Report by Harry Davis from the Anti-war Demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 10th October to mark the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan
The tenth anniversary of the continuing war in Afghanistan was remembered with a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, organised by Stop the War Coalition and CND. The numbers pretty much filled the Square, though there was, unexpectedly, space to move around. There was a succession of speeches, brief and to the point, wisely limited to two minutes each, from excellent speakers; Tony Benn, John Pilger, trade union leaders, ardent young people, poets and musicians. Remarkable was a succinct speech without notes on the folly of war by Hetty Bower, aged 106. She noted her recollection of the start of the First World War, with her father saying, ‘Now the lies will start’. The lies then were about the brutality of German soldiers, cutting off the hands of Belgian children etc. The lies were different today, but the whole war in Iraq had started with a pack of them.
Kate Hudson led a reading-out of names of those killed. Of course the list had to be selective – thousands have died – starting with the names of children, their age and the manner of their death (shot, air strike, killed in raid, and so on), interspersed with lists of British soldiers.
A Scottish poet, by the name of Elvis McGonagall, read out his powerful poem Operation Undying Conflict (video) on the Afghanistan war, starting with the line at the head of this report.
At the end of the day, at 4 o’clock, we marched down Whitehall to Downing Street. He did not appear, of course, to answer the shouted requests that he bring the troops home at once. The police presence in the Square had been very light, perhaps no more than half a dozen police could be seen at any one time, but outside Downing Street there were perhaps a hundred, with no doubt more nearby on call. The demonstration blocked traffic down Whitehall, and was continuing after we left half an hour or so later.
The Afghan war is a rather extreme case of an unnecessary war. As speaker after speaker made clear, the money spent on this stupid war could have been better spent elsewhere. Brial Eno, musician, read out his research on how the billions spent on destruction might have been otherwise employed, building schools, hospitals, giving pay rises etc. etc. The case for peace, for finding a way to end war as a means of settling disputes between nations, is ominously powerful. Ominously, because despite the clear advantages of peace, war has been chosen for most of history. Despite attempts to end war, culminating at official level in the United Nations Organisation, the 21st century has started as have all other centuries. Will humankind ever attain to a more mature social state? One thing is certain – without protest, without the peace movement, without resistance, matters, bad as they are, would undoubtedly be worse still.
Maggie Rees and Mary Holmes displayed Kingston Peace Council’s new banner (made by Noel Hamel)
Are we becoming inured to Britain being permanently at war? This was the central question posed by John Hilary (left), executive director of War on Want, speaking at a Think In Kingston event last month. Organised by Kingston Peace Council/CND as its contribution to the annual Think In Kingston series of discussions, the talk, at Kingston University, looked at the particular role played by War on Want since its founding 60 years ago.
The Saturday preceding the event was the Stop the War rally and march in Trafalgar Square (see report above) and Mr Hilary wondered why there had been fewer people attending – no more than a couple of thousand – than had been anticipated.
“I think this was because it was a symbolic day – marking ten years of war in Afghanistan – rather than a protest per se,” he said, but added: “Perhaps we have become inured to Britain being permanently at war. The automatic response of many people is that the way we deal with problems as a country is through war.”
And that war, as being fought in Afghanistan , was a new form of warfare, using that country as a testbed. There was new technology, particularly pilotless drones , developing former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s idea of hi-tech warfare removing the risk of US casualties. Britain was now going down a similar path with its own drone development programme, soon to be doubled in size.
Another Rumsfeld concept, trialled in Iraq, was privatised warfare using mercenaries who were no longer part of the normal chain of command. “We have,” said Mr Hilary, “normalised that which was previously thought to be abnormal.” For the past five years War on Want had been running a campaign against the growing use of private military companies.
On Afghanistan he said this was again an opportunity for Britain to show its capabilities. Former head of the Army, Sir Richard Dannatt had been quoted as saying that one of the key reasons for being still involved in the country was that Britain’s military credibility had been called into question with such major problems as Basra in Iraq. Afghanistan was seen as a ‘shop window’ for the British military.
Going back to the origins of War on Want – founded by publisher Victor Gollancz – Mr Hilary said the premise was that money should be pumped into social development, rather than armaments. Currently $1.5 trillion dollars was spent each year globally on arms, and this was five times that calculated as a millennium goal in the year 2000 to eradicate all poverty, disease and educational disadvantage in the world.
