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Afghanistan withdrawal deadline has lots of wriggle room

If you’re on Twitter, you might know @RealTimeWWII, an account that repackages the events of the Second World War in 140 character blocks, as if the Greatest Generation had gone into battle brandishing their iPhones.

The concept provides some perspective on the war in Afghanistan.

If, for the sake of argument, @RealTimeWWII had begun its broadcasts to coincide with the US-led invasion, the account would by now long since have tweeted Hitler’s death and the defeat of the Nazis. The Afghan war has, indeed, now continued long enough for @RealTimeWWII to also document the implementation of the Marshall Plan, the Chinese revolution, the Soviet Union’s successful nuclear tests and Walt Disney’s release of Cinderella.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s happening in Afghanistan, 11 years on: during the recent Taliban incursion, government MPs took to the roof of the parliament to fire automatic weapons at insurgents launching RPGs.

It’s not an image suggestive of imminent stability.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Gillard will today announce that Australian troops could be withdrawn early. Declaring that “the peoples of the world’s democracies are weary of this war”, she will, it seems, promise that Australian forces will withdraw as soon as Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, says that Afghan forces can to take responsibility for Oruzgan province.

While the headline talks of soldiers out next year, in reality, that deadline contains a lot of wriggle room. Notably, it depends on Karzai’s assessment. While Western leaders praised the response of Afghan forces to the recent incursion, the Afghan PM, for obvious reasons, was markedly less effusive.

The fact terrorists were able to enter Kabul and other provinces was an intelligence failure for us and especially for NATO,” he said.

What’s significant, though, is Gillard’s reference to public sentiment.

This war has been brought to you by both major parties, with a bipartisanship that ensured Parliament didn’t feature a debate on Afghanistan until nine years after the occupation began.

As Monash academic Kevin Foster has noted, with a few honourable exceptions, Australian media coverage of the Afghan war has been scandalous. “The vast majority of the news Australians have received from Afghanistan […], when they have received any at all, has originated with the Department of Defence,” he writes.

More than anything, reporting has been distinguished by its parochialism: Afghanistan usually only makes the front pages of the papers when an Australian soldier dies, even though, as you would expect, the vast majority of the casualties are local.

Symptomatically, last night’s Four Corners episode, while at times genuinely moving, discussed the whys and wherefores of the conflict without once featuring an Afghan on screen: the debate over the future of the country consisted entirely of a discussion between Westerners.

Yet, despite that media failure (Foster argues somewhere that Australians had more access to reporting from the front lines of the Great War than they do about Afghanistan), the Afghan mission has been consistently unpopular with ordinary people for a very long time, presumably because the claim that a localist insurgency on the other side of the world plays any role in menacing the streets of Melbourne and Sydney seems so intuitively silly.

Last night, Defence Minister Stephen Smith, when cross-examined by Kerry O’Brien, seemed to be merely going through the motions, tiredly mouthing the rhetoric about national security because it’s not politically palatable to say what everyone knows — that we’re here because we’re here because we’re here, as the old Diggers song from the trenches had it, committed to the war because of what leaving early might mean for the US alliance.

But now neither Gillard nor Obama has the political capital to stare down public opposition forever. Hence, in Australia and the US, mainstream opinion is shifting to some kind of declaration of victory, sufficient to allow a draw-down.

What will that mean for Afghanistan? One way or another, 11 years later, the Taliban are coming back to power, either via the semi-secret negotiations currently taking place with the US or by direct military takeover.

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  • 1
    Lady White Peace
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    What a waste of lives, time and money!

    if people are suffering under the yoke of the Taliban or Assad or any dictator they have two choices: revolution (example Tunisia/ Egypt/Syria or- wait until they die - like Mugabe is doing right now in a Singapore hospital.

    If we want to bring a better/democratic existence to a nation surely the way to go is through education.
    How stupid to believe that you can educate people by beating and killing them and depriving them of their usually meagre
    infrastructure ie.. power, water, food, shelter etc.
    Democracy is a state of mind which needs education in order to be appreciated. It beggars belief that our politicians don’t even understand something that basic. Why is common sense not that common ??
    My two cents worth!

  • 2
    Liz45
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    We should never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place. The people allegedly responsible for 9/11 did NOT come from there. Osama bin Laden was ‘created’ by the US military to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The US was warned about him, but as usual their military goal took over. OSB was killed in Pakistan, right in the back yard of the Pakistani military? The US has been bombing Pakistan via drones etc for many months. The whole thing was and is a farce.

    According to Malalai Joya(born during the war with Russia) asserts, that there are three enemies in her country; the War Lords, the Taliban and the NATO forces. She wants us to leave, and let the people settle their own issues - we are part of the problem, not the solution.
    Malalai Joya was elected by the people, but expelled from Parlt because she wouldn’t keep her mouth shut about the corruption, the killings, the rapes (of which she was threatened with-by the war lords and others?) and has had at least 6 attempts on her life. When it comes down to it, I’ll listen to her before I take any notice of the West’s killers! It’s an outrage that so many Afghanis have been killed and maimed. There are thousands of orphans in Afghanistan; the life expectancy is horrific, and the educational facilities etc are almost non existent, so what’s it all about?

