Harper sticks it to the anti-war majority

by Barry Weisleder

In a bruising blow to government credibility and bourgeois decorum, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minority Conservative regime extended the ‘mission’ of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan by three years, without even the formality of a debate and vote in the House of Commons. Only a formality it evidently would have been, since the Official Opposition Liberal Party has been pushing for an extension of the imperialist occupation since Liberal External Affairs Critic (and ex-NDP Ontario Premier) Bob Rae returned from his summer visit to Kabul and Kandahar singing the praises of the military’s civilizing influence abroad. (This was confirmed on November 30 when Liberal MPs voted with the governing Conservatives 209-81 to defeat a Bloc Quebecois motion, supported by New Democrat MPs, that expressed opposition to the war extension.)

Violation of the decision by Parliament in 2008 to withdraw all Canadian troops by the end of 2011 was widely predicted. The extension is now cynically presented in the guise of a non-combat “training mission” slated to end in 2014. Then, supposedly, the Afghan army and police will be able to fend for themselves against the insurgency. This is ‘Vietnamization’ by any other name.

Everyone knows that ‘training’ occurs in the field of combat, not just in a classroom ‘behind the wire’. The mocking change of rubric will not stem the flow of Canadian casualties, already encompassing over 1,600 mangled bodies and minds, and 152 lives snuffed out by a combination of road-side explosives, snipers and suicide bombers that operate on all sides of the ‘wire’ – to say nothing of the continuing toll on Afghans, tens of thousands of whom have perished in the conflict.

In a country consumed by war since 1979, training in the arts of armed combat is not lacking. The problem of the Afghan army and police, and those whom they target for recruitment, is that they don’t want to fight for a corrupt government propped up by foreigners. According to NATO documents, the military alliance believes it has to train 23 recruits for every 10 soldiers that stay with the Afghan National Army. Every year 20 per cent of the army and 25 per cent of the Afghan National Civil Order Police quit. Private security forces scoop up some trained soldiers. Some die in combat. Many defect to the Taliban or to other insurgent groups, which not only pay better than the $165(U.S.) a month NATO issues to enlistees, but offer the opportunity of fighting for the home side.

What would happen in a post-occupation Afghanistan? As brave Afghan ex-MP and outspoken feminist Malalai Joya told audiences in an October speaking tour across Canada, once the NATO armies of occupation leave, the Afghan people will be able to concentrate on fighting one enemy rather than two.

A reduced Canadian contingent of 950 soldiers for the ‘training mission’, down from the present 2,500 combatants, will still cost $500 million a year for their supply and upkeep. Another $200 million will go toward “development work” and transition costs. Close to $20 billion has already been spent or committed by Ottawa to the intervention. (What has Washington to show for spending $350 billion there so far?)

According to the latest Harris-Decima poll, 60 per cent of Canadians surveyed are opposed to any Canadian military presence in Afghanistan. Other polls show 80 per cent opposed to the latest extension of the ‘mission’.

Both the labour-based New Democratic Party and the nationalist Bloc Quebecois in Parliament have demanded withdrawal of Canadian Forces by June 2011. The NDP leadership had to be dragged towards that position by leftist and anti-war activists in the party. The shift occurred was confirmed at the September 2006 NDP federal convention in Quebec City where the NDP Socialist Caucus played a prominent role in pushing leader Jack Layton beyond an ‘out of Kandahar’ stance to an ‘out of Afghanistan now’ policy. Still, vestiges of liberal ‘peacekeeping’ illusions in the army and state continue to crop up in the statements of NDP officials. They commonly relapse into talk of ‘redeployment’ of troops to Africa, Haiti and other conflict zones.

Indeed, the Toronto Star stressed in a November 17 editorial, “the Commons never demanded a wholesale military exit when it ‘capped’ the Kandahar mission. It called for the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar by December 2011” and “emphasized the need to train and equip Afghan forces.” The Star, a staunchly pro-Liberal Party paper, says “the new mission is true to that call”. The NDP leadership, which played sotto voce at the time, now bears a portion of the blame for the rulers being able to camouflage their latest military gambit.

Autumn was a tough season for the Harper Tories: losing their bid for a U.N. Security Council seat to Portugal, losing a military air force base in the United Arab Emirates, and having to suffer two popular speaking tours across Canada by former British MP George Galloway who Canadian Border Security illegally barred from entering the country in 2009. Their latest bludgeon, extending an aggressive military presence abroad without even a public discussion, is all too reminiscent of Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament, twice. Recall, that was done in part to avoid accountability for Canadian Forces’ complicity with the torture of prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

The government’s sanctimonious invocations to ‘support our troops’ and ‘make sure their sacrifice is not in vain’ seem to shatter on contact with the reality of how veterans are treated. Thousands live in physical and mental misery, forced to battle Ottawa for adequate funding for medicine and shelter. The New Veterans’ Charter introduced by the Conservative government in 2006 replaced lifetime pensions to injured vets with a poor combination of lump sum payments and income support. This doesn’t sit well with the Tory base. Nor is the rest of the population impressed with the lack of ‘progress’ on democracy, clean government, women’s rights or finding Osama Bin Laden, the oft-touted initial aims of the intervention.

Concerning what the war is really about, the major commercial media rarely, if ever, mentions that Afghanistan is a potential energy supply corridor and a treasure trove of enormous mineral wealth. If NATO negotiates a modus vivendi with Taliban and associated forces to prolong the western occupation, those will be the reasons, none of which are humanitarian.

The November 20 NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal confirmed plans to stay in Afghanistan for decades to come. The challenge facing the anti-war movement is to mobilize the anti-war, anti-occupation majority into the streets. It is not enough to decry the Emperor’s nudity. Mass protest action is needed on a Pan-Canadian and global level to withdraw the troops and trainers, to end the occupation now. The Canadian Peace Alliance should take up the call of the U.S.-based United National Anti-War Committee for protest rallies and demonstrations on April 9, 2011. An international Day of Action against the imperialist war makers and war alliances should be a top priority.