revolutionary groups in Afghanistan pressed for greater economic justice and social equality, the emancipation of women and protection for the country's repressed minority groups. With generous Soviet assistance, they launched a number of important projects including improvements the country's physical infrastructure and improvement in education and healthcare delivery.

However, as in other places in the underdeveloped world, the revolutionaries were confronting not only the diehard resistance from feudal reactionary forces and their foreign backers but also negative reaction to ultra leftist actions, especially in pursuit of land reform. Divisions within what should have been the progressive camp constantly disrupted the country. It was into this political mire that the government of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped and found itself soon bogged down.

What provoked the Brezhnev government's response was the growing realization that the unstable leftist government of Hatizullah Amin could not last. What the Kremlin feared most was that the reactionaries being marshaled and equipped by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence would come to power and create a real security problem along the USSR's southern border.

The December 1979 Soviet military incursion into Afghanistan came as the Amin government, torn by internal conflict, was disintegrating. We are indebted to columnist Alexander Cockburn for evidence of the thinking in Washington before its demise. He quotes from a summer 1979 State Department memo: "The United States' larger interest would be served by the demise of the Taraki- (Hafizullah) Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the (Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets' view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate." (Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2001).

The Soviet military intervention into Afghanistan was not as President Jimmy Carter called it an act of "colonial domination." Nor was it, as some have suggested an act of imperial expansion. It was an attempt at "nation building," one that failed miserably.

Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire recently described how then CIA Director William Casey stopped by his house one early December morning ("a generation ago"), pointed to a map of Afghanistan and told him the aim of the Soviet entry into the country was to seize the country and from there take over Pakistan "thereby achieving the czarist dream of an opening to the Indian Ocean, leading to Communist victory in the cold war." How many other newspeople were given the CIA line over coffee is unknown but it stuck and the drive-to-the- sea thesis was to be repeated ad nauseam from that point on.

In October 1984, Casey traveled secretly to Pakistan and visited the terrorist training camps where he watched mujahedeen warriors practice with US- supplied heavy weapons and explosive devices. There he urged his listeners to carry their war into the USSR itself by targeting the Soviet Central Asian republics with an infusion of religious propaganda. He urged the "soldiers of God" to redouble their efforts, telling them, "God is on your side."

"There were no Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan before the Americans created them as a counterweight against the secular left," wrote analyst Aijaz Ahmad. The U.S., wrote The Independent (London) correspondent Peter Popham wrote September 17 from Islamabad, "now bent, perhaps, on destroying them, was there at the creation,"

Back in the days of the war against the country's left-led Afghan governments, those who are today called terrorists were nearly always referred to as "freedom fighters," an appellation you are not likely to hear even mentioned on CNN today.

Safire had good reason to tell the Casey coffee story just after the terrorist attack September 11. Inevitably the public would learn that the Taliban government in Kabul and Osama bin Laden, the person Washington and London say was behind criminal terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, are both largely creatures of the CIA. But encouraging, arming and providing them with other assistance was worth it, wrote Safire, because the war they waged in Afghanistan eventually brought down the Soviet Union. He was echoing the words of President Carter's U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: "We didn't push the Russians to intervene but we consciously increased the probability that they would do so. The secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap. You want me to regret that."

A few years ago, Brzezinski told the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur "according to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahedeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, December 24, 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And, that very day, I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention."

On another occasion Brsezinski said the objective of the hardly-secret war was "to bleed the Soviets for as long and as much as possible."

So much for the seeking-a-warm-water-port myth.

The policy developed and pursued by Brzezinski and others who held his job both before and after him was not a peculiar one applied only to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Rather, it was a piece of a larger world strategy that fashioned nearly all foreign policy decisions to serve the objectives of the Cold War. From South Africa where the U.S. State Department declared the African National Congress a terrorist organization to Guatemala, the Congo and Vietnam where wars were waged against indigenous revolutionary movements, the U.S. lined up with, bolstered and financed reactionary forces, each time in the name of "freedom" and "liberty."

The enemies targeted in these countries were the progressive organizations, movements and leaders. Millions of the best and brightest women and men who were determined to uplift their countries from dire depravations resulting from years of European colonial domination lost their lives.

When a military coup brought down the government of Sukarno in Indonesia, 500,000 leftist revolutionaries were systematically murdered. A similar situation arose later in Yemen when a military takeover led to the young cadre of a revolutionary movement being brutally eliminated in a matter of days. It critical today that those on the Left throughout the world understand that these are their true allies in the struggle for economic and social justice and world peace. The true martyrs in the cause of progressive advancement are the Patrice Lumumbas, Salvador Allendes, Ho Chi Minhs, Chris Hanis and Che Guevaras - all targeted, never aided, by reaction.

That was the fate of Najibullah and those around him, including the faction that eventually overthrew him. In 1992, the Afghan president was deposed. His ouster, wrote Mark Fineman in the Los Angeles Times, "appeared to have all but sabotaged an ambitious UN peace plan that was close to fruition."

