Afghanistan: bowing to the empire

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

The USA-led ‘war on terrorism’ threatens the world. Divisions between the allies are opening up with European alarm at the USA. Russia and China have told the USA they do not want a permanent US military force in Central Asia. India and Pakistan confront each other armed with nuclear weapons. Repressive regimes from Israel to Zimbabwe use the ‘war on terrorism’ to attack opponents. State racism crushes civil liberties in the USA, Britain and Europe. TRE VOR RAYNE reports.

It took two months for the US and British attack on Afghanistan launched on 7 October to remove Taliban rule from Kandahar. The Economist (22 December 2001) gave thanks, ‘Their military achievements in Afghanistan should make Americans proud, and the world optimistic…There has been no "humanitarian disaster".’ This regardless of the report in The Economist two weeks before that 20 children and old people were dying every day of cold and hunger in one refugee camp and that this disaster was being repeated in camps across Afghanistan. The Economist proceeded, ‘And although some innocent lives will always be lost… its [US] technology and discipline have proved good enough to keep the numbers low.’ On 20 December press footnotes recorded that the numbers killed in the World Trade Centre had been recalculated at below 3,000. That same day the British press published US academic research estimating that 3,767 Afghan civilians had been killed by US bombing between 7 October and 10 December. The magazine concluded, presumably tongue in cheek, ‘America should be "humble but strong". Both characteristics have been necessary since 11 September. Both can be displayed with pride.’

Kandahar fell to local anti-Taliban forces on 7 December. The US then targeted the Tora Bora mountains in the east of the country. Since then the impression has been created that the war in Afghanistan has been wound down. This is not so. US bombers continue to pound targets, extending their attacks to western Afghanistan, close to the Iranian border. By mid-January over 12,000 bombs had been dropped. The Taliban and al-Qaida had no means of fighting back, no air defence and no modern artillery. They seem to have had little social basis of support within Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Mullah Omar and Bin Laden successfully eluded their US pursuers and numerous local bounty hunters. The three most senior Taliban ministers captured by local chiefs were then promptly released, infuriating the US government. Many Taliban avoided capture by dispersing into the countryside.

British Special Forces are reported to have played an important role in northern Afghanistan and fought alongside the Northern Alliance at Qalaei Jangi, near Mazar-e-Sharif, when approximately 450 prisoners were massacred in late November. US B-52 and B-1B bombers stationed on the British-owned Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia were crucial to the conduct of the war. Satellites, unmanned spy planes and Special Forces on the ground relayed targeting data to the bombers whose speed of delivery from ‘sensor-to-shooter’ has been reduced to under ten minutes. This is the time from target detection to weapon firing: ‘network-centric warfare’ linking sensors to weapons. The system inevitably results in civilian deaths: the training camps turn out to be villages. For example, the supposed al-Qaida convoy who were in fact elders travelling to a conference in Kabul; the village of Qalaye Niazi where ‘senior Taliban and al-Qaida’ were targeted but were nothing of the sort, just 107 guests at a wedding. These are all guinea pigs used to refine US weapons and frequently victims of Afghanistan’s continuing clan wars now fought with the aid of B-52s. And the US Central Command says from its Tampa, Florida headquarters ‘there was no collateral damage’.

Much of Afghanistan has been returned to its traditional warlords and clans with their customary extortion, looting and opium smuggling. Before Christmas the allies established the interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai. Following the 29 December bombing of Qalaye Niazi, interim administration officials and Afghan leaders called for an end to US bombing. The US ignored them. The World Bank and United Nations estimate that the administration requires $70 million to function over the next six months and Afghanistan needs $15-20 billion for reconstruction over five years. Fine pledges have been made but the administration will have plenty of pleading and protesting to do to see a fraction of these pledges. It took the US Congress three days after 11 September to allocate $40 billion for the war on terrorism.