However, it was not just a case of throwing money at these issues. This was too simplistic an approach. The issues of welfare, happiness, wellbeing and similar were increasingly coming onto the agenda. Such themes had broken through the restricted world of economics because pure economics could not deal with such concepts. There was the human development index (HDI) created by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, a new concern for quality living spreading through Latin America. Even in the UK David Cameron was looking to measure wellbeing and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy had launched his index de bonheur.
It was clear that people did not become happier just by becoming richer. One did not obtain happiness by making others miserable. War on Want surveys had shown consistently that 85% of shoppers would refrain from buying products if they were told that such goods were manufactured by people on starvation wages.
“Happiness is a public good. Taking it from one doesn’t give it to others,” said Mr Hilary. All of us benefit. That should be our common aim.”
There followed a lively question and answer session during which the role of the media was raised. The BBC, said one member of the audience, appeared loathe to be seen to be unpatriotic by criticising Government foreign policy on such issues as Afghanistan. Mr Hilary agreed but said this was the value of tuning in to other news such as was now available via Al-Jazeera or Russia Today to obtain a more rounded view of international affairs. He went on to castigate the BBC for repeating the military mantra that use of drones minimised the number of civilian casualties. “No they don’t,” he said.
A logical progression through the nuclear deterrence argument
If only logic could be applied to the issue of nuclear deterrence. Not a straightforward concept you might think given that the Cold War was predicated on the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD.
Well, now there is a process, recently explained to members of Kingston Peace Council/CND, which does apply logic to the illogical. In the words of its founder, Martin Birdseye “You can’t force people to be logical but you can expose their illogicality.” This he sets out to do using a flowchart on the Morality of the Nuclear Deterrent.
Mr Birdseye is an engineer by profession and applies an engineer’s approach to the subject. “Nuclear deterrence is completely inconsistent with the other aspects of our lives so I felt it was necessary to explain the issues around deterrence,” he says.
“In order to make progress you have to analyse a problem rather than just get involved in a circular debate. You put it into a logical order to create an algorithm – a process that gains the right answer for the data put in.”
With this as his starting point he has created a detailed flowchart through which people can decide how they respond to a series of questions and, according to the answer Yes or No that they give to each question they will progress through.
Examples of the questions posed are: Have you the right to achieve your own security by endangering the rest of humanity?; Is it acceptable for a state to thus threaten to use nuclear weapons while not intending to?; and Could a nuclear deterrent be an effective defence against non-national groups using nuclear weapons?
The questions and answers are all interlinked in a matrix, rather, says Mr Birdseye, like a snakes and ladders board. They are also backed up by detailed notes and discussion points.
He sees its use either on an individual level, or in discussion or ‘classroom’ groups, or to influence the political level.
The flowchart has already been translated into Dutch and Farsi (Iranian) and has been used at conferences in the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, Iran, Nigeria and Israel. Mr Birdseye is now seeking funding to move to the next stage; an online interactive version that, once achieved, will really enable the concept to spread worldwide.
In the meantime, you can find out more, and try your hand at the flowchart by visiting www.nuclearmorality.com.
Please pass the word to others and help the flowchart receive the recognition it deserves.
by Phillip Cooper
First of all it was job cuts at BAE Systems – 3,000 in total – blamed on the defence cuts put through by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Then we had service personnel who had returned from duty in Afghanistan, or from action in the skies or in warships off the coast of Libya being given their metaphorical marching orders. But then came the most unexpected P45 of all handed to the Defence Secretary himself; Liam Fox ‘blurring’ the distinction between his government job and his private interests. If ever was the engineer ‘hoist with his own petard’. Although this particular petard had Adam Werritty written all over it.
Prime Minister David Cameron lamented the loss of an ‘excellent’ defence secretary. But a cartoon in the Sunday Telegraph was more trenchant. Two military types were drawn leaving the MoD. One remarks to the other: “The MoD without Liam Fox will be like an aircraft carrier without planes.”
His departure of course leaves behind the super-enthusiastic defence equipment minister Tory MP Peter Luff who was quoted in June saying: “In the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this government.” One is unsure whether he speaks for Vince Cable in that statement, the secretary of state under whose aegis falls the selling of arms.
