Reconstruction mission? How long will we allow ourselves to be fooled?

29 March 2009

Reconstruction mission? How long will we allow ourselves to be fooled?

This week the SP broadcast a short TV ad responding to the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan. You don't need to understand Dutch to get the message, though it helps if you know that the first slogan which appears means 'Support Afghanistan, Stop the War', while the second asks 'Reconstruction mission? How long will we allow ourselves to be fooled?'. In an interview, SP foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel explains the thinking behind the ad.

Why this ad?

We decided on this confrontational ad because it's become clear that the mission in the Uruzgan region of Afghanistan is not in reality a reconstruction mission, but quite simply a combat operation. There has been hard fighting against the insurgents, but Dutch soldiers have also died, as have civilians. This mission has been sold to Parliament and to the Dutch public as a reconstruction mission, in order to garner enough support for an undertaking which is clearly dangerous. This support has, in my view, been sought on grounds which are quite unjust. Unfortunately a majority of MPs bought into this. Polls show that the Dutch people stand right behind our soldiers, but not behind the mission as such. That tells us a great deal.

Why did you choose to have the ad shown at this time?

This is a crucial period. The US is going to send a large contingent of additional troops and the pressure on the Netherlands to do more as well is enormous. There are already requests for soldiers to be sent to support the coming elections and the government is also considering sending a number of commandos. The immediate reason for our choosing this particular time is the conference on Afghanistan scheduled for 31st March in The Hague. The days leading up to and straight after this will see a great deal of attention being paid to the situation in Afghanistan and to US plans for the country. A dissenting voice really must be heard.

Your point of view stands in stark contrast to President Obama's approach. Is he nevertheless doing something different to what Bush did?

Our views are certainly different from Obama's. He wants more of the same and that has been a huge disappointment to us. More foreign troops in Afghanistan will act as a magnet for the Taliban, which will mean more violence and more civilian victims. Last year was the most dangerous since the invasion of the country in 2001, with the most civilian deaths, and yet at the same time all military analysts say that the Taliban are stronger than ever. So you also have to recognise that there's something wrong with the strategy. The Afghan government under President Karzai, in which for a long time all hopes were vested, has very little support in the country. Corruption reaches to the very top of politics. It has been seriously proposed that in addition to Karzai a 'shadow president' be put in place whom the West can trust. The situation is completely untenable.

How do you see Afghanistan's future?

“There are in broad terms two possibilities. Either we opt for a radical change of course, put a stop to the war and and involve the moderate elements in the Taliban in the country's future. Then real reconstruction would be possible. Or the American plans are carried out and with still more soldiers attempts made to force stability on the country by violent means. The second option is not in practise realisable. This conflict cannot be won militarily and so sending more troops will in the end lead to cynicism and failure. None of that would be in the interest of the Afghan people. They will pay the bill for bad decisions taken by NATO at the behest of the US.

Can you see any further role for country?

The Netherlands shares responsibility for the decision-making within NATO and we should have the courage to take a critical position. This is not, however, what out government is doing. Instead, the Netherlands is acting as a subcontractor for the Americans. By repeatedly supporting the sending of troops and the extension of the period of the mission we are creating the impression that we agree with the approach decided upon. The Netherlands and other countries who have doubts about NATO's approach should concentrate their attention on the real tasks of reconstruction. Under changed conditions this could be complemented by the training of the police and army. But only under changed conditions. It makes little sense to carry out peaceful tasks in Afghanistan if other countries simply carry on making war.

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