Special Report | Afghanistan: Ten Years On – Stop the War Protest 09/10

On Saturday, a full decade after the invasion of Afghanistan commenced, a major mass rally commemorated the event in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street. In an exclusive report, with powerful videos and images from the protest, Ceasefire's Tom Kavanagh reviews the lessons of the past ten years.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Monday, October 10, 2011 15:49 - 3 Comments

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Ten years on from the invasion of Afghanistan, and protesters once again gathered in London to call for an immediate halt to all conflicts that Britain’s armed forces are currently engaged in.

As the debate over the Iraq war raged and that conflict dominated the headlines over the past decade, Afghanistan was quietly pushed under the rug. Now, however, the issue is the cause of much deliberation, even if the commonly regurgitated line holds that “we” must “stay the course” and “see it through to the end”.

Of course, the fact that calculated deceit was deployed by British and
American politicians in order to drag their electorates into lockstep behind the Iraqi crusade is now common knowledge – albeit after the fact and too late to help the million-plus deceased and millions more forced to flee their homes. The disinformation and deception that precipitated the Afghan invasion, however, remains submerged in the murky depths.

People are momentarily outraged when forty people, among them two dozen children, are wiped out by a NATO airstrike. However, in the eyes of the public at large the Afghanistan war has a veneer of righteousness that didn’t take long to vanish from the hostilities in Iraq.

The reality is that the war in Afghanistan arose as a result of falsehoods accepted as fact and force-fed to a baying public through official media channels.

As Taliban officials willingly offered Osama Bin Laden up for extradition in the wake of the September 11th attacks “[i]f any evidence is presented to us” – a prerequisite according to accepted international standards – US generals were fine-tuning invasion plans which had been drawn up long before their eventual implementation.

MSNBC reported in May 2002 that:

“President Bush was expected to sign detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11 but did not have the chance. The directive… outlined essentially the same war plan that the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks. The administration most likely was able to respond so quickly to the attacks because it simply had to pull the plans “off the shelf.””

“The plan dealt with all aspects of a war against al-Qaida, ranging from diplomatic initiatives to military operations in Afghanistan… In another striking parallel to the war plan adopted after Sept. 11, the security directive included efforts to persuade Afghanistan’s Taliban government to turn al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden over to the United States, with provisions to use military force if it refused.”

The Taliban’s own genesis as a mercenary force operating under CIA direction so as to goad the Soviet Union into making the ultimately fatal step of invading a country that has, until then and ever since, proved the graveyard of many a foreign army, is also concealed as a matter of protocol.

National Security Adviser to President Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski bragged to Le Nouvel Observateur in a 1998 interview that:

“According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise.

Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

Grilled on whether or not he saw any flaw in such a strategy given the burgeoning menace of Islamist “terror groups”, Brzezinski scoffed, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” The important thing in his eyes had been to deliver “the USSR its Vietnam war”.

Thirty years on and the United States and Britain have carved out another Vietnam war of their own – intractable, unwinnable and bloody in the extreme – tens of thousands of Afghans and thousands of foreign troops have been sacrificed in the name of an elusive progress that is yet to materialise.

That the war was planned in advance by people who spoke openly of the need for a “new Pearl Harbor” to galvanise US public opinion in favour of aggressive foreign military excursions is not mentioned. That Bin Laden was offered for extradition on condition of verifiable evidence is ignored.

This demonstration, organised under the banner of the “Stop the War Coalition” attracted disparate groups each trying to make themselves heard. Tony Benn, George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd in Trafalgar Square, with Benn putting the current war in Afghanistan in the context of the 1840 incursion into the country on the part of British imperial forces.

While a group of “Free Syria” protesters chanted against their country’s government, taking great pains to convey the message that “we don’t want foreign military intervention”, representatives of the Communist Party of Great Britain cried “victory to Assad!” and “victory to Gaddafi! Victory to the Afghan resistance!”

The CPGB also distributed hundreds of pamphlets entitled “Stop the War leaders are trying to stifle debate by illegally expelling those who criticise them.” Under the heading “StW leaders and the war in Libya”, the document contends that “Stop the War leaders continue to prop up the imperialist propaganda effort by… accepting and promoting the imperialist lie that the ‘rebels’ are expressing the popular will of the people and thereby bringing ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ to Libya.” Several green Libyan flags were on display in the crowd throughout proceedings.

Meanwhile, John Pilger gave a rousing address, lambasting British media coverage of the wars in Libya and Iraq and pouring scorn on The Guardian for having this week adopted the standpoint of government apologist in describing the Afghan war as “understandable” and “unavoidable”.

Quoting Harold Pinter, Pilger remarked on the media’s complicity in the slaughter: “None of it happened, even as it was happening. It never happened, it didn’t matter”. “There’s only one way now,” he concluded, “and you know what that is, it’s called civil disobedience.”

Lowkey treated the audience to performances of Terrorist and Long Live Palestine after delivering an impassioned speech in which he remarked that we should feel shame for allowing horrendous atrocities to be normalised, while Yemeni poet Sanasino performed My Name is not Iraq to strong applause.

After the speeches, demonstrators marched down Whitehall to Downing Street- nowadays impenetrable behind ten-foot reinforced steel gates and a contingent of police officers armed with submachine guns and trained to kill. Chants of “Where the fuck is David Cameron?” and “Your job’s next!” greeted scores of police reinforcements drafted in to protect the seat of imperial power from a protest that never threatened to turn violent.

A large crowd remained for around two hours, with police repeatedly tried to repel demonstrators from the vicinity of the gates. Protesters eventually decided to sit down so as to halt the forced retreat, a tactic which yielded success. The crowd was thinning by this point, with the final few people, sitting on the road and surrounded by an unnecessarily heavy line of police, disbanding quietly as darkness fell.

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Tom Kavanagh, a writer and activist, is Ceasefire's Latin America correspondent. He also writes on general politics and activism.

3 Comments

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Bobby
Oct 10, 2011 21:38

Excellent piece Tom, this has to be one of the most comprehensive compilations from the demo!

james
Oct 11, 2011 2:55

excellent report.

Malte
Oct 14, 2011 16:29

Thanks, Tom, really good write-up. I wish I could have been there – the war is still the issue, and people need to understand the intersection between imperialism and the ruling system at home.

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