August 20th 2009 marked election day in Afghanistan – the second presidential election farce conducted under the eight year long occupation of Afghanistan by US/Canada/NATO forces. This time around, vote rigging, vote buying, discarded ballots and other incidences of widespread corruption were extensively reported. On top of this, voter turnout for these presidential and provincial elections was even lower than in the 2005 elections, with an estimated turnout of 40-50% of registered voters. With barely half of those eligible to register having registered to vote in Afghanistan, voter turnout for this election was at best a quarter of the eligible population.
Many sources have pinned the low voter turnout on increasing frustration among Afghan people with the fact that the occupation-backed puppet government in Afghanistan has done nothing to improve their quality of life. “Some of the lower turnout may have stemmed from public disillusionment with politics after years of corruption, sluggish economy, poverty and rising violence,” the Associated Press reports.
"I am not voting. It won’t change anything in our country,” said Mohammad Tahir, a 30-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul in an August 20th interview with the Associated Press.
While occupation forces in Afghanistan have often cited the advancement of women’s rights as one of their primary goals in Afghanistan, it was clear that this election did anything but advance women’s rights. Voter turnout among women dropped even more than among men, according to elections observers. In an August 24th article titled, “Afghan Elections Seen as a Setback for Women” AP reported that according to the Afghan election monitor, Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, at least 650 polling stations for women did not open.
No Democracy under Occupation
Beyond all of the reported problems with the elections, there is one critical question: How is it possible for democratic elections to occur in a country occupied by more than 65,000 foreign troops? Whether corruption and fraud occurs in the elections or not, the fact remains that whatever happens in Afghanistan is decided by the foreign powers occupying the country – not by Afghan people.
The elections are an attempt by the US/Canada/NATO occupation forces to bring legitimacy to their brutal occupation and to the Afghan government that dangles from their puppet-strings. But what truly determines the legitimacy of these elections is not the elections themselves, but the terrible social condition of Afghan people after eight years of living under foreign occupation and this ‘military democracy’. This election, like all others in occupied Afghanistan, will not legitimize the occupation or the puppet government. What a government requires to be legitimate– and what any government in Afghanistan lacks under foreign occupation– is independence, a demonstration of social progress, and an ability to govern with dignity and mass support.
What is the Real Problem of Afghanistan?
In the weeks leading up to the Afghan elections, there was much talk in the media about the necessity of holding these ‘democratic’ elections in Afghanistan in order that Afghan people could decide for themselves who should lead their country and move toward addressing the major social problems that exist there. Besides this, there are many other problems in Afghanistan that we hear about daily, which are put forward by Canada, the US and NATO as being fundamental problems in Afghanistan that must be addressed for Afghan society to move forward. These problems include: the problem of widespread corruption, the problem of poverty, the problem of drug production, and the problem of the Taliban.
None of these things are the problem of Afghanistan.
The problem of Afghanistan, in fact, boils down to just two words: foreign occupation.
The irony of the claim that corruption, poverty, drug production, the presence of the Taliban or anything else are the fundamental problems of Afghanistan, which the Canada/US/NATO occupation forces must fix is that the occupation forces have proven themselves completely incapable of fixing them or of bettering the lives of Afghan people one bit. Under the watchful eye of the occupation forces, corruption has become rampant in Afghanistan, from the local level all the way up to the highest levels of government. Afghanistan has gone from producing less than 10% of the world’s opium in 2001 to producing a staggering 93% of the world’s opium in 2008, according to the World Health Organization. Opium sales now amount to more than half of the country’s GDP (UN office on Drugs and Crime). On top of this, opium addiction levels in Afghanistan have doubled in the last four years, including among women and children (UN, April 2009).
Basic human needs like access to water remain a far-off dream for many Afghans. Less than a quarter of the country has access to clean drinking water, and little more than a third has access to basic sanitation facilities. Despite billions of dollars of foreign aid sent to Afghanistan, many of the country’s hospitals remain without basic supplies like oxygen, bandages, or antiseptic. As a result of poverty and a lack of health care, food, and clean water, Afghan families watch as one in five of their children dies before the age of five. Maternal mortality in Afghanistan is high as well, with one woman dying in childbirth every 30 minutes.
Recently, we hear more in the news about how the occupation forces are trying very hard to establish a better life for Afghan people, but haven’t been able to because they first need to get rid of the Taliban. This is a lie. Research by the International Council on Security and Development shows that the Taliban now maintain a presence in 72% of Afghanistan – up from 48% in 2007. Clearly, the occupation is not succeeding in getting rid of the Taliban. In fact, the size of the Taliban - and resistance in Afghanistan as a whole - has grown as the occupation forces prove more and more every day that they are only increasing the misery of Afghan people through their bombings, checkpoint shootings, and nighttime home raids. The expansion of the war into Pakistan and the bombing of villages in Pakistan by US drone planes in the name of ‘fighting the Taliban’ has only strengthened the resolve of people on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to fight this occupation. Afghan people are increasingly joining the resistance to the occupation to fight for their basic right to a dignified life and to self-determination.
Why is Afghanistan Occupied?
