01 April 2010

Extending Canada's War of Occupation in Afghanistan

As some of us have been expecting, with over 18 months left before the promised withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, there is pressure for yet another extension of a war consistently rejected by most Canadian voters -- and for good reason. In fact, a few good reasons:
  • The unacceptable complicity of Canadian Forces in human rights abuses; 
  • our government's disrespect for parliament and senior diplomats in covering up its complicity; 
  • the increasingly shrill politics of the pro-war crowd; 
  • over $18.5 billion spent (and more spent than in any other Canadian foreign development assistance); 
  • mounting Canadian casualties; 
  • continuing deaths of civilians; 
  • an Afghan resistance that has never been more powerful; 
  • that rather than some fabled war against misogyny, women's rights have receded dramatically under a regime dominated by warlords; 
  • an implausible, historically baseless "domino theory" that "losing" Afghanistan means losing a region, when it is the occupation itself that has spread war into Pakistan; 
  • and, the public statements of several high-ranking NATO military officers attesting to the fact that the war cannot be won.
 The war that is clearly futile and against Canadian national interests and stands against the self-determination of the people of Afghanistan. Yet some are already calling for a third extension (the first two being in May 2006 and March 2008).
"It is not clear what it is that we are trying to accomplish....We will not prevail in Afghanistan....We are simply not prepared to foot the massive price in blood and treasure, which it would take to effectively colonize Afghanistan and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek, and the Taliban share that view. It is time to leave. Not a moment, not a life and not a dollar later."--Senior Canadian diplomat, Robert Fowler
For now, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is speaking as if it is adamant about the troop withdrawal, "We have been very clear that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011," he said in parliament on 30 March 2010 (1). Harper emphasized, "Whether we get asked about it this week or last week or next week, we passed a motion in this Parliament in 2008 and Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011" (2). Yet in the recent past, government statements have been ambiguous, suggesting only "combat troops" would be withdrawn, as if there were any other kind. Indeed, the prime minister's own spokesman said months ago that a smaller Canadian military force would remain in Afghanistan, in spite of the will of Parliament (3). There is also evidence to suggest that high level pressure from the United States is being exerted on Canada, now openly, as well as from Britain (4). In Canada, Senator Hugh Segal, a Conservative, called in the Senate on 30 March 2010 for revisiting the 2008 parliamentary resolution committing Canada to withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan by 2011: "Canadian troops have spent too much blood and grief and shown too much courage and progress to end the engagement before realistic stability goals are attained" (5, 6). Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been as decisively ambiguous as the ruling Conservatives. On 29 March 2010 Ignatieff told reporters, "The Canadian combat mission must end in 2011 and it's up to the government of Canada, not the government of the United States, to define what, if anything, we can do" (7). In a TV interview this week, his message was different: "We have invested massively in Afghanistan....We have left brave men and women behind. We think that there is a justification for some continued mission in Afghanistan after 2011" (8). Alexander Moens, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University (and member of the Fraser Institute, of course), asserts that it is "not in Canada’s interest to just walk away from Afghanistan," clearly paying no attention to what Canadians want, and not even mentioning Afghan interests (9). The Toronto Star wants to see the issue "debated," when we thought it was already resolved. The Globe and Mail has been considerably more brash, calling for an extension outright, premising its argument on little more than vague ideals of some sort of "honour."
"We all know that we cannot win it militarily."--Kai Eide, U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan
"We’re not going to win this war" --Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith
Instead, the issue has now become that in order to maintain a civilian development presence, some military support may be needed for their protection, thus extending the military mission (10). Prime Minister Harper has already stated clearly in parliament, “We will continue with a mission on governance, development and humanitarian assistance" (11). At stake for those wishing for a prolongation are: the reputation of NATO and its "seriousness" on "humanitarian" issues (assuming one is naive enough to take NATO seriously on these counts to begin with); the status of the Dahla Dam; and not wanting to be seen as "cutting and running." The wishes of the majority of Canadians do not count. The wishes of the Afghan people are not measurable by any reliable polls. The United States plans to formally ask for an extension of Canada's military presence, asking for about 600 troops to remain, to train troops (which inevitably means fighting alongside them) (12). Indeed, in the person of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. has already asked formally for an extension, back as far as 2008 (13). This new round of pressure is in spite of the fact that "the Americans realize it would be politically impossible for any Canadian government to reverse its commitment to leave, since there is broad support among Canadians for ending the deployment" and such pressure is partly responsible for the demise of the Dutch government (14).

As Canadians, we have to do our utmost to ensure that the Canadian contribution to this seemingly permanent war of occupation is brought to a halt, and that the will of the people is recognized and respected. Please consider writing to your MP today and renewing your opposition to this war. Check for more announcements here and take the time to blog, write letters to newspaper editors, write Op-Eds, and take part in anti-war rallies.

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