Tonight I spoke at a public forum focusing on the war in Afghanistan responding to these questions: How has this brutal occupation been portrayed as the legitmate war on terror? Why has it received bipartisan political support in Australia? What has been the human cost?

I managed to choke back a few tears at the end there by taking time out to have a good cry in the morning when I was practicing.

My speech follows:

As Qld Greens social justice spokesperson I speak about a broad range of issues including education, industrial relations, poverty, women’s rights, gay rights, indigenous issues, youth issues, war – plus heaps more; it’s a big portfolio.

I’m not putting myself forward tonight proclaiming to be an expert on the war in Afghanistan; I’m sorry if this disappoints you but I’m not going to describe historic facts; analyse opinions; cite statistics; or report on current events.

I’m very much Average Josephine Public. I’m not an academic nor a master of politics, sociology, history, psychology or philosophy.

This means I could, like many other Australians, simply turn to mass media, only engaging the surface detail of local and worldwide events.

But I don’t. I dig a little deeper. I talk to people all the time about issues of the day. I never proclaim to be an expert and I always seek answers to the things that don’t make sense.

I remember the first time I heard about Afghanistan was in about 1997 when I was 21. I received an e-mail from someone that spoke about women in Afghanistan that outlined how they were being treated under the Taliban regime. The point that affected me the most was the fact that these women had been highly educated throughout their school and university years and they were then suddenly oppressed under the threat of violence and death.

I was a bit of an internet geek at that stage and politically naive, so I immediately thought it was a made-up story; I figured it was spam. However, the story intrigued me so I did some research of my own and discovered it to be true.

I was pretty shocked and touched by this story and wondered what could be done. Immediately, I thought that international leadership condemning these acts would take place and intervention or UN sanctions of some sort against Afghanistan were paramount. But I figured what instead would happen is that a United Nations would be called upon to send troops in to try to liberate these women.

None of these things happened in the years following my discovery of the human right abuses in Afghanistan.

I was pretty riled up about it, but I never heard about this issue in the mass media. I couldn’t understand it. Why didn’t anyone in positions of influence care or do something or even talk about it?

No-one cared about these women. Not until the September 11 attacks.

The purpose of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy Al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime which had provided support and safe harbor to Al-Qaeda. This marked the beginning of the US war on terrorism – not the beginning of a global effort to curb oppression of women, forced solicitation of boys for armed combat; massacres of Hazara Afghans and persecution of anyone who did not support the Taliban.

The Greens have four main pillars which its members subscribe to – these include ecological sustainability; social justice; peace and non-violence; and grassroots democracy.

War encompasses all those pillars. It’s a complex beast.

One of my most recent passions is the importance of linking social justice and the environment, looking at how poverty and lack of education can wreak environmental and health havoc in a community. That these things cannot be looked at independantly.

I read somewhere that Afghanistan, in the 60s and 70s, was some kind of travel destination for the hippie movement. I’m not quite sure why, but during that era it was apparently ecologically beautiful.

They have some very rare species, like the snow leopards up in the north, up in the Balkan corridor, but unfortunately, the fate of some of these leopards is that they are illegally sold at chicken street markets and the main shopping audience are the peacekeepers and UN staff and all others. In around 2003 a group was actually trying to get a message out to international workers that they should know what the endangered species are and what to buy and what not to buy in this country. [See Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Summer 2005]

The environmental impacts of war in Afghanistan have seen water resources and soil fertility damaged.

An environment group compared wetlands in Afghanistan in 1976. The water was blue and green and the vegetation darkish red and even back in 2001, it showed almost all of it disappearing.

There is absolutely no water around. Also, there is woodland deforestation. The issue with the wetlands is that when you have a country suffering from onflict, you lose the river management systems and people who are living in the upstream, they use all the water, they build the dams, they use all the water for their purposes. People in downstreams are suffering. [See Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Summer 2005]

And there is not common water management system in Afghanistan. With the woodlands and forests in Afghanistan, one of the issues was that the conflicts and warlords activities were partly financed by cutting the forest and selling the timber first to Pakistan over the border, then from Pakistan to Arab countries. This was one of the main sources of the income. [See Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Summer 2005]

So these are the results: in 1977 it was still green, there was forest covering, but by 2002 almost everything disappeared. Or similarly in two of the provinces, the conifer deforestation suffered a fifty-two percent loss between 1977 and 2002. [See Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Summer 2005]

There’s some interesting things happening. For example, I read that there was the Afghan Conservation Corps where actually former soldiers have been trained to plant the forests and protect the forest and so on.

