Gandhi and Afghanistan

Spring is pregnant with promise.  Everywhere quanta of colour are exploding onto the verdant carpet under the proudly spreading canopy.  Daredevil winged electrons orbit dizzily through shafts of brightness incandescing the lazily lifting mist, and the murmur of life rises to a thrilling crescendo.

 The searing haze slowly materialises into the form of the Mahatma, surrounded by a shimmering group among whom I begin to discern several prominent philosophers, academics, spiritual leaders, social and environmental activists and dissenters engrossed in an animated analysis of  the current geopolitical convulsions on terra firma way below, during the third week of the bombing of Afghanistan.

 “Friends!,”  he exclaims, his soft expression hardening into analytic intensity as the sophisticated military ordnance rains cynically onto this tragic land and causing untold “collateral damage”: millions threatened with starvation because the food aid has ceased as a result of the bombing, or about to succumb to hypothermia in the first snowfalls while trapped in the mountains at the border posts into Pakistan, sealed at America’s insistence  an evolving holocaust.

“Are these not premeditated crimes against humanity?”

 He rises, arms outstretched, hands expressing the inexpressible and eyes with unfathomable anguish,  “How can these Americans do this to these poor people! Haven’t they suffered enough!  Centuries of invasions, ten years of bombardment by the Russians, oppression and terror by the Taliban, three years of disastrous drought, and now this impending genocide!   We know that the ‘smart bombs’ and the ‘surgical strikes’ will be a diabolical replay of the destruction of Iraq, where only 7 percent were ‘smart’ and 70 percent of the ‘dumb’ bombs missed their targets, with catastrophic results for the civilian population.   And we also know that what meagre infrastructure Afghanistan possessed last month will be intentionally ground to dust.”

 “Let us,”  his composure now slowly returning, ” analyse this dispassionately.  Wouldn’t you agree that the extent of the bombing is grossly out of proportion to the ostensible aims?  Would they waste so much resources to flush one alleged terrorist out of his cave and dispatch him to his maker?  Would they now threaten to expand the conflict to all countries which harbour terrorists and risk destabilizing the entire region, including their own puppet regimes, if there were no greater agenda?

 But what exactly could that agenda be?”

 “Ramesh,” he entreats, with that characteristic wobble of his head,  “you are the great tactician.  What do you think is going on here?”

 With an air of the deepest humility, Ramesh leans forward and fixes his limpid eyes on his beloved and then on the throng.

 “I think there are several agendas.

 The first is OIL!

 No sooner had the Soviet Union disintegrated than these multinational oil companies ensconced themselves in the Caspian Sea basin.  The oil and gas reserves in this Central Asian region are enormous.  These are non-OPEC producers so they can easily be coerced by Big Brother to increase production if OPEC has the temerity to cut production to push up world oil prices. This is also a non-Arab region and, though Muslim, is secularized.  Convenient for these capitalists, eh.

 Chevron completed its pipeline soon after the attack on the World Trade Centre, from the Tengiz oilfields in western Kazakhstan, across southern Russia, to the Black Sea coast and will shortly be disgorging its black cargo into insatiable European markets.  And a BP-led consortium has been exploiting the vast deposits in Azerbaijan.”

 “Tariq,” he beckons to his dear friend, ” you’ve had so much experience in the petroleum industry in Kuwait.  How do you consider the oil issue to be impacting on Afghanistan?”

 Tariq, whose slender frame echoes the sapling standing at the edge of the clearance, clears his throat with a nervous little cough as the neon spotlight is swung onto him and begins:

 I’ve been watching events in Turkmenistan with indescribable fascination these past years, because to my mind it is a microcosm of global economics and politics.  It has the third largest gas reserves in the world and enough oil to satisfy America’s needs – or more accurately, gluttony – for 30 years, and this is an ideal situation from which to supply the voracious markets of the East, especially Japan and South Asia.  The oil transnational which gets in first will earn itself billions of dollars.  There has been intense competition between Unocal ( a US-Based corporation) and Bridas (an Argentinian multinational) for rights to lay a pipeline to the Arabian Sea, either across eastern Iran or western Afghanistan.  Iran is definitely a no-no for both corporations, for obvious reasons.  The route through Afghanistan is the shortest to the sea and the terrain is relatively favourable,  so they have been forced to negotiate with the Taliban who have been playing them off against each other to earn maximum revenue.”

