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This Must Be The End
16 November 2001
Now is the moment to call a halt to this dangerous and unjust war. The apparent disintegration of the Taliban regime gives the British and US governments the chance to observe the first law of holes: if you are in one, stop digging. It is, of course, richly ironic that the first achievement of the war on terrorism has been to install in Kabul the Northern Alliance, for whom terrorism has been the entire line of business and way of life for more than 20 years.
Re-enthroning Northern Alliance President Rabbani - who has been fighting against any form of secular modernisation of his country, however moderate, since the early 1970s - was on no one's list of aims on September 12. It is a bit rich to read liberal commentators now hailing his return to power in terms usually reserved for a decent Liberal Democrat byelection win. Anyone believing that we live in a safer world as a result of gains such as these is surely being naive.
It is still unclear whether this week's developments will bring peace to Afghanistan, but the first reports of resurgent warlords, massacres, lynchings and factional infighting are not encouraging. What is certain is that they will do nothing to remove the sources of terror and conflict in the wider world.
The danger is that the war on terrorism will simply move on, to more intractable targets than the brittle Taliban movement. The "forward to Iraq" faction in the US administration is now in full cry. Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, has already been quick to downplay any suggestion that the demise of the Taliban and imminent liquidation of Osama bin Laden's infrastructure in Afghanistan are the end of the matter.
No remotely credible evidence has been adduced to link the Saddam government with the horrific attacks of September 11. But a climate is being created for an intensification of the current Anglo-American bombing of Iraq as the logical next step. In recent weeks, there has been a stream of intelligence-inspired stories attempting to link Saddam either with September 11 or the anthrax attacks in the US, while the FBI is convinced they were the work of a lone home-grown terrorist. Nevertheless Baghdad, not New Jersey, is in the Pentagon's sights.
This would be fraught with still greater dangers than anything done so far. The Iraqi government is not as friendless as the Taliban. And any attack, coming on top of a sanctions regime which has already killed more than half a million Iraqi children in the past 10 years, according to the UN's own tally, would inevitably reinforce the view that this is indeed a war against Muslim peoples.
That opinion is not just held in the Middle East. According to this week's BBC opinion poll, it is shared by most British Muslims, too. Extending the war will surely be the quickest way to ensure that a hundred Bin Ladens are created for every one that is captured or killed.
The alternative is to attempt a peaceful solution to the crisis, which also means addressing the concerns of the Arab and Muslim worlds - for a Palestinian state and an end to the futile sanctions against Iraq above all. Last week, western public support for the Bush-Blair war was heading south faster than Taliban troops have been this week. In Germany and Spain more than 60% wanted an end to the bombing. French and British support for the campaign was also falling fast.
Across Britain, as elsewhere, an anti-war movement has sprung up which has, in weeks, reached dimensions it took the 1960s anti-Vietnam war campaign years to attain. It unites people of liberal, socialist, Muslim, Christian, trade unionist, pacifist and none-of-the-above persuasions behind the simple demand to end the Anglo-American military intervention. All are represented within an ad hoc Stop the War Coalition, which will doubtless grow broader still if the war is now extended.
Humanitarian concerns, and a fear of the still open-ended and unfocused objectives of the war alliance, have fuelled the growth of the peace movement. But there is also a deep sense that Tony Blair has not been acting in Britain's best interests. Through his zealous participation in the war, he has unnecessarily put this country in the frontline, endangered inter-community relations and reinforced the image of Britain as an enemy among countless millions around the world. A situation has been created where cherished civil liberties are being set aside. This Sunday, tens of thousands will march in London against this policy and for peace and justice. The events of recent days make the campaign more important than ever.