In 2003 a United Nations Environment Programme, in cooperation with the then interim Afghan government, was implemented with a view to helping the people and leaders of Afghanistan, as well as donor countries supporting the land’s recovery, to begin reversing the widespread and crippling environmental damage wrought by years of war, Taliban rule, and drought.

The UN report identified inadequate access to drinking water and insufficient waste management practices as the two greatest risks to the health of Afghanistan’s people. Basic strategies were provided to directly address these problems within communities. Aid workers familiar with Afghanistan believed two keys to improving health in the country were training community health workers and bringing more women into the health care field. [Environmental Triage in Afghanistan By David A. Taylor, Environmental health Perspectives Vol. 111(4) Publication Date Jul 2003]

I have no idea of the success of these programs or even if there’s ever been enough stability in the country to roll them out in a significant fashion. I highly doubt it.

Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since US led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 and violence is increasing this year.

More than 4000 people were killed in fighting in 2006, a quarter of them civilians and about 170 of them foreign soldiers killed in fighting or in accidents while on patrol. [Sources: Reuters/icasualties (]

So really the answer to Afghanistan’s environmental, water and health concerns really lies in the removal of troops from Afghanistan.

The Greens believe that lasting solutions to conflicts both between and within nations depend on delivering social, environmental and economic justice to the people involved, and on ensuring they can exercise their civil and political rights.

We believe that lasting resolution of conflicts requires a commitment to non-violent means of political engagement.

We believe that the use and promotion of violence against civilians, whether perpetrated by a state, an organisation or individuals, should be rejected as a means to achieve political ends.

We also believe that women should be fully included in all aspects of international relations and peacemaking initiatives.

Want we want is peaceful, cooperative and long lasting relationships between Australia and the governments of other countries, based on mutual respect.

We want an independent foreign and defence policy for Australia. We want increased accountability and transparency in foreign policy.

We’re after fair international relations with other people and governments in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.

We also want all countries to act through the United Nations to prevent acts of genocide, and to ensure that people’s human rights are not violated by governments.

We want lasting peace and stability to the Middle East as a region.

Greens federal representatives strive to ensure Australia acts decisively within UN supported operations to prevent acts of genocide and crimes against humanity and to bring perpetrators to trial in the ICC.

Greens parlimentarians and Greens federal candidates across the country this year are calling for immediate withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In January I attended the founding congress of the Global Young Greens in Nairobi, Kenya. 155 young people aged 35 and under from 55 different countries attended the conference. I was really excited at the opportunity to meet an Afghani woman who worked with the Women Assistance Association, but unfortunately she was unable to get a VISA.

The conference was amazing. the intelligence, passion and compassion the young people showed for securing the future of the planet and its people was inspiring.

Not many people in their lives get to experience what I have had the honour to experience including what I call multicultural shock.

I use that term with endearment as all of us were in the same situation and we were constantly gobsmacked by the feelings of solidarity in purpose that surpassed cultural, religious and economic differences.

These young people were the opposite of apathetic. Political conversations went well into the night and we learnt and shared so much as we lived, worked and played together.

It was an historic moment for young people all over the world and for the future of all life on this planet.

We agreed on an organisational structure, a list of principals and also elected an organising committee featuring 16 young people from 4 regions: Africa, Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe.

Unfortunately, representation of young people from the Middle East was left wanting.

The organisation is now seeking representatives from those nations. We know it will be difficult, but with international youth leadership and support and networking, we know it can be achieved.

A few days ago I e-mailed [ _ _ _ ], my fellow Global Young Green, telling her about the talk I was giving tonight and if she wanted to pass on any messages to the audience.

This is the e-mail response I received.

Dear Elissa

Its [ _ _ _ ], brother of [ _ _ _ ]. Well. [ _ _ _ ] has been hospitalized due
to American forces shelling while she was visiting a girls school near Kandahar
province a 2 weeks ago. I have conveyed your message to her, and she will was
pleased about this and that she would get back to you soon she recovers.

She says that, Australia should withdarw its forces very soon from this country,
as it would put Australian Citizens in danger in this region. Australia should not
be a “Yes sir” country to USA like others, and that she would urge the Australian
government in this regard through a signature campaign.

[ _ _ _ ] pays thanx for your interest in this regard.

Best Regards

[ _ _ _ ]
On behlf of [ _ _ _ ]

I guess the question that remains is, how could the world have helped those suffering under the Taliban regime? What alternatives were available? What happens if the troops do leave?

I don’t have the answers, but – as Charles Dickens once wrote – “Let no man turn aside, ever so slightly, from the broad path of honour, on the plausible pretence that he is justified by the goodness of his end. All good ends can be worked out by good means.” : Charles Dickens

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