 He is now totally oblivious of himself:  subject and object are one.

 “Now for the coup de grace,”  he continues with irrepressible enthusiasm: “Unocal won the multi-billion dollar contract in 1997 because of intense lobbying by Saudi and Yank go-betweens and handsome bribes to boot, but withdrew the following year because of the political instability.  Unocal would never fork out all that boodle unless there is a very stable government in Afghanistan that has the confidence of governments, lenders and the corporation.”

 “So,”  Gandhi stretches expansively, becoming increasingly animated,  “there’s the rub!……

 ……  the Taliban will be eliminated,”  he punctuates the denouement with a melodramatic flourish, “not for harbouring bin Laden, but on the altar of geopolitical expediency.  Bush’s election campaign was bankrolled by the oil industry, and it’s now pay-back time!  When compounded with the fact that oil is viewed by the US and its corporations a highly strategic commodity to which they must have unfettered access and absolute control over, the resulting powderkeg begs for ignition.

 But friends, the story doesn’t end there, of course.  The plot merely thickens –  to the consistency of bitumen!

 Let us now ponder together why, after eliminating Osama and the Taliban, the Americans and their lackeys plan to target ALL countries which harbour terrorists.”

 A young activist with a shock of auburn curls and fiery eyes takes up the challenge:

 “To my mind, Gandhiji, America has been waging serious economic warfare against the Third World for half a century.  Is there any better way of escalating this assault exponentially than by adding a dire military threat?  And America is merely using Afghanistan as an expendable theatre stage to show the world what she can do to any of us if we don’t do as she wishes. How convenient to have their military might positioned in this strategically important Central Asian region where they would be able to counter burgeoning Russian and Chinese interests and thereby extend western imperial power.  There is grave danger of further destabilizing a region which includes two belligerent states with recently acquired nuclear capability and several highly unstable totalitarian regimes.

 Now these capitalists can with impunity threaten any country which does not abide by America’s economic dictates, with sanctions or military intervention on the pretext of wanting to eliminate the terrorists allegedly harboured by the recalcitrant state.  And this is merely one element of their “full spectrum dominance”.  Isn’t that quite dandy!”

 “Precisely!  This cult of militarism,”  the Mahatma’s voice and expression take on an unexpected and eerie gravity as an owl hoots ominously in the distance,  “makes the world an exceedingly more dangerous place, but is an unexpected boon for the macroeconomics of the world’s elites with the consequent fast-tracking of capitalist globilisation!  The economies of the G8 have been grinding into recession of late – Japan into serious deflation.  What a boost the military-industrial complex in full flight will give these ailing economies!  The spin-offs would be tremendous for free market fundamentalism.”

 He pauses as though in momentary meditation and then continues solemnly:

 “This brings us now to the vexed question of terrorism.

 What do we consider to be the origins, nature and evolution of this phenomenon?”

 A hand is raised and I recognize one of the venerable captains of industry indicating a desire to address the group. 

 “Ladies and gentlemen,” he gesticulates pompously, “I am of the opinion that terrorism of the Islamic fundamentalist flavour is a highly reactionary phenomenon whose genesis is a maintenance, in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs, which eschews as anathema western democracy and enlightenment, and whose programme is the assault on our innocents with suicide bombings, biological and chemical weapons –  to macabre attacks on our nuclear energy facilities with resultant Chernobyl-scale catastrophes.  In short it seeks to eliminate Civilisation in the vilest manner imaginable.   All that we hold dear: music, art and letters, will be rent from us and flung into the fundamentalist dustbin of history!

 America is the only power which can save Civilisation from this terrorist monster.”

 Sensing the rapidly approaching tectonic cataclysm he sits down apprehensively.

