“A member of the British Government, veteran Labour MP David Lepper, has attempted to produce a response to the MMN / IPRD’s principal report on the current crisis in Afghanistan, ‘Distortion, Deception and Terrorism: The Bombing of Afghanistan’.
David Lepper is Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. He has been a local councilor for 17 years, was the first ever Labour leader of Brighton Council and was Mayor of Brighton in 1993-94. At Westminster, he is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and chairs the Broadcasting Select Committee.
“His response is representative of the official position of the British Government as such. It contains a variety of blatant attempts at misrepresentation of the facts, fails to address the salient – if not the key thesis – of our report, and at times offers clear falsehoods in an effort to paint a humanitarian picture of the current policy of the British Government in Afghanistan, under the leadership of the United States. Please find the MMN / IPRD’s response to David Lepper MP below. Although there is some repetition of material contained in our articles , on which our letter is based, there is also some new analysis and information. We felt that it was important to respond to Mr. Lepper in this manner since it provides us with an opportunity to easily juxtapose the official British Government position with the facts on record. In this way, an important objective is achieved: the gaping chasm between the unconscionable claims of our political leaders and the reality that the Afghan people are facing daily, is made absolutely clear.”
Dear David Lepper MP,
Thank you for your response to our report, ‘Distortion, Deception and Terrorism: The Bombing of Afghanistan’, addressed to one of my colleagues. While we welcome your willingness to enter into an open discussion of the matters raised therein, we are dismayed that your letter has failed to address any of the salient points raised in the aforementioned report. Your letter also contains a variety of statements that in our opinion amount to blatant misrepresentations of the facts.
Before going into detail, I would like to begin by clarifying that we deplore, condemn and are appalled at the terrible atrocities that occurred on the 11th September, murdering hundreds of innocent civilians in the United States. There is, nor can there ever be, any sort of justification for such a horrendous act of terrorism. This letter is dedicated to the victims of these terrorist attacks, and their families.
You begin your letter by alleging that: “é the policy which the Prime Minister and the UK Government has pursued since the events of 11th September has been vital in restraining an initial military response and in ensuring that the military response is as targeted as possible.”
The idea that the British Government has ensured that “the military response is as targeted as possible” is simply not credible on analysis of the actual nature of this “response”. Middle East expert Stephen Zunes, Associate Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and senior policy analyst at the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, points out that:
“The use of heavy bombers against a country with few hard targets raises serious doubts about the Bush Administration’s claim that the attacks are not against the people of Afghanistan. The Taliban has allowed Bin Laden and his followers sanctuary, but there is little evidence that they have provided the kind of direct financial or military support that can be crippled through air strikes.”
The supposedly “targeted” nature of the primarily Anglo-American bombing campaign is quite clear from a few typical examples. The first notable incident was the killing of four civilians é and the injuring of another four – when the offices of a United Nations agency, the Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) in Kabul, were bombed on 9 October 2001. The ATC oversees mine clearing operations in the country.
The second occurrence was confirmed by a large number of independent witnesses. In the northern village of Karam, an estimated 100-200 civilians – mostly women, children, and old people – were killed when bombers made repeated passes over the site during early evening prayers, flattening the entire village. The Pentagon claimed that Karam had been training camp for Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network, Al-Qaeda. In fact, the site was used solely to train mujahideen during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, with CIA support. The camp had been run by Sadiq Bacha to train members of the Hezb-i-Islami faction. The base has never been used by Al-Qaeda, and was closed and abandoned in 1992, long before Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. Since the 1990s, Karam has been inhabited by families living in mud and rock houses, and nomads during the winter.
The bombing of buildings owned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), first on 16 October 2001 and again on the 26th, provides further evidence of the systematic targeting of civilian structures in the Anglo-American air raids. The ICRC reported that “two bombs were dropped on an ICRC compound in Kabul, wounding one of the organization’s employees who was guarding the facilityé
“The compound is located two kilometers from the city’s airport. Like all other ICRC facilities in the country, it is clearly distinguishable from the air by the large red cross painted against a white background on the roof of each building. One of the five buildings in the compound suffered a direct hit. It contained blankets, tarpaulins and plastic sheeting and is reported to be completely destroyed. A second building, containing food supplies, caught fire and was partially destroyed before the fire was brought under control.” Only ten days later, clearly visible Red Cross buildings were again destroyed by U.S. bombs in the very same compound. The ICRC reported that “bombs have once again been dropped on its warehouses in Kabul. A large (3X3 m) red cross on a white background was clearly displayed on the roof of each building in the complexé
“At about 11.30 a.m. local time, ICRC staff saw a large, slow-flying aircraft drop two bombs on the compound from low altitude. This is the same compound in which a building was destroyed in similar circumstances on 16 October. In this latest incident, three of the remaining four buildings caught fire. Two are said to have suffered direct hits. Following the incident on 16 October, the ICRC informed the United States authorities once again of the location of its facilities. The buildings contained the bulk of the food and blankets that the ICRC was in the process of distributing to some 55,000 disabled and other particularly vulnerable persons. The US authorities had also been notified of the distribution and the movement of vehicles and gathering of people at distribution points.”
