Socialist Worker

Afghan war brings political fallout

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 2160

FURTHER EVIDENCE has appeared this past week about how corrupt British politics is. No, this isn’t about MPs on the take or reporters phonetapping. It’s about Afghanistan.

In response to the news of 15 British soldiers dying in ten days in Afghanistan, eight of them in one day, the media threw themselves into an intense debate about everything except the real question—namely whether we should be in Afghanistan at all.

The usual motley bunch trooped in front of the microphones to pontificate—ministers, superannuated generals and diplomats (many of them with Iraqi blood on their hands), half-witted ex-subalterns from the Royal United Services Institute “thinktank”.

But they were agreed on one thing—that Britain, along with the US and the rest of the Nato alliance, had to stay in Afghanistan.

This opinion makes them all quite unrepresentative of the British people. A Radio 5 Live survey back in March found that 60 percent weren’t convinced by government arguments for British participation in the occupation of Afghanistan.

Yet, incredibly, the Guardian headlined a report on an ICM poll showing that 56 percent want British troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year as “Public Support for War is Firm”.

The views of the majority are largely denied access to the media. If a representative of the Stop the War Coalition has been interviewed on the Today programme or Channel Four News, I must have missed it.


The main voice we’re hearing of ordinary people in the media are the parents of dead soldiers. It is absolutely right that they should have their say, but naturally they tend to approach the subject from a particular perspective, arguing that British soldiers are being killed because they lack proper equipment.

In a way, this is no less than Gordon Brown deserves. Ever since Tony Blair was exposed as lying his way into Iraq, the government has hidden behind an appeal to people to “support our brave soldiers”.

Now this ploy is rebounding with a vengeance. But the families’ criticisms feed into the campaign by the Opposition (including the Lib Dems) and the generals to send more troops and kit to Afghanistan. This argument is also beginning to be used to call for cuts elsewhere in public spending.

In the face of this, the simple truth must be stated. British soldiers aren’t being killed in Afghanistan because they are ill-equipped. They’re being killed because they’re in Afghanistan.

There are two arguments against pulling the troops out. One was used by Barack Obama on Sky: “We knew this summer was going to be tough fighting.” In other words, it’s all part of the plan.

As with the US surge in Iraq in 2007-8, more troops on the ground mean higher casualties until the tide turns and resistance collapses.

But, in every counter-insurgency war it’s politics that counts. A critical factor allowing the US to stabilise Iraq was the shift by Sunni resistance groups who decided they were more afraid of the Shia-dominated government and Al Qaida, and switched sides.

There is no sign of this happening in Afghanistan. Nato is defending a corrupt and unpopular regime against the Taliban, who have deep roots in the south of the country and are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their tactics.

The second argument was used by both Obama and Brown. In the latter’s words, “Our purpose is clear: to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain.”

This is a version of the domino theory used to justify the Vietnam War—if we withdraw from Kabul, the Taliban will overrun London.

What this ignores is that the Taliban, like the Viet Cong, are nationalists. They want foreigners out of Afghanistan, not to invade other countries.

Once again the public are ahead of the politicians. In a YouGov poll in March, 64 percent supported negotiating with the Taliban. Democracy is a great idea. We must hope that someday it reaches Britain.

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