Emile Roemer: 'New Afghanistan mission won’t bring peace, it will prolong the war’

28 January 2011

Emile Roemer: 'New Afghanistan mission won’t bring peace, it will prolong the war’

The question on the agenda today does not concern morality. It is the question of effectiveness. Anyone who does not pose this question and pays attention only to moral motives could at the end of the day discover that they have in fact acted against morality. With this mission we will not bring peace to Afghanistan, we will prolong the war.’ So said SP leader Emile Roemer in today’s parliamentary debate on the new mission to Afghanistan.

Stop the war, support Afghanistan

Below is a slightly shortened version of Emile Roemer’s speech, in translation.

To send Dutch soldiers abroad is one of the most serious decisions that Parliament can take. In a democracy, politicians take decisions regarding the deployment of the armed forces. That is a very good thing. It distinguishes us from countries which are not democracies and where it is not the people’s representatives, but the military which has the last word.

The question is how can we make a contribution to a better future for Afghanistan and its people? What do the people of Afghanistan want? They want an end to the war, which has already lasted a decade. Neighbouring lands and western countries have meddled constantly there. For ten years we have waged war in Afghanistan. Has our military interference brought peace any closer? I am afraid not. I fear that western soldiers and police officers have become a part of the problem.

Socialists are internationalists. They are sympathetic to the question of how we can make this world safer and more peaceful. We did not, therefore, base our assessment of current proposals for a new mission on hasty consideration. How can we the give the best interpretation of the constitutional obligation to promote the international rule of law? Within my party, this question plays a major role.

The war in Afghanistan has entered its fourth decade. Since the Russian invasion of 1979 the country has become a theatre of struggle and a plaything of the great powers. In the 1980s the Cold War provided America and Pakistan with the occasion to give financial and military support to Islamicists who were successfully resisting Russian domination. Since then the war has never let up. Since 2001, the United States has been fighting an enemy whom the Americans helped to arm and finance. And since that time we too have been involved in a war which we cannot win militarily.

An armed incursion will lead to an escalation of violence rather than to its de-escalation. The presence of soldiers is putting unarmed development workers into danger rather than offering them security. We hear the same from the Afghan community in the Netherlands, from people who were once forced to flee Afghanistan. They tell us now two things. Don’t turn your back on our country, but put a stop to the violence.

Everyone in this House wants peace in Afghanistan. Democratisation and emancipation cannot, however, be imposed by bombing, by violence. The experiences of the last ten years have shown us this. Despite the fact that more children now go to school in Afghanistan and that fewer are dying, despite the fact that the economy is growing, insecurity has also become much greater, corruption has grown hugely and the war has spread to new regions of Afghanistan and to countries in the area. Nobody now believes in the war in Afghanistan, says the Chair of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. We are there only out of loyalty to the Americans, he adds. I’m afraid that he is right.

he NATO strategy has failed. After ten years of war and a huge loss of human lives, it’s time for a better strategy. People in the Netherlands don’t want this war. Aid workers don’t want this war.

People in Afghanistan want peace. Our people and our resources must be deployed in the struggle to promote peace in Afghanistan.

Foreign policy is often designed for domestic consumption. That goes also, unfortunately, for this mission. The former government fell because of its decision to prolong our participation in this war. From official communiqués of the American embassy which we have seen via WikiLeaks, it has become clear how that came about. I am not all that happy about this. Threats to throw the Netherlands out of the G20, whether they were inserted by Dutch officials to get the Labour Party on message or not, an American lobbying network that meddled intensively in Dutch internal politics - it’s a script from a bad B-movie.

hat’s why I am putting the following questions to the Prime Minister. What interests other than the interests of the Afghan people have played a major role in forming the intention to send a new mission to Afghanistan? What role did the desire to stay good friends with the Americans play? What role did concerns over the future of NATO play?

If the international community is seeking to interfere in internal and regional conflicts, modesty, caution and restraint must be exercised, certainly if it’s a matter of employing violence. The danger that the cure will prove worse than the disease looms large. But the disease is so terrible, I hear said so often. T he question on the agenda today does not concern morality. It is the question of effectiveness. Anyone who does not pose this question and pays attention only to moral motives could at the end of the day discover that they have in fact acted against morality. With this mission we will not bring peace to Afghanistan, we will prolong the war

The SP has always argued in favour of negotiations between the different parties to the conflict, not because we share the ideas of the warlords and the fundamentalists, but because peace must by definition include all parties. Under the leadership of the UN we must bring the warring groups in Afghanistan together around the table, with every neighbouring country and every country now involved in the war. The SP parliamentary group calls for a 2D-strategy instead of the failing 3D-strategy, one which consists of diplomacy and development.

Recent months have seen numerous pleas from leading experts for the development and application of a plan for negotiations. The well-known writer Ahmed Rashid has drawn up a ten-point plan for such talks, a plan that offers an opening and one which must be forcefully supported. Development makes no sense if war is being waged. The strategy of trying to create security through ever-increasing violence must be scrapped. By prioritising progress you can bring security. If you cooperate with people and build things up which people find worth protecting, such as drinking water, sewerage, schools and hospitals, the spiral of security will gradually begin to function. But not before that is achieved. First take care of progress. Give people a reason to believe in modernity.

Yesterday afternoon the government presented us with its proposal for a mission. Yesterday evening it returned with a new proposal, a previously agreed Plan B. But even with its collection of vague undertakings, this mission remains a military mission and therefore a continuation of the war in Afghanistan. Call it a completely civilian mission if you will, but if you send hundreds of soldiers with armoured vehicles and war planes, and you acknowledge that these could be involved in fighting, which is of course going to happen, then that’s simply a military mission. It’s training for people who are illiterate, who have no future, little in the way of wages, but still more importantly, who must be obedient to a number of unreliable commanding officers. Then they will also learn how to perform a lot more functions than those of the police and ones which are a long way, also, from military force.

The basis of this training will be a course of eighteen weeks. During this, emphasis will have to be laid on human rights and law, and this for people who in many cases cannot read and write.

The Green Left is demanding from the government that the police officers that we train do not after this training get involved in the war. But Afghanistan is at war. Kunduz is a region of war. This is an extremely strange and naïve question and an impossible promise for the government to keep. I also ask myself with whom such a contract could be agreed. With a corrupt Karzai? With a commanding officer himself suspected of human rights abuses? Would the signature of such a person guarantee that the trained officers would not be immediately deployed as soldiers?

Last year 1,261 Afghan police officers were killed in the struggle against the insurgents. Under these circumstances it would be infantile to think that this mission can be maintained as a purely civilian exercise. The ISAF flag, the flag of war, will soon fly from the flagpole of this mission. It will form part of the NATO strategy, a strategy in which the F-16 will be deployed in the north of Afghanistan, with direct use of military force. The last few years have seen the violence of war in the north of Afghanistan sharply increase.

The Dutch contribution will bring about violence and cause the war to continue to rage. The Dutch people seem to understand this better than do many of their representatives in this Parliament. With this mission we will not bring peace to Afghanistan, we will prolong the war.

You are here