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Tuesday, July 21, 2009 

Scum-watch: The "chain of terror".

It probably says something about the mounting cynicism concerning the war in Afghanistan that even the Sun, by far the most ardent supporter of our presence in Helmand province, has been moved to commission a justificatory article on the "chain of terror". As you might have expected though, to call the arguments made piss poor, utterly confused and easy to rebut would be an understatement.

To begin with, Oliver Harvey seems to be confused exactly where it is and who it is we're at war with. It is Afghanistan or Pakistan? Is it the Taliban or is it the Pakistani Taliban, who for the most part are entirely separate? This extends to Harvey's geographical knowledge: he claims that Malakand is near to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border when it is in fact quite some distance from it. This is an attempt to link Mohammad Sidique Khan and Omar Khyam to the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban; the problem here is that there is no link. Khan and Khyam, if trained by any particular grouping, were most likely trained by individuals with links to al-Qaida. Khan might well have left for Pakistan with the intention of fighting in Afghanistan; he left behind a video for his daughter which made clear he wasn't expecting to return. The fact that he did rather undermines any links he had with the Taliban, who are fighting only in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than having worldwide ambitions.

Next we have just the word of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama to convince us that somehow British troops in Afghanistan do make us safer:

Gordon Brown made his remarks last week as the war in Afghanistan entered a particularly grim phase, with 17 British soldiers killed already this month.

The PM argued the sacrifice made by our troops - 186 have died since operations began in Afghanistan - was vital and that to stop fighting the Taliban would make the UK "less safe".


Justifying the UK military presence in Helmand, he said: "It comes back to terrorism on the streets of Britain.

"There is a chain of terror that links what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain.

"If we were to allow the Taliban to be back in power in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda then to have the freedom of manoeuvre it had before 2001, we would be less safe as a country."

US President Barack Obama agreed, insisting: "The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much, if not more, of a stake in than we do.

"The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States."

Government officials state around three quarters of the most advanced plots monitored by MI5 have Pakistani links.

They said the security service is aware of around 30 serious plots at any given moment, suggesting that at least 21 of them are tied to Pakistani groups.


Again, we're meant to take it that Afghanistan and Pakistan are inseparable. Yet we have no military presence in Pakistan, and nor does the United States. The only thing that comes closest to it is the incessant drone strikes on alleged high profile militant targets. Afghanistan and Pakistan might be connected, but our military offensive is not, despite the recent AfPak change in emphasis by the Americans. The fact remains the al-Qaida doesn't need the freedom of manoeuvre it had in Afghanistan up to October 2001, both because it has something approaching that freedom in Pakistan and because its ideology has gone global, just as it hoped it would. 9/11 was mostly planned in Germany, having been first proposed years before by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, just as 7/7 was mostly planned in this country. While attending a training camp is still integral to those who go on to become terrorists, most information can now be found and accessed through the internet. Furthermore, the fact that so many of these plots have roots in Pakistan is not always to do with how they can be linked back to the Taliban or al-Qaida there, but simply because so many of the Muslims in this country originate from Pakistan and have support or themselves support relatives back there.

And Afghanistan provides the bulk of the heroin on Britain's streets - with the profits funding Taliban guerrillas.

A staggering 93 per cent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan - two thirds of it from Helmand, where British troops are fighting and dying.

Taliban chiefs often "tax" narcotics gangs ten per cent for providing security.

Afghan police chief Lt Col Abdul Qader Zaheer, 45, told me last year: "If it wasn't for heroin there wouldn't be a war here. It pays for Taliban guns."


Of course, this omits the fact that the Taliban themselves first almost eradicated the poppy crop. They only turned to it once they needed to. It also fails to acknowledge that solutions to the poppy crop, such as buying it to be turned into medicines have been ignored or rejected. That the Sun also objects to even the most timid moves towards liberalisation of the drug laws also means that the opportunities that legislation offers are completely off the table. Heroin itself though has nothing to do with our presence in Helmand - we're not fighting a war against drugs in Afghanistan - this is just another distraction.

The tentacles of jihad linking Britain and Afghanistan begin on the Helmand frontline.

One dead Taliban fighter was found with an Aston Villa tattoo. The discovery suggested the insurgent was from the UK and followed news that RAF radio spies picked up Brummie accents while listening in on Taliban "chatter" over the airwaves.

