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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 8

20 October 2001

Clare Short: Resign
The Minister for War Propaganda

  Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, has launched disgraceful attacks on aid agencies trying to prevent famine in Afghanistan (see ARROW Anti-War Briefing 7). The Minister for Development has also contributed to the Government's burgeoning stock of war propaganda.

Non Sequitar 1: no other problems?

'It isn't true to say if the bombing stopped there wouldn't be any problem in moving humanitarian supplies. To say we can't do anything until the bombing stops is not true.' (Independent, 19 Oct., p. 3)

No one is making either of these statements. The aid agencies are not saying that the only problem is the bombing, and that a pause in the bombing (which they are advocating) would solve all the problems. In fact, Anthony Morton-King of Christian Aid wrote in a letter to the Guardian on 16 Oct., 'Even if the allies could be persuaded to postpone their military campaign so that aid could get into the country safely, the timing would still be against us.... The crucial - and shocking - bottom line is that it may already be too late to save Afghans from starvation; from death by drought, cold and disease.'

However, despite their recognition of the problems they face in Afghanistan, some of them posed by Taliban forces no doubt, the aid agencies are saying that without a pause in the war,
their drivers and labourers in Afghanistan are too frightened to do the work needed to deliver aid to the areas about to be cut off by winter snow.

Non Sequitar 2: doing nothing?

On the second point, if the aid agencies really were saying that there was nothing that could be done before the bombing stopped, why would they be organising whatever aid distribution inside Afghanistan that they can?

Recall that an Oxfam convoy was loading up in Kabul when a bomb dropped nearby: 'Oxfam said it could not move a 250-ton wheat convoy into a central mountainous area where 400,000 trapped people are living on wild vegetation and essential livestock after a missile exploded on Tuesday close to a food depot in the Afghan capital Kabul. It would have been the first food into the area, Hazajarat, since September 11.' (Telegraph, 19 Oct., p. 11)

Dealing with Bin Laden

Insufficient aid getting in? 'I am really surprised everyone is fixated on this simplistic question. You are saying you have to let bin Laden do whatever he wants in order for humanitarian relief to get in, and it's one or the other. But it isn't. You have to get humanitarian relief in and you have to deal with bin Laden and his plans to kill innocent people.' (Telegraph, 19 Oct., p. 11)

The argument against the war is precisely that nonviolent and effective means of 'dealing with' Osama bin Laden have not been exhausted - have barely been explored, in fact. If the primary goal is to bring bin Laden to justice, war seems an unlikely way of achieving it. There are other options.


On 14 Oct, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, Taliban deputy prime minister, made the latest in a string of offers to extradite bin Laden to a neutral country: 'It can be negotiated provided the US gives us evidence and the Taliban are assured that the country is neutral and will not be influenced by the United States.' (Guardian, 15 Oct., p. 1)

On 17 Nov., it was reported that 'For the first time, the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial in a country other than the US without asking to see evidence first, in return for a halt to the western bombing of his country, a source close to Pakistan's military leadership said.' Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil met officials from the CIA and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency. ('US officials... appear to have dismissed the proposal. Instead they are hoping to engineer a split within the Taliban leadership.') (Guardian, 17 Oct., p. 1)

No one can know whether such offers are serious. There is only one way of finding out: by testing them. If the overriding aim is to bring bin Laden to trial, then there is nothing to be lost by pausing the war (with enormous humanitarian benefits, according to Western aid agencies) and seeing if the Taliban go through with the extradition. Of course this means forgoing a US trial, but is the British government really inflicting war and death and possibly famine on Afghanistan simply to ensure that bin Laden's trial takes place in New York rather than in, say, the Hague?

President Bush ruled out any deals: 'When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations. There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt.' (Independent, 15 Oct., p. 1)

If there is no need to discuss innocence or guilt, why did the US trouble to brief NATO ambassadors behind closed doors with the "evidence" against bin Laden? Why did the US brief President Musharraf of Pakistan, again behind closed doors? Why did Tony Blair publish the "dossier" of evidence against bin Laden? Why should all concerned parties be given the available "evidence" other than those actually holding bin Laden?

