Letters: Victims of war

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The Independent Online

Civilians always victims of war

You describe the account of civilian casualties caused by Nato forces in Afghanistan as “perhaps the gravest scandal of all” and note that “the record appears to show that an Afghan life is worth far less than that of any Westerner” (leading article, 27 July). In fact, such a revelation is not at all surprising, or even particularly appalling. All military forces prioritise the preservation of their own troops over the lives of inhabitants of what is regarded as enemy territory, whether combatants or civilians.

This attitude is viewed as an essential survival skill. Asuitable historical case in point was the Allied liberation of France from the Nazis in the Second World War, during which up to 70,000 French civilians were unintentionally killed by Allied bombing, committed in the belief that the lives of the Allied troops had to be treated as being of the greatest intrinsic value. So the reason why Western troops have been complaining about the new restrictive rules of engagement as part of a counter-insurgency strategy becomes clear: they perceive it as unfair that the lives of civilians are apparently being seen as of equal or greater importance than their own.



It should come as no surprise that Task Force 373, a clandestine special operations unit, has been accidentally killing Afghan women and children. After all, robot drones piloted by CIA officers have been accidentally killing Pakistani women and children, and Pakistan is our ally. In the fog of war, it’s often hard to distinguish a foe from a friend, or a child. Our senior generals have explained publicly why the war cannot be “won”; if only we had the ears to hear and the powers of reason to comprehend.

They have explained that every civilian death strengthens the Taliban (obviously, because young Afghani and Pakistani boys rush to enlist in the effort to drive out the women - and child-killing foreign invaders). Of course Americans know that we are the “good guys” and theTaliban are the “bad guys”.Unfortunately, the young men we force into the Taliban’s arms know just the opposite.



Three cheers for the internet leak over the consistent failures of the USA-UK campaign in Afghanistan. The only threat to the lives of our troops is our Government putting them into a war that no occupier has ever won. Every lesson of history has shown that any outside power propping up a government in Afghanistan only undermines the credibility of that very government in the eyes of the Afghan people.

We cannot and should not try to impose our culture and politics on an alien culture. We should have never have gone in and the sooner we grasp the reality and pull out the better.




Imran Khan, party leader and former successful Test captain, told Test Match Special lastweek, “Fifty thousand innocent Pakistani civilians have died as a result of the immoral war in Afghanistan”. The commentators expressed no surprise. It is not Afghan but Pakistani casualties which have turned moderate Pakistani opinion against the West.



Although the leaks about the Afghanistan war are devastating, I think that the American and British governments and the US military must be breathing a sigh of relief that the date period does not go back to 2001. They must be quaking in their boots about the risk of so-called “secret information” from those earlier years being revealed.



The fast-track asylum scandal

I am glad that the practice of sudden removal of failed asylum-seekers has been challenged (report, 27 July). But the whole idea of a fasttrack system goes against natural justice. Some people can arrive in this country and be put into this category, kept all the time in detention, and be removed six weeks later after having gone through every stage of the system. Many solicitors will not deal with this type of case at all. People seeking sanctuary who have not had the opportunity to obtain more and original evidence from their home country, or to have any documents authenticated are rushed through the courts, never getting the concentrated help they need to challenge the assertions of theHome Office or the judges.

Being in detention makes it hard for them to have quick and easy access to internet, fax or telephone, and if they have no money, they cannot make long-distance calls to far-off countries. Telephone connections can, in any case, be intermittent, and anyone who is asked to post evidence in a fast and reliable way will have to pay a courier firm about £50. People in the home country can be putting themselves in danger by obtaining and sending such evidence. These situations need careful handling which can in itself take time.

People who have escaped prison and torture or other violence are often not in a fit state to think clearly or to grasp clearly the concept of providing proof of what has happened to them. It is the time taken by the Home Office to provide decisions on fresh applications and the time being taken to deal with a backlog of cases from many years that needs cutting down. Rushed decision-making and sudden removal at the early stages is not the answer to the problem and leads to many being sent back to danger. It also adds to the fear experienced by people who are already vulnerable as a result of inhumane treatment in their own country.



