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One more heave in Helmand won’t bring peace to Afghanistan

As Britain debates over war in Syria, it is getting more deeply embroiled once again in the longest-running theatre of all in the "war on terror": Afghanistan.

Andrew Murray

For the last three months British politics has been convulsed over the issue of launching a fourth war in the greater Middle East region this century, this time in Syria.

This debate has temporarily obscured the fact that the first three wars are still going on – and Britain is militarily involved in all of them. In Iraq, broken and ravaged by the Anglo-American invasion and occupation from 2003, British warplanes are still bombing Islamic State-controlled territory in the north of the country – to no discernible effect or purpose.

Libya has been rent asunder, too, as a consequence of the regime change war championed by David Cameron in 2011. Now up to 1,000 British troops are to be sent there, notwithstanding a civil conflict involving at least two rival governments and numerous other actors.

And Britain is getting more deeply embroiled once again in the longest-running theatre of all in the “war on terror” – Afghanistan.

Fourteen years after the US and Britain invaded and occupied Afghanistan – almost immediately deposing the Taliban government there and putting the al-Qaeda operation in the country to flight – now British special forces are being deployed yet again. Cameron promised that British combat involvement in Afghanistan would finish at the end of 2014. However, continuing advances by the Taliban in different parts of the country – including Helmand province, where the new British forces are being sent – has led to another reversal of policy by the government.

The troops are to be based in Sangin, part of which has fallen to the Taliban, where more than 100 British soldiers have already died during the conflict. So it is not mere rhetoric to describe the “war on terror” as an endless war. It has failed in its own terms – terrorism seems not merely unabated but reinforced in many parts of the world partly as a result of these conflicts.

But neither has the war bequeathed peace or even a functioning state and society in the countries it has been fought over and through. Instead, the attempt to impose political solutions externally – with the interests of the imposing powers as much in mind as those of the people in the countries concerned – has led to one disaster after another.

Nowhere more so than in Afghanistan. The authorities established under the US-led occupation have been unable to establish their full legitimacy across the country, despite periodic but inconclusive elections. This is surely a result of those authorities being seen by many Afghans as foreign-imposed. Certainly, the Taliban are gaining in strength. To dismiss this as solely the product of a religious fundamentalism is to over-simplify. National and ethnic factors are at work, too; as is frustration at the return of rampant corruption and warlordism under the foreign occupation.

Episodes like the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz in October by the US air force, killing at least 42 people according to Doctors without Frontiers, also help fuel the insurgency against the Washington-supported government.

Not only are the Taliban operating across many regions, but al-Qaeda has reportedly been able to establish significant, albeit temporary, bases in parts of Afghanistan once more, so limited is Kabul’s control over much Afghan territory.

So Britain and the US are being pulled in deeper to try and prevent the continued growth of the Taliban – after fourteen years! It is clear that the policy initiated by Blair and Bush, and maintained in all essentials by Obama and Cameron, has failed.

There are many reasons for this failure. One has been the inability of official Washington and London to confront the real sources of fundamentalist Islamist political movements. These are overwhelmingly to be found, ideologically and financially, in Saudi Arabia. Strategically and militarily, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, they are located in Pakistan. Without the support of key elements in the Pakistani state, the Taliban would have struggled to survive as an effective force for this long.

Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are key US allies in the project of maintaining a world order that suits the interests of the global elite. A little discreet pressure aside, neither’s rulers have been challenged since 2001. This leaves the western powers complaining about the symptoms and the consequences, but unable to address the underlying causes.

The prerequisite for peace in Afghanistan is an abandonment of this policy. Military intervention serves only to entrench all the factors fuelling resistance – foreign occupation, corruption, regional fragmentation. Only a peace agreement reached among the Afghani people themselves, free from external pressure in one direction or another, can produce a lasting solution.

The return of the British military to Helmand points in exactly the wrong direction. It again passes the control of military operations into the hands of the imperial powers- in Britain’s case one which has fought four wars in Afghanistan for its own interests down the years.

The basis for peace in Afghanistan and, indeed, bringing the “endless war” to an end remains the same: An end to western military-political interference in the region, including the withdrawal of all troops; a halt to support for the Saudi theocratic tyranny; and liberation for the Palestinian people from Israeli occupation.

It is a challenging agenda, but a good deal less utopian than expecting that one more military heave in Helmand is going to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Source: Stop the War Coalition

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