These UK-born fighters arrive through the mountainous and sieve-like border from Pakistan - the same desolate, lawless region where Khyam and Khan received their bomb-making masterclass.


We've dealt with these same, unconfirmed and impossible to verify claims before. There probably are some Brits fighting in Afghanistan, but if there weren't fighting there, they probably would be somewhere else. In a way, this actually gives some credence to the claim that we're safer due to our presence in Afghanistan - fight those jihadists who want to do battle with their own countrymen outside the actual country rather than here. This isn't though the government's case - their case is that through defeating the Taliban and preventing al-Qaida from returning they're making us safer, which was dealt with somewhat above.

It is believed Khan filmed his "martyrdom" video in Pakistan. In it, he glares at the camera with his hatred of the West clearly evident and declares icily: "We are at war and I am a soldier."

Pakistan is the next link in the chain of terror. British jihadis receive not only weapons training there but are also further radicalised by preachers of hate at madrassas or religious schools.

Khan's fellow 7/7 murderer, Shehzad Tanweer, is said to have worshipped at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque.


This is more nonsense - the idea that jihadists go to Pakistan to be "further radicalised" is specious. They wouldn't have gone in the first place if they weren't already somewhat committed to the cause. If anything, this further undermines the case for presence in Afghanistan: if all the radicalisation, training and hatred is going on in Pakistan, why are we in Helmand province? How does being there make us safer than stopping what goes on in Pakistan would?

We're then treated to some boilerplate rabble-rousing from a cleric whom Harvey had the privilege to meet:

The Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan make no effort to disguise their aim to introduce Sharia law to Britain. In the dusty Pakistani town of Kahuta, a cleric was happy to tell me last year of his desire to bring beheadings and stonings to our shores.

Imam Qari Hifzur Rehamn, 60 said of Britain: "Non-believers must be converted to Islam. Morals in your society, with women wearing revealing clothes, have gone wrong.

"We want Islamic law for all Pakistan and then the world.

"We would like to do this by preaching. But if not then we would use force."

The Imam of the town's religious school, where kids as young as nine are taught jihad or holy war, added: "Adulterers should be buried in earth to the waist and stoned to death.

"Thieves should have their hands cut off. Women should remain indoors and films and pop music should be banned.

"Homosexuals must be killed - it's the only way to stop them spreading. It should be by beheading or stoning, which the general public can do."


Again, this fails to even begin to back up the case for our presence in Afghanistan. If Harvey had met this imam in that country perhaps he might have a point - but he didn't. The idea that those taught similar things are suddenly going to be any sort of threat to this country except as an irritant is ludicrous - if they can't even begin to impose their beliefs on Pakistan, how are they meant to do it in a country thousands of miles away?

But the US-led coalition has vowed to stop the radicals from governing the desperately poor nation again and fermenting an ideology of holy war against the West.

The final link in the jihadi chain is a return to Britain.

Khan slipped back into the UK in February 2005. Just five months later he detonated his rucksack bomb at Edgware Road Tube station, murdering six people.

On the sun-baked plains and river valleys of Helmand today, our forces - some just 18 - are locked in deadly combat with a resilient Taliban army.

The prize in this bloody war, and the legacy for those brave soldiers who have returned here to heroes' funerals, is to snap the chain of terror for good.


Except there is no such thing as a Taliban "army", just as there is no such thing as one Taliban. This so-called "chain of terror" cannot be snapped by an army based in just one province, with just less than 10,000 soldiers on the ground, in a country which has been at war for almost 30 years. It would require an army at least 10 times that size to have even the slightest chance of controlling the whole of Afghanistan, let alone Pakistan, which this piece invokes repeatedly. The Soviets had over 100,000 units on the ground post-1980 and they couldn't manage it. How can such a fragmented coalition as Nato currently is even begin to?

The article doesn't even begin to consider any alternatives, let alone any counter-arguments. It can be argued that our very presence in Afghanistan in fact makes us less safe: it makes us a target for reprisals whereas if we were not involved we would not be. 9/11 and 7/7 did not occur in vacuums; they did not happen simply because "they hate us". The chain of terror would have breaks in it if we did not involve ourselves in battles in which we have no dog in. It would not completely remove the threat, but it would decrease it exponentially. That the Sun doesn't even start to imagine the opposing side even exists speaks volumes.

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