The present war in Afghanistan is worsening the lives of ordinary Afghans, and not advancing the country towards democracy. On the contrary, evidence shows the NATO-led occupation forces are contributing to civilian casualties and war crimes.
Here are some reasons why we should end this war:
1. Life is getting worse for Afghans. UNICEF claims life expectancy in Afghanistan is 44 years. Only 31% of households have access to water. Adult literacy is just 24%. Some 50% of children are malnourished.
2. Civilians are being killed. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has estimated that 4,530 Afghans were killed in 2008 and 2009. Over 2,200 coalition troops have died in this war, including 27 Australians (one of them a member of the British armed forces).
3. The war is costing Australia billions. The Labor government budgeted $1.6 billion for the Afghanistan war in 2010-11, with a total Defence budget of $25.7 billion.
4. The war has not liberated women. Only 4% of girls reach Year 10 at school. Violence against women is endemic. In a bid for fundamentalist support, the Karzai government passed a law allowing rape in marriage.
5. The Afghan government is corrupt and undemocratic. Only 30% of eligible Afghans voted in 2009’s Presidential elections. US-backed Hamid Karzai was implicated in election fraud. 2010’s parliamentary elections were no better, with lower voter turnout than the last parliamentary elections in 2005. A US Army poll in Kandahar province found that most Afghans trust the Taliban more than the Karzai Government.
6. The drug trade is booming in Afghanistan. A recent Medical Association for the Prevention of War discussion paper says the “latest figures from the UN estimate that Afghan opium generated [US]$4 billion income in 2007, 93% of the world’s supply and equivalent to over half of the official economy”. Afghanistan supplied only 11% before the war.
7. Public opinion is against the war. The June 2010 Essential Media Poll found that 61% of Australians want their troops withdrawn from the war, while only 7% supported increasing troops. Meanwhile, an October 2010 CNN poll found 58% of Americans oppose the war, and an April 2010 ComRes poll found that 77% of Britons wanted troops withdrawn immediately.
Meanwhile, most Afghans do not want the war either. Democracy activist Malalai Joya (pictured right) describes the international military presence not as an aid to establishing peace and democracy in Afghanistan, but as an added burden on her people:
“People are squashed today between two enemies: an internal and an external enemy … if the troops withdraw, then it is an easier fight with one enemy”.
The war is impeding the capacity of Afghans to build an indigenous, democratic movement against the warlords and Taliban. Australia should withdraw its military presence as a step towards ending the war.
If Australians are serious about rights, freedoms and democracy in Afghanistan, we should support Afghan grassroots organisations working towards human rights, democracy, peace and development.