If you travel to Kabul, Afghanistan today, and if you have plenty of money, you can stay at the five-star Serena Hotel, where rooms range from $250 US to $1,200/night.
While at the Serena you can shop at the brand new Kabul City Centre Mall.
Sadly, neither the mall nor the hotel have anything to offer the 3.5 million Afghans in danger of starvation this year.
It’s true that luxury hotels and expensive malls are not the only results of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
There are more schools and hospitals today than there were when the Taliban ran the country.
Six times as many children are in school, and a handful of those children are girls.
Highways, though badly built, at least exist, and some towns have electricity, at least part time.
Supporters of the NATO mission in Afghanistan will tell you that it is to defend these small gains, and to nurture them into big ones, that we send our young men and women to kill and to die.
If it were true, it would make up for a lot.
It would make the dead and wounded soldiers heroes, instead of just wounded, or just dead. It would help at least a little to justify the murdered civilians.
So is it true? Are we fighting to free Afghan women from the burqa, to protect the country from rule by religious fanatics, to bring freedom and democracy to one of the world’s poorest countries?
Or are there baser motives for all this sacrifice and slaughter?
In other words, is the conflict in Afghanistan unique in history, or is it a war like past wars, driven by a twisted mixture of ideology, human greed, and national interest, and propped up by half-truths, propaganda and lies?
History would lead us to expect that behind any war there will be war profiteers.
Governments, whether autocratic or democratic or somewhere in between, are susceptible to the machinations of money, and war profiteers have money.
In her recent Corpwatch report, Afghanistan, Inc., Afghan-American reporter Fariba Nawa documents a sad litany of botched construction projects, padded budgets and outright scams.
It’s a sorry tale of uninhabitable clinics and unusable schools, and big US corporations walking away with millions for work that is often shabby, substandard or just not done.
Afghanistan is a textbook example of a humanitarian cause corrupted to serve the war propagandists’ agenda. Women’s organizations and human rights advocates were crying in the wilderness about the horrors of life under the Taliban for years before 2001.
Once the war began, newspapers were suddenly all over the story of the evil zealots who stoned women for adultery and banned girls from schools.
There was no need for the propagandists to invent; the Taliban really are as bad as they say.
All that was required to make successful propaganda was to ignore the fact that some of our allies do as bad or worse.
The Karzai government in Kabul is notoriously riddled with old warlords and criminals.
Much of the country still suffers under harsh fanaticism, now compounded by unbridled gangsterism.
Even the fanatic Taliban were once popular because they rescued the country from the grip of battling warlords. Today those warlords have solidified their power, and the poppy trade is flourishing as never before.
Religious fervour, like nationalism, thrives in time of war. The faster you kill Taliban fighters, the faster young Afghan and Pakistani men join up to fight the evil crusaders.
Canadians are already facing casualties at a disproportionate rate in Afghanistan; the country isn’t likely to stomach a protracted struggle. But protracted struggle is exactly what we’re going to get if we don’t get out.
So what are we fighting for?
Five years after the US-led invasion, with no sign of Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, in a country where a woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes, where 20 per cent of children die before age five, where huge chunks of foreign aid supposedly intended to address these atrocities end up as foreign corporate profit, is it still possible to believe that humanity, and not greed, guides our steps?
If so, where’s the money for humanitarian projects?
Where’s the oversight to prevent government-buddy war profiteers with sole-source contracts from pocketing the poor bit of aid that gets through and leaving Afghanistan with a few moldy schools and crumbling roads?
The war on terror is a scam.
Canada isn’t in Afghanistan to stop schools from being torched and teachers beheaded.
We’re there because there’s money in it for people who have influence over governments.
Judged for its military accomplishments, Afghanistan is a total failure.
Al Qaeda simply packed up its training camps and moved them to Pakistan, and despite a $10-million US reward on their heads, Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar remain at large, with their forces intact.
But for arms manufacturers, construction contractors, security contractors, oil companies, and heroin traffickers the war has been a huge success.
That’s why there’s $1,200 hotel rooms in Kabul, while one Afghan in seven faces starvation.
The country is a disaster, but the bottom line looks great.
How many more Canadian lives do you figure that’s worth?