Where are we going from here?
By Nita Palmer
“NATO is a key component of the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan, assisting the Afghan authorities in providing security and stability, paving the way for reconstruction and effective governance.”
- NATO International Security Assistance Force website
Canada and NATO are facing a quagmire in Afghanistan today. Five years after the US-led invasion, the millions of impoverished people in Afghanistan are rising up against an occupation that has cost them their lives, their land, and their dignity. Claims about bringing “security and stability” to Afghanistan seem laughably false. On November 15th, NATO troops shot and killed an Afghan doctor who was “driving suspiciously” toward a checkpoint in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Less than two weeks later, on November 28th, Canadian troops were involved in the killing of another civilian, who they said was “driving irrationally”.
On top of direct military killings, thousands of Afghans dies from lack of food, water, and basic health services. Women in Afghanistan are no better off either. A recent report from the United Nations’s IRIN news service showed that hospitals in Kabul treated three times more cases of self-immolation – women burning themselves to death – than in 2002. In Kandahar, the number of recorded cases is over 100 in the last eight months alone, although the number of unrecorded cases is likely much higher.
Why Continue the Occupation?
“What kind of war is this? This was supposed to be a war to help the poor people of Afghanistan. In fact this is a war where the rich get richer, the foreigners who are here included.”
– Kandahar Civilian
What interest do Canada and NATO see in Afghanistan that they continue such a brutal occupation? Already, the occupation has cost tens of thousands of Afghan lives, as well as billions of dollars on military spending. Canada’s war drive in Afghanistan alone is projected to rise to about $1.6Million per day (CBC). But to Canada, the US, and the imperialist governments of other NATO countries, the reasons behind participating in the mission in Afghanistan are not in the interests of Afghan people or of regular people in their own countries.
Foreign Affairs Canada says that “Canada and the world have a strategic interest in a secure, self-sufficient, democratic and stable Afghanistan”. The Department of National Defense says that the occupation of Afghanistan is in “our national interests”. But what exactly are these “strategic national interests”? Primarily, Afghanistan is located at the hub of important world trade markets, between Europe, the Middle East, China, and India. To control Afghanistan is to have control of these growing trade markets. Furthermore, Afghanistan is a neighbour of Iran – and controlling Afghanistan makes it far easier to isolate and attack Iran, a central hub of the Middle East. Afghanistan’s strategic interest has become important today in a world where there is increasing competition among advanced capitalist countries. At the same time, this strategic interest does not represent working people, students, or poor and oppressed people in Canada or other NATO countries. While billions that could be put into social programs at home are spent instead on a war drive abroad, the only ones who stand to gain anything from control of Afghanistan are those who will make money from the control of trade markets in that area. Poor and working people who do not hold major shares in big companies and financial institutions do not see a cent of this. Today though, NATO countries are desperately grappling to hold on to their economic interests in Afghanistan as a growing resistance there prevents them from taking that control.
Afghan Resistance Battles NATO Occupation
“NATO is failing the test in Afghanistan”
- David Bercuson, military analyst
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they claimed that they were going to make life better for Afghan people. Afghan people, who were tired of decades of fighting against decades of occupations and repressive government, hoped that just maybe this was their chance for change. They were soon proved wrong though, and once again began fighting against the occupation. The Taliban government, who were weak and lacked popular support, was toppled by the vicious US bombing campaign in little more than a month. The government of Canada supported the mission from the very beginning, deploying 22 warships and 18,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to support the invasion. Subsequent deployments have raised Canada’s troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,300. On August 9th 2003, NATO took over the International Security Assistance Force mission there. But today, all of these forces are faltering in their attempt to control the country. Millions of poor Afghans are witness to the lies that they were told about having “reconstruction, peace, and stability” brought to their country, and will stand no longer for the destruction and exploitation that they face.
In one of the occupation’s most blatant examples of economic exploitation, foreign companies are allowed to set up shop in their country and take 100% of the profits away with them (Law on Domestic and Foreign Private Investment in Afghanistan).With this, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have joined in an anti-occupation resistance that is growing every day. They have picked up guns, stones, whatever they have, and have held off 32,800 well-armed occupying troops. This was the factor that Canada, the US, and NATO underestimated when they invaded Afghanistan. Afghanistan may have been easy to invade, but Afghan people are proving that it will be impossible to occupy.
Outcome of NATO Summit: A reflection of the depths of quagmire in Afghanistan
Last summer, the government of Canada made a major bid for control in Afghanistan, with an increase of troop levels to 2,300; a doubling of the military budget to $25.8 billion dollars; and a goal of adding 13,000 more troops to the Canadian Forces. In 2006, it was stepped up even further, with another $15Billion pledged to buy military vehicles, and a deployment of 450 more troops to Southern Afghanistan. One year later, the government of Canada is finding itself in a crisis of occupation, with 44 dead troops and increasing sentiment against the occupation at home. With this crisis on their hands, they went into the November 28-29 NATO summit to request more support for their failed leading role in the plunder of Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan mission is NATO’s largest mission ever, and it was the focus of the summit. This gathering of the countries occupying Afghanistan exposed the crisis that the occupation has created, not just for Afghan people, but among the occupying countries that are unable to win this war. Accusations flew towards countries seen as not doing enough to contribute to the occupation, particularly from Canada. “All NATO allies must prove themselves by sharing the burden in all regions of Afghanistan," Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor told the summit. As the government of Canada faces more of a crisis in its occupation of Afghanistan, it is increasingly calling on other NATO members to contribute to the occupation, as they cannot maintain the occupation, and therefore their interests, without more military support.
According to Helle Dale, an analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing US think tank, “The future of NATO has become inextricably linked to the future of Afghanistan.” Toronto Star columnist Veronica Kitchen notes that, “The Europeans will co-operate among themselves, and the Americans will direct ad-hoc coalitions as they are needed. [NATO] would fall into disuse and Canada's voice on the international scene would be smaller and quieter.” Canada’s ruling class sees the occupation of Afghanistan as a crucial deciding factor not only in Canada’s bid for economic dominance in Afghanistan, but also for its position in the world as a whole.
What next for Afghanistan? What next for the anti-war movement?
While NATO’s leaders sit around their high tables and discuss how to make “progress” in Afghanistan, people in Afghanistan suffer the devastating effects of their “progress”. Afghans see that a NATO summit is nothing more than a summit where the rich leaders will discuss how to consolidate their plunder of Afghanistan, leaving Afghans with nothing. And so, as they have done throughout history, Afghans organize themselves once again to fight against the occupiers, to fight for their self-determination and right to build their own country. Afghan people will prove to Canada, to NATO, and to the world once again that no one can successfully occupy their land.
But the fight Afghan people are waging is not a short or easy one, and more than ever it is our responsibility as poor and working people in Canada to fight with them for their sovereignty. Hundreds of Afghans are killed each week by this war drive. In Canada, billions of dollars that could be better spent on social housing, jobs, healthcare, or education are instead pumped into this war drive. We must continue to organize and fight back against this war drive here in Canada.
In Vancouver, Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) has collected over 12,000 signatures calling for an immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. They are calling for an independent public inquiry into the Canadian war drive, to ask why the mission in Afghanistan was carried out and then extended without public consultation or debate, and to ask why money is going to war instead of to healthcare, social housing, jobs, and education. It’s time to take on the call for an independent public inquiry along with demanding an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and self-determination for the people of Afghanistan. It’s time to educate and organize ourselves to confront this vicious war drive.
Canada out of Afghanistan!
NATO out of Afghanistan!
Call for an Independent Public Inquiry!
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