The Gillard War Effort: Death in Afghanistan

Australia has, for a long time, accepted the premise that its citizens should die for other country’s interests.  It is axiomatic that Anglophone imperialism necessitates Australian commitments, often in blood, to fight wars in places its citizens can barely find on a map. Geographical ignorance is a poor excuse to get killed, and is only matched by the astonishing ignorance of the leaders who let that happen.

The recent pound of flesh, dare we say pounds of flesh, has come in the killing of five Australian soldiers, three by “turncoat” Afghans (Sydney Morning Herald, August 30).  The term is striking to begin with, given that an Afghan who slays an occupying soldier (yes, it has been a long, bloody occupation) receives various badges.

The idea of going “rogue” is darkly amusing, assuming that a loyalty exists to Australian trainers to begin with.  It should be clear that none is owed, and none shown.  This should be clear by the fact that Australian soldiers have been shot by their Afghan comrades on four occasions, three coming last year.

In one incident, three died when an individual dressed in an Afghan National Army uniform approached the soldiers then shot them at close range.  In another, two special services soldiers were killed in a helicopter that crashed in Helmand province.

In the Afghan deployment, keeping 1500 soldiers or none to bolster the Karzai junta says more about Canberra’s acute myopia than it does about high geared local corruption.  For the policy animals, order at all cost, even if the cost is Australian blood.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has adopted a position on Afghanistan that is faulty and tedious.  This doesn’t so much say anything about her, but a succession of Australian prime ministers whose imagination is nourished by the need to ape super power politics.  Speaking to reporters in the Cook Island, Gillard spoke about how, “It is important Australians understand that this is a war with a purpose and a war with an end.”

Neither is the case.  The war has no purpose for Australians, being poorly executed, and appallingly misguided.  It has, with much amusement to the jihadists of the globe, provided target practice in the form of a multinational occupation force.   “How many foreign soldiers have you killed today?” is the running recruitment slogan.  Nor will it have an end, at least, the end that Washington and its satraps wish for.  The only thing that is certain in this conflict is exit, evacuation and retreat.

Gillard, however, is giving the impression of an orderly, dignified withdrawal.  “We know that the process will be 12 to 18 months long and we know that at the end of that the bulk of our forces will be able to return home.”  Pity the remainder who stay behind.

Gillard is resolute – in the language of a revised and dusted mantra from the Vietnam War, the Australian forces, with their coalition Allies, are making “progress.”  (Gillard has, in fact, made reference to Australia’s engagement in Long Tan in the Vietnam War.)  “We are making progress, I can tell you that. I’ve seen it with my own eyes when I have visited Afghanistan.” Everything is to the contrary – the eyes can lie.

Progress is something that is difficult at the best of times to map.  Is it progress, muses the Polish writer Stanislaw Lec, for a cannibal to eat with a knife and fork?  Enlightened nonsense is the staple of those who still believe that humans have a rational purpose to do good on this earth (neat, Augustinian, biblical), though the copy book in cases such as Afghanistan is well and truly blotted.

Schools do not replace dead villagers; and those schools, artificially imposed by occupation mandate, will just as easily be closed in the ebb and flow of fighting.  Good may simply be misplaced evil, though it is unlikely to be something the policy wonks in Parliamentary tether are interested to hear.

Progress in the context of insurgency campaigns is much like measuring an infinite Test match in cricket – indeterminably long innings, flat tracks, pedestrian bowling.  The Roman Empire’s existence, even at its height, was marked by a permanent state of open-ended insurgencies.  Enduring empires are forged on the assumption that insurgencies will be the interest paid on keeping them.

The only end here that is clear, even inevitable, will be an Afghanistan without the occupation forces.  Then, history, turning with bloody regularity, will subject its citizens to another round of brutality and vicious governance.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: Read other articles by Binoy.