The reality of Britain’s War in Afghanistan

As the conflict in Afghanistan enters its tenth year, a report by War on Want exposes the truth behi

As the US-led occupation of Afghanistan enters its tenth year, casualties have risen among Afghan civilians and Nato forces alike, making the past 12 months the bloodiest of the conflict to date. US and British forces are engaged in a dirty war in Afghanistan, using aerial bombing, drone attacks, torture prisons and corporate mercenaries against the Afghan people, all of which are fuelling further insecurity and fostering human rights abuse.

Afghanistan has become one of the most militarised countries on earth, with the security sector far and away the largest single element of national expenditure. Recent years have seen UK suppliers export arms worth £32.5m to Afghanistan. Alongside the US and British military in Afghanistan is a "shadow army" of private military and security companies (PMSCs). Between 2007 and 2009, the UK government spent £62.8m on these PMSCs in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has borne the brunt of decades of foreign intervention and conflict, and as a result is one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy is 44.6 years, among the lowest in the world. Yet development policy is being used to pursue military goals and to privatise the country's economy, while multinational companies profit at the expense of one of the least developed countries. Of the $38.6bn given in US aid to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2009, 56 per cent was spent on "security", primarily building up the army and police.

The future of Afghanistan is being determined by the self-interest of the USA, UK and other occupying powers. In July 2009 the then defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, stated that "the entire region in which Afghanistan sits is of vital strategic importance to the United Kingdom". British interests in the region are closely aligned with those of the United States. The US considers Afghanistan of critical geopolitical importance for its long-term interests in central and south Asia, as well as for the country's significance as a neighbour of Iran.

In addition to its other strategic interests, the US has long promoted a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. in December 2010. The US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher confirmed in 2007 that "one of our goals is to stabilise Afghanistan . . . so that energy can flow to the south".

As it becomes increasingly clear that the US and UK military presence is a central part of the problem in Afghanistan, not the solution, we need a new debate on the occupation of Afghanistan. Over 70 per cent of British people favour a withdrawal of British troops either soon or immediately. Yet all three major UK political parties are committed to continuing the military offensive and keeping British forces in Afghanistan until 2015 as well as maintaining a strategic presence for an undetermined period thereafter.

It is time for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and a negotiated settlement that guarantees self-determination, security and human rights for the Afghan people. We owe it to the people of Afghanistan to stand up for their rights and to end the occupation of their country, so that the process of reconstruction can at last begin.

Yasmin Khan is senior campaigns officer for War on Want.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.