Taliban: Made by the USA

By Norm Dixon

10 October 2001 -- Since the appalling acts of mass murder in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, US President George Bush has at times sounded like a fire-and-brimstone preacher.

With home-spun, Bible-inspired homilies, Bush has warned that the “evil-doers” — Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that shelters him — will pay for their sins. However, Bush has avoided the most pertinent and illuminating Biblical phrase to explain those terrible events: “You reap what you sow”.

The seeds of what became the Taliban were sown by Washington itself in the rugged mountains and deep valleys of Afghanistan and the badlands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

In 1978, the left-wing, secular Peoples Democratic Party (PDPA) took power in Afghanistan. Fearing the radical reforms being implemented there would inspire similar demands from the peoples of the region, Washington immediately moved to arm and train counter-revolutionaries — the mujaheddin — organised by Afghanistan's wealthy landlords and its Muslim religious establishment.

When thousands of Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in December 1979 to defend the besieged PDPA government, Washington stepped up its support for the “freedom fighters” (in the Orwellian words of US President Ronald Reagan in 1985).


Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion into the mujaheddin factions. Other governments — including Britain, France, China and Iran — also provided arms and funding. Israel even sent rifles, tanks and artillery guns captured during its frequent wars against Arab states.

By 1987, 65,000 tons of weaponry had been being supplied by the US each year. The oil-rich Saudi Arabian monarchy — which was also committed to spreading an extremely anti-democratic form of Islam known as Wahhabism — matched US contributions to the mujaheddin dollar for dollar.

The US plan was enthusiastically embraced by Pakistan military dictator General Zia ul Haq. Zia also promoted state-sponsored Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Washington knowingly ignored Pakistan's progress towards the development of nuclear weapons in this period.

Washington and Saudi Arabia funnelled the vast bulk of the assistance through the Zia dictatorship's secret police, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The most fundamentalist mujaheddin factions received the lion's share of arms and funds — with Washington's full knowledge and support.

In 1986, the CIA agreed to cooperate with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to expand an international network for the recruitment of foreign Muslim fanatics to join the mujaheddin. These recruits were primarily drawn from the Arab countries and Pakistan, but some travelled from central and south-east Asia, Africa and North Africa.

In Pakistan, the ISI — through the Maktab al Khidamat (Office of Services) operated by bin Laden — allocated the recruits and distributed CIA and Saudi money and US-supplied arms to the mujaheddin factions.

With CIA funds, the ISI built camps for the “trainees” inside Afghanistan. The Pakistan and Saudi state-sponsored religious sects provided “ideological” instruction. The CIA and the British SAS provided training in urban terrorism and guerilla warfare.

The ISI provided training inside Afghanistan. (The ISI trainers had learnt their craft from US army and navy elite forces in US training facilities).

Mass training of mujaheddin fighters was also conducted by the Pakistan army's elite Special Services Group. Pakistan's current military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, spent seven years with the SSG and was involved in training the anti-PDPA contras.

According to the July 19, 1992, Washington Post, a “ceaseless stream” of CIA and Pentagon specialists had travelled to the ISI's head office in Pakistan to coordinate the training and operations of the mujaheddin.

An estimated 100,000 foreign Islamic militants flocked to the border region in Pakistan between 1982 and 1992. They joined another 120,000 or so Pakistani anti-communist religious fanatics and desperate Afghan refugees who were enrolled in 2500 Saudi-funded fundamentalist madrassahs (mosque schools) controlled by Pakistan's state-sponsored Islamic parties. There they were indoctrinated with a brand of Islam inspired by the Wahhabi sect of the Saudi rulers.

Some 35,000 foreigners and tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans were selected from these schools for training by the CIA and ISI to fight for the mujaheddin.

All this shaped the most extreme mujaheddin factions, including that of Mullah Mohammed Omar, who later emerged as the Taliban's supreme leader.

On February 15, 1989, the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan. However, the mujaheddin was unable to dislodge the PDPA government for another three years. The PDPA government finally fell in April 1992 because Moscow had stopped providing it with military aid as part of a compromise with Washington.

Thieves fall out

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the fall of the PDPA government, Washington's interest in developments in Afghanistan waned. The brutal mujaheddin bandits had served their purpose as far as the US was concerned.

The CIA left the job of managing the mujaheddin to the ISI. While covert US funding for the mujaheddin officially ended in 1992, the contra factions retained huge stockpiles of US-supplied arms — including hundreds of US- and British-supplied surface-to-air missiles.

Nor were they short of funds. Since 1979, the US had turned a blind eye to the mujaheddin's massive opium trafficking and smuggling rackets, which the contras had developed in collaboration with senior officers of the Pakistan military, the ISI and Pakistan-based mafia.

The mujaheddin training camps established by the CIA and ISI continued to operate; the ISI continued to provide military and ideological training to Islamic fundamentalists from around the world (five ISI officers were killed in the 1998 US missile attacks on training camps in Afghanistan).

Foreign Afghan war veterans, and recruits who continued to arrive, were now being sent by the ISI to fight in the Kashmir civil war. Thousands of others fanned across the world and put their CIA-perfected skills to use in a range of conflicts and terrorist acts.