British troops now form the largest part of an International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul. French, German and other troops are also members. Turkey has offered to take command of the Force in three months time. This offer is backed by the US, Britain and France. Turkey has hosted 4,000 US flights during the bombing of Afghanistan. It continues to host US and British air patrols over northern Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit was rewarded with an audience with President Bush on 16 January…and of course the continuing generosity of the IMF.

Russia and China react
‘The geopolitical realities have changed and the United States has become Central Asia’s third neighbour.’
A political analyst in Kazakhstan

In FRFI 164 December 2001/January 2002 we said, ‘The US ruling class intends to be the main beneficiary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and to have strategic power in Central Asia.’ The USA has now established military bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan, with Kazakhstan offering bases. In Kyrgystan 3,000 US troops are now stationed 250 miles from China’s western border. A meeting of Russian and Chinese officials in Beijing in mid-January issued a joint statement calling for an end to outside interference in Afghanistan. In Kazakhstan the speaker of the Russian parliament claimed a power of veto for Moscow on US deployments in Central Asia: ‘I would not approve of the appearance of permanent US military bases in Central Asia.’ Iran also opposes the multinational troop deployment in Afghanistan.

The US ruling class has long planned to move into Central Asia in order to diminish Russian influence and contain and surround China. It would also ensure European and Japanese dependence on the USA for oil and gas supplies. Russia’s ruling class seems uncertain and divided over the extent to which it can challenge the USA. Elements within Russia, led by President Putin, seek an alliance with the US ruling class.

European alarm
Prime Minister Blair’s efforts to elevate Britain’s status by fielding more troops in Afghanistan than any other outside power have been only partially successful. Blair had 6,000 British troops on standby before Christmas but the US government prevented their deployment. The International Security Assistance Force will include 2,100 British soldiers – the largest contingent out of 5,000 troops. Germany and France argued that their forces should be separate from US forces, but they will be under US command until Turkey takes over.

In November Blair proposed a new Russia-North Atlantic Council consisting of 19 NATO ambassadors and a Russian ambassador to give Russia a say in decisions such as joint exercises, non-proliferation of weapons and fighting terrorism. The US government rejected it in December; suspicious that Russia could veto NATO actions and tilt the balance of power within NATO away from the USA.

The European Union (EU) dislikes the way the US has picked and chosen what it wants from its NATO allies. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson rushed to activate NATO Article Five through after 11 September, stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all. However, the US does not see the rest of NATO’s capability as significant and has no desire to share its growing influence and spoils in Central Asia with the EU powers.

In the conduct of the war the USA has acted as a law unto itself and has sought to demonstrate the irresistible effectiveness of its firepower. Both are intended to assert US supremacy. During the existence of the Soviet Union imperialism was compelled to offer a show of commitment to international treaties and institutions concerned with rights and security. Recently the US has withdrawn from the Kyoto Agreement on global warming, announced it will tear up anti-ballistic missile agreements, refused to accept the establishment of an international tribunal on war crimes and refused to accept international controls on biological weapons production. Now the USA openly violates the UN Convention on Genocide, the UN Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war – and every other piece of human rights legislation since the Nuremberg trials of captured Nazis.

The US ruling class is acting with contempt for its European allies and the European ruling class has got the message. This is the context in which the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, the Secretary General of the European Council, the German foreign minister, the Daily Mail and many others have criticised the US treatment of captives at Camp X-Ray.

France protested strongly about the trial in the USA of a French civilian Zacarias Moussaoui (‘the twentieth bomber’) on charges carrying the death penalty. Britain and Australia also fear their own citizens could be put to death under US law. The point is that the USA is treating these other nationals without consulting the states concerned. Beneath these concerns for ‘prisoners’ welfare’ and preserving the ‘moral high ground’ move far more basic forces: trade disputes, competition for markets and resources, the fight to carve up the world – rising inter-imperialist rivalry at a time of economic crisis.

