Views on Nato’s Afghan crisis

I’m going to be as biased as the mainstream media here – only in the totally opposite direction – and give only the views of people who oppose Nato and its Afghan occupation…

The Morning Star:

Rice optimistic as reactionaries reign
(Thursday 07 February 2008)
US SECRETARY of State Condoleezza Rice claimed to see “progress” in Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after clerics urged President Hamid Karzai not to interfere with a death sentence handed down to a young journalist convicted of insulting Islam.

Ms Rice flew to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in tow a day after over 100 influential tribal and religious leaders convened in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, to demand that the Western-backed government implement the sentence.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, 23, was sentenced to death on January 22 by a three-judge panel in Mazar-i-Sharif for handing out a report that he printed off the internet to fellow journalism students at Balkh University.

The article questioned why men can have four wives but women cannot have multiple husbands.

Mr Kaambakhsh has appealed against his conviction.

Speaking to an assembly of powerful tribal chiefs in Gardez on Wednesday, Islamic council of Paktia chief Khaliq Daad said: “Kaambakhsh made the Afghan people very upset. It was against the clerics and Islam and he has humiliated Islam.”

“We want the Afghan president to support the court’s decision,” Mr Daad declared.

But pressure group Reporters Without Borders called on authorities to “find a way to provide better protection for freedom of expression, one that will be effective even when subjects as sensitive as religion are involved.”

The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch noted that the case reflects the lack of progress in reforming the Afghanistan judiciary, which it said included “deeply entrenched traditionalists, many of whom have close links to notorious warlords.”

As well as triggering an international outcry, the sentence has intensified doubts in the West about the wisdom of contributing yet more troops to fight and die defending a fragile regime that appears to espouse extremist interpretations of Islam.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide missions last year, the most since the regime was ousted from power in late 2001 by the US-led invasion that followed the September 11 terror attacks, underlining the failure of US and NATO forces to bring security to the war-ravaged country.

Britain has confirmed that it will not increase the size of its 7,700-strong force in Afghanistan and now Canada has threatened to remove its combat forced based around Kandahar unless NATO supplies about 2,000 reinforcements.

“It’s not an overwhelming number of forces that is being sought here,” Ms Rice pleaded yesterday, adding: “Our populations need to understand this is not a peacekeeping mission.”

Some NATO nations had hoped that Britain would essentially transfer fighting forces from Iraq, where its operations are scaling down.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told MPs on Wednesday that he will continue to push European allies to provide more combat troops.

The News Line:

RICE-BROWN WAR TALKS

Protesters demanding troops out of Afghanistan picketing Downing Street yesterday

Prime Minister Brown had war talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Downing Street yesterday afternoon.The pair discussed tensions within NATO over the deployment of forces in Afghanistan where US and UK and Canadian troops are suffering a large number of casualties.

Canada has warned that it will pull out unless EU combat troops are mobilised to engage the Taleban.
Earlier Rice held two hours of talks with Foreign Secretary Miliband.

Following these talks, Rice said: ‘The (NATO) alliance is facing a real test here. And it is a test of alliance strength.’

She added that people needed to understand that Afghanistan was not a peace-keeping mission but a counter-insurgency fight.

Miliband said: ‘I am confident that the 7,700 troops that we have got in Afghanistan are the right number.’

Earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who has advised Brown on defence issues, asked why the 600 extra troops called for by brigade commanders in Afghanistan had not been provided as part of new troop deployments announced earlier to ‘ensure there are enough bayonets on the ground to hold territory’.

Mercer warned that the UK did not have enough troops to fight a war on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, who has visited British troops in Afghanistan, Brown called for ‘proper burden sharing’ when it came to personnel and equipment from other EU countries.

Separately, Defence Secretary Des Browne announced plans for 16 Air Assault Brigade to replace 52 Infantry Brigade on the next redeployment of UK forces to Afghanistan in April 2008.

The Ministry of Defence also announced plans for the replacement in Afghanistan of 16 Air Assault Brigade, in October 2008, by 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.

An MoD statement added: ‘As the lead formation deploying in April 2008, 16 Air Assault Brigade will provide the majority of the units serving in Afghanistan, the bulk of which represent direct replacements for previously announced deployments to Afghanistan.

‘Overall force levels will be broadly unchanged.’

On her flight to England, Rice had told reporters she wanted to ‘intensify discussions about Afghanistan’.

She also said the appointment of a high-level figure to co-ordinate international civilian and military operations in Afghanistan was high on the agenda.

