On Wednesday night I attended a meeting organised by Stop the War Coalition in parliament. It was held on the eve of the first ever vote on the Afghan war - a war which has now lasted longer than the First and Second World Wars combined. The good news is that a new cross party parliamentary group has now been formed called 'Time to go' and Caroline Lucas is joint convenor of it. Speakers included Joan Humphries from Military Families Against the War,who lost her grandson in the Iraq war, Caroline Lucas, Paul Flynn (Labour MP for Newport) and Plaid Cymru MP, Jonathan Edwards. Mohammed Asif, an Afghan political refugee living in the UK was a fascinating speaker.
Paul Flynn MP, a member of the new group, says: "At the moment Parliament is not doing its job. The majority of the public would like to see the troops home before Christmas, and Parliament is not reflecting that. The Government and all the main politicians are in denial on this. They are divorced from reality." He went on to say that Nick Clegg had said at Prime Minister's Questions that day that "the corner was being turned in Afghanistan". His response to that was that so many corners had been turned in Afghanistan over the last 9 years that the government and UK policy there must have gone around the block at least six times!
Caroline Lucas said that the names of the dead had been read out at PMQ and that it had seemed endless and terribly sad. The idea that the UK was safe as a result of this war had to be challenged and that the country suffered from historical amnesia as anyone who read what had happened during previous British interventions in Afghanistan must know. She also referred to the recent Wikileaks figures on civilian casualties which had shown a deliberate cover up of the figures by the US military. Caroline also condemned the 'enhanced blast weapons' being used in Afghanistan which were terrible weapons sucking the air of out anyone's lungs in the area where they fell and destroying their internal organs. The US military had also admitted the killing of 14 Al Quaida militants in the Pakistan border area but another 700 innocent civilians had been killed in the same raids. The Bagram airbase was also a human rights obscenity as no lawyers were allowed in to see it and it held 5 times as many prisoners as Guantanamo. Furthermore, the UK was fully complicit in the operations of this camp. The US spent 20 times more on military expenditure in Afghanistan than development aid and the UK 10 times more.
Mohammed Asif, who made it clear from the start that he was no supporter of the Taliban, said that recently the Director of the CIA had admitted that there were less than 200 Al Quaida activists in Afghanistan. Ten thousand British troops in Helmland province could not go safely outside their bases. Only 26 families benefited from the current regime in Afghanistan and all of these families had been based in Western states. Karzai and NATO's claims that they were there because of women's rights had also been discredited by the recent law allowing Shai women to be raped in marriage. Most government ministers were foreign citizens - German, US etc who had been placed in positions of authority by the West - why were there no Afghan citizens in those posts? Corruption was higher than the annual budget and many in power were drawing huge sums out of the country to buy property in Dubai.
The UK could save £5 billion for badly needed public services by withdrawing. The war was failing and only 9 out of 63 districts were safe for holding election campaigns in. Finally, he said that 80% of Afghans were against the occupation and wanted a political solution.
Those at the meeting were quite clear that the vote would not be won but that at least the debate had been held and the arguments finally heard. Indeed yesterday evening the Commons voted to continue the war with the honourable exception of a handful of brave MPs such as Caroline Lucas and Labour and Plaid MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and Jonthan Edwards.
It is also a disgrace that so few MPs turned up to debate such an important issue
The campaign agains the war continues with a national demonstration in London on November 20th.