Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A People's History of Afghanistan--Part 2: 1876-1901

(This article was previously posted on the Austin-based Rag Blog alternative news blog earlier in the year).

The Democratic Obama Administration’s Pentagon spent nearly a billion dollars in 2009 on the Afghan War contracts it awarded for construction projects that were mostly on U.S. military bases across Afghanistan. Yet most U.S. taxpayers still probably know little about the 19th-century history of people in Afghanistan or about the wars that were fought in Afghanistan during the 19th century.

After occupying Quetta in Baluchistan in 1876 and converting it into a military base, UK imperialism, for example, launched the Second Anglo-Afghan War by again invading Afghanistan. The UK government then replaced Sher Ali Khan as Afghanistan’s king by putting Sher Ali’s son, Yaqub Khan, on the Afghan throne. Yaqub Khan was then forced by the UK government to sign the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879.

As a result of the 1879 Treaty of Gandamak, the feudalist monarchical regime agreed to let the UK government control Afghanistan’s foreign affairs and establish UK diplomatic missions in Kabul and other Afghan cities. It also gave the British control of large areas of Afghanistan west of the Indus River in exchange for the UK government agreeing to now pay the new Afghan king, Yaqub Khan, an annual subsidy of 60,000 British pounds per year.

But, naturally, most Afghans who lived in Kabul did not support the terms of the May 1879 Treaty of Gandamak and were against giving the UK government so much special influence in Afghanistan. So in September 1879 the UK government’s diplomatic representative in Kabul was murdered “by mutinous Afghan soldiers who had been assigned to protect him,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History by Angelo Rasanayagam. In retaliation, a British general named Roberts moved his troops into Kabul on October 12, 1879 and forced Yaqub Khan to abdicate. Then General Roberts “became the virtual ruler of Kabul , instigating a rule of terror that was bitterly resisted” until “the British forces found themselves under siege,” by Afghan resistance fighters, according to the same book.

But after being defeated in open battle by Afghan resistance fighters on July 27, 1880 at Maiwand, near the Afghan city of Kandahar, UK troops were finally withdrawn from Afghanistan in April 1881, thus ending the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Yet before withdrawing its troops, the UK government began supporting an Afghan feudal warlord, Abdur Rahman Khan, after Rahman had marched on Kabul and declared himself the new Afghan king in Charikar on July 20, 1880. In this way, the UK government insured that Afghanistan would continue to be a British protectorate whose foreign policy would be controlled by the UK government, instead of being a fully independent state.

Known as the “Iron Amir,” Afghan King Abdur Rahman ruled over people in Afghanistan in a repressive way. Afghanistan: A Modern History described how this British imperialist-backed monarch governed Afghanistan:

“In almost continuous warfare during his 20-year reign, rebellions were punished by mass executions, or deportations, such as the forced resettlement of thousands of Ghilzai Pashtun tribesmen…He established a ruthless police force to subjugate suspected opponents and uncooperative officials.”

Not surprisingly, the UK government whose special interests he served provided Rahman’s repressive regime in Afghanistan with “substantial supplies of arms and ammunition,” according to the same book. And, like the previous 19th-century Afghan kings, Abdur Rahman also was paid an annual subsidy by the UK government during his reign of nearly 20 years. Between 1.2 million and 1.85 million Indian rupees per year were paid to Rahman between 1882 and 1901 by the UK government; and Rahman used a portion of his annual subsidy from the British imperialists to fund his recruitment of the Afghan troops he required to continue to rule people in Afghanistan in an undemocratic way.

(end of part 2. To be followed by “A People’s History of Afghanistan—Part 3: 1901-1924))

Monday, August 30, 2010

A People's History of Afghanistan--Part 1: 1838 to 1876

(This article was previously posted on the Austin-based Rag Blog alternative news blog earlier this year)

The number of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan has increased from 51,000 to between 70,000 and 100,000 since Barack Obama’s inauguration as U.S. president in January 2009. And there are still between 60,000 and 101,000 armed private contractors--as well as 38,000 combat troops in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] from countries other than the USA-- in Afghanistan in 2010. Yet if you grew up in the USA, your high school social studies teacher was likely to know more about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than about the history of Afghanistan.

But although no people of Jewish religious background lived in Afghanistan prior to the 19th century, by the end of the 1840s (after the Anglo-Indian army of UK imperialism which had invaded Afghanistan in 1838 was driven out by the Afghan people in the early 1840s) about the same number of people of Jewish background then lived in Afghanistan as then lived in the United States. As Raphael Patai noted in her book Tents of Jacob, “the number of Jews in Afghanistan in the mid-nineteenth century was estimated at 40,000.”

Yet the aim of the UK government’s military occupation of Kabul between 1839 and 1842, during the First Anglo-Afghan War, was just mainly to prop up an ineffectual and unpopular leader named Shah Shuja, whom the UK government had put in power, in place of Afghan King Dost Mohammad Khan, as Afghanistan ’s ruler.

UK troops in Afghanistan, however, found the Afghan people to be opposed to their presence in Afghanistan; and, between 1839 and 1842, there were “increasingly effective armed attacks on the British garrison” in Kabul, according to Afghanistan: A Modern History by Angelo Rasanayagam. The UK troops were soon forced to retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad, “through narrow mountain defiles and passes in the harshest wintry conditions, with the long columns of soldiers” and their civilian camp followers “being continuously shot at and ambushed by ferocious Ghilzai tribesmen from the surrounding hills,” according to the same book. As a result, around 9,500 (including 600 English officers and their families) of the primarily Indian troops of UK imperialism and 12,000 Indian civilian camp followers lost their lives when they were defeated militarily by people in Afghanistan during the 1839-1842 Anglo-Afghan War.

In revenge for being defeated in the First Anglo-Afghan War, however, UK troops returned to Kabul in 1843 and sacked Kabul . But because of its defeat in the 1839-1842 war, the UK government agreed to invite Dost Mohammad Khan to return to Kabul and resume his position as Afghan King. Twelve years later, on March 30, 1855, a treaty of friendship was signed between the UK government and Dost Mohammad’s feudalist government.

The UK government then started to pay King Dost Mohammad an annual subsidy of 10,000 British pounds to help protect its strategic interests in that area of the world. Dost Mohammad remained on the Afghan throne until 1863; and between 1863 and 1878, Dost Mohammad’s son, Sher Ali Khan, was Afghanistan’s ruling monarch.

After the UK army again intervened in Afghanistan in October 1856 to force the Persian/Iranian government troops that had occupied the city of Herat in western Afghanistan to withdraw, the UK government did not openly intervene in Afghanistan’s internal affairs again until 1876. But as the book Afghanistan: A Modern History noted, “when Disraeli became [ UK ] prime minister, the tacit policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Afghanistan ended, and was replaced by the `forward policy’…”

(end of part 1. "A People's History of Afghanistan--Part 2: 1876 to 1901" to soon follow).