Monday, November 29, 2010

3 health reasons to oppose the extension of the war in Afghanistan

For the third time, the Liberals have made a coalition with the Tories and voted to extend the war in Afghanistan.

During last week's Parliamentary debate, Bob Rae, the Liberals’ “foreign affairs critic”, defended the Harper government's extension of the war in Afghanistan—against majority opinion—with the following justification:
"I am familiar with the people’s opinion. But what poses a problem, in my view, is that I see a world where Canada has no choice but to get involved, eliminate the sources of violence in the world, eliminate the potential for a great many deaths and, indeed, eliminate the possibility of consequences even worse than those that now exist"
But it is increasingly clear that it is the war itself that is the greatest source of violence and death. Extending the Afghanistan war until 2014 threatens the health of Afghans, Canadian soldiers, and the wider population of Canada.

     Despite claiming to promote security, development, and women’s rights, the war and its extension  undermine all these--threatening the health of Afghans.

     According to Barigul, a 22-year old Afghan living in a refugee camp, “Where is security? The Americans are just making life worse and worse, and they're destroying our country. If they were building our country, why would I leave my home town and come here?" The Afghanistan War Logs, released by wikileaks, exposed attacks on civilians and assassination squads, while it’s just been revealed that the Canadian Forces have long been arresting children suspected of working with the resistance and handed them over to an Afghan security unit accused of torture.
     As in Vietnam, the US and its allies have responded to increasing resistance by turning to an air war of planes, drones, and helicopters—a strategy that only increases the death toll, and the resistance. According to the LA times, “Civilian deaths have risen 11% from 144 at this time last year to 160 in 2010. The increase has coincided with the rising number of incidents in which U.S. and NATO attack helicopters mistakenly fired on Afghans who turned out to be civilians”.

     Bob Rae defends the extension with reference to Afghanistan’s tortured past:
“Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the whole world. It is a country that has been through 30 years of civil war. It is a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed. It is a country where whole generations have never been to school and never received any education. It is a country that has a narco-economy, of which we are all familiar, where the narcotics economy is equal to at least half of the total GDP of the country. It is a country that is a dangerous and violent place”
     But nearly a decade of occupation has done nothing to alter that history. Despite constant reassurance of “progress” by the military, government, and media, the CIA World Factbook shows that life expectancy has not even recovered to its awful pre-war status:

UNICEF ranked Afghanistan the worst of 202 countries in terms of maternal, infant and child mortality last year.  In a survey by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization in 2009, 22 children under the age of five and 15 children below the age of one die every hour. And every 30 minutes, a mother dies during childbirth…54% of children are malnourished; 38% of children and 25% of women aged between 15 and 49 suffer from anemia.
     Recently the National Post exposed the failures of NATO "development", which by 2011 will have cost Canada $22 billion and the US $455 billion:
"$455 billion is almost four times more than the annual amount of development assistance given by all the rich countries of the world to all the poor countries….Very simply, if the promotion of human rights and development is the reason we’re in Afghanistan, we should leave immediately: We could accomplish vastly more elsewhere, at a fraction of the cost.”
How has half a trillion dollars and 2 prior extensions changed the percentage of the Afghan population living in absolute poverty?

Women’s rights
     After nearly a decade of a war supposedly waged to “liberate women”, Human Rights Watch recently released a report describing the situation of women in Afghaninstan as “dismal in every area”. This is directly related to the Karzi government NATO countries are supporting: “Women will not seek help because of their fears of police abuse and corruption, or their fears of retaliation by perpetrators of violence”. The report also found that
-    The majority of girls still do not attend primary school, and a dismal 11 percent of secondary-school-age girls are enrolled in grades 7-9. Only 4 percent enroll in grades 10-12
-    The Afghan Penal Code does not criminalize rape…victims of rape can themselves be prosecuted for the “crime” of adultery…This included a 15-year-old girl in Nangrahar who was abducted and raped by two men. They were later released on bail, while she was charged…In May 2008 President Karzai pardoned two gang rapists who had served only 2 years of an 11-year prison sentence.   
     Those advocating for women’s rights are opposed to the occupation, like Malalai Joya who was expelled from the Afghan Parliament for criticizing the warlord government:“The plight of victims such as these girls is my driving force. I will never give up my fight for justice, and I’ll continue to try to represent the millions of voiceless Afghan people – especially women and children – who are still being brutalised by fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban.” To read more of her story, get this book.
     There is also an emerging Afghan led peace movement in Canada, led by Afghans for Peace, which calls for the immediate end of NATO occupation, repapartions, demilitarization of aid, and the elimination of poverty. As they conclude,
“As Afghans united for a peaceful Afghanistan, we oppose the NATO occupation of Afghanistan as well as the NATO extension of it’s mission to 2014. Based on the last 9 years of grave failures, utter incompetence and a complete disregard for even the most basic rights and dignity of the Afghan people, we see no justifiable or valid reason for NATO to extend it’s mission in Afghanistan.”
     Those supporting the extension hide behind troops they claim to support, but it is increasingly clear that the extension (whether “training” or “combat”) and the billions to pay for it are a threat to soldier and veteran health abroad and at home. Bob Rae told people to “get a grip” and realize that the extension is merely for training not combat, but this is naive. The Karzai government has so little support that those working for it routinely join the resistance, and recently one police officer killed 6 NATO troops who were on a training mission.
     The false dichotomy between training and combat is not new. Writing in the London Free Press, a veteran described his experience with “training” during the Vietnam War:
“In 1968 I was involved in training at the jungle warfare school in Australia during the Vietnam conflict. Many of my Aussie friends were sent as trainers with the South Vietnamese units. Without these men accompanying the troops into combat, the units that were trained fell apart. So much for trainers being safe.”
     Military families also know Harper and Rae are lying, and are starting to speak out against the war. Josie Forcadilla, the mother of a Canadian soldier soon to be deployed to Afghanistan, picketed outside Bob Rae’s office to clarify that"Whether the mission is combat or non-combat, the soldiers will still be at risk", while the mother of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan called for real support for the troops:
“It's 'non-combat' but who is he kidding? Does he think they're not going to be hurt or killed or injured?...What’s wrong with our government? We’re burying our kids left, right and centre here. For what? It’s time for them to stand down.”
     The bloated war budget is increasingly being balanced on the backs of veterans, who are returning home to find bureaucratic barriers to healthcare, health services shutting down, cuts to their pensions, and the firing of the Veterans ombudsperson for speaking out.

     Finally, the war budget diverts huge sums of money that are desperately needed for public health in Canada. When 1 in 10 children continue to live in poverty, 400,000 are nearly homeless, and some ERs are on the verge of collapse, the projected $3 billions that will be wasted killing Afghans and Canadian soldiers would be much better spent building hospitals and houses in Canada.

Stephen Harper and Bob Rae: we are familiar with the government’s (minority) opinion. But what poses a problem is that we see a world where Canada has no choice but to leave Afghanistan, in order to eliminate the sources of violence in the world, eliminate the potential for a great many deaths and, indeed, eliminate the possibility of consequences even worse than those that now exist.

Don't extend it, end it.

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