by Andrew Field, in Harare
The very sad loss of life by soldiers in the Afghanistan war, in such numbers as in the past few days, raises the question, just what are the British, or for that matter the Americans, or any other foreign troops doing there? During the last couple of days United States President, Barrack Obama is quoted as saying ‘deadly conflict in Afghanistan is a “serious fight” but one essential for the future stability of the country’. He believes ‘the mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do’, adding that ‘the likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.’ Gordon Brown, reiterates the point and speaks of the UK’s military deployment there being aimed at preventing terrorism in the United Kingdom. Really?
The now stale justification that foreign military domination of a country can some how prevent terrorism in the far off United Kingdom is wearing a little thin. It is bordering on the naïve, and its difficult to fathom how these, presumably great, men can follow the same mindset. The point is that the people of Afghanistan will have to be masters of their own destiny in the long term. That means if a Taliban government resumes power (through either force or democracy), they will provide a haven for their religious brethren, al-Qaeda. If the Taliban do not regain a political foothold, at the cost of hundreds of British and American troops, the attrition of these religious zealots will never cease and the true foe will continue to have its refuge.
Either way, al-Qaeda is expected to pursue its wicked ways against Western imperialism. It seems to many that Britain and the United States should be taking their war to al-Qaeda, but are actually bogged down with fighting a surrogate ‘terrorist’ to achieve their objective, or is Taliban al-Qaeda? Clearly, the war against ‘our’ surrogate terrorist can never be won, without either:
- the total breakdown or elimination of the Taliban, and that means erasing its extremist philosophies too, or
- political settlement with these extremists, which is acceptable to both western ‘protagonists’ and the majority of Afghans.
Let us believe those high echelons of the British military for a moment, and accept that the war against the Taliban can be won. The reality of this is that both the British and the United States are going to have to take the gloves off and get dirty. They will need to ‘eliminate’ a sector of the Afghan people and destroy its beliefs by both solid force and scrupulous oppression, an idea that goes against the grain of democratic thinking most thoroughly. There will be much ‘liberal’ squealing at home. We know the kid gloves will not come off and the spectre of winning will elude those nations who try.
So then, surely it is up to politicians to achieve a political settlement with extremism. Viewpoints here are so massively divergent and they cross religious terrain too. Most of us are still trying to comprehend what al-Qaeda’s cause with the West is, apart from the obvious religious counter-crusade of Muslim fundamentalism. The clear lead to achieving ‘settlement’ with terrorists is to bring their support base, the Afghan people, at grass roots level, on sides. Alienate Afghans from the Taliban. A massive inflow of development and infrastructure, which touches the heart of the Afghan people, would evidently help, and is helping, apparently. But this ‘softening up’ approach comes with foreign strings and influences, and taboos too for Muslim people. It is a difficult, though not impossible, situation to achieve political compromise, but why should the British and Americans be troubling themselves with this? Why are these nations pouring money into this baron, alien territory?
Whatever the Afghanistan endplay, one is still forced to ask, how is this going to stop al-Qaeda terrorism in the West? A war won in Afghanistan will surely be another war started in Pakistan or some other Muslim nation. What of other fundamentalist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba? Western political and military strategies need to be thoroughly re-evaluated and focused more against the true enemy, and that, many might suggest, will happen at home, rather than abroad in some dusty valley.