Afghanistan: Reading between the lines

Linked with Eric Walberg – Canada. – Published on Online Journal, by Eric Walberg, May 28, 2010.

The movement to “get the troops out now!” has found unlikely converts in the form of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition in Britain. The election campaign suggested nothing new could be expected from any of the parties on Afghanistan, despite the fact that over 70 percent of Britons want the troops home.

So eyebrows were raised with the news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was Prime Minister David Cameron’s first visitor at Chequers. They went higher still when Foreign Minister William Hague made his first foreign destination Kabul, where he called for the withdrawal of troops as soon as possible. 

Accompanying Hague, Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox seconded the new approach, saying, “We have to reset expectations and timelines. National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”

Britain’s new coalition government also announced it would reduce the defence budget by at least 25 percent as part of massive cuts across the board to try to save the bankrupt British economy …

… There is little incentive for the Taliban to cave in to pressures to disband, visit sunny Maldives or retire to even sunnier Saudi Arabia. Kabul MP and former presidential candidate Ramazan Bashardost last week called for NATO troops to evacuate Kabul to avoid further civilian casualties. The call came two days after a suicide bomber rammed a convoy of NATO forces in Kabul, killing 12 civilians and six foreign soldiers, including visiting Canadian Colonel Geoff Parker. But if NATO troops can’t function in Kabul — the only part of the country the Karzai government “controls” — where can they function?

After the NATO campaign in Marja, it is once again in Taliban hands in all but name. As the Taliban launch their spring offensive, talk is of the Taliban “surge” as opposed to the would-be NATO one. NATO casualties have been increasing at an alarming rate, with the year’s NATO toll 215. The number of British troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan has more than doubled compared to last year. The 200,000-rupee bounty Taliban fighters are awarded for each NATO soldier killed is paying off.

Another Canadian officer, Daniel Menard, is to direct this summer’s NATO campaign in Kandahar and Panjwaii, where troops from the Royal Canadian Regiment will take the lead. “This conflict is our D-Day,” boasted this colonial representative of Queen Elizabeth II, great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who presided over the British invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century. In his obscene comparison between the liberation of occupied France in WWII and the US occupation of Afghanistan, Menard added, “The first guys on the beach here are the Canadians.”

But the Canadians are very much high-and-dry after their base in Kandahar came under heavy attack three times in the past week and as they solemnly hoisted the flag-draped coffin of their unfortunate guest, Colonel Parker, aboard a jet for Canada. To expect that they and the Karzai government will prevail is a fantasy which surely no one any longer believes.

None of the 130,000 foreign troops has any understanding of Afghanistan’s culture and traditions, or even speaks one of the local languages. Their only communication with locals is through the barrel of a gun. Only 6 percent of locals polled support the current Kandahar offensive. Afghans can only take pride in repelling these unwanted invaders.

As if a sign from Allah, Hague and British media idol David Beckham had their flight to Kandahar diverted mid-air to Helmand province, when the Kandahar airport came under attack. Rather than Karzai, it is Bashardost, the angry British troops and their mounting body count that Cameron and Hague are now heeding, and it is about time. (full text).

(Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at Eric Walberg.com).

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