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Formerly the Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief – and with over 30 years of reporting on Afghanistan with distinction – Jonathan Steele makes a comparative analysis of the US and Soviet occupations the backbone of this book.
Alternating reportage with a careful dismantling of ‘13 myths about Afghanistan’, he finds many similarities and at least one crucial difference. Both occupations were essentially interventions in a civil war, pitching a high-tech military against a poorly-armed insurgency with disastrous consequences for millions of ordinary Afghans.
However, while in the Soviet context ‘[a] new leader came to power in the Kremlin, abandoned hopes of victory and tried hard to achieve a negotiated settlement’ – efforts cynically blocked by the west – in the US Obama has escalated the war and refused to countenance serious peace talks.
Steele is clear that, ‘while preferable to staying in the country in a futile search for military victory … the option of withdrawing from Afghanistan without a negotiated settlement, as the Soviets did, is not the best one.’ Nonetheless (and this is one of the book’s major strengths) he is also clear that negotiations to end Afghanistan’s long‑running civil war, coupled with local ceasefires on and the adoption of a regional agreement on non-interference in Afghan affairs, remain a realistic prospect – provided that the US is prepared to jettison its plans for a long-term military presence and withdraw.
A recently-leaked Nato report, based on interrogations of thousands of captured Taliban fighters, concluded that: ‘While they [the Taliban] are weary of war, they see little hope of negotiated peace… [and] believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable course of action.’
The Taliban’s recent announcement that it plans to open a political office in Qatar has provided the international peace movement with a brief window of opportunity to provide an alternative by forcing the US to the negotiating table.
For many years I have been directing activists interested in learning more about Afghanistan to Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls’ excellent but now dated Bleeding Afghanistan. From now on I shall be recommending this book.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Last month's mass far right demonstration can be linked to a toxic mix of government tolerance of fascism and neoliberalism on steroids. Ewa Jasiewicz investigates.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke