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17 years in, there's no end in sight for the Afghan war

SEVENTEEN years after the ill-fated decision by US President George W Bush to invade Afghanistan, aided and abetted by New Labour, the conflict shows no evidence of ending.

Just as the Iraq invasion two years later was based on the false prospectus that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction, so the pretext for occupying Afghanistan was an equally dodgy claim that its Taliban rulers were guilty of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers atrocity visited on New York City.

Those who hijacked commercial passenger flights and flew them into the Twin Towers, as well as attacking the Pentagon in Virginia, were largely Saudis, members of the al-Qaida network.

Their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a former close US ally, who had received weaponry and training from Washington during the war to overthrow the modernising People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government of Muhammed Najibullah, which was assisted by the Soviet Union.

The communist PDP took power in 1978, having previously supported the government of Daoud Khan, whose cousin King Zahir Shah he had overthrown five years earlier.

Its modest programme of land reform, universal literacy, women’s rights and an end to forced marriage was too much for landowners, religious conservatives and Pakistan’s military dictatorship, which encouraged armed resistance to the Kabul government.

The communists’ capacity for internal conflict, their relatively small numbers and the ferocity of opposition, which systematically killed teachers and other government representatives, pushed Moscow to the fateful decision to send its armed forces into Afghanistan.

All restraints were off then, as the US provided the so-called “mojahedin” holy warriors with surface-to-air missiles and other sophisticated weaponry and Afghanistan became a laboratory for proxy cold war conflict.

The US and Pakistan weren’t alone in supplying those whose outlooks were indistinguishable from those the West sees now as extremists and terrorists.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states chipped in with funds and military volunteers to swell the jihadists’ ranks, as did Iran and China.

After the Soviet Union withdrew its troops and reduced its military supplies, the Najibullah government soldiered on until its overthrow in 1992, supplanted by mojahedin leaders who fought among themselves, plundering and killing civilians, until Pakistan orchestrated a Taliban seizure of power in 1996, proclaiming an Islamic Emirate based on a harsh interpretation of sharia law.

The Taliban regime allowed Bin Laden’s al-Qaida members to train at the military camps set up by the US and its allies, rejecting Washington’s demands to hand over its erstwhile Saudi asset.

The 2001 Nato invasion dispersed the Taliban administration with ease, replacing it with a rejigged assembly of the same corrupt and mutually hostile mojahedin factions, now dubbed the Northern Alliance.

There has not been a day of peace for Afghanistan since, with the US-appointed Kabul government at constant war with the Taliban, relying on Nato air power, logistical support and military “trainers.”

Afghanistan’s biggest curse has been outside interference, from British invasions in the 19th century to the conflicts of the past 40 years.

There has been no benefit for the people of Afghanistan from wars ordered and directed by foreign governments, yet the Tories, backed by MPs from other parties, pretend that a turning point is just around the corner.

It isn’t — and the death count piles ever higher as the Kabul government and the Taliban chase an elusive military victory.

The Tories must be told no more troops to Afghanistan. Bring those already there back home. UN-facilitated negotiations, without outside countries’ interference, must have their day.

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