Three aid workers were shot and killed in Afghanistan this week, two of them Canadian citizens.
The fact that their SUV was clearly marked leads to the inescapable conclusion that they were deliberately targeted.
When you live a life of peace, it’s hard to imagine such brutality: to seek out three dedicated young women and slaughter them for the crime of bringing a tiny measure of hope and help to a war-ravaged country.
But war is a brutal and savage business. Sometimes the innocent must die. Just as Canadian troops must be willing to sacrifice civilian lives when motorists stray too close to patrols, or when villages get in the way of war, so Afghan fighters are willing to target aid workers, whose successes are the failures of the resistance.
Every new school, every new hospital is a weapon aimed at the heart of the Taliban, not just because of its medieval religious beliefs, but because of the propaganda value of such aid. Seen in this light, it’s not surprising that aid workers become the victims of war.
In the same week, Canada’s 89th and 90th soldiers died in Afghanistan, while five more escaped with their lives after a roadside bomb attack.
For a very minor power, Canada is paying a hefty price for its involvement in this war.
Is it a worthy sacrifice, or are we squandering the lives of our best and most committed young people?
It all comes down to what this war is about. If, as the Canadian Conservative Party’s website would have us believe, the war “protects Canadians by clearing out terrorist sanctuaries, reinforces Canada’s role as a leader in the fight for democracy and human rights, and fulfills a global promise to rebuild the shattered Afghan state,” then these fallen Canadians are heroes. We may mourn their deaths with at least the satisfaction that they do not die in vain.
If, on the other hand, our military actions are taken in support of a corrupt narco-terrorist state with no regard for human rights, whose only saving grace is loyalty to the American oil empire, we should hang our heads in shame at every death, ours or theirs.
In 2006, Afghan president Hamid Karzai told the House of Commons: “If the greatness of a life is measured in deeds done for others, then Canada’s sons and daughters who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan stand among the greatest of their generation.”
However, Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya describes Karzai and his cabinet as “drug lords and warlords” who have made “no fundamental changes in the lives of the Afghan people” since the Taliban regime’s downfall.
Senior American counter-narcotics official Thomas Schweich wrote in last month’s New York Times, “The fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs — and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its own hold on power.”
Schweich poses the question, “Is Afghanistan a narco-state?,” and from a position of some authority delivers a resounding “yes.”
A quick perusal of the Globe and Mail’s back pages (or Nordicities past) will confirm that the current Afghan regime is also a state that tortures prisoners, sanctions the persecution of women, and generally runs roughshod over human rights.
The Afghanistan war is a war on drugs. Not a war against drugs, as the name is supposed to suggest, but a war addicted to poppy.
The war is a junkie. Heroin is its life. It can’t get along without it. Like any junkie, it will lie, cheat, and steal to get its fix.
And like any junkie, no matter how well intentioned at the start, in the throes of its addiction there is little to which it will not stoop.
It will slaughter the innocent, cage guilty and innocent alike in inhuman dungeons, and commit any crime necessary to keep the poppy coming.
Schweich lists five fairly obvious steps that he says would eradicate the poppy crop and “bring the rule of law to a lawless country” as well as “cut off a key source of financing to the Taliban.”
Don’t hold your breath.
As the article clearly demonstrates, both Karzai and the Pentagon oppose all effective measures against the poppy trade, approving only those measures which have proven useless in the past.
The war isn’t all about drugs. “Stabilization” is a necessary precursor to the pipeline that will bring oil and gas from Turkmenistan to tidewater, across Afghanistan.
But many of the Northern Alliance warlords now in power can’t expect to see much in the way of personal revenues from oil and gas. For them, poppy is a much better bet.
Thus we rebuild a shattered state; bomb the country to hell, install a corrupt puppet regime no better than the old one, feed it on drugs and the promise of oil money, and embroil it in a drawn-out unwinnable war. Please, Canada, how many more lives is this project worth?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.