Peace and Socialism

In 1987 Najibullah announced a ceasefire, a new constitution, an appeal for a coalition government with the fractious opposition. Najibullah’s rule is still fondly remembered as the best period in recent history by Afghans old enough to know. He had moved forward since he took over from Karmal in 1985, with a new constitution making Islam the state religion. He was an able commander, miraculously staving off the insurgents, leaving areas to local tribal leaders, who quickly restored pre-communist traditional village governance, settled down, and refused to join in the now Taliban-al-Qaeda world jihad.

Elections were held, and in 1988 the 50-man UN Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP) was set up to confirm the withdrawal of Soviet troops, help repatriate refugees, monitor the flow of arms into Afghanistan, and prevent any hostilities from developing between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. The mission contained 5 Canadian peacekeepers.

Though no official arms embargo was agreed (the US-Saudi ‘aid’ was still unofficial), there was a gentleman’s agreement to that effect, supported enthusiastically by Iran and India, ignored by the US, Pakistan and the Saudis. At first it looked hopeful. With the departure of Soviet troops, the spirit of jihad was draining away. As Soviet troops evacuate, locals reconstitute local affairs along traditional lines. No one wanted jihad. Except for Bin Laden and his new devotee, Mullah Omar. And of course the US and Pakistan.

1978, 1988 and 1998 were fateful turning points which resounded around the world. All centred around Afghanistan. Hollywood, always a useful barometer, was in sync in a curious way. The film Contact was conceived based on a novel by Carl Sagan written in 1978, but not made till 1998. The heroine Arroway goes through a wormhole to Vega and has friendly contact with Vegans who tell her the journey was just humanity's first step to joining other spacefaring species.

Sagan was riding on the last wave of detente in 1978, and wrote a film about the possibility of world peace, depicting the aliens (aka, earth’s aliens, the Soviets) as friendly, although the US government almost scuttled scientists’ efforts. The US philanthropist behind the mission dies of cancer in the Russian Mir space station, leaving a hopeful  legacy. But the Soviet Union suddenly became evil again in 1979, and the idea had to go on the shelf until two decades later, when another brief period of detente with the now capitalist Russian allowed the realization of Sagan’s dream.

The Afghan snowball started rolling in April 1978, briefly became an avalanche, but looked like it might peter out by 1988, only to pick up steam and become the world crisis by 1998, the aftershocks of which we continue to suffer two decades later. Evil aliens? Force majeure? Systemic? In each case, the US controlled the outcome, and did everything possible to make it worse.

From a lecture to the Eurica Institute, Tehran, December 31, 2017.

To better understand the threat that Zionism poses to the world, and especially Iran, allow me to turn to a historical analogy. The scenario is eerily reminiscent of the late-1930s, as the earlier aggressive, racist state, Nazi Germany, was allowed to pursue its selfish, warlike agenda against its peaceful neighbors, despite its agenda of world war. The actors in that drama were Nazi Germany versus the Soviet Union, the latter being the only credible peaceful resistance to fascism. Britain, France, and the US refused to stand up to the threat to peace, mistaking the Soviet Union for the enemy, despite it being the only credible resistance to the Nazis.

In today’s drama, the bad guys are US-Israel-Saudi against the only credible peaceful actor: Iran. In the 1930s the perceived threat was the “specter of communism” haunting Europe. Today the perceived threat is the “specter of Islam,” now reduced to Iran, as the only anti-imperialist Muslim state. Terrorism then was seen to be communism, though the Soviet Union was peaceful.

Very simply, the demonstrations erupted after price increases. It is hard to live with unremitting foreign hostility, as the socialist bloc learned, with only tiny Cuba surviving the Cold War. Venezuela dared to buck the neoliberal order and has suffered terribly. The current unrest can be laid at imperialism’s feet.

An outbreak of bird flu in Iran was a kind of finishing touch, as egg prices jumped 30%. Turkey rushed truckloads of eggs to the rescue, but Nature had done its work. Another spark was an increase in the price of gas. Since the demos began, parliament has addressed the problems and adjusted prices, though clearly the issue will not go away.

I was the guest of Tehran-based  New Horizon, holding book launches of The Canada Israel Nexus in the Persian translation in Tehran, Qom and Esfahan, as rumours from BBC et al filtered through. My hosts Reza Montazami and Hamed Ghashghavi were furious at the distortion of actual events. “They used old stock footage of past demos not even from the same town,” Hamed fumed.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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