Monday 27 March 2023

Who Blinks First?

As the cabinet heads towards collapse, Afghanistan is a vote loser, writes Giles Scott-Smith.

We seem to be in the midst of an imminent cabinet collapse in The Hague. Minister of Finance and Vice-premier Wouter Bos has insisted again on Wednesday that there is no room for manoeuver on the Labour party’s determination to end the Dutch military role in Afghanistan. His cabinet partners from the Christian Democrats and Christian Union appear surprised that no further discussion is possible. The debate in parliament yesterday did not bring any further revelations. Maybe we have no government by 5pm today.
The cabinet had planned to make an announcement before 1 March, but Bos has clearly decided to push the issue before parliamentary recess next week, and with local elections looming on 3 March. Uruzgan has become the High Noon between Labour and the Christian Democrats, neither wanting to show any sign of weakness in their position.
It could have been something else – the still to be defined fiscal cut-backs, for instance – but it is remarkable how in 2010 the two issues that have quickly forced the cabinet to the edge are both in foreign policy – Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither are vote-winning issues – instead, they are definitely vote losers, whichever way you look at it. So Bos and Labour are calculating that if they go down at the polls, they will at least go down with integrity intact.
Meanwhile, the linkage between terrorism and Dutch policy surfaced yesterday, but from an unexpected angle. The Italian AdnKronos news agency published a message from the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terror cell which had been posted in its online magazine ‘al-Malamih’.
The message, commenting on the attempted airliner bomb attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on 25 December, went on: “The reason we chose a flight that left from Amsterdam, is that the Netherlands is a country that has offended the Koran and Islam.” The Kronos report speculated that this was probably linked to the film ‘Submission’ by Theo van Gogh, subsequently assassinated by extremist Mohammed Bouyeri on 2 November 2004, and to Ayaan Hirsi Ali who wrote the film’s screenplay.
Late last year there were messages purported to be from Bin Laden stating that those nations involved in the NATO mission in Afghanistan were legitimate targets for terrorist attack. The intention was clear – use fear and terror to split the alliance and make nations drop out. The Madrid train attacks of 11 March 2004, which seem to have influenced the Spanish general election results shortly afterwards, are significant in this respect.
[See ‘Was there a Dutch angle with Abdulmutallab?’ The Holland Bureau, 12 January 2010]
But the AQAP message is directed at Dutch domestic policy and society, not its foreign policy. There is apparently no mention of Afghanistan, therefore no apparent attempt to influence the current political deadlock on Uruzgan or the coming local election results. This is striking, and unexpected.
What AdnKronos does not mention is whether this AQAP message is directed in any way at Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Wilders is after all currently facing a court case to do with his alleged discrimination against Islam, and his film ‘Fitna’ was arguably as inflammatory as ’Submission’.
The AIVD and the National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism in the Netherlands have long been aware that Wilders could prove to be a magnet for generating violence amonst extreme Islamic elements. Yet the response to Fitna in the Netherlands was muted, and recent reports have indicated that radicalisation in the Netherlands itself has been on the wane. In contrast, the AQAB message seems to want to stir things up from outside. But the focus of the message – domestic not foreign – remains curious.
Giles Scott-Smith is an academic based in Leiden and Middelburg. Check out the blog The Holland Bureau for more.

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