Message to NATO ministers: no prolongation of mission in Uruzgan

25 October 2007

Message to NATO ministers: no prolongation of mission in Uruzgan

Support Afghanistan, stop the war! That was the message from around a hundred people who gathered this afternoon amongst the lighthouses of Noordwijk, the Dutch coastal town where the government often hosts international conferences. Just a few hundred metres away stood the Hotel Huis ter Duin, where twenty-seven ministers of defence met to discuss NATO's plans for prolonging its mission in Afghanistan. The demonstrators were there to put the case that Afghanistan must be helped, certainly, but by other than military means.

Representatives of a number of different political parties and peace organisations were anxious to use the occasion to send a message on behalf of the majority of the Dutch population who oppose any prolongation of their country's military operation in Uruzgan. When the mission was originally announced, there was arguably a desire to contribute to finding a solution to Afghanistan's problems, but in the demonstrators' view precisely the opposite has occurred. Reconstruction is hardly on the cards, while the operation has merged with the aggressive military operation Enduring Freedom. Because of this, ever fewer Afghans make any distinction between Dutch and American personnel. Aid workers point out that war and aid cannot coexist, and argue that the current policy is unproductive and that the lead in Afghanistan should be taken by the UN, and not the US.

Amongst the representatives of the SP was Member of Parliament Sadet KarabulutSadet Karabulut. “NATO is today looking at ways of prolonging the war,” she said. “ We say: don't do it, stop investing in a hopeless mission and invest instead in the people.”

It was revealed this morning that the mission has so far cost the Netherlands €1.2 billion. ($1.7bn/£840mn). Of this, hardly more than one euro in ten has been spent on development, and most of this has gone to the Afghan army and police. Should the mission be prolonged, the costs could rise to €1.75 billion ($2.5bn/£1.22bn).

“Eighteen months ago the Dutch people were deluded by the government with visions of a reconstruction mission,” said Karabulut. “But it has become instead a battle mission. You don't reconstruct with fighter planes and heavy artillery. This is a disastrous course and this mission must therefore not be prolonged.”

SP youth organisation ROOD ('Red') turned up with a rifle range, where under the motto 'Shoot three times for reconstruction' passers-by had to try to shoot Taliban fighters against the background of an Afghan landscape, while avoiding hitting schools and hospitals. Not surprisingly, this proved impossible.

Demonstrations continued in the evening, with torchlight processions in fifteen towns carrying the message 'Support Afghanistan, stop the war!'

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