Over 300 protesters picketed Downing Street from 12.30pm yesterday, shouting ‘Who let the bombs out? – Brown, Bush and Rice!’ and ‘Troops Out!’

Student Hanna Mansson told News Line: ‘I’m here to show Condoleezza Rice that she is not welcome here, and we don’t agree with her politics.

‘America is like a big brother and should mind its own business, and not send troops to invade and occupy other countries.’

Another student, Bilkisu Ibrahim added: ‘I’m here because of the way the Palestinians are being treated in Gaza.’

UK resident, Angelo Skotadis from Greece, said: ‘It’s the third time Britain has been in Afghanistan and it will end up like the previous two times, in defeat.’

The Socialist:

Bush and Brown’s Afghan strategy lies in tatters

“MAKE NO mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan.” These are the words, not of an anti-war group but of the opening line of a report by think-tank The Atlantic Council of the United States. This report, which goes on to warn of Afghanistan becoming a “failed state,” is just one of three released last week showing the US and UK strategy is in tatters.

Tom Baldwin

Another by the US-based Afghanistan Study Group states the need to “rethink our economic and military strategies” while Oxfam warns of humanitarian disaster without a “major change of direction.”

These reports make uncomfortable reading for George Bush whose 2001 invasion was part of the ‘neo-con’ plan for American dominance of the region.

Since then the position has become no better for ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom live in grinding poverty. Life expectancy in the country is just 46 years. Farmers have turned to opium production to try and support themselves and last year was estimated to be a record drug crop. Despite changes to the law the repression of women is still an everyday reality.

Attempts to rebuild the country under NATO occupation are doomed to failure and Oxfam describe how “aid is wasted on very expensive consultants or on contractors who make quite significant profits.”

Under these conditions the support for the Taliban and other insurgents has been increasing. 2007 saw the highest number of Taliban attacks since 2002 and the deputy governor of the southern Helmand province (where most British troops are based) was killed in a recent bomb attack.

The corruption and repression of the Karzai regime, along with the killings of civilians by western forces and the failure to bring about reconstruction, has provided fertile soil for the re-emergence of the Taliban. However the repressive forces of the Taliban offer no real answers to the needs of the Afghan people.

The US and UK have now been calling for their NATO allies to devote more troops to the country but other governments are unwilling to commit more forces to an unpopular and unwinnable war. Germany has recently refused to redeploy troops and Canada has even pledged to withdraw its 2,500 soldiers next year if Nato doesn’t send more support for them.

However, even if more soldiers are sent, as in Iraq they will not be able to significantly improve security. Even the US-installed president Hamid Karzai recently criticised the inability of British forces to ‘secure’ Helmand province.

Apparently, the beleaguered president wasn’t even told of British plans to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on buying off Taliban fighters and training them to be local police.

The occupation plays a divisive role; the Western powers are there to support their own interests and are not capable of improving people’s lives.

On the basis of continued occupation a ‘failed state’ and humanitarian disaster seem inevitable. Only the withdrawal of all occupying forces and a government of the working class and the poor, basing itself on a socialist programme, can meet the needs of a majority of Afghans.

A united struggle to improve living standards can overcome division and allow the Afghan people to decide their own future.

  • Withdraw the foreign armies
  • For a workers’ and peasants’ government based on a socialist programme
  • For workers’ unity and socialist internationalism

Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan demo

Called by Stop The War Coalition

Saturday 15 March,

Assemble 12 noon, Trafalgar Square, London.

Northern Rock – officially nationalised?

Saith the FT:

Northern Rock was officially classed a public sector company on Thursday, bringing its debts on to the government’s books and blowing apart one of the Treasury’s cherished budgetary rules.

The Office for National Statistics announced that the government has had so much control over the stricken mortgage lender since October that it should be classified in just the same way as nationalised entities such as Royal Mail.

While the ONS said the issue of control over the company was different from “nationalisation”, many will conclude that since the ONS views the bank as so similar to other nationalised companies, the term should apply to Northern Rock.

The ONS will not yet say exactly by how much public sector net debt will rise as a result of the reclassification, but said that on the basis of Northern Rock’s published accounts for the end of 2006, £90bn will be classed as public debt.

Since the bank lent heavily in early 2007, this figure might rise a little or might fall a little, reflecting mortgage redemptions since the crisis hit Northern Rock in September, but the Financial Times understands that the £90bn figure is a reasonable guide to the final amount.

