Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pith helmets and colonialism in Afghanistan.

Gladstone, during his famous 'Midlothian Campaign' in 1879, took the trouble to denounce the Conservative administration for its "most wanton invasion of Afghanistan". It wasn't a principled condemnation, since it had been some time Liberal policy to see Afghanistan as a vital "buffer state" protecting its authority in India from Russian subventions. And it was the diplomatic successes of the Russians with the amir, and the refusal of Sher Ali to accept a British envoy, with the mission being turned back at the Khyber Pass, that led to the British decision to invade. Gladstone, for his part, formed a government in 1880 that managed to turn a significant military defeat in Afghanistan into a partial success by placing Abdur Rahman on the throne, the 'Iron Amir' who accepted effective British control over the country. Meanwhile, having condemned the invasion of Egypt, which was busily being milked dry by European banks, thus forcing the government to exploit the fellaheen harder and faster than was sustainable and then eventually accept administration from a UK-French coalition, he launched an invasion to control the country and protect British interests in the Suez. And thus began the scramble for Africa.

You could not find a more apt analogy for 'antiwar' dissent in the modern political establishment, although I doubt there is a liberal in the House of Commons opposed to the present occupation of Afghanistan. Many, indeed, who oppose the war on Iraq say little or nothing about Afghanistan. And yet to separate these occupations is to do violence to the facts: the 'war on terror' is a unitary phenomenon, and each of its aspects is susceptible to the same critique. If one wants war crimes, one need look no further. Torture prisons? voila. Chaos and civilian suffering? Plenty of that. Massacres? Frequent widespread. Embezzled and misspent 'reconstruction' money? Feast your eyes. You wonder why Bush is trying to kill the War Crimes Act? He has openly admitted now that the CIA has secret prisons all over the world, so what do you think is happening? Are they in the democracy promotion business, do you think? And why do you suppose the US government has blocked an attempt by Senator Leahy to outlaw the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is it because of their passion for human dignity, do you suppose?

Practically everything we have been told about Afghanistan by the US and UK governments is a lie. That's hardly new. So they said they wanted democracy, and we know that they actually intended to control the country through the Uzbek Northern Alliance warlords. The murderous General Dostum was installed in the government and allowed to form his own Northern Zone, and is now Chief of the Army Staff, even while he is under investigation by the UN for war crimes. So they said they cared about the oppression of women. They put Dr Sima Samar in the public eye as a representative of the New Afghanistan, allowing her to stand up in front of one of Bush's audiences. She was soon out on her ear. They care so little for their media puppet in Afghanistan that they spend more money bribing local warlords to keep control than they do on paying wages for administrative employees. Karzai isn't supposed to run anything: he's a handsome, modern looking PR figure. A former Taliban himself, he occasionally remembers that he is also an Afghan, and criticises US behaviour. But what's he going to do? And now, as the brutality of the occupation loses it control of large areas, sieges are happening all over the place. Nato is demanding more forces, and Michael Ignatieff is waxing pious with his 'moral promise' to Afghanistan. They claim, despite all evidence, to be cornering the insurgent fighters - they have to claim this, because they've been telling us for some time that the insurrection is a solely Taliban affair. Well, although there are now some tacit and very quiet admissions that the resistance is much broader than that, the Taliban may in fact be the leading force in the south now - but they were a marginalised fringe a few years ago, so how did it come to be that they are practically retaking that part of the country? How did they come to be a more attractive option than the democratic revolutionaries of the Bush administration?

The number one lesson of imperialism is that the more you torture and kill to control a country, the more you are obliged to torture and kill to keep control. People don't like being occupied, as the White House kleptocrat once said, and their resistance won't be pretty.

If you need more food for thought, go and have a look at this.

Oh, and by the way, on lies past, you all remember how the 'international community' was busying itself supporting a multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia against Serb aggression. Yeah. The one where they promoted the break-up of Yugoslavia, frustrated peace negotiations, supported a local bigot named Izetbegovic, smuggled in thousands of Al Qaeda fighters and all that for the sake of multi-ethnic democracy? Well, turns out there's a video showing one of their commanders ordering troops to kill and rape. "Slaughter, strangle with wire, torch! ... I am sorry I do not have a knife for each of you. Slaughter with teeth to defeat the enemy ... [A soldier asked whether they were allowed to rape] You are allowed to do anything ... Kill everything you find. I am approving and ordering you to destroy the enemy by all means — a knife, a hand grenade, teeth." Sweet memories. Nowadays, the soldiers would ask "kill and rape? - but isn't that the Americans' job?"