While assorted representatives of Afghan groups were meeting with Western leaders in Bonn to map out a government for Afghanistan “freely determined by its own people,” and American bombs were continuing to fall on towns and villages in some parts of the country, two other conferences on Afghanistan’s future were taking place in Washington and Pakistan. The one in Washington, sponsored by the US and Japan, discussed ways of turning Afghanistan into a market economy. The other, convened by the World Bank, was to discuss the country’s reconstruction. The objective, according to British international development minister Clare Short, is to create “a better sort of Afghanistan.”
The question is, of course, better for whom? During the last twenty years Afghanistan has suffered grievously because of the invasion of the Soviets and the interference of the US and its regional allies. That the country desperately needs reconstruction of every kind goes without saying. This rebuilding should be designed, however, with local norms and culture in mind, and aimed at the precise needs of local people, rather than the interests of external powers. What we are likely to get is the sort of one-size-fits-all economic programme that Western economic agencies have imposed on so many other countries in recent years, with the results seen in Egypt, Argentina, Pakistan and other countries.
What Afghanistan must expect, in other words, is to join the crowded ranks of Muslim countries that are junior components of the West’s empire, cogs in the West’s machinery for syphoning the world’s resources to enrich its capitalist elites and improve the standard of living of its middle classes. For all their pious talk of democracy, the West’s record shows that they are about as interested in democracy as Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak or King Fahd. A good, strong, solid dictatorship, with the ability and good sense to ensure that the West’s interests in the region are not challenged, would suit the West a lot better than an open political system in which the concerns of local people would have to be heard and at least partly heeded. If there is a price to pay for maintaining such a regime, the West is happy to pay it, although it would prefer that others pay as much as possible. Compared to the interests the West is promoting in the region, its investment in Afghanistan is minimal; the reconstruction of Afghanistan is expected to cost about $20 billion — precisely the amount the US Federal Reserve has committed to the redevelopment of the site of the World Trade Centre.
Even while some of the West’s hands are pulling the strings in Afghanistan, however, others are planning attacks on other Muslim countries to further their vengeance for the attacks of September 11 and maintain the pretence of a war on terrorism. Having already attacked one of the poorest, weakest and most defenceless countries in the world, it is little surprise that the West is now thinking about others of similar standing. Iraq is an obvious choice, not least because the Bush family is thought to have “unfinished business” with Saddam Hussein. Other possible targets include Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. According to US intelligence sources, al-Qa’ida members escaping from the Taliban are likely to go to Somalia for refuge (they are also promising that no al-Qa’ida member will actually be allowed to escape from Afghanistan). US intelligence officers have reportedly met Somali opposition leaders in Baidoa, southwestern Somalia, to discuss the activities of a group called al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (Islamic Unity), listed by Washington as a terrorist organization with links to Usama bin Ladin. Any military action is likely to be targeted at camps in the south of the country, close to the border with Kenya, and islands off the coast. After their experience in Somalia seven years ago, the US is unlikely to send in any ground troops, except for the sort of operations staged for television that we have seen in Afghanistan.
Three months after September 11 the new world situation is becoming routine. In truth, however, there is little in it that we had not seen before. The West is behaving according to its well-established nature, and the challenge facing the Islamic movement remains precisely the same: to demonstrate our ability to provide a viable and better alternative, starting in our own countries and our own societies, the first step of which must be to counter and expel the selfish, decadent and damaging influence of the West.