The UN Charter says that parties to 'any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security', shall, first of all, 'seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice' (Article 33). President Bush is breaching the Charter when he says, 'I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations.'

Taliban offers to extradite bin Laden are erased from history as soon as they are reported. Thus it is not surprising to find Clare Short saying two days after Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil's nearly-unconditional extradition offer, 'It appears that you can't get the Taliban to hand them over, so the Taliban government needs to lose power.' (Guardian, 19 Oct., p. 3)

On 1 Oct., according to the Daily Telegraph, the Taliban actually agreed to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan, where he would be placed under house arrest and tried by an Islamic court, which would decide whether to hold a trial in Pakistan or deport him to the USA. (Telegraph, 4 Oct., p. 9) The deal was scuppered by Pakistan's President Musharraf. (see The Smoking Gun, ARROW Antiwar Briefing No. 5, for more details)

Given this extraordinary offer, it is bizarre but predictable to find Tony Blair telling Parliament: 'The Taliban will not yield up these terrorist networks... In those circumstances we really have no alternative but to act...' (FT, 18 Oct., p. 7) The Taliban agree to extradite the prime suspect to Pakistan - without evidence. The Taliban agree to extradite him anywhere neutral - without evidence. And our Prime Minister says, 'The Taliban will not yield up these terrorist networks, we must carry on bombing and ignore the pleas of humanitarian aid agencies.'

It is worth recalling that Britain is 'harbouring' seven suspected terrorists with alleged links to bin Laden - in British jails. (Sunday Times, 7 Oct., p. 5) One suspected al-Qa'eda terrorist, wanted in the United States in connection with the US Embassy bombings of 1998, has been in jail here since Sept. 1998, as the legal machinery has slowly ground forward. Two others have been in custody since July 1999. (Independent on Sunday, 7 Oct., p. 3)

Nightmare Scenario

Clare Short has suggested, 'The nightmare scenario in this part of the world would have been the Talibanisation of Pakistan. Then we would have had a Talibanised nuclear power with an unresolved major conflict with India, another nuclear power. If this crisis were badly handled, that is where it could lead, and that's got to be avoided.' (Guardian, 19 Oct., p. 3)

So, handling the crisis "well" means bombing and possibly starving the Afghan people, refusing to allow them over the Pakistan border, refusing to negotiate with those who signal their willingness to extradite bin Laden, and refusing to provide what "evidence" exists of his guilt. Handling the crisis "well" seems to have fired up militant Islamists in Pakistan, and to have made 'Talibanisation' more rather than less likely, and not only in Pakistan.

'"It's unbelievable how the feeling here has changed from sympathy to anger in such a short time," a Riyadh-based westerner quoted by Reuters said yesterday. Another resident compared the mood there to that of Iran before the overthrow of the Shah.' (Guardian, 16 Oct., p. 2)

'David Wurmser, director of Middle East studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington said, "The US's entire foreign policy structure in the region has been anchored in the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. If everything we hear is true, then we're facing a total meltdown. The whole war as currently conceived would have to be reconsidered, because Pakistan won't hold if Saudi support starts collapsing."' (Guardian, 16 Oct., p. 2) A "nightmare scenario" made more likely not by negotiation, extradition and respect for the law, but by war, lies and state lawlessness.

Who said this?

'Fanatics want hatred, don't they? They want conflict, war, death. They want to be against the evil one. So I think we should find justice, which would undermine them. You can't be against justice just because these unjust fanatics are calling for something which has got justice in it. Surely our own lessons from Ireland show that if you stop the use of force and unfairness, and create justice, the cause of the protest and the potential suicide bombers go away. I think we all understand that America feels so angry they want to get somebody, but you can't just have lots of planes and guns and ships, and make everybody do your bidding.' Clare Short, Spectator, 22 Sept. 2001.

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