Like the late Marie Antoinette suggesting the poor of France might eat cake when they pleaded for bread, these two well-heeled western women supported greater freedom and opportunity for the women of Afghanistan -- ignoring the fact that their own governmeents were, even as they spoke, bombing seven bells out of those very same women and their children.
Of course, it is important to strive for women in all countries to enjoy equality of opportunity and social justice. But surely campaigning for all citizens, whatever their age or sex, to have one of the most basic of all human rights -- the right to live in peace -- is the immediate and most important task.
Perhaps these two first ladies will show even more concern for their sisters in Afghanistan and join the millions around the world who are marching and demonstrating for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan and for the imperialist forces to end their aggression.
IN the House of Commons the Home Secretary David Blunkett pushed forward the government's proposed emergency powers -- supposedly intended to thwart terrorism by allowing suspects to be interned without trial.
The government rushed the 114-pages of the Bill through in three days, even though it seriously undermines time-honoured legal rights. It was justified by pointing to the events of 11 September and the attack on the United States.
In reality it is the governments of Britain and the United States seizing upon what happened on 11 September to provide a cloak for a massive military onslaught in central Asia and greater authoritarianism at home.
The one allows imperialism to get its feet on the ground in a strategically important region of the world and the other gives the British state a newfound blunt instrument for dealing with any it decides to label as "terrorists". With the capitalist world sliding into another slump and hardship for millions just around the corner, such measures could hardly be better timed for the ruling class!
THE Anglo-US war coalition is no doubt pleased the Northern Alliance have engaged the Taleban on the ground and made territorial gains. But this unstable alliance has never been the West's choice to lead Afghanistan when the war is over.
And as usual the imperialists arrogantly presume to make such decisions. Imperialism's idea of a peaceful settlement is a version of Pax-Americana in which Britain and the United Nations may get a short-term role as so-called "peace-keepers". This would impose a form of military rule until Washington can work out which Afghan leaders it thinks it can do business with in the longer term.
Either way, the West wants Afghanistan to effectively fall under US political control.
The people of Afghanistan will have other ideas. They have a long tradition of fighting and pushing out those who try to occupy their land or dictate their countly's affairs.
America has trampled over the national severeignty of countries all around the world. It might find that Afghanistan is a bridge too far -- a graveyard rather than a new foothold.
Hands off Aghanistan!
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by our Middle East affairs correspondent
AMERICAN WARPLANES are continuing to pound Taleban territory in southern Afghanistan and around the besieged northern city of Kunduz.
The Americans are trying to block a negotiated surrender of Kunduz and have ordered their commandos operating in the south to take no prisoners.
But British imperialist plans to send over 6,000 troops to Kabul have been postponed in the face of Northern Alliance opposition and imperialist efforts to set up a puppet government in Kabul are facing intense resistance from the Northern Alliance and the other armed Afghan factions.
The Northern Alliance is in full control of the capital, Kabul and the northern half of the country. Militiamen loyal to former president Rabbani have taken over all the key buildings in Kabul and restored the radio and television service. General Dostum's men have made Mazer-e-Sherif their northern headquarters and more Russian aid is pouring in.
Northern Alliance power grows
Russian and Iranian delegations have arrived in Kabul to strengthen the authority of the Alliance leaders they've been covertly backing over the past five years.
The Kremlin regards the Alliance as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and their delegation is set for formal talks with Professor Rabbani this week.
Iran is also staking out a claim for the Shia Muslim leaders in any new Rabbani government and a UN team has also landed in Kabul with Washington's blessing, to argue for a "broad-based" interim government along the lines charted by Bush and Blair.
Of course all the country's neighbours and all the Afghan factions -- with the exception of the Taleban -- are in favour ofa broadly-based government.
But few are in favour of the imperialist plan to put the feeble old king back on the throne to do the bidding of the West and the big corporations which want to plunder the country.
And the other problem lies in the more populous south, the Pathan (Pushtun) hills, of the tribes still loyal to Taleban or other former mujahadeen leaders who will not take part in any new government unless they get the lion's share of the posts.
The Northern Alliance -- a coalition that revolves around Professor Rabbani's party, the Massoud family and General Dostum's supporters -- is backed almost entirely from the Persian speaking Tajik community, Uzbeks and Hazari communities.
Though Dostum and the Massouds were on opposing sides during the fighting when the communists were in power, they all closed ranks to fight the then Pakistani-backed Taleban when it swept through Afghanistan five years ago. One Pathan chief is now backing them but his influence is limited.
The Alliance's strongest card lies in the fact that their militias control over half the country including the capital. This, together with the now open support of Russia and Iran plus the covert backing of India has meant that imperialist plans to deploy thousands of British troops around Kabul has been blocked -- at least for the moment.