The Red Cross incidents in themselves clarify the United States’ flagrant lack of concern for civilian life in relation to the bombing campaign, and illustrate the Western powers’ insistence on punishing the Afghan people as an integral part of their military strategy. Indeed, the U.S. response to media coverage of the bombing of Red Cross buildings is particularly revealing. CNBC reported on 29th October:
“Also, there was an interesting case on Friday where the US-American warplanes hit a Red Cross food warehouse twice. Now initially, it was said that that was hit by mistake. However today, senior military officials tell us that that Red Cross warehouse was hit on purpose because it was seized by the Taliban, who was stealing all that food.”
We may note the contradiction. First the U.S. stated that the bombing was a mistake. Then the U.S. claimed it was not a mistake. Most importantly, the new pretext for the bombing was a lie. A Red Cross official based in the agency’s Geneva headquarters, Christopher Luedi, flatly contradicted the claim that the ICRC warehouse had been “seized by the Taliban”:
“This we can confirm is not correct because we started four days before the bombardment to distribute food out of these warehouses to disabled-headed families, a distribution which started on Tuesday and should have been ongoing until Sunday. This distribution was notified to the Americans especially in light of, because we distributed to different districts and this leads to a massing of people and we wanted to keep them [the Americans] informed that the massing people was linked to our distributionsé So we gave a plan of distribution to the Americans, we say, ‘On Tuesday the distribution is in this district, District 1, these and these are the distribution spots, on Wednesday these and these districts and so many beneficiaries, on Thursday, on Saturday and on Sunday.’ And this is where they get this information. But we were using this food through our own channels. That means we had the control over this warehouseéAs I said it is a compound; you go through a gate. The compound is quite big. We used it for joggingé it is fairly alone [i.e., isolated].”
These examples in themselves, referred to in our report, illustrate to what extent the military actions are “as targeted as possible.” Indeed, it is clear that the targets of the bombing campaign indisputably include civilians and civilian structures. So much so that the British Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, inadvertantly admitted as much when he said with reference to the bombing campaign: “The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.” Anglo-American strategy thus includes the punishment of Afghan civilians as an integral objective, designed to secure the final aim of toppling the Taliban regime. In this context, the mass destruction of civilian structures and lives that has accompanied the bombing campaign can be understood as part of a deliberate strategy of collective punishment against the Afghan people. This strategy in fact falls under the FBI’s own definition of terrorism: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Your statement that: “the policy which the Prime Minister and the UK Government has pursued since the events of 11th September has been vitalé in ensuring that the military response is as targeted as possible” thus only incriminates the British Government further by clarifying that the policy of targeting the Afghan people has been directly supported by it, given that “targeted” in this context clearly means: “targeted” against the Afghan people. To then justify this policy of terrorism against the Afghan people carried out by the British and American Governments as dealing “with the present threat of terrorism” is a clear act of obfuscation of the facts.
It is also worth noting that it is not quite correct to describe the current U.S.-led war in Afghanistan as a “military response”. The United States, in alliance with other world powers, had planned on invading Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime long before the 11th September attacks. The only reason these plans were not implemented then is due to lack of local support for such an action. This fact was also referred to in our report. Articles by specialists in Central Asia were published in the Washington Post and Toronto Sun as early as December last year noting that U.S., Russian and Indian officials were holding meetings on a future attack on Afghanistan to replace the Taliban regime with a new government. In July 2001, three U.S. officials Tom Simmons (former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan), Karl Inderfurth (former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs) and Lee Coldren (former State Department expert on South Asia), met with Pakistani and Russian intelligence officers in Berlin and informed them that the U.S. was planning military strikes against Afghanistan in October. For example, the BBC reported that:
“A former Pakistani diplomat has told the BBC that the US was planning military action against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban even before last week’s attacks. Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of Octoberé US officials told him of the plan at a UN-sponsored international contact group on Afghanistan which took place in Berliné [I]f the military action went ahead it would take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.” Given that a military action was planned long before 11th September, independently of that terrible tragedy, it is hardly accurate to describe the same action as a “response” to that tragedy. Indeed, it seems that the U.S. deliberately exploited this tragedy as a justification to implement its long-standing military plans for Afghanistan.