Fanning the Flames

As the US government so rightly said, it does not know where this war will end or when it will end. Tensions within and between states are being stretched to breaking point. On 13 December an attack on India’s parliament resulted in 14 deaths. The Indian government blamed Pakistan-based Islamic groups fighting India for Kashmir. By the end of December India mobilised half a million troops along its border with Pakistan and there were artillery clashes between the two armies. India and Pakistan have been nuclear powers since 1998. India has increased its arms expenditure by 28% since then. In October the USA lifted its embargo on weapons sales to India and Pakistan. Britain’s BAe Systems intends to sell 60 Hawk jets worth £1 billion to India. Israel and India are establishing weapons ties and India seeks to buy Israeli anti-missile systems.

The Pakistan government has yielded to pressure from India, the USA and Britain and arrested 2,000 people and banned several Islamic organisations in the ‘war on terrorism’. Following the Yemeni president’s visit to the USA, Yemeni soldiers stormed an ‘Islamic militant hideout’ on 18 December killing 12 people. Israel’s Sharon described Arafat as ‘our Bin Laden’, then dispatched tanks into Palestinian towns. Jordan introduced prison sentences for ‘slandering the monarchy’ and writing that ‘undermines security’. Mugabe justified attacks on journalists saying they ‘support terrorists’. The Egyptian prime minister dismissed EU criticism of torture, saying the West should, ‘Think of Egypt’s own fight against terror as their own model.’ No doubt ‘the West’ does.

This January Britain had its first compulsory call-up of army reserves since the 1956 Suez Crisis. One hundred ‘military intelligence specialists’ will be based in London and Afghanistan where they will join MI5 and MI6 ‘interrogators’. Scotland Yard has doubled the size of its anti-terrorist branch and the Metropolitan Police has been given an additional £22 million to ‘fight terrorism’. We can expect police trawls through Asian communities and ‘militant hideouts’ to be stormed, this time in British cities.

On 17 January, Bosnia’s Supreme Court freed five Algerians and one Yemeni who had been detained on suspicion of trying to attack the US embassy in Sarajevo. As they left prison they were seized by US soldiers and flown to Camp X-Ray. They are the first ‘unlawful combatants’ in the camp to be brought from outside Afghanistan. This is the USA expanding its war, trampling over borders and laws that get in its way: the world’s policeman, judge, gaoler and executioner.

Global capitalism is in economic crisis. In the last quarter of 2001 US investment fell at an annual rate of 12.5%, in Japan it was down 6.3% and in Germany down 4.7%. Imperialism cannot allow its economic crisis to turn into a political crisis. The US ruling class intends to use its military supremacy to prevent this happening and to ensure that the burden of crisis falls on the oppressed and its rival imperialists. President Bush has allocated an additional $48 billion to the US military to bring US arms expenditure up to a record $380 billion. The US and British war is not over. Afghanistan is a model for the future. Some 650 US troops have been deployed on the Philippines island of Mindano to fight Muslim guerrillas. US and German ships patrol the Somali coast and US planes patrol its skies. Bush demanded that UN weapons’ inspectors return to Iraq. Iraq refused. The EU, Russia and China cannot be bullied into the USA’s rule over the world and the oppressed majority of the planet cannot live with it. m

