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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Charges against building unionist dropped — a victory for all workers by Margarita Windisch

The Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecution’s (CDPP) formal withdrawal of charges against Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) official Noel Washington on November 28 is a major victory for all workers and unionists.

Washington was charged under the 2005 Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, which makes it a crime not to appear when requested for an interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The penalty for defying the ABCC is six months’ imprisonment. According to Washington, the charges against him were dropped on a technicality. He told Green Left Weekly that it is important to keep up the campaign against the politically-driven ABCC because it is free to reissue the notice to any building industry workers anytime. Washington was not actually investigated for any specific suspected breach of the act, but had refused to disclose to the ABCC what happened at a union meeting held out of work hours and off-site.

His trial had been set for December 2-3 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Building industry unions had called rallies around Australia to coincide with his court appearance to support Washington and increase pressure for the abolition of the ABCC. CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan said that the first cracks are appearing in the ABCC laws, but the campaign will not be finished until the laws are scrapped.

According to a November 26 article on LaborNet, Noonan said: “For months now we have spoken out [about] how the laws are unfair. The decision by the DPP today to drop the [charges] shows that they are fundamentally unworkable … a clear message to the Government that the laws are in disarray and need to be abolished. “The fact that over 100 workers have already been dragged before the ABCC and threatened with imprisonment should not be forgotten”, Noonan continued. “These laws were created by a Government determined to destroy building workers’ rights, and it is time that they were removed.”

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence said the prosecution of Washington had been “a futile waste of taxpayers’ money and resources. The decision by the DPP to drop the charges renders the ABCC and its discriminatory laws even more obsolete.” Most of the ABCC investigations have been in relation to industrial action taken by workers in response to serious health and safety breaches. The ABCC’s draconian powers have been condemned by the International Labour Organisation.

In May, five unions launched a national campaign to defend Washington and abolish the ABCC, and the Geelong and Region Trades and Labour Council initiated a sign-on statement of non-cooperation with the ABCC (visit ).

Industry observers believe that the federal Labor government wanted to avoid the embarrassment of tens of thousands of angry unionists publicly protesting against the ABCC just one week after it introduced its Fair Work bill to parliament (see article on page 11.)

Washington’s defiance sets the example: if you stand up and fight you can win. Craig Johnston, a CFMEU member and former secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union who was jailed in 2004 on charges relating to an industrial dispute in 2001, told GLW: “Noel has put the interests of fellow workers and future generations before his own personal freedom and we all should be very thankful for that. Jail is a very unpleasant place, but Noel was prepared to sacrifice time with his family to fight unjust laws that affect us all.”

Washington told GLW that he was very grateful for the support he received from unionists and trades and labour councils around Australia and internationally. The task now is to keep up the momentum of non-cooperation with the ABCC and continue to mobilise until the ABCC, or any kind of anti-worker building inspectorate, is gone for good.

The protest rallies against the ABCC will go ahead on December 2 in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Perth.

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #777 3 December 2008.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Tariq Ali
Rarely has there been such an enthusiastic display of international unity as that which greeted the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Support for the war was universal in the chanceries of the West, even before its aims and parameters had been declared. nato governments rushed to assert themselves ‘all for one’. Blair jetted round the world, proselytizing the ‘doctrine of the international community’ and the opportunities for peace-keeping and nation-building in the Hindu Kush. Putin welcomed the extension of American bases along Russia’s southern borders. Every mainstream Western party endorsed the war; every media network—with bbc World and cnn in the lead—became its megaphone. For the German Greens, as for Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, it was a war for the liberation of the women of Afghanistan. [1] For the White House, a fight for civilization. For Iran, the impending defeat of the Wahhabi enemy.

Three years later, as the chaos in Iraq deepened, Afghanistan became the ‘good war’ by comparison. It had been legitimized by the un—even if the resolution was not passed until after the bombs had finished falling—and backed by nato. If tactical differences had sharpened over Iraq, they could be resolved in Afghanistan. First Zapatero, then Prodi, then Rudd, compensated for pulling troops out of Iraq by dispatching them to Kabul. [2]

France and Germany could extol their peace-keeping or civilizing roles there. As suicide bombings increased in Baghdad, Afghanistan was now—for American Democrats keen to prove their ‘security’ credentials—the ‘real front’ of the war on terror, supported by every us presidential candidate in the run-up to the 2008 elections, with Senator Obama pressuring the White House to violate Pakistani sovereignty whenever necessary. With varying degrees of firmness, the occupation of Afghanistan was also supported by China, Iran and Russia; though in the case of the latter, there was always a strong element of Schadenfreude. Soviet veterans of the Afghan war were amazed to see their mistakes now being repeated by the United States in a war even more inhumane than its predecessor.

Meanwhile, the number of Afghan civilians killed has exceeded many tens of times over the 2,746 who died in Manhattan. Unemployment is around 60 per cent and maternal, infant and child mortality levels are now among the highest in the world. Opium harvests have soared, and the ‘Neo-Taliban’ is growing stronger year by year. By common consent, Karzai’s government does not even control its own capital, let alone provide an example of ‘good governance’.

Reconstruction funds vanish into cronies’ pockets or go to pay short-contract Western consultants. Police are predators rather than protectors. The social crisis is deepening. Increasingly, Western commentators have evoked the spectre of failure—usually in order to spur encore un effort. A Guardian leader summarizes: ‘Defeat looks possible, with all the terrible consequences that will bring.’ [3]

Two principal arguments, often overlapping, are put forward as to ‘what went wrong’ in Afghanistan. For liberal imperialists, the answer can be summarized in two words: ‘not enough’. The invasion organized by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld was done on the cheap. The ‘light footprint’ demanded by the Pentagon meant that there were too few troops on the ground in 2001–02. Financial commitment to ‘state-building’ was insufficient. Though it may now be too late, the answer is to pour in more troops, more money—‘multiple billions’ over ‘multiple years’, according to the us Ambassador in Kabul. [4] The second answer—advanced by Karzai and the White House, but propagated by the Western media generally—can be summed up in one word: Pakistan. Neither of these arguments holds water.

Political failures

True, there was a sense of relief in Kabul when the Taliban’s Wahhabite Emirate was overthrown. Though rape and heroin production had been curtailed under their rule, warlords kept at bay and order largely restored in a country that had been racked by foreign and civil wars since 1979, the end result had been a ruthless social dictatorship with a level of control over the everyday lives of ordinary people that made the clerical regime in Iran appear an island of enlightenment. The Taliban government fell without a serious struggle. Islamabad, officially committed to the us cause, forbade any frontal confrontation. [5]

Some Taliban zealots crossed the border into Pakistan, while a more independent faction loyal to Mullah Omar decamped to the mountains to fight another day. Kabul was undefended; the bbc war correspondent entered the capital before the Northern Alliance. What many Afghans now expected from a successor government was a similar level of order, minus the repression and social restrictions, and a freeing of the country’s spirit. What they were instead presented with was a melancholy spectacle that blasted all their hopes.

The problem was not lack of funds but the Western state-building project itself, by its nature an exogenous process—aiming to construct an army able to suppress its own population but incapable of defending the nation from outside powers; a civil administration with no control over planning or social infrastructure, which are in the hands of Western ngos; and a government whose foreign policy marches in step with Washington’s. It bore no relation to the realities on the ground. After the fall of the Taliban government, four major armed groups re-emerged as strong regional players. In the gas-rich and more industrialized north, bordering the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum was in charge with his capital in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Allied first to the Communists, later the Taliban and most recently nato, General Dostum had demonstrated his latest loyalty by massacring 2–3,000 Taliban and Arab prisoners under the approving gaze of us intelligence personnel in December 2001.

Not too far from Dostum, in the mountainous north-east of the country, a region rich in emeralds, lapis lazuli and opium, the late Ahmed Shah Masoud had built a fighting organization of Tajiks, who regularly ambushed troops on the Salang Highway that linked Kabul to Tashkent during the Soviet occupation. Masoud had been the leader of the armed wing of Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamaat-i-Islami, which operated in tandem with an allied Islamist leader, Abd al-Rabb Sayyaf (both men were lecturers in sharia at the law faculty of Kabul University in 1973, where these movements were incubated). Until 1993 they were funded by Saudi Arabia, after which the latter gradually shifted its support to the Taliban. Masoud maintained a semi-independence during the Taliban period, up to his death on 9 September 2001. [6] Masoud’s supporters are currently in the government, but are not considered one hundred per cent reliable as far as nato is concerned.

