Earlier this month, I participated in the Canadian Peace Alliance's biennial convention in Toronto, which gathered activists representing anti-war groups from across the country.
We discussed the challenging task the peace movement faces: finding a way to turn the largely quiet and demobilized majority already against the war into an effective movement that can force the politicians in Ottawa to end Canada's quagmire in Afghanistan. The Dec. 5-7 convention coincided with the political firestorm in Canada; the fact that the now-in-doubt Liberal-NDP coalition had agreed the war was 'off the table' sharpened the focus of activists and reminded all present of the importance of independent social movements.
Polls: A majority of Afghans and Canadians tired of war
Canadians are weary of this war - poll after poll has shown a majority want the troops brought home sooner than 2011. That is the final end date Harper promised during the last election campaign, but Bush-Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a recent visit to praise the sacrifice of the troops in Kandahar, has already publicly implored Canada to stay longer.
A June 2008 poll conducted by the Senlis Council that found 6 out of 10 Afghans wanted foreign troops out was scarcely reported. The question that is never seriously examined in our mainstream media is: what has caused public opinion in Afghanistan to turn so strongly against the foreign occupation? (Canada's version of the ‘why do they hate us?' question, if you will.)
A proper examination of this question, of course, shatters the standard Manichean frames in which the Afghan war is presented: Good vs. Evil, 'humanitarian imperialism' (à la Ignatieff) vs. medieval barbarism and so on.
The first part of the answer is that the counter-insurgency war itself has turned many Afghans decisively against the occupation. In the words of Canadian Major-General Andrew Leslie from several years ago, "Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you." Leslie did not offer a formula to calculate the consequences of killing women, children or village elders.
Over the past two years, there has been a marked increase in deadly NATO bombings. To highlight just one recent example, air strikes on November 3 - the eve of the U.S. election - killed at least 40 Afghan civilians attending a wedding party in Kandahar province.
Propping up a corrupt regime
The second half of the answer explaining growing Afghan enmity towards NATO forces is the nature of the regime itself in Kabul. Canadian troops are killing and dying to prop up one of the most corrupt governments in the world.
Over 100 Canadian soldiers have died to help keep an unpopular regime - a sordid "coalition government" made up of warlords, drug traffickers and known war criminals headed up by a weak, discredited leader - in power. Hamid Karzai may do well with the western media, but he is widely reviled in Afghanistan, and routinely mocked as the 'mayor of Kabul.'
The public in Canada and the other NATO countries - about to be blitzed by the marketer-in-chief to support more troop deployments - deserve to know exactly who are the "good guys" we are backing in Kabul. A closer look at just three of the stooges in the Afghan government should help clarify just what kind of 'democracy' Canada has been helping to foster over the past seven years.
Meet three of our Afghan allies
First, there is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an upstanding Member of Parliament and an advisor to President Karzai. Sayyaf is a senior warlord and arch-fundamentalist - he was in fact said to be the man who first invited one Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1980s. He is also one of many warlords named by Human Rights Watch as responsible for war crimes during the bloody civil war period that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Sayyaf and dozens of other warlords and fundamentalists with horrific records of human rights violations have been empowered and backed by NATO. The myth of the Taliban as the first and only fundamentalists in Afghanistan, which underlies so much pro-war commentary, would be farcical if the results had not been so tragic for the Afghan people.
Then there's the most powerful man in Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's brother, who is widely reported to be heavily involved in drug trafficking. A recent Toronto Star article explains that even numerous White House officials concede the allegations against Karzai are true. In the same article Bob Rae provides an understated assessment, "It's pretty difficult for our soldiers to do their job in defending the public administration of Afghanistan if these allegations are proven to be true."
To paraphrase the (long lost) young, anti-war John Kerry, how can anyone ask a young Canadian man or woman to be the last to die to defend druglordism and nepotism in Kandahar? With an Afghan-Canadian from Coquitlam, B.C. now reportedly on his way to that embattled Afghan province to take over as governor, the case of Karzai's brother needs to be made known in this country for the scandal that it is.
Finally, there is Izzatullah Wasifi, the man who Karzai appointed to head up the bureau of anti-corruption in Afghanistan. Wasifi, a former provincial governor, had just one little blemish on his resume: a four-year stint in a Nevada prison after a conviction ... for drug trafficking.
These are just three of the many unsavory and criminal characters NATO and the government in Ottawa have helped impose on the Afghan people - in our names. We can't wait until the end of 2011. Because if we do, over the next three years a lot more Canadian and Afghan blood will be senselessly shed in defence of a pack of warlords, embezzlers and drug traffickers.