By Roger Annis
The Canadian government continues to rely on denial and lies to cover up the criminal war in Afghanistan in which it is an enthusiastic partner.
A damning exposé of the war and Canada’s role was published in the Montréal French-language daily newspaper La Presse during the week of October 29. The paper published a series of articles by its correspondent in Kabul, Michèle Ouimet, entitled, “Afghanistan: The Failings of the Canadian Mission.” It is a withering portrait of the lies and deception that define Canadian government policy in Afghanistan.
Torture policy continues
In the first article of the series, on October 29, Ouimet reported that Canada continues to turn over captured Afghans to torture at the hands of the local police and military with which it is allied. Last April, similar torture allegations surfaced. They put the war’s advocates on the defensive. After weeks of denial failed to quell a domestic outcry, the government said an agreement had been signed with Afghan authorities to prohibit future torture of captives turned over by Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded immediately to the latest La Presse report, saying “not true,” and “Taliban propaganda.” Presumably, the government feels that such bald denials are not very costly politically. All parties in the Canadian Parliament agree on a continued Canadian military presence in the country. The New Democratic Party distinguishes itself by calling for an end to Canada’s “counterinsurgency” role in Afghanistan.
But the latest allegations, like others before them, are wearing down the benefit of the doubt that a narrow majority of Canadians are willing to give to the government and military.
The rendition policy is being challenged in Canada’s federal court by Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. They are seeking a court injunction to oblige Canada to assume full care and treatment of Afghans who it seizes. The federal government lost a round in this fight on November 5 when the court refused a government request to halt the case.
Health care tragedy
Ouimet reported on October 30 that Canadian officials cannot account for $3 million that Canada says it has contributed to the main public hospital in Kandahar, Mirwais Hospital.
The Red Cross administers the hospital and does not provide accounts of expenditure. It also prohibits foreign journalists from entering. Ouimet entered incognito. She reported horrific conditions inside, similar to those reported by the Senlis Council and other journalists earlier this year—no sanitation, lack of basic medications, no available blood products, few medical personnel, and suffering patients.
On May 28, 2007, Norine MacDonald, president of the Senlis Council, an international think tank and aid agency, testified before a committee of the Canadian Parliament and commented on the Council’s examination of the Mirwais Hospital. The hospital, located just a few kilometres away from a lavish Canadian military base and supposedly funded by millions of Canadian dollars, was so poorly equipped, she said, that, “it does not deserve the name hospital.”
On October 31, Ouimet looked at a couple of projects in Kabul that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) says it is funding. One was an $85,000 project to clean up garbage and debris in the city. The project was contracted to a local Afghan businessman. CIDA says he hired 200 people and successfully completed it. CIDA also says it funded a project to install 340 pre-fabricated cement roadside drainage surfaces.
“Not true,” says the mayor of Kabul, Ghulam Hadidi. He says no one told him of the projects.
“I have never seen anyone picking up garbage, and the city is as dirty as ever,” he told Ouimet. “So I ask the question, what happened to the money?”
His officials looked into the cement claim and found the number installed was less than claimed, only 138. The mayor says the city needs 3,800. It found that the cement used did meet the minimum structural standard. But it cost $20 per piece. The mayor says it could have purchased them for $4 each.
“It’s not easy to work with the Canadians,” the mayor told Ouimet. “Their personnel changes all the time.”
The mayor’s daughter, Rangina, was blunter. “Where are they (the Canadians)? What do they do? We never see them; they sit in their fortified camp.”
Ouimet talked to the governor of Kandahar province, and he added his views on foreign aid programs. “Their bureaucracy is so heavy,” he said. “The international community does not listen to us. We never succeed in resolving problems.”
On November 1, Ouimet reported from Kabul in an article entitled, “An Administration Corrupt to the Bone.” Her reporting of the UN role is revealing, and particularly relevant to the situation in Haiti where Canada also leads a foreign occupation force.
