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First parliamentary debate on decade-old war

As one of the most loyal members of the 'Coalition of the Willing,' Australia has been involved in the present war in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. Under the Australian Constitution, the Prime Minister can declare war without the endorsement of parliamentBush's 'deputy sheriff' in the Antipodes, Prime Minister John Howard, committed Australia to the war in 2001, and yet, despite a change in government in 2007, the parliament has never even debated Australia's part in the war.

It took a hung parliament this year to lend the Greens sufficient influence to force the Labor party to agree to a parliamentary debate on the war in Afghanistan, and that debate commences tomorrow.

Here's an edited plea to the parliament from a loose coalition of anti-war groups in the southern city of Melbourne:

End the war in Afghanistan, bring the troops home

We welcome the parliamentary debate on Australia’s role in the Afghanistan war. . . The war is worsening the lives of ordinary Afghans, and not advancing the country towards democracy. Rather, evidence shows the NATO-led occupation forces are contributing to civilian casualties and war crimes.

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.  2,163 coalition troops have died since the beginning of war, including 22 Australians (one of them a member of the British armed forces).

3. The war has cost Australia billions. The Labor government budgeted the Afghanistan war to cost $1.6 billion in 2010-11, with a total Defence budget of $25.7 billion. The Government Finance Department has indicated that cuts to the Defence budget might be necessary to ensure the government reaches surplus by 2012-2013.

4. The war has not liberated women. Only 4% of women reach 10th grade schooling and 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 Afghans voted in last year’s presidential elections. US-backed Hamid Karzai was implicated in election fraud. This year’s parliamentary elections were no better, with lower voter turnout than the last parliamentary elections in 2005.  A recent 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”. This is up from only 11% before the war.

7. Public opinion is against the war. The June 2010 Essential Media Poll found that 61% of Australians wants 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.

. . . [T]he 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.

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