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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The war over there

Australia has announced it will be sending around 150 SAS troops to Afghanistan to support the US-puppet regime in Kabul. The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough supports the deployment, writing that, "a genuine frontline role in the pursuit of bin Laden and the Taliban would be a money-where-our-mouth-is use of Australian military resources that has been absent in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan."

The failure of the US in Afghanistan is much greater than a need for more troops on the ground. While most of the Western media accepts official spin on the country, a recent Human Rights Watch report explains the real truth: "Numerous high-level officials and advisors in Afghanistan’s current government are implicated in major war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in the early 1990s."

Australia and America have no hope in building a so-called democracy while such figures are in power, funded and supported by the US.

Furthermore, the Greens have revealed the hypocrisy of the latest deployment. Senator Kerry Nettle says that Australia still holds eleven Afghanis (and sixteen Iraqis) on the Pacific island of Nauru. "Whilst the government considers Afghanistan and Iraq to be war zones worthy of Australian troop deployment they have not accepted that Afghani and Iraqi asylum seekers on Nauru cannot return home."

In other words, Australian immigration officials refuse to grant these Afghan and Iraqi refugees asylum - despite many of them being on Nauru for nearly four years - refuse to accept that returning them back home is unacceptable in the current situation and yet maintain their limbo status.

The Age may naively claim that the latest "intervention offers a more immediate hope of a stable and secure Afghanistan", but the reality on the ground makes this an unlikely prospect.


Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

The Afghanistan deployment is completely politically motivated. Not least because the present situation in Afghanistan is the same situation that existed last year, the year before that, and the years before that. The Taliban have shaved their beards and have been absorbed into the local populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ethnically the people in much of the region between the two countries are the same. In fact, it gets worse. I visited the tribal region buffeting Afghanistan and Pakistan near the city of Peshawar. I was told that the Afghan troops patrolling the main gateway between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Torkum were, to a man, ex-Taliban. How did my guide know? The soldiers’ affiliation was tribal, not political. They followed whosoever their tribal leaders followed. Where once their leaders supported the Taliban, now they supported Karzai. Times had change, as did the garb. There’s nothing to suggest that situation has fundamentally changed. What ‘we’ have in Afghanistan is fair weather friends, not the development of conditions that will provide for lasting peace, let alone ‘Western-style’ democracy.

Just as Iraq was favoured for Western intervention at a time when Afghanistan was deemed too ugly to be newsworthy, Afghanistan now has been invoked (at least, for the time being, by the Australian Government) to deflect eyes away from the mess in Iraq. We do well to assume that advisers in nice suits have assured our government that sending troops to Afghanistan will make the Howard Government look proactive in the never-ending War on Terrorism. No doubt the Government hopes it will persuade a skeptical population that the Government knows what it is doing. They may also think that it keeps us in favour at the White House. The reality is that, yet again, Australia is treading where it ought not to tread. Rightly or, more likely, wrongly, would-be terrorists will therefore feel that they now have a right to ‘tread’ on our territory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 1:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Grinna said...

Well, this War on Terra (sic) just gets better & better! Lemme get this straight: when the USSR did it (afghanistan) ...BAD USSR. When WE do it...GOOD GUYS IN WHITE HATS. I feel great! We are helping poor druggies around the world. War on Drugs? No, no, no!!! It's a War FOR drugs! YAy! Aussie SAS, defender of Drug Lords. Yay! So werry, werry proud. PS can one of you brave men please bring me back a couple of kilos of black hash, I haven't seen any since the early eighties.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 2:21:00 pm  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

Yeah, it's the simple calculus of the fundamentalist. Only this is our fundamentalism. Al Qaeda and Taliban are bad. Any intention (let alone attempt) to get rid of them is good. Who cares about any long term engagement with or investment in Afghanistan?

There's literally billions of dollars in Afghanistan - from US bribes to warlords and smuggled goods (Afghanistan is a regional centre for the black market). Yet public services (schools, roads, etc) have literally nothing. Nothing of note has been done to improve that situation, because our governments don't give a rat's.

I have a lot of respect for McGeough. But who is he to say the deployment is good or bad? Just because a white man visits a foreign land doesn’t mean he knows the place inside out. Have we bothered to obtain an independent local voice? Would we want to know what they’d say? The problem with a lot of war correspondents is that they spend so much time chasing war zomes that they often assume the people they see there have no other capacities. Hence their proposals for western engagement with those regions tend to have a militarist flavour. Cf post-facto analysis of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. So much commentary has focused on UN or general logistical failures and ensuring in future we have some sort of rapid military response. What about G8 nations drastically reducing their output of conventional weapons which their corporations happily sell to antagonists in Africa?* Not a word. In a way I can understand. A war correspondent isn’t best place to ask such questions. Then again, if all we want to do is look at conflicts around the world in isolation and avoid deeper analysis, it serves us well to just pan across some devastated landscape and bemoan this bitch of a world.

