Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cruel Hindsight

Map of Afghanistan

In a previous posting I briefly reviewed a book published in the Marxist Regimes series that gave an overview of then Marxist governed Ethiopia.1 In that review I mentioned that The Marxist Regimes series was stunningly oblivious to the signs of the imminent implosion of Marxist regimes worldwide. That the alleged value neutral approach basically led to obliviousness to the serious structural, institutional and economic problems of those regimes and tended towards moral capitulation in the face of evil and atrocity is also clear. The book about Ethiopia by Peter Schwab was an outstanding example of moral obscenity given its celebration of a vicious regime and its fawning over Dictator Mengistu.

Another book in the series, while it is not morally obscene in the way Peter Schwab’s book about Ethiopia is, is Bhabani Sen Gupta’s book about the Marxist regime in Afghanistan.2

Now the late Prof. Gupta was a noted commentator and scholar in India. He was also a great believer in India balancing itself between America and the USSR and in being “realistic” about Soviet power and learning to live with it. Thus he believed in accepting Soviet domination of Afghanistan because that was “realistic” and that refusal to face and accept and live with growing Soviet international power was unrealistic and counter-productive. Besides Soviet equality with the USA was inevitable and would last a long time. Thus the Afghan resistance should not be supported because they were doomed to fail and opposing Soviet power was fruitless when vital Soviet interests were at stake.3

Needless to say the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s was a complete surprise to Prof. Gupta. This supposed expert on Soviet International relations utterly missed noticing the severe structural etc., problems in the Soviet Union or the fact, even then easy to find out that the Soviet Union was NOT the equal of the USA in overall power but only had something like equality in the military sense. Prof. Gupta also seemed to miss how much attaining this relative military equality damaged the rest of the Soviet economy and society.4

But then his book glides over many facts for example by avoiding discussing it except by insinuation that in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan Soviet elite units stormed the presidential palace and murdered the then Afghan leader Amin. Prof Gupta elides this along with accepting the argument that the Soviet Union was invited in and thus no invasion occurred. Well first of all Amin wanted more help not to be overthrown and murdered, and secondly the “invitation” was clearly a fig leaf created to excuse the invasion.5 Prof. Gupta’s acceptance of this nonsense doesn’t help him.

Now that it is clear that Prof. Gupta is to some degree an apologist for the Soviets it is important to also mention that he is to some degree an apologist for the Afghanistan Marxist regime.

Thus Gupta writes:
With firm Soviet commitment of arms and financial aid, the Marxist regime appears to be slowly gaining ground. Its defenders and its opponents agree that time is in its favour over a long haul. It has been trying to construct a National Democratic state along the non-capitalist model of economic and social development. Its survival is not in doubt. If it can stand on its own feet and bring about relatively rapid socio-economic transformation of Afghanistan, the impact of the political experiment may well be felt on a number of backward Islamic countries in South and South-west Asia.6
Hindsight can be so cruel. The experiment was a stunning failure, and it proved to be no model at all. What is particularly notable though in this passage is the fudging. Although Prof. Gupta acknowledges later in the book that the war has devastated large sections of Afghanistan and driven millions of people into Iran and Pakistan he argues it can still work out. Even though the country would be a basket case for decades. He also in this passage and later in the book fudges the fact that among the reasons for “progress” in the crushing of the insurrection was the arming of large numbers of militia and tribal groups who are given money arms and basic independence from Kabul in exchange for not supporting the insurrection. Further the “progress” was achieved by widespread indiscriminate devastation which involved the killing and crippling of hundreds of thousands. Further much of the “progress” was achieved by systematically and bit by bit abandoning much of the “Marxist” “National Democratic”, aims and policies.7 Oh and just how a nation convulsed by a revolution that was only “saved”, in the end temporarily, by a devastating foreign invasion that reduced much of the country to a wasteland can serve as an example is beyond me.

Of course the fact that through idiotic, poorly thought-out policies carried out even more ineptly, the “Revolution” in Afghanistan caused a massive internal rebellion that threatened to overthrow the “Revolutionary” government doesn't help the idea of making the Afghan "Revolution" an example.