Crowded out by free bus passes

If only Adam Martin’s assertions (letters, 19 July 2010) that those using a free bus pass enable “the bus operator to fill an otherwise empty seat” were true in this part of England. I travelled to Derby on the hourly express bus from Nottingham to Chesterfield. On leaving the city centre the bus was full with, I would estimate, three-quarters of the seats taken by those on free bus passes. Instead of stopping at the Queen’s Medical Centre as scheduled, the bus travelled non-stop to Derby, leaving those wishing to board with a potential wait of an hour if travelling north of Derby because most seats were taken by non-fare paying passengers.

If this were a one-off occasion, I suspect passengers could live with it; sadly, it is all too common. The danger from such a situation is not that, as Mr Martin states, “Without this income [subsidy for allowing free travel for the elderly] ... there will be big cuts in bus services for fare-paying customers as well”, but rather the opposite. Eventually, fare-paying passengers will chose the relative certainty of car travel over bus travel, meaning that the operator’s revenue from the bus service falls dramatically and that the service becomes unviable and ceases to run.



Scouts and Guides can do the job

As a teenager, I fail to see why the citizenship programme (report, 23 July) has any chance of succeeding. First, hardly any teenagers will be willing to give up their holidays and their first time for relaxation for months because of a programme that wants to order them about and in many other ways feel like a school trip to PGL or similar. Neither will teenagers not already involved in similar voluntary organisations be more likely to join this one.

Second, this supposedly revolutionary idea “that doesn’t happen now” has already been done and is being implemented by other organisations. Has Cameron heard of the Scouting and Guiding movements? Why not just direct these “lost teenagers” who have “no direction” in their lives to the nearest Scout or Guide branch? This would be much easier, because they are already doing all the things Cameron wants for this programme and they don’t waste £13m and then £37m of taxpayer money when valuable resources are being cut.



Cuts may change jail sentencing

Understandably, the stance taken by the chairman of The Magistrates Association, Mr John Thornhill (report, 22 July) reflects the public view that community punishments should be “challenging, strong and effective”. The problem with this analysis is that it omits a factor now being rigorously pursued in all areas of public spending, namely “value for money”. Should this concept be applied to the area of sentencing, the size of the prison population would surely decline as people question, for example, the “value for money” of spending £45,000 per prisoner per year, an annual £13bn cost to the taxpayer. We should also examine why we have the highest incarceration rate and presumably the most costly prison expenditure rate in the whole of Western Europe.

The cuts to essential public spending on education and health are likely to impact negatively on many sections of society; in the case of cuts to the prison budget, hopefully that will lead to a major change in society’s attitude to the sentencing of offenders.




Dutch brought it on themselves

I have to respond to your correspondent from Holland who accused the English press of tarnishing the good name of Dutch football (letters, 19 July). The Dutch manager and players did that all by themselves. The 90 minutes of football (I use that description loosely) in theWorld Cup final has done more damage to the Dutch reputation than any press report.

The Hollanders (under instruction) spent 90 minutes attempting to intimidate Spain and kick them off the field. Any person who had great effection for Cruyff and Total Football had to shed a tear at the cynicism on display. Holland was a great footballing nation because it wanted to play great football, not win at any price.



No Labour vote because of Brown

The reason that myself and many other lifelong Labour voters deserted the party at the last election was entirely due to the mismanagement of Gordon Brown (interview, 26 July). If having to put up with a Con-Lib Dem coalition is the price we have to pay to get rid of him, then so be it, and I am sure that the party will come back much stronger, although none of the five leadership contenders inspire much confidence so far.

It is interesting to note that Brown talks so fondly of Fife, and that is because it is one of the few areas where he would be elected. He is quick to forget that he stood for Edinburgh South where he was defeated by Tory Michael Ancram, before heading to a county that will always vote Labour, irrespective of the quality of the candidate.



