The three things that always accompany occupation

Torture by masters who claim the moral high ground, declarations they've won their war despite being in retreat, and insistence on a dignified exit after negotiation

Share

On 20th November 2001, in the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, the Taliban stamped into my passport their very last visa, number 001518, valid only for Kandahar and printed on a paper of varying shades of green. At the top were printed, in English and Dari, the words:  “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

Less than a year later, the new pro-American Karzai government of Afghanistan issued me with a visa at the very same embassy. This time it was visa number 010937, printed on identical green paper but with the words ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ snipped off at the top and replaced by a rubber stamp bearing the words “Embassy of Afghanistan, Islamabad”. A pair of scissors got rid of the ‘Emirate’.

Then last week, the brand new, blindingly-white Taliban office in Doha opened with that critical ‘Emirate’ re-inserted in its title. And the Americans wouldn’t talk to the Taliban because Karzai wouldn’t talk to them – or the Taliban – because of that dreadful word.

The bloody trail from battlefield to negotiations has been littered with such nonsense since the Irish were invited to Downing Street by Lloyd George to discuss the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. Superpowers have followed the same dismal journey from defeat and humiliation – and torture – in occupation, to retreat without humiliation. Occupying armies must leave with dignity. If they can, they’ll hand over to a local proxy. To hell with the people they leave behind. Words don’t matter.

So the offending ‘Emirate’ sign has been removed – along with the Taliban’s white flag and its Koranic verse – and the Taliban have grumbled that ‘peace’ talks are going to be more difficult. I doubt it. The Americans have breathed a sigh of relief.  In Palestine, in Algeria, Cyprus, Yemen, Kenya, Vietnam, Iraq – after the peaceful struggle for independence in India, too – it was the same old story. Enemies who were to be liquidated, expunged, tortured, imprisoned – men and women whose very existence enraged their colonial or imperial rulers – would turn up at London or Evian or Zurich, in Paris or Washington and soon in Doha, to chat amiably with their antagonists. ‘Men of violence’ would suddenly become ‘delegates’.  And lo, the ‘terrorists’ of the IRA, the Haganah, the FLN, EOKA, the Mao Mao, the NLF of Yemen, the Viet Cong and the Dawa party – and now the Taliban – all transmogrified into responsible chaps who would one day drink tea with their former masters and sometimes – Makarios and Kenyatta and Begin come to mind – with the Queen as well.

After shaming themselves with torture, after negating the very values they claimed to represent – and claiming a hollow military ‘victory’ into the bargain – the superpowers stalked miserably off the stage. Only after British barbarism in Ireland – “things are being done in the name of Britain which must make our name stink in the nostrils of the whole world,” a Labour Party report stated – did Winston Churchill shake the hand of Michael Collins. “His hands had touched the springs of terrible deeds,” Churchill said of the IRA intelligence boss. So what?

Britain used torture and execution against its Arab and Jewish guerrilla enemies in Palestine and retreated after fruitless negotiations with both sides.  We left both Palestine and India – after Mountbatten’s new borders had created Pakistan – to be consumed by civil war. ‘Our’ mandate and the people of ‘our’ empire were engulfed in bloodbaths because we wished to make an honourable exit. In Cyprus, we kept a few bases – Akrotiri and Dhekelia were precedents for the fortresses NATO hopes to keep in Afghanistan – after we left. Of Kenya, after a shameful war of torture and executions by the UK – a dreadful imperial legacy still being fought over by the victims in British courts this very summer – Enoch Powell said that a nation which behaved in this manner did not deserve an empire.

The French employed torture and mass executions on a grand scale in their attempt to destroy the FLN in Algeria. They assassinated so many potential negotiators – ‘interlocuteurs valables’ – that it was difficult to find delegates with whom they could talk at Evian. The Americans have just done the same in Pakistan, ‘droning’ to death Wali ur-Rehman, a highly political cadre close to the Pakistani Taliban whose loss is a setback for those in the movement who believe in negotiations.

The Brits did a secret deal with the NLF in Yemen to destroy their Nasser-supported rivals in Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and then – after routinely using torture against Yemeni rebels at Fort Morbut – fled Aden. After the disgrace of British and French torturers, and of their US colleagues in Vietnam, the obscenity of Abu Ghraib and Bagram and of the CIA’s ‘black’ prisons was inevitable.

Three things always accompany occupation: torture by the masters who claim the moral high ground, declarations that they have won their war even though they are in retreat, and the absolute insistence on a dignified exit after negotiations. The Russians left behind their old Afghan secret police chief Najibullah in Kabul, the Americans hope to leave Karzai in the same city next year. The Americans thought that Nguyen Van Thieu might be able to hold out in South Vietnam. Malaki still holds the fort in Baghdad, in theory for the Americans, probably for the Iranians.

And so the newsreels show the Royal Marines leaving Haifa and Aden, the Somerset Light Infantry leaving India, the Black Watch departing the new Pakistan, the US 21st Infantry Regiment leaving Saigon.  No-one wanted a repeat of France’s crushing defeat at Dien Bein Phu. The Brits lost only 183 dead in 1919-1921 Ireland and 370 in Cyprus, against 414 in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans lost 47,424 in Vietnam, 5,281 in Iraq, more than 2,000 in Afghanistan, the French 17,456 in Algeria, the Soviets around 15,000 in Afghanistan. Some of the figures are contested; no-one has collected the statistics of civilian or ‘enemy’ dead. They run, of course, into the millions. ‘Our’ wars – western and Soviet – were supposedly fought to preserve communism, to ‘contain’ communism, for empire, against ‘terror’, to destroy ‘weapons of mass destruction’ or to preserve what was left of imperial prestige.

The ‘enemy’ always fought to get rid of ‘foreigners’.  And now we have ‘won’ the battle over a word in Doha. Just so we can get out of Afghanistan.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert