Derrick O'Keefe: Top 10 under-reported facts about Canada's war in Afghanistan
This week, antiwar protests in Canada and around the world are marking the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. On Thursday, for example, we held a commemoration in Vancouver, while today a mass antiwar assembly is taking place in London's Trafalgar Square.
In the U.S., activists kicking off the "Occupy DC" action inspired by "Occupy Wall Street" will make opposition to the war(s) a central part of their presence. This is really encouraging, and let's hope that this emerging movement keeps making the links between neoliberalism and imperialism.
A decade after the invasion was launched on October 7, 2001, the war in Afghanistan drags on. War hawks of both the neoconservative and liberal imperialist variety have tempered their rhetoric of late, as the best-laid plans (delusions) of "nation-building" and "empire lite" in Afghanistan have gone badly awry.
Almost no serious analyst, it seems, really believes anymore that NATO is winning or can definitively win the war, but my sense is that it can still grind on for years so that the U.S. and NATO can save face and salvage some long-term military footprint and claim to the region's strategic energy and mineral resources.
Antiwar protests also take place in Afghanistan.
The woeful inadequacy of the western media's coverage of Afghanistan is part of the reason this disastrous war has been allowed to carry on year after year. Therefore, as a pre-emptive strike against the no doubt one-sided and superficial media treatment of this week's 10th anniversary, I'm offering up my top 10 under-reported aspects of this war. It's in no particular order, and of course it could be a much longer list—please add your suggestions or amendments as comments below.
1. Canada's military role is not over. In fact, in late 2010, a continued presence of nearly 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel was approved without even a vote in the House of Commons. The new role is not confined just to Kabul, and it is neither "safe" nor "neutral". Rather, Canada remains a key player in the NATO occupation and a key backer of the discredited and corrupt Karzai government.
2. The uncounted thousands of Afghan war dead. A single incident in May 2009 when NATO fighter jets bombed a remote village in Farah Province is estimated to have killed nearly 150 Afghans—almost the same number of Canadians fallen over an entire decade. The total Afghan death toll is at least in the many thousands, but then "we" in the West "don't do body counts" when it comes to the victims of our states' violence.
3. The "women's rights" rationale has been exposed as a cynical sham. I'm not sure who really takes this fraud seriously anymore, but it's important to remember that this was presented early on through wall-to-wall media coverage as a key reason for occupying Afghanistan. Afghan women's rights boosted the careers of many western NGO spokespeople, but from the beginning the post-Taliban government installed by NATO was full of anti-women fundamentalists. Rapists continue to enjoy widespread impunity in Afghanistan; female suicide by self-immolation is higher than ever. Many outspoken women's activists have been murdered, either by the Taliban or by fundamentalists linked with the Afghan government. Others, like Malalai Joya, have been banished from elected positions.
4. Key former al-Qaeda supporters and cothinkers are members of the NATO-backed Karzai government. The most glaring and laughable case is that of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the man who allegedly first invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. Sayyaf literally helped bin Laden build al-Qaeda training camps up until the 1990s. Post 2001, Sayyaf saw which way the wind was blowing and became a U.S. ally. He has occupied a seat in Parliament and played a key role in backing Karzai, and yet his name is largely unknown in the West.
5. The war has been recklessly expanded into Pakistan. U.S. drones routinely murder people in the border provinces of Pakistan. The occupation of Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan. The tragic and irrational demarcation left by British imperialism known as the Durand Line continues to exacerbate conflicts in both countries. The media almost never provides this historical background, and rarely exposes the frightening reality of this "drone war"
6. The occupation of Kashmir is related to the troubles in occupied Afghanistan. Other imperial lines drawn by the British in South and Central Asia continue to take their toll. Since partition in 1947, Kashmir has been denied self-determination, and resistance continues against vicious repression. This festering wound fuels tension between Pakistan and India, and as long as the situation in Kashmir is not resolved both Pakistan and India will wage a proxy struggle for influence and control in Afghanistan. With growing Indian economic and military might, Pakistan in particular seeks to undermine India's influence in Afghanistan—often with deadly consequences.
7. Our man in Kandahar was a corrupt gangster—and the president's little brother. Wali Karzai was assassinated earlier this year, but his CIA connections and alleged status as a drug kingpin had become an embarrassment for both NATO and his brother, President Hamid Karzai. Nevertheless, for Canada's six years in Kandahar, Wali Karzai was a key figure and ally for CF and other NATO forces. In Ottawa, this was barely mentioned—even in death his NATO allies would barely speak his name.
8. Afghanistan has been a key island in the archipelago of torture. The "detainee scandal" that for a time rocked Canadian politics focused on Afghan detainees turned over by Canadian troops to Afghan National Police and Army forces. This potential complicity in torture was eventually seriously scrutinized in our press—while at one point helping lead Harper to prorogue parliament—but links to other torture related to the occupation were rarely made. In fact, Afghanistan's Bagram airbase has been a key island in the "war on terror's" archipelago of torture since the beginning of the Afghanistan invasion. Countless detainees, including Omar Khadr, who ended up in Guantanamo were first held and abused at Bagram.
9. The spiralling cost of war. There has rarely been a serious debate about the cost of the war in Afghanistan. Canada's decade of war in Afghanistan has no doubt contributed to the success of Harper's broader agenda to militarize Canadian society, helping normalize everything from the purchasing of fighter jets to the aggressive rebranding of the Winnipeg Jets.
10. This has all happened before—Soviet lessons ignored. Despite moving and compelling testimonials by former Russian generals and soldiers, accounts of the Soviet Union's doomed mission in Afghanistan are rarely discussed in the Canadian media.
Derrick O'Keefe is cochair of the Vancouver StopWar Coalition. This article originally appeared on rabble.ca.