Afghan whiteout: Millions face starvation Britain rejects war

IssueDecember 2008 - January 2009
Feature by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

Over two-thirds of the British public want all British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan within 12 months, according to a new BBC poll.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, for its part, conceded that more needed to be done to build public support for the war.

Professor Michael Clarke, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), observed that some people had a “perception of pointlessness” about the occupation.

Facing starvation
Almost unnoticed, as RUSI recently warned, various factors including a drought this summer, have created the conditions for a famine in Afghanistan this winter.

“While the eyes of the world have focused on violence which is increasingly terrorist in character, an estimated 8.4 million Afghans, perhaps a third of the nation, are now suffering from ‘chronic... food insecurity’,” RUSI analyst Paul Smyth wrote at the end of October.

Matt Waldman, Oxfam’s head of policy for Afghanistan, said in November: “There is an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan with millions of people already facing hunger, and the situation is compounded by higher levels of insecurity than at any point since 2001.”

A £270 million UN appeal to help the most vulnerable Afghans is not even half-funded, and snowfall has started in some areas. Soon it will be impossible to get stocks of aid, including food, into the more remote regions which get cut off in the winter.

Our values
We kill, we destroy, we massacre wedding parties and we don’t even give a few measly tens of millions of dollars – a few houses in Mayfair – to save five million of our victims from starving to death.

British spending on the Afghan war alone runs at around £20m a week – officially.

John Hutton, the new British defence secretary, said on 11 November that in Afghanistan, we are defending the values at stake in the First World War and the Second World War: “timeless values that have been preserved by previous generations: democracy, freedom, tolerance”.

Back in the real world, Britain is defending Second World War values alright – the values of Lidice, Dresden, the Warsaw ghetto and Hiroshima. Timeless values. Nazi values.

The British government showed utter recklessness regarding the fate of the Afghan people when it joined the US invasion in 2001, and it shows utter carelessness now.

The callous indifference of the British media to the impending famine speaks volumes about the terrorist values that rule in British culture.

Who opposes most
We don’t know if ordinary people feel just as callous as the British media and government in relation to the humanitarian emergency: they have not been informed of the crisis that is coming and so have no opinion.

In relation to the war, on the other hand, ordinary people are clearly not indifferent or uncaring. It isn’t clear exactly why a majority of people in Britain oppose the war – a genuine concern for the ordinary people of Afghanistan may or may not be the dominant motivation.

Whatever the cause, the November BBC/ICM poll found that British women (75% in favour of withdrawal) are much more anti-war than men (58% for getting out).

Young people and elders are also more anti-war than the middle-aged. (75% of 18-24s and 73% of over-65s are in favour of withdrawal, compared to 61% of those aged 45-54.)

Rich and high-status people are more pro-war than poorer people. According to the poll, as you go down the socio-economic ladder, you get growing opposition to the war. Perhaps poorer people are closer to the timeless values of democracy, freedom, tolerance; perhaps they are less willing to destroy wedding parties in order to save them; or perhaps they simply have a keener sense of the “pointlessness” of an endless war against the people of Afghanistan.

No morals
Cricketer-turned-Pakistani-politician Imran Khan told the Independent on Sunday recently: “There are no morals in this war…. The American attitude is shocking. All they want is obedient slaves.”

Khan told the story of a colleague whose brother and nephew were killed, and whose son lost both his legs in a Pakistani helicopter gunship attack. The man told Khan: “I would pick up a gun now and fight… for the Taliban. I don’t like the Taliban. But I will join them, because that is how I will seek justice.”

Imran Khan said: “If my women, my wife, my family, was hurt by a bomb or killed, I would pick up a gun” against the US.

The poll of 1,013 people was carried out by ICM over the period 31 October – 2 November. The only question was: “Do you think that Britain should or should not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within the next 12 months?”

Topics: Afghanistan