Afghanistan: the case against the “good war”

Afghanistan: the case against the “good war”

Issue: 120
Posted: 2 October 08
Jonathan Neale

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on earth. More than a million Afghans have died in 30 years of war, and almost everyone has lost someone close to them. Now George Bush, John McCain, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, and even Barack Obama, call for more troops to be sent, more planes and more death.

In every country in Europe majorities in opinion polls are against participation in the Afghan war. Yet the media still present it as a good war. Iraq, they now admit, was a crime or wrong or maybe just a mistake. But Afghanistan is a war on terrorists, we are told; on fanatics, jihadis, sexists, savages; on people who are not “modern” and therefore deserve to die.

This article will argue differently. My central points are these:

* First, there was almost no resistance when the Americans first invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and for the three years afterwards. The resistance has been produced by the occupation.

* Second, that resistance is led by the right wing Taliban because they are the only organised force who have been root and branch opposed to the occupation. It is also because back in the 1980s Communists and feminists supported another invasion, by the Soviet Union. Soviet troops killed between half a million and a million Afghans, and discredited the left and feminists for at least a generation.

* Third, the resistance is spreading, growing and winning. As a result, the occupying powers are coming under intense pressure to launch a massive air war against villagers and to invade Pakistan.

* Fourth, there are no easy outcomes for Afghans in this situation, but the best one is a victory for the resistance.1

The origins of the 30 years war

I will begin with the Communists.2 One afternoon in the autumn of 1971 I stood on the side of the unpaved main street in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, and watched a protest by high school boys who took turns standing on a wooden box. They didn’t give speeches. The boy on the box would just shout a slogan loudly, and his mates would cheer. Most of the boys who took a turn had only one slogan: “Death to the khans.”

These children were brave. Khan is the Pushtu word for the man who is a big landowner and local power. These boys were not calling for the end to an abstract social category. They were calling for the physical killing of the men who held power in their villages, who ruled the lives of their fathers and mothers. Only 30 boys, or a bit fewer, had the courage to stand in that crowd. But around the edges of the street many adult men stood and watched, silently, never looking away, betraying nothing on their faces. There were a couple of policemen watching. More important, the secret police were in every urban crowd, and feared for good reason. There were informers in every village too. If you lived in a village and knew people, a flicker across their faces would tell you when one of the local informers entered the room.

No one said anything. No one smiled. If they did, the khan would know. But the silence spoke approval.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: