AFGHANISTAN AGAIN April 28, 2008Posted by wmmbb in South West Asia.
As it happens my nephew served in Afghanistan for a tour of duty before he left the service, so that focused my attention. In these cases there is often a personal context, a historical context to frame the current developments, and the political, even geo-political, context. The long and involved history of Afghanistan is a story of imperialisms, and in the twentieth century the struggle for modernization and reaction to those attempts, and of a country in which the national state was notional, or subject to negotiation, rather than a common understanding among the peoples of Afghanistan.
ABC News Online reports:
The news of the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan has underlined the dire security situation in the country and brought fears that it will not be the last Australian casualty.
The danger was already clear enough after yesterday’s attack in which Taliban fighters got within 500 metres of President Hamid Karzai in a narrowly averted assassination attempt.
Twenty-seven-year-old Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) member Lance Corporal Jason Marks was killed early this morning during an attack on a “substantial number” of Taliban militants about 25 kilometres south of the Australian base at Tarin Kowt.
Lance Corporal Marks was a married father-of-two, his wife Casandra said his family was devastated.
The pertinent thing to note is that the Australian forces were attacking the so-called “Taliban”. They were the aggressors. The ABC report continues:
The death takes the Australian death toll in Afghanistan since 2001 to five, and has again put the focus on Australia’s military strategy.
Politicians, defence officials and experts on the region all agree the Australian death toll is likely to rise as the fight against the Taliban becomes bloodier – particularly in southern Afghanistan.
Earlier today Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the security situation in Afghanistan was “grim” and Australians need to prepare themselves for more casualties in a “difficult, dangerous and bloody” year ahead.
“This is a dangerous and difficult operating environment for the Australian Defence Forces and it is likely to become more difficult in the period ahead,” he said.
“2008 will be difficult, dangerous and bloody and the Australian nation needs to prepare itself for further losses in the year ahead.”
He said the Australian troop commitment in Afghanistan is for the long term, but it is not a blank cheque and he will be monitoring progress.
The fundamental problem that applies to the commitment of forces to Iraq as to Afghanistan is that members of Parliament, who are our representatives, do not take responsibility for the consequences. This was true for Howard as it is for Rudd. It is not good enough to hide behind assertions that this commitment is in the national interest without a full and free debate, in which members of Parliament take individual responsibility for the consequences and exercise their consciences. These commitments do not arise out of emergencies. This fundamental deficiency in the democratic process needs to be fixed, and could be fixed when the political will was made clear.
It was suggested to me that the military engagement had the approval of the United Nations. In that case, if the mission is peace keeping, then the operation should be under the direction of the United Nations. Of course, the Afghanistan involvement arose directly out of the criminal attacks in the United States on 9 September 2001, and was driven by the belligerent mentality of the US Government. What ever the “war on terror” might be, it is not in defence of human rights or liberty. We might usefully observe that the Taliban Government of Afghanistan was not involved in that activity, and it can be argued that their association with al Qaeda arose from the campaign, orchestrated by the United States, to drive the Soviets out of their country.
And then there is the question of military strategy. In my view the use of destructive means, violence, to obtain constructive ends is both very foolish and not likely the stated intended purpose. More often than not the people involved become in effect mercenaries for purposes and causes which are not the disinterested national interest, which at the last resort is the defence of Australia. ABC reports:
Professor Amin Saikal from the Australian National University has called for Australia to change its strategy in Afghanistan.
He says instead of the military focus, Australia should try to improve health, education and administration standards for the Afghan people.
“That’s where Australia could make a lot of contributions, perhaps it’s time for Australia to leave the security side of it to the United States and its European allies,” he said.
“Australia should really focus more on the areas where it could make a difference in terms of really winning the hearts and the minds of the Afghans.”
Of course, the Australian military is attempting to do both, and I do not doubt their good intentions. The question is what works in the long term.
Chris Floyd and Rich Kastelein at Empire Burlesque sceptically observe the recent sequence of events in Kabul:
On Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave an interview to Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, in which he blasted American and British conduct of the war in his country. Karzai said the Anglo-American powers should stop their incessant killing of civilians and quit conducting their “War on Terror” against Afghan villagers. Perhaps most remarkably, he called on the Western forces to stop targeting Taliban members and suspected sympathizers. The interview represented the harshest criticism he has ever levelled against the Western powers.
The very next day, in an amazing coincidence, Karzai was the target of a spectacular assassination attempt, on national television, with mortar fire and bullets raking a review stand at a military parade in the center of Kabul. Three people were killed, including a 10-year-old boy — but Karzai escaped unhurt, as did the American ambassador, the New York Times reports.
Perhaps, and that does not make it exceptional, everything is not as it seems in Afghanistan.
Commentator Mark Towhey’s blog features photos and first hand reports from Kabul and Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The blog, Development News from Afghanistan, appears to track related stories. (It is worthwhile taking note of relevant and interesting blog sites here because the “Possible Related Posts” disappear after a few days – or maybe they don’t. There are contrary views, but I am quite pleased about this innovation. It is great if the links fill in the gaps of my knowledge, of which there are many and often wide.
Barnett R Rubin at Informed Comment – Global Affairs engages in the debate that is absence from Australia.