David Miliband in Basra 2009

The IRC, Miliband and a Crisis In Afghanistan

With the Afghanistan elections only a few days away, the media were in overdrive reporting on what a historic occasion it was set to be. A press release landed in my inbox from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) which stated the findings of a new report and offered the chance to ask questions and schedule interviews regarding the reports findings.

What the report called for was “urgent aid investment in Afghanistan”, stating that there is a need for “renewed investment in humanitarian and development aid”. I was informed that I could be connected to experts in Washington and London to discuss anything that was on my mind.

I found it strange that experts in Washington and London had compiled a report and concluded that the solution was an appeal to the public for money to be sent, and subsequently spent, in Afghanistan. It is not strange in the sense that it is not needed, that this diagnosis is illogical, it is strange in the sense that I can recall a time, not too long ago, when another report was conducted by experts in Washington and London and a similar diagnosis was made, only this time, instead of humanitarian aid, what was needed was a military intervention.

I don’t doubt that aid is needed, and I think it is vitally important for the wealthier nations to transfer money and resources to those that are not as fortunate. But I could not help but taste the bitterness of hypocrisy on my tongue as I read the words of the email aloud.

One of the men I was told I may be able to connect with was the CEO and IRC President David Miliband. Despite being head of the IRC, an organisation dedicated to offering aid and long-term assistance to those displaced by war, Miliband frequently voted in favour of UK military involvement whilst in his role as an MP.

By using the websites They Work For You alongside Public Whip, it shows that Miliband “voted against requiring the support of the UN Security Council and the support of a vote of MPs in the House of Commons before the commitment of UK forces to military action in Iraq”. He also voted in favour of the Iraq Declaration of War which stated, “that the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction leading to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq”. Miliband also voted in favour of establishing a no fly zone in Libya, and on a vote regarding UK forces in Afghanistan Miliband was absent.

It seems as if everything that the IRC stands for contradicts sharply with the past actions taken by their current CEO and President. The IRC press release, and the words of Miliband himself state “conflict has torn at the fabric of Afghanistan for generations and a great deal of blood and treasure has been spent in the last decade”. This being the case, you have to wonder why Miliband was so inactive in his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and why he was always so in favour of creating conflicts in other nations.

The ideals of the IRC are ones that I agree with wholeheartedly, but I see the presence of Miliband as nothing but damaging. His previous voting history and his relationship with the Labour party reveal that Miliband is completely at odds with the IRC’s ambitions and beliefs. It was after all the Labour party under Tony Blair that blindly followed the USA into the war in Afghanistan, a war the UK is still very much a part of, with around 5000 troops still stationed there.

In April 2010 David Miliband wrote an article entitled “How To End The War In Afghanistan“, the opening line of which goes as follows, “neither the UK nor the US started the war in Afghanistan”. If ever there was an utterly absurd and ridiculous opening statement to make, then surely this has to be it. On numerous occasions before military operations began in Afghanistan the Taliban offered to hand over Bin-Laden in exchange for evidence that he was behind 9/11 (this being the reason why the US and some NATO allies were invading in the first place). The Taliban’s request for evidence and diplomacy was ignored time and time again. Also ignored was the United Nations Charter that stipulated that international disputes must be settled peacefully and no signatory of the charter could use military force unless it was in self defence.

In complete opposition to what Miliband claims, the UK and the US did start the war in Afghanistan, not only that but the war was deemed illegal by international law and almost thirteen years on from the initial military action, troops are still in the country. Countless human rights violations have been committed, thousands of innocent lives have been lost and billions of pounds have been spent. Let us not forget that this war was opposed by a majority of the British people and no vote ever went through Parliament to discuss whether or not military action should be taken.

With all that said I cannot look at the press release, nor the report, nor the words of David Miliband and not develop a sense of anger. Without public support, without evidence, without being within international law, and without a debate or a vote in Parliament, the Labour party’s leader Tony Blair took this country into war. Throughout his time as an MP and throughout the illegal occupation of Afghanistan, Miliband did nothing to oppose it and actually promoted military involvement in other nations. Now, almost thirteen years on from the initial invasion, now that “five million Afghans need lifesaving support… and a further 4 million have chronic longer terms needs” Miliband asks the public for their help.

According to the IRC’s own figures “650,000 Afghans are displaced within the country and an additional 2.5 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries, unable to return home”. One must be blind, or deliberately ignorant, not to put the pieces together and see that this crisis was one of our own doing. And if we did not create it, then we have certainly made it worse.

Once again using the IRC’s figures, the press release states that according to the UK Parliament Defence Committee’s 4th Report “estimated operations in Afghanistan cost the military £14 billion over ten years“. The IRC states that only 1.75% of that would be needed to “deliver lifesaving and proven aid” to Afghanistan for a year.

Undoubtedly Afghanistan, and its people, need assistance, but Miliband’s plea seems like that of an arsonist begging for water to put out his house fire that we told him not to start. He urges that a “long-term commitment” be made to the people of Afghanistan, and that we should use “limited resources effectively”, when perhaps the best commitment we could have made to the people is not to invade and destroy their country in the first place. Perhaps spending £14 billion in military action is the greatest example of how not to use resources effectively.

Call me cynical but it seems that the public are being asked to clean a mess the government created, with those doing the asking, also being the ones who supported those that made the mess. If it is true that only 1.75% of the money spent on the war would be needed to improve lives of Afghans, then the war looks like nothing more than a tragic waste of money, time and human life.

It is clear to me that if you truly want to help people, you do not bomb and invade their country illegally and occupy it for over a decade. Not only can you save money this way but you can save lives.

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