Why are Canada and NATO in Afghanistan?

Chronique de Rodrigue Tremblay

"The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place."

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

"The industrial way of life leads to the industrial way of death. From Shiloh to Dachau, from Antietam to Stalingrad, from Hiroshima to Vietnam and Afghanistan, the great specialty of industry and technology has been the mass production of human corpses."

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

"It's quite fun to fight 'em, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling."

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, US commander of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (comment made at a conference in San Diego, California, on February 1, 2005)


Under the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canada's foreign policy has become subservient to American foreign policy, at a time when our neighbor is being governed by an administration which is not only unpopular worldwide, but which is rejected by two thirds of Americans. Indeed, in the words of TV star and mogul Donald Trump (NY Times, Dec. 23, '06), “[George W.] Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in [U.S.] history.”
Why would the Harper government chooses to follow the dicta of such a flawed U.S. administration is hard to understand, unless it shares the latter's far right imperial ideology.

Make no mistake about it, Canada is not half way around the Earth, in Afghanistan, a country dominated by warlords and the opium trade, for humanitarian reasons, as some think, or for grand principles of justice and democracy. It is there for just the same reasons it sent troops into South Africa during the Boer War of 1899-1902: to acquiesce to an imperial request.

One hundred years ago, it was the British Empire; today, it is the American empire. In 1899, the Pro-Empire Canadian government asserted that "British freedom, justice, and civilization" had to be advanced against the South African Dutch immigrants' (Boers) backwardness. This was a lie, of course, since the Dutch immigrants in South Africa were religious Protestants who were as "civilized" as the British. Many pro-British English-Canadians supported Britain's war in South Africa, but most French-Canadians and many recent immigrants from countries other than Britain opposed it, wondering why Canada should fight in a war half way around the world for colonial conquest. Nevertheless, 267 Canadians were killed while fighting in South Africa.

Today, history repeats itself. The neocon Bush-Cheney administration was bogged down in an illegal and immoral war in Iraq, and it requested the help of Canada and other NATO countries to supply soldiers in Afghanistan, in order to liberate American soldiers to serve in Iraq. In that sense, the Afghan war is a proxy for the Iraq war, even though the former received the approval of the United Nations Security Council.

In Afghanistan, a country of 33 provinces and 26 million people, there has been a situation approaching chaos, ever since the Soviet Union invaded it in 1979. The old Soviet Union fought a nine-year war in Afghanistan, lost 14,453 soldiers, until it was ousted from Afghanistan in 1989. This fateful enterprise contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet system in December 1991.

After the departure of the Soviets in 1989, and after much support given to Islamist insurgents (the Mujahideen) by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, warlords connected to the drugs trade returned to power. A civil war between different tribes, ethnic groups and religious factions ensued. When the Pakistan-backed religious Taliban took power in 1995, they were seen as a stabilizing force in this ravaged country. That is why the American government supported their government, even though it was extremist in its religious and political orientations. Indeed, the Taliban are primarily Pushtun Sunni Moslems who live both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, and who have a fiercely radical political and religious program, not unlike the fanatical Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.

But the radical Taliban made the mistake of supporting the terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, with which they had been allied in fighting the Soviets. This led to the Islamist attacks of 9/11 and the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001, by a U.S.-led military invasion.

Therefore, if it were not for the support the Taliban gave Osama bin Laden, after they took power in 1995, and, maybe more important, for U.S. plans to build an oil and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea, there would be no Western troops in Afghanistan. Indeed, observers have pointed out that even though Afghanistan has no known oil or natural gas reserves of its own, it is nevertheless well placed geographically to play a strategic role in moving the estimated four trillion dollars worth of oil and natural gas located in the Caspian basin. Indeed, some countries in the region, such as Turkmenistan, are large natural-gas producers. For example, there is an ambitious pipeline project that would bring gas from Turkmenistan to India, via Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban insurgency is seen as jeopardizing the project. Therefore, the fight against the Talibans, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, has as much to do with gas and oil as with international terrorism. A look at the map helps to see why.

The immediate pretext for invading Afghanistan was that, under the Taliban, this remote country served as a training ground for international Islamist terrorism. That is why the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, on September 28, 2001, which allows UN member states "to adopt specific measures to combat terrorism" and "to combat by all means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts." —U.N. Security Council Resolution 1390 of January 16, 2002, made it even clearer that the activities of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan had to be stopped.

But things in Afghanistan have evolved much further than the primary objective of eliminating bin Laden's terrorists. Indeed, the initial U.N.-authorized "peacekeeping mission" in Afghanistan has turned into a shooting war against a Taliban insurgency, which is not unlike the nationalist insurgency against the American-led occupation of Iraq. Both have turned out to be imperial wars of occupation with no end in sight, and are both closely connected with control of the oil and gas reserves in that part of the world.

Since last year, the military operations in Afghanistan are technically under the responsibility of the 26-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), even though four-star U.S. Gen. Dan McNeil took command of the NATO forces in January. What is more, it is expected that the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan will parallel the Soviet occupation and may last another ten years. The Afghanistan mission may turn out to be a big gamble for NATO, because it is transforming this alliance from a defensive entity into a tool for aggressive incursions. History will tell if NATO can survive this new imperial-like orientation.

The President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, has warned the NATO occupying countries in Afghanistan that they are bound to "fail" in their fight to curb the Taliban insurgency in that country and that they would "keep failing" as long as they pursued their current policies of antagonizing the local populations. Soviet military commanders, who know Afghanistan well, have also predicted that the NATO forces will ultimately be forced to flee from Afghanistan.

The Canadian people have been very ambivalent regarding the U.N.-backed mission in Afghanistan. So far, Canada has lost 44 soldiers in Afghanistan and has spent close to $2 billion CAN in the adventure. A clear majority (fifty-nine per cent) of Canadians consider the mission in Afghanistan a lost cause, at the very same time that Stephen Harper is following a George W. Bush-like "stay the course" policy in Afghanistan, as outlined during an address at the United Nations. This is a clear case where the people may be more clairvoyant than the politicians. Indeed, how does one end the military occupation of a country? The law of inertia means that foreign armies stay in a country until they are thrown out.

The Soviet precedent is all there to see.

Even though Russia was much closer to Afghanistan than the Western countries now represented in the occupation forces there, it left the country after much bleeding. Keep in mind that the Soviet army in Afghanistan was 100,000-strong and operated alongside a full-fledged Afghan army of equal strength, but proved no match for the Afghan resistance. American-led NATO forces today in Afghanistan are about 40,000 strong with the nominal assistance of a 42,000-strong Afghan National Army. Since the conflict in Afghanistan is escalading [the insurgency has killed four times more people last year (2006) than in 2005], it is clear that the level of Western troops in that country would have to increase very substantially, if only a military solution is contemplated and if these occupying forces are to avoid a Soviet-style defeat.

I do not think the Canadian people will stand for such an open-ended imperial adventure in a remote land for much longer. Especially since even a majority of Americans now oppose the Afghan War.
And especially also that we now know that the Harper government is also involved in the Iraq war, since it has dispatched the Canadian frigate HMCS Ottawa to join the American armada in the Persian Gulf. The involvement of the Harper government with the Bush-Cheney war initiatives in the Middle East and in Western Asia will likely become an electoral issue during the coming general election in Canada.

Version originale

Rodrigue Tremblay lives in Montreal and can be reached at rodrigue.tremblay@yahoo.com
Also visit his blog site at www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.
Author's Website: www.thenewamericanempire.com

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