Click here to open a larger version of this picture in a new window

To the west, sheltered by neighbouring Iran, lies the ancient city of Herat, once a centre of learning and culture where poets, artists and scholars flourished. Among the important works illustrated here over the course of three centuries was a 15th-century version of the classic Miraj-nameh, an early medieval account of the Prophet’s ascent to heaven from the Dome of the Rock and the punishments he observed as he passed through hell. [7] In modern Herat, the Shia warlord Ismail Khan holds sway. A former army captain inspired by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ismail achieved instant fame by leading a garrison revolt against the pro-Moscow regime in 1979. Backed by Teheran he built up a strong force that united all the Shia groups and were to trouble the Russians throughout their stay. Tens of thousands of refugees from this region (where a Persian dialect is the spoken language) were given work, shelter and training in Iran.

From 1992–95, the province was run on authoritarian lines. It was a harsh regime: Ismail Khan’s half-witted effrontery soon began to alienate his allies, while his high-tax and forced conscription policies angered peasant families. By the time the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, support had already drained away from the warlord. Herat fell without a struggle, and Ismail was imprisoned by the Taliban, only escaping in March 2000. His supporters meanwhile crossed the border to Iran where they bided their time, to return in October 2001 under nato cover.

The south was another story again. The Pashtun villages bore the brunt of the fighting during the 1980s and 90s. [8] Rapid population growth, coupled with the disruptions of war and the resulting loss of livestock, hastened the collapse of the subsistence economy. In many districts this was replaced by poppy cultivation and the rule of local bandits and strongmen. By the early 1990s, three militant Sunni groups had acquired dominance in the region: the Taliban, the group led by Ahmed Shah Masoud from the Panjsher province, and the followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once Pakistan’s favourite, who had been groomed by the Saudis as the new leader. The jihad was long over, and now the jihadis were at each other’s throats, with control of the drug trade the major stake in a brutal power struggle. Under Benazir Bhutto’s second premiership, Pakistan’s military backing for the Taliban proved decisive. But the overthrow of the Mullah Omar government in the winter of 2001 saw the re-emergence of many of the local gangsters whose predations it had partly checked.

Anointment of Karzai

Washington assigned the task of assembling a new government to Zalmay Khalilzad, its Afghan-American pro-consul in Kabul. The capital was occupied by competing militias, united only by opposition to the toppled Taliban, and their representatives had to be accommodated on every level. The Northern Alliance candidate for president, Abdul Haq of Jalalabad, had conveniently been captured and executed in October 2001 by the Taliban when he entered the country with a small group from Pakistan. (His supporters alleged betrayal by the cia and the isi, who were unhappy about his links to Russia and Iran, and tipped off Mullah Omar.) Another obvious anti-Taliban candidate was Ahmed Shah Masoud; but he had also been killed—by a suicide bomber of unknown provenance—two days before 9.11. Masoud would no doubt have been the eu choice for Afghan president, had he lived; the French government issued a postage stamp with his portrait, and Kabul airport bears his name. Whether he would have proved as reliable a client as Khalilzad’s transplanted protégé, Hamid Karzai, must now remain an open question.

Aware that the us could not run the country without the Northern Alliance and its backers in Teheran and Moscow, Khalilzad toned down the emancipatory rhetoric and concentrated on the serious business of occupation. The coalition he constructed resembled a blind octopus, with mainly Tajik limbs and Karzai as its unseeing eye. The Afghan president comes from the Durrani tribe of Pashtuns from Kandahar. His father had served in a junior capacity in Zahir Shah’s government. Young Karzai backed the mujaheddin against Russia and later supported the Taliban, though he turned down their offer to become Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the un, preferring to relocate and work for unocal. Here he backed up Khalilzad, who was then representing CentGas in their bid to construct a pipeline that would take gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. [9]

After his appointment as interim president, the Saudi daily Al-Watan published a revealing profile of Karzai, stating that he had been a cia pawn since the 80s, with his status on the Afghan chessboard enhanced every few years:

Since then, Karzai’s ties with the Americans have not been interrupted. At the same time, he established ties with the British and other European and international sides, especially after he became deputy foreign minister in 1992 in the wake of the Afghan mujaheddin’s assumption of power and the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Najibullah regime. Karzai found no contradiction between his ties with the Americans and his support for the Taliban movement as of 1994, when the Americans had—secretly and through the Pakistanis—supported the Taliban’s assumption of power to put an end to the civil war and the actual partition of Afghanistan due to the failure of Burhanuddin Rabbani’s experience in ruling the country. [10]

Karzai was duly installed in December 2001, but intimacy with us intelligence networks failed to translate into authority or legitimacy at home. Karzai harboured no illusions about his popularity in the country. He knew his biological and political life was heavily dependent on the occupation and demanded a bodyguard of us Marines or American mercenaries, rather than a security detail from his own ethnic Pashtun base. [11] There were at least three coup attempts against him in 2002–03 by his Northern Alliance allies; these were fought off by the isaf, which was largely tied down in assuring Karzai’s security—while also providing a vivid illustration of where his support lay. [12] A quick-fix presidential contest organized at great expense by Western pr firms in October 2004—just in time for the us elections—failed to bolster support for the puppet president inside the country. Karzai’s habit of parachuting his relatives and protégés into provincial governor or police chief jobs has driven many local communities into alliance with the Taliban, as the main anti-government force. In Zabul, Helmand and elsewhere, all the insurgents had to do was ‘approach the victims of the pro-Karzai strongmen and promise them protection and support. Attempts by local elders to seek protection in Kabul routinely ended nowhere, as the wrongdoers enjoyed either direct us support or Karzai’s sympathy.’ [13]

Nor is it any secret that Karzai’s younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, has now become one of the richest drug barons in the country. At a meeting with Pakistan’s president in 2005, when Karzai was bleating about Pakistan’s inability to stop cross-border smuggling, Musharraf suggested that perhaps Karzai should set an example by bringing his sibling under control. (The hatred for each other of these two close allies of Washington is well known in the region.)

New inequalities

Also feeding the resentment is the behaviour of a new elite clustered around Karzai and the occupying forces, which has specialized in creaming off foreign aid to create its own criminal networks of graft and patronage. The corruptions of this layer grow each month like an untreated tumour. Western funds are siphoned off to build fancy homes for the native enforcers. Housing scandals erupted as early as 2002, when cabinet ministers awarded themselves and favoured cronies prime real estate in Kabul where land prices were rocketing, since the occupiers and their camp followers had to live in the style to which they were accustomed.

Karzai’s colleagues, protected by isaf troops, built their large villas in full view of the mud-brick hovels of the poor. The burgeoning slum settlements of Kabul, where the population has now swollen to an estimated 3 million, are a measure of the social crisis that has engulfed the country.
The ancient city has suffered cruelly over the past thirty years. Jade Maiwand, the modernized ‘Oxford Street’ cut through the centre in the 1970s, was reduced to rubble during the warfare of 1992–96. An American-Afghan architect describes how Kabul has been relentlessly transformed: from a modern capital, to the military and political headquarters of an invading army, to the besieged seat of power of a puppet regime, to the front lines of factional conflict resulting in the destruction of two-thirds of its urban mass, to the testing fields of religious fanaticism which erased from the city the final layers of urban life, to the target of an international war on terrorism. [14]

Yet never have such gaping inequalities featured on this scale before. Little of the supposed $19 billion ‘aid and reconstruction’ money has reached the majority of Afghans. The mains electricity supply is worse now than five years ago, and while the rich can use private generators to power their air conditioners, hot-water heaters, computers and satellite tvs, average Kabulis ‘suffered a summer without fans and face a winter without heaters.’ [15] As a result, hundreds of shelterless Afghans are literally freezing to death each winter.

Then there are the ngos who descended on the country like locusts after the occupation. As one observer reports:

A reputed 10,000 ngo staff have turned Kabul into the Klondike during the gold rush, building office blocks, driving up rents, cruising about in armoured jeeps and spending stupefying sums of other people’s money, essentially on themselves. They take orders only from some distant agency, but then the same goes for the American army, nato, the un, the eu and the supposedly sovereign Afghan government. [16]

Even supporters of the occupation have lost patience with these bodies, and some of the most successful candidates in the 2005 National Assembly elections made an attack on them a centre-piece of their campaigns. Worse, according to one us specialist, ‘their well-funded activities highlighted the poverty and ineffectiveness of the civil administration and discredited its local representatives in the eyes of the local populace.’ [17] Unsurprisingly, ngo employees began to be targeted by the insurgents, including in the north, and had to hire mercenary protection.
In sum: even in the estimate of the West’s own specialists and institutions, ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan has been flawed in its very conception. It has so far produced a puppet president dependent for his survival on foreign mercenaries, a corrupt and abusive police force, a ‘non-functioning’ judiciary, a thriving criminal layer and a deepening social and economic crisis. It beggars belief to argue that ‘more of this’ will be the answer to Afghanistan’s problems.

