Two sides of the same coin: spending on war and cuts in public services
06 October 2011
Every day in Afghanistan there are 40 raids carried out by occupying troops on homes of people suspected of "terrorism" or "insurgency."
So every day 40 families suffer the indignity, humiliation and resentment that accompanies the targeting of those classed as terrorists.
Afghanistan's population is comparable to that of the US state of Texas.
Imagine the impact of 40 homes a night being raided in one US state and then consider how many Afghans feel after 10 years of war and occupation which shows no sign of doing anything but compounding the misery and oppression they face.
It is 10 years this week since George Bush, aided and abetted by Tony Blair and given worldwide support following the events of September 11 2001, invaded Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, to overthrow the Taliban government which it claimed was harbouring Osama bin Laden.
The country was already embroiled in a bloody and brutal civil war with the Taliban fighting against an assortment of warlords known as the Northern Alliance. Effectively, the Western forces intervened to back one side in the civil war, ensuring rapid military success.
By November, BBC correspondent John Simpson was riding into the capital Kabul on a tank declaring a Western victory and predicting that peace and stability would soon follow.
The US decided on a new leader following the overthrow of the Taliban. The CIA's favoured candidate was Hamid Karzai, who had once been a minister with the Taliban but had defected some years earlier. The Northern Alliance accepted him as the new leader and he was sworn in just before Christmas 2001. As Bob Woodward, author of Bush at War, stated, "regime change had been accomplished 102 days after the terrorist attacks in the United States."
Tony Blair declared at Labour's conference that year "we will not walk away from Afghanistan" and believed that the rapid victory would effectively end the fighting.
Women were pictured at least temporarily throwing off their burqas in Kabul and, as the British government was later to do in both Iraq and now Libya, there was a sense of jubilation and a refusal to acknowledge any problems.
Yet those who opposed the invasion and war - and who staged mass demonstrations against it in October and November 2001 - argued that this hubris hid the real nature of the war and the failure to address the political issues behind it.
We, the Stop the War Coalition, argued that Bush's response to the September 11 2001 attacks would make the world more dangerous and unstable, would lead to a string of wars of which Afghanistan would only be the first and would do nothing to improve the lives of most Afghans.
It would certainly not bring democracy.
The history 10 years on is strewn with death and destruction - hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, Somalia, Libya, as well as in Afghanistan. Millions have been displaced and made refugees. Lives have been destroyed.
The consequences here in Britain have been to worsen domestic politics in a number of ways.
Civil liberties have been under attack, with the growth of rendition, torture, prison camps most notably in Guantanamo bay, which marks its own 10th anniversary next January.
Talk of war to create democracy has been negated by the erosion of these rights and of the curtailment of the right to protest.
The policing of the student and anti cuts demonstrations were presaged by the kettling and imprisonment of young mainly Muslim protesters following the Gaza bombing in 2009.
The growth of Islamophobia in Britain, and even more dramatically in Europe, over the past decade is very much connected to the war. Those in government and the media who have backed the war and want to demonise those who fight against them have promoted the view of Muslims as "extremists" or "terrorists."
Ten years on, the war has been relegated to background news by the media, and is little talked about by the government. The job of the anti-war movement in Britain is to change that situation and to build a serious campaign to get the troops out.
The resolution passed at the TUC last month calling for speedy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, support for the Palestinians and for an end to the bombing of Libya marked a big step forward. It committed the trade union movement to continuing and spreading the anti-war message. But it is only the beginning of building a mass campaign.
We are at a critical time economically, with the world economy heading towards another slump and some predicting that this will be the worst crisis ever.
The government is demanding cuts in living standards, savage attacks on welfare spending, the dismantling of the NHS, huge increases in costs for students' education. It is doing so in the name of cutting a deficit that was created in part by financing the wars which successive governments seem addicted to.
While we are told that nothing is sacrosanct when it comes to public spending cuts and austerity, there are two big exceptions to this. Everything is sacrificed to saving the banks, while war and military spending are justified time and again.
The cost of the Libya bombing alone was recently estimated at £1.75 billion compared with the "tens of millions" which were the back of a fag packet calculation made by George Osborne some months ago.
The anti-war movement must link up with the movement against austerity and cuts. They are two sides of the same coin when neoliberalism and imperialism march alongside one another. Economic crisis may bring more rather than fewer wars as international tensions increase.
The war has gone on 10 years too long. This Saturday, we will meet in Trafalgar Square for the anti-war mass assembly.
Celebrities will be joining trade unionists, students, peace activists, pensioners and former soldiers from across Britain calling for an end to it and for money for welfare not warfare.
It will mark an important anniversary, and one where we will pledge to redouble our efforts to build a mass campaign to get all the troops out.
The anti-war assembly takes place this Saturday October 8 in Trafalgar Square, London, from 12 noon onwards.