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This war of lies goes on
17 November 2001
There is no victory in Afghanistan's tribal war, only the exchange of one group of killers for another. The difference is that President Bush calls the latest occupiers of Kabul "our friends".
However welcome the scenes of people playing music and shaving off their beards, this so-called Northern Alliance are no bringers of freedom. They are the same people welcomed by similar scenes of jubilation in 1992, who then killed an estimated 50,000 in four years of internecine feuding.
The new heroes so far have tortured and executed at least 100 prisoners of war, and countless others, as well as looted food supplies and re-established their monopoly on the heroin trade.
This week, Amnesty International made an unusually blunt statement that was buried in the news. It ought to be emblazoned across every front page and television screen. "By failing to appreciate the gravity of the human rights concerns in relation to Northern Alliance leaders," said Amnesty, "UK ministers at best perpetuate a culture of impunity for past crimes; at worst they risk being complicit in human rights abuse."
The truth is that the latest crop of criminals to "liberate" Kabul have been given a second chance by the most powerful country on earth pounding into dust one of the poorest, where people's life expectancy is just over 40.
And for what?
Not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has yet to be caught or killed. Osama bin Laden and his network have almost certainly slipped into the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier of Pakistan. Will Pakistan now be bombed? And Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, where Islamic extremism and its military network took root? Of course not.
The Saudi sheikhs, many of them as extreme as the Taliban, control America's greatest source of oil. The Egyptian regime, bribed with billions of US dollars, is an important American proxy. No daisy cutters for them.
There was, and still is, no "war on terrorism". Instead, we have watched a variation of the great imperial game of swapping "bad" terrorists for "good" terrorists, while untold numbers of innocent people have paid with their lives: most of one village, whole families, a hospital, as well as teenage conscripts suitably dehumanised by the word "Taliban".
It is perfectly understandable that those in the West who supported this latest American terror from the air, or hedged their bets, should now seek to cover the blood on their reputations with absurd claims that "bombing works". Tell that to grieving parents at fresh graves in impoverished places of whom the sofa bomb-aimers know nothing.
The contortion of intellect and morality that this triumphalism requires is not a new phenomenon. Putting aside the terminally naive, it mostly comes from those who like to play at war: who have seen nothing of bombing, as I have experienced it: cluster bombs, daisy cutters: the lot.
How appropriate that the last American missile to hit Kabul before the "liberators" arrived should destroy the satellite transmitter of the Al-Jazeera television station, virtually the only reliable source of news in the region.
For weeks, American officials have been pressuring the government of Qatar, the Gulf state where Al-Jazeera is based, to silence its broadcasters, who have given a view of the "war against terrorism" other than that based on the false premises of the Bush and Blair "crusade".
The guilty secret is that the attack on Afghanistan was unnecessary. The "smoking gun" of this entire episode is evidence of the British Government's lies about the basis for the war. According to Tony Blair, it was impossible to secure Osama bin Laden's extradition from Afghanistan by means other than bombing.
Yet in late September and early October, leaders of Pakistan's two Islamic parties negotiated bin Laden's extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for the September 11 attacks. The deal was that he would be held under house arrest in Peshawar. According to reports in Pakistan (and the Daily Telegraph), this had both bin Laden's approval and that of Mullah Omah, the Taliban leader.
The offer was that he would face an international tribunal, which would decide whether to try him or hand him over to America. Either way, he would have been out of Afghanistan, and a tentative justice would be seen to be in progress. It was vetoed by Pakistan's president Musharraf who said he "could not guarantee bin Laden's safety".
But who really killed the deal?
The US Ambassador to Pakistan was notified in advance of the proposal and the mission to put it to the Taliban. Later, a US official said that "casting our objectives too narrowly" risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some luck chance Mr bin Laden was captured".
And yet the US and British governments insisted there was no alternative to bombing Afghanistan because the Taliban had "refused" to hand over Osama bin Laden. What the Afghani people got instead was "American justice" - imposed by a president who, as well as denouncing international agreements on nuclear weapons, biological weapons, torture and global warming, has refused to sign up for an international court to try war criminals: the one place where bin Laden might be put on trial.
When Tony Blair said this war was not an attack on Islam as such, he was correct.
Its aim, in the short term, was to satisfy a domestic audience then to accelerate American influence in a vital region where there has been a power vacuum since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of China, whose oil needs are expected eventually to surpass even those of the US. That is why control of Central Asia and the Caspian basin oilfields is important as exploration gets under way.
There was, until the cluster bombing of innocents, a broad-based recognition that there had to be international action to combat the kind of terrorism that took thousands of lives in New York.
But these humane responses to September 11 were appropriated by an American administration, whose subsequent actions ought to have left all but the complicit and the politically blind in no doubt that it intended to reinforce its post-cold war assertion of global supremacy - an assertion that has a long, documented history.
The "war on terrorism" gave Bush the pretext to pressure Congress into pushing through laws that erode much of the basis of American justice and democracy. Blair has followed behind with anti-terrorism laws of the very kind that failed to catch a single terrorist during the Irish war.
In this atmosphere of draconian controls and fear, in the US and Britain, mere explanation of the root causes of the attacks on America invites ludicrous accusations of "treachery."
Above all, what this false victory has demonstrated is that, to those in power in Washington and London and those who speak for them, certain human lives have greater worth than others and that the killing of only one set of civilians is a crime. If we accept that, we beckon the repetition of atrocities on all sides, again and again.
John Pilger. (c) John Pilger.