The real reason we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan
The recent discussion of the Afghan deployment focus on the loss of more, young Australian lives as part of a mission which is not understood. It is a tragic loss, yet fundamental re-appraisal of western aims in Afghanistan seems highly unlikely.
The western presence in Afghanistan is not simply a lost decade of US led Osama hunting, nor is it merely a 30 year hangover from Cold War conflict. The Western presence in Afghanistan is part of a larger mission that has dragged on for hundreds of years.
The common acceptance of the logic that underpins both sides of the public debate about Afghanistan, illustrates that this mission is so acceptable to western polities that its existence is taken for granted and passes largely unremarked.
Those who would urge greater efforts believe that ultimately Afghanistan can be tamed and brought into the orbit of western civilisation in some shape or form.
Those who argue for an end to Australian involvement point mainly to the steady evaporation of purpose, concentration and progress. There is no sophisticated interrogation of the initial motivation for intervention in Afghanistan.
An alternative perspective could put the war in a very different light. The idea that the west has the privilege, obligation and means to bring justice, enlightenment and civilisation to the world was common currency well before September 11.
Western powers have been trying to create a modern, rational world, by military means when necessary, since Europe consolidated the Enlightenment into a political package and Napoleon rolled on Egypt.
Over the hundreds of years the sentiments, the speeches, the rationales have been continuously re-arranged and re-iterated in order to keep the civilising mission current. Scratching beneath the surface reveals the same old sentiments: safety at home is assured by security abroad; presence is critical, we must fight there rather than in our own back yards.
Britain’s colonial excursions into Afghanistan were motivated by the fear of a Russian presence in central Asia that would threaten British India and by implication Britain itself.
Just as a Russian presence in Afghanistan was guaranteed by British absence then, today western powers must be on scene lest an ambiguous security threat labelled al Qaida, or the Taliban threaten security in western metropoles.
That earlier western policies and interventions in this region played a central role in creating these same entities confronted today cannot be seriously considered, less still the possible future implications of the military capabilities western powers are currently training in the region.
Likewise the impetus violent western occupation of these regions gives to terrorist responses cannot be considered. Often “home grown” in western polities, radicalisation serves only to provide a rationale for both continued presence in Afghanistan and an further erosion of civil liberties at home.
The logic of the mission civilisatrice demands that we must make these people, about whom we know next to nothing, conform to our ideas of democracy and our models of society, so that we can be safe. We cannot see, let alone question the recursive thinking and the sense of entitlement that has brought us this far.
For Australians, as the mission drags on, it is increasingly clear that the deployment to Afghanistan is the price of the alliance with the US, the bedrock of Australia’s foreign policy. For a security “guarantee” that is hard to qualify and has little to do with Afghanistan, Afghan civilians, Australian soldiers and their families must pay in suffering.
The callous decision to suspend refugee claims from this ongoing conflict is but another indicator that Australia has no interest in Afghan welfare. Rather Afghanistan is reworking of the colonial conceptualisation of space that deems it right, acceptable and necessary that unpleasant things take place in far away places so that a certain lifestyle can be aspired to at home.
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