Raising a glass to the Pipe & Glass

Reading Christopher Hirst waxing lyrical about the Pipe &Glass pub in South Dalton (26 July) took me back to my days 25 years ago as a delivery driver for the long-defunct County Catering Company of nearby Hull. Many years before the present owners were in place, the P&G had a reputation for being “pricey”, which is what we called such places before the term “gastropub” became popular. Similar comments were made of other pubs in the neighbouring villages of Walkington, Skidby and Bishop Burton.

I never dined in any of them, despite them being on my weekly route, and it wasn’t that the cost was beyond my van-driver’s wage. What dissuaded me was the experience of entering a restaurant through its kitchens and not its front door.



Pope’s decision seems absurd

The Vatican’s decision to categorise the “attempt to ordain women” as a “grave offence” is a curious one because people involved in such events are routinely excommunicated (report, 21 July). Perhaps it is because this sanction has failed to deter the rising numbers of women, and their supporters, who seek ordination within RC communities that the Vatican is trying to discredit them more widely by using such an abusive term.

The Vatican’s action smacks of desperation, harming only itself in alienating members of its own Church and in appearing absurd to the wider world.



Musical echo

Further to your article, “Comrades gather to give Animal Farm a musical makeover” (27 July), it should be noted that despite theinference that this is the first time it has been put to music, Lee Hall, Elton John et al may be a little late. There is already an excellent and very popular adaptation by Peter Hall (no relation) which was first performed in 1984 at the National Theatre. It is even used as a set text in GCSE drama.



Under the gun?

In the issue listing unnecessary quangos to be culled (27 July), you show a picture of The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, enjoying a canter along the beach at Blackpool. Can you remind us please: why exactly do we need horse artillery?



Perspectives on the Middle East

Real situation in Jordan

Your article, "Why Jordan is Occupied by Palestinians" (22 July) contains inaccurate statements. It refers to a “venomous article” written by a “Palestinian writer” in The Jerusalem Post. I am the writer, but I am a Jordanian citizen from a Palestinian heritage.

My article discussed the apartheid policies implemented by the King in relation to the intelligence and security establishment and not “of men who wanted to set up a racist apartheid state”. Although, having read your article, it is clear that this is the intention of the former army generals. You claim that “perhaps 57 per cent of Jordanians are non-Palestinian”: UNWRA states that 70 per cent of the population are Jordanian-Palestinians (so 30 per cent are non-Palestinian).

Most of them have no historical ties or links with the Palestinian Authority. The generals interviewed appear to be ignorant of the fact that the West Bank, which was occupied by Israel in 1967, is still constitutionally part of Jordan. So Palestinians living in the West Bank are eligible for Jordanian citizenship and full political rights. Far from challenging the King, it is clear that this is an attempt to support his efforts to resist the repatriation of the West Bank to Jordan, as this would pose a significant challenge to the King’s continued leadership.

Before Jordan’s creation byBritain in 1921, its civil society was practically non-existent, being mainly tribal. Jordanian-Palestinian immigrants in 1948, 1967, and after the Gulf War in 1990 are what make up today's Jordan. Their contribution to the economy, civil society and statebuilding has provided them with every right to be the leading stakeholder in the country.




Arabs not given chance to ‘decline’

As a long-time fan of RobertFisk’s work, I was a bit surprised to see the assertion in his article that “the term Palestinian broadly refers to Arabs who declined Israeli citizenship in 1948, when the country was formed”. The verb “decline” implies a kind of autonomy which many of these people simply did not have. From the creation of Israel in 1948 to the passing of the Israeli Nationality Law in July 1952, Palestinians were effectively rendered stateless. Article 18 of the Laws of the State of Israel states that Palestinian citizenship orders were retrospectively “repealed with effect from the day of the establishment of the State”.

Obtaining Israeli citizenship was not a straightforward task. Those who failed to attain legal status remained in Israel as stateless persons, immediately entering a black hole where they did not gain the full spectrum of rights, or the ability to make real choices about citizenship.Any articles mentioning historical Palestinian citizenship must reflect the harsh realities of the situation in which many Arabs found themselves circa 1948.