An Afghan surge?

The argument that more nato troops are the solution is equally unsustainable. All the evidence suggests that the brutality of the occupying forces has been one of the main sources of recruits for the Taliban. American air power, lovingly referred to as ‘Big Daddy’ by frightened us soldiers on unwelcome terrain, is far from paternal when it comes to targeting Pashtun villages. There is widespread fury among Afghans at the number of civilian casualties, many of them children.

There have been numerous incidents of rape and rough treatment of women by isaf soldiers, as well as indiscriminate bombing of villages and house-to-house search-and-arrest missions. The behaviour of the foreign mercenaries backing up the nato forces is just as bad. Even sympathetic observers admit that ‘their alcohol consumption and patronage of a growing number of brothels in Kabul . . . is arousing public anger and resentment.’ [18] To this could be added the deaths by torture at the US-run Bagram prison and the resuscitation of a Soviet-era security law under which detainees are being sentenced to 20-year jail terms on the basis of summary allegations by us military authorities. All this creates a thirst for dignity that can only be assuaged by genuine independence.

Talk of ‘victory’ sounds increasingly hollow to Afghan ears. Many who detest the Taliban are so angered by the failures of nato and the behaviour of its troops that they are pleased there is some opposition. What was initially viewed by some locals as a necessary police action against al-Qaeda following the 9.11 attacks is now perceived by a growing majority in the region as a fully fledged imperial occupation. Successive recent reports have suggested that the unpopularity of the government and the ‘disrespectful’ behaviour of the occupying troops have had the effect of creating nostalgia for the time when the Taliban were in power. The repression leaves people with no option but to back those trying to resist, especially in a part of the world where the culture of revenge is strong. When a whole community feels threatened it reinforces solidarity, regardless of the character or weakness of those who fight back. This does not just apply to the countryside. The mass protests in Kabul, when civilians were killed by an American military vehicle, signalled the obvious targets:

Rioters chanted slogans against the United States and President Karzai and attacked the Parliament building, the offices of media outlets and nongovernmental organizations, diplomatic residences, brothels, and hotels and restaurants that purportedly served alcohol. The police, many of whom disappeared, proved incompetent, and the vulnerability of the government to mass violence became clear. [19]

As the British and Russians discovered to their cost in the preceding two centuries, Afghans do not like being occupied. If a second-generation Taliban is now growing and creating new alliances it is not because its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because it is the only available umbrella for national liberation. Initially, the middle-cadre Taliban who fled across the border in November 2001 and started low-level guerrilla activity the following year attracted only a trickle of new recruits from madrasas and refugee camps. From 2004 onwards, increasing numbers of young Waziris were radicalized by Pakistani military and police incursions in the tribal areas, as well as devastating attacks on villages by unmanned us ‘drones’. At the same time, the movement was starting to win active support from village mullahs in Zabul, Helmand, Ghazni, Paktika and Kandahar provinces, and then in the towns. By 2006 there were reports of Kabul mullahs who had previously supported Karzai’s allies but were now railing against the foreigners and the government; calls for jihad against the occupiers were heard in the north-east border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

The largest pool for new Taliban recruits, according to a well-informed recent estimate, has been ‘communities antagonized by the local authorities and security forces’. In Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan, Karzai’s cronies—district and provincial governors, security bosses, police chiefs—are quite prepared to tip off us troops against their local rivals, as well as subjecting the latter to harassment and extortion. In these circumstances, the Taliban are the only available defence. (According to the same report, the Taliban themselves have claimed that families driven into refugee camps by indiscriminate us airpower attacks on their villages have been their major source of recruits.) By 2006 the movement was winning the support of traders and businessmen in Kandahar, and led a mini ‘Tet offensive’ there that year. One reason suggested for their increasing support in towns is that the new-model Taliban have relaxed their religious strictures, for males at least—no longer demanding beards or banning music—and improved their propaganda: producing cassette tapes and cds of popular singers, and dvds of us and Israeli atrocities in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. [20]

The re-emergence of the Taliban cannot therefore simply be blamed on Islamabad’s failure to police the border, or cut ‘command and control’ links, as the Americans claim. While the isi played a crucial role in bringing the Taliban to power in 1996 and in the retreat of 2001, they no longer have the same degree of control over a more diffuse and widespread movement, for which the occupation itself has been the main recruiting sergeant. It is a traditional colonial ploy to blame ‘outsiders’ for internal problems: Karzai specializes in this approach. If anything, the destabilization functions in the other direction: the war in Afghanistan has created a critical situation in two Pakistani frontier provinces, and the use of the Pakistan army by Centcom has resulted in suicide terrorism in Lahore, where the Federal Investigation Agency and the Naval War College have been targeted by supporters of the Afghan insurgents. The Pashtun majority in Afghanistan has always had close links to its fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. The present border was an imposition by the British Empire, but it has always remained porous. It is virtually impossible to build a Texan fence or an Israeli wall across the mountainous and largely unmarked 1,500-mile frontier that separates the two countries.

Older models

The current occupation of Afghanistan naturally recalls colonial operations in the region, not just to Afghans but to some Western myth-makers—usually British, but with a few Subcontinental mimics—who try to draw lessons from the older model; the implication being that the British were ‘good imperialists’ who have a great deal to teach the brutish, impatient Americans. The British administrators were, for the most part, racist to the core, and their self-proclaimed ‘competence’ involved the efficient imposition of social apartheid in every colony they controlled. They could be equally brutal in Africa, the Middle East and India. Though a promise of civilizational uplift was required as ideological justification, then as now, the facts of the colonial legacy speak for themselves. In 1947, the year the British left India, the overwhelming majority of midnight’s children were illiterate, and 85 per cent of the economy was rural. [21]

Not bad intentions or botched initiatives, but the imperial presence itself was the problem. Kipling is much quoted today by editorialists urging a bigger Western ‘footprint’ in Afghanistan, but even he was fully aware of the hatred felt by the Pashtuns for the British, and wrote as much in one of his last despatches from Peshawar in April 1885 to the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore:

Pathans, Afridis, Logas, Kohistanis, Turcomans and a hundred other varieties of the turbulent Afghan race, are gathered in the vast human menagerie between the Edwardes Gate and the Ghor Khutri. As an Englishman passes, they will turn to scowl on him, and in many cases to spit fluently on the ground after he has passed. One burly, big-paunched ruffian, with shaven head and a neck creased and dimpled with rolls of fat, is specially zealous in this religious rite—contenting himself with no perfunctory performance, but with a whole-souled expectoration, that must be as refreshing to his comrades as it is disgusting to the European.

One reason among many for the Pashtuns’ historic resentment was the torching of the famous bazaar in Kabul, a triumph of Mughal architecture. Ali Mardan Khan, a renowned governor, architect and engineer, had built the chahr-chatta (four-sided) roofed and arcaded central market in the 17th century on the model of those in old Euro-Arabian Muslim cities—Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Palermo or Córdoba. It was regarded as unique in the region; nothing on the same scale was built in Lahore or Delhi. The bazaar was deliberately destroyed in 1842 by General Pollock’s ‘Army of Retribution’, remembered as amongst the worst killers, looters and marauders ever to arrive in Afghanistan, a contest in which competition remains strong.

Defeated in a number of cities and forced to evacuate Kabul, the British punished its citizens by removing the market from the map. What will remain of Kabul when the current occupiers finally withdraw is yet to be seen, but its spreading mass of deeply impoverished squatter settlements suggest that it is set to be one of the major new capitals of the ‘planet of slums’. [22]

The Western occupation of Afghanistan is now confronted with five seemingly intractable, interrelated problems. The systemic failures of its nation-building strategy, the corruption of its local agents, the growing alienation of large sectors of the population and the strengthening of armed resistance are all compounded by the distortions wrought by the opium-heroin industry on the country’s economy. According to un estimates, narcotics account for 53 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, and the poppy fields continue to spread. Some 90 per cent of the world opium supply emanates from Afghanistan. Since 2003 the nato mission has made no serious attempt to bring about a reduction in this lucrative trade. Karzai’s own supporters would rapidly desert if their activities in this sphere were disrupted, and the amount of state help needed over many years to boost agriculture and cottage industries and reduce dependence on poppy farming would require an entirely different set of priorities. Only a surreal utopian could expect nato countries, busy privatizing and deregulating their own economies, to embark upon full-scale national-development projects abroad.

