Afghanistan: Why the occupation needs to end

The anti-war movement must step up its campaign for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.

Although Australian public sentiment is to see an end to any involvement in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Rudd Labor government's budget demonstrates its commitment to sustained increases in military funding to sustain Australian involvement in both the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The excuse in relation to Afghanistan is that Australian troops are aiding in "reconstruction" efforts.

The Afghan occupation is in its seventh year and resistance has not abated. A May 21 Centre for American Progress statement reported that, according to the US national intelligence director Michael McConnell, the US puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai controls no more than 30% of the country.

Further, senior US army commanders in Afghanistan have requested at least 10,000 more troops to deal with increasing violence and attacks.

Civilian casualties

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) relies heavily on air power because of a "shortages of ground-troops". Bombings are causing heavy civilian casualties, as well as resentment among the population.

Afghanistan is no better off since the occupation began. The 2007 Afghanistan Human Development Report reveals catastrophic indicators: access to water is at 31% of households; life expectancy is 43.1 years; adult literacy is 23.5%; 50% of Afghan children under five are malnourished; and 6.6 million Afghans do not meet their minimum daily food requirements.

Infant and maternal mortality rates have worsened since 2001. Infant mortality is 135 per 1000 live births, while the maternal mortality rate is estimated at 1600 per 100,000 live births. In the remote rural area of Badakshtan, the MMR is 6500 per 100,000 live births. 100,000 children are disabled and otherwise severely affected physically due to prolonged conflict in the country.

Unemployment rates, citing CIA World Fact figures, remains high at 40%. Unsurprisingly, 4 million Afghans have taken refuge in neighbouring countries since October 2001, when the US-led invasion occurred.

While under the regime of the Taliban, opium cultivation was almost eradicated. Since the invasion overthrew the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has become the "opium capital of the world". A March 13 Christian Science Monitor article reported that Afghanistan "is responsible for 92 percent of global [opium] output. Each year, the country produces about [US]$4 billion [in opium, amounting to] 53 percent of gross domestic product, making drug production easily Afghanistan's most lucrative industry.

"There are twice as many heroin users on the streets of Kabul than just four years ago and about one million of Afghanistan's 34 million people are drug users ..." There
are 60,000 children addicted to drugs.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has called for a review of international aid to Afghanistan, stating that "international aid has not fully yielded fruit", according to a May 24 China View article. Much of the aid money is being used for military purposes rather than reducing poverty.

Oppression of women

The situation for women has not improved since the US-led invasion — quite the contrary. The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, the lead Afghan women's rights group (which fought both the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime) has argued that the US-backed Karzai regime is no improvement for Afghan women.

A 2008 RAWA report on the situation of women argued: "After the 9/11 tragedy, when the US began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the oppression of Afghan women was used as a justification for overthrowing the Taliban regime. Five weeks later America's first lady, Laura Bush, stated triumphantly: 'Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes'.

"But unfortunately the reality shows a different picture. The people of the world should know that though the disgusting, ludicrous and oppressive rule of Taliban was over in our ill-fated Afghanistan, this never meant the end of the horrible miseries of our tortured women.

"Because contrary to the aspirations of our people and expectations of the world community, the Northern Alliance, these brethren-in-creed of the Taliban and al Qaeda, are again in power and generously supported by the US government."

At present, through Operation Slipper, Australia has 1080 army personnel in Afghanistan — which will be increased by another 550 sometime this year when combat troops are deployed to this area from Iraq.

The Australian government has allocated A$429 million to this operation, plus $72.4 million for equipment on electronic counter measures in Iraq and Afghanistan, a further $122 million on Official Development Assistance and $47 million for a deployment of Australian Federal Police.

Four hundred Australian soldiers are carrying out "reconstruction" work in the village of Tarin Kowt in the Uruzgan province. The rest of the Australian soldiers are carrying out mainly support operations at airfields to the ISAF — as well as providing surveillance, security, and aiding other occupying forces in Kabul, Urguztan and Helmand provinces.

This a clear indication that the "reconstruction" efforts are just a facade. It is obvious that Australia is aiding and abetting in a disastrous occupation — contrary to the 1945 UN charter, the 1960 declaration of decolonisation and the 1966 international bill of rights (IBR).

Foreign troops have not brought democracy to Afghanistan, but even more chaos and misery. It is time that all Australian troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, and that the Australian government recognises the right of the Afghan people to self-determination, as noted in the first article of the IBR.

[Marlene Obeid is an activist from the Sydney Stop the War Coalition and the Canterbury Bankstown Peace Group.]