Military adventure won't bring peace to Afghanistan

2 February 2006

Military adventure won't bring peace to Afghanistan

“In politics there is no greater responsibility than that involved in the sending of military forces to a war zone,” said SP foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel during the debate over the military mission to Afghanistan. “It's a matter of risking human lives for the benefit of oppressed people. The Netherlands has available well-equipped armed forces capable of achieving this. It's a difficult decision to weigh up.”

In his speech during the debate between the parties represented in Parliament and the government, Harry van Bommel put the SP's case.

Harry van Bommel“The Netherlands has participated in reconstruction in the relatively peaceful north,” he said, “and also in the war effort in the south. The SP did not support these missions because it's simply not credible at one and the same time in the same country to fight a war while seeking to achieve peace, and moreover in our opinion the way in which this war is being conducted is counterproductive in the struggle against terrorism.

“The mission in Afghanistan belongs also to a broader international framework that for the US forms the guidelines for its foreign policy. The aim of this policy is to guarantee American hegemony, and to this end violence is used to overthrow regimes, followed by occupation in order to support pro-US leaders.”

Giving the recent examples of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the probable future example of Iran, Mr van Bommel called US foreign policy a “lash for the world” and complained that the Netherlands had supported this without having any influence on it. As far as the proposed mission to Afghanistan went, he noted that even the Americans' own Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) had said that little was to be expected from reconstruction efforts in Uruzgan, while the International Crisis Group reported that apparent stability was an illusion brought about by cooperation with warlords and drug barons. Widespread support for the Taliban in the province and the brutal behaviour of the Americans in the context of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ meant that the presumption that the Dutch mission would be welcomed on the ground was misplaced. Dutch soldiers would find themselves sucked into a quagmire.

Meanwhile, “the Ministry for Development Cooperation has always, and correctly, complained of the militarisation of their aid,” van Bommel said. What would aid achieve in Afghanistan under these conditions? The Netherlands had demanded of the Afghan government that it abandon torture and the death penalty, without response.

“NATO and the US are keen that we conduct this mission,” van Bommel continued. “There's pressure from all sides. We are hearing warnings of damage to Dutch economic interests if we don't comply, warnings that we will be isolated within NATO. According to NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer we cannot say 'no', because NATO is 'based on solidarity, and the member states can't pick and choose which missions to participate in and which not to.' Does the government share this view? If that's the case, then this debate is nothing but political theatre, and where does that leave the promises the government made to this house that we would be free to decide whether this went ahead?”

After the afternoon debate between the foreign affairs spokespeople of the various political parties and the government, the leaders of the political groups took the floor. Should Dutch troops be sent to Uruzgan? As Harry van Bommel had already stated, the SP thinks not, and in his speech Jan Marijnnisen explained more about the party's reasons for this. Below is an edited version of what the party leader had to say.

Jan Marijnissen“International and war-related questions are always the most difficult. Decisions can have massive consequences, for good but also for ill. The Srebrenica tragedy happened only ten years ago and remains engraved in all our memories. Our country's constitution states that we will serve and further the international rule of law. That is a major and important good, which the SP supports. Our differences with other parties lie not so much in words as in deeds.

“What does the international rule of law mean exactly? Is it a static set of rules? Can it be relied on to provide an answer to the difficult questions which reality poses? The answer is 'no'.

“Looking at the present world order we cannot say that we have 'one law for all'. On the contrary, much is unequally divided: wealth, security, democracy and human rights, hope, the chance of a better future. My party wants to do something about this. International solidarity is therefore one of the moral pillars on which rests our political edifice.

“Politics is applied morality, yet every politician has the duty to filter his or her morality through the sieve of Realpolitik, to ensure that what we do is legitimate, effective and proportional. It's important that the cure doesn't end up worse than the disease.

“Afghanistan is a poor country, one with a history of violence, poverty, oppression and occupation and an unenviable immediate future. It deserves every support from the world community and therefore from us.

“Yet of what should that support consist? What can we do, what do we want to achieve? We can do a great deal, as has become obvious in recent years. But you can't develop a country with bombs, you have to do it by winning confidence and helping people on their way.

“So it's good that a few days ago there was a donor conference in London. The promise of €10 billion is a fine start. Afghanistan has still got a long way to go. From feudalism and the tribal relations which go with it to modernity is a distance which we needed many centuries to traverse, but with real support, aid and sympathy the Afghans can perhaps achieve this more quickly.

“The US desire to establish world hegemony has always been rejected by my party as a short-sighted and dangerous policy. War is barbaric, whether it is Al Qaida or the Americans holding the guns. We have always opposed the US approach in Afghanistan, unlike the government and the majority in this parliament. We will not vote to support to send soldiers once again to Afghanistan, not only because the violence which will be applied is disproportionate, but, even more importantly, because it will be counterproductive.

“In many areas of the country, and especially in Uruzgan, no distinction is drawn between Taliban guerrillas and the population which supports them and offers them refuge. This is leading to a military approach of which we have all seen examples on our televisions. The SP wants and will take no responsibility for this. Three out of four Dutch people agree with us, with most of them saying that they do not believe that this is a peace-keeping mission, but that it will be the conduct of war in support of the Americans.”

The SP, together with the Green Left and the small centrist party D66, presented a resolution calling for a clear distinction to be drawn between the peace-keeping ISAF mission and Operation Enduring Freedom, stating that in the province of Uruzgan there was no guarantee that they would not overlap. The resolution further stated that the chances for reconstructing Uruzgan through these means were vanishingly small, and that for these reasons “the sending of Dutch soldiers to Afghanistan must not continue.”

As expected, the motion was rejected. Aside from MPs from the three signatory parties, only one PvdA (Labour) member voted in favour.

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