Kashmir – some basic facts

• In 1846 the present state of Jammu and Kashmir was formed when the British ‘sold’ Kashmir to the Dogra kings of Jammu, for services to British imperialism. The Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, had given British troops safe passage on their way to fight the first Afghan war in 1841.
• 75% of the combined population of Jammu and Kashmir were Muslim, 90% in Kashmir itself. The Maharajah and the ruling elite were Hindu. The vast majority of the people lived in dire poverty; 83% were peasants working for absentee landlords. Organised opposition to the Maharajah began in the 1920s. In 1924 an uprising of the labourers of the Srinigar Silk Factory occupied land belonging to the Maharajah before being attacked by his troops.
• The grievances of the masses were articulated by the Muslim Conference and its leader Sheikh Abdullah, the ‘Lion of Kashmir’. He took progressive positions for land reform and political rights and against communalism. In 1931 he launched a civil disobedience campaign which was attacked by the Maharajah’s forces, killing nine people on the streets of Srinigar. Sheikh Abdullah made it clear his campaign was for all the people of Kashmir; in 1939 the name of the Muslim Conference was changed to the National Conference to reflect this political position. In 1932 at a conference of the Muslim Conference he had said, ‘We stand for the rights of all communities. Our country’s progress is impossible so long as we do not establish amicable relations between the different communities’. It was this stand and the support it mobilised that prevented the Muslim League from building any real base in Kashmir.
• In 1942 the Congress and Ghandi started the Quit India movement against the British. In 1946 the National Conference began the Quit Kashmir movement against the Maharajah, classifying his rule as illegitimate.
• In 1947 the Indian sub-continent was partitioned with massive movements of populations and large-scale violence. Kashmir remained free of this terror. The Muslim League was desperate for Jammu and Kashmir to join Pakistan, but the National Conference opposed the idea of two nations and supported joining a secular India. The Maharajah did not make any decision.
• On 22 October 1947 irregular Pakistani troops entered Kashmir. On 25 October the Maharajah signed papers ensuring the secession of Jammu and Kashmir to India which immediately sent in troops. The agreement to join India had a condition attached that the people of Jammu and Kashmir hold a plebiscite on the decision. This was a principle for the National Conference.
• Pakistani forces were forced back into a narrow strip of land in the west and mountains in the north. A UN-brokered ceasefire set up what became Azad Kashmir, under Pakistani control. In 1951elections in Jammu and Kashmir the National Conference won every seat.
• In 1965 and 1971 India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. A plebiscite has never been held and Indian forces in Kashmir, supposedly there to fight ‘Pakistani’ sponsored terrorists, have engaged in terror against the local people.

Guantanamo Bay: US tramples on prisoners’ rights

US treatment of the al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners incarcerated in Guantanamo naval base has been barbaric, defying internationally accepted norms for the treatment of prisoners captured in combat. US policy has been to systematically strip these prisoners of their rights, dehumanising them as ‘the worst of the worst’.

Held outside US sovereign territory – the base at Guantanamo is illegally-occupied Cuban territory – the prisoners can be denied the right to a jury trial or appeal. Designating them as ‘illegal combatants’ rather than prisoners of war neatly allows the USA to sidestep the Geneva Convention.

While the Geneva Convention demands that POWs be ‘protected from torture, cruelty, humiliation and inhumane and degrading treatment’ and from excessive interrogation, these detainees, many wounded, have been hooded, shackled and in some cases sedated for the 27-hour flight from Afghanistan. They have been masked, forced to wear blacked-out goggles and – in an act reminiscent of the humiliation of Orthodox Jews on the streets of Berlin in the 1930s – have had their beards shaved off. At Camp X-Ray the prisoners are held like animals in bleak 8ft by 6ft cages open to the elements and interrogated without legal representation. They will be tried at US military tribunals which will take on the powers of prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner.

Confident of overwhelming domestic support, the USA is impervious to international protest. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear he feels 'not the slightest concern' for their treatment. The USA is flaunting its power to do precisely as it likes. Despite minor concessions to the International Red Cross, policy will not change.

Of course, the USA can always count on one friend in Europe. The Labour government, while mouthing support for the Geneva Convention, stresses the United States' need to protect itself. The Guantanamo prisoners are 'murderous and suicidal' , according to foreign office minister, Ben Bradshaw, apologist for the US slaughter of Afghan civilians – clearly reason enough to strip them of all rights!

The Guantanamo detainees are prisoners of war and must be treated as such, with those suspected of war crimes charged individually and tried in internationally accepted tribunals. If we accept their collective demonisation and abuse, it will become standard treatment for all those who pose a threat to imperialism. As in Ireland, the removal of POW status is the first step towards the criminalisation of a struggle and of all those involved in it.

Cat Wiener


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