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Canada to increase troops in Afghanistan

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The China View news service reports that Canadian Foreign Minister David Emerson made his first visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, declaring that “Canada has had 2,500 troops here in Afghanistan. It could expand to 2,700.” He did not say when the new 200 troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, but other sources suggest the troops will arrive in conjunction with the modified Griffon helicopters. Ottawa Citizen defence columnist David Pugliese writes that 64 CH-146 Griffon helicopters will be fitted with infrared systems and door-mounted mini-guns at a cost of $25.9 million. The first Griffon’s are scheduled to arrive in November, so one can expect the 200 new troops to arrive before or with them.

Members of the sniper team leave the Rapid Reflex exercise in the mountains of Fort Bliss, Texas to board a Griffon helicopter. 64 Griffons will be fitted for infrared systems and mini-guns in Quebec.Photo : Cpl Bruno Turcotte

I wrote to Noam Chomsky yesterday, knowing that he spends some 5 hours a day replying to emails from people like myself - individuals and groups concerned with the disconnect between the political elite and the people. Individuals and groups actively trying to collapse this divide. I asked why he hasn’t written specifically about Afghanistan since his initial article in Feburary, 2002, The War in Afghanistan. He replied with some brief, kind comments and said he discussed Afghanistan briefly in one of his recent articles, “Good News,” Iraq and Beyond. A section from the article is worth quoting at length as a timely reminder to Canada and the U.S. of how negligent their current and impending policies are in the Afghanistan:

Iraqis are not alone in believing that national reconciliation is possible. A Canadian-run poll found that Afghans are hopeful about the future and favor the presence of Canadian and other foreign troops - the “good news,” that made the headlines. The small print suggests some qualifications. Only 20% “think the Taliban will prevail once foreign troops leave.” Three-fourths support negotiations between the US-backed Karzai government and the Taliban, and more than half favor a coalition government. The great majority therefore strongly disagree with US-Canadian stance, and believe that peace is possible with a turn towards peaceful means. [Instead, Canada and the U.S. will be increasing their military presence.] Though the question was not asked, it is reasonable to surmise that the foreign presence is favored for aid and reconstruction. More evidence in support of this conjecture is provided by reports about the progress of reconstruction in Afghanistan six years after the US invasion. Six percent of the population now have electricity, AP reports, primarily in Kabul, which is artificially wealthy because of the huge foreign presence. There, “the rich, powerful, and well connected” have electricity, but few others, in contrast to the 1980s under Russian occupation, when “the city had plentiful power” - and women in Kabul were relatively free under the occupation and the Russian-backed Najibullah government that followed, probably more so than now, though they did have to worry about attacks from Reagan’s favorites, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who got his kicks from throwing acid in the faces of young women he thought were improperly dressed. These matters were discussed at the time by Rasil Basu, UN Development Program senior advisor to the Afghan government for women’s development (1986-88). She reported “enormous strides” for women under the Russian occupation: “illiteracy declined from 98% to 75%, and they were granted equal rights with men in civil law, and in the Constitution… Unjust patriarchal relations still prevailed in the workplace and in the family with women occupying lower level sex-type jobs. But the strides [women] took in education and employment were very impressive….In Kabul I saw great advances in women’s education and employment. Women were in evidence in industry, factories, government offices, professions and the media. With large numbers of men killed or disabled, women shouldered the responsibility of both family and country. I met a woman who specialized in war medicine which dealt with trauma and reconstructive surgery for the war-wounded. This represented empowerment to her. Another woman was a road engineer. Roads represented freedom - an escape from the oppressive patriarchal structures.” By 1988, however, Basu “could see the early warning signs” as Russian troops departed and the fundamentalist Islamist extremists favored by the Reagan administration took over, brushing aside the more moderate mujahideen groups. “Saudi Arabian and American arms and ammunition gave the fundamentalists a vital edge over the moderates,” providing them with military hardware used, “according to Amnesty International, to target unarmed civilians, most of them women and children.” Then followed much worse horrors as the US-Saudi favorites overthrew the Najibullah government. The suffering of the population was so extreme that the Taliban were welcomed when they drove out Reagan’s freedom fighters. Another chapter in the triumph of Reaganite reactionary ultra-nationalism, worshipped today by those dedicated to defaming the honorable term “conservative.” Basu is a distinguished advocate for women’s rights, including a long career with the UN during which she drafted the World Plan of Action for Women and the draft Programme for the Women’s Decade, 1975-85, adopted at the Mexico City Conference (1975) and Copenhagen Conference (1980). But her words were not welcome in the US. Her 1988 report was submitted to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Ms. magazine. But rejected. Also rejected were Basu’s recommendation of practical steps that the West, particularly the US, could take to protect women’s rights. Highly relevant in this connection are the important investigations by Nikolai Lanine, a former soldier in the Russian army in Afghanistan, bringing out the striking comparisons between Russian commentary during the occupation and that of their NATO successors today. These and further considerations suggest that Afghans really would welcome a foreign presence devoted to aid and reconstruction, as we can read between the lines in the polls. There are, of course, numerous questions about polls in countries under foreign military occupation, particularly in places like southern Afghanistan. But the results of the Iraq and Afghan studies conform to earlier ones, and should not be dismissed.

[It’s worth noting that, in an interview with Real News Network CEO Paul Jay, Afghan MP Malalai Joya herself said these polls are questionable as the survey “was not conducted all over Afghanistan. Why? Because today, the government of Karzai has no control outside of Kabul. I’m sure that the people who did the survey were unable to travel because of security reasons.”]

Canadian foreign policy is clearly way out of line with what Canadians and Afghans have called for in numerous polls. Increasing the presence of occupying forces can only further corrode any hope of a settlement. There is a means of improving the situation in Afghanistan - listening to the people both there and in Canada. Perhaps it’s time we speak a bit more loudly.

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