OK a massive thread with some stuff about Afghanistan and imperialism that you may not have heard despite all that you have heard. It's going to be long, I'll just say that in advance.
This thread begins with a quintessential imperialist regime change operation. In 1839. Yes, the same year Britain was committing the atrocities of the Opium War in China, it also invaded Afghanistan.

(Opium War history is covered in the podcast here: podur.org/2021/02/06/civ…)
The regime change operation in Afghanistan in 1839 was written up nicely in the Afghan patriot Farukh Husain's book, Afghanistan in the Age of Empires. Image
Basically it went like this: the British brought their own candidate, Shah Shuja, to take over the throne in Kabul. They invaded from India and used mostly Indian troops (who were given lower rations and treated according to strict racist hierarchy).
In the process of imposing Shuja they committed rapes, looting, massacres. They kidnapped women including from families of their allies. They blew Afghans out of cannons (a move they made more famous in 1857 India).
One British agent believed they purposely destroyed the economy of some cities to better exert control: “I heard both the men and the women saying that the English enriched the grain and grass sellers...while they reduced the Chiefs to poverty, and killed the poor by starvation.”
The British started surveying the country for mineral wealth in this 1839-1843 occupation.
When the British occupied Kabul, they raised taxes on the locals – unleashing an army of collectors on Afghans, who had to borrow the money to pay the taxes, and then lost their houses and other assets. Standard colonial move.
But the British lost control of Kabul and were driven into retreat. On the retreat they committed even worse atrocities, including against their Indian troops, and massacre their own camp followers. They do a long march to Jalalabad where many of them die.
The king they put on the throne, Shah Shuja, was assassinated in 1842.
Imperialists squeezed a lot of self-victimization propaganda out of this retreat, then and since. It is from this war, in which the British committed horrific atrocities invading and occupying Afghanistan, that the British coined this "Graveyard of Empires" crap.
And it is crap. The idea, repeated over and over, is to portray those being invaded, occupied, massacred, raped, and stolen from as uniquely savage, frightening, implacable, and deadly. So it's not about the crimes the British committed, but about how scary the victims were.
Anyway, the British regrouped and created an "Army of Revenge" to get "revenge" against the Afghans for driving them out (even though they were the massacring, raping, looting invaders).
The British destroy Ghazni. One writer says: “The British army left Ghazni as a heap of ruins as the sun set on the city of the Shah of Shahs, Ghazni was lost in the darkness of the night to be forgotten by history.”
British destroy: "Our way of destroying the country is very simple, merely cutting a ring through the bark of every tree. This ruins the country completely as the trees die directly and the inhabitants live principally on dried fruit and flour made from the dried mulberry.”
The destruction is the point: “‘every house was destroyed, every tree barked or cut down; after which the detachment having collected a considerable spoil of bullocks, sheep, and goats, marched back to camp’”
Neville Chamberlain reports of a village where all males over puberty were bayoneted, the women were raped and their goods plundered: “This is one of the most beautiful valleys in Affghanistan, but we left it a scene of desolation”
Reverend Allen: “One woman was the only live thing in the fort. She was sitting, the picture of despair, with her father, brother, husband and children lying dead around her.”
The British debate whether to destroy Kabul or not, and also whether or not to kidnap the king’s child and bring him up as a Christian in London (which they did to Prince Duleep Singh after the Anglo-Sikh wars).
They take Kabul and commit another mass atrocity, rape, murder, indiscriminate killing, enslaving and trading of women, burning of wounded people alive. “Many a hiding mother hen and newborn infant died. But such things like these you know must be at every famous victorie.”
More on Kabul: “All day the sack went on, and great booty did the captors get, rich dresses, shawls, carpets, silks, horse trappings, arms, emblazoned Korans, etc”
They leave Jalalabad “a smoking mass of ruins”.
When the British leave Afghanistan, one officer writes in 1843: “The work of retribution was now deemed accomplished, and, indeed, it was severe...nor will years repair the damage and evils inflicted”.
Roebuck: “Ghuznee, Cabul, Istalif and Jalalabad have shared a common doom; havoc and desolation have marked the path of our conquered armies, and as fell a revenge has been inflicted on our foes as the warmest advocate of retaliation could desire”
The British then install a 12-year old on the throne in Kabul.
One British MP says: “We might relinquish all hope of advantages from opening the Indus to our trade; we had destroyed every town which could afford us a market, and centuries would elapse before Affghanistan recovered from the misery and desolation in which it had been plunged.”
But to others who were concerned about the money it cost to destroy Afghanistan in 1843, they were assured - with the opium war won, the increased demand for opium after the Opium War in China would pay for the Afghan war!
(we cover all this in Civilizations episode 36a - which uses Farukh Husain's book)

What was the 1839 British war on Afghanistan about? Basically the British Empire, whose primary goal was squeezing what would eventually be $45 trillion out of India, destroyed Afghanistan to make it a “buffer zone” against any kind of incursion.
They said they were worried about Russia but that’s nonsense – they were more worried about Iran and other Asian powers allying with those they were still working on completely dispossessing on the subcontinent itself.
Dispossessing the whole of India was a job they completed in 1857, at the cost of 10 million lives in India (covered in episodes 20a and 20b of Civilizations).
Once they decided that Afghanistan was a “buffer zone”, they then had to ensure its compliance through more wars. The Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1878-9, another round of atrocities, and Britain imposed a humiliating treaty of Gandamak on Afghanistan.
Like other humiliating treaties the imperialists were imposing across North America and Asia at the time, the Gandamak Treaty basically gave Britain control over Afghanistan’s foreign policy.
In 1893, Durand goes to Kabul and divides the Pashtun lands of Asia into the British India side and the Afghanistan side ("The Durand Line"), setting up centuries of conflict.
In 1919, the Third Anglo Afghan War. Modernizer Amanullah Khan wins the war and wins back control of foreign policy.
From 1919-1929, Amanullah tries to modernize and develop independently. He’s overthrown in a British backed regime-change operation and a series of short-lived rulers follow, until king Zahir Shah takes the throne in 1933.
Zahir Shah is also a modernizer type, who rules from 1933-1973. All the European powers are present, in various development aid capacities, including the USSR.
From 1964-1973, there’s a famous “democratic opening”, which the US takes advantage of to exercise influence over pro-US Afghan politicians and try to exclude left-wing politicians.
The story of US manipulation in 1964-1973 is in the US PLUSD cables that we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Julian Assange – who is imprisoned by these same empires at the moment so take a moment to do whatever you can to #FreeAssange.
Zahir Shah’s cousin Daud Khan was one of the modernizing leaders holding various portfolios including defense minister and prime minister. He opposed the Durand line and wanted Pashtunistan, which upset Pakistan.
Pakistan, which has a bigger Pashtun population than Afghanistan does, came to associate Afghan nationalism with the Pashtunistan proposal (which would take away a big chunk of Pakistan’s land and tens of millions of people).
So Pakistan from the 1970s on found it useful to sponsor the Islamic tendencies in Afghan politics as an alternative.
During the “democratic opening” of 1964-1973, Daud was excluded from political office because the constitution barred the royal family from participating. Image
The constitution also didn’t allow political parties, but a strong left-wing political party did form (People’s Democratic Party), and had to operate more or less clandestinely.
In 1973, Daud overthrew the constitution in a coup. There is evidence in the cables that the US were themselves planning a coup to counter the growing influence of left-wing politics.
In 1978, Daud himself was overthrown by the left-wing, and Muhammad Taraki became president. Image
Co-founder of this Saur Revolution was Hafizullah Amin. I’ve read two diametrically opposed views of Amin in two books. One by Phil Bonosky, and the other by Beverly Male. Bonosky says Amin was a CIA asset; Male says he was a good revolutionary. Image
Here’s the timeline: Taraki is president from April 1978-September 1979. Then he’s killed (maybe by Amin). Then Amin takes over from September 1979-December 1979, when he is also killed (maybe by Soviet troops, who invade).
During the Taraki year and a half, there was a land reform, which was very popular with farmers and very unpopular with landlords.

Continuity: Taraki, like Daud Khan, kept up the "modernizing" efforts that Amanullah and Zahir Shah had made.

The US began to organize the landlords straight away, in exile, in a familiar pattern if you know Central America, Cuba, Haiti, in these decades.

You can read about it in Steve Coll, and the like.

Basically it’s a violent regime change campaign, which Pakistan is happy to sponsor and which the other US allies also sponsor. The Afghan government calls for Soviet help, and the Soviets are in a position to aid the regime (unlike in the Americas).
From 1979-1989, Afghanistan becomes the epicenter of a US-supported insurgency against the Afghan government and its Russian ally.
You know this part of the story from US pop culture, but as usual, what you know is full of myths. It wasn’t the magic of stinger missiles, for example. How could it be? The Afghan government that was just overthrown had more advanced weaponry than stinger missiles.
Myths of magic weaponry aside, there's 10 years of lavishly US-supported insurgency, unlimited support from the open border with Pakistan, the organization and reorganization of an international fighting force of "mujahadeen" under various commanders.
The commanders later came to be known as warlords, each with one or more external sponsor, and their war on the government took an immense toll. Image
When the USSR collapsed in 1989, its troops also left. The Afghan government held on, though, until 1992, when Yeltsin basically made a deal with the Americans to stop all supply to Russia’s ally, Afghanistan.
Had Putin made such a deal over Syria in 2015, Syria would be owned by the Islamic State today.
So it was that in 1992 the US-sponsored insurgents finally toppled the Afghan government (“communists”) and proceeded to cleanse the country of “communism” and also nationalism of the Daud-variety.
Then the mujahadeen applied their expertise at sabotage, atocity, and state destruction on the areas of the country that they hadn’t controlled. Did you think the warlords created to destroy the state were going to build one?
Many warlords were content to control their areas – these are names you have been hearing recently of people fleeing or being captured like Ismail Khan (Herat), Rashid Dostum & Atta Mohammad Noor (Mazar). ImageImage
But in 1992 two warlords in particular wanted control of Kabul and couldn’t agree – one was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the other was Burnuhuddin Rabbani (and Ahmad Shah Massoud). They fought over Kabul. ImageImage
Hekmatyar was kicked out and proceeded to shell Kabul from outside. The fight over Kabul destroyed the city and whatever was left undestroyed by the 1979-1992 phase of the war between 1992-1996.
This is where the Taliban start. The Taliban were the next generation, raised entirely during war and by the Islamists with no influence from nationalism or communism (which had been cleansed from public memory).
Backed by Pakistan, the Taliban positioned themselves against the atrocities and chaos of the warlords as austere proponents of law and order.
Starting in Pakistan, they took Kandahar, and advanced from 1992-1996 until they took Kabul. It was only after they took Kabul in 1996 that the communist president until 1992, Najibullah, was killed (publicly hanged in an awful photograph you’ll see around the web).
In 2001, the US invaded and re-organized the warlords into the Northern Alliance. The Taliban retreated to Pakistan.
The US put the warlords back into power in Kabul and imposed their own candidate, Hamid Karzai, under an Afghan-American viceroy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
For the next 20 years, Karzai and then his successor, Ghani, ruled over the warlords, and the US, through Khalilzad, over them.
The US treated Afghanistan as a video gameworld for practicing drone warfare, protected the opium trade, and committed continuous atrocities, including hunting Afghans for sport, while making it a playground for private contractors and NGOs.

