As winter comes to an end in Afghanistan, so too does the lull in the fighting that came with it. Canadian casualties begin to bring the grim reality of war into the consciousness of the working-class. Just as the war in Iraq is dominating the US political landscape, the Afghan war is becoming the central issue for Canadian politics. It becomes more and more clear that Canadian imperialism and NATO are fighting an un-winnable war. The events in this far-away country will have a massive impact on the sleepy world of Canadian politics.

Last month, the European think-tank, the Senlis Council, released an in-depth report detailing NATO’s progress in the war in Afghanistan. Five years ago, Senlis set out to detail NATO’s policies and their effects in that country. The result is an utter indictment of the West’s activities in Afghanistan. The mainstream press has consistently underreported or omitted huge amounts of information pertaining to Afghanistan and the NATO mission there. The truth is that Afghanistan is quickly becoming a disaster. Key questions have not been asked, or even addressed, by the Western media, such as:

  1. Western involvement in the origins of the Taliban.
  2. The corruption within the Afghani government.
  3. The fact that the majority of the Afghan government are warlords.
  4. The utter failure of developmental aid.
  5. The overwhelmingly negative effect of NATO combat operations on Afghan civilians.
  6. The aid being provided to the Taliban through a disastrous, Western-backed, poppy eradication policy.

The bloody reality of the war is beginning to force facts into the light of day. As Canadian soldiers and Afghan civilians are dying, we are reminded of the adage, “It is the dead that ask the best questions.”

The Human Cost of the Afghan War

Military spokespeople have made it a point to repeatedly stress to the public the reliability of NATO aerial bombing. According to official NATO estimates, civilian casualties due to bombing have been less than 300 people. It is this figure that has been reported to the public through the mass media; however, some human rights organizations have consistently questioned the validity of this figure. Senlis confirmed these concerns in its report by citing studies done by independent NGOs and the Karzai government. Senlis claims about 3,000 civilians have died as result of NATO bombing, ten times the Western media’s estimate. But even this only tells part of the story.

The real human tragedy of Afghanistan is the rapidly developing humanitarian and refugee crisis. In southern Afghanistan alone, there are over 200,000 internally displaced persons, forced to leave their villages due to fighting between NATO and Taliban forces. Take this quote from a woman in the Marghar refugee camp in Kandahar province, “We have come to this camp from another camp in Zangawat, which we had to leave because of the war between Taliban and foreign soldiers. The foreigners bombed us and all of the 800 families who lived there had to move.”

The media has, for the most part, ignored the Afghan government’s “return or starve” policy. Refugee camps, populated by Afghans bombed from their homes, are becoming active recruiting centres for Taliban fighters. In an effort to force the population back to the ruins of their former villages, the Karzai government has cut aid, in all forms, from reaching refugees. The return or starve policy instituted by the Western-backed Kabul government is having an extremely negative effect on both the lives of Afghans, and the overall security situation. The growing resentment of the government and NATO forces is increasing support for the Taliban.

At the same time, in Canada, the ever increasing death toll of Canadian soldiers is eroding support for the war. Canadians are not used to seeing flag draped coffins returning home from some far off battlefield. April saw the end of the winter lull in Afghanistan and a resumption of the stream of casualties coming back from Kandahar. At the time of writing, there have been 53 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, including 6 killed in a single attack on Easter Sunday. As the Taliban spring offensive resumes, the number of dead is bound to rise.

The Dysfunction of Development and Poppy Eradication

The Senlis report accused developmental aid of being more a domestic propaganda tool rather than a genuine force for good in Afghanistan. To quote the report directly,

“Recently, the head of CIDA, Minister for International Development, Ms. Josée Verner, visited Afghanistan. For security reasons, Ms Verner did not visit any of the projects funded by CIDA, nor meet any key Afghan stakeholders in Afghan development, let alone the local population. Ms Verner announced funding of new projects, but none of the Afghan media were allowed to the press conference in Kabul because of security concerns. It appears that Ms Verner’s visit was designed to quell criticism at home, rather than make a difference to the Afghans. This contradiction between the press conference targeted to Canadian media and an indifference towards local media has been highlighted by journalists in the Kandahar province. Journalists in Kandahar have reported they were given patchy details of the alleged 93 ongoing or completed school projects in Kandahar province, and could verify none of them.”

