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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 December 2001

Capitalism Offers No Solution

Afghanistan - A future of conflict and instability

ON THE same weekend that un-elected, unrepresentative delegates were meeting in Bonn to try and stitch up a political settlement for Afghanistan, US bombs slaughtered up to 300 Afghan civilians.

The 'official' death toll in the war so far exceeds 2,000; the real figure is undoubtedly much higher. Carpet bombing in the south of the country is creating a new refugee crisis and in the makeshift camps people are dying from hunger and cold. It's clear that the war is far from over.

The US administration care nothing about the humanitarian crisis; even the political discussions are considered a sideshow. As one US intelligence official explained "Our priorities have much more to do with finding bin Laden" (Time 3 December). It is to this end that the Marines have been sent in.

This marks a new stage in the war. The US have made it clear all along that, after the experience of Vietnam, they do not want permanently stationed troops to be dragged into a quagmire of conflict in Afghanistan. But 'finishing off' the Taliban and locating bin Laden could prove a complex operation involving unwanted longer term engagement and a serious risk of US casualties.

Whatever happens in the Bonn talks, it's on the ground in Afghanistan that the real power struggle is being waged. The attitude of many of the Northern Alliance forces is 'we did the fighting and now we are in control'. Bush and Blair assure us that things will be different this time; that there will be no repeat of the raping and massacres that took place last time these same people were 'in control'. Yet together US bombs and Northern Alliance troops massacred up to 600 Taliban prisoners in a fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif.

Warlords, military commanders and tribal chiefs are carving up Afghanistan between themselves. Bitter rivalry is already re-emerging as different warlords stake their claims within cities and provinces. At the same time, regional powers such as Iran and Pakistan are jostling to assert their influence inside Afghanistan. This is a recipe for future conflict. Capitalism cannot bring political or economic stability to Afghanistan. This can only be achieved through a struggle to change the economic and social basis of society in Afghanistan and internationally.

Turmoil and unrest

IN HIS Thanksgiving speech to US troops, Bush declared: "Afghanistan is just the beginning". British defence secretary, Geoff Hoon has said that he will back strikes against other countries "harbouring terrorists".

How far they will go in extending military action is not clear at this stage. This war has already caused enormous turmoil and unrest internationally, especially in Arab and Muslim countries.

Recent events in Israel/Palestine (see below) graphically illustrate how the Western powers are responsible for creating crises internationally which cannot be resolved on the basis of capitalism. If Iraq were to become the next military target after Afghanistan, this would risk even more instability in the Middle East and beyond. King Abdullah of Jordan has described such a possibility as "a catastrophe".

Extending the war to Iraq would fracture the 'coalition against terrorism'. It would also increase support for the anti-war movements which have organised thousands on the streets against war in Afghanistan. A growing minority are becoming aware that military action cannot bring stability or end terrorism.

The potential exists to strengthen and broaden the anti-war movement, with roots in the workplaces, colleges and local communities. But the question of a political alternative is central to building any mass movement. Socialism is the only alternative to war and terror.

Israel/Palestine - On the brink of war

A WEEKEND of violence in which 25 Israelis - Jews and Arabs - were killed and hundreds injured by Hamas suicide bombers has brought the Middle East to the brink of war.

Cutting short his US visit, Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's immediate response to the bombings was to blow up Yasser Arafat's (the Palestinian President) Gaza headquarters and attack several other towns - possibly a prelude to re-occupying the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas.

Earlier, US secretary of state Colin Powell - a so-called 'dove' in Bush's administration - gave Sharon and the Israeli ruling class the green light to take military reprisals in the West Bank and Gaza.

Ominously, Sharon has repeated his description of PA areas as being "a terror-supporting entity" and blamed Arafat for the attacks. Government minister Avigdor Lieberman has called for Arafat's PA to be toppled.

However, these bellicose threats were too much for Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres who again threatened to pull Labour out of the governing coalition.

Israeli attacks on the PA areas will only increase the death toll. Moreover, Sharon's military response could lead to a stepped-up cycle of violence, which would pit not just the Palestinians but the whole of the Arab world against Israel. This in turn could lead to an all-out war which could spill over into the whole of the region with bloody repercussions.

However, even though Powell's 'peace' mediator, General Zinni, has been effectively sidelined by the bombings, a new negotiated ceasefire at some stage couldn't be ruled out.

Despair and frustration

LEADERS OF the Islamist Hamas group said the two suicide bombings were in revenge for the Israeli assassination of Hamas's military leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud two weeks ago.

In an attempt to head off the inevitable Israeli military response the beleaguered Yasser Arafat declared a state of emergency and arrested some militant activists. But such arrests won't satisfy Sharon and will only further enrage Palestinians. Since the start of the second Intifada (uprising) 14 months' ago support amongst Palestinians for these attacks on Israel is averaging around 70% to 80%.

It's unclear whether the strategy of Hamas et al is to continue its attacks inside Israel or to impose a ceasefire to prevent the PA collapsing.

These bombings and the support they generate reflects the deep despair and frustration amongst Palestinians subjected to the ongoing IDF repression and economic stranglehold of the PA areas, and the ever dwindling prospect of achieving an independent Palestine. Therefore for Arafat to take repressive action in order to satisfy US and Israeli demands risks losing what support he still has amongst Palestinians and even his own life.

So far, the Intifada has claimed the lives of over 800 Palestinians and 200 Israelis - a figure set to escalate following Israel's military response. This cycle of violence shows the failure of capitalism to resolve the underlying national question in this part of the world.

However, the bombings have outraged many Jewish workers and will strengthen support amongst sections of Israelis for reactionaries like Sharon and his policy of miltary retaliation. This can only make more difficult the task of forging an independent Palestinian state.

Israeli capitalism is in a deep crisis. Unemployment is at a record high and there has been a wave of public-sector strikes. What is required is the building of mass workers' organisations by both Israelis and Palestinians that fight for a working-class, socialist solution to the horrors of poverty, national conflict and war.

Only a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East could guarantee democratic rights for all.

A statement by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) on the Middle East crisis is available on the CWI website.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 7 December 2001:

Global Crisis: Fight for a socialist world

Save The NHS: No to private sector vultures

Afghanistan - A future of conflict and instability

Brown's Budget Won't End NHS Underfunding

Private finance initiative: Why Our MP Changed His Mind

March Against The Bosses' EU: Fight for socialism

Socialist Alliance conference setback

Building The Forces Of International Socialism


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