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On Afghanistan: Harper's casual betrayal of Canadians

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Far away from home, while Parliament is not sitting, the Prime Minister of Canada announces that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will be extended beyond July 2011, the date when it was due to end. Prior to his stunning about-face in Seoul, Harper had insisted that after the withdrawal next July only the "odd (military) guard" at an embassy would remain.

Overwhelmingly, Canadians want to end this tawdry mission, which has never been about the goals members of the Canadian government have claimed we are fighting for. To date, 152 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, and 1500 have been wounded -- to return to a country that has made few plans for their long-term care. Others have come home with serious psychological traumas.

Canada has spent $18 billion to date on this mission, which has supposedly been to assist a government that is committed to the rule of law, the rights of women and, with the passage of time, a fully democratic regime. At best, the Karzai regime is "Taliban light." Whenever Karzai has found it politically convenient to shore up his alliances with warlords and fundamentalists, he has been prepared to throw the rights of women to the wolves. Then, in response to tut-tutting from the West, Karzai dons his human rights garb for the cameras.

Not only is the regime we support not committed to human rights and democratic government, its close collaborators are profiting from the drug trade.

This is a regime that runs foul detention centres, for those taken prisoner in the war. The vile conditions and abuse of inmates in these medieval establishments has been repeatedly reported by reliable observers, among them Canadians. Despite efforts by members of the Canadian government and military to hide the facts, Canadian forces have been shown to have handed over prisoners to those who proceeded to abuse them, as we knew they would.

Haven't we had enough of this?

Everyone knows that Karzai, with the approval of the Americans, is now negotiating a deal with elements of the Taliban to end the war, or more accurately, this phase of an ongoing war. The Obama administration wants out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. As in the case of South Vietnam in the early 1970s, the idea is to win a few military victories on the ground, endorse a deal with some members of the Taliban, and get out.

Media reports suggest that the Conservative government is planning to offer close to one thousand military instructors and support staff to serve in Kabul from 2011 to 2014. This is an extension of the military mission, pure and simple. The term "trainer" is often used as a euphemism for those who go into battle with unreliable troops to make sure they fight. The Conservatives are claiming that the trainers will operate "inside the wire" and will not actually go into conflict.

Can we believe a word the members of the Harper government say, when they have misled Canadians at every turn on the mission in Afghanistan?

If Harper gets his way, more Canadians will die, and billions more will be spent.

For members of the Canadian and other western governments, for private security firms in the U.S., and for many others, Afghanistan has become an industry. The powerful, who are deeply implicated in what has gone on in this war, are seeking a way to cover their tracks and get out of this quagmire without provoking the fury of those back home whom they have deceived. Their day of reckoning will come.

It's time for Canadians to get out of Afghanistan as a first step toward playing a role in the world in line with the values we proclaim, values that now ring hollow in the mouths of the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues.

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