Jan 282013

Afghanistan – so yesterday’s war …

by David Beatson

“Playstation helps Prince Harry be a better gunner” rates headlines – but “Torture on the rise in Afghan jails” barely rates a mention … How come?

The answer looks easy: it is all “so yesterday’s war”. Our troops are pulling out of Afghanistan. We’ve heard all that stuff about torture and abuse of detainees before. And if Harry talks about taking a life to save a life, and how video games help him be a better helicopter pilot and gunner – well, that’s just a young man keeping some risky combat experience in perspective. Isn’t it?

Not really. The strife is far from over in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s shifted out, but the Taliban continue to strike at will. The country still hasn’t got a stable, sustainable government capable of running the place alone. And the misnamed New Zealand provincial reconstruction team’s return from Bamyan in March is not the end of our military involvement in “yesterday’s war”.

Our government has been coy about what happens after the New Zealand Defence Force quits Bamyan. Last September, it said New Zealand’s continuing support “will likely include the contribution of a small number of NZDF trainers to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Training Academy later in 2013, an on-going presence in ISAF headquarters, as well as financial and development contributions to Afghanistan.” That leaves plenty of wiggle-room.

So we should sit up and take more notice when the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan finds more than half (326) of 635 conflict-related detainees interviewed at 89 detention facilities operated by a wide-range of Afghan government agencies in 30 provinces experienced ill-treatment and torture. In producing this alarming finding, UNAMA discarded any claims its check process found to be “insufficiently credible”.

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