For some the war is over. For others the horror goes on. In the south Afghans are continuing to be hit by American bombers in what is increasingly being seen as a show of force by US imperialism to cow the Pathans into submission and a warning to the others that this is what they could get if they crossed the White House in the future.
The public "no prisoners" declaration and the US intervention in the negotiations for the surrender of Kunduz have angered international law and human rights groups. Talks are underway but the stumbling block is the fate of the non-Afghan Muslim volunteers in the Kunduz garrison.
The Alliance says it will give terms to Afghans but not to foreigners -- a view strengthened by a statement from UUS defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week.
"Any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilise other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent," he said. "They're people who have done terrible things."
But if there's no surrender the city will be stormed and this will almost certainly lead to the slaughter of every man of fighting age in Kunduz.
Human rights groups point out that under international law the United States could be held responsible for genocide if this happens because the Taleban governor has offered to surrender providing that all his men, regardless of nationality, are treated equally. Under the Geneva Convention it is illegal to give no quarter.
The demand to stop the war is growing all over the world. The bombing must stop immediately! No British troops should go to Kabul and the Afghan people must be left to decide then future without outside interference!
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by Caroline Colebrook
GOVERNMENT plans for the backdoor privatisation of deprived schools have been dropped because the scheme has failed to attract significant business sponsorship and pilot schemes have produced a poor record -- certainly not the miracle improvement.
Schools Minister Stephen Timms admitted last week that the results of tests for 14-year olds in secondary schools in the existing education action zones were improving at a slower rate than the national average and there were "very significant achievement gaps".
Teaching unions had warned that the problems of schools designated as failing were deep and complex with no instant solutions. Commercial management with no educational background was not likely to achieve what experienced educational experts had failed to do.
The problems have resulted from decades of cuts in both education and social services, insecurity in employment and many other factors affecting the whole community.
The solution requires restoration of funding, resources and more teachers along with integrated policies for the whole community to combat alienation and demoralisation.
This cannot be achieved by commercial companies seeking to make a profit from the situation.
Mr Timms claims that the record of education action zones in primary schools is better. He says they have brought in "millions of pounds of cash and in-kind sponsorship" totalling some £37 million from the private sector.
But the private sector does not give hand-outs without expecting a lucrative return that will have to come out of future education budgets one way or another.
The scheme had linked around 2,000 schools with around 1,000 companies.
Mr Timms told the annual conference of education action zones last week that the 73 various schemes would not be continued beyond their initial five-year terms. Some of these will end in 2003.
Schools in these zones will them be "merged" with the "excellence in the cities" scheme -- a different version of backdoor privatisation.
In these zones, businesses are asked to provide sponsorship and participate in boards of local people to support schools.
Local companies have been asked to provide £250,000 per zone but few businesses have taken any interest.
The boards were given powers to take over the governing bodies of schools if they wanted to -- but none did.
The education action zones scheme was introduced by former Schools Minister Stephen Byers who described them as "a fundamental challenge to the status quo. The education inspection service Ofsted and the National Audit Office have both criticised the scheme.
Teaching unions welcomed the Government decision to abandon the scheme. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters/Union ofWomen Teachers, said: "Once again a measure of privatisation which sounded fine in theory to some has failed in practice."
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by Steve Lawton
JAPAN moved a step closer to a limited non-combat role in support of the United States-led war on Afghanistan. And for the first time, an advance guard of two destroyers and a support ship, were dispatched in early November to the Indian Ocean.
Such a move would, if ratified by the Diet (Parliament), break the already weakened constitutional restraint on troop deployments for any other purpose than national defence.
This restraint has held since the end of the Second World War. Only in 1992 did a new law allow very limited police participation in United Nations peace keeping operations.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gave General Nakatani, Japan's defence chief, the go ahead last Tuesday to put into operation a comprehensive force for the Indian Ocean. The plan envisages five ships, six aircraft and around 1,400 troops.
The air, land and sea forces are expected to be operational for several months into 2002. The fleet includes a support vessel and two destroyers which had already been sent to the Indian Ocean two weeks ago on "an intelligence-gathering mission", the Japan Times (November 17) said.
The C-130 cargo planes and two multi-role aircraft are intended to transport US military personnel and supplies from Japan to Guam, a US island base in the Pacific Ocean, among other locations. The flotilla is expected to visit Diego Garcia, Bombay, India and Karachi, Pakistan.
The proposals have been watered down from earlier more militarist designs, to make them more palatable when it comes to the Diet vote, as we go to press.
It had included a destroyer fitted out with the state-of-the-art Aegis air-defence radar system, combining advanced spying and war-fighting capabilities. This is seen by many as being too clear a breach of the constitution and too provocative. But it is far being out of the picture.
Under new legislation, Government actions of this kind have to be up for debate within 20 days once officially announced by the Government.
There has been a long-run pressure to overturn the military containment of Japan built into the post-1945, American-crafted, constitution.