But of course, then we wouldn’t be hanging around place like this, now would we?

* In the case of Rwanda circa 1993-94, French companies knowingly sold weapons to those committing the atrocities. Cf French (et al) ‘engagement’ with Haiti as we speak.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 2:50:00 pm  
Anonymous Vasco Pyjama said...

I am an Australian aid worker about to be deployed to Afghanistan for a year to work with an international NGO there. I have to say that I have been hoping that the international community not abandon Afghanistan with the upcoming September elections. And I am glad that it has not. Whilst I am also cynical about the reasons WHY Australia is sending the troops, I am nonetheless glad that it is happening.

And Iqbal Khaldun, I suppose whilst the macro situation is the same in Afghanistan, at the micro level, there has been much change in the last few months. For example, the Taliban have become increasingly active, and increasingly causing instability in the new government. We (ie., the international community) have also disarmed and demobilised much of the Afghan militia, leaving much of the population vulnerable to attack now. Clearly having done that, we have a moral responsibility to now protect them from the Taliban?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 9:36:00 pm  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

Wow, all the best Vasco! Gutsy move. Look forward to reading your posts from up there.

Look, I think there are valid grounds for sending troops. Only those grounds really are at the margins, on discreet points. For instance, I imagine having more troops, especially Western troops, will definitely help if you're working in Kabul. Apart from special forces types, Western troops don't wander outside the capital. It's too dangerous. Even the special forces types are based in relatively safe locations. I don't know where the Australians will be, but for eg, the main American base is outside Afghanistan in Quetta, Pakistan! That's totally understandable. It's not a safe country for large foreign armies (mind you Quetta is a very pro-Taliban town. That's why the base is quite far away from the city in a fairly remote outskirts region).

I don't think there's any real absolutist solution to the 'problem' (is there ever?). Assuming the 'problem' is terrorist organisations, opium and general lawlessness, something like 100 troops isn't going to help. In fact, they may even get in the way (eg, by being shot at or kidnapped. This is a society in which everyone is armed and kidnapping of foreigners is a cottage industry.

So, yes, I agree there's definitely a moral responsibility. I'm just concerned that the latest stirrings about Afghanistan have little do with concern for Afghans which really saddens me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 12:05:00 am  
Blogger weezil said...

I have long been of the opin that if US forces were to be directed anywhere, Aghanistan is the place.

Whatever the motivations of Shrub & HoWARd at this time, the net result of the application of Special Forces, SAS and some judiciously applied petrodollars will be that the warlords (and Musharraf) will get things to settle down.

OBL is yet likely in Afghanistan or Pakistan, so Shrubbo might score a head for the GOP pike come 2008.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 10:25:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Vasco, thanks so much for your contribution. Most interesting reading. Good luck and keep safe over there.
My feelings towards Afghanistan aren't quite so benign. What exactly will our troops be doing over there? Will they be fighting "terror", or protecting US-protected warlords? Will they be involved in human rights abuses, akin to US forces? So many questions and yet our media ignores them all.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 11:10:00 am  
Anonymous michael said...

"can one of you brave men please bring me back a couple of kilos of black hash, I haven't seen any since the early eighties."

Not unless we get another war going in Lebanon in the near future, as that's where the 1980s supply of Leb Black came from (more malleable and stronger than the 'Red Leb' of the 1970s).

The Taliban & Soviets gave us "Afghan Romeo" (kilo blocks of firm chocolate brown hash with 'Romeo' stamped in gold on the side) and the very similar quality "Kush Sticks" (cigarette sized cylinders wrapped in yellow or red cellophane). Most of it was produced in the Pashtun areas on the Pakistan side of the border and it largely dried up shortly after the Talibs moved to Kabul.

I'd imagine that the Pakistan border hash fields are back at full capacity now that the Taliban are back in the wilderness, but without the help of the Pakistan ISA they probably don't have the sort of distribution system they had 20 years ago. Bet you can still find a fair bit of Hindu Kush hash in Sydney pubs though - and a stack of it on the streets of Mumbai.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 1:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Vasco Pyjama said...

Aye, loewenstein and khaldun, you raise very good points here. I have to confess to wanting to believe in the best. And I will also have to confess in being more of a development (aid) practitioner rather than a political commentator.

I think loewenstein, given the fiasco of the SAS the last time 'round in Afghanistan, and given the fact that the troops will once again come under US authority, we should indeed define how our troops should be involved.

Hmmm... I shall blog about this too.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 4:12:00 pm  

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