NATO’s goals

It need hardly be added that the bombardment and occupation of Afghanistan has been a disastrous—and predictable—failure in capturing the perpetrators of 9.11. This could only have been the result of effective police work; not of international war and military occupation. Everything that has happened in Afghanistan since 2001—not to mention Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon—has had the opposite effect, as the West’s own intelligence reports have repeatedly confirmed. According to the official 9.11 Commission report, Mullah Omar’s initial response to Washington’s demands that Osama Bin Laden be handed over and al-Qaeda deprived of a safe haven was ‘not negative’; he himself had opposed any al-Qaeda attack on us targets. [23] But while the Mullah was playing for time, the White House closed down negotiations. It required a swift war of revenge. Afghanistan had been denominated the first port of call in the ‘global war on terror’, with Iraq already the Administration’s main target. The shock-and-awe six-week aerial onslaught that followed was merely a drumroll for the forthcoming intervention in Iraq, with no military rationale in Afghanistan. Predictably, it only gave al-Qaeda leaders the chance to vanish into the hills. To portray the invasion as a ‘war of self-defence’ for nato makes a mockery of international law, which was perverted to twist a flukishly successful attack by a tiny, terrorist Arab groupuscule into an excuse for an open-ended American military thrust into the Middle East and Central Eurasia.

Herein lie the reasons for the near-unanimity among Western opinion-makers that the occupation must not only continue but expand—‘many billions over many years’. They are to be sought not in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, but in Washington and Brussels. As the Economist summarizes, ‘Defeat would be a body blow not only to the Afghans, but’—and more importantly, of course—‘to the nato alliance’. [24] As ever, geopolitics prevails over Afghan interests in the calculus of the big powers. The basing agreement signed by the us with its appointee in Kabul in May 2005 gives the Pentagon the right to maintain a massive military presence in Afghanistan in perpetuity, potentially including nuclear missiles. That Washington is not seeking permanent bases in this fraught and inhospitable terrain simply for the sake of ‘democratization and good governance’ was made clear by nato’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Brookings Institution in February this year: a permanent nato presence in a country that borders the ex-Soviet republics, China, Iran and Pakistan was too good to miss. [25]

More strategically, Afghanistan has become a central theatre for reconstituting, and extending, the West’s power-political grip on the world order. It provides, first, an opportunity for the us to shrug off problems in persuading its allies to play a broader role in Iraq. As Obama and Clinton have stressed, America and its allies ‘have greater unity of purpose in Afghanistan. The ultimate outcome of nato’s effort to stabilize Afghanistan and us leadership of that effort may well affect the cohesiveness of the alliance and Washington’s ability to shape nato’s future.’ [26] Beyond this, it is the rise of China that has prompted nato strategists to propose a vastly expanded role for the Western military alliance. Once focused on the Euro-Atlantic area, a recent essay in nato Review suggests, ‘in the 21st century nato must become an alliance founded on the Euro-Atlantic area, designed to project systemic stability beyond its borders’:

The centre of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward . . . The Asia-Pacific region brings much that is dynamic and positive to this world, but as yet the rapid change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way . . . security effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and capability. [27]

The only way to protect the international system the West has built, the author continues, is to ‘re-energize’ the transatlantic relationship: ‘There can be no systemic security without Asian security, and there will be no Asian security without a strong role for the West therein.’
These ambitions have yet to be realized. In Afghanistan there were angry street demonstrations against Karzai’s signing of the us bases agreement—a clear indication, if one was still needed, that nato will have to take Karzai with them if they withdraw. Uzbekistan responded by asking the United States to withdraw its base and personnel from their country. The Russians and Chinese are reported to have protested strongly in private, and subsequently conducted joint military operations on each other’s territory for the first time: ‘concern over apparent us plans for permanent bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia’ was an important cause of their rapprochement. [28] More limply, Iran responded by increasing export duties, bringing construction in Herat to a halt. [29]

There are at least two routes out of the Khyber impasse. The first and worst would be to Balkanize the country. This appears to be the dominant pattern of imperial hegemony at the moment, but whereas the Kurds in Iraq and the Kosovars and others in the former Yugoslavia were willing client-nationalists, the likelihood of Tajiks or Hazaras playing this role effectively is more remote in Afghanistan. Some us intelligence officers have been informally discussing the creation of a Pashtun state that unites the tribes and dissolves the Durand Line, but this would destabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan to such a degree that the consequences would be unpredictable. In any event there appear to be no takers in either country at the moment.

The alternative would require a withdrawal of all us forces, either preceded or followed by a regional pact to guarantee Afghan stability for the next ten years. Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and, possibly, China could guarantee and support a functioning national government, pledged to preserve the ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan and create a space in which all its citizens can breathe, think and eat every day. It would need a serious social and economic plan to rebuild the country and provide the basic necessities for its people. This would not only be in the interests of Afghanistan, it would be seen as such by its people—physically, politically and morally exhausted by decades of war and two occupations. Violence, arbitrary or deliberate, has been their fate for too long. They want the nightmare to end and not be replaced with horrors of a different kind. Religious extremists would get short shrift from the people if they disrupted an agreed peace and began a jihad to recreate the Taliban Emirate of Mullah Omar.

The us occupation has not made this task easy. Its predictable failures have revived the Taliban, and increasingly the Pashtuns are uniting behind them. But though the Taliban have been entirely conflated with al-Qaeda in the Western media, most of their supporters are driven by local concerns; their political evolution would be more likely to parallel that of Pakistan’s domesticated Islamists if the invaders were to leave. A nato withdrawal could facilitate a serious peace process. It might also benefit Pakistan, provided its military leaders abandoned foolish notions of ‘strategic depth’ and viewed India not as an enemy but as a possible partner in creating a cohesive regional framework within which many contentious issues could be resolved.

Are Pakistan’s military leaders and politicians capable of grasping the nettle and moving their country forward? Will Washington let them? The solution is political, not military. And it lies in the region, not in Washington or Brussels.

[1] In fact, the only period in Afghan history where women were granted equal rights and educated was from 1979–89, the decade it was ruled by the pdpa, backed by Soviet troops. Repressive in many ways, on the health and education fronts real progress was achieved, as in Iraq under Saddam. Hence the nostalgia for the past amongst poorer sections of society in both countries.

[2] Visiting Madrid after Zapatero’s election triumph of March 2008, I was informed by a senior government official that they had considered a total withdrawal from Afghanistan a few months before the polls but had been outmanoeuvred by the us promising Spain that the head of its military would be proposed for commander of the nato forces, and a withdrawal from Kabul would disrupt this possibility. Spain drew back, only to discover it had been tricked.

[3] ‘Failing State’, Guardian, 1 February 2008; see also ‘The Good War, Still to Be Won’ and ‘Gates, Truth and Afghanistan’, New York Times, 20 August 2007 and 12 February 2008; ‘Must they be wars without end?’, Economist, 13 December 2007; International Crisis Group, ‘Combating Afghanistan’s Insurgency’, 2 November 2006.

[4] New York Times, 5 November 2006.

[5] Pakistan’s key role in securing this ‘victory’ was underplayed in the Western media at the time. The public was told that it was elite Special Forces units and cia ‘specialists’ that had liberated Afghanistan; having triumphed here they could now be sent on to Iraq.

[6] Masoud had been a favourite pin-up in Paris during the Soviet–Afghan war, usually portrayed as a ruggedly romantic, anti-Communist Che Guevara. His membership of Rabbani’s Islamist group and reactionary views on most social issues were barely mentioned. But if he had presented an image of incorruptible masculinity to his supporters in the West, it was not the same at home. Rape and the heroin trade were not uncommon in areas under his control.

[7] The stunning illustrations were exquisitely calligraphed by Malik Bakshi in the Uighur script. There are 61 paintings in all, created with great love for the Prophet of Islam. He is depicted with Central Asian features and seen flying to heaven on a magical steed with a woman’s head. There are also illustrations of a meeting with Gabriel and Adam, a sighting of houris at the gates of Paradise, and of winebibbers being punished in hell. European scholars have suggested that an early Latin translation of the poem may have been a source of inspiration for Dante.

[8] Afghanistan’s ethnography has generated a highly politicized statistical debate. The 6-year survey carried out by a Norwegian foundation is probably the most accurate. This suggests that Pashtuns make up an estimated 63 per cent of the population, along with the mainly Persian-speaking Tajiks (12 per cent), Uzbeks (9 per cent) and the mainly Shia Hazaras (6 per cent): wak Foundation, Norway 1999. The cia Factbook, by contrast, gives 42, 27, 9 and 9 per cent respectively. The tiny non-Muslim minority of Hindus and Sikhs, mainly shopkeepers and traders in Kabul, were displaced by the Taliban; some were killed, and thousands fled to India.

