This is the question that Abdur Rahim asked after his three children were killed by a US airstrike in Kandahar province. Abdur is not alone – he is just one of tens of thousands of Afghans asking this question as they are faced with the horror of watching their sons and daughters and loved ones die at the hands of foreign occupation forces.
For the last eight years, the Canada/US/NATO forces occupying Afghanistan have claimed that they are there to help Afghan people, to bring ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘security’ to Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghans like Abdur have watched their families be killed, their homes destroyed, and their country thrown into more turmoil and instability than ever.
The Farce of Reconstruction
The statistics section of the Government of Canada’s website on the mission in Afghanistan claims that, “Canada is supporting projects that will strengthen democratic development and build public institutions in Afghanistan”, and boasts of schools and clinics being built, new agricultural projects, and roads being reconstructed. But painting a little makeup over the deep human crisis in Afghanistan will not solve the fundamental problems of people in that country. These developments are not fundamental improvements in Afghanistan. Rather, they are just small ‘bubble zones’ where some access to education, health care, and other basic necessities exist. The reality of Afghanistan is that still nearly three quarters of the country lacks access to clean drinking water, never mind health care or education.
But even within the ‘bubble zones’, tragedies continue. There are often no children to attend the schools that are built, either because they have to work to feed their families or because there is so little security that their parents are afraid to let them leave home lest they get killed on the way to school. The hospitals sometimes function as little more than death beds due to a lack of basic supplies and sanitation. This is on top of ongoing bombings, checkpoint shootings and nighttime house raids by foreign forces.
It has now been almost eight years, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, and currently about 65,000 troops occupying the country – and life certainly hasn’t gotten better in Afghanistan. What has been accomplished in the past eight years? The suicide rate among women is higher than ever. Life expectancy remains at a dismal 44 years of age, and the literacy rate is less than 30%, according to UN statistics. On top of this, the civilian death toll at the hands of the occupation forces is climbing rapidly, with a 25% increase in civilian deaths in the first half of 2009 alone. The occupation forces continue to make hollow apologies for these ‘unfortunate accidents’, offering as compensation a few hundred dollars for wives, husbands, children, and parents killed.
There are no official records kept of the number of Afghans killed in this war, although the number is at least in the tens of thousands. As for foreign troops, the number of deaths continue to rise as Afghan resistance to the occupation grows and the occupation forces continue their drive to secure Afghanistan for their imperialist interests. July 2009 was the deadliest month for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with 74 troops killed.
Quagmire and Social Stagnation
With the lack of any real improvement in the quality of life for Afghans, both the Afghan government and the occupation forces are rapidly losing credibility in the country. Afghan people have not welcomed with open arms the wonderful ‘progress’ that the occupation has brought them. Instead, they have fought back tooth and nail against the occupation forces that are destroying their country. The International Council on Security and Development reports that the Taliban, one of the main forces fighting against foreign occupation, now have a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan.
The increased campaign of war against the people of Afghanistan has done nothing to slow down Afghan resistance to the occupation. Nor has the recent campaign of bombings which has extended beyond Afghanistan’s borders into neighbouring Pakistan done anything to stop the Taliban or slow the resistance. It has only added to the misery and frustration – and resistance - of people on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
As the resistance continues to grow, so does the campaign of the occupation forces to destroy it. Upon coming to office, newly elected US President Barack Obama immediately sent 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Top US military and political strategists are recommending that thousands more troops should be sent to Afghanistan, in addition to doubling Afghan military and police forces.
As for Canada, there are currently nearly 3,000 Canadian Forces troops stationed in the Kandahar area of southern Afghanistan. The government of Canada has stated that they will be pulling all combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2011, but it looks more and more as though the mission may extend well beyond this. After all, the government of Canada has already promised to pull troops out of Afghanistan in 2005, again in 2007, and once again in 2009. Each time, the mission has been extended without any public consultation or debate among people in Canada. Now, they are promising the mission will end in 2011, but what evidence do people in Canada have that this is not just another bluff? And of course, even if Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan ends, that does not mean an end to Canada’s participation in the occupation. According to the Globe and Mail, Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, “suggested that as many as 1,000 Canadian troops might remain in Kandahar, perhaps as trainers or to provide security for the provincial reconstruction team, long after the 2011 exit date for combat operations.”
As imperialist countries increase their war drive against the Afghan people, they are finding themselves more and more in a quagmire. The more troops and bombs and weapons they send to try to destroy the Afghan resistance and secure Afghanistan for their interests, the stronger is the Afghan resistance against them. They are faced with the challenge of how it will be possible to secure their interests in Afghanistan when Afghan people are pushing against them every step of the way.