You then state that: “Obviously diplomacy, financial action and humanitarian action all have a part to play but I believe that military action became necessary when the diplomatic approach in which Pakistan played a leading role was unsuccessful.” The question that you have avoided answering is: Did military action become necessary as early as December last year? Or even July this year? Because the fact of the matter is that military action against Afghanistan had been planned for October long before the events surrounding the 11th September. It is clear that everything that occurred from 11th September onwards played the role of providing a pretext to implement and build upon war plans that were already in place. But such plans were certainly not “necessary” at the time they had been formulated some time last year.
Furthermore, diplomacy is hardly an apt description of the Anglo-American approach to the Taliban in the aftermath of the 11th September. Indeed, the American and British Governments dismissed out of hand the Taliban offer to extradite Bin Laden given proof of his responsibility for attacks in New York and Washington, although international law requires that parties first seek a peaceful resolution. As noted by Rahul Mahajan, National board member of Peace Action and a specialist on South and Central Asian affairs, on 7 October: “The Taliban have recently shown willingness to negotiate – just releasing a British journalist and, within the last 24 hours, offering to try bin Laden before an Islamic court. Instead of making a reasonable counteroffer, the Bush and Blair governments started bombing.” Yes, this certainly amounts to a “failure” of diplomacy, but on whose part?
You mention that you believe: “that military action is within the terms of UN Security Council Resolutions 1368 and 1373.” This is hardly a very meaningful response to the legal questions brought up about the bombing campaign in our report. I reiterate those issues here.
The Western powers under U.S. leadership have violated international law by undertaking a military intervention without consent from the UN Security Council, and have violated the Geneva Conventions by imposing fatal sanctions and border-closures, combined with a day-to-day bombing campaign, on Afghanistan. Even if a UN mandate exists, it is illegal to endanger the civilians and civilian infrastructure.
However, a UN mandate does not exist. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the use of force except in two circumstances: where the UN Security Council authorises the use of force under Chapter VII of the Charter; and where a country resorts to self-defence in the face of an armed attack. The U.S. has publicly cited the latter right as a legal justification for its current policy. But while Article 51 of the UN Charter allows a country to defend itself against an armed attack, the U.S. response must conform to the International Court of Justice’s landmark ruling on the scope of Article 51, as issued in relation to its Nicaragua judgment of 1986. The Court defined armed attack as either an event in which one State directly sends troops into another or “the sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands… which carry out acts of armed force against another State… [amounting to] actual armed attack by regular forces”.
While it is entirely obvious that that the U.S. terror attacks amount to the use of armed force committed by armed bands, in order to justify an attack on Afghanistan, the United States would at least have to prove beyond doubt firstly that Bin Laden was responsible, and secondly that he acted “on or behalf of” the particular State it is attacking, i.e. the Taliban regime. Vice- President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and an expert on war powers, U.S. Attorney Michael Ratner, has highlighted the fact that:
“The United States has yet to present convincing proof that Bin Laden was involved in the attacks on September 11. Without such proof it is unlikely Afghanistan will ever agree to his extradition and it will be more difficult to get other nations to cooperate in a coalition. Certainly before force is used that evidence should be revealed publicly and the facts subject to scrutiny by the UN Security Council. Otherwise, the U.S. may launch military attacks with no basis, much like it apparently did in bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.”
As is further noted by one of the most eminent American scholars of international law, Professor Louis Henkin, the right of self-defence stipulated in Article 51 is:
“é limited to cases of armed attack that are generally beyond doubt; a state’s responsibility for acts of terrorism is rarely beyond doubt and difficult to prove… Article 51 gives a right… to defend against an armed attack. This right does not allow retaliation for armed attacks…or (force) to deter future attacks… [A] state that has been the victim of an act of terrorism will have to pursue other remedies against states that it believes responsible and against the states that encourage, promote, condone, or tolerate terrorism or provide a haven to terrorists.”
Yet the Western powers under U.S. leadership have scorned other remedies. They have failed to provide reasonable proof of Bin Laden’s responsibility; they have refused to seek authorisation from the UN Security Council; they have dismissed out of hand the Taliban offer to extradite Bin Laden given proof of his responsibility for attacks in New York and Washington. In this way, the West has demonstrated its sheer contempt for international law. As U.S. international law expert, Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois advises:
“The United States is under an absolute obligation to resolve this dispute with Afghanistan in a peaceful manner as required by UN Charter Article 2(3) and Article 33…. Accordingly, this dispute must be resolved by invoking the 1971 Montreal Sabotage Convention and the 1997 UN International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. Furthermore, the United States should offer to submit this entire dispute with Afghanistan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the so-called World Court).”
You then go on to argue that: “many critics of the role the UK Governmenté have overlooked the extent to which policy was based on diplomacy, discussion and humanitarian responses.” To prove this assertion you then cite various speeches by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, the latter discussing the task of “genuinely tackling global deprivation and poverty”, the former emphasising “the vital role of the UN in Afghanistan”.
