Prime Minister Kiviniemi and Afghanistan

Tiistaina, 19. lokakuuta 2010     0 kommentti(a)

Finland has had a new prime minister for four months. Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi has yet to mention in any speech what is proclaimed to be one of the most significant foreign policy challenges Finland faces – Afghanistan. Prime Minister Kiviniemi must be the only prime minister in Europe who has not spoken about Afghanistan in the past four months. Granted, foreign policy is formally steered by the president, but considering the importance of the issue, there are no good reasons for why she has remained silent on Finland’s militarily most challenging operation since World War II.

Prime Minister Kiviniemi may not have been involved nine years ago, when the original participation decisions regarding Afghanistan were made. However, today she is the head of the Finnish government and represents the country in EU affairs. Therefore, at least Finland’s participation in the EUPOL Afghanistan operation falls on her plate. It is also her government that keeps Finnish soldiers in Afghanistan, where the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e Sharif (PRT MeS) has taken serious casualties in the past three days, including one dead. These incidents are not an anomaly, during the past four months joint Swedish-Finnish troops in Afghanistan have seen a significant increase in violence in their area of operations.

It would be great to see some public acknowledgement of the sacrifices which these individuals are making, and of the prime minister’s unwavering support for the operation. It should make no difference that the casualties of the past few days served in the Swedish military, in PRT MeS the solders see themselves as belonging to ‘one unit’. Prime Minister Kiviniemi does not need to focus on the negative events in Afghanistan, it is easy enough to fill a speech with the many positive contributions that Afghans themselves, as well as ISAF, EUPOL, UNAMA, and a host of other actors have made towards a more stable Afghanistan – an Afghanistan in which the population as a whole gets to choose who rules them and what the laws of the society are.

If, on the other hand, Prime Minister Kiviniemi does not support participation in Afghanistan, she has a lot of thinking to do. Perhaps it is precisely this which has prevented her from speaking about Afghanistan: she does not believe that Finland should participate and is unwilling to bear the political costs of supporting it publicly? There is no one right perspective on Finnish participation in operations in Afghanistan, but it would be good to know what the head of our government thinks about it.

In what other democratic country that is involved in an armed conflict (or more colloquially, a war) could the Prime Minister not mention it in one single speech?

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