Shanty housing on a Kabul hillside

War on Terror – reflections

hillside

Lindsey German, from the Stop the War Coalition, reflects on years of the war on terror.

If all had gone according to plan, the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war should have been a time for government jubilation. In Tony Blair’s dreams, he would still be feted as a hero, having toppled a dictator and brought peace and democracy to the Middle East. The actual scenario turned out rather differently. Iraq is in turmoil, terrorism is a much greater threat across many parts of the world than it was when the ‘war on terror’ was launched 11 and a half years ago, attacks on civil liberties have worsened, with torture, rendition and imprisonment without trial now part of the fabric of the war, and discrimination and racism against Muslims growing.

The ostensible reason for the war – the need to prevent Saddam Hussein using his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which he was supposedly concealing in the grounds of his palaces – has long been revealed to be a lie. The real aim of the war was regime change which would enable strategic control of Iraq and the wider region to be once again in the hands of the west.

Ten years on, the numbers of Iraqi dead are perhaps as high as 1 million, with many more made refugees and displaced. Living conditions for many Iraqis remain terrible, the effects of war have harmed physical and mental health,  and in parts like Fallujah there is evidence of serious problems with pregnancy and childbirth, attributed to the use of depleted uranium by the US forces there. Meanwhile, privatisation of oil and other industries, corruption and vast profits for private security firms are the spoils of the war for western companies and their friends in government.

Yet despite the obvious failure of the Iraq war, successive governments appear addicted to war. There are still over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, a war which has become more deadly as time has gone on. There is covert intervention in Syria and Iran, and recently David Cameron has announced he dispatch of 300 British troops to join the French intervention in Mali.

All this raises the question of how many more years Britain will continue to bomb and invade countries in the name of fighting terrorism? How many more countries will be drawn into the theatre of war? How many more lives will be lost in the task of eradicating Al Qaeda? How many people, especially in Muslim countries, will find grievances against the bomber and invaders which lead to them taking up arms?

I ask these questions because yet again a serious political crisis has been met with a not just inadequate answer, but one which will produce the diametrically opposite effect than its supposed intention.

David Cameron said of the recent Algerian hostage crisis that ‘This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.’

Is that years and decades on top of the 11 and a half years already spent on the war on terror, since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001? Back then, its aim was to eradicate Al Qaeda from Afghanistan – rapidly achieved, although it became active in Pakistan. Since then, Al Qaeda or related Islamic terrorism has become a feature, at different times, in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Algeria…and on and on. In 2001, no one talked about the threat of such terrorism in most of these countries. Now greater and greater areas of the world have become new sites of conflict.

Everything that the peace and antiwar movements said 10 years ago, when up to 30 million people marched around the world and Britain saw its largest protest demonstration ever, has turned out to be true and everything our rulers told us has turned out to be false. A recent opinion poll in the Guardian showed that 55 % of those questioned thought the 15 February 2003 marchers were right, with even higher proportions among working class respondents.

This is one of the legacies of the antiwar movement: we have created a strong current of anti war opinion which makes it much harder for governments to directly intervene.

Today in Britain the government is enforcing austerity through cuts in  welfare, education and health but never hesitates to spend billions on weapons  and new deployments of troops. The cost of four years of the Afghanistan war, £20 billion, is the same as planned government savings on the NHS.

The issues are connected. The globalised neoliberal system relies heavily on  its military wing to maintain strategic control of markets and to gain access to raw materials. So we face both economic crisis with devastating consequences and a rampant imperialism intervening in ever-wider parts of the globe.

It is these connected issues which make the anti war movement so important. We didn’t stop the war but we did create a mass movement to oppose imperialist war. We have made it harder for them to launch further wars. We have also made the connection between war and economic crisis, and campaigned against attacks on civil liberties and Islamophobia.

Our recent conference which attracted around 1000 people brought together a range of international campaigners, activists and speakers to reiterate our opposition to the war ten years ago. But more importantly, it stressed the need to confront war today by opposing present interventions and future threats.

The threat of war and militarism is such that we need to unite around what we agree on in order to defeat governments and warmongers. Stop the War is involved in organising a demonstration against drones at RAF Waddington base in Lincolnshire on April 27 which we hope will gain wide support. We support the demo and blockade of Trident in Scotland in April, the CND Aldermaston event at Easter and we hope to bring some of these issues together at the People’s Assembly against Austerity on June 22 which will be campaigning against welfare, education and health cuts.

This means a renewal of the anti war and peace movements, a commitment to organising, educating and campaigning in the months ahead. We should know
by now that we cannot rely on the politicians to stop wars. Only the mass of people can do that.

Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the war Coalition and author of a new book, How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women (Pluto)

“I’m hurting too” Dr Hakim on Drones and Singapore

Hakim in snowThe hurt of militarized authoritarianism in Singapore, Afghanistan and the world

By Dr Hakim ( Dr Teck Young, Wee )

It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.

But people are dying.