For the next four years, Najibullah lived in internal asylum inside a UN compound in Kabul.

The U.S. had begun supplying the reactionary Afghan mujahedin with deadly shoulder-held Stinger ground-to-air missiles, rockets and bazookas in 1986 after Gorbachev had made clear the USSR would abandon the Afghan conflict. Instead of pressing for conciliation and a winding down of the

conflict, the Reagan Administration urged the mujahedeen to press on to complete victory and backed the injunction up with increased weaponry. After the exit of Soviet troops, the Najibullah government proved no match for the reactionary forces that had been assembled and equipped by the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. On September 27, Taliban troops, ignoring a UN Security Council call for a ceasefire, entered Kabul. Najibullah was dragged from the UN compound and executed. The badly beaten and disfigured and castrated bodies of he and his brother were hung from a lamppost in a public square.

The Mujahedeen government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani was overthrown. He and his supporters, including Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Masood, leader of the Northern Alliance group opposing the Taliban (assassinated in Alliance-held territory the day before the terrorist attack on the U.S.) fled north. They now form the core of the Northern Alliance, a motley group comprised of former anti-communist stalwarts, brutal warlords, opium dealers mercenaries. Their fighting force is composed largely of teenage boys press ganged into service.

Also feeing the arriving Taliban were the defeated forces of Hekmatyar, to which the bulk of the U.S. military aid had previously flowed. Speaking September 20 from Tehran where he operates in exile, Taliban opponent Hekmatyar blasted the Bush administration and warned that if the U.S. troops were to enter Afghanistan it would become Vietnam. "If invaded, the Afghan people will have no choice but to fight for every inch of their territory," he told Reuters. Hekmatyar also denounced the Northern Alliance for seeking to collaborate with the U.S. in bringing down the Taliban.

Seizing the city, Taliban troops fired rockets into residential areas in and around the capital. What was to come was evidenced by what had occurred in other parts of the country as the US equipped forces moved toward Kabul. Many civilians deemed opponents of the conquerors were summarily executed and retreating government troops who had surrendered were slain. "The manner in which Dr. Najibullah was killed defies all norms of international law," said Amnesty International, the day Kabul fell. "These latest events should surely provide the impetus for those governments with influence in the region to stop the massive human rights abuses perpetrated on the Afghan people."

Within hours of the takeover, reported AI, "Arbitrary punishment such as stoning and amputations have been introduced, and severe restrictions placed on women. For example women are not allowed to go out to certain places on their own, attend school, or work outside the home."

The point of recalling the unfolding of events after the Sawr Revolution of April 1978 is not to in any way attempt to justify the inhuman massacre of innocent people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania September 11, 2001. Nor is it to merely add weight to the "blowback" explanation. Most often that view is expressed as a scenario wherein policymakers in

Washington, acting out of zeal, made wrong decisions about who to coalesce with in pursuit of Cold War objectives that resulted in "unintended consequences." Actually, Washington formed alliances with reactionary forces in a lot of places like Afghanistan because they shared reactionary objectives: the suppression of truly indigenous revolutionary and progressive movements that aimed (with whatever mistakes and ill-advised tactics involved) to bring a new level of economic and social justice to their own countries.

When the armed reactionaries were mobilizing and directing their attacks at other countries, including some of our allies, Washington raised no alarm. U.S. officials made no ringing statements about rooting out the forces of "evil." Instead, they supplied them with training, resources and encouragement. It is absurd to view these people or their actions as expressions of the aspirations of the oppressed and exploited in their own area of the world. Our government was on the wrong side in Afghanistan and the wrong side won. The reactionary forces emerged on top in Kabul and have now risen up against their former patrons and benefactors. The real "intelligence failure" arises from the CIA's having been so intimately involved with these people for two decades but today having so little ability to keep track of them.

Alongside geo-strategic objectives, the alliances Washington forged with reactionary groups were in furtherance of the interests of transnational corporations, they were designed to keep foreign markets open and preserve the uninterrupted outward flow of mineral and other resources at profit- boosting prices. The effect of building up the reactionary forces in the region and aiding in their repression of the left has been to confine the political choices for the population to either the autocratic, corrupt, immensely wealthy elite or to the fundamentalist religious right seeking to supplant them. The peasants and working people of the region have been denied effective voices speaking in their interests. Since the 1953 CIA orchestrated overthrow of the Mosadeq government in Iran a central objective of U.S. policy has been to remove the threat of political instability that might undermine the position of Western oil monopolies in the region.

There is another reason to keep this Cold War history in mind as U.S. policy makers go about putting together a "coalition" behind which to pursue their "war on terrorism." If, 20 years from now, things blowback in our faces they will be in no position to say it is "unintended consequences." They know that they are, with eyes wide open, propping up and cynically bribing some of the most undemocratic, repressive and exploitative regimes in Afghanistan and the region. It's a safe bet that in the future the policymakers in Washington and London will be moved to use the power of the Pentagon and the CIA to aid them as they go on repressing those in Central Asia and the Gulf region seeking liberation and democratic and social advance.

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