editorial of The Commune
The withdrawal of the last UK combat troops from Iraq at the end of May 2009 has only served to heap more attention on the ‘forgotten war’ in Afghanistan.
In April 2006 the then Labour Defence Secretary John Reid told the House of Commons that British troops would preside over Helmand province and leave “without a shot being fired”: yet day-by-day the tally of the dead increases. Over two hundred British soldiers, many of whom were recruited to the Army as mere teenagers, desperate to get out of sink estates, have been killed: the number of Afghan civilian dead, largely ignored by the mainstream media in this country, now stands in the tens of thousands.
These deaths are a criminal waste of human life. None of these people are dying ‘for democracy': the recent elections were a sham, the atmosphere of terror and social meltdown so severe that only 150 out of a potential 80,000 electorate turned out for the polling which Britain’s “Operation Panther’s Claw”, in which ten troops died, was supposed to facilitate.
The ‘freedoms for women’ so loudly trumpeted by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush are still less of a reality, with not only US-backed warlords in outlying areas, but even the central government of Hamid Karzai now decreeing laws which allow men to refuse their wives food if they refuse their sexual demands, and force women to seek their husbands’ permission to go to work. The Times reports that “the United States and Britain are now opposed to any strong public protest because they fear that speaking out could disrupt [the] election”; never mind that half the population has no rights whatsoever, and the election itself has been plagued by ballot-stuffing as well as low turnout.
The grim spectacle of the world’s lone superpower lashing out at one of the world’s poorest countries in 2001 in the name of ‘national security’ has been followed by a remarkable military quagmire, with no exit strategy. Much of the media has clamoured for “more British helicopters”, or another “surge” of troops to tighten the occupation’s grip, insisting that the troops’ deaths should not have been in vain.
Yet the war in Afghanistan is not one between barbarism and modernity, Islamist terrorism and civilisation: or, to the extent that it is, the western coalition is as much on the wrong side as the Taliban are, and for the same reasons. The imperialist occupiers are not some sort of ‘buffer’ protecting democracy in the country: they have wasted no time at all in striking alliances with the ‘right’ warlords and seeking a strongman to hold the place together, using the policy once described by post-war US President Harry Truman as “he’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard”.
No doubt it is true that many troops have insufficient equipment for the job demanded of them: but we oppose the task itself, not just how it is conducted, and therefore oppose any measures which have the aim of helping “our boys” repress the local population and prolonging the war. The USSR-backed regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s was felled thanks to the desertion of some 32,000 troops a year: if only British troops followed this example, or indeed that of Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, now on trial for desertion.
We, like the Afghan communist women who explain the situation in the country in this issue of The Commune, demand the immediate withdrawal of troops. Not because we support the Taliban, not because we are indifferent to democratic rights, but because the occupation retards rather than accelerates the struggle against fundamentalism, and that at the cost of thousands of lives.