What is also rather surprising is that Prof. Gupta seems to be almost completely blind to the fact that outside of the capital, and even then it was confined to a small number of people, the “Revolution” and the Afghan Communist party had extremely close to literally zero support. Their power after the “Revolution” was based almost entirely on the control of armed force. Further the attitude of these “Marxists” towards their own country was based on “theoretical” “Marxist” categories and shibboleths that bore little relation to reality. Thus policies were created that fit “theory” and not reality. The results were very quickly widespread revolt.8

Prof. Gupta says in one place:
The dramatic and surprising success of the Afghan revolution betrays the fundamental weakness of modernizing regimes in the third world not based on sound and developing political systems linked to the masses.9
This occurs at the end of section arguing that the Afghan “Revolution” was not a military takeover, when it basically was, and it is not exactly clear what Gupta is saying. What Gupta seems to be saying is that the Marxist regime in Afghanistan followed sound policies was "linked" i.e., in touch with the masses and very successful. This is so far from reality has to be delusional. After all it became abundantly clear within in short order that the new Marxist government in Kabul had no real idea of what “ordinary” people wanted and no real way of finding out. In fact this was a coup d’├ętat of a tiny sect in an otherwise very conservative country. I note that Prof. Gupta in this book seems to argue that lack of popular support is of no relevance in judging the nature of the regime or its legitimacy.10

Thus Prof. Gupta acknowledges that:
Two fundamental weaknesses of the revolutionary regime, which contributed in a big way to its failure to mobilize rural support were, first the PDPA’s lack of an organizational base beyond the main towns and cities, and second, the alienation of its city-based youth cadres from the rural population, their customs, passions, prejudices, cultures and behavior.11
The chief source of that “blindness” was that the Marxist-Leninist theory they had absorbed from their readings and Soviet indoctrination that had told them what was “really” going on regardless of actual facts so reality was ignored. We are talking about people who lived and worked in Afghanistan and who willfully disregarded what was going on in favour of what “Theory” told them. These weaknesses of the regime were built upon the ideological blinkers these people willfully wore. This is of course not mentioned by Prof. Gupta. That such incompetents deserve a second chance is beyond me. Also noted that this seems to contradict Prof. Gupta's statement about a "link" to the masses. 

In another section Prof. Gupta waxes poetic about how much knowledge the Soviets have of Afghanistan.12 No doubt the Politburo was composed of people with Phd’s on Afghanistan. (snark). The fact is it appears the Soviet leadership was deeply ignorant of the situation and knew little of Afghanistan.13

Prof. Gupta then proceeds to justify the invasion by repeating the threadbare Soviet justifications like they can be taken seriously. Prof. Gupta even brings up Amin asking for Soviet help. No doubt he asked to be overthrown and murdered by Soviet troops.(snark)14 I further note Prof. Gupta largely ignores the fratricidal nature of Afghan Communism, with its murderous repressions, intrigues and coups, counter coups and attempted coups that continued right until the end of the regime.15

Later Prof. Gupta talks about the Soviet Union having defensive motives in invading Afghanistan. Which he seems to accept. Then Prof. Gupta talks about a Soviet counter strategy to American moves and attempts to get military superiority over the Soviet Union. The whole piece has in it the flavour of why is America refusing to accept Soviet parity? Prof. Gupta seems to think that the American, Soviet game of contesting for influence will continue and he seems to approve of the alleged fact that attempts to parlay disgust over the invasion of Afghanistan into political military advantage for the USA have not worked.16 I note that Gupta "forgets" the repeated UN condemnations of the invasion of Afghanistan.

In one particularly bold piece of nonsense Prof. Gupta said:
..the Soviets aimed to bring the ravaged economy and political system of Afghanistan back to a process of orderly revolutionary reconstruction.17
Just how this was to be done by carpet bombing, indiscriminate devastation and the generation of massive dislocation is a deep mystery. The actual Soviet aim was to save an allied regime and if they had to destroy large sections of Afghanistan to do so and drive much of the population into exile that was just the breaks. Those aims listed above were obviously well down the list of important things the Soviets were trying to do.