An aide to President Hamid Karzai told Ouimet, “The international community has injected $19 billion into Afghanistan. About 95% of that leaves the country. Non-governmental organizations employ 540 foreigners who earn from $5,000 to $35,000 per month.
“The last elections cost $395 million. It was the foreigners who organized them, and kept the money for themselves.”
The editor of Kabul Weekly, Mohammed Dashty, is harsher. “The UN is a government within a government…Look at their expenditures, the salaries they pay to their employees, their 4 x 4 vehicles that cross the city, their travel abroad. I call that legal corruption.”
Ouimet’s report sketched a vast scale of corruption within the foreign-imposed Afghan regime.
Humanitarian refugee crisis
The final article in Ouimet’s series, on November 3, sketched the profound humanitarian crisis of Afghan refugees. There are two million of them, living in camps along the country’s borders or in internal camps. They are the second-largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians.
Ouimet reported something that would come as a surprise to most Canadians. Most of the 100,000 refugees in Kandahar province, where the Canadian military contingent in Afghanistan is based, receive no food aid. In March, 2006, the governor of Kandahar province and United Nations authorities decided to cut it off. The reason was to force refugees to return to wherever they had come from.
This barbaric decision did not have the intended effect of forcibly relocating refugees. But it did cause more starvation and suffering than was already present. Stung by revelations from the Senlis Council and journalists of widespread starvation in Kandahar province earlier this year, Canada has quietly moved to reduce the political damage. International Cooperation Minister Beverley Oda visited Kandahar city in early October and announced “$25 million in food aid.” The announcement contained no details of where, how and to whom the food would be distributed.
War effort faltering
Amidst all these policy failings, Canada and NATO’s war effort itself is faltering. The city of Kandahar, the second largest in the country and the location of a major Canada/NATO base, is slowly being encircled by patriotic fighters, according to the November 1 Globe and Mail. On November 6, Canada‘s minister of foreign affairs, Peter Mackay, narrowly escaped injury from a rocket attack while visiting a forward Canadian military base in Kandahar province.
The Canada/NATO war in the countryside in Kandahar province is also worsening the refugee crisis in the province as thousands come into Kandahar city to escape the fighting.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani military dictatorship, a staunch friend and ally of Canada and NATO, is poised to fall to a popular uprising. Dictator Pervez Musharaf declared martial law on November 3 in an effort to suppress a growing mass movement demanding democratic rule.
Antiwar protests decline in size, but not in influence
Paradoxically, antiwar protests in Canada are growing smaller as the failure of the U.S./NATO war and occupation becomes more apparent. A national day of protest against the war in Afghanistan was held across Canada on October 27. Rallies and marches were smaller than other recent protests. In Vancouver and Toronto, 750 or so protested. Rallies in Montreal and Ottawa drew 200 and 150 respectively, while 100 marched in Edmonton.
But the declining numbers are deceptive. Public opinion polls show a slim but firm majority want an end to the war in Afghanistan. The recent speaking tour to Canada of Afghan parliamentary representative Malalai Joya drew large and interested crowds. Joya condemns the foreign occupation of Afghanistan and calls for an end to the war it is waging.
Long war foreseen in Afghanistan
In its speech opening a new session of the Canadian Parliament on October 16, the Canadian government said it would end the military mission in Afghanistan by 2011. This extends by two years a 2009 date set by the preceding Liberal Party government. The Liberals’ original date for ending the combat mission was 2007. The Liberals tacitly supported the new 2011 date by abstaining on an October 24 vote on the speech.
The head of Canada’s military, General Rick Hillier, complicated the political farce when he declared that he considers 2017 as the earliest possible date for a withdrawal. Military officials from Britain, which has the second-largest foreign presence in Afghanistan, stated several months ago that they were committed to a decades-long war in Afghanistan.
Canada’s rulers have tied the country’s future to a brutal and endless war in Afghanistan — a war, moreover, that is but a leading front of a U.S.-led war of conquest in the entire Middle East.
 Michèle Ouimet’s articles on Afghanistan can be found at http://www.cyberpresse.ca/section/CPPRESSE.
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