And children and women are feeling hopeless.

“What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”

Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”

So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.

I do so in dissent, against the global security of imprisoned minds.

I thought, “If no one listens as humans should, we should at least speak like free men and women.”

Singapore’s complicity in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan

It is clear that the Taliban, the many Afghan and regional warlords, militia groups and the Afghan government are responsible for the current humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan.

But Singapore is also responsible because it is one of the fifty U.S. /NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) coalition countries working with the corrupt Afghan government ( rated the most corrupt country in 2012 ).

While the Singapore government would never support any corrupt Singaporean leader even for a day, they have sent troops to support the most corrupt leaders on earth! If accountability is at all important, we cannot say, ‘Oh…never mind!”

Moreover, Singapore has inadvertently become a minor accomplice of the self-interests of the U.S. government in Afghanistan ; The U.S. Vice President , Joe Biden, spoke at the Munich Security Conference recently, “The United States is a Pacific power. And the world’s greatest military alliance ( NATO ) helps make us an Atlantic power as well. As our new defense strategy makes clear, we will remain both a Pacific power and an Atlantic power.”

American power and economic interests naturally do not include the best interests of ordinary Singaporeans or Afghans.

Hakim and kidsThe Afghan humanitarian tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should inspire the doubt and curiosity of Singaporeans that while the U.S. /NATO coalition was spending billions of dollars every week on the Afghan war ( the U.S. alone was spending two billion dollars every week ), Afghans have been perishing under one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. At least 36% live below the poverty line and 35% of Afghan men do not have work . The UN calls the acute malnutrition of nearly one million children in the Afghan south ‘shocking’ . Almost three quarters of all Afghans do not have access to safe drinking water .

On several occasions in the past few years, Afghanistan was declared the worst country for children and women, and yet, many of us still hold this warped presumption, “Afghanistan is the worst country for children and women but whatever we are doing over there MUST somehow be right!”

The Afghan war tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should at least matter to ‘result-orientated’ Singaporeans that the very expensive Afghan/U.S. coalition’s ‘war against terrorism’ has increased rather than decreased ‘terrorism’, with the Global Terrorism Index reporting that terrorist strikes in the region have increased four times since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

Even President Karzai said in the UK recently that the security situation in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan was better before British troops were deployed.

Adding to this cynical mess of increased ‘terrorism’ at the hands of global superpowers, the U.S. has established an epicenter of drone warfare in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Pakistanis and other ‘insurgents’ as their ‘targets’, and Singapore as one of their many allies. Singapore has had teams helping in drone reconnaissance operations, reconnaissance that may have eventually ended up with a U.S. /NATO decision to kill someone without trial.

I had raised this personal concern once in a meeting room at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ; I was appreciative of the attentiveness given to this issue, but sensed that there was no great interest in ‘investigating’ how Singapore’s co-operation in the drone operations in Afghanistan may be violating international law, as was suggested by the ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, Mr Philip Alston.

A recent New York Times article highlights these ‘fears  for U.S. allies’, reporting on a lawsuit in the British courts that ‘accuses British officials of becoming “secondary parties to murder” by passing intelligence to American officials that was later used in drone strikes.’ My life has been changed by listening to Afghan friends like Raz Mohammad tell how ‘drones bury beautiful lives’.museum group pic

The U.N. is finally living up to its charter to ‘remove the scourge of war’ by duly investigating  drone warfare. Major U.S. newspapers are also asking for more transparency over Obama’s weekly, premeditated ‘kill lists’. There has been concern over unchecked Powers getting even more out of all jurisdictions with the appointment of ‘drone justifier’ John Brennan as Obama’s CIA Director nominee.

Even the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child has been “alarmed” at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed U.S. practices in 2008.

Singapore should be alarmed too.

Singapore’s own identity as a militarized, authoritarian country

Deep within, like most human beings, Freba yearns for a decent livelihood without war. Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish for friends from all 195 countries of the world, a better world without borders!

What kind of identity do Singaporeans wish for their country, a peaceful and friendly country or otherwise?

Again, I’m concerned. We like pictures of be-medaled soldiers more than unsung ‘Mother Teresa’ heroines. Our government has a significant number of ex-military commanders.

According to the Global Militarisation Index released by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), Singapore has been the second most militarized nation in the world for years. The latest ranking puts Singapore just second to Israel and one brutal position more militarized than Syria.

What also worries me is that this militarized mindset may be behind Singapore’s enthusiasm in the drone show-business, and in ‘unintentionally’ being part of the U.S.’ ‘Asia pivot’ by hosting four U.S. littoral combat ships.

Even on the economic front, while Singapore has one of the higher Gini coefficients of income inequality in the world, not many people in Singapore are aware of or debating Singapore’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership , again a partnership that corporate America is pushing for.

What Singapore has aligned herself with in Afghanistan is militarized authoritarianism that concentrates profit and power in the hands of a few. While this follows global norms, such a system works mainly for the wealth and power of the 1% in the short term, but not for the daily needs of the 99% in either the short or long term.