    There are War Lords and members of the Taliban in the so-called Parliament, headed by Karzai, a stooge of the US. The whole system is corrupt, including he and his brother. Where have all the Billions$$$$ gone? I feel ashamed that we are still in that country and causing only hardship, death and misery!

    I feel ashamed that we focus on the 30+ Australians who’ve needlessly died,(my heart goes out to their families too) but nobody knows how many Afghanis have died - and the awful thing is, we don’t give a damn! Are we going to dismantle all the cluster bombs and land mines, or will we just p**s off and leave them to kill more kids? Disgusted!

  • 3
    Pamela
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Thankyou for noting not one Afghan Voice in last nights 4 Corners. This is exactly how Australia sees the war. God Forbid that we would ever acknowledge the fact that AFGHANS -more specifically HAZARAS constitute the largest group of refugees in the world today or that 99% of the Afghans getting on boats and coming to Australia are HAZARAS- not just any old Afghans- not Pashtuns, Tadjiks or Uzbeks who all make up the Afghan nation.
    WHO are the HAZARAS? who knows?
    They are a minority who have been persecuted for centuries and survived a genocide. They look different from other Afghans being more asiatic in appearance so easily picked out. As well they are Shia rather than Sunni Muslims so regarded as infidels be the Fundamentalist Pashtuns and Talibs.
    They are being driven off their lands, their sons and fathers are being killed, their daughters are kidnapped into forced marriages. They are fleeing to Iran and Pakistan to survive. They are also coming across the seas to Australia in small numbers and many more to Europe, Dubai even Russia.
    When the Coalition leaves Afghanistan , the Hazaras here believe that a bloodbath will follow and that they will be its first victims.
    What will Australia do? We took in the Vietnamese. Will we take in the Families of the few thousand men seeking asylum in Australia or will we stand by and let them die. Will we accept the refugee claims of the Hazaras here or will we persist with the fiction that they can safely return to Kabul?
    Australia has some big Moral questions ahead of it.

  • 4
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    When the NATO and Australian troops leave, the Taliban will take over. Its just a matter of time, the country has the history to support what will happen

  • 5
    Pamela
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    P.S.
    Pakistan has told the Hazaras that they must all get out by the end of 2012.
    Iran is picking Hazaras up on the streets and trucking them to the border where some are killed, somev are beaten and some are sent into the hands of the Pashtun border guards , never to be heard of again.
    Choices are limited which is why they are coming to Europe, UK, Canada, USA and Australia.

  • 6
    jmendelssohn
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    The best thing I have seen on the whole intra-Islamic conflict and the rise of funadmentalism is George Gittoes’ film “The Miscreants of Taliwood” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2Hwrqhv-kc It goes into the complexities of the culture clash life and death in the North West Frontier.
    George, who has more bravado than common sense, has most recently been in Jalalabad with his acting troupe – making more movies.
    Local people will always resist foreign soldiers – unless they are there for a very short term objective and have the nous to leave asap. This is not a war we should be fighting

  • 7
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Next time an Australian prime minister feels the urge to suck-up to a US president why not just present the presidential offspring with a new guinea pig or pet rabbit. Saving = $7 Billion. And no loss of life.

    We have contributed to the wreckage, mass deaths and atrocities of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither of these wars were our business but we now share their shame.

  • 8
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    We have spent more jailing Hazara here than helping the population of Afghanistan.

    Women are less literate in Oruzgan now than they were 12 years ago.

  • 9
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    And we have turned over the area to Matiullah Khan, a new best friend mass murderer.

    We don’t even understand that Afghans live in Afghanistan and not Saudis.

  • 10
    michael crook
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    We are there because the US Military Industrial complex is making a lot of money. When this one is no longer palatable, another one will come along.

  • 11
    kennethrobinson2
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    For the present, read TET 1968, the government said we were winning, eaven littl old me who was there could see that it was all BS, just like now.
    If only we had a justice system that could try our own WAR CRIMINALS, maybe we wouldnt be so eager to sacrifice our digs, for political brownie points.

  • 12
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    @KENNETHRBINSON2 - re paragraph 2, a certain thick eyebrowed be-spectacled gentleman usually seen early mornings in a green and gold track suit comes to mind. Mind you it will never happen!

  • 13
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Tuesday, 17 April 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Hey Kenneth, do you mean we didn’t win in Vietnam? You better break it gently to Gerard Henderson.

  • 14
    Ian
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Liz45 for your post, you saved me the trouble.

    PAMELA,

    On top of it our government is intent on deporting a whole lot of Hazaras back to Afghanistan or Pakistan. Can you believe it?

    Some say; “But what will happen when we leave?” Well no doubt it won’t be good but that will be the case whenever we leave. Make no mistake there is no winning this ridiculous war whatever that might mean. Sooner or later we will have to go and from everyone’s point of view except the various governments and a few of their disciples, the sooner the better.

    Its time that foreign policy became an election issue in this country as we have to put a stop to our unquestioning support of the US who gallivant around the world leaving mayhem in their wake - humanitarian, economic, environmental and I should add ideological.

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