Inside Afghanistan, after the mujaheddin took Kabul in 1992, the warlords had soon turned on one another. The country was carved up into warring fiefdoms. Kabul was ruled by a succession of mujaheddin factions. Their opponents rained mortar bombs and rockets on the city, killing thousands. Rival armies routinely robbed, raped and murdered civilians.

Frustrated at the internecine squabbling, the Pakistani military withdrew support from the existing mujaheddin factions and sponsored its own, the Taliban movement, founded in 1994. At first, many Afghans welcomed the new fighters in the hope that they would reject the brutality and corruption of their predecessors. They were to be tragically disappointed.

With Islamabad's assistance, the Taliban rapidly acquired an army of 25,000 troops, equipped with sophisticated weaponry. Most of these fighters were drawn from the thousands of foreign militants, the tens of thousands of poor Pakistanis and Afghan refugees enrolled in Pakistan's madrassahs, hence the name Taliban (meaning “students”).

Jane's Defence Weekly in November 1996 estimated that “half of [the] Taliban's manpower and equipment originates in Pakistan under the ISI”. Significant numbers of Pakistan army “volunteers” bolstered the Taliban forces.

According to Ahmed Rashid, the respected correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (Yale University Press), between 1994 and 1997 Washington “quietly allowed Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to back the Taliban” and welcomed its victory in September 1996.

(According to Robert Fisk, writing in the September 26 British Independent, Saudi Arabia's patronage of the Taliban was overseen by Prince Turki bin Feisel al Saud, head of the Saudi Arabian secret service until he was sacked less than a month before the Saudi government officially severed its diplomatic links with the Taliban on September 25. Turki was known to be an unrepentant supporter of bin Laden.)

In what Rashid describes as “romancing the Taliban”, US economic interests took precedence over human rights concerns.

The US kept mum about the Taliban's institutionalised brutality — especially against women — and its massacres of ethnic and Shiite minorities. The Taliban's massive drug running operations were barely mentioned.

The US government had hopes that gas and oil pipelines, worth US$4.5 billion, from the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenia to the Arabian Sea via Afghanistan and Pakistan would be constructed if the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan could end the civil war.

The US oil company Unocal and Saudi-based Delta Oil had already sewn up a US$2 billion deal with the Taliban for one of the projects to proceed. (Unocal pulled out of the consortium in December 1998, citing “turmoil” in Afghanistan.)

Washington believed the Taliban promised the best chance of “stability” for the strategically important region. Rashid added that Washington also considered the Taliban “as a convenient foil for Iranian influence in Central Asia”.

The US rulers were also keen to enlist the Taliban's influence to rein in the Islamic militants who had been given sanctuary in Afghanistan by it and the ISI, especially those dedicated to overthrowing strategic oil-rich Arab and Central Asian states and US allies.

Only in 1998 did Washington turn against the Taliban regime — with a barrage of 70 or so cruise missiles — because the Taliban refused to control the Islamic fundamentalists it was sheltering within Afghanistan's borders, the most notorious being bin Laden.

The sudden demotion of Osama bin Laden from “freedom fighter” in the 1980s to “terrorist mastermind” in late 1990s had little to do with the rash of terrorist deeds he began to be accused of at that time. Washington needed to demonise its Islamic fundamentalist Frankenstein monster, which had become a serious threat to its interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.


The US — as it did 11 years ago before the Gulf War — is mobilising a massive military force to attack a Third World country. The US rulers are not primarily responding to the September 11 mass murders — although that provides a useful justification — just as the 1990-91 US response to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait had little to do with defending the rights of small states.

Behind all the US rulers' pious condemnations of terrorism and crocodile tears for the 6000 victims of the September 11 attacks, the real goal of a US attack on Afghanistan will be the same as that of the Gulf War: the US rulers’ need to maintain their military and political domination over the oil-rich states of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Control over the oil of the former Soviet Central Asian states is also a new and increasingly important factor in US policy.

Addressing a conference in December 1996, then deputy director

for intelligence at the CIA, John C. Gannon, was candid: “The area of the world where energy supplies are most abundant and at the same time most vulnerable is the Persian Gulf ... As a consequence, the US will need to ... remain engaged in the Persian Gulf to safeguard the flow of vital oil supplies ... There's no room to be complacent. It was six years ago that the United States and its allies were building up the forces and collectively spending more than $60 billion to ensure the security of oil supplies in the Gulf.”

“Energy security”, as ruling-class pundits refer to US control of the world's oil supply, is becoming a greater problem. The developed capitalist countries are becoming more dependent on Middle Eastern oil, not less. An economic recession makes the US capitalist rulers’ desire to keep and extend their control of the world's main oil reserves even more essential.

Central to US political domination of the Middle East is the existence of the imperialist colonial-settler state of Israel — Washington's key ally in the region — and the pro-US regimes in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan.

Bin Laden only became a “terrorist” in US propaganda when he fell out with the Saudi royal family and called for the overthrow of Washington's Middle Eastern client states.

The Taliban's Afghanistan only became a “rogue state” when it did not follow Washington's orders to put a brake on the movement of religious fanatics, that the CIA helped create, which is bent on

driving the US out of the Muslim world.

From: Archives, Green Left Weekly issue #466 10 October 2001.