Harper claims Afghanistan ‘better off today’ What’s the truth?

by Evan Engering
The Stephen Harper-led Conservative federal government announced the end of Canada’s large armed presence in Afghanistan on March 12. Harper told returning Canadian troops that “you fought to loosen the grip of terror and repression.” He added, “the people of Afghanistan are better off today because of Canada’s investments.” 

The occasion, at least officially, marked the end of 12 years of Canadian military intervention in the country. The war aligned Canada closer to American foreign policy. It claimed the lives of 158 Canadians, along with those of many thousands of Afghani civilians. 

But how true are Harper’s claims?
Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In the wake of massive protests across Canada against joining the US war in Iraq in 2003, Chretien instead began ramping up the Afghanistan ‘mission’. Despite the Taliban’s initial willingness to co-operate in pursuing Al Quaeda, NATO forces occupied the country and waged the conflict themselves, only to have Taliban fighters retreat to mountainous regions to pursue a painfully protracted war.

Canada’s participation stirred domestic political unrest. A majority of Canadians opposed the intervention from the start, and through most of the 12 years of the debacle. In 2009, Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament for a second time, then to shield his government from mounting allegations of handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities for torture – a war crime in violation of the Third Geneva Convention. In 2006, New Democratic Party convention delegates, led by the Socialist Caucus, debated and passed a resolution calling for an end to Canada’s role in the war. Anti-war opposition was visible in the streets, where large demonstrations took place at least annually.

Canada’s many years of involvement in Bush’s jingoist ‘crusade’, indifferent to the lessons learned by Stalinists during the ten year Soviet Union occupation, failed to win over many Afghani hearts and minds. In fact, it only retarded Afghani political progress, and fuelled religious fanatics in their jihad against the West.

So what is the ‘success’ that Harper and the business media are touting? Decades of conflict driven by foreign powers have left Afghanistan one of the poorest countries on Earth. Over one third of the population is unemployed and living below the poverty line. Even with all the foreign aid, the country is ranked last, or in the bottom ten for every category in the Human Development Index. The only industry in which Afghanistan leads the world is the production of addictive drugs. The opium industry has accounted for over a third of the country’s GDP, with 10% of the population working in the poppy fields to generate almost all of Asia’s supply of heroine. No solution to the problem of poverty is here though, as most of the profits go to drug lords.

Perhaps the most tragic failure is insecurity – still a major problem, underscored by the March 20 attack on Kabul’s luxury Serena Hotel which left nine dead, including two Canadian aid workers.

The Taliban is hardly gone, and given the country’s stagnation and rampant corruption, Afghanistan is doomed to the same cruel fate of countries devastated by foreign intervention – until the menace of imperialism is ended. Foreign powers, whether Russian, Pakistani or Western, can drop bombs and kill people, but only democratic grassroots organizing by the Afghani people themselves can make their country self-governing and prosperous.
Fight Imperialism! Canada out of NATO!