Friday, February 23, 2007

Humanitarian War in Afghanistan?

Readers of this blog know I do not buy the official justification for the invasion of Afghanistan. I don't believe for a second the Harper Government (or the Bush Administration) has altruistic motives.

However, many kind and caring Canadians, even some progressives, support the war in Afghanistan. They are motivated by the pathos of seeing burka-clad women, starving children, and terrified old men in desert-like landscapes. Their line of reasoning goes something like this: if our army can supply security and help the Afghans rebuild, why shouldn't we support it?

Leaving the ethics of invading and occupying another country (even to supposedly help that country), let's address this pragmatically. If we assume our motives are "pure" why are so many Afghan people against our continued occupation?

I think the simplest answer is that we have failed in convincing them we are on their side. (Again I'll reiterate: our government's motives are anything but pure, but many regular people support the war for altruistic reasons.)

To growing numbers of Afghans, the NATO-led forces are an enemy similar to the Russians who tore this country apart in the 1980s. People even blame suicide attacks directly or indirectly on the soldiers. (RAWA)

The Soviets used the same sort of rhetoric as does NATO, trying to gain popular support among the Afghan people. They said their invasion was defensive. They said they were providing aid and security, and a better political and economic system (Soviet Communism). We say we are responding to Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack (i.e. our invasion was defensive). We say we are providing aid and security, and a better political and economic system (Democracy and Capitalism).

What the Afghan people saw was the Soviets' illegitimate intervention in their own internal affairs, lack of respect for their culture and customs, and "brutal and clumsy attempts to introduce radical changes in control over agricultural land holding and credit, rural social relations, marriage and family arrangements, and education" which "led to scattered protests and uprisings among all major communities in the Afghan countryside." (Wikipedia)

The parallels are actually quite striking. How can we expect war-weary Afghans to trust us, when we are committing so many of the same mistakes? This is why we cannot "win" this war by military means.

The occupation needs to end, so people have the opportunity to heal their country, but this can't even begin until there is some goal of peace on Afghan terms. We'll need to find a way to provide security and aid - under the direction of the Afghan people themselves, in a format they themselves are comfortable with. We need to really understand what the Afghan people want, and stop pretending we are doing what's best for them.

Listen to an interview with a former Soviet army soldier who fought in Afghanistan, as he compares and contrast Canada's involvement in Afghanistan with that of the Soviet Union.

1 comment:

Art Hornbie said...

So simple. So true.
Still, we only have so many "reconstruction" dollars and perhaps they would have greater humanitarian utility invested in another country ... perhaps one not at war. And we'd have even more money if we weren't participating in foreign military adventurism.