[9] The CentGas consortium, incorporated in 1997, included unocal, Gazprom, Hyundai and oil companies from Saudi Arabia, Japan and Pakistan. In late 1997 a Taliban delegation received full honours when they visited unocal hq, hoping to sign the £2bn pipeline contract. According to the Sunday Telegraph (‘Oil Barons Court Taliban in Texas’, 14 December 1997): ‘the Islamic warriors appear to have been persuaded to close the deal, not through delicate negotiation but by old-fashioned Texan hospitality. Dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, Afghan waistcoats and loose, black turbans, the high-ranking delegation was given vip treatment during the four-day stay.’ The project was suspended in 1998, as the Taliban were split on whom to award the pipeline project to: Mullah Rabbani preferred the offer from the Argentine company Bridas, while Mullah Omar was strongly in favour of the American-led deal. But us–Taliban contacts continued till mid-2001 both in Islamabad and New York, where the Taliban maintained a ‘diplomatic office’ headed by Abdul Hakim Mojahed.

[10] bbc Monitoring Service, 15 December 2001.

[11] The late Benazir Bhutto made the same request for American protection on her return to Pakistan, but in her case it was vetoed by Islamabad.

[12] Barry McCaffrey, ‘Trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan’, us Military Academy Memorandum, West Point, ny 2006, p. 8.

[13] Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: the Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan, London 2007, p. 60. The corruption and brutality of the newly established Afghan National Police is also widely credited with turning the population against the Karzai government.

[14] Ajmal Maiwandi, ‘Re-Doing Kabul’, presented at lse, 11 July 2002.

[15] Barnett Rubin, ‘Saving Afghanistan’, Foreign Affairs, January–February 2007.

[16] Simon Jenkins, ‘It takes inane optimism to see victory in Afghanistan’, Guardian, 8 August 2007.

[17] S. Frederick Starr, ‘Sovereignty and Legitimacy in Afghan Nation-Building’, in Fukuyama, ed., Nation-Building Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, Baltimore 2006, p. 117.

[18] Barnett Rubin, ‘Proposals for Improved Stability in Afghanistan’, in Ivo Daalder et al, eds, Crescent of Crisis: us–European Strategy for the Greater Middle East, Washington, dc 2006, p. 149.

[19] Rubin, ‘Saving Afghanistan’.

[20] Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, pp. 42, 69.

[21] ‘Per capita income was about one-twentieth of the level then attained in developed countries . . . Illiteracy was a high 84 per cent and the majority (60 per cent) of children in the 6 to 11 age-group did not attend school; mass communicable diseases (malaria, smallpox and cholera) were widespread and, in the absence of a good public health service and sanitation, mortality rates (27 per 1,000) were very high.’ Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai, eds, Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. II: c.1757–c.1970, Cambridge 1983, p. 23.

[22] Mike Davis, ‘Planet of Slums’, nlr 26, March–April 2004, p. 13.

[23] The 9.11 Commission Report, New York 2004, pp. 333–4; 251–2.

[24] ‘Must they be wars without end?’.

[25] ‘Afghanistan and nato: Forging the 21st Century Alliance’, 29 February 2008; available on Brookings website.

[26] Paul Gallis, ‘nato in Afghanistan’, crs Report for Congress, 23 October 2007.

[27] Julian Lindley-French, ‘Big World, Big Future, Big nato’, nato Review, Winter 2005.

[28] Rubin, ‘Proposals for Improved Stability in Afghanistan’.

[29] In response to Karzai’s pleas, Teheran proposed a treaty that would prohibit foreign intelligence operations in each country against the other; hard to see how Karzai could have signed this with a straight face.

Also available in: Spanish

By the same author:

The Life and Times of Simón B

Mid-Point in the Middle East?

Remembering Edward Said

Re-Colonizing Iraq

The Colour Khaki

Throttling Iraq

The Arrival of the Taliban

Springtime for NATO

The Luck of a Crazy Youth (Interview with Ernest Mandel)

Literature and Market Realism

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The corruption that makes unpeople of an entire nation by John Pilger

In his column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the latest chapter in the extraordinary story of the 'mass kidnapping' of the people of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean, British citizens expelled from their homeland to make way for an American military base.

On 22 October, Britain's highest court of appeal, the Law Lords, demonstrated how British power words at its apex by handing down a transparently political judgement that dismissed the Magna Carta and banned an entire nation from ever going home.I went to the Houses of Parliament on 22 October to join a disconsolate group of shivering people who had arrived from a faraway tropical place and were being prevented from entering the Public Gallery to hear their fate. This was not headline news; the BBC reporter seemed almost embarrassed. Crimes of such magnitude are not news when they are ours, and neither is injustice or corruption at the apex of British power.

Lizette Talatte was there, her tiny frail self swallowed by the cavernous stone grey of Westminster Hall. I first saw her in a Colonial Office film from the 1950s which described her homeland, the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as a paradise long settled by people “born and brought up in conditions most tranquil and benign”. Lizette was then 14 years old. She remembers the producer saying to her and her friends, “Keep smiling, girls!”. When we met in Mauritius, four years ago, she said: “We didn’t need to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in Diego Garcia. My great-grandmother was born there, and I made six children there. Maybe only the English can make a film that showed we were an established community, then deny their own evidence and invent the lie that we were transient workers.”

During the 1960s and 1970s British governments, Labour and Tory, tricked and expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, more than 2,000 British citizens, so that Diego Garcia could be given to the United States as the site for a military base. It was an act of mass kidnapping carried out in high secrecy. As unclassified official files now show, Foreign Office officials conspired to lie, coaching each other to “maintain” and “argue” the “fiction” that the Chagossians existed only as a “floating population”.

On 28 July 1965, a senior Foreign Office official, T C D Jerrom, wrote to the British representative at the United Nations, instructing him to lie to the General Assembly that the Chagos Archipelago was “uninhabited when the United Kingdom government first acquired it”.
Nine years later, the Ministry of Defence went further, lying that “there is nothing in our files about inhabitants [of the Chagos] or about an evacuation”.

“To get us out of our homes,” Lizette told me, “they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs. The American soldiers who had arrived to build the base backed several of their big vehicles against a brick shed, and hundreds of dogs were rounded up and imprisoned there, and they gassed them through a tube from the trucks’ exhaust. You could hear them crying. Then they burned them on a pyre, many still alive.”

Lizette and her family were finally forced on to a rusting freighter and made to lie on a cargo of bird fertiliser during a voyage, through stormy seas, to the slums of Port Louis, Mauritius. Within months, she had lost Jollice, aged eight, and Regis, aged ten months. “They died of sadness,” she said. “The eight-year-old had seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. The doctor said he could not treat sadness.”

Since 2000, no fewer than nine high court judgments have described these British government actions as “illegal”, “outrageous” and “repugnant”. One ruling cited Magna Carta, which says no free man can be sent into exile. In desperation, the Blair government used the royal prerogative – the divine right of kings – to circumvent the courts and parliament and to ban the islanders from even visiting the Chagos. When this, too, was overturned by the high court, the government was rescued by the law lords, of whom a majority of one (three to two) found for the government in a scandalously inept, political manner. In the weasel, almost flippant words of Lord Hoffmann, “the right of abode is a creature of the law. The law gives it and the law takes it away.”

Forget Magna Carta. Human rights are in the gift of three stooges doing the dirty work of a government, itself lawless.As the official files show, the Chagos conspiracy and cover-up involved three prime ministers and 13 cabinet ministers, including those who approved “the plan”. But elite corruption is unspeakable in Britain. I know of no work of serious scholarship on this crime against humanity. The honourable exception is the work of the historian Mark Curtis, who describes the Chagossians as “unpeople”.

The reason for this silence is ideological. Courtier commentators and media historians obstruct our view of the recent past, ensuring, as Harold Pinter pointed out in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, that while the “systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought” in Stalinist Russia were well known in the west, the great state crimes of western governments “have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented”.

Typically, the pop historian Tristram Hunt writes in the Observer (23 November): “Nestling in the slipstream of American hegemony served us well in the 20th century. The bonds of culture, religion, language and ideology ensured Britain a postwar economic bailout, a nuclear deterrent and the continuing ability to ‘punch above our weight’ on the world stage. Thanks to US patronage, our story of decolonisation was for us a relatively painless affair...”

Not a word of this drivel hints at the transatlantic elite’s Cold War paranoia, which put us all in mortal danger, or the rapacious Anglo-American wars that continue to claim untold lives. As part of the “bonds” that allow us to “punch above our weight”, the US gave Britain a derisory $14m discount off the price of Polaris nuclear missiles in exchange for the Chagos Islands, whose “painless decolonisation” was etched on Lizette Talatte’s face the other day. Never forget, Lord Hoffmann, that she, too, will die of sadness.

