From 21st Century Vision
One theory of the peculiarity of the British state has it that its threefold origin created a democratically dysfunctional structure which is in urgent need of reform. This is nothing to do with its multi-national past as the fusion of Scottish, Irish and English/Welsh states, but instead the result of its colonial history. The triune British state grew up on the basis of the colonial states, each with its relative independence in the dominions and possessions, the island British state, with its slow advance to universal suffrage if not democracy, and – linking them all together – the imperial state. The problem was, and to some extent still is, that while the colonial states have withered away, and the British state is at least to some extent publicly accountable, the imperial state marches on unchecked and unchallenged. Exercising those “prerogative powers” which the monarchic fiction preserves from normal scrutiny, it comprises military, intelligence, diplomatic and other functions which are not normally discussed before the servants, i.e. ourselves.
Of course we like to think of the assorted officers, spooks, uniformed ambassadors and other inhabitants of this self-governing demi-monde as motivated only by patriotic concern for the good of the country, tempered these days by a sense of European values and a regard for the rule of law in general and human rights in particular. OK, they get it wrong, but Suez was a terrible lesson and the mandarins and generals saw through WMD in Iraq and were extremely unenthusiastic about following the US in its rampage through the Muslim world. Like more or less everyone else they are waiting for better political times and an end to the increasingly bizarre leadership they get from Downing Street. Our recent post of an article by Oliver Miles (see below, 3rd August ) makes the point.
It is this unthinking assumption of the basic decency of the people who run the shadowy institutions of the imperial state which takes such a body blow from Craig Murray’s Murder in Samarkand (published last month by Mainstream). No need to rehearse the whole story here of how as ambassador to Uzbekistan Murray took the UK’s human rights agenda seriously and – with great persistence and courage – drove it forward in a country where legal, political and civil freedoms were and are almost non-existent and where extreme forms of torture are normal instruments of government (see our photograph). In 2003, however, Uzbekistan was being built up by the US as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism and an ally in the “war on terror”, and Murray’s very public pronouncements were not welcome. Nor was his forthright rejection of the policy of using information obtained under torture.
It is by now unsurprising that Downing Street moved immediately to rid itself of the embarrassment, but what does come as an unpleasant revelation is the extent to which senior figures in the Foreign and Colonial Office engaged willingly in every form of pressure, falsehood and character assassination to give the appearance of due process. Their methods might be described as Stalinism without the Lubyanka, but when one considers that in stifling Murray they were in fact buttressing US cover for Uzbek and other torture chambers, the phrase is too kind.
The book is valuable in a number of ways. First it shows the extent to which when the Bush administration says so the UK’s human rights rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. Second, it provides material of relevance to that eternally unanswerable question of how far, like Vichy France, the British would have collaborated with a Nazi occupation in the 1940s.
Finally, it shows the need for reform in the structures of the British state, with no more reserved areas beyond the reach of open parliamentary scrutiny.
British soldiers say the ferocity of the fighting and privations they face are far worse than generally known. (Reuters)
HELMAND PROVINCE ‘ British troops deployed in southern Afghanistan were stunned by the ferocity shown by die-hart Taliban fighters, while top NATO officers on Wednesday, September 13, struggled to find reinforcements.
“We did not expect the ferocity of the engagements,” a British officer who has served in the southern province of Helmand, told The Independent.
“We also expected the Taliban to carry out hit and run raids. Instead we have often been fighting toe to toe, endless close-quarters combat. It has been exhausting.”
Some 4,000 British troops make up the majority of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force deployed in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Captain Leo Docherty, the former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan, has resigned in protest at the “grotesquely clumsy” and “pointless” campaign against Taliban. The criticism, the first from an officer who has served in Afghanistan, came during the worst time so far for British troops in the country. In total, 22 British troops have been killed so far in September.
More than 90 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, and the casualties in the south have raised questions about NATO’s ability to successfully complete its mission.
The British troops complain that no matter how many Taliban fighters they kill, they keep coming back.
“We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming,” one soldier told the British daily.
“We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border,” he added.
The solider asserted that they have used almost all their available military cards including B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s.
“We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs. At one point our Apaches ran out of missiles they have fired so many,” he said, noting this has not prevented ambushes.
“Almost any movement on the ground gets ambushed.”
Lt Gen David Richards, ISAF commander, admitted that British forces have been involved in some of the fiercest fighting since the Korean war in 1951.
Even Afghan civilians are complaining. “We are not safe now; it is more dangerous than it was just a few months ago,” one man said in the market town of Lashkar Gar.
In Brussels, top N ese worthy tasks. What the media fails to mention is that the trans-Afghan gas pipeline will eventually pass through Helmand and Kandahar, although its construction has recently been suspended due to rebel activity.
Could it be that securing this area to allow pipeline construction is the real reason British troops are fighting in Afghanistan? If so then it’s a pointless exercise, as even if the pipeline is constructed it would never be secure in a hostile country like Afghanistan.
In the nineteenth century the British lost two disastrous wars fighting Afghan tribesmen, I fear we are seeing the mistakes of history repeated.