I personally think that both the democratic and socialist practices of today are ‘non-progressive’ vehicles for the rule of the few ‘Kings, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers’ over the many presumably ‘ignorant, helpless and sometimes lazy’ subjects. These elitist systems tend to maintain control by ‘pacifying the masses’ through formal education, mainstream media and force.

I hope Singapore can steer itself away from this ‘norm’, an ugly ‘norm’ in which war becomes fun, like when Prince Harry described his combat pilot job in Afghanistan as “a joy … because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful.”

I believe that for effective defense and genuine security, we ought to be friends with neighbours and all peoples of other lands rather than militarists with superior weapons.

Perhaps these are differences in opinions which can be included in Our Singapore Conversation.

It’s hard for me to write this, but I am sincerely ashamed to be a citizen of the 2nd most militarized nation on earth, a country that has participated in the legally-questionable drone warfare in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, I have hope in Singaporeans like I have hope in humanity. There are alternatives. The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

My voice is not political. My voice is human.

Afghans are hurting very badly.

kids in refugee campAnd I am hurting too.

Raz Mohammed

Drones Bury Beautiful Lives

Raz Mohammed

Afghan Peace Volunteer, Raz Mohammad, speaks out on drones

By Dr Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

11th Jan 2013

Below is a transcript of an interview of Raz Mohammad, an Afghan Peace Volunteer, with questions prepared by Maya Evans of Voices for Creative Non Nonviolence UK.

Raz Mohammad : Salam ‘aleikum. I am Raz Mohammad. I’m from Maidan Wardak province and I’m Pashtun.

Kathy Kelly : Raz Mohmmad, what do you think about drones?

Raz Mohammad : I think drones are not good. I remember how, in my village, a drone attack killed my brother-in-law and four of his friends. It was truly sad. A beautiful life was buried and the sound of crying and sorrow arose from peaceful homes. I say that this is inhumane. Today, the idea of humanity has been forgotten. Why do we spend money like this? Why don’t we use an alternative way? The international community says that drones are used to kill the Taliban. This is not true. We should see the truth. Today, it’s hard to find the truth and no one listens to the people.

Kathy Kelly : How have drones impacted Wardak Afghanistan?

Raz Mohammad : Drones have a negative impact on the lives of the people of Wardak and other provinces in Afghanistan, because drones don’t bring peace. They kill human beings. Drones bring nothing but bombs. They burn the lives of the people. People can’t move around freely. In the nights, people are afraid. Drones don’t improve people’s lives, they limit the people’s lives. The people are not happy with drones. When they hear the sound of drones, they feel sad. Those who live in Kabul and those who live in the provinces especially in Pashtun areas feel differently about drones.  Those in Kabul don’t feel the pain of those in the provinces where there’s war and family members are being killed. It is those families of victims who should be asked and whose voices should be heard.

Kathy Kelly : Are drones making Afghanistan safer?

Raz Mohammad : No. Drones don’t protect the people of Afghanistan. Instead, drones kill the people of Afghanistan. You hear in the news and reports that every day, families, children and women are killed. Do you call this safety?

Kathy Kelly : Is there a mental impact on Afghans from the presence of drones?

Raz Mohammad : Yes, drones have a  negative impact on the mind. For me, when I go home, I recall the incident with my brother-in-law which affected me a lot and changed my life. I don’t have a peaceful mind. When I’m home and study at night, my father & mother are very worried and tell me not to stay up too late because they may make a mistake and bomb the house. When my younger brother knows of a drone incident, he says he won’t go to school or get out of bed early today because the drones may come.  See, how it affects the mind of a 5 or 8 year old child.

Kathy Kelly : What do you think about the use of drones after the 2014 withdrawal?

Raz Mohammad : I think that the use of drones today or in 2014 is inappropriate. Why has the international community sent drones to wage war in Afghanistan? Why have we forgotten the concepts of humanity and the love of humanity? War is not a solution. We can see this from the past 30 years of war in Afghanistan. Wars bring killing and enmity. Drones after 2014 will cause enmity between Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras because those in government use the people for their own benefit. For their own power and lives, they drop bombs on the people, and bring division and inhumanity. As I see it now and after 2014, innocent human beings will be killed.

Kathy Kelly : Do you have any other message to give?

Raz Mohammad : My message to the ordinary people of the world is to listen, and become aware of drone warfare because what international governments say about using drones to kill terrorists is not true. Friends who come here can see that innocent people and women are killed. We should listen to the voices of Afghans and promote and defend humanity and humane relations. My message to the governments of the world is : Why have you forgotten humanity and the love of humanity? You are killing human beings for your own monetary benefit. I demand that this ( drone warfare ) be stopped, especially the spending of so much money on drones in Afghanistan and the killing of so many innocent people. Isn’t it appropriate for you to help the people in alternative ways? We are human beings and are always your friends, thank you.