With the opposition to the foreign troops and their puppet Afghan government, Afghanistan has come to a point of political and social stagnation. Human progress cannot be imposed on Afghanistan by an outside force, at the barrel of a gun and with the price tag of human lives. This is not the kind of ‘progress’ that Afghan people want. Any real progress and development in Afghanistan must come from Afghan people themselves. But even thinking about building a better future for their country is not possible today, while the primary concerns of the majority of Afghans are simply being able to stay alive and feed their families.
Elections Under Occupation: Democracy at Gunpoint
Amidst this crisis, federal and provincial elections will be held on August 20th in Afghanistan. In an article titled “In Afghanistan, a Time to Debate and Decide”, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry stated, “Afghanistan’s elections present an opportunity for the country’s citizens to create a future of prosperity and peace for their children.” But do they really? Even if these were to be elections carried out smoothly and without any foreign interference, how much opportunity do Afghans have to think about who should lead their country when their first priority is just staying alive? How much opportunity do they have to learn about candidates and vote when less than 30% of the population is literate? Speaking to the New York Times, Abdul Hadi, the election commissioner for Helmand province, said “The people are not that interested in elections… They voted before and did not see any result… They don’t want to put their lives in jeopardy for one vote.”
But besides this, these elections will not be carried out smoothly and definitely not without foreign interference. Two weeks before the elections, officials are already reporting that at least 10% of polling stations will not open due to lack of security. And just how open and democratic can an election be when the government has little control over the majority of the towns and villages in the country? But in addition to all of the other blocks and challenges for Afghans to participate in this ‘democratic’ election, there is also one fundamental fact: Afghanistan is occupied. That means that ultimately, whatever happens in Afghanistan is decided by the occupying powers – whether it comes under the veil of ‘democratic elections’ or not.
Karzai’s Failure or Imperialist Failure?
In recent months there has been much talk in the media about the failures of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai to deal with corruption, to bring security, and to effectively govern Afghanistan. But the truth is, the much talked-about ‘failures’ of Karzai are really just a reflection of the overall failure of the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. Karzai himself is in no position to fix the problems of civilian deaths, lack of security, or any of the other problems in Afghanistan brought about by the occupation. In fact, Karzai is nothing more than a convenient scapegoat for the problems of the occupation by the occupation forces. With blaming and scapegoating Karzai, the imperialist forces in Afghanistan want to bring a new face to the government in Afghanistan, and therefore buy time to consolidate their imperialist goals in the country.
However, plans for getting rid of Karzai and putting a new face on the same old puppet government and same old occupation are not going as well as the imperialists hoped. Karzai’s two main contenders – Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani (both listed by the International Council on Security and Development as ‘likely to receive US support’) – are not expected to beat Karzai in the presidential polls. The Afghan elections were delayed this year from May to August, officially with the reason of lack of security, but really as a stall tactic to garner more support for the preferred candidates of the imperialists in the elections. However, even after stalling, Karzai is still ahead, with support from many layers of the ruling class and some tribal leaders in Afghanistan. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the elections will be, but we can be assured that whatever the results, they will not bring any fundamental change to the lives of people in occupied Afghanistan.
Afghanistan in the New Era of War and Occupation
As we look at each claim of the occupation forces in bringing security, stability, women’s rights, democracy, or reconstruction to Afghanistan, they all crumble before our eyes. In eight years, the occupation forces have managed to achieve none of these supposed ‘goals’ that they set out to do – something that should have been easily achievable with the billions of dollars poured into Afghanistan during that time. But the reality is that these were never really the goals that the Canada/US/NATO occupation force had in mind for Afghanistan. The occupation of Afghanistan truly is about the imperialist consolidation and hegemony of power in the Middle East and Asia. Afghanistan is sometimes called the “rooftop of the world” because it sits between the Middle East, China, and Europe as a perfect place from which to access many trade markets. As the global economy plummets, imperialist countries like Canada, the US, Britain and others are looking to expand their trade markets and gain more resources in an attempt to stave off total economic collapse. In this race for trade markets and resources, a new era of war and occupation opened with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and continued with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2004 invasion of Haiti, the 2006 US-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, and includes sanctions or threats of attack against Iran, Sudan and other countries. Today, Afghanistan has become a central focus in this new era of war and occupation – and Afghan people its primary victims.
Self-Determination is the Only Solution
It is clear that coming elections under occupation cannot solve the problems of Afghan people. Nor can ‘reconstruction’ under occupation bring any fundamental change to the country. In fact, the only way for Afghan people to move forward is to be able to exercise their basic right to self-determination – the right to determine their own government, their own future, and the direction their country should go in. None of this is possible when the entire country has the gun of imperialist interests leveled at its head.
The call for self-determination and for ‘OCCUPIERS OUT NOW!’ is a call on the tongues of millions of Afghan people, and is a call we must follow here as well. Joining with our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, we must educate, organize and mobilize people here in Canada and around the world to demand:
CANADA/US/NATO OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NOW!
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