NOT BLOODY LIKELY, WHILE OUR POLITICIANS TELL US OF THE ‘PROGRESS’ BEING MADE, WE’RE STILL HEARING ABOUT RAPE VICTIMS BEING FORCED TO MARRY THEIR ATTACKERS, SHARIA LAW RULES THE LAND. NO AMOUNT OF MONEY OR FEEL GOOD ‘TOLERANCE’ WILL CHANGE THIS. THE PROBLEM THERE IS ISLAM.
Jonathan Kay on Afghanistan: The end of the mission isn’t the end of the road
Jonathan Kay Dec 26, 2011 – 12:48 PM ET | Last Updated: Dec 26, 2011 2:03 PM ET
A Canadian soldier shakes hands with an Afghan boy near Panjwaii village, Kandahar province, July 13, 2007.
This month brings an end to the longest combat mission in Canadian history. About 1,000 Canadian Forces soldiers will remain in Afghanistan with the NATO Training Mission. Yet here in Canada, there has been very little debate about what our remaining troops and diplomats should be doing in Afghanistan to protect the fragile gains that our sacrifice (158 soldiers lost, plus one diplomat, a journalist and two aid workers) has made possible. Is the dream of a functional Afghan democracy still realistic? And if it is, what can Canada do to make it real?
These are questions that are hard to answer from a desk in Toronto. So I’ve spent the last few days speaking with National Post op-ed contributors who’ve traveled to Afghanistan in recent years, and asked them to share their impressions.
One point of consensus: If there is long-term hope for Afghanistan, it rests in large part with the increasingly professional Afghan army. Everyone agreed that Canada can help Afghanistan by continuing to provide military training. The sooner Afghans can secure their country without American military support, the better.
“Americans arrive with a lot of firepower and not enough firepower control,” says Caldwell Securities Ltd. chairman Thomas S. Caldwell, who traveled to Afghanistan in 2009 with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute. “They have to stop killing non-combatants. If you kill a Pashtun, they will never forget it. A hundred years from now, his relatives will be talking about how Americans killed their great-great grandfather.”
Yet the people I spoke with also recognize that no military force in Afghanistan – indigenous or otherwise – can secure the country so long as regional foreign powers continue to support the insurgents.
Author and activist Terry Glavin, who has been to Afghanistan four times on reporting and fact-finding missions, puts it this way: “Unless and until the ‘international community’ attends to the cancers in Rawalpindi [the base of Pakistan’s military headquarters] and Tehran, the rot will continue to spread. The war in Afghanistan will resume [if and when America leaves], and I will not speculate on how many hundreds of thousands will die.”
Postmedia reporter Christie Blatchford, who also has taken four trips to Afghanistan, lasting a total of six months, agreed: “It was a mistake for the international community not to deal straight away with the fact that the war is essentially being run from across the border with Pakistan.”
The problem for Ottawa, of course, is that Canada has little leverage against either Pakistan or Iran. Even the United States has been powerless to stop Iranian encroachments in Herat and Pakistani meddling (through both the Taliban and the Hakkani tribal network) in the Pashtun tribal belt along Afghanistan’s southern border. So long as Afghan terrorists receive foreign support, large swathes of the country will remain dangerous and lawless, no matter how much “nation-building” is done by Canada, the United States, India, or anyone else.
Even if security can somehow be restored to Afghanistan, can Canadians still dare dream of building a real Western-style democracy in Kabul? This was the ambition that motivated Paul Martin’s Liberal government when he first committed Canadian troops to lead the NATO combat mission in Kandahar. But 10 years after 9/11, it looks questionable.
“We’re not going to get Jeffersonian democracy,” Caldwell tells me. “In general, Afghans are a very tribal people. They have a system of shuras and other local government structures, which they respect, and which place limits on strongmen. But it’s simply not going to look like our Parliament or anything like it. And then there is the Koran – you’re not going to get the same level of separation of church and state that we have [in Canada]. Instead, if we’re going to help them, we have to focus on more basic things like reducing corruption.”
Shaun Francis, a Canadian health entrepreneur who traveled to Afghanistan in 2011 to meet the Afghan army leadership and speak with Canadian soldiers, believes it makes more sense to focus on more modest ambitions that are tied specifically to Canada’s own security needs. “Ensuring that [Afghanistan] no longer exports terrorism remains our principal objective, since [this is what] differentiated Afghanistan from so many other failed states that could use our help,” he told me. “Maintaining some security presence through multi-national forces, perhaps special forces, and a trained Afghan Army might be enough to keep the Taliban at bay and give the Afghanistan government time to build for a more permanent mandate … we don’t need to turn Afghanistan into a modern constitutional democracy to achieve our interests.”
This was the one point on which I saw real disagreement among my interviewees. Terry Glavin, much of whose work in Afghanistan has been done through a U.S. based group called Funders Network for Afghan Women, believes Afghanistan truly can build the sort of government that would make donor nations like Canada proud. “Afghanistan is a country with vast untapped democratic resources – the ‘human capital’ we’re always hearing about,” he told me. “Even though Afghans are a people almost uniquely brutalized by war, terrorism, illiteracy and barbarism, the overwhelming majority of the people want nothing to do with religious extremism or pathological misogyny or any other type of crackpotism. All the public-opinion data sets show that Afghans are asking for nothing more than to live ordinary lives as citizens of a sovereign and democratic republic. The democratic leadership in that country is braver and more visionary than Canadians will ever know.”
On the specifics of what Canadian diplomats can actually do, Glavin points to adocument prepared by the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, entitled “Recommendations for a Canadian leadership role at the Bonn Summit, December, 2011″. The document sets out an ambitious agenda that would see Canada help reform the nuts and bolts of the Afghan electoral system, and also advocate strongly for a Western-style political and legal structure that enshrines women’s rights, secularism and checks-and-balances.
In other words, there is a broad range of opinion about how much we can reasonably expect from Afghanistan and from our role in it – from those who see our job as largely limited to preventing the use of Afghanistan as a base for international terrorists, to those who still embrace the dream of a humane, secular and modern Western democracy.
One final note: Of all the people I spoke with, none were soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Their perspective is the one I will focus on in my next column about Afghanistan, and I invite any current or former Afghan-serving soldiers reading this column to send me their thoughts at the email address that appears below.