Afghanistan vote counterproductive, say peace activists

  • March 19, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO – Parliament's vote to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan to 2011 has not advanced the cause of peace, according to Pax Christi U.S.A. and Canadian affiliates of Pax Christi International.

"It's really not a question of absolute principals. It's a question of looking at what's happening on the ground in practice and saying that the best option for peace in Afghanistan, and the best option for Canada, is for Canada to withdraw its military presence entirely, immediately," Fr. Richard Renshaw of Antennes de Paix told The Catholic Register.

Antennes de Paix in Montreal is an affiliate of Pax Christi International.

"That (extending Canada military mission in Afghanistan) is not going to solve anything," said Pax Christi U.S.A. spokesman Johnny Zokovitch. "That country has been brutalized for the better part of half a century. To continue to militarize the situation there, and to increase and keep looking for military solutions in a country that's been looking for military solutions for 50 years — it's counterproductive."

The governing Conservatives combined with the opposition Liberals March 13 to pass a motion extending Canada's military mission in Kandahar province in a 198-77 vote.

The Pax Christi activists said Canada needs an Afghanistan policy that will promote peace negotiations between the government in Kabul and insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

"What we've seen over the course of years now with the Bush administration's war on terror is that there are not military solutions to the kind of problems they're chasing — whether it's in Afghanistan or in Iraq," said Zokovitch.

Catholics For Peace — Toronto
said the ratio of military spending to humanitarian aid is disqualifying Canada from a meaningful role in promoting peace negotiations.

"The ratio of spending is still eight to one or worse when looking at military spending versus aid," said Catholics For Peace spokesman Deacon Stephen Barringer via e-mail. "This is not a solid basis for honest and open negotiations."

With 75 per cent of Quebeckers in favour of pulling Canada's troops out now, the Canadian debate over our role in Afghanistan is polarized, said Renshaw.

"We all agree on the objectives," said the Holy Cross father. "We want peace in Afghanistan. We want justice for the Afghan people, and dignity for them. We want a responsible, democratic government."

The question is whether soldiers conducting counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan can achieve those objectives, said Renshaw.

"Diplomatic solutions hold out the possibility of real change happening," said Zokovitch. "But military solutions only seem to plant further seeds of discord and violence. That's what we're seeing in Afghanistan."

The Canadian bishops' Feb. 13 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for peace negotiations came too late to influence the parliamentary debate on Canada's future role in Afghanistan, said Renshaw.

"By the time they weighed in the parties had had their caucus meetings and made up their minds, and that was unfortunate," he said.

Catholics For Peace is asking that the bishops take a much stronger stand against the military option in Afghanistan.

"When Catholics For Peace — Toronto marched for peace on Saturday, March 15 with thousands of others in Toronto we met many Catholics on the street who rallied to our signs and asked the same question, 'Where is our church?' ” wrote Barringer.

The vote to extend the military mission to 2011 shouldn't mean Canada is stuck with only the military option for the next four years, Renshaw said.

"There's still space to hope we could take on a different role," he said. "In fact, the decision still leaves a lot of space open for a very different kind of Canadian presence in Afghanistan with a lot more emphasis on getting these sides to negotiate."

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