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Will the UN help in Afghanistan?

by Kevin Ovenden

The US and British bombing of Afghanistan has unleashed a bitter scramble for power between rival military commanders, mostly based on different ethnic groups. Each of them has support from the competing states which border Afghanistan. This will create turmoil. Some people see the United Nations (UN) as being an independent force that can help bring peace to Afghanistan. But any UN intervention will be Western destruction in another guise.

Deepening civil war was the outcome of the US-led intervention in Somalia, in east Africa, in the early 1990s. That took place under the banner of the UN and involved US, Belgian, Canadian and Pakistani forces.

Ordinary people welcomed their arrival. So did rival warlords, who had been built up by the US and Russia during the Cold War. Yet within months UN forces alienated all sections of the population. Their only answer to the grinding poverty and the complex political divisions was a combination of repression and siding with one armed group against another. So General Aidid went from being the West's best hope for producing a stable government to being public enemy number one.

Somalis were treated as a brutal horde who responded only to force. UN troops opened fire on a mass demonstration of Somali civilians, killing over 500 people. The UN left in 1994 with the country still in ruins and the warlords strengthened.

Pro-war commentators will not mention Somalia. They do claim Kosovo shows that a combination of US military action and UN political intervention can bring democracy to Afghanistan. But the NATO war in the Balkans two years ago led first to intensified Serbian attacks on Kosovan Albanians and then, after the 'victory', to the ethnic cleansing of over 200,000 Serbs and Roma Gypsies from Kosovo. The UN administration brought in by the West to run Kosovo has brought the exact opposite of democracy.

The administration runs Kosovo in the manner of a colony. All decisions are taken by Western-appointed bureaucrats. The UN administration has been in the hands of a German, a Frenchman and now a Dutchman. He is in charge of the judiciary, police force and public services. UN officials and troops live it up while Kosovo remains the poorest part of Europe.

The Dutch administrator blatantly interfered in last Saturday's general election by attending an election rally for the party favoured by the West, a trick learnt from colonial governors during the British Empire. And just like under the empire, the elections are to bodies which have no power.

Meanwhile gangsters run much of the economy (in collusion with the UN authorities) and Kosovo has become a centre for prostitution and heroin shipments into Europe. The intervention in Afghanistan is already more disastrous than in Kosovo. UN rule will be even more brutal.

Afghanistan is more divided between warlords who fought each other in the early 1990s, killing over 50,000 people. They have support among different sections of the population through shared opposition to other ethnic groups and military forces. Any central authority in the capital, Kabul, will find itself either having to repress those bases of support or cutting deals with the warlords and, crucially, the states which back them.

Every government in Kabul over the last quarter of a century has done that. The Russians invaded in 1979 to set up a stable pro-Russian government. It took the cities, but fought (and lost) an eight year war against guerrillas who held the countryside.

Its attempts to make alliances with different leaders merely contributed to further chaos after it fell in 1992. The divisions in Afghanistan are greater today. The talk of 'nation building' and a UN-brokered government conjure up all the images of 19th century European colonialism.

Now the big capitalist powers declare countries such as Afghanistan, which have been torn apart by the outside interference and the world market, 'failed states'. Their solution is devastating US military action, followed by putting whole peoples under the jurisdiction of the UN. It in turn operates completely undemocratically to try to produce a pro-capitalist, pro-Western regime and to meet the conflicting interests of the minor powers in the region.

Economic aid is at best pitiful and channelled into the hands of favoured corrupt leaders. That has happened in Kosovo. The handful of multinationals that are interested in the area have tried to grab its paltry resources. The UN is not a counter to US power-it is the civil service of the new imperialism.


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What Socialists Say
Sat 24 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1776
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