India's Leaders Need to Look Closer to Home, The Assault on Mumbai By TARIQ ALI

The terrorist assault on Mumbai’s five-star hotels was well planned, but did not require a great deal of logistic intelligence: all the targets were soft. The aim was to create mayhem by shining the spotlight on India and its problems and in that the terrorists were successful. The identity of the black-hooded group remains a mystery.

The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.

The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has insisted that the terrorists were based outside the country. The Indian media has echoed this line of argument with Pakistan (via the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and al-Qaeda listed as the usual suspects.

But this is a meditated edifice of official India’s political imagination. Its function is to deny that the terrorists could be a homegrown variety, a product of the radicalization of young Indian Muslims who have finally given up on the indigenous political system. To accept this view would imply that the country’s political physicians need to heal themselves.

Al Qaeda, as the CIA recently made clear, is a group on the decline. It has never come close to repeating anything vaguely resembling the hits of 9/11.

Its principal leader Osama bin Laden may well be dead (he certainly did not make his trademark video intervention in this year’s Presidential election in the United States) and his deputy has fallen back on threats and bravado.

What of Pakistan? The country’s military is heavily involved in actions on its Northwest frontier where the spillage from the Afghan war has destabilized the region. The politicians currently in power are making repeated overtures to India. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, not usually shy of claiming its hits, has strongly denied any involvement with the Mumbai attacks.

Why should it be such a surprise if the perpetrators are themselves Indian Muslims? Its hardly a secret that there has been much anger within the poorest sections of the Muslim community against the systematic discrimination and acts of violence carried out against them of which the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in shining Gujarat was only the most blatant and the most investigated episode, supported by the Chief Minister of the State and the local state apparatuses.

Add to this the continuing sore of Kashmir which has for decades been treated as a colony by Indian troops with random arrests, torture and rape of Kashmiris an everyday occurrence. Conditions have been much worse than in Tibet, but have aroused little sympathy in the West where the defense of human rights is heavily instrumentalised.

Indian intelligence outfits are well aware of all this and they should not encourage the fantasies of their political leaders. Its best to come out and accept that there are severe problems inside the country. A billion Indians: 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. A very large minority that cannot be ethnically cleansed without provoking a wider conflict.

None of this justifies terrorism, but it should, at the very least, force India’s rulers to direct their gaze on their own country and the conditions that prevail. Economic disparities are profound. The absurd notion that the trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve most problems can now be seen for what it always was: a fig leaf to conceal new modes of exploitation.

Tariq Ali’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power’ is published by Scribner.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Green Left Weekly Editorial : Rudd’s first year — style over substance

The first 12 months of Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor government have proved to be a continuation of the conservative, pro-war and anti-environmental politics of the Howard years.

The major difference between the two governments has been a difference in style rather than substance. The previous government of John Howard stands condemned for refusing to recognise the threat of climate change or take any steps to limit Australia’s greenhouse emissions. Under Rudd, dealing with climate change is a stated government priority. But Rudd’s actual policies are dangerously inadequate to meet the climate emergency we face.

From a purely public relations standpoint, Rudd’s symbolic gestures on climate change appear successful. He immediately signed the Kyoto agreement. He announced his support for government investment in renewable energy. He formed a new ministry for climate change under Penny Wong. These relatively painless measures raised hopes that the new government took climate change seriously. But the reality has proved to be very different. No widespread shift to renewable energy use is underway, or has even been conceived. No moves to rapidly expand public transport have been made.

No legislation mandating drastic improvements in energy efficiency for industry or agriculture has been drafted. The priority has been given to discredited market-driven emissions schemes and non-existent technologies like so-called clean coal. Emission reduction targets have been set at hazardously low levels in accordance with what big business will accept. The latest alarming climate science has been studiously ignored. * * * * * * Like the articles? Reading Green Left Weekly online is free, but producing it isn’t. To support the independent media and help GLW reach its $250,000 fighting fund target, donate now. * * * * * * Soothing rhetoric aside, Rudd’s climate agenda mirrors that of straight-talking Howard: business as usual will prevail. Damian Lawson and David Spratt pinpoint the essence of the ALP’s approach in the November Rolling Stone: “Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have adopted a traditional Labor approach to the climate problem: something for the environment lobby and something for business. “But the problem is that solving the climate crisis cannot be treated like a wage deal, with the demands of each side balanced somewhere in the middle. It is not possible to negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry. The planet cannot be bought off. There are absolute limits that should not be crossed, and doing something, but not enough, will still lead to disaster.” Rudd’s eloquent apology to Australian Aborigines moved many who longed for a decisive shift away from the racism of the Howard years. Not only did Rudd deliver a long-overdue recognition to the Stolen Generations, but he promised to “embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed”. Yet no new solutions — solutions that involve and empower Aboriginal people — have been realised. The racist intervention into the Northern Territory initiated under Howard has continued. The Rudd government is intent on extending welfare quarantining and the suspension of services to “unviable” communities to Aboriginal people in other states. Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal control over their own affairs have always been especially opposed by the mining and pastoral industries — two powerful players in Australia’s unsustainable economy. The NT intervention was conceived under Howard to undermine the past gains of the Aboriginal rights movement in these areas while simultaneously shifting blame for ongoing poverty onto Aboriginal people themselves. Rudd’s continuation of the intervention, albeit with minor adjustments, signals that the ALP is willing to finish the job that Howard started.

The same can be said for the Rudd government’s record on workers’ rights. The union-led campaign against the Howard government’s anti-union Work Choices laws was the biggest single factor that led to the ALP election victory in November 2007. In the lead-up to the election Rudd exploited this public anger, promising to “rip up” Work Choices and protect the rights of Australian workers. Twelve months later, the key parts of Howard’s undemocratic Work Choices remain intact. The Australian Building and Construction Commission is still empowered to carry out its witch-hunt against the building industry unions. Meanwhile the Rudd government, with the help of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is preparing to sell a rotten compromise to the union movement. Instead of Work Choices, Rudd will deliver Australian workers “Work Choices Lite”.

Australian government support for the bogus “war on terror” and the brutal wars in Iraq and especially Afghanistan have also continued under the Rudd government. Rudd, like Howard before him, has blood on his hands. The similarity between the two major parties when in power is no accident or mistake. Both are committed to defending the profit system at the expense of people and the planet. Temporarily, Rudd has succeeded in deflecting much of the public anger at these policies through symbolic actions. But as capitalism descends into a deep economic and environmental crisis, Rudd’s extended “honeymoon” is certain to come up against the harsh reality. Working people will increasingly demand secure employment, maintenance of living standards and a safe climate for their grandchildren. These are things that the Rudd government cannot deliver without breaking its loyalty to big business.

Style cannot substitute for substance forever.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #776 26 November 2008.

ALP, media targets militant ETU unionist by Margarita Windisch

On November 12, Melbourne’s Herald Sun launched an attack on Electrical Trades Union (ETU) southern states branch secretary Dean Mighell, with a front-page article accusing the unionist of having spent $80,000 of ETU members’ money on a luxury trip to Britain in 2006.

The Herald Sun continued the assault on Mighell in its pages for another couple of days, changing facts and figures and even dedicating an editorial to the “luxury union junket affair”. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and other publications all carried the story prominently as well. Green Left Weekly’s Margarita Windisch spoke with Mighell about the validity of the accusations.

“Green Left Weekly readers would know that the Herald Sun is probably the premiere anti-union newspaper in the country, which will even get worse with the new editor. The Herald Sun simply wants to get at unions, they have done it for years”, Mighell explained. He said that the most ridiculous part of the attack on him was that no union members’ money had been spent at all. “It was the surplus from the Protect industry fund that paid for the trip. It is the best severance and income protection scheme in the country and one we are extremely proud of.”

Protect was established as a partnership between the ETU and National Electrical Contractors Association and is an employer-funded scheme. By law, members’ entitlement money cannot be touched, but the interest accumulated can be invested. According to Protect’s website the fund is controlled by a legally enforceable trust deed and has a five member director’s board. The ETU is involved in all aspects of decision-making and also has a controlling interest on the board.

Mighell told GLW that aim of the 2006 trip was to investigate how Britain administers a secure and portable annual leave scheme, which the ETU has been trying to get for its members in Australia. “It was a high-level delegation. Three employer body representatives went together with three unionists: two from the ETU — myself and Howard Worthing — and one from the plumbers union, along with a financial systems person and a commercial lawyer. “The ETU has made claims on employers to introduce a portable annual leave scheme for a while. Most of our members’ annual leave is not locked up in a trust fund and we have seen too many companies fold and members loose their annual leave entitlements”, he explained.