With respect to Tony Blair’s emphasis on “grasping the opportunities now offered across political boundaries” by the “world wide coalition which is developing”, to tackle “deprivation and poverty” around the world, I wonder if this will take into account the principal causes of “global deprivation and poverty”, namely Western financial institutions and the current structure of the global economy. Former Chief Economist of the World Bank, former Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s council of economic advisers, and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, has scathingly revealed the hidden agenda of the global economic system under U.S./Western domination. In a detailed interview with Gregory Palast of the London Observer, Professor Stiglitz noted that IMF and World Bank programmes systematically manufacture social, political and economic crises around the world wherever they are applied, culminating in mass impoverishment, increasing inequality and even internal conflicts, all in the name of securing Western access to regional resources, resulting in huge elite profits. It is no wonder then that the eminent French historian Marc Ferro of the Paris-based Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences, also Co-Editor of the Journal of Contemporary History, observes observes that under the guise of ‘decolonisation’ the Western powers began “replacing a visible presence by the invisible government of the big banks: the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and so on”: a system which Ferro describes as “multinational imperialism”. As for the “vital role of the UN in Afghanistan especially following the fall of Kabul”, referred to by Jack Straw, the anti-humanitarian nature of this role as a consequence of the U.S./UK policy of supporting the Northern Alliance renders it insignificant. Innumerable commentators inside and outside of Afghanistan describe the Afghan opposition as bandits, rapists, and murderers of exactly the same kind as the Taliban. The international community seems intent on establishing a ‘transitional government’ dominated primarily by the rag-tag collection of Afghan opposition groups, the Northern Alliance, also described as the ‘United Front’. In doing so, the UN is granting legitimacy to a band of war criminals who have killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians during their brutal reign from 1992-96. It is no surprise then that the widely praised Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) issued a desperate appeal to the United Nations and the international community on 13th November declaring that:
“The people of Afghanistan do not accept domination of the Northern Alliance! Now it is confirmed that the Taliban have left Kabul and the Northern Alliance has entered the city. The world should understand that the Northern Alliance is composed of some bands who did show their real criminal and inhuman nature when they were ruling Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996. The retreat of the terrorist Taliban from Kabul is a positive development, but entering of the rapist and looter NA in the city is nothing but a dreadful and shocking news for about 2 million residents of Kabul whose wounds of the years 1992-96 have not healed yet. Thousands of people who fled Kabul during the past two months were saying that they feared coming to power of the NA in Kabul much more than being scared by the US bombing. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be eliminated, but the existence of the NA as a military force would shatter the joyful dream of the majority for an Afghanistan free from the odious chains of barbaric Taliban. The NA will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain to fan the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain in power. The terrible news of looting and inhuman massacre of the captured Taliban or their foreign accomplices in Mazar-e-Sharif in past few days speaks for itself. Though the NA has learned how to pose sometimes before the West as ‘democratic’ and even supporter of women’s rights, but in fact they have not at all changed, as a leopard cannot change its spots. RAWA has already documented heinous crimes of the NA. Time is running out. RAWA on its own part appeals to the UN and world community as a whole to pay urgent and considerable heed to the recent developments in our ill-fated Afghanistan before it is too late. We would like to emphatically ask the UN to send its effective peace-keeping force into the country before the NA can repeat the unforgettable crimes they committed in the said years. The UN should withdraw its recognition to the so-called Islamic government headed by Rabbani and help the establishment of a broad-based government based on the democratic values. RAWA’s call stems from the aspirations of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.”
RAWA’s appeal is corroborated by the reports and statements of organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have extensively documented the routine atrocities perpetrated by the Northern Alliance factions against innocent Afghan civilians in the areas under their control. The media has largely ignored reports that the U.S. proxy force under which a supposedly ‘broad-based representative democratic’ government will be established, is already terrorising Afghan civilians under its control. One rare report in a U.S. newsmagazine was brave enough to record:
“A UN spokesperson said officials had received reports of hundreds of children being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school. She disclosed that alliance soldiers had looted many offices of the UN and other nongovernmental organizations in Mazar-i-Sharif, according to the Pakistan News Service. In addition, the UN said it fears the opposition troops may actually have shot some UN drivers.” To thus allege that this war has some sort of “humanitarian” dimension to it is, indeed, an unconscionable lie of the worst order. Noteworthy is a recent piece from the respected international current affairs journal The New Statesman (26th November 2001), by the award-winning British journalist John Pilger, a man who has covered every war in the last few decades, and who has been tireless in his exposures of the harsh realities of Western interventions around the world (see his work at http://johnpilger.com). Pilger concisely dissects the myths promulgated by our leaders, and swallowed eagerly by most of the media, designed to justify the current war on Afghanistan. In particular, he refers to the fact which the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) documented almost a year before the current crisis that U.S./Western policy towards the Taliban has been determined by strategic and economic interests in access to Caspian oil and gas (see ‘Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States’, Media Monitors Network, January 2001, http://220.127.116.11/mosaddeq2.html . This document was first published by the Canada-based Institute for Afghan Studies and has recently been listed and recommended on the Central Asia section of Harvard University’s Conflict Prevention Initiative). Pilger records that:
“The twin towers attacks provided Bush’s Washington with both a trigger and a remarkable coincidence. Pakistan’s former foreign minister Niaz Naik has revealed that he was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, was then traveling in central Asia, already gathering support for an anti-Afghanistan war ‘coalition’. For Washington, the real problem with the Taliban was not human rights; these were irrelevant. The Taliban regime simply did not have total control of Afghanistan: a fact that deterred investors from financing oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea, whose strategic position in relation to Russia and China and whose largely untapped fossil fuels are of crucial interest to the Americans. In 1998, Dick Cheney told oil industry executives: ‘I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.’
