The tragic death of an Australian soldier brings back a forgotten conflict into our newspapers. The incessant Iraqi violence has sucked the media oxygen away from Afghanistan. But that war’s not going well, either.
George Bush has always argued that the various countries where American troops deployed should be understood simply as different theatres of the one war.
His rhetoric has increasingly become a reality. The proliferation of IED attacks reflects the Iraqisation of Afghanistan, as does the corresponding reliance on massive firepower by the Western forces. According to the LA Times, “after more than five years of increasingly intense warfare, the conflict in Afghanistan reached a grim milestone in the first half of this year: U.S. troops and their NATO allies killed more civilians than insurgents did.”
Not surprisingly, the political situation continues to deteriorate. Recently, President Hamid Karzai called for the “esteemed” Taliban leader Mullah Omar to join his government:
If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, President, we want a department in this or in that ministry or we want a position as deputy minister… and we don’t want to fight anymore… If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it because I want conflicts and fighting to end in Afghanistan.
Karzai’s offer reflects a situation far more complex than the glib media distinction between a democratic Northern Alliance and a terroristic Taliban. His government has always incorporated any number of grisly warlords, many of whom simply changed sides when the US arrived. According to Human Rights Watch, over half of the members of the Afghan parliament are linked to armed groups or have records of past human rights abuses.
It might also be noted that, just a few days ago, the Karzai regime conducted a mass execution.
Of course, the differences with Iraq matter as much as the similarities. Recently, the surgemeister himself, General Petraeus, again accused Iran of funding Iraqi militias.
But here’s the thing: the links between a possibly nuclear Iran and the Iraqi insurgents are infinitely more nebulous than the connection between a definitely nuclear Pakistan and the Afghan insurgents. Yet the White House still regards General Musharraf as a key ally, funding him to the tune of perhaps $10 billion since 2001.
With the Bush regime engaged in these old-style “Great Game” intrigues, the Afghanistan conflict will never be resolved.
The veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote, after the death of a British soldier in Afghanistan: “Most of southern Afghanistan was safer in the spring of 2002 than it is now and at no moment during the years that have elapsed is there any evidence from the speeches of successive British ministers that they have much idea what we are doing there and what we hope to achieve.”
The same applies to Australia.