Gordon Campbell: Deliberate defeat in Afghanistan

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp’s main contribution to the House debate yesterday on Afghanistan was that New Zealand would want to see an improvement in the security situation in 12 months. Fat chance. Mapp’s effort was a signal of just how token this SAS re-deployment really is.

No sane person is expecting the security situation in Afghanistan to improve inside 12 months. What Mapp was fashioning was an escape hatch for John Key. Yes, let’s declare defeat in 12 months time, and prepare to leave six months after that. After all, Key has already indicated (at his post-Cabinet press conference a couple of weeks ago) that he will not be renewing the SAS deployment in 18 months time, regardless of whether any of its currently allotted tasks have been completed.

In other words, New Zealand is risking the lives of our SAS troops on a mission that we know won’t succeed, even before it has begun. Moreover, the government is already planning how to use the inevitable failure as a rationale for ending our combat effort in 18 months, come what may. Any relatives of SAS troops have good reason to be concerned, at the cynicism of embarking on such a mission. It is like a policy of iceberg control that involves putting troops on the Titanic.

On a brighter note, good to see Foreign Minister Murray McCully is heeding Scoop’s call yesterday to make inquiries about the marital rape law that Hamid Karzai has reportedly sneaked onto the statute books. Unfortunately, McCully seems to have skipped the bit about not sending our SAS troops if it turns out the law has been passed in anything like its original abhorrent form. To judge by this report on Stuff, McCully was the willing dupe on the receiving end of a comprehensive snow job from Karzai. McCully concedes that he was given promises by Karzai that the offensive parts of the draft rape law would be substantially changed.

Mr McCully said he had also raised the issue with Mr Karzai when he met him in Kabul and said he was told it was being reviewed and “bought into line with the expectations of the international community”.

He said they had heard that the law had been finalised in its original format “in the last week or so” but said he was not sure whether or nor it had been changed. He was seeking an English translation so he could read it for himself.

“We certainly haven’t changed our minds about it and if there is in fact simply a relegislating of what was previously in place then obviously Prime Minister Key and others will want us to take that matter up in the appropriate fashion.”

He would not comment on whether the government would reconsider its decision to recommit the SAS troops in light of Mr Karzai’s decision.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I received some undertakings from President Karzai when I sat in his office and raised the matter with him and I’m not prepared to jump to the conclusion that the president has done something that he wouldn’t do and until sometime that we’ve had a good look at the law.”

So on top of defending an enabler of marital rape, we are also defending someone who lies to our face about his intentions. Fabulous. Karzai said the law “would be brought into line with the expectations of the international community”. Well, he lied. And yet… we will raise our concerns “in the appropriate fashion”. And what would that entail – a stern note? A finger wagging? Will McCully throw his shoe at Karzai the next time he sees him?

As mentioned on Scoop yesterday, New Zealand has a special responsibility, because this ghastly law pertains to the Shia minority. In Afghanistan, the Shia are mainly Hazara, who form the largest ethnic grouping in Bamiyan province – where, via our military aid and reconstruction effort, the New Zealand taxpayer has spent close to $180 million over the past six years, in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the local people. That effort is not compatible with turning a blind eye to the marital rape and starvation of the very same Hazara people we are supposed to be helping.

So will McCully do about it, if an English translation of the law does indeed prove it is still a heinous piece of intolerance? Hey, here’s an idea – how about saying we will want to see an improvement in women’s rights in 12 months? Then we can use the inevitable failure as an added excuse for pulling out the SAS in 18 months, with all of its tasks incomplete. Beyond of course, the glorious victory in winning Key a few diplomatic brownie points in Washington and Canberra. How many SAS lives will that be worth ?


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