Speaking of Afghanistan and the Taliban, it was interesting to see The Independent run a front page (link now hidden behind a subscription firewall) on Tuesday highlighting the plight of women in that troubled country. Interesting in that the Indie has repeatedly taken an anti-war position through its news coverage, its editorials and its commentary (this is the paper that gives acres of space to Robert Fisk, remember). So this is something of a contradictory, if not downright hypocritical, news story to run with. I stopped respecting this particular publication some time ago as it gradually stopped being a newspaper and instead became a campaigning organ with every front page patronising its readers with bold graphics and statistics supporting whatever issue they feel is important today.
And as for its claim to be “independent”? Pah! You will not read a British broadsheet with a more skewed point of view (I would probably even include the Daily Telegraph in that). Its editorial position runs through every story like words through a stick of rock and I would rather read The Times which carries a demonstrably broader range of opinion (although I’m still partial to The Guardian, albeit more out of habit than for its opinion pieces).
Back to the story though, about Safia Amajan, a women’s rights campaigner shot dead in Afghanistan by Taliban gunmen. Her crime? Working. Even worse, working for the government. Worse still, she had also opened six schools in the town of Kandahar where local women were taught a trade. All grave offences to deranged Islamic fundamentalists who prefer their women illiterate, covered from head to toe, stuck in the home, raising children and doing the housework. As the Indie reported it:
Five years after the “liberation” of Afghanistan by the US and Britain, with promises of a new dawn for its downtrodden women, her murder was a bloody reminder of just how far the country is slipping back into a land of darkness.
We’ll ignore the hyperbolic prose (“land of darkness” indeed) and concentrate on the decision to put ironic speech marks around the word liberation instead. Because the rest of the article, and an accompanying comment piece (although as stated, with The Independent it’s difficult to tell where the comment ends and the news reporting begins and vice versa), goes into great detail about the plight of women in Afghanistan in lawless towns where the Taliban are resurgent and fighting ferociously against the NATO forces. NATO forces that The Independent has consistently argued should be withdrawn. Well, you can’t have it both ways can you?
The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 overthrew a diabolical and hideous regime. It was, without question, a good thing to do. While I can understand people objecting to the war in Iraq (although I would not agree with them myself), I think Afghanistan was a far more clear cut case. An isolated rogue state playing host to an armed and dangerous terrorist operation which, if left unchecked, and given the opportunity, would surely perpetrate far greater crimes than it managed on 9/11. We were right to go after al Qaeda and right to remove the Taliban while we were at it. In the process, Afghanistan got a new constitution and a new elected government (which people turned out in great numbers to vote for). Everyday life and conditions did improve for the majority of the population, and it was only the military intervention that ensured this.
But now the Indie seems to be saying that, in the light of a renewal of the Taliban’s strength and the suffering they are inflicting on Afghans, the invading forces have not done enough to create stability in the region. Thus taking a position of two-way criticism: we do not support the invasion or the presence of our troops; additionally, we are not happy with what they have done to safeguard the people (especially women) that live there. Never mind that the latter is conditional on the former. Yes, conditions have been deteriorating which, to my mind, is even more reason to stay there as long as is necessary, bolstering the military presence there if that is what it takes.
According to today’s Guardian, senior military officers are strongly of the opinion that British troops should tactically pull out of Iraq to strengthen our presence in Afghanistan, which is seen as a more worthwhile and winnable battleground. Even better would be a bigger international commitment to the cause, but that doesn’t seem to be happening either. Withdrawal now, as desired by the anti-war movement, would be to inflict an atrocity on the people living there. People who, after all that they have suffered, deserve better.