GONE are the days when British troops could be sent all round the world to protect a global empire on which the sun never set; when riflemen were paid in pennies and their lives were expendable pawns in an imperialist struggle to carve up the world. In those days poverty drove the desperate into the ranks of the red-coats. Now when troopers have to be paid as much as a western mercenary it’s a different ball-game.
As British casualties rise in Afghanistan the new head of the Army thinks the war could last for up to 40 years. General Sir David Richards, who becomes Chief of the General Staff later in the month, said: “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner - development, governance, security sector reform - for the next 30 to 40 years.”
The Brown government has been trying to play down General Richards’ gloomy prognosis for reasons that were spelt out by the veteran Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Menzies Campbell, who said: “Forty years may be the military estimate, but political opinion in this country will never support a commitment of that length”.
Political opinion is little more than the bourgeois consensus in Parliament that has gone along with the Afghan mission because US imperialism needs support. Public opinion, on the other hand, is totally opposed to the war and if the masses had any say in the matter our troops would be out of Afghanistan tomorrow.
No-one has officially told us what the imperialist war-aims are in Afghanistan. First of all it was the “war against terror”. It began as an American-led drive to destroy the Taliban regime which had provided a safe-haven for the Al Qaeda movement held responsible for the terror attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001.
Then it was the “war against drugs” with Nato forces supposedly moving to curb a traditional Afghan opium industry that flourished once the puritanical Taliban had been overthrown. Now it’s back to “terror” again. In fact the real war-aim of the US-led forces in Afghanistan is simply to prop up puppet leader Hamid Kharzai.
At the moment the fighting is confined to the efforts of a resurgent Taliban aimed at driving the imperialists out of the south of the country. But the problem is broader.
Hamid Kharzai, whose family were supporters of the old king, was chosen by the Americans in 2002 precisely because he had no militia behind him and therefore seemed an ideal pawn to sanction the presence of American forces who want to use the country as a strategic base to menace Russia, Iran and China.
Afghanistan is dominated by warlords. While all of them look to neighbouring powers for supplies like Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran, none of them have much commitment to any central Afghan state which could limit their powers. But they do command support in their own regions through fear, wealth and traditional tribal loyalties. Few support Kharzai. None of them want the Anglo-American forces in their country.
Imperialism has no right to decide who should govern Afghanistan. That is a matter for the Afghans themselves. The latest public opinion polls show that a majority of people in both Britain and the United States oppose the Afghan war The Stop the War Coalition has launched an online petition to Downing Street calling for withdrawal and more importantly has called for a troops out national demonstration in London on Saturday 24th October. We must mobilise to ensure the maximum turn-out for this protest to lay the basis for a mass campaign to force the Government to unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw all British troops from Afghanistan.