In Episode 86 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg returns to the book The Responsibility to Protect in Libya and Syria: Mass Atrocities, Human Protection, and International Law by Syrian American legal scholar Yasmine Nahlawi, exploring applicability of its analysis to the current disaster in Afghanistan. This discussion is taken up at the request of Eric Laursen, author of The Duty to Stand Aside: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort. Laursen is the first to take up the CounterVortex special offer, by which new Patreon subscribers get to choose a topic for exploration on the podcast. When do we have a responsibility to protect, and when do we have a duty to stand aside, and how can these imperatives be reconciled? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
At least 12 US service members were killed in a combined bomb attack and armed assault at a gate to the Kabul airport, where throngs fleeing the Taliban were desperately crowding Aug. 26. Reports indicate up to 100 Afghan civilians were killed, including children, although Taliban authorities have barred local medics from speaking to the press. A second such attack was reported from the nearby Baron Hotel, which is being used by aid workers coordinating the evacuation. The "Afghanistan Islamic Emirate," as the Taliban are now calling themselves, condemned the blasts, which are presumed to be the work of the "Islamic State-Khorasan Province" (variously rendered ISIS-K or ISKP). (NYT, Al Jazeera, Khaama)
In Episode 85 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the implications for world peace and the prospects for survival of basic freedoms as the Taliban consolidate their second period of rule in Afghanistan. There are already signs that Russia and China are seeking to groom the Taliban as proxies against the US and the West, with (inevitably) the dream of a trans-Afghanistan pipeline route still a part of the agenda. The US, in turn, could start backing the incipient armed resistance, already organizing in the Panjshir Valley. The task for progressives in the West now is to loan what solidarity we can with the civil resistance—the secularists and feminists who are already defying Taliban rule on the ground across Afghanistan. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
As the Taliban, now in full control of Kabul, pledge an "inclusive" Afghan government in prepared press statements, deadly repression against anti-Taliban protesters is reported from the eastern city of Jalalabad. On Aug. 18, the day before Afghanistan's independence day, protesters took to the streets of Jalalabad waving the black, red and green national flag—and tearing down the white and black Tawhid flag of the Taliban. Witnesses said Taliban fighters fired on protesters indiscriminately, and at least three were killed. (Khaama, Khaama, Sky News, UNILAD, TOLO News) On Aug. 19, the day Afghanistan won full independence from Britain in 1919, a similar protest was held in Khost, where social media videos again show Taliban fighters firing on demonstrators. No casualties were reported, but the city has been placed under a 24-hour curfew. (AP, CNN, Latestly)
The first vice president of Afghanistan under the government just ousted from Kabul by the Taliban, Amrullah Saleh, has taken refuge in the Panjshir Valley north of the capital and declared himself the country's legitimate president. Citing the constitution, he said that in the event of incapacitation, resignation or death of the president, the first vice president becomes caretaker president. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban advanced on Kabul. "I am currently inside my country and am the legitimate caretaker president. I am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support and consensus," Saleh said in a staement.
Taliban forces dramatically stepped up their rapid advance across Afghanistan over the past days, seizing 11 capitals of the country's 34 provinces. First, on Aug. 6, Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province in the southern Taliban heartland, fell to the insurgents. But then they switched the offensive to the north, taking Sheberghan, Jawzjan province; Sar-e-Pul and Kunduz, of their respective eponymous provinces; Taluqan, Takhar province; Aybak, Samangan province; Farah, Farah province; Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province; and Faizabad, Badakhshan province. Herat and Ghazni, a strategic southern gateway to the national capital Kabul, were the most recent to fall, on Aug. 12. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is besieged, and India's military is mobilizing an airlift to evacuate the country's nationals there. Kandahar, back in the Taliban's southern heartland, is also the scene of heavy fighting, as is Lashkar Gah, capital of adjoining province of that name.
In Episode 82 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls out the Orwellian pronouncements from media and politicians that Biden is "ending the war" in Afghanistan—as the war is actually escalating. This is the same imperial narcissism we heard with the much-hyped US "withdrawal" from Afghanistan in 2014, and the "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. In both cases, the war went on—and actually got worse, with the emergence of ISIS and the genocide of the Yazidis. Weinberg recalls with grim vindication that he similarly called out the glib optimism about a US withdrawal from Iraq in CounterVortex commentaries during the occupation 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Hazara women—who face the threat of genocide if the Taliban re-take power—are arming to resist the Taliban advance. The critical task now is to loan what solidarity and visibility we can to such efforts—not to engage in hubristic crowing about the "end of the war." Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned on July 13 of an "imminent humanitarian crisis" in Afghanistan as mounting conflict gives rise to suffering and displacement. Speaking at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch raised concerns over the fast deteriorating conditions in the country, with families being forced to flee their homes due to the worsening security situation. An estimated 270,000 people have been newly displaced within Afghanistan since January, bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million.