Twenty years ago the United States led anyone who would join them into war in Afghanistan.
As many others were, I was horrified by the thought of 9/11 being an excuse to kill more innocent people. I joined hundreds of people in Washington, D.C. to protest the war. It wasn’t a big protest.
The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was not sanctioned by the United Nations and the war of aggression by the coalition of the willing has been deemed illegal by many international lawyers. However, no one has been held accountable.
The Taliban was monstrous but we knew Afghanistan was being used as a pawn. As activists we did our research about the political and corporate interests who stood to profit from this conflict. We tried to stop the war and we failed.
In Canada, the Liberals joined the Afghan mission with majoritarian support from Canadians. Pressure from anti-war activists caused the New Democratic Party to become the only social democratic party in the West to oppose the Afghan mission, but the party rarely campaigned on the issue.
Twenty years later, Afghanistan is destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people are dead. It is disgusting that we can’t be sure of exact numbers of civilians dead because the Pentagon stopped compiling or releasing civilian body counts after 2001. As we watch the images of what is unfolding in Afghanistan right now, we are furious. We foretold what was going to happen but to see it happen is still heartbreaking.
If you want to provide immediate charitable aid to help people from Afghanistan, Emerald Bensadoun put together a list of organizations working from Canada to provide aid to Afghanistan. The Veteran’s Transition Network and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and others that Bensadoun lists are working tirelessly to help evacuate and support people from Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that the Canadian government has stopped evacuating people from Afghanistan five days before the evacuation deadline citing the recent violence. Afghan refugees who are arriving in Canada will need sponsors, so please do find out about sponsorship and support them. The need is immense.
For the peace movement and progressive Canadians there is a lot more we must do, however. The people of Afghanistan deserve reparations for the illegal war which was waged on its soil, and we must hold those who committed war crimes, on all sides, accountable. We have to demand a real accounting for Canada’s role in this illegal war and the complicity of Canadian troops in perpetuating torture when they were in Afghanistan.
In 2008 and 2009 testimony about the role Canadian troops in war crimes against Afghans was becoming public. In fact, Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in 2009, in part to stop an investigation into the allegations being raised by people working with the Canadian Forces about their complicity in the torture of detainees.
In 2020, International Criminal Court has green-lighted an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Afghanistan since May first 2003. This does not allow an investigation into the decision to go to war but it does allow accountability for abuses.
“The ICC Appeals Chamber’s decision to green-light an investigation of brutal crimes in Afghanistan despite extreme pressure reaffirms the court’s essential role for victims when all other doors to justice are closed,” said Param-Preet Singh, the associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. Demand that the findings of the Criminal Court result in real repercussions.
In the beginning of August, Amy Goodman interviewed Matthieu Aikens for Democracy Now. Aikens has been working in Afghanistan since the war began and in the course of the interview he and Amy Goodman reminded us that private contractors will probably continue to work in Afghanistan and that their operations in Afghanistan will now have almost no public scrutiny.
In Canada, the fact that we have an election right now is an important opportunity. Before the attention on Afghanistan dissipates, we must make headway on fighting for justice for Afghanistan. As the Taliban gains power, it is difficult to know which organisations are active on the ground in Afghanistan because so many are leaving and the Taliban will make it difficult to get support to many of them. But we must organise as the peace movement to stand up for Afghanistan and for accountability for the war.
Maya Bhullar has over 15 years of professional experience in diverse areas such as migration, labour, urban planning and community mobilization.