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The Independent, September 11, 2009

Afghanistan: the lives sacrificed for an electoral fraud

Amazingly, the boy Miliband tells us we shouldn't even expect free and fair elections in Helmand, says Vicki Woods.

Vicki Woods

Women in a polling station
Britsh soldiers died jkeeping the polls open in Afghanistan (Photo: The Independent)

Edward Stourton's last day on the Today prog had him appropriately serious-voiced about Operation Panther's Claw, which has been very heavy on the troops in Helmand.

The BBC's man in Afghanistan said that while just over 4,300 votes for that popinjay Karzai had been counted in Babaji, a local election observer claimed that only 15 people had turned up. Ed left his listeners in no doubt that 10 British soldiers had sacrificed their lives for this grand-scale piece of electoral fraudulence. He asked the Foreign Secretary: was it worth it?

The boy Miliband, sitting in the radio car, said yes, deffo. "We never used the phrase 'free and fair elections'," he said firmly, "because that's not, er, appropriate in this, er, sort of country." Ed sounded more and more amazed as the interview went on. As did I: I do urge you to Listen Again to the extraordinary double-speak pouring out. When Miliband concluded by saying that what was important was that Afghanistan should have a "credible government without any illusions that this is a Western-style democracy", Stourton seemed to hesitate, before saying: "Thank you, Foreign Secretary."

The 10 "sacrificial" deaths during Panther's Claw have been accompanied by a record number of injuries. In July alone, there were 94, a third of them "serious" (for which one should read "life-changing and lifelong"). The Ministry of Defence has – rightly, in my view – been castigated over its treatment of the wounded, and has taken note that the public cares about them. They need to. In 2005-06, the MoD paid out £31 million in compensation for 145 personnel wounded or injured in service. The figure for 2008 is expected to be 10 times that, and next year, thanks to the valiant efforts of Operation Panther's Claw in re-electing that old rogue Karzai, it will be more.

Having looked up the tariffs for compensation, I can only agonise about how families of seriously injured soldiers can get through it. The highest sum offered is £570,000 for injuries categorised as Grade 1. It sounds high, but the bleak description of what that half-million is offered for stops the heart: amputation of all four limbs, or both legs/arms plus total blindness/deafness.

It is shocking to learn that "traumatic injury to genitalia, requiring treatment resulting in severe permanent damage or loss" is classified as a minor, Grade 12 injury. The tariff for that is £9,075. "Awards for injuries at this level include compensation for any associated psychological effects short of a distinct diagnosable disorder," says the website tersely. Was what David Miliband called "our intervention in Afghanistan" worth it? I'm not entirely sure.

Category: US-NATO, HR Violations, Corruption - Views: 27895