“Indeed, when the Taliban came to power in 1996, not only were they welcomed by Washington, their leaders were flown to Texas, then governed by George W Bush, and entertained by executives of the Unocal oil company. They were offered a cut of the profits from the pipelines; 15 per cent was mentioned. A US official observed that, with the Caspian’s oil and gas flowing, Afghanistan would become ‘like Saudi Arabia’, an oil colony with no democracy and the legal persecution of women. ‘We can live with that,’ he said. The deal fell through when two American embassies in east Africa were bombed and al-Qaeda was blamed.
“The Taliban duly moved to the top of the media’s league table of demons, where the normal exemptions apply. For example, Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow, the killers of at least 20,000 people in Chechnya, is exempt. Last week, Putin was entertained by his new ‘close friend’, George W Bush, at Bush’s Texas ranch.
“Bush and Blair are permanently exempt – even though more Iraqi children die every month, mostly as a result of the Anglo-American embargo, than the total number of dead in the twin towers, a truth that is not allowed to enter public consciousness. The killing of Iraqi infants, like the killing of Chechens, like the killing of Afghan civilians, is rated less morally abhorrent than the killing of Americans.” Does this sound like a humanitarian war? One which utilizes terrorism to secure regional strategic and economic interests in complete opposition to humanitarian principles, which was planned since last year, and in which the tragedy of 11th September is unconscionably exploited as a trigger to implement such plans?
We welcome the fact you have pointed out about yourself that: “In Parliament I will continue to lobby, as I have since being elected, for a just settlement for the Palestinian people”. However, we must disagree with your belief that: “The recent meeting between the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat showed the importance which the Government places on this.” This idea illustrates your lack of understanding of the basic realities unfolding in Palestine while Mr Blair and Mr Arafat shake hands and smile for the camera. In late October, the Israeli Professor Tanya Reinhart of Tel-Aviv University, a regular contributor to the daily Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahranot and a prolific commentator on the Middle East conflict, reported that:
“For a whole week now, The Israeli army has been terrorizing cities and villages in the West Bank. As in the darkest days at the beginning of the present Intifada, desperate voices and reports pour through the internet, telling of massive shelling, including schools, hospitals, the university and a maternity house in Bethlehem, of curfew, houses being seized or destroyed, water tanks ruined in refugee camps. In Beit Reema, the site of Israel’s latest show of horror, Ambulances were not allowed in. local residents witnessed that the wounded were left lying for 5 hours before they were allowed medical care (Ha’aretz Oct 25). Dr Majed Nassar of the Beit Sahour Medical Center reports on Wednesday evening, Oct 24 that ‘Today we stopped counting the dead and wounded, since the number rises hourly.’
“The snipers are back, aiming carefully to kill or maim for life. They are not targeting only those that Israel selected to define as ‘wanted’. Of the 26 killed until Oct 23, 16 were civilians, including 4 women, a little girl, and two youths under 16 (Hass, Ha’aretz Oct 24). In the town of Sanour south of Jenin City, 18 year-old Ghada was picking olives with family members, when Israeli snipers opened fire towards them. She was shot in the neck and died instantly. ‘She was a very kind and loving girl,’ her mother said. ‘She was very helpful at home and in the farm. Her sisters and brothers looked up to her. She had a whole life ahead of her and they murdered her in cold blood.’ (Palestine Media Center, Oct 22).