Mr Luff ploughed on: The coalition had a “very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment” to arms exports. This all goes to further the myth that Britain – the world’s largest arms exporter after the US – should regard this global trade in death and repression as a success story.
Step forward Tim Webb, former assistant general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) trade union. In a letter to The Guardian in late September Mr Webb said that while the job losses at BAE came as a shock to the workforce, it was an entirely predictable consequence of the shrinking world market for armaments.
Claims of corruption had surrounded the sale of arms to repressive regimes and the UK defence industry had been propped up by huge amounts of UK taxpayers’ money for years . In return it had been supplying equipment that was frequently overpriced, delivered late and designed to confront an enemy that no longer existed.
Back in 1992, said Mr Webb, the three main defence industry trade unions had produced a comprehensive set of proposals on defence diversification. These were intended to indicate new opportunities for skilled and professional people who were working in a declining industry to transfer their talents to civil manufacturing with better long-term prospects.
Then in opposition, the Labour Party supported the concept, as did some employers, but the Blair government, once elected, found itself in ‘the traditional armlock’ of BAE on defence industrial policy. Faced with ministerial lack of interest trade union leaders did not pursue diversification but lobbied for greater expenditure on the big military projects. The members of those unions are now paying the price for this bad choice, argues Mr Webb.
And finally back to Liam Fox and Adam Werritty. It has also been revealed that one of Mr Werritty’s major financial backers was working for Britain ’s biggest defence company, that’s right BAE Systems. G3 Good Governance Group paid £15,000 to Mr Werritty’s company Pargav and also has an ongoing contract with BAE Systems, which kind of brings us full circle.
A couple of ‘products’ from BAE Systems
Members got together on 24th September to think about KPC/CND and in particular which aspects of peace campaigning we should prioritise and how, as campaigners, we could use our time most effectively. There were lots of useful comments and good ideas. If you have thoughts on campaigning but you weren’t there on the 24th please send them to Noel or Hilary – contact details on the contacts page.
There was a general feeling that we were doing a lot right, with a wide range of activities from protests to an excellent series of talks in Kingston Parish Church. Also, that different members undertook particular tasks so that it wasn’t a question of all the decisions and admin falling or one person. Having said that, help is very much appreciated and anyone who could spare the odd hour occasionally shouldn’t hang back.
People felt it was good that KPC members often had particular interests which they were able to pursue as members. However we do have to consider carefully, as a group, before we take on particular activities and causes, whether they are core issues for KPC, or something particular members may support and report back on, but not something we want to take on as a group. Overall, it was felt, we can be more effective if the KPC jam is not spread too thinly.
A major issue was raised by Sam Wallace. Do we focus too much on the things we are against rather than what we are for? There was quite a lot of agreement that in future we should think more about putting forward positive ideas about peace and alternative views on what a better world would be like.
Meetings In future we plan to get through our business agenda in the first hour, have coffee around 9pm and spend the last part of the evening discussing peace-related issues.
The newsletter was widely praised and is a tremendous asset. However it was felt the layout and general appearance might benefit from change. Phil Cooper, who is a journalist, will get together with one or two others and consider alternatives. Please contact Phil (contacts page) if you would like to help.
Planning It would be good if we had a year planner and put in dates not just for events but also dates when leaflets were needed etc, so we didn’t have to do things at the last minute.
Good ideas: Quite a few were suggested – for example KPC members with particular interests might try and get on the contact lists of journalists so they could be asked to supply context and opinions when the subject was in the news.
It was great to have a bit more time to talk and share ideas. Please get in touch with one of the people listed on the contacts page if you would like to add your comments.
By Noel Hamel
From a western perspective Pakistani politics appear enigmatic, volatile and frenetically unstable. Murder of prominent figures is not uncommon and sometimes conventions of punishing the guilty are not observed. In the 1980’s Zia ul-Haq’s ruling coterie passed blasphemy laws codifying Islamic fanaticism that lacks authentic connection to Islam or the Qur’an, in whose name they are promoted.
The resulting murder of liberal-minded objectors and the intolerance of the Ahmadis, Shi’a, Christians and other religious minorities is viewed with dismay. But despite a jaundiced view of its numerous internal political conflicts, Pakistan’s possession of an estimated 110 nuclear weapons and its pivotal role in Islamic extremism commands high levels of respect from western political interests.
