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Hearing on Afghanistan: extra session organised by SP, Green Left and Troops Out

6 December 2007

Hearing on Afghanistan: extra session organised by SP, Green Left and Troops Out

Today saw the organisation by the parliamentary groups of the SP and the Green Left, in cooperation with the Troops Out of Afghanistan Committee, of a hearing on Uruzgan, the troubled Afghan province where Dutch armed forces are currently engaged. The event preceded a major official hearing of the Standing Parliamentary Committees on Defence and on Foreign Affairs, planned for the following day, at which critics of the recently decided prolongation of the Dutch military mission have been excluded from the roster of speakers.

At the SP-Green Left hearing prominent experts shared their knowledge and expressed their opinions of the situation in Afghanistan and of the Dutch government's decision to prolong the Dutch military presence in Uruzgan.

Harry van Bommel en Maaiko Peters
Harry van Bommel (SP) en Mariko Peters (Green Left)

“The majority of the Dutch population is against any such prolongation, while in Uruzgan itself people's support is dwindling,” said SP foreign affairs specialist and Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel. “Unfortunately the majority in parliament is interested only in hearing long-winded speeches from supporters of the prolongation, whereas we wanted also to give a chance to critics to present their point of view.”

Given that this is a repeat of the experience of January 2006 when a hearing also almost exclusively featured supporters of the military mission, the SP's parliamentarians, together with colleagues from the Green Left party, felt that it was time that Members of Parliament were afforded the chance to hear the opposite point of view. This is why, in cooperation with the Troops Out of Afghanistan Committee, they decided to organise an additional hearing. "It gave us a chance to hear what people who are closely involved with Uruzgan think about the Dutch presence there, and from what I have heard it's clear that prolongation of the mission is not a good option from any point of view,” Van Bommel said.

Jan Pronk - former Labour defence minister
Former Labour (PvdA) defence minister Jan Pronk

Speakers included former Labour (PvdA) defence minister Jan Pronk, as well as a number of spokespeople from peace groups, solidarity organisations and other NGOs. Journalist Arnold Karskens described the Dutch military presence as a “murder mission” while Harry van Bommel said how welcome and absolutely necessary it was to give a chance to opposition voices, especially when you looked at the list of invited speakers at tomorrow's official hearing. Van Bommel described it as “incomprehensible” that the parties of the right and centre-right, including the governing Christian Democrats, would not take the trouble to listen to critical, independent voices. “It's as if they are consciously closing their eyes to hard reality,” he said. “That's precisely why we'll be putting the whole hearing on the Internet. Maybe these parties want to close their eyes, but the Dutch people have the right to hear the other side of the story.”

Arnold Karskens - niet embedded journalist
Journalist Arnold Karskens

The hearing further strengthened Van Bommel's conviction that the Netherlands should concentrate its efforts on Afghanistan's northern provinces. “In the North there is sufficient security to work on real reconstruction,” he said, “and to train the Afghan police. What also came out of the contributions was that also, before any kind of progress can be made, there must be negotiations with the Taliban. The fact that the speakers confirmed that ISAF, the NATO force, is responsible for more civilian deaths than is the Taliban itself gives me a gloomy feeling. The military presence is destroying more than it's building, that's the reality of the situation.”

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