This isn’t just a grotesque and insulting way to describe a war in defence of corrupt government, warlords and opium poppy production. It is part of a concerted attempt to rebrand Afghanistan as the good war, the war worth fighting and dying for, the war worth spending billions of pounds to maintain.
No less than Princes William and Harry have been enlisted for this cause, with church parades, memorial services, and pictures of the coffins of dead soldiers returning home. Special reports from the troops in Afghanistan pop up on the news, all stressing the valuable and important role of the troops in helping the Afghans to fight terrorism.
Ministry of Defence spin doctors are working overtime to present this war in all its patriotic glory just as the figure for British soldiers dead has shot over the 100 mark and looks set to continue going up.
George Bush’s visit in June provided the opportunity for Gordon Brown to announce more troop deployment in Afghanistan, as well as increasing sanctions on Iran.
This war has now been going on for nearly seven years. It was the first war George Bush launched in his “war on terror” following the 9/11 attacks. Its aim was to root out Osama Bin Laden from his mountain hideaway, overthrow the Taliban government and destroy Al Qaida. Even Bush has publicly distanced himself from his cry of “Wanted dead or alive” about Bin Laden. The reason is simple: the aim of the Afghan war was not achieved.
The Taliban was defeated easily by the world’s greatest military power and its allies, but Al Qaida was not rooted out, Bin Laden was not captured and none of the promises made to the Afghan people were kept.
Tony Blair announced that “we will not walk away” in the aftermath of the war. He was right. The troops remained, but little was done to help to improve the lives of the Afghan people. Ten times as much is spent on the military as on reconstruction in the country, which remains one of the poorest in the world. Much of that reconstruction is in any case military related.
The Economist magazine published recently a scathing report about the US-backed Afghan government, highlighting its corruption, dependence on warlords and inability to control large parts of the country. There is a quota for the number of women in the Afghan parliament but the society remains as difficult for women as ever. Despite claims by Laura Bush and Cherie Blair in 2001 that women would be liberated by the war and the overthrow of the Taliban, most women still wear the burqa.
Most of the British casualties have occurred in the past two years in Helmand province, despite claims by then defence secretary John Reid that he hoped British troops could go to Helmand and operate “without a shot being fired”.
Britain and the US are intending to pour more troops into Afghanistan. In Iraq, British troops play a political, not military, role as they sit it out at Basra airport. Even the US is engaged in “secret” talks with the Iraqi government about the conditions of withdrawal, although this would involve maintaining US bases, giving US troops immunity from prosecution, controlling much of the airspace and much else.
There is no such talk in Afghanistan, where a serious war is continuing and threatens to escalate, drawing in Pakistan. The Taliban is stronger than it has been since 2001 and there is widespread Afghan opposition to the foreign troops, as many civilians are caught in airstrikes or are forced to become refugees to avoid the war.
We should not allow Bush and Brown to escalate the war. Its human and financial costs will only grow. We are also seeing the effects here. The vote in parliament to extend detention for terrorist suspects without charge to 42 days was one of the most shameful of recent times. The most right wing party in parliament, the DUP, were promised up to £1 billion (plus no extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland) in order to give their nine votes to the government. Many Labour MPs who voted for the change clearly did not believe in it but thought it a good way to wrongfoot the Tories.
The demonstration opposing Bush was met by restrictions, police violence and arrests. So when we said if they wage war there they will also wage it on us here, we were right.
A bankrupt and unpopular government is attacking the civil liberties which have been fought for over hundreds of years. They are doing so because protest and dissent give the lie to their propaganda about the war and make it harder for them to keep enlisting teenagers to die in the killing fields of Afghanistan. That’s why we have to keep protesting.
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