But then Prof, Gupta is a “realist”, who accepts Soviet parity with the USA. Prof. Gupta’s admiration is obvious for he says:
More relevant to the situation immediately created by the Soviet military push into Afghanistan were the firmness and precision with which the Soviets reiterated their determination to defend the legitimate interests of national security and a fraternal revolution. The burden of Moscow’s carefully orchestrated articulations was that the United States was turning Nelson’s blind eye on the changes that had occurred to the global balance, that it was determined to take the world back to the wasted epoch of cold war, and that this exercise in muscle-flexing would fail because the Soviet Union had emerged as an equal of America and could not be cowed by threats of military superiority.18

Later Prof. Gupta quotes Pravda saying in effect, We will not be intimidated, with apparent approval.19

But then the above quote is wonderful for being stunningly wrong footed. First the reference to Nelson’s blind eye forgets that by turning a blind eye to a signal to retire Lord Nelson was able to win a crushing victory at the battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Prof. Gupta’s use of the terms “legitimate interests” and “fraternal revolution” are telling indications of bias. Of course it turned out that Soviet perceptions that they were the equal of America and that the idea that the global balance had in fact shifted turned out to be so much wishful thinking on their part. The global balance had NOT shifted and by acting like it had the Soviets helped to create problems that were to help cause an ignominious collapse of their system in a few years. The real blind eye here was the one the Soviets had. From the tenor of these comments it appears that Prof. Gupta had accepted that the global balance had changed and that the Soviet Union was now equal to the USA. That was to put it bluntly wrong. In fact it was clear to informed Soviet analysts at the time that the balance had in fact not shifted and to act like it had was foolish. To Prof. Gupta unaware of the real, deep problems within the Soviet Union it seems it was not clear at all.20

But then Prof. Gupta also sees no problems in that:
Soviet strategy seems to be to maintain control of Afghanistan with a minimum military commitment while seeking to train a new generation of Afghan communist leaders loyal to Moscow. It is reportedly training as many as 10,000 Afghans annually in the Soviet Union both to rebuild the Afghan army And to staff the administrative bureaucracy.21
It seems creating a puppet state is no real problem but then Prof. Gupta also doesn’t seem to have any problems with a brutal military strategy that systematically depopulates the countryside either.22.

But then Prof. Gupta also says:
Those in the United States and elsewhere who had hoped that Afghanistan would develop as Moscow’s Vietnam have been proved wrong. The fighting is not unpopular in the Soviet Union; if anything, it has stirred the patriotism of the Russian people.23
Prof. Gupta then quotes from a New York Times report from December 1984 to indicate popular support.24 Aside from ignoring that people in a one party police state with lots of secret police may not be fully candid, he forgets that the American intervention in Vietnam also had high support for quite some time. Of course it turned out that the war became deeply unpopular in the Soviet Union and yes became like Vietnam for the Soviets. Here as elsewhere Prof. Gupta proved to be spectacularly wrong.25

In the final section of the book Prof. Gupta talks about the long term impact of the Afghan revolution and mentions that it may serve as a model.26 A model of what is the question because if it’s a model it’s how to devastate your country and leave it a basket case. Prof Gupta talks about how this case shows the emergence of the Soviet Union has a major influence equal to the USA in the Third World and thus open up more of the Third World including India, Pakistan to friendly relations with the Soviet Union.

Prof. Gupta further not so coyly criticizes the Afghan resistance for fleeing en-mass to Iran and Pakistan. And stating that peoples of National Liberation movements have not as a rule fled their countries. That this is a dig at the Afghan resistance is obvious. Prof. Gupta then states that FLN members / supporters did not escape to Morocco or Tunisia. This is quite simple wrong hundreds of thousands did so flee. I could of course also give the refugees generated during the Zimbabwe independence war. And just why are such things as the flight of millions of Vietnamese into the cities and a great number abroad during the American war not mentioned? But then the polemical purpose is obvious. These are not “real” “freedom fighters” they don’t stay in their countries to be bombed and starved etc. (snark).27

In the end Prof. Gupta’s vision of a new balance in the Third World proved to be delusional on his part along with the Soviets. Marxist revolution in the Third World proved to be a mirage that led nowhere but to accelerating Soviet collapse.

