Prospects for 2013: Jonathan Steele

By James

07 January 2013

A surge in public protest will be required to prevent further Western military intervention in Syria and Afghanistan in 2013, argues Jonathan Steele.  Part of our series of short contributions from prominent writers and activists looking to the year ahead.


Two civil wars are likely to dominate 2013, both of them fuelled by the West and both causing massive casualties.  In Syria Britain, the US and their allies spent 2012 continually resisting efforts by the UN's two mediators, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, to promote a ceasefire and a realistic political solution. Instead, they took sides by giving diplomatic and logistical support to Syria's rebel forces and made Bashar al Assad's resignation as president the precondition for the start of any talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.  British special forces are working closely with the rebels at their bases in Turkey as well as inside Syria and now, as 2013 begins, Britain is pushing to lift EU restrictions on arms supplies to the rebels even though it knows this is a recipe for extending the civil war and condemning more and more civilians to death.  Instead of recognising that neither side can win a military victory and that negotiations and compromise are the best way forward, the West is backing the conservative Gulf monarchies' anti-Syrian strategy of military intervention.   Recent opinion polls show a majority of British people oppose arming the Syrian rebels.  It will need a surge in public protest to block William Hague's plans.

In Afghanistan, unlike Syria, civil war is more than a generation old.  Yet, far from abating after three and a half decades, the scene in 2013 is set for a surge in killing and destruction as Nato accelerates its strategy of increasing the size of the Afghan national security forces and thereby encouraging a new round in the civil war. The Taliban are part of Afghan society with extensive control over large tracts of the Pashtun south and east and in six years of all-out war Nato has been unable to defeat them. There is no chance that the much less well-equipped Afghan forces can perform any better.   Here too, as in Syria, logic calls for a ceasefire and negotiations for a power-sharing regime.  The situation is complex given the  uncertain role and intentions of Pakistan which has close links with the Taliban.   But the Obama administration needs to drop its emphasis on military goals.  While it continues its withdrawal of forces in 2013 and next year, it should make every effort to engage the Taliban in a process of talks that can lead to a government of national unity.  For that government to be truly sovereign,  the US must abandon its plans to keep a residual force of 10,000 troops and long-term bases in Afghanistan after 2014.

Jonathan Steele is an international affairs columnist at the Guardian.

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