“The Israeli tanks will be forced, eventually, to pull out back to the outskirts of the cities, but this won’t bring Ghada back to life. Nor would their departure arise great expectations for Hussam Jabar’s family from Beit Jala. ‘The army had seized their house on Thursday, using a ping pong table to barricade the seven members of the family into the kitchen, and setting up machine-gun posts in the children’s bedrooms.’ When the army started pulling out from Beit Jala, leaving his house ‘peppered with bullet holes from Palestinian gunmen, and strewn with the debris of some two dozen Israeli soldiers’, he told Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian that ‘the Israeli army would soon be back. “Do you think it makes a difference if they left? They are going back and forth. What makes you think that they have really left?” he said. “We have an inner feeling that we are an expendable people.”‘ (The Guardian, Oct 24).
“Indeed this has been the pattern for a long while now. The army enters the cities, sows destruction, and then ‘under pressure’ pulls out a few hundred meters, till the next time. Each time the scale is bigger. This time, Israel describes it as an act against terror, retaliating for the assassination of Zeevi. ‘We are doing precisely what the US is doing in Afghanistan’ – explained Raanan Gissin, a spokesman of Sharon, to CNN on Wednesday, Oct 24.”
This is what Israel was doing while Blair and Arafat were talking about a “just settlement”; while Colin Powell was talking about a new “peace process” based on UN resolutions. Yet while issuing flowery speeches, no one chose to condemn Israel’s illegal reoccupation of Palestinian territories, and brutal slaughter of Palestinian civilians at this time in the name of fighting terrorism. The silence of the Prime Minister on what Israel was doing while he was shaking Arafat’s hand, does indeed reveal the importance which the Government places on justice and peace for the Palestinians, who have been deliberately deprived of their right to self-determination under a viable state by Israel and its illegal occupation of the territories, with international complicity. Sound-bites do not amount to policy.
You then go on to discuss the various so-called humanitarian efforts of the British Government in Afghanistan. You begin by noting a Labour aid programme in the country “channelled through the United Nations and NGOs” amounting to “é32 million” since 1997. After 11th September you point out that “over é50 million” has been “allocated” for “aid to people in the area.” You go on describing the various aid programmes being conducted by a number of Western powers in their unquestionable benevolence. You also add that: “The Taliban authorities, through their policy of taxing convoys and commandeering supplies and a ban on the nations’ staff of aid agencies using phones, for instance, had not helped this operation.”
Sophisticated propaganda techniques almost always attempt to manufacture appropriate presentations about issues, not by total fabrication, but by selective citation. By pointing only at particular facts, completely out of context and in isolation from other crucial facts, you paint an impressive, but blatantly dishonest, portrait of current British policy under U.S. leadership. Blaming the Taliban, for example, for a humanitarian crisis that is largely a result of the policy of the international community, is simply immoral and deceitful.
And there can be no doubt that the international community, including the British Government, is directly responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe now unfolding in Afghanistan. So what is the principal cause of the humanitarian crisis. The New York Times answered this question on the 12th September: “Washington has also demanded [from Pakistan] a cutoff of fuel supplies,… and the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan’s civilian population.” By the end of that month, America’s ‘newspaper of record’ reported that officials in Pakistan “said today that they would not relent in their decision to seal off the country’s 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan, a move requested by the Bush administration because, the officials said, they wanted to be sure that none of Mr. Bin Laden’s men were hiding among the huge tide of refugees.” Additionally, almost all aid missions withdrew or were expelled from Afghanistan in anticipation of the coming bombing campaign.
So who cut off the truck convoys of aid into Afghanistan, the country’s last lifeline? The United States, with wholehearted support from the international community. And what were the consequences? According to UN estimates, about 7-8 million Afghans are now at risk of imminent starvation. The New York Times noted, for instance, that nearly 6 million people depend on food aid from the UN. Another 3.5 million in refugee camps outside the country, many of whom fled just before the borders were sealed, also face imminent starvation. You note that new World Food Programme figures “confirm that increased quantities of food and emergency supplies are getting in to Afghanistan.” That is a rather nice description of what remains a measly, virtually insignificant amount of aid in comparison to what is needed. Leading aid agencies have consistently contradicted the obfuscation of the American and British Governments. Spokesperson for Christian Aid, John Davison, for instance, laid the blame for the vast numbers of starving squarely on the bombing campaign:
“The main routes we had managed to establish were coming in through Pakistan and lately virtually nothing is getting in – I believe only a single convoy got in yesterday… Soon it will get to the point that the trucks won’t go out at all because of fears of getting stuck in the snow… Everyone is glad that the Taliban have mostly lost power but the recent developments have demonstrated the lifesaving importance of the pause in the bombing that we and six other major international aid agencies had called for – our call went unheeded and now we face this crisis. In the Western and Central Highlands where we carry out most of our work, about 80 percent of the population is very vulnerable… Food is very short and people are trying desperately to get out and they have no means of transportation. That’s hundreds of thousands of people facing starvation.” The New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has similarly provided scathing criticism of the policies of the ‘international coalition against terrorism’ under U.S. leadership. CESR Executive Director, Roger Normand, observed on the same day:
“The Geneva Conventions and Red Cross regulations mandate that relief aid be neutral, impartial and motivated solely by humanitarian concerns. But so far the U.S. military has viewed the food crisis in Afghanistan – which our bombing helped create – as a domestic PR opportunity. Independent relief agencies have condemned our military policy of dropping food into heavily-mined areas as not only ineffective and dangerous, but also a distraction from the unglamorous but crucial work of distributing the huge amounts of staple goods necessary to feed millions of hungry people.” ( http://www.cesr.org )
The CESR’s Director of Research, Sarah Zaidi, has elaborated that the U.S. has through its regional allies along with its pressure to close the borders, directly created the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Her comments clarify that it is the U.S. which originally created the crisis in the first place:
“The biggest obstacle to the relief effort is now posed by U.S. partners. Northern Alliance warlords have sabotaged supply routes inside Afghanistan, while Pakistan and other neighboring countries continue to seal their borders and prevent desperate people from reaching food and safety. Rather than seeking to score PR points, the U.S. military should pressure its allies to allow free movement to Afghans and to UN and private relief agencies. Ensuring that thousands of Afghans do not starve to death this winter is both a moral imperative and a human rights obligation for all parties who have contributed to the crisis – including the United States.”