During the trip Mighell also took the opportunity to investigate British industrial relations more generally. “They do their bargaining on a national level in accordance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, unlike under to Rudd’s industrial relations laws where we are forced to do individual enterprise bargaining agreements”.

Mighell explained that the campaign against him involves ETU member Vanessa Garbett, who has been quoted in the media, and the ALP. According to Mighell, Garbett had made vexatious claims against the ETU relating to her past employment by the union. The Equal Opportunity Commission rejected Garbett’s claim of discrimination in her former employment with the ETU — a claim not even supported by her own union at the time, the Australian Services Union.

Mighell said Garbett demanded $22,000 of ETU members’ money to be paid to her to “go away”, which he refused. “The ETU has done nothing wrong with her employment and then next week she is the public face of an outrageous and incorrect statement to the media”, said Mighell.

Mighell is convinced that had he been a loyal member of the ALP, the trip would never have been an issue at all. “I have got evidence against several members of the ALP who have been working away at undermining me ever since the Kororoit by-election where we supported an independent candidate against the ALP candidate”, he said.

The ETU also donated $200,000 to the Greens’ 2007 senate campaign and has supported many other progressive candidates in elections, including Socialist Alliance candidates. The ETU has internal elections coming up in 2010, which the ALP will be contesting, Mighell believes. “The ALP people have threatened me at the Kororoit by-elections that if we continued to support non-ALP candidates then their machine — that’s what they called it — … would be contesting us at the next ETU elections and be spending $500,000 in getting rid of me as a leader”, he said. “I have no doubt that elements in the ALP are fundamental in this current attack on me, which is an attack on my union. If I hadn’t been an outspoken union leader and put my members’ interests ahead of political ambition and hadn’t supported candidates that are in members’ best interests but instead the ALP gang, no matter how bad they are, I would have not been under this attack”, Mighell said.

Other trade unionists have come to his support. At a November 12 Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union shop stewards’ meeting in Melbourne, a motion was passed unanimously, condemning the media- and ALP-led attack on Mighell. Gary Robb, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union assistant state secretary of the metal division and Tim Gooden, Geelong and Regions Trades and Labour Council (GRTLC) secretary, agree that the current smear campaign against Mighell is a political witch-hunt against a militant union leader who dared to stand up to the ALP.

Both call on people to support Mighell, reject the tactics by the ALP and focus on Mighell’s achievements for the union movement and his members in particular. Mighell has been invited to be the guest speaker at the GRTLC centenary celebration dinner next year.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #776 26 November 2008.

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Kabul 30 Years Ago, and Kabul Today. Have We Learned Nothing? 'Terrorists' were in Soviet sights; now they are in the Americans'. by Robert Fisk

I sit on the rooftop of the old Central Hotel - pharaonic-decorated elevator, unspeakable apple juice, sublime green tea, and armed Tajik guards at the front door - and look out across the smoky red of the Kabul evening. The Bala Hissar fort glows in the dusk, massive portals, the great keep to which the British army should have moved its men in 1841. Instead, they felt the king should live there and humbly built a cantonment on the undefended plain, thus leading to a "signal catastrophe".

Like automated birds, the kites swoop over the rooftops. Yes, the kite-runners of Kabul, minus Hollywood. At night, the thump of American Sikorsky helicopters and the whisper of high-altitude F-18s invade my room. The United States of America is settling George Bush's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Hamid Karzai's corrupt government.

Now rewind almost 29 years, and I am on the balcony of the Intercontinental Hotel on the other side of this great, cold, fuggy city. Impeccable staff, frozen Polish beer in the bar, secret policemen in the front lobby, Russian troops parked in the forecourt. The Bala Hissar fort glimmers through the smoke. The kites - green seems a favourite colour - move beyond the trees. At night, the thump of Hind choppers and the whisper of high-altitude MiGs invade my room. The Soviet Union is settling Leonid Brezhnev's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Barbrak Karmal's corrupt government.

Thirty miles north, all those years ago, a Soviet general told us of the imminent victory over the "terrorists" in the mountains, imperialist "remnants" - the phrase Kabul communist radio always used - who were being supported by America and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Fast forward to 2001 - just seven years ago - and an American general told us of the imminent victory over the "terrorists" in the mountains, the all but conquered Taliban who were being supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Russian was pontificating at the big Soviet airbase at Bagram. The American general was pontificating at the big US airbase at Bagram.
This is not déjà-vu. This is déjà double-vu. And it gets worse.

Almost 29 years ago, the Afghan "mujahedin" began a campaign to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls in the remote mountain passes, legislation pushed through by successive communist governments. Schools were burned down. Outside Jalalabad, I found a headmaster and his headmistress wife burned to death. Today, the Afghan Taliban are campaigning to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls - indeed the very education of young women - across the great deserts of Kandahar and Helmand. Schools have been burned down. Teachers have been executed.

As the Soviets began to suffer more and more casualties, their officers boasted of the increasing prowess of the Afghan National Army, the ANA. Infiltrated though they were by the "mujahedin", Moscow gave them newer tanks and helped to train new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital.

Fast forward to now. As the Americans and British suffer ever greater casualties, their officers boast of the increasing prowess of the ANA. Infiltrated though they are by the Taliban, America and other Nato states are providing them with newer equipment and training new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital. Back in January of 1980, I could take a bus from Kabul to Kandahar. Seven years later, the broken highway was haunted by "mujahedin" fighters and bandits and the only safe way to travel to Kandahar was by air.

In the immediate aftermath of America's arrival here in 2001, I could take a bus from Kabul to Kandahar. Now, seven years later, the highway - rebuilt on the express instructions of George W but already cracked and swamped with sand - is haunted by Taliban fighters and bandits and the only safe way to travel to Kandahar is by air.

Throughout the 1980s, the Soviets and the ANA held the towns but lost most of the country. Today, America and its allies and the ANA hold most of the towns but have lost the southern half of the country. The Soviets secretly sent another 9,000 troops to join their 115,000-strong occupation force to fight the "mujahedin". Today, the Americans are publicly sending another 7,000 troops to join their 55,000-strong occupation force to fight the Taliban.

In 1980, I would sneak down to Chicken Street to buy old books in the dust-filled shops, cheap and illegal Pakistani reprints of the memoirs of British Empire officers while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for a Russian. Last week, I sneaked down to the Shar Book shop, which is filled with the very same illicit volumes, while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for an American (or, indeed, a Brit). I find Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The Fall Of The Taliban and drive back to my hotel through the streets of wood-smoked Kabul to read it in my ill-lit room.

In 1840, Tanner writes, Britain's supply line from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul was being threatened by Afghan fighters, "British officers on the crucial supply line through Peshawar... insulted and attacked". I fumble through my bag for a clipping from a recent copy of Le Monde. It marks Nato's main supply route from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul, and illustrates the location of each Taliban attack on the convoys bringing fuel and food to America's allies in Afghanistan.

Then I prowl through one of the Pakistani retread books I have found and discover General Roberts of Kandahar telling the British in 1880 that "we have nothing to fear from Afghanistan, and the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself... I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us".

Memo to the Americans, the Brits, the Canadians and the rest of Humpty Dumpty's men. Read Roberts. Read history.

Published on Sunday, November 23, 2008 by The Independent/UK

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Operation Enduring Disaster, Breaking with Afghan Policy By Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war for 30 years, longer than both World Wars and the American war in Vietnam combined. Each occupation of the country has mimicked its predecessor. A tiny interval between wars saw the imposition of a malignant social order, the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistani military and the late Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister who approved the Taliban takeover in Kabul.

Over the last two years, the U.S./NATO occupation of that country has run into serious military problems. Given a severe global economic crisis and the election of a new American president -- a man separated in style, intellect, and temperament from his predecessor -- the possibility of a serious discussion about an exit strategy from the Afghan disaster hovers on the horizon. The predicament the U.S. and its allies find themselves in is not an inescapable one, but a change in policy, if it is to matter, cannot be of the cosmetic variety.

Washington's hawks will argue that, while bad, the military situation is, in fact, still salvageable. This may be technically accurate, but it would require the carpet-bombing of southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the destruction of scores of villages and small towns, the killing of untold numbers of Pashtuns and the dispatch to the region of at least 200,000 more troops with all their attendant equipment, air, and logistical support. The political consequences of such a course are so dire that even Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Dr. Strangelove that Washington has yet produced, has been uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to suggesting a military solution to the conflict.