The US Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, was earlier "very satisfied" with the Cabinet decision, which he said was "courageous", Japan Times reported (November 17).
The September 11 attacks (many Japanese were killed in the World Trade Centre) have provided an impetus for reactionaries in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to push harder for the Diet's approval. Koizumi is closely courting moderate opposition forces, despite his majority, to contain adverse public reaction.
The first real indication of the trend emerged over the US-led aggression against Iraq in the 1990-1 Gulf War, to which Japan contributed a very heavy $13bn or so. Koizumi, at that time an MP, unsuccessfully argued for a military role in that war.
At 260,000-strong, the SDF is conventionally well-equiped in part because, over the decades the national economy has, despite its current chronic crisis, ballooned, and arms spending has with it. Then two years ago. a more tangible and significant amendment was made to the constitution.
The Diet approved in 1999 a deliberately vague revision -- raising hackles in People's China and the Korean Peninisula -- allowing the SDF to intervene in the event of conflict occuring in "areas surrounding Japan."
Since the attacks on the US, Japan has pledged $40m aid to Pakistan (a shift from India), ending its 1998 cessation of economic aid following the nuclear tests carried out by both Pakistan and India.
This, since Japan's increased interest in Pakistan -- a country high on China's bi-lateral list -- naturally puts a question mark over Japan's concern for nukes non-proliferation.
At the beginning of October, Zhu Bangzao of the Chinese foreign ministry, warned: "The Japanese government should view seriously and handle with caution the issue of what kind of role it is playing in the military arena."
Demonstrations in Japan, against both the US-led war on Afghanistan and SDF participation, are growing. In the latest, trade unionists and peace protesters took to some small boats in Sasebo Bay, as the three vessels bound for the Indian Ocean left two weeks ago. They chanted: "Don't take part in war."
Daigen Yanagida, the freelance journalist, initially accused of being a spy but released unharmed by the Taliban, arrived at Narita airport earlier this week. At the news conference he said the conflict in Afghanistan was a "war to protect [US] interests and hegemony", and criticised Japan's SDF move, Japan Times (November 20) said.
The Japanese Communist Party chair, Shii Kazuo, pointed out that as "the Taliban administration is on the verge of collapse, there is no reason why [the US-led forces] need to reinforce their military strength."
As the Diet debates, opposition will muster to prevent the opening of another potential source of military conflict in the Asia-Pacific.
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HOME SECRETARY David Blunkett's new anti-terrorism Bill is due to become law by next Monday in spite of considerable cross-party opposition in the Commons and the Lords. It seems that while many MPs are prepared to question it, very few are prepared to vote against it.
A rally by 74 MPs to demand more time to debate the Bill failed last week and when the Bill got its second reading last Monday, it got a massive 458 to five majority in favour.
The five who voted against were rebel Labour MPs George Galloway, Paul Marsden, Brian Sedgemore, Jeremy Corbyn and former Tory cabinet minister John Gummer, who was backed by two Tory tellers, Douglas Hogg and Richard Shepherd.
David Blunkett came under sustained attack in debate and he made some concessions. The most controversial clause is that giving the right to detain foreign terrorist suspects without trial.
This would be a derogation, or opting out, of the European convention on human rights.
Blunkett promised to amend the Bill so that he would only arrest suspected terrorists if the suspicion was based on reasonable grounds. And he promised that some parts of the Bill would be dropped automatically after five years.
He also promised that Ministry of Defence police would be subject to the same complaints procedures as normal police.
Blunkett also came under heavy pressure to drop aspects of the Bill that do not relate to terrorism, for example allowing public bodies to disclose information to each other in criminal investigations.
This measure probably has more to do with yet another attempt to appease media hysteria by appearing to be doing something about benefit fraud and nothing whatever to do with stopping terrorism.
The proposal to outlaw inciting religious hatred also came under attack. It is a measure badly needed to protect certain vulnerable groups -- like the children attending the Holy Crosss school in Ardoyne in the north of Ireland.
But it has to be very carefully drafted so that criticism, debate and humour on religious topics are not outlawed.
In practice it is fairly easy to see the difference between preaching hatred of the vulnerable and poking fun at the pompous and powerful. As ever, once seen as a class issue, the perspective becomes much clearer. The measure is needed to give protection to the working class, not the ruling class.
But this is the very reason why there are representatives of the ruling class in Parliament who want this clause dropped.
During the debate David Blunkett became quite abusive towards those who were arguing for caution and more time for debate. He accused them of an inability to remember the scale of the threat posed by the 11 September attacks.
There is little time left now to stop this Bill becoming law. All pressure that can be put on MPs between now and next Monday by letters and phone calls should be put.
But fighting it will not stop just because it has been enacted. Pressure must be maintained so that it is repealed as soon as possible and the fate of any victims interned without trial must be monitored.
Fortunately this is easier now that information can be spread using the internet.
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