I watch these events with incredulity, not least because I was a witness to the Russian invasion and occupation. How they fought for us, those Afghans, how they believed our word. How they trusted President Carter when he promised the West’s support. I even met the CIA spook in Peshawar, brandishing the identity papers of a Soviet pilot, shot down with one of our missiles – which had been scooped from the wreckage of his Mig. "Poor guy," the CIA man said, before showing us a movie about GIs zapping the Vietcong in his private cinema. And yes, I remember what the Soviet officers told me after arresting me at Salang. They were performing their international duty in Afghanistan, they told me. They were "punishing the terrorists" who wished to overthrow the (communist) Afghan government and destroy its people. Sound familiar?
And so it is today. President Bush now threatens the obscurantist, ignorant, super-conservative Taliban with the same punishment as he intends to mete out to bin Laden. Bush originally talked about "justice and punishment" and about "bringing to justice" the perpetrators of the atrocities. But he’s not sending policemen to the Middle East; he’s sending B-52s. And F-16s and AWACS planes and Apache helicopters. We are not going to arrest bin Laden. We are going to destroy him. And that’s fine if he’s the guilty man. But B-52s don’t discriminate between men wearing turbans, or between men and women or women and children.
But let’s go back to that word justice. Re-watching that pornography of mass-murder in New York, there must be many people who share my view that this was a crime against humanity. More than 6,000 dead; that’s a Srebrenica of a slaughter. Even the Serbs spared most of the women and children when they killed their menfolk. The dead of Srebrenica deserve – and are getting – international justice at the Hague. So surely what we need is an International Criminal Court to deal with the sorts of killer who devastated New York on 11 September. Yet "crime against humanity" is not a phrase we are hearing from the Americans. They prefer "terrorist atrocity", which is slightly less powerful. Why, I wonder? Because to speak of a terrorist crime against humanity would be a tautology. Or because the US is against international justice. Or because it specifically opposed the creation of an international court on the grounds that its own citizens may one day be arraigned in front of it.
Don’t the dead of Manhattan deserve better than this? It’s less than three years since we launched a 200-Cruise missile attack on Iraq for throwing out the UN arms inspectors. Needless to say, nothing was achieved. More Iraqis were killed, and the UN inspectors never got back, and sanctions continued, and Iraqi children continued to die. No policy, no perspective. Action, not words.
Bush’s threats have effectively forced the evacuation of every Western aid worker. Already, Afghans are dying because of their absence. Drought and starvation go on killing millions – I mean millions – and between 20 and 25 Afghans are blown up every day by the 10 million mines the Russians left behind. Of course, the Russians never went back to clear the mines. I suppose those B-52 bombs will explode a few of them. But that’ll be the only humanitarian work we’re likely to see in the near future.