Recognising the Holocaust-like proportions of the impending disaster in Afghanistan as a result of the international blockade, a United Nations special investigator called for an end to the bombing in mid-October, again laying responsibility for the unprecedented catastrophe at the door of the perpetrators of the bombing campaign. Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that:
“The bombing has to stop right now. There is a humanitarian emergency. In winter the lorries cannot go in any more. Millions of Afghans will be unreachable in winter and winter is coming very, very soon. We must give the (humanitarian) organizations a chance to save the millions of people who are internally displaced (inside Afghanistan).”
Unless the bombing campaign is ended, he urged, aid will not get through, and up to 7 million Afghan lives will be at risk from imminent starvation.
The aid that is being inputted in by the Western powers amounts only to a trickle. Mark Fried, communications and advocacy director of Oxfam in Canada has been quoted in a recent November edition of the Canadian daily, The Ottawa Citizen, as pointing out that the current input of aid from the international community is sufficient only to feed about “1 per cent of the people in need”.
So as far as we, the international community, are concerned, the other 99 per cent of course can simply starve to death. We are the ones that imposed the comprehensive blockade preventing all aid from coming in, and we are the ones that then attempt to give the policy a humanitarian gloss by dropping in insignificant amounts of aid for public relations purposes. But we are still supremely benevolent, unquestionably selfless in motive.
The fact is Mr Lepper, we cannot absolve ourselves of our responsibility for this act of genocide through economic warfare simply by pointing at the millions of pounds worth of aid we are putting in, when we know full well that by imposing a comprehensive international blockade we have deliberately severed the country’s entire life support system – and then attempt to cover it up by ignoring the fact, which we also know full well, that our thousands of tonnes of air drops are insignificant in comparison to what is needed, and what could easily be provided if we stopped the bombing and ended the blockade. In that context, whether or not “Clare Short’s Department for International Development hosted a meeting with the UN Agency’s and the British Agency’s Afghan Group – the umbrella for UK based NGOs – to begin more co-ordinated planning of the aid programme” is irrelevant, because the Government is not willing to heed the repeated calls and recommendations of the same aid agencies. The WFP figures you cite yourself illustrate the point: “Since 12 October the WFP has transported 4,200 MT [Metric Tonnes] into Afghanistané The WFP assessment of immediate need is 50,000 MT per month.” Notably, this assessment of need is with regards to that of “immediate” nature. It is quite limited and conservative compared to the assessments of a large multitude of aid agencies based on immediate and more long-term needs with respect to the coming winter. Working with this limited figure, we can deduce that between the date of your letter (28th November) and 12th October – 47 days – only 4,200 MT went into Afghanistan compared to the approximately 78,333 MT that is needed. In terms of percentage, the aid going in amounts to about 5.4 per cent of what is actually immediately needed by the Afghan people. So 95 per cent of the country’s immediate need remains to be met. And this is only “immediate” need, excluding the vast number of more long-term and broader basic needs of the Afghan people. Is it any wonder then that a 2-year old Afghan child weighs less than two bags of sugar, as reported by Channel 4?
Is it a surprise then that leading British aid agencies have described the U.S. food drops as “virtually useless” as an effective aid strategy?
The propaganda purpose of the food drops has also been noted by the Christian Science Monitor: “Experts also urge the United States to improve its image by increasing aid to Afghan refugees.”
