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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 November 2001

What We Say

A Disastrous War and a Dubious Peace

THE CATALOGUE of disasters and mistakes in the war in Afghanistan is mounting daily. While some military chiefs and politicians have tried to put a positive spin on the campaign so far, others have had to admit that it has totally failed to achieve any of its aims.

In an unguarded moment, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that Osama bin Laden might never be found: "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of defence staff in Britain was a little more optimistic suggesting that the war in Afghanistan could take "three or four years". But, he added, "the war against communism took 50 years to win and I wonder if we shouldn't be thinking of it ['war against terrorism' - eds] like that".

The Taliban claim that at least 1,000 civilians have been killed since the bombing began over three weeks ago. The US admit to "some" civilian casualties "but we don't know how many". Every bomb that 'inadvertently' misses its target, every child killed by a missile, exposes the futility and hypocrisy of Bush and Blair's war.

The US and Britain rightly fear that they are losing the propaganda war, not just in Arab and Muslim countries but on the 'home front' as well. An ICM/Guardian poll found support for the war in Britain dropped 12% in two weeks, with 54% wanting a pause in the bombing.

Northern Alliance

The military and political spokespeople express surprise that after more than three weeks of bombing the Taliban regime is still intact. According to some inside reports the bombing has actually strengthened support for the Taliban in some areas. Even in territory controlled by the Northern Alliance the mood is beginning to shift against the US as bombs kill civilians and fighters question the effectiveness of the US military strategy.

This war is primarily about defending and extending the prestige, power and influence of US imperialism on the global stage and in the Middle East in particular. Having failed to capture bin Laden or dislodge the Taliban, the logic of their own war is now compelling them towards the deployment of ground troops for raids in Afghanistan.

This will mark an even more bloody stage in the conflict. The supposedly successful set-piece raid on an abandoned air-field by US rangers was in fact fiercely resisted by the Taliban and almost ended in disaster for the American troops. This gives an indication of how problematic a ground war will be.

Ground incursions in one of the most difficult terrains in the world, against a determined enemy, steeled in guerrilla fighting will inevitably lead to casualties amongst US and British troops. The longer the war goes on, the more unstable the war coalition becomes and the more opposition to the military campaign is growing.

General Musharraf in Pakistan, worried that he might not be able to hold back unrest at home, appealed for the bombing campaign to be short. But the bombing could even continue through Ramadan which would massively inflame anti-war and anti-US imperialism sentiments amongst Muslims around the world. In Pakistan itself, the killing of 16 Christians in a church in the Punjab shows how this mood can take a reactionary turn.

A new terrorist attack in Britain could temporarily cut across the growing anti-war mood. But at the moment there is increased awareness that military attacks on one of the poorest countries in the world cannot defeat terrorism. Our aim is to channel this into building a massive anti-war movement.

But as socialists we also explain that capitalism creates an environment of poverty, inequality and oppression in which support for terrorist methods can grow and that only socialism can eradicate terror and war on a world scale.

... A Dubious Peace

IT IS not just the US war 'strategy' that is going awry. The 'post-war' plans aren't faring much better.

The killing of former mujahidin leader Abdul Haq by the Taliban has dealt a blow to imperialism's efforts to stitch up some kind of post-Taliban government for Afghanistan.

The Pakistani dictatorship is a vital member of the US war coalition. But they won't countenance any government dominated by the mainly Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance. They want to include 'moderate' Taliban supporters who are Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. But Iran and Russia are adamant that no Taliban should be included.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the next government of Afghanistan "cannot be dictated into existence by Pakistan or any of the other neighbours".

In reality however, the US cannot afford to antagonise the neighbouring states if it is to keep them on side during the war and afterwards.

The US were cultivating Abdul Haq as a 'credible' non-Taliban Pashtun leader and his death has reinforced the enormous difficulties they have in cobbling together an 'interim' government. As Time magazine (22 October) put it: "The message of history: If you think war in Afghanistan is hard, wait till you see the peace."

Even if a coalition government can be installed in Kabul that could still leave large areas of Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban or rival warlords. The experience of 1992-96, when 50,000 people were killed in Kabul as rival mujahidin forces fought each other (many of which now form the Northern Alliance), is still fresh in many people's memories.

Unstable alternatives

When asked about the requirements for a successful UN mission in Afghanistan one official, who has been involved in East Timor replied: "Number one, don't do it". Another said the problem lay "between incredibly difficult and totally impossible".

Jack Straw dismissed current doubts about the war as a "Kosovan wobble" (a reference to when bombs killed fleeing refugees in the war in Kosovo). We shouldn't worry, he said, because Milosevic was eventually brought to trial.

But he is distorting history. Milosevic was still in power when the NATO bombing ended. It was ordinary people in Serbia, rising up, with workers playing an important role, that overthrew Milosevic.

Any government imposed on the people of Afghanistan on the basis of capitalism will be unstable and incapable of relieving the desperate situation that most ordinary Afghans face.

Afghan workers and poor have to shape their own future with support from working-class people internationally. A government of workers and poor in a socialist federation of the Middle East and Central Asia is the only guarantee of a decent future.

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In The Socialist 2 November 2001:

Organise Now To Stop The War

Glasgow medical secretaries: Victory Over Low Pay

A Disastrous War and a Dubious Peace

The Deadly Legacy Of Imperialism

Socialist Alliance Future At Stake

ISR Rally: Fighting For A Socialist Future

Why The IRA Decomissioned


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