We need a public inquiry about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.
A decade ago, if I had made such a request, I would have been simply brushed aside as a traitor. As a Canadian Muslim, I would have likely been branded a double traitor. First, as a traitor for not standing with our troops. Second, as a traitor for siding with my “Muslim” roots and putting our national interests in danger. I am not victimizing myself or creating any particular drama.
In 2005, the late Jack Layton was called “Taliban Jack” by politicians and media commentators when he courageously stood up in the House of Commons asking his political opponents to negotiate a peaceful solution to get out from the murky and slippery mission the Canadian government had engulfed itself in.
Back then, the Taliban were already showing signs of resistance, but nobody was ready to listen to the facts on the ground. Our blind support of a purely American decision’ the militaristic adventure; the deals signed with big arms firms were paying off more than any political courage.
The Canadian mission in Afghanistan, the second largest Canadian military deployment since the Second World War, was conducted from its start with empty words like those used in a motion issued in Parliament by Joe Clark, former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party: to “defend freedom and democracy.”
To my knowledge, the Afghans never asked the international community for help to implement democracy on their soil. However, these demagogic words reminded average Canadians of the participation of their fathers and grandfathers in the efforts to combat the German forces in the First World War and later Nazism during the Second World War. It brought back a certain nostalgia to a past that some Canadians, particularly baby boomers, knew very well.
But in reality, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan cannot be compared to either of these two wars, even by using those misleading arguments and words that sound hollow in this case.
Everything that has to do with the war in Afghanistan was different from the two World Wars, starting with the reason Canada joined the war, to the geography of the country, its languages, its religion, the tribal dynamics, and the geopolitical alliances.
Despite these crucial differences and despite clear warnings from some critics about the reasons that led to an ineluctable failure, Afghanistan became a third graveyard for the Americans and their allies, after the British and the Soviets.
Yet, a majority of Canadian politicians, military commanders and media commentators kept misleading Canadians about the legitimacy and the prospects of winning this war.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, speaking about the Canadian mission on October 7, 2001, pompously proclaimed “I can promise it will be won!” without even having any vote or debate about the mission. Then there were the endless efforts led by former prime minister Stephen Harper and his close advisors in 2008 to overcome Stéphane Dion’s staunch opposition to extending the mission, as the then-Liberal leader highlighted the mistakes that had already been made.
More recently, there were the false reassurances that some Canadian diplomats gave to some military officials that the Afghan security forces could still have the momentum needed to beat the Taliban.
Everyone behaved as if they lived under a rock or in a cave, preferring to keep the lies alive rather than disclosing that the war was morally wrong from the beginning.
Two years ago, negotiations between the American officials and senior Taliban leaders about a full withdrawal of the American troops were initiated under former president Donald Trump. Despite this, the same tunnel vision kept accompanying many Canadian politicians and military commanders who pretended that the mission was successful and still acted surprised by the quick advance of the Taliban towards the capital Kabul as if the Taliban forces hadn’t been in control of many Afghan cities and towns for years.
Over this past week, we have watched — through pictures and videos on mainstream and social media — the fall of Kabul. The pictures were heart-wrenching. Some Afghan men fell to their death after clinging to a gigantic U.S. Air Force plane that had “cut” and “run” and left behind those who politicians and military claimed to have come to save. Where were our politicians to defend these Afghans and help them?
If these pictures taught us one thing it would have to be the hypocrisy of a class of politicians, military and media who spread lies and blew the horn of the war and later tried to spin the situation into a refugee crisis.
Let’s ask ourselves an honest question: who created these refugees, first? As if the Americans and their allies are innocent from all this human tragedy and as if they can easily wipe their hands on the back of the Taliban, since they are the obvious evil all along in this fabricated war.
Over 20 years, Canada spent an estimated $20 billion on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. The war took the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers, wounded and injured more than 2,000 others.
In Afghanistan, the toll of death and destruction is higher by far. It is estimated that 66,000 Afghan forces were killed; an additional 47,245 were killed among the civilians and 51,191 were killed among the Taliban and opposition forces.
Now, imagine for a second if this money had been invested at home, in schools, in hospitals, in social housing, without the media and some politicians screaming and denouncing it as a socialist or a communist takeover.
Imagine if we made a more courageous and wiser decision and decided to invest a billion dollars per year in our healthcare system, in our research centres in universities or in building affordable housing.
For example, last April, the federal budget promised $2.4 billion over five years, beginning with nearly $1.8 billion this fiscal year, for affordable housing. Unfortunately, this is too little and too late.
A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer has indicated that the number of Canadian households in need of an affordable place to live will increase to about 1.8 million within five years unless more funding flows toward the problem.
During this election time, I don’t understand how we keep giving our politicians a pass for this failed Canadian mission. Many politicians failed us. They made us believe that they had no other choice than to join a supposedly “winnable” war. They ended up losing the war and their credibility. Let’s ask for a public inquiry into the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Let’s ask for truth and justice.
Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog.
Image: World Economic Forum/Flickr