Monday, November 05, 2007

On the Ground in Afghanistan

Fresh from a fact finding mission, Mike Skinner and Hamayon Ragstar of the Afghanistan-Canada Research Group share the results of their investigation.

Their most immediate impression was how little had changed for common Afghanis since the fall of the Taliban. “People had held out hope for some progressive change and now that hope has dissipated over the past 6 years because the changes have not occurred... Karazai’s government has given some power to the non-Pashtun ethnic peoples of Afghanistan and has opened up power-sharing to diferent parties. But it still rules on behalf of the traditional rulers of Afghanistan, it still rules under sharia law, which causes many problems for Afghani women, it is in many ways worse then the Taliban because it is that much more corrupt. This government is supported by the Americans and Canadians, but run by Afghani warlords - a grouping which includes Karazai himself - and by bureaucrats and by drug lords.”

Meanwhile, the much-hyed development component of the mission had done little to meet the needs of the local population. “…the military and development agencies actually work hand in hand in the same base going out and working together.” This means that development projects were only built on the considerations of the military mission overseeing the project. An interviewee had showed Skinner a high school for girls in Bamiyam, built by a New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction team. This school was built outside of the town, close to the base and is a 16 km walking round trip for the girls to get to and from school. Bamiyam is a town with severe winters and these girls will be stuck with this long miserable hike all winter. The decision was arbitrarily made by the military command of the region and neither the girls nor the town gain any beneit as they were not consulted nor considered.

Canadian International Development Agencies (CIDA)’s projects are no better. “In the aid development industry we’re spending a lot of money and no one is following where that money is going. In fact, [a report was just released] saying that CIDA funds were not making their way to Afghanistan. It’s quite a controversial matter.” Skinner continued to say that he saw one CIDA project which was obviously not in use as it was closed and windows were shattered.

There are concerns about how Afghanistan’s resources are going to be used by various transnational corporations that are now involved, “Afghanistan…has some very rich mining resources that are partly unexplored and unexploited. I’m sure that Canadian mining companies would love to get in there and get their hands on it... This is one of those side beneits that while we’re there [we can] make some money by developing those mines.”

The major worry that both Skinner and Ragstar have is in the numbers of civilian casualties in this war. Skinner told us that “on a daily, or almost daily basis, there were news reports of civilian deaths and by far the greater number of those casualties were caused by Western forces in a number of diferent ways, [including] blindly iring into a crowd or the many cases of air attacks that don’t hit the right target.” As Ragstar put it “in the context of Afghanistan, the biggest warlords are the coalition forces... who are killing the people with much more sophisticated modern weapons then the Afghani warlords have access to.”

In addition to those killed directly by NATO troops are the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the military operations of the occupation forces. “The Canadian military is involved in search and destroy missions, as part of a counter-insurgency war. The military will go to a village and tell people to evacuate their village within 24 hours or be killed. After the people have led, the forces come in, searching for weapons and explosives, but since it is unsafe to go into any building, they simply destroy the homes, farm buildings and wells. The populace is left homeless and jobless, becoming refugees- this is the humanitarianism of the Canadian military?”

So what can be done? The first thing to do is to recognize that “as long as our military is in place we’re creating the environment to encourage more recruits for the Taliban, we are angering so many people that we are making recruits.” We must to ask questions, investigate Canada’s role in the world, the actions that this war. We must pull the troops out now!