All the while Americans were told by their politicians and media that this was all a huge burden to them.
And now, here we are.

PS one way to summarize it is:
1839-1919: 80yr of imperialist de development.
1919-1929: 10yr of nationalist modernizing.
1929-1933: imperialism again
1933-1992: 60yr nationalism
1992-2021: 30yr imperialist de development again.

So, what will post-2021 be?

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More from @justinpodur

19 Aug
How to Write About Afghanistan: A Style Guide for Western Journalists

(An homage to Binyavanga Wainaina.)
First, the opening. All good articles about Afghanistan start with a few lines from a poem by British imperialist poet Rudyard Kipling. You know the one, "the women come out to cut up what remains, blow out your brains, blah blah blah".
Maintain a solid grasp on British imperialist images and phrases. Don't update them in light of new events. Everything that happens in Afghanistan is a game. A Great Game, to be specific - that's what the delusional British called their destruction of the country - follow them.
Read 22 tweets
18 Aug
Why do orientalist writers cite Sharia, rattle off the ethnicities of Afghanistan (Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Nooristani), talk about the Pashtunwali code, and never mention Afghaniyat?
Some quotes from Nathaniel Davis 2010 paper, From Colonialism to Neo-Colonialism: Nationalism, Islam, and the Cultural Framing of Conflicts in Afghanistan.
Davis: "Dismissing the idea of Afghan nationality permitted and justified British policy in employing the familiar divide-and-conquer tactics among rival ethnic groups."
Read 11 tweets
14 Aug
Du Bois spells out the social democratic dream: " It is no longer simply the merchant prince, or the aristocratic monopoly, or even the employing class, that is exploiting the world: it is the nation; a new democratic nation composed of united capital and labor."
Science and religion both serve imperialism:"Thus arises the astonishing doctrine of the natural inferiority of most men to the few, and the interpretation of 'Christian brotherhood' as meaning anything that one of the 'brothers' may at any time want it to mean."
Du Bois knows there are no "unimportant" regions or "backwaters": "the ownership of materials and men in the darker world is the real prize".
Read 6 tweets
14 Aug
Just playing a quick game of Jim Gasperini's Hidden Agenda this morning.

Steering the ship of state in Chimerica is hard and this is one of the toughest dilemmas. Do I heed the Cuban Ambassador or my cautious External Affairs minister who says I should refuse military aid? Image
I guess I did it right because I just successfully resisted two coup attempts.
@RodericDay you would like this game. It seems to reward the most radical decisions. @BenjaminNorton it seems to be based on Nicaragua so you might like it too.
Read 6 tweets
28 May
I know you don't want to hear this, but the position that you "love the Palestinian people but hate Hamas" is actually helping Israel kill the Palestinian people.
The propaganda line that "we love the people but hate whoever happens to be leading them" is the standard Israeli position (ie., Israel had the same position on the PLO back in the day, etc.).
The propaganda line "we love the people but hate their leader" is also the standard regime change position. It goes along with regime change campaigns - the US/Canada/etc. just didn't recognize the Syria election, they didn't recognize the Venezuela elections, etc.
Read 10 tweets
23 May
The Anti-Empire Project is sharing tonight a resource on Anti-Palestinian Racism.

The goals are a) to recognize this as a distinct type of racism and b) to make it easy to identify when an argument or claim is based in such racism and not good faith.

Some of the key points made in the resource -

Anti-Palestinian racism is distinct from Islamophobia and it is distinct from Anti-Arab Racism, despite overlap and the importance of both of those racisms.
All asymmetries of rights when discussing Israel/Palestine are symptoms of anti-Palestinian racism. Examples:

1a. Israeli "security" vs. Palestinian "freedom".
Read 15 tweets

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