Last week, Sapper Steven Marshal became the 133rd Canadian soldier to die on duty in Afghanistan. He joins 1,428 soldiers from the so-called “coalition forces” who have lost their lives fighting in the Afghan war. In the same week, coalition member states endorsed the presidency of electoral fraudster Hamid Karzai.
Deaths of soldiers represent only a fraction of the carnage caused by Operation Enduring Freedom. Advancements in armour, battlefield first aid, and subsequent medical interventions keep soldiers alive who would formerly not have survived, so that the seriously wounded now make up a far greater percentage of casualties than in the past.
It’s hard to say exactly how many Canadian soldiers have been maimed in this war. The Department of National Defence refuses to release specific figures on nonfatal casualties. The latest number available is that more than 360 Canadians were wounded between 2004 and 2008.
Military casualties are high - for Canada the highest since the Korean War - but Afghan civilian casualties are much higher. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports 1,500 civilian deaths in the first eight months of 2009 as a direct result of the war. Estimates of the total number of civilian deaths attributed to the war range between 12,000 and 35,000. There is no record of the civilian wounded.
When Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s only rival in the presidential election, pulled out of a run-off race, citing the fact that the apparatus of election fraud had not been dismantled, Karzai became the country’s president-elect, despite the fact that he was never elected. In his acceptance speech he promised to end corruption, and offered an olive branch to his “Taliban brothers.”
So what exactly is the purpose of all this killing and dying? Let’s leave aside the utterly discredited notion that we’re there to bring democracy. Also without a scrap of credibility is the claim that we are curbing the heroin trade, since poppy profits have skyrocketed under the Karzai regime, many of whom are drug lords.
What about freeing Afghan women from the tyranny of a fundamentalist Islamic state? Karzai’s regime passed a law this year entrenching the rights of husbands to rape their wives, to starve and beat them if they refuse sex, and permitting nonmarital rapists who cause physical injury to their victims to avoid prosecution by paying blood money. In the meantime, women who are victims of rape continue to be imprisoned for adultery.
All that is left of the web of justification behind the Afghan war is the belief that the presence of foreign troops enhances the security of Western nations by preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists who would, if unhindered, repeat their highly successful attacks on New York in 2001.
Two questions arise from this claim. First, is it true? Is there in fact any proof that Canada is a safer place because Afghanistan is run by a coalition of corrupt drug dealers and religious fanatics, instead of being exclusively controlled by religious fanatics?
In truth, neither Karzai nor coalition forces control Afghanistan today, and there is nothing to suggest they ever will. According to a report by the WashingtonPost, “US and European counterterrorism officials say a rising number of Western recruits - including Americans - are travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to attend paramilitary training camps.”
The story goes on to say that, in pre-war times, “such volunteers were largely self-motivated and had to find their own way to South Asia.” Today al-Qaeda “has developed extensive recruiting networks with agents on the ground in Europe (who) provide guidance, money, travel routes and even letters of recommendation so the recruits can join up more easily.”
Even if the claim that we are more secure today than we would be if we weren’t making war on Afghanistan held an ounce of water, we would be faced with the question, is it fair? Do we have a right to ensure our own safety by slaughtering innocents and entrenching a corrupt thugocracy in an impoverished foreign country?
Recent polls indicate that a significant majority of Canadians oppose the current government’s policy in Afghanistan, with 76 per cent against keeping any forces at all there after 2011, while 53 per cent want to see the military mission ended immediately.
The Conservative government and the Canadian military have been working hard to reverse this trend, exploiting every propaganda tool at their disposal to promote the war. Here’s a novel idea: instead of trying to change the will of the people, why don’t they listen, and obey the public they were elected to serve?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.