Let’s invest in forces for good in Afghanistan

25 January 2011

Let’s invest in forces for good in Afghanistan

A training mission means the Netherlands supporting one side in Afghanistan, which won’t bring peace any closer.

Farshad Bashir and Harry van Bommel, Members of Parliament for the SP

Afghans are desperate for peace and progress. An ongoing military intervention will not bring peace any closer, however. Strengthening one group, the one around President Karzai, is keeping the conflict going. The Netherlands must therefore not begin a mission to train Afghan police officers.

Afghanistan has entered its fourth decade of war. When the Russians, with a powerful show of force, invaded Afghanistan in 1979, no-one expected that the warlike situation which then came into being would, more than thirty years later, still be on the agenda. The Cold War represented for America and Pakistan an opportunity to give financial and military support to the Mujahidin, the Islamicist fighting groups.

President Karzai, as he is now, was an important source of support for the Mujahidin and a contact person for the CIA. When the Taliban took power in the mid-1990s, Karzai in the first instance supported the movement. The Taliban leadership went so far as to ask him to represent them at the United Nations, but he turned this down.

With the Russian invasion, the culture of violence and corruption in Afghanistan was established. President Karzai and his family form part of this. Supporting him means giving precedence to one of the warring parties. This does no justice to the justifiable wish of all the country’s various population groups to have a share in the power and prosperity of their country.

The international intervention in Afghanistan is a source of income for Karzai and the warlords loyal to him. That he does not enjoy the support of the population in general is shown by the fact that international observers were obliged to confirm that the last elections were fraudulent.

The international presence in Afghanistan is applauded by a section of the Afghan people because they hope for stability. They do not see, however, what’s going on behind the scenes. Even the Netherlands is paying warlords to obtain security for military transports. And even the Netherlands accepts the corruption with which the whole of the country’s political system is riddled.

With our soldiers and our financial support we are strengthening the wrong forces in Afghanistan. Empowerment of the people could be helpful in the long term, which strengthening Karzai and the warlords cannot. Unfortunately the latter is precisely what is now happening.

In our contacts with Afghans and Pakistanis we repeatedly hear two things: “Don’t turn your back on our country, but put a stop to the violence.” We share their fears that this war is only making the problems in Pakistan bigger, and that this will end in a regional war.

The collapse of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, would mean an enormous risk for the world. The Taliban leadership is in Pakistan and the Americans have already hinted openly at extending the war to that country. At the same time countless attacks are being carried out using unmanned drones in areas where the Pakistani authorities do not dare to go. Each attack means more recruits for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This military approach solves nothing but merely makes the problem bigger.

We too want to see the involvement in the fate of the Afghan people continue. Dutch aid organisations will work in the country as long as the war continues. Even under the Taliban humanitarian aid paid for by Dutch tax moneys can be realised, and so that will continue also.

Let’s invest in Afghanistan’s forces for good – in education, health care, in the economy. Only by empowering the people can hope come to Afghanistan. These people are not asking for more police or more soldiers. They have bad experiences of such. Corruption and oppression come from the state and its institutions, above all from the police and army.

The people of Afghanistan, including the Taliban, must be brought together, in order to decide their future. We want to see agreement, rather than the 3D approach – defence, diplomacy, development – currently pursued. Defence sounds all very fine but in practice is simply war. After more than thirty years of war the Afghans want peace. Let us make an effective contribution to this.

This article first appeared, in Dutch, on Saturday 22nd January 2011 in the national daily newspaper Trouw

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