Which Way for Afghanistan?
By Nita Palmer
“The Afghan people and the government have moved ahead considerably and the pace is only going to increase, in my opinion, as we're able to bring about greater stability.”
- Peter MacKay, Foreign Minister of Canada, during his visit to Afghanistan, January 7th 2006.
Peter MacKay opened the New Year with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, and proclamations of how well Afghanistan is progressing with the help of the Canadian military bringing stability. He lauded the reconstruction and the building of schools, roads, and other infrastructure. Despite his delicately placed praise for Afghanistan’s progress, however, MacKay’s actions there indicate that, in fact, the mission is not going smoothly for the government of Canada or for NATO.
The primary announcement of MacKay’s visit was that Canada would be giving $10Million to the Afghan police force. MacKay announced that the goal of this way to build, “a more professional police force to better serve the people of Afghanistan.” In Afghanistan however, most people don’t see the police force as serving them. In fact, an analyst for the International Crisis Group noted that the police force is, “nothing more than militias. Most people fear them more than they think of them as a source of security." Not to mention, those are just the officers that cooperate with the occupation forces. The other crisis that the occupation forces are facing in securing their interests via the Afghan police force is that some refuse to operate as occupation force militias against their fellow Afghans. Many in the police force in fact do not support the occupation, and join the force to receive training, weapons, and a salary, all the while working to resist the occupation of their country.
Underneath Foreign Minister MacKay’s talk of “Afghanistan’s progress” lies the truth, as confessed by Foreign Affairs journal, a capitalist class think-tank (one of the most influential in the US), that Afghanistan is, “sliding into chaos”. After five years, the promises of Canada and the other rich NATO countries have not been able to achieve their stated goal of “rebuilding Afghanistan”. In fact, the only things they have brought to Afghanistan are an increase in instability, poverty, and death.
NATO’s Reconstruction: Destroy and Kill to Build
Why has NATO failed in rebuilding Afghanistan? As the crisis in Afghanistan grows, so does the call for a ‘kinder occupation’ – one with less combat and more reconstruction. But NATO’s latest “reconstruction” efforts in Afghanistan shatter the myth of NATO’s benevolence towards the people of Afghanistan. A $5 Million road recently built through the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan is a good example of one of NATO’s “reconstruction” projects. The New York Times recently reported that, “to fight their way into this area and clear it of Taliban insurgents, NATO troops bulldozed through orchards, smashed down walls and even houses, and churned vineyards and melon fields to dust.” (January 13th 2007). “They bombed our orchards and fields and we have nothing now. They made a road through my land,” said a local farmer. What NATO has developed in southern Afghanistan, where virtually all of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan are stationed, is little more than a prison for people on their own land. Checkpoints and guard houses have been set up everywhere, watching the every move of people. Canadian forces routinely shoot at those who do not first go through the checkpoints to receive permission to walk to their houses or to work on their fields.
Having lost their land to the bulldozers or their family to the guns and air strikes of NATO occupation forces, many Afghans have been forced to flee their homes. The number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan is now the highest in the world, with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reporting that 20,000 families have been displaced in southern Afghanistan alone due to the war waged by NATO forces. Unemployment is also at crisis levels, and for those who have managed to find work, the average salary is only $80 per year – or about 22 cents per day. Only 10% of Afghans have access to electricity, and although generators have been set up in many areas, they are used only to power the military bases. NATO’s claims of “reconstruction” and building an Afghan police force to “increase security” do not fool anyone in Afghanistan; as an elder in Sperwan Ghar, Kandahar put it, “They did not come to bring peace for us, they came to destroy us.”
The other focus of Peter MacKay’s visit to Afghanistan was to enforce a closed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as NATO claims that Taliban forces – the name they give to any Afghan who dares to pick up a weapon and resist the occupation - make their attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan, then retreat into Pakistan. On January 11th NATO bombed what they claimed was a convoy of Taliban insurgents crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan. However, Taliban leaders stated that they had no affiliation with people crossing the border – they were only civilians. These bombings along the border by NATO have been routine, and have likely killed thousands in the last year. But while NATO claims they are killing Taliban, people in Afghanistan say otherwise. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is not well-defined, and some ethnic groups and communities live on both sides of the border. The bombings simply kill innocent civilians walking through their own land, and the fenced and guarded border that Mackay is proposing would only tear these communities in half. Given these actions by NATO against Afghans, it is little wonder that they have not won any hearts and minds or support for the occupation there.
Why Have Canada and NATO Failed?
So, why have some of the world’s richest countries failed so miserably in “rebuilding Afghanistan”? It is because, in a country of 24 million people, it is impossible to “rebuild” it without the support of the people there. And with their air strikes and shootings, their police militias and their policies of destroying homes to build roads for the military, NATO has not gained the support from Afghans. The occupation is massively unpopular. The unpopularity of the mission has resulted in NATO countries securing little of their interests in Afghanistan.
With their occupation, they have opened Afghanistan wide for exploitation, through legislation allowing for 100% foreign owned companies to take 100% of the profits they make out of Afghanistan, and the like. In theory, they thought that they would be able to capture Afghanistan and hold it under the interests of Western businesses and financial institutions. The ruling class of Canada, and other NATO countries along with them, thought that this would be their ticket to securing their investment interests in an area of the world that for 3,000 years has been the pivot point upon which access to the trade markets of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. For them, securing these financial interests was and is incredibly important as the world economy faces a massive economic downturn and growing resistance to exploitation from people threatens their position as the owners of the world’s wealth. They thought that taking control of Afghanistan, an impoverished country suffering from 30 years of war and destruction, would be easy. What they underestimated, just as they underestimated it in Iraq, was the resistance of the Afghan people.
Afghans are resisting, and the number of people fighting the occupation grows each day. The countries occupying Afghanistan cannot afford to lose their economic interests there, so they will come with even more brutal attacks on the Afghan people within the coming months and years. But ultimately, people in Afghanistan will prove to them that they are fighting an unwinnable war – just as Iraqis have proven this to the US and UK forces occupying their country.
Confronting Canada’s Occupation on the Home Front
Our job, then, as people in Canada, is to fight against the government of Canada’s bid to plunder and pillage Afghanistan, all the while slashing funding to education, health care, and jobs here in Canada in order to pour billions into the military. We must demand an immediate withdrawal of all Canadian forces from Afghanistan, and call for an independent public inquiry to investigate Canada’s war drive in Afghanistan. As people in Canada, we have a responsibility to ask why billions of dollars have been cut from social programs, while billions are spent on the military. Or why the occupation of Afghanistan began, with the number of troops then increased and the mission extended without public consultation or debate. We must fight to save Afghanistan – not through tanks and bombs, but through fighting for the right of Afghan people to control their own land, their own country, their own resources, and their own lives.
CANADA OUT OF AFGHANISTAN!
NATO OUT OF AFGHANISTAN!
CALL FOR AN INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY!
Nita Palmer is second year student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and an organizer and activist in the women’s movement and Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) in Vancouver.
Back to Article Listing