Afghanistan – Xinjiang.

The mainstream coverage of the Afghanistan collapse has played down both the direct impact of the US/NATO invasion on Afghans and drawn a veil over where all the money went. Instead, we have had a narrative that resurrects the image of “the West” as the defenders of Afghan women and children, as a cover for maintaining an over the horizon military capacity through drone strikes and an aid and financial freeze that puts their lives even more at risk.

This is not a claim that stands up to much scrutiny. As Tariq Ali noted in New Left Review (1)

As for the status of women, nothing much has changed. There has been little social progress outside the NGO-infested Green Zone. One of the country’s leading feminists in exile remarked that Afghan women had three enemies: the Western occupation, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. With the departure of the United States, she said, they will have two. (At the time of writing this can perhaps be amended to one, as the Taliban’s advances in the north saw off key factions of the Alliance before Kabul was captured.) Despite repeated requests from journalists and campaigners, no reliable figures have been released on the sex-work industry that grew to service the occupying armies. Nor are there credible rape statistics – although US soldiers frequently used sexual violence against ‘terror suspects’, raped Afghan civilians and green-lighted child abuse by allied militias. During the Yugoslav civil war, prostitution multiplied and the region became a centre for sex trafficking. UN involvement in this profitable business was well-documented. In Afghanistan, the full details are yet to emerge.”

And an article published at www.german-foreign-policy.com points out that,

“US drone attacks…. caused numerous civilian victims. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism…. lists more than 13,000 of these attacks in Afghanistan. The number of victims has been calculated at between 4,100 and over 10,000, the number of proven civilian victims at between 300 and 900. According to research by the online platform The Intercept, this would be an under-estimation. Already in October 2015, the Intercept had reported – citing documents furnished by a whistleblower – that from January 2012 to February 2013, only 35 of the more than 200 victims of the US drone campaign in northeastern Afghanistan had been listed as US targets. In the course of five months, the portion of unintentional drone victims was nearly 90 percent.”

So, nine out of ten victims were collateral damage. This pattern has continued with the drone attack last week supposedly targeting a “suicide bomber” managed to kill 10 civilians including 6 children. The chilling effect of the drone threat extends beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Zubair Rehman, a 13 year old student from the Pakistan borders said in 2013

“Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.” (2)

This assessment from the Socialist Economic bulletin reveals that

  1. Afghan GDP has plateaued since 2011.
  2. GDP per head has barely risen since the invasion in 2001, and is running well below that of Pakistan and Nepal.
  3. Unemployment has remained at just under 12% throughout the period of the invasion, three times the level in Pakistan and Nepal.
  4. The actual level of schooling for Afghan girls is just 1.9 years, compared with 6 years for boys and around four years in Pakistan and Nepal.
  5. So, where did the money go? “If highly regarded economists place the cost of the war in the trillions of US Dollars, and yet…the Afghan economy has been shrinking to a level below $20 billion annually, then funding must have left the country. In effect, the taxpayers of the US and elsewhere were not funding nation building in Afghanistan, they were funding US defence contractors, the Pentagon war machine, and a whole raft of ancillary suppliers, of everything from ‘security personnel’ to beer and burgers. That is where the huge bonanza of public money went”. 

Its very strange how the currents – on the right and the left – that are most vocal about the Western defeat at the hands of the Taliban (and often support Islamophobic Laïcité in France) are also the currents that give most credence to Jihadist separatists in Xinjiang.

The standard trope in the Western media is to present the Western intervention in Afghanistan as developmentally positive – while the picture painted of Xinjiang is done in the bleakest hues. The claims of Western Intelligence assets and jihadist separatists about Xinjiang that are taken as such an article of faith in the UK, from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, through the Labour front bench all the way to Ian Duncan Smith and beyond, also don’t stand up to much scrutiny; which is why they are never given any in the mainstream press. This measured assessment by UK Academics provides a more balanced view and is worth a thoughtful read.

A comparison with Afghanistan after 20 years of Western intervention and tutelage is also something of a corrective to the notion that a “genocide” is taking place.

Xinjiang is one of China’s poorest regions. Along with Tibet, it was only in the last year that extreme poverty has been overcome for all citizens. Nevertheless, although life expectancy in Xinjiang has not yet caught up with the Chinese average of 77 years; at 72 it is a full 7 years more than in Afghanistan. It should be noted also that Afghanistan has suffered 7,101 deaths from Covid. The total figure for Xinjiang is 3 (out of a total population of over 25 million). A comparable death rate for the UK would be less than 10, rather than than the 150,000 plus we have actually suffered under our definitely non genocidal government.

When it comes to girls education, boys and girls in Xinjiang have equal access; and almost twice as many years in school as Afghan boys, and more than five times as long as Afghan girls. (3)

Large families in developing countries tend to be a marker of poverty and underdevelopment. Keeping birth rates low has been an aspect of China’s poverty reduction policies for years, with the one child policy only recently reversed. It should be noted that ethnic minorities were exempt from that policy and until the wider availability of contraception in the last decade, families in Xinjiang tended to be large, which kept women in the home and out of employment. The number of children per woman in Xinjiang is now low (at 1.3 children) but not quite as low as the Chinese average (1.2).

Similarly, accusations that China is committing “genocide” against the Uighurs sit oddly with figures for child mortality which are not only significantly lower than those for Afghanistan, but half that of India (29/thousand).

Average income in Xinjiang is almost twice that of Afghanistan and the trend is for an ongoing rapid increase, with an annual average growth of over 8% between 2014 and 2019. (4)

If the strategy of the West is to squeeze Afghanistan economically – as a punishment for defeat – the only prospect for Afghan development is through integration into the Belt and Road initiative via Pakistan. The impact of such development on Afghan society – if this course is followed – can’t help but be more positive than the last twenty years of intervention and war.

  1. NLR Sidecar. Debacle in Afghanistan.
  2. Cited in Like ordering Pizza. Thomas Meany on the war in Afghanistan London Review of Books 9/9/21
  3. http://toronto.chineseconsulate.org/eng/news/t1884310.htm
  4. https://disputedline.com/employment-labour-rights-xinjiang-2017/

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