Most of the $2.5 billion annual military assistance, including $1.2 billion NATO support for fighting terrorism, goes straight to the Pakistan army which exerts far-reaching influence through control of extensive interests in everything from real estate to banks, trade and manufacturing. Pakistan is often cynically described as an army with country attached.
Enigmatic Pakistan is largely a tribal country resistant to both western modernization and radical Islam. State government writ does not run universally and the arcane legal system in English is often shunned in favour of tribal or Sharia law. But despite regular incidents, particularly in poor and crowded areas, the country is believed not to be a seething cauldron of discontent on the verge of becoming a failed state.
The remorseless growth of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), the notorious secret service and semi-autonomous branch of the over-weaning Pakistan military, is largely the unintended consequence of actions that had little to do with the interests of the citizens and the state of Pakistan. The grumbling 60 year conflict with India is sometimes blamed yet has no parallels in India. Conspiracy theory is practically a national pastime and there is perpetual paranoia about possible internal revolt in Pakistan, to pre-empt which some believe a strong extra-judicial secret service necessary. The ISI has destabilized Pakistani governments it dislikes and ministers and officials who don’t play along are denied security clearance and silenced.
The Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan, particularly since the Soviet ‘invasion’, gave the ISI a new lease of life and free rein to organise extra-judicial fund-raising scams; and to handle vast sums of western subversion and insurgency funding designed to make the Soviet occupation untenable. Much of the wealth swilling round simply stuck to ISI fingers, fuelling a corruption bonanza habit hard to break.
Lest it be forgotten, flirting with radical Islam was an American wheeze involving Pakistan, US & UK, Saudi Arabia and a few others with the aim of firing up Mujaheddin and young radicals to fight a holy war to the death if necessary in the face of modern Russian weaponry in Afghanistan.
The ISI is clearly above parliamentary control and possible military control too.
A doomsday scenario predicts Islamist subversion leading to mutiny in the Pakistani army, collapse of the state and loss of control of nuclear weapons. Pundits predict such a scenario could be triggered by the constant US drone attacks, which are routinely responsible for large numbers of civilian deaths, and the future possibility of retaliatory US military action were Pakistan to be directly involved in terrorist attacks against the US itself.
However, with US prompting, a team of senior commanders, ardent nationalists opposed to Islamist militancy, were appointed to the ISI. But fervent nationalism is also typically expressed as a pathological hatred of India and paranoia about an Indian threat. Maintaining some association with Afghan insurgency is an insurance against the inevitable American retreat and subsequent conflict and civil war in which India is expected to intervene, possibly encircling Pakistan.
Militancy has inflicted a huge toll on Pakistan itself but a complication is real fear of repercussions from cracking down on militant groups. The Pakistani government says that it is safest to maintain dialogue with militants in order to restrain their more radical ambitions like terrorist attacks on India and the west; besides terrorist attacks in Pakistan itself.
There are further worrying developments stemming from obsessive hatred of India. Some claim it is an Indian ambition to destabilize and dismember Pakistan and conceive of a possibility the ISI could exacerbate divisions in Indian society in retaliation by subversive tactics. The implication is that the ISI might support further Islamist militant attacks and, since the US is widely viewed as a highly partisan ally of India, possible attacks on American interests there with those carrying US and UK passports particularly targeted, as happened in Mumbai.
Questions about responsibility for the protection that Bin Laden enjoyed suggest it might have been ideological ISI junior officers responsible, but decisions could have come from higher up, aiming to use bin Laden as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the US. However, despite widespread Pakistani public hostility to the US, it is unlikely that senior ISI officers would condone attacks specifically targeting the US itself.
Even now the omnipotence of the army is under threat as schisms emerge and factions are implicated in several terrorist attacks on Pakistani army bases with insider knowledge. Militant factions see the army now as an agent of America, supporting Americanization and the repeated drone attacks.
There is a feeling too that the ‘Arab Spring’ might infect public opinion in Pakistan, but don’t hold your breath. And the nuclear weapons? They may never be used – unless of course something really unpredictable occurs…………..
Based on extracts from articles by Anatol Lievin, Kings College war studies professor and author of “Pakistan: a Hard Country” and Ziaddin Sardar of New Internationalist.
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Phil Cooper.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.