 “What a load of reactionary rubbish,”  the first minor seismic pre-shock rumbles, followed immediately by increasingly chaotic convulsions:

“AMERICA is the biggest international terrorist of all time! –No question! -Millions of civilians slaughtered all over the –Hiroshima – 200,000 –  Nagasaki – 140,000 –  and hundreds still dying every year from the longterm effects of ionizing radiation -Korea –  what a terrible -Vietnam –  two million deaths in six short years –- bombed with napalm, incendiaries – Agent Orange – 500,000 children with serious birth defects as a result of the chemical weapons –  what brutality! -Laos and Cambodia – 600,000 – carpet-bombing –  Pol Pot – US-supported monster –one million souls! -Chile – Allende –  CIA-backed coup -30,000 murdered – Guatemala –150,000 –  Panama – just to protect the US’s Panama Canal interests – Grenada – atrocities! l Salvador –75,000  –Nicaragua – 30,000 – horrendous! – Contras –  death squads – shame! US support for murderous dictators and terrorists: Suharto – one million murdered -, Marcos, Mobuto, Somoza, Savimbi, Renamo, Sharon – Haiti- Honduras – Dominican Republic – pitiful! US-backed apartheid attacks against southern African frontline states – more than one million massacred – countries shattered –Somalia – Congo –  Yugoslavia – terror breeds terror -Tragic Iraq – can you imagine – 200,000 slaughtered in six short weeks!- and the babies still dying in their hundreds of thousands – depleted uranium – deformities –leukaemia – unconscionable!”

The torrent is in full spate, having smashed the dam wall: anger, incredulity, tears, derision –

“Friends!, Friends, Please!,”  Gandhi implores, his burnished back heaving under the emotional assault, “this is a sacred space where we have dedicated ourselves to pursuing the virtues of Truth and Compassion.  We must, at all times, strive to keep this in our consciousness – at the very centre of our beings.  The greater the level of passion, the more these will elude us.” 

Silence descends on the crowd – a secular benediction.

“May we continue:

Terrorism can be viewed as attacking and terrifying civilians with the express purpose of coercing their government to comply with demands.  But a deep analysis is fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions:  Should one, for instance, define it in terms of tactics and methods or the status of the “terrorist”;  e.g. would Nelson Mandela be viewed as a terrorist?

But is there any doubt that the constant  bombing and the imposition by America of a food and medicine embargo on Iraq with the intention of making conditions so intolerable for the population that they will rebel against Sadam Hussain, is terrorism?  The resultant death of 500,000 children in the six years following the Gulf War is unquestionably a horrendous example of terrorism, gross crime against humanity and tantamount to genocide.  The unspeakable callousness Madeleine Albright displayed when quizzed about this issue in 1996 is well known.  She was merely expressing the attitude of her government.

And as you have so passionately and eloquently indicated, there are innumerable examples of American terrorism.  But the US is also an international outlaw as evidenced by her obdurate refusal to abide by international law, the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention.  The fact that the US is attempting to scupper the establishment of the International Criminal Court further strengthens this analysis.

The global alliance against terrorism will merely exacerbate the problem and spawn thousands more suicide bombers who will target innocent Western civilians, but the economic and political elites will mercifully escape the calamity.  This will be a convenient excuse for the Administration to severely curtail civil liberties and attempt to annihilate the growing anti-globilisation movement and all progressive civil society programmes because of their “anti-American” agendas in this stultifying atmosphere of neo-McCarthyism.  And with the phenomenally creative spin-doctoring of the Rendon Group and the servile media establishment, everything is in the realm of the possible.”

The Great Soul focuses the group’s compassion:

“But our immediate concern is the crisis in Afghanistan.  The Coalition must be pressurized to stop the bombing immediately and food distribution has to be resumed and accelerated before winter sets in.  Then comes the enormous task of reconstructing this shattered country and rehabilitating its brutalized populace.  A new political dispensation should be brokered by the UN which has the requisite impartiality, legitimacy, expertise and instruments, but care should be taken not to repeat some of the disastrous UN interventions of the past.”

With an expression of painful optimism, he concludes:

“The world is moving slowly but inexorably towards a truly just social and economic order which will eventually triumph over corporate avarice and narrow nationalistic arrogance.

The paradox is that, despite the formidable forces confronting it, global civil society has at last the distinct possibility of defeating this faceless monster which has been devouring our humanity with impunity.

What is called for now is that every citizen of the world redouble his or her efforts, in universal solidarity and interdependence, to achieve this noble goal.

And in this way the promise of spring will finally be realised.”