If, after eight years, foreign forces have completely failed to better Afghan quality of life and have in fact only created a life of humiliation and fear for Afghan people, why are they still there? They are there because their intention never was to bring a better life for Afghan people, or even to ensure a ‘secure and stable’ Afghanistan. They are there because, in this time of global economic collapse, imperialist countries are scrambling more and more to stave off total economic collapse by occupying and plundering nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Haiti in an attempt to grab more resources and trade markets.
Within this scramble for new trade markets and resources by imperialist countries, Canada is a major player. Despite rising opposition from people in Canada to the government of Canada’s war drive in Afghanistan, Canada’s participation in the war has continued now for nearly eight years. The current government of Canada has said that all combat troops will be pulled out of the country by the end of 2011 (although Canadian forces would still remain in the country in a ‘non-combat’ role). Whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as the government of Canada has already extended the mission in Afghanistan three times, each time without public consultation or debate.
Although the majority of people in Canada want troops out of Afghanistan, there is virtually no opposition to the war within the major national parties in Canada’s Parliament. For many years, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been branded as Canada’s ‘anti-war party’; however they have provided little more than lip service against the war in Afghanistan. In reality, they have never called for more than a withdrawal of combat troops, meaning that they support Canada’s participation in the occupation so long as it is in a ‘non-combat’ role, like many of the other NATO countries. Furthermore, their actions have revealed their true intention: they are not really putting any pressure on the current Conservative government of Canada to pull the troops out of Afghanistan – in fact, they voted with the Conservatives in a motion not to end the mission in 2009 – supposedly on the principle of bringing the troops home immediately, but in fact was an action which ultimately allowed for the extension of the mission to 2011. A March 17th 2009 statement by NDP leader Jack Layton revealed more of what the NDP’s real policy on Afghanistan is:
“We've come a long way since the first voices in our country called for a new role for Canada in Afghanistan. Internationally and in Canada, we are seeing a new will emerging to turn the page and begin a more balanced policy toward Afghanistan[...] President Obama has made significant shifts in America's Afghanistan policy. A surge in troop levels will be accompanied by greater emphasis on security and political outcomes[…] Our skills and reputation as a peacemaker give Canada the basis for an active role after our troops withdraw in 2011.”
So there you have it– the NDP thinks that there is a, “new will emerging to turn the page” on Afghanistan– at a time when all we have seen on the ground in that country is an increase in civilian killings and destruction. The NDP supports the US surge of 21,000 troops in Afghanistan because it will mean a, “greater emphasis on security and political outcomes”, ignoring the fact that this increase in troops can bring nothing but more violence, destruction and bloodshed. And finally, the NDP supports, “an active role [in Afghanistan] after our troops withdraw in 2011”, i.e. continued participation in the occupation.
The NDP’s two-faced position on Afghanistan– acting on one hand as though they are the ‘voice of opposition’ to the war in Parliament, while in action supporting the war– will only serve to mislead the working class in Canada and will end up in a greater attitude of indifference toward, or even support for this war drive among working people in Canada. The NDP, as Canada’s ‘labour party’, is doing nothing to encourage working people in Canada to oppose this brutal war drive and the killing of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. If the NDP is to be a party truly representing working people in Canada, they must have a program against unjust imperialist war and encourage working people not to participate in this war drive. This war is not ‘our war’, it is a war of the capitalist class in Canada to defend the interests of the capitalist class in Canada. We, working people, should not participate in or support this massacre of oppressed people in Afghanistan. Why? Because the defeat of Canada, NATO and the US in Afghanistan means the possibility for progress not only for the people of Afghanistan, but also for working and poor people in Canada who will be in a better positon to fight for their rights.
Extension of War
Despite a recent poll by Angus Reid showing that 33% of Canadians think Canada’s mission in Afghanistan should end in 2011 and another 51% believe the mission should end before 2011, the ruling class of Canada is already in discussion on how to extend the mission in Afghanistan past 2011. There is an ongoing back-and-forth published in the Canadian press about whether the combat mission in Afghanistan should continue past 2011. This debate, like all the others that happened in previous years before the mission was extended, is created for the government of Canada to buy time to make sure they have the best justification for staying in Afghanistan and delude working people in Canada. By saying that the mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011, the government of Canada is creating false hope among people that the mission will end in order to diffuse protest against the mission now. The debate around ending the mission in 2011 is also avoiding the most important point – that the majority of people in Canada do not want troops pulled out in 2011, they want troops OUT NOW.
What Next for Afghanistan?
Working and oppressed, peace-loving people in Canada must not be fooled by the trickery of the ruling class of Canada on their war drive in Afghanistan. This brutal, inhuman war and occupation cannot continue one more minute. It is time for all of us who believe in peace, justice and human dignity to unite to demand an immediate end to the occupation of Afghanistan. Our task is not small. We face the biggest powers in the world that are hell-bent on continuing this war in the interest of securing their profits. But we must raise our voices to demand an end to this war drive. There is no party in Parliament, no political force in Canada which will end this war for us. This means we must educate, organize, and mobilize everyone we can in consistent and effective actions to demand:
CANADA/US/NATO OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NOW!
SELF-DETERMINATION FOR AFGHANISTAN NOW!
TROOPS HOME NOW!
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