1 April 2009Feature

All the news that’s fit to print (or pretty nearly ignore if you’re the mainstream media).

Obama’s Guantanamo
On coming into office, US president Barack Obama promised to shut down the US prison camp for suspected terrorists on Guantanamo within a year and to fight terrorism “in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals”. As our last issue went to press, Obama quietly indicated that he will continue to deny the right to trial to hundreds of terror suspects held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, a place human rights lawyers call “Obama’s Guantanamo”. Bagram…

1 April 2009News

US talks peace and escalates war – in both Pakistan and Afghanistan

US president Barack Obama came to power promising both to talk to his enemies and to “finish the job” in Afghanistan (a phrase he used while visiting Kabul in July 2008). We are now seeing how these contradictory pledges are shaping US policy: “talking to enemies” has been revealed to be little more than propaganda; “finishing off the enemy” – through military escalation – is the core policy. The escalation is not only in Afghanistan, but across the border into Pakistan, and not only in the…

1 April 2009Review

Zed, 2008; ISBN 978-1842779569; 272pp; £14.99

It is now over seven years since US and British forces invaded Afghanistan. For much of this time there has been little news about the country, with the attention of the US and anti-war activists focused on Iraq. This is now changing however, and Obama has followed up his campaign pledges by committing an extra 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan. Britain enthusiastically supported this move, and is likely to increase the 9,000 UK troops already there.

In this context then, increasing our…

3 March 2009Comment

When are we going to wake up? When is the war in Afghanistan going to become a burning issue in this country? When is it going to become a burning issue for the British peace movement?

As we approach the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, we see a welcome, if belated and timid, awakening of concern about the war in mainstream circles in both Britain and the US. What about the peace movement? If we are honest with ourselves, neither the traditional peace movement nor…

1 March 2009News

“Are you really asking me this goddamn silly question?” – Walt Rostow, National Security Adviser to Lyndon Johnson

In Peter Davis’s documentary Hearts and Minds, Walt Rostow – a man with ample blood on his hands – famously lost his cool when asked to explain how the US got involved in Vietnam, demanding that the clip be dropped from the film… while on film. Rostow’s fulminations are a high point of the movie, and his eventual answer (“The problem began in its present phase after the Sputnik…”) incredible in the literal sense of the word. It was a good question, and I’ve yet to give a talk on Afghanistan…

1 March 2009News

A recent poll in Afghanistan has found a majority condemning Western airstrikes in the country, and calling for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

Meanwhile US president Barack Obama continues with his escalation of the Afghan conflict. On 17 February, it was reported that Obama had authorised the deployment of up to 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan. According to the BBC poll (see below for more details), this is a highly unpopular move.


1 March 2009News

Confronted with evidence of wide-ranging fraud on his behalf in Afghanistan’s recent presidential election, Hamid Karzai told Le Figaro: “There was fraud in 2004, and there is today, and there will be tomorrow.”

He had a point. While Tony Blair praised the 2004 presidential elections as a “magnificent tribute … to the power of democracy”, the reality was very different.

Vote early, vote often

Then, as now, “Voters in many rural areas [were] told by warlords and…

1 February 2009News

On 10 December, the former minister Kim Howells, who was in charge of Afghanistan at the Foreign Office for over three years before he stepped down in October, spoke up in the House of Commons, and lambasted the war effort.

Howells accused Afghanistan of corruption at the “institutional, provincial and personal level”. There are “few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving…

1 February 2009News

According to the Washington Post, “the incoming [Obama] administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like ‘surge’ of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years” but instead “expects that the new deployments… will help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy for what Obama has called ‘the central front on terror’” (13…

16 December 2008Feature

Over two-thirds of the British public want all British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan within 12 months, according to a new BBC poll. Meanwhile, five million Afghans are facing a winter of starvation because of “donor fatigue”.

The BBC/ICM poll, published to coincide with a 13 November Radio 4 debate on withdrawal from Afghanistan, met with a resounding silence from the political establishment, and the barest of mentions within the mainstream media.

The Ministry of Defence…

3 December 2008Comment

Back in September eight short video films were shown in Stroud to mark World Peace Day. Collectively the films tried to answer this question: what does it take to build peace? The screening of the films was followed by a discussion with some of the film makers on the subject “Can Art promote a culture of peace?” Heady stuff and around 30 people attended and took part. I attended too and found each of the eight films powerful in their various ways. The film that most touched me, however, was…

3 December 2008Comment

Afghanistan has now become a big concern for me. The situation in the country is even more complicated than that in Iraq, the schedule for withdrawal has been timed for several decades away, and the death toll of Afghans is unknown and impossible to log. I have a feeling of fear and dread as to what is going to happen next for the Afghans after years of control by the Taliban and now foreign occupation.

Last week I listened to a Radio 4 discussion about whether the UK should pull its…

1 December 2008News

At least 40 civilians were killed in an airstrike on a wedding party in Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar province in Afghanistan on 3 November. 40 is the official Afghan government estimate; local residents reported that 90 people had been killed or wounded.

“I counted 90 dead bodies,” said Abdul Rahim, 26, who said he was a survivor of the family that hosted the wedding party. “I saw them with my own eyes,” he said in a telephone interview from Kandahar Province.

Rahim told…

1 December 2008News

Building on plans and programmes set in motion by the outgoing Bush administration, president-elect Barack Obama intends to escalate the US war in Afghanistan, and to force Britain to sharply increase its troop strength there from 8,000 to 11,000 soldiers on the ground.

There are already plans to spend $100 million next year expanding Kandahar airport to house 26 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft for a US army ODIN (“observe, detect, identify and…

1 December 2008News

While the majority of Afghans want a negotiated solution to the present conflict, the outgoing Bush administration seems to see negotiations only as a tactic to weaken the enemy. At the same time, the incoming Obama administration seems to be turning against the idea of holding next year’s Afghan presidential elections.

As pointed out in previous PNs, a September 2007 poll found 74% of people in Afghanistan favoured negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban, and 54…