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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 November 2009

Afghanistan: Brown and Obama scrabbling for an exit strategy

Anti-war demo October 2009, photo Bob Severn

Anti-war demo October 2009, photo Bob Severn   (Click to enlarge)

THE CORONATION of Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai offers no solution to the long suffering workers and poor peasants of Afghanistan.

Nick Chaffey

With growing opposition in Afghanistan and in the US and Britain to the occupation and the spreading of the war and political crisis to neighbouring Pakistan, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown are desperately scrabbling to find an exit strategy.

Reflecting Brown's desperation, his government is urging the opening of negotiations with the Taliban, the very forces that the British government is sending British soldiers to fight and, in over 200 cases, being killed doing so.

So from the initial goal eight years ago to smash the Taliban, Brown now favours a new approach of 'carrot and stick'. On the one hand to intensify military operations against the Taliban and, on the other, to open up talks with the Taliban 'Quetta Shura' (leadership) and offer financial sweeteners to Taliban fighters.

Despite the talk of troop withdrawals, plans by the British and US governments to instead increase troop numbers means that the 'Afghan quagmire' is set to deepen, leaving the 'war on terror' - launched eight years ago by Bush and Blair - to continue without an end in sight.

Obama is left with an unreliable ally in president Karzai who begins his new period in office discredited by the fraudulent elections that bought him to power.

Obama and Brown now demand a fresh start to eradicate corruption and deliver peace and prosperity which can lead to the withdrawal of US and UK forces.

US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, praised Karzai's acceptance speech as a "very positive, comprehensive path forward." The optimistic tone is undoubtedly to soften public opinion to an increase in troop levels from the US, UK and Nato.

Bowing to western pressure Karzai echoed the goals of his backers, but reality paints a different picture. On the day of the inauguration the streets of Kabul were empty, sealed off by the military as the world's leaders arrived to endorse his fraudulent election. Elsewhere on the same day the casualty list of the ongoing conflict increased as more Afghans and US soldiers were killed in bomb attacks.

The corruption is a product of the economic crisis where war dollars and reconstruction aid have been siphoned off for personal gain and to buy political influence. The government of Karzai is a coalition of reactionary warlords and tribal leaders whose self interests will block any pressure for change that would benefit the majority of Afghans.

Alienated

Hopes that memories of the election fraud will fade and the effect of corruption and poverty will disappear are false. Hostility to the Karzai regime and occupying forces is growing.

An Afghan radio journalist commented: "The corruption is created by the government, nobody else. The UN [United Nations] gives them the money and after that no-one asks about where the money has gone. Money intended for development projects disappears and meanwhile we have no schools, hospitals or roads. The problem we have in Paktika province is that we don't have an education system. Where I work, in the Bermel district, there is only one school and it was closed by the Taliban. The government pays no attention."

The plight of ordinary Afghans is desperate. In a survey carried out by Oxfam, 70% blame poverty and unemployment for the continuing conflict and complain that aid fails to reach them. "What do you think the effect that two million Afghans martyred, 70% of Afghanistan destroyed and our economy eliminated has had on us?" a respondent in Nangarhar asked despairingly. "Half our people have been driven mad. A man who is 30 or 40 years old looks like he is 70. We always live in fear. We are not secure anywhere in Afghanistan," he continued.

Another commented: "If people are jobless they are capable of anything," ie they may join the Taliban fighters.

The arrival of large numbers of new troops will solve nothing and may worsen the situation for ordinary Afghans. This was reflected in the first resignation of a US official in Afghanistan, former marine captain Matthew Hoh, who wrote: "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of US presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy."

Workers' struggles

Far from ending the crisis the ongoing occupation will further destabilise the region, fuel the opposition to the US regime and its allies, and increase the threat of terrorism.

The only way out of this crisis is through the struggle of workers and poor peasants in Afghanistan to remove the occupiers and the corrupt Afghan government, and to build a socialist alternative to occupation and capitalist crisis.

In Britain the opening up of talks with the Taliban as troop fatalities continue to rise will lead to a further questioning of the war. With the ongoing economic crisis, rising unemployment and attacks on public services in Britain, the cost of the war will become harder to justify for Brown and the next government.

A revival of the anti-war movement in Britain needs to be linked to the growing industrial struggles and combined in a socialist programme to challenge the political incumbents at the coming general election.

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