It has, by now, become obvious to the Pentagon that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his family cannot deliver what is required and yet it is probably far too late to replace him with UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. On his part, fighting for his political (and probably physical) existence, Karzai continues to protect his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, accused of being involved in the country's staggering drug trade, but has belatedly sacked Hamidullah Qadri, his transport minister, for corruption.

Qadri was taking massive kickbacks from a company flying pilgrims to Mecca. Is nothing sacred?
A Deteriorating Situation

Of course, axing one minister is like whistling in the wind, given the levels of corruption reported in Karzai's government, which, in any case, controls little of the country. The Afghan president parries Washington's thrusts by blaming the U.S. military for killing too many civilians from the air. The bombing of the village of Azizabad in Herat province last August, which led to 91 civilian deaths (of which 60 were children), was only the most extreme of such recent acts. Karzai's men, hurriedly dispatched to distribute sweets and supplies to the survivors, were stoned by angry villagers.

Given the thousands of Afghans killed in recent years, small wonder that support for the neo-Taliban is increasing, even in non-Pashtun areas of the country. Many Afghans hostile to the old Taliban still support the resistance simply to make it clear that they are against the helicopters and missile-armed unmanned aerial drones that destroy homes, and to "Big Daddy" who wipes out villages, and to the flames that devour children.

Last February, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell presented a bleak survey of the situation on the ground to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:
"Afghan leaders must deal with the endemic corruption and pervasive poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Ultimately, defeating the insurgency will depend heavily on the government's ability to improve security, deliver services, and expand development for economic opportunity.
"Although the international forces and the Afghan National Army continue to score tactical victories over the Taliban, the security situation has deteriorated in some areas in the south and Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul. The Taliban insurgency has expanded in scope despite operational disruption caused by the ISAF [NATO forces] and Operation Enduring Freedom operations. The death or capture of three top Taliban leaders last year -- their first high level losses -- does not yet appear to have significantly disrupted insurgent operations."

Since then the situation has only deteriorated further, leading to calls for sending in yet more American and NATO troops -- and creating ever deeper divisions inside NATO itself. In recent months, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador to Kabul, wrote a French colleague (in a leaked memo) that the war was lost and more troops were not a solution, a view reiterated recently by Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the British Defense Chief, who came out in public against a one-for-one transfer of troops withdrawn from Iraq to Kabul. He put it this way:
"I think we would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there… So we also have to get ourselves back into balance; it's crucial that we reduce the operational tempo for our armed forces, so it cannot be, even if the situation demanded it, just a one for one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan, we have to reduce that tempo."

The Spanish government is considering an Afghan withdrawal and there is serious dissent within the German and Norwegian foreign policy elites. The Canadian foreign minister has already announced that his country will not extend its Afghan commitment beyond 2011. And even if the debates in the Pentagon have not been aired in public, it's becoming obvious that, in Washington, too, some see the war as unwinnable.

Enter former Iraq commander General David Petraeus, center stage as the new CentCom commander. Ever since the "success" of "the surge" he oversaw in Iraq (a process designed to create temporary stability in that ravaged land by buying off the opposition and, among other things, the selective use of death squads), Petraeus sounds, and behaves, more and more like Lazarus on returning from the dead -- and before his body could be closely inspected.

The situation in Iraq was so dire that even a modest reduction in casualties was seen as a massive leap forward. With increasing outbreaks of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, however, the talk of success sounds ever hollower. To launch a new "surge" in Afghanistan now by sending more troops there will simply not work, not even as a public relations triumph. Perhaps some of the 100 advisers that General Petraeus has just appointed will point this out to him in forceful terms.

Flight Path to Disaster

Obama would be foolish to imagine that Petraeus can work a miracle cure in Afghanistan. The cancer has spread too far and is affecting U.S. troops as well. If the American media chose to interview active-duty soldiers in Afghanistan (on promise of anonymity), they might get a more accurate picture of what is happening inside the U.S. Army there.

I learned a great deal from Jules, a 20-year old American soldier I met recently in Canada. He became so disenchanted with the war that he decided to go AWOL, proving -- at least to himself -- that the Afghan situation was not an inescapable predicament. Many of his fellow soldiers, he claims, felt similarly, hating a war that dehumanized both them and the Afghans. "We just couldn't bring ourselves to accept that bombing Afghans was no different from bombing the landscape" was the way he summed up the situation.

Morale inside the Army there is low, he told me. The aggression unleashed against Afghan civilians often hides a deep depression. He does not, however, encourage others to follow in his footsteps. As he sees it, each soldier must make that choice for himself, accepting with it the responsibility that going AWOL permanently entails. Jules was convinced, however, that the war could not be won and did not want to see any more of his friends die. That's why he was wearing an "Obama out of Afghanistan" t-shirt.

Before he revealed his identity, I mistook this young soldier -- a Filipino-American born in southern California -- for an Afghan. His features reminded me of the Hazara tribesmen he must have encountered in Kabul. Trained as a mortar gunner and paratrooper from Fort Benning, Georgia, he was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. Here is part of the account he offered me:

"I deployed to Southeastern Afghanistan in January 2007. We controlled everything from Jalalabad down to the northernmost areas of Kandahar province in Regional Command East. My unit had the job of pacifying the insurgency in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces -- areas that had received no aid, but had been devastated during the initial invasion. Operation Anaconda [in 2002] was supposed to have wiped out the Taliban. That was the boast of the military leaders, but ridiculed by everyone else with a brain."

He spoke also of how impossible he found it to treat the Afghans as subhumans:
"I swear I could not for a second view these people as anything but human. The best way to fashion a young hard dick like myself -- dick being an acronym for 'dedicated infantry combat killer' -- is simple and the effect of racist indoctrination. Take an empty shell off the streets of L.A. or Brooklyn, or maybe from some Podunk town in Tennessee… and these days America isn't in short supply… I was one of those no-child-left-behind products…

"Anyway, you take this empty vessel and you scare the living shit out of him, break him down to nothing, cultivate a brotherhood and camaraderie with those he suffers with, and fill his head with racist nonsense like all Arabs, Iraqis, Afghans are Hajj. Hajj hates you. Hajj wants to hurt your family. Hajj children are the worst because they beg all the time. Just some of the most hurtful and ridiculous propaganda, but you'd be amazed at how effective it's been in fostering my generation of soldiers."

As this young man spoke to me, I felt he should be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The effect of the war on those carrying out the orders is leaving scars just as deep as the imprints of previous imperial wars. Change we can believe in must include the end of this, which means, among other things, a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In my latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, I have written of the necessity of involving Afghanistan's neighbors in a political solution that ends the war, preserves the peace, and reconstructs the country. Iran, Russia, India, and China, as well as Pakistan, need to be engaged in the search for a political solution that would sustain a genuine national government for a decade after the withdrawal of the Americans, NATO, and their quisling regime. However, such a solution is not possible within the context of the plans proposed by both present Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President-elect Barack Obama, which focus on a new surge of American troops in Afghanistan.

The main task at hand should be to create a social infrastructure and thus preserve the peace, something that the West and its horde of attendant non-governmental organizations have failed to do. School buildings constructed, often for outrageous sums, by foreign companies that lack furniture, teachers, and kids are part of the surreal presence of the West, which cannot last.
Whether you are a policymaker in the next administration or an AWOL veteran of the Afghan War in Canada, Operation Enduring Freedom of 2001 has visibly become Operation Enduring Disaster. Less clear is whether an Obama administration can truly break from past policy or will just create a military-plus add-on to it. Only a total break from the catastrophe that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld created in Afghanistan will offer pathways to a viable future.

For this to happen, both external and domestic pressures will probably be needed. China is known to be completely opposed to a NATO presence on, or near, its borders, but while Beijing has proved willing to exert economic pressure to force policy changes in Washington -- as it did when the Bank of China "cut its exposure to agency debt last summer," leaving U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson with little option but to functionally nationalize the mortgage giants -- it has yet to use its diplomatic muscle in the region.

But don't think that will last forever. Why wait until then? Another external pressure will certainly prove to be the already evident destabilizing effects of the Afghan war on neighboring Pakistan, a country in a precarious economic state, with a military facing growing internal tensions.

Domestic pressure in the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan remains weak, but could grow rapidly as the extent of the debacle becomes clearer and NATO allies refuse to supply the shock-troops for the future surge.

In the meantime, they're predicting a famine in Afghanistan this winter.

Tariq Ali, writer, journalist, filmmaker, contributes regularly to a range of publications including the Guardian, the Nation, and the London Review of Books. His most recent book, just published, is The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (Scribner, 2008).

In a two-part video, released by TomDispatch.com, he offers critical commentary on Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as on the tangled U.S.-Pakistani