The ONS said the likely increase in public sector net debt represented 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product. If added to the current level of debt, the total public sector net debt would rise to 44.4 per cent of GDP, far above the government’s self-imposed ceiling of 40 per cent.

Treasury documentation from the pre-Budget report last October insists that to be sure of meeting the sustainable investment rule, “net debt will be maintained below 40 per cent of GDP in each and every year of the current economic cycle”.

This reclassification therefore blows a huge hole though the letter of the fiscal rule, which will add to the pressure on Alistair Darling, the chancellor, who critics accuse of running too lax budgetary policy as the UK economy heads for a slowdown.

The Treasury has previously let it be known that it will ignore any reclassification of Northern Rock as a temporary aberration and will invoke little-read passages of the legally-binding Code for Fiscal Stability to give it some leeway.

Officials also argue that Northern Rock has lots of assets, most of which are not netted off in the rather arcane public sector net debt classification. They insist they will not raise taxes or cut public expenditure decisions because of this breach.

But officials recognise that breaking one if its cherished rules is likely to cause a political storm.

Many accountants and economists suggest that the Treasury should modify its budgetary rules in light of reclassification decisions such as these and likely decisions soon to bring the private finance initiative on to the public books.

The Budget on 12 March would be the time Mr Darling could announce a review of the rules, although it would be politically difficult to change the rules just at a time when they are under pressure.

Shares in Northern Rock were 6.4 per cent higher at 104¼p.

Digby’s worried about being purged?

No, this isn’t about Mr Blobby’s fear of being chucked out of NuLiebore – he didn’t join. Perhaps it wasn’t anti-union enough for him…

No, the fat cat is worried about a crackdown on tax dodgers will affect the UK’s status as a tax haven for rich bastards.

You guessed right – I don’t like the guy:

Digby Jones, the trade and investment minister, has warned that plans for a tax crackdown on non-domiciled foreigners living in the UK threaten London’s role as a world finance centre.

The former CBI director-general broke ranks with the official government line in a candid interview with the Financial Times.

Lord Jones said the tax changes made it harder for him to sell Britain as a destination for skilled foreign workers and inward investment.

The minister, who said he was not consulted on the change, added: “I can give you five reasons as to why you should invest in Britain before you go and invest anywhere else in Europe. But maybe there were seven and now there are five.”

He admitted that a lot of people from the City had told him it was a serious issue for the financial services industry.

Lord Jones had been frequently asked about the tax changes on trips to India and the Gulf. He feared they had reduced the attractions of Britain as a destination for skilled people.

“It has caused people to say ‘Does this mean you don’t want us?’,” he said, adding that there was a danger such changes meant the UK would lose its “badge as the place to come and bring your skill and work hard in the developed world“.

“I don’t want to be in the position where one morning we wake up and people are saying ‘Digby: no matter how good you are at doing what you do, the product isn’t as good as it was’.”

His warning follows intensive lobbying by the City, which is concerned that overseas investors and executives will pull out of the UK if Alistair Darling, the chancellor, goes ahead with the crackdown.

The Treasury is consulting on proposals to raise an extra £650m a year by charging foreigners living in Britain for more than seven years £30,000 annually if they wish to keep their foreign income out of the UK tax net.

Wealthy individuals would also be hit by the closure of loopholes that allowed them to escape tax on UK assets held in offshore trusts.

Lord Jones said the fact that the £30,000 would kick in only after seven years meant the UK would remain appealing to many young people from abroad who wanted to spend time in the UK.

He said paying £30,000 to keep non-UK income out of the UK tax net might look fair to many people. But non-doms were also worried about the possibility of greater intrusion into their affairs by the tax authorities.

“It’s also a ‘How much do you want to know about me?’ bit, as well as the £30,000,” he said.

“We’ve got to get the message across to these people that it’s seven years before this begins to bite.”

David Lewis, Lord Mayor of London, told the chancellor this week that he had found real anxiety over the proposed changes in many meetings with the financial community. He said: “Many people cannot understand why we are risking the loss of so many talented people from the UK who produce so much business for the UK and so much tax for the Treasury and employ large numbers of staff here, for the sake of the possibility of a relatively paltry tax receipt by the Treasury that it will probably never actually receive.”

Lord Jones, one of several non-political ministerial appointments made by Gordon Brown when he became prime minister, said he had not been consulted on the proposals before they were announced in October’s pre-Budget statement.

He had relayed what inward investors and businesses were saying to the prime minister and the chancellor.