As soon as Afghanistan is debated, the old terrorism bogey rears its head

THE Australian government, under pressure from the Greens, a party that is lending it support as it governs as a minority government, has begun a debate on why the country has troops in Afghanistan.

Curiously, just a couple of days after this debate began, we witnessed the spectacle of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation or ASIO – which has yet to announce the capture of any criminal – announcing that it is following hundreds of terror threats and that it has nipped in the bud countless others which could have led to unmeasurable bloodshed on Australian soil.

Call me a sceptic, but this kind of juxtaposition of events has been seen countless times in America during the time when John Ashcroft was attorney-general. With just one motive – heightening the atmosphere of fear. There are never any specifics given (due, of course, to “operational considerations”) but you are expected to believe that threats by the dozen are being snuffed out day after day by an organisation that has done nothing of note ever since it was founded.

The connection is quite clear – the Australian prime minister talked of the terrorist threat being the reason why Australian troops are in Afghanistan, in order to ensure that the country does not again become a haven for the likes of Osama bin Laden. Of course, this is all rather passé given that bin Laden has long fled Afghanistan and is taking refuge in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Doubtless, one needs someone to point out that that threat still exists. Up pops the ASIO director-general with his terrorists-are-hiding-under-your-bed spiel. We’ve come full circle. The only thing that remains is for all moms to check carefully under their children’s beds to check that uncle Osama isn;’t hiding there tonight.

I know it’s too much to hope that the government will actually tell people the truth but they must seriously think Australians are a bunch of mugs to be taken in by this kind of charade.

Some facts about Afghanistan: right now, the Americans are helping the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government in the faint hope that there will be no bloodbath when, as is bound to happen, the Taliban takes power in Afghanistan again. The Afghan government has been secretly talking to the Taliban and recently said so itself.

The American government will have to do something concrete in the next 18 months else Barack Obama will end up being a one-term president. And yet the Australian prime minister keeps talking about the country’s troops being there for the next 10 years!

Of what use is such a “debate” where all the old falsehoods are used to justify the sending of 20-year-olds to die for no rhyme or reason?

Australia’s cricketing disaster

SHANE Warne, the Australian leg-spinner, was always keen to be captain of the national cricket team. Unfortunately, the Australian cricket administrators are obsessed with the idea that a man who leads the country’s cricket team should also be a saint. Warne did not get the job because of his numerous sexual peccadilloes and Ricky Ponting was given the gig instead.

That apparently still rankles because Warne often embarrasses Ponting with unsolicited advice and comments after he retired. The latest such episode occurred on the final day of the second Test against India, when Warne questioned the field placings provided for Nathan Hauritz, the alleged spinner in the Australian team.

India was chasing 207 to win on the final day of the Test. No team had ever scored that number of runs on the Bangalore wicket to win a Test until that day. Yet India did, with ease. The two Indian spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Pravin Ojha, had helped to bundle out Australia for 223 in its second innings. Both obtained a great deal of purchase from the wicket. The Indian fast bowlers obtained plenty of reverse swing. The Australian bowlers could not do a thing to trouble the Indians.

Australia is now ranked fifth among the nine countries that play Test cricket. It is below India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and even England. Calls are now starting for Ponting’s head. Warne’s comments thus assume a lot of significance.

One reason for Warne’s utterances may be the fact that Steve Smith, the spinner who has Warne’s backing, is yet to be picked for a Test ahead of Hauritz. This, despite the fact that in the first Test of the series against India, we had the peculiar situation of India fighting against the odds to chase down a total of 216 on the final day and Hauritz not bowling even though the pitch was taking turn. What made it even more odd was the fact that Smith was not in the team and Ponting’s spinner of choice was the occasional trundler Marcus North.

Australia rarely picks two spinners. Hence when one man is picked, it is assumed that he is the prime spin talent in the country. Hauritz, sadly, is not up to the mark; he is the poor man’s spinner and does not deserve to play. Ponting does not know how to handle him and that shows. Ponting’s failures are beginning to affect his batting as well.

The next opponent for Australia is the old foe – England. The Ashes which England holds are up for grabs in the Test series that begins in November. That is a matter for even more worry. Ponting won the last home series for the Ashes but promptly lost the next series in England. This was a repeat, as he had also lost the 2005 series.

A loss at home may well mean the loss of the captaincy as well. That could be a blessing for Ponting as he still has a lot to give as a batsman. He is still a class act in full flow. Whether he will be able to function under another captain remains to be seen. But he would do Australian cricket a service by stepping down and playing as a batsman instead.