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Mali, Afghanistan, lessons forgotten

by Alain Gresh

Once again, a political consensus is emerging around the French military intervention in Mali. The Socialist Party, the National Front and the UMP support the initiative of the Head of State. Only a few discordant voices are heard, the Communist Party (“The French military intervention has a high risk of war”, PCF, January 12) or the Left Party. Former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, in an article in Journal du Dimanche (“Villepin:” No, war is not the French way”, January 13), is also concerned:

‘Let’s not react to war by waging war. This unanimous enthusiasm for war, the haste with which we’re doing it, and the déjà-vu of ‘war on terror’, worries me. This is not the French way. Let us learn from the decade of lost wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. These wars have never built a strong and democratic state. Instead, they promote separatism, failed states, the iron law of armed militias. These wars have never defeated terrorists swarming in the region. Instead, they legitimize the more radical of them. ‘

It is ironic to note that this intervention began at the same time that France withdrew from Afghanistan, and when President Hamid Karzai was in Washington to discuss the total withdrawal (or almost) of U.S. forces. Is it on the back of success that these troops are coming out of Afghanistan? “Mission Accomplished”?

Nothing is less certain.

The power installed in Kabul, by foreign armies, is led by Karzai: it should be remembered that he won the presidential election in September 2009 thanks to massive fraud; his legitimacy does not extend beyond clan, his accomplices, deeply corrupt. Tens of billions of dollars of international aid have disappeared in the bottomless pockets of politicians. Not to mention that much of this aid was “returned” to donor countries, as noted by Oxfam-France:

“The international aid to Afghanistan is a relatively significant volume, but it remains largely ineffective as nearly 40% of the amounts paid in 2001 returned to donor countries in the form of profit or remuneration. Over a large part of the aid does not reach the poorest Afghans. ‘

And from a social point of view, the situation is terrible, marked by a war that never ends. Says Oxfam:

“While some progress has been made in health and education in the years that followed the fall of the Taliban, the challenges in these sectors remain overwhelming: currently one in five children dies before the age of five, one in eight women die from complications related to pregnancy and two million children, of whom two-thirds are girls, are not enrolled [at school]. It is estimated that nearly half of the Afghan population still lives below the poverty line, while more than half of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition. ‘

Who can believe that war leads to an improvement in people’s situations?

The biggest paradox is that the only progress, represented by the large enrollment of girls, is threatened: the only chance of the current Afghan administration to stay in power after the departure of NATO troops is to negotiate with the Taliban. And, as noted by Oxfam officials, it is women who may be victims of this reconciliation. Nevertheless, it is wrong to believe that women’s liberation can be imposed by the bayonets of foreign armies. Colonialism also claimed to “liberate” Muslim women.

But interventions in Afghanistan (and Iraq) had many other regional and international consequences for which there was a heavy price. The war has spread to Pakistan where local Taliban have strengthened at the expense of central power. And the massive use of drones by the Obama administration to eliminate “terrorists” – with many “collateral” casualties – is fueling anti-Western hatred.

These military expeditions undertaken on behalf of an endless war against terrorism had the paradoxical effect of strengthening these organizations that the West argued it wanted to destroy. In response to multiple interventions, “an international insurgent highway,” was created from Pakistan to Sahel, passing by Iraq and Somalia: on this highway circulates combatants, ideas, fighting techniques, weapons of all those who want to fight against “the new crusaders.”

Iraqi fighters were trained in Afghanistan, while North Africans have acquired military competence in Iraq. The war against terrorism has facilitated the unification of diverse groups under the banner of Al Qaeda. And, probably, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) would have never grown so big without the intervention in Afghanistan. And let’s also remember the war in Libya, that “liberated” huge military arsenals and many fighters recruited (and controlled) by Gaddafi. Can we really be shocked that many Muslims see these interventions a crusade against Islam? All, since 2001, took place in Muslim countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon, Mali, not to mention the wars in Gaza. And all the while, Islamophobia has wreaked havoc in Western societies.

How many times have we been told that there was no choice, that “we” were defending Western security by intervening in Afghanistan, that if “we” were beaten there, fighting would move tomorrow into our suburbs. And yet “we” are leaving Afghanistan as if nothing had happened, without having stabilized the situation, not to mention democracy. And nobody argues now that there will be catastrophic consequences for Europe. It may be noted, however, that each of these colonial expeditions led to more insecurity, more controls, more monitoring and as a result interference with fundamental freedoms.

Yet this is the same argument that is being pursued over Mali: to stop a Sahelistan terrorist base being established near our borders. And the first decision of the French government in the wake of its [military] engagement in Mali is to strengthen the Vigipirate [France's national security alert system]! Is this not because our leaders know that this type of intervention fuels terrorism, rather than weakening it?

Twelve years on, Western intervention in Afghanistan is a fiasco. Iraq has led to an entrenched destabilization of the country (and the implantation of groups linked to al-Qaida who were not present before 2003). Twelve years from now, what conclusions will we draw from France’s military engagement in Mali?

Le Monde Diplomatique

Translation/edit by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or email [email protected]


One Response to “Mali, Afghanistan, lessons forgotten”

  1. Can we get a summation of the positions of the FdG, PC, PG, NPA, and leading left thinkers and officials re the Mali intervention?

    Posted by ethan young | January 18, 2013, 8:16 pm

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