Prof. Gupta’s statement about the future of the Afghan revolution deserves to be quoted in full.
Whether the Afghanistan issue is finally settled on the rubblized mountain terrain of the Hindu Kush in more blood, sweat, agony and suffering, or through a negotiated political settlement, it is going to be a long haul. However, eventually, the Saur revolution will be saved, and it will have address itself to the Herculean task of rebuilding and remoulding the ravaged and devastated Afghanistan. The Afghan revolution is still a tentative revolution. Time, however, is on its side. We now take a look at its future, and its long-term impact on the region.28
History can be a complete bitch and bastard; in this case, with the exception of the mention of the long haul our predictor was wrong all the way down the line. The Afghan (Saur) revolution was not saved and long before its ignominious collapse in early 1992 the government created by the 1979 “Revolution” had abandoned the “Revolution” in the interest of staying in power. It turns out time was not on its side. Soviet leaders were constantly disappointed with their puppets in Kabul and they set time schedules for things to happen and that steadily the “Revolution” was abandoned. Policy changes and even changes in Leadership enforced by the Soviets like Karmal being replaced by Najib in 1986 failed to get the progress required by the Soviets. In the end the regime was upheld by the divisions of its enemies, massive Soviet aid and nepotism. When Soviet aid stopped the regime already slowly declining collapsed.

Prof. Gupta meanwhile produced this piece of embarrassing political prophecy.

Meanwhile the Afghan people still wait for peace and reconstruction.

1. See Here.

2. Gupta, Bhabani Sen, Afghanistan, Frances Pinter, London, 1986.

3. See Gupta, Bhabani Sen, The Afghan Syndrome: How to Live with Soviet Power, Vikas Publishing House, New Delphi, 1982, for a full espousal of this idea.

4. See Rowen, Henry S., and Wolf, Charles, Editors, The Impoverished Superpower, ICS Press, San Francisco CA, 1990.

5. Bradsher, Henry S., Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, Duke University Press, NC, 1985, pp. 169-188, Cordesman, Anthony H, and Wagner, Abraham R, The Lessons of Modern War, v. 3, Westview Press, Boulder CO, 1990, pp. 32-35, Kakar, M. Hassan, Afghanistan, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1995, pp. 221-31. I note that Prof. Gupta carefully ignores Amin’s repeated statements before the Soviet invasion that he did not want Soviet troops.

6. Gupta, 1986, p. 1.

7. See for example Arney, George, Afghanistan, Mandarin, London, 1990, pp. 174-200.

8. See Roy, Olivier, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985, pp. 84-109.

9. Gupta, 1986, p. 31.

10. Footnote 5.

11. Gupta, 1986, p. 71.

12. IBID, p. 85.

13. Tomsen, Peter, The Wars of Afghanistan, Public Affairs, New York, 2011, pp. 117-178.

14. Gupta, 1986, p. 85-87.

15. Arney, pp. 97-114, 174-200, Bradsher, pp. 256-263.

16.Gupta, 1986, pp., 90-95.

17. IBID, p. 98.

18. IBID, p. 101.

19. IBID.

20. Footnote 4 and Jowitt, Ken, New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1992.

21. Gupta, 1986, p. 109.

22. IBID, pp. 109-110.

23. IBID, p. 136.

24. IBID.

25. See for example Remick, David, Lenin’s Tomb, Vintage Books, New York, 1994, pp. 234, 335, and Borovik, Artyom, The Hidden War, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1990, pp. 279-288.

26. Gupta,, 1986, pp. 156-174.

27. See Horne, Alistair, A Savage War of Peace, Penguin Books, London, 1977, pp. 263-267, 328-329.

28. Gupta, 1986, p. 155.

Pierre Cloutier

No comments:

Post a Comment