The international medical aid agency, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres [MSF]), which has worked in Afghanistan since 1979, condemned the food air drops as “a purely propaganda tool, of real little value to the Afghan people.” The agency stated that: “Such action does not answer the needs of the Afghan people and is likely to undermine attempts to deliver substantial aid to the most vulnerable.” Dr. Jean-Herve Bradol of MSF elaborated that the real impact of the food drops will be “minimal”:
“How will the Afghan population know in the future if an offer of humanitarian aid does not hide a military operation? We have seen many times before, for example in Somalia, the problems caused for both the vulnerable population and for aid agencies when the military try to both fight a war and deliver aid at the same time. What is needed is large scale convoys of basic foodstuffs, rather than single meals designed for soldiers. Until yesterday the UN and aid agencies such as ourselves were still able to get some food convoys into Afghanistan. Due to the airstrikes the UN have stopped all convoys, and we will find delivering aid also much more difficult. Medical relief is not the same as dropping medicines by plane. Unless they are administered by qualified medical staff, medicines can actually do more harm than good. Dropping a few cases of drugs and food in the middle of the night during air raids, without knowing who is going to collect them, is virtually useless and may even be dangerous.”
The military operation can therefore not be honestly cast in any sort of genuinely humanitarian light. MSF “rejects the idea of a humanitarian coalition alongside the military coalition.” These are the disgusting levels to which our supposedly advanced civilisation has stooped without barely batting an eyelid. Up to 8 million Afghan people will die of starvation because the international community has cut off the country’s lifeline in the name of President George W. Bush Jnr.’s crusade for world peace. The irony would be amusing if it were not so horrifying. In fact, there are rather obvious historical reasons for Western Europe’s elitist indifference to the tide of genocide that is sweeping over Afghanistan under primarily U.S. tutelage. Having set up the conditions for a genocidal massacre through policies that amount to economic warfare, our world leaders can nevertheless continue to indulge in the self-praise of our universal benevolence é a benevolence that is able to tolerate the murder of up to 8 million people just because we want the borders closed to continue our crusade for world peace in the name of the “war on terror”. When 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust last century, the world’s belated response was “Never Again”. But it seems that “Never Again” does not apply to the “unpeople” of this world. I can imagine the souls of those millions of innocent victims of the Nazis trembling in horror, as they watch from the heavens a new Holocaust of death through starvation unfold in Afghanistan.
You also state in your letter that: “It is important to remember that we were facing a crisis before September 11 and the Taliban were making humanitarian efforts difficult.” Again, this is another act of obfuscation. The crisis before 11th September was exacerbated due to comprehensive sanctions on Afghanistan imposed by the international community. “The U.S. engineered a punishing Iraq-style embargo of war-ravaged Afghanistan at a time when many of its 18 million people are starving and homeless,” observes the Toronto Sun. The London Guardian reports that:
“When the UN imposed sanctions a year ago on the Taliban because of their refusal to hand over bin Laden, the suffering in Afghanistan increased. The move has not hurt the Taliban. They are well off. It is ordinary Afghans who have suffered. Those in jobs earn a salary of around $4 a month, scarcely enough to live on. The real losers are Afghanistan’s women, who have been for bidden by the Taliban from working. Kabul is full of burqa-clad women beggars who congregate every lunchtime outside the city’s few functioning restaurants in the hope of getting something to eat.”
The famine in Afghanistan was the principal cause of the crisis. The sanctions only made an already bad situation exceedingly worse. The dire repression of the Taliban regime and its role in contributing to this situation is uncontroversial and hardly needs to be repeated. What is worth noting is that the sanctions imposed by the United Nations were the principal cause of the exacerbation of the food and water crisis. “The country is in the grip of an unreported humanitarian disaster”, notes Luke Harding reporting from Kandahar. “In the south and west, there has been virtually no rain for three years. The road from Herat, near the Iranian border, to Kandahar, the southern desert city, winds through half-abandoned vil lages and swirlingly empty riverbeds. Some 12m people have been affected, of whom 3m are close to starvation.” A joint Special Alert from United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) reported in June 2001 that an estimated 5 million Afghans now “have little or no access to food”. The only international response at that time was to stick hard and fast to the devastating “Iraq-style” sanctions regime. Evidently, the 12 million people affected, and the 3 million about to starve to death at that time, were not relevant – the British Government like the other Western powers was not interested in the mini-Holocaust about to unfold. And you expect us to take seriously the idea that the current meagre inputs of “aid” – condemned by almost the entire community of international aid agencies – are not merely crude public relations exercises?
I would appreciate a response to this letter that attempts to actually address the issues raised rather than skirt around them, ignore them, and entirely misrepresent them, as is the style of official standardized replies. At least then I would not have to repeat myself.
Thank you once again for your letter.
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