Western governments may not be putting much effort into helping Afghans, but they are putting plenty into wiping out poppies. The poppy, Afghanistan’s largest crop, accounts for over two-thirds of the country’s GDP and is the nation’s largest employer. The poppy eradication program erodes support for the Afghan government and NATO. Hamid Karzai understands this and he pleaded with Western politicians to at least offer some form of compensation to poppy farmers. The British government negotiated with farmers in the Helmand province a price of US$350 for each half acre of poppies that would be destroyed. Farmers eradicated a total of 62,000 acres of poppy fields and were given a cheque from the British government as a guarantee of their agreement. After the eradication was verified by a local representative, the farmers proceeded to the central bank of Helmand to receive their compensation. When they arrived, they discovered the British government had only supplied enough money to the bank to cover 6,000 acres of eradicated poppies. To this day, tens of thousands of farmers have not received compensation.

What Kind of Government is in Power in Kabul?

Fourteen years ago, in the Afshar district of Kabul, a massacre of civilians took place. US-funded Mujahadeen soldiers slaughtered an entire suburb of Afghanistan’s capital because they had been living in what was, up until 1991, a Soviet-controlled area. Local militias entered the suburb and killed 1,000 civilians. Men, women, and children were beheaded, the bodies stuffed into wells, and one witness reported seeing an elderly man dead and nailed to a tree. The slaughter was carried out by troops loyal to Mujahadeen commanders like Abdul Rasul Sayyat, later quoted telling his forces at the time, “Don’t leave anyone alive. Kill them all.” Today, this gentleman sits in the Afghan Parliament, a supporter of President Hamid Karzai.

Last month, the upper house of the Afghan parliament passed a bill that would give war criminals like Rasul Sayyat total amnesty from prosecution. According to Human Rights Watch, 60% of sitting parliamentarians in Afghanistan’s National Assembly are directly connected with human rights abuses, corruption, and the drug trade. A Senlis poll done of Afghans found that about 60 percent of respondants believed that the Karzai government was the most corrupt government in two decades, citing that under President Karzai, money “can buy government appointments, bypass justice, or evade police” with impunity.

The treatment of women has, along with development aid, been used as a propaganda tool by Western governments. Like development aid, it too appears to be no more than a smokescreen. To quote the Kabul-based feminist journalist, Ramani Desilva,

“Afghanistan ranks 173 out of 178 on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (2004). Life expectancy today is approximately 44.5 years. One out of five children dies before the age of five and maternal mortality is among the highest in the world. Some 90% of adult women are illiterate. Some 75% of girls attending primary school drop out before grade five. Newly re-opened girls’ schools are closing down due to violence against women and girls. Stories are told of how young women today are less educated than those belonging to their grandmothers’ generation. Sexual violence against girls, institutionalized through “traditions” such as child marriage, continues to be rife. Suicide among young women is said to be increasing. A May 2006 United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) survey on violence against women in Afghanistan indicates that it’s widespread, extreme, systematic, and unreported.”

The Canadian state is defending a government that is populated by narco-warlords, is rife with corruption, and is directly responsible for a massive humanitarian crisis in the south. Empty rhetoric such as “bringing democracy to Afghanistan” is undercut by the hard, cold reality of the region.

The Bigger Picture

Capitalism is incapable of bringing any sort of economic development to Afghanistan, even if NATO were to occupy the country for another 10 or 20 years. The country will never be lifted from its current semi-feudal state under the domination of imperialism. The only way the Afghan masses can progress is through the rejection of both the fundamentalist Taliban, and the imperialist NATO force and its warlord allies in Kabul. Both Iran and Pakistan have advanced working classes and a socialist and revolutionary tradition. The working class of the region will only find salvation by uniting against both foreign imperialism and the local oligarchies. Both the Musharraf regime in Pakistan and the dictatorship of the Iranian Mullahs are on unstable foundations. Soon, the workers and peasants of the region will have the opportunity to rise up together. Progressives in Afghanistan, like the courageous MP Malalai Joya, have called for the rejection of NATO, the Taliban, and the corrupt warlord government. The only way forward is for the workers and peasants of the region to fight, united, against imperialism, fundamentalism, and the root cause of both, the capitalist system.

The Canadian state’s involvement in Afghanistan is just as imperialist as America’s role in Iraq. The chauvinist illusions of “peacekeeping” are only distractions from the real role being played there. Afghanistan will not progress under the current economic conditions. The best hope for the Afghan people is for a western withdrawal. In the words of Malalai Joya, “I am well aware of the hardships, challenges, and death from anti-democracy forces, but I trust my people. One day they may kill me as they have guns and power and support of the US government, but they can never silence my voice and hide the truth.”

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