Political crisis boils over Afghan occupation

by Barry Weisleder

For the second year in a row, the Conservative minority government asked Governor-General Michaelle Jean to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament for the winter months in order to avoid political accountability and a potential loss of office. Shamefully, the G-G agreed. Thus, all Bills in process were abandoned, and a new session will begin with a brand new budget on March 3.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to release documents that would shed light on Canadian Forces’ handling of Afghan detainees was set to provoke a crisis on January 25, when the House of Commons was to return. On December 10, the Commons ordered the government to produce uncensored documents dealing with detainee transfers. But Harper refused, citing ‘national security’, troop safety, and relations with allies.

Former number two Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan, Richard Colvin, raised concerns in 2006-2007 about prisoners being routinely beaten and tortured by Afghan authorities. So did the Red Cross, Britain, Netherlands, the media and human rights groups. General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff, confirmed that Canadian troops did hand over a detainee in June 2006 to the Afghan police, who promptly beat him, until he was taken back into Canadian custody.

But Ottawa continues to deny that a problem existed. Instead, the Tories attacked Colvin’s credibility, made an issue of the Opposition’s ‘patriotism’, and proceeded to boycott a special sitting of the Parliamentary committee probing detainee abuse.

The question arises: Why are Harper and company being so pig-headed?

The issue goes beyond parliamentary decorum, beyond the centralization of power in the PM’s Office. The treatment of detainees has become a lightening rod for mass popular opposition to the war of occupation in Afghanistan. It highlights the nature of the corrupt regime of war lords and drug barons in Kabul which NATO, including Canada, sustains.

For the Canadian ruling class, the treatment of Afghans is far less important than the economics of energy pipelines and the politics of western domination of the Middle East and South Asia. Tory intransigence in Ottawa is proving to be a costly political impediment to the realization of larger imperialist foreign policy aims. A major section of the Canadian business elite would rather cut their losses in Afghanistan (where the 134th Canadian soldier died on December 23), make a superficial concession to public opinion, and re-deploy troops to another theatre of neo-colonial occupation, like Haiti.

Setting aside all the hypocrisy about ‘the rule of law’, the supremacy of Parliament, and the promotion of ‘democracy’ abroad, the division of the rulers over the war is a good thing — even better if it leads to an early exit from Afghanistan, and an early end to the Harper government. But neither should be taken for granted, as the Tories seem as determined to tough it out, as they are to make working people pay for the economic crisis.