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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Leader: The angry middle

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern.

Two months after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, it remains conventional wisdom that the referendum result was largely a revolt by the so-called left behind. Yet this is not the full picture. Many of the 52 per cent who voted Leave were relatively prosperous and well educated, yet still angry and determined to deliver a shock to the political system. We should ask ourselves why the English middle class, for so long presumed to be placid and risk-averse, was prepared to gamble on Brexit.

Populism has long appealed to those excluded from political systems, or from a share in prosperity. In recent years, however, its appeal has broadened to young graduates and those on above-average incomes who also feel that they have not benefited from globalisation. The sense of middle-class victimhood has become a major strand in Western politics.

In the United States, middle-class anger has powered support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The former drew his activist base mostly from young liberals. And while Mr Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was often attributed to a working-class insurrection against “the elites”, exit poll data showed that the median yearly income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national average of $56,000. (For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the figure was roughly $61,000.) It is not the have-nots who have powered Mr Trump’s rise, but the have-a-bits.

In the UK, similar forces can be seen in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, research shows that three-quarters of Labour Party members are from the top social grades, known as ABC1. About 57 per cent have a degree.

Mr Sanders, Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn have very different policies, ideologies and strategies, but they are united by an ability to tap into middle-class dissatisfaction with the present order. Some of that anger flows from politicians’ failure to convey the ways in which society has improved in recent years, or to speak truthfully to electorates. In the UK and much of the West, there have been huge gains – life expectancy has risen, absolute poverty has decreased, teenage pregnancy has fallen to a record low, crime rates have fallen, and huge strides have been made in curbing gender, sexual and racial discrimination. Yet we hear too little of these successes.

Perhaps that is why so many who are doing comparatively well seem the most keen to upset the status quo. For instance, pensioners voted strongly to leave the EU and are the demographic from which Ukip attracts most support. Yet the over-65s are enjoying an era of unprecedented growth in their real incomes. Since 2010, the basic state pension has risen by over four times the increase in average earnings. 

Among young people, much of their anger is directed towards tuition fees and the iniquities of the housing market. Yet, by definition, tuition fees are paid only by those who go into higher education – and these people receive a “graduate bonus” for the rest of their lives. Half of school-leavers do not attend university and, in a globalised world, it is their wages that are most likely to be undercut by immigration.

However, we should not be complacent about the concerns of the “angry middle”. The resentment exploited by Donald Trump is the result of 40 years of stagnant median wages in the United States. In Japan and Germany, median wages have not increased in the past two decades. In the UK, meanwhile, the median income for those aged 31-59 is no greater than it was in 2007, and those aged 22-30 are 7 per cent worse off, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To compound the problem, the wealthy keep getting wealthier. In 1980, American CEOs were paid 42 times the wage of the average worker. They are now paid 400 times as much. In the UK, the share of household income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1979. Because of our hyperconnected, globalised media culture, we see more of the super-rich, fuelling feelings of resentment.

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern, with voters oscillating between populists of the left and the right. The political centre is hollowing out. Rather than pander to the populists, we must do more to quell the politics of victimhood by addressing the root of this corrosive sense of grievance: entrenched inequality. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser