Jonathan Kay on Afghanistan: The end of the mission isn’t the end of the road

  Dec 26, 2011 – 12:48 PM ET | Last Updated: Dec 26, 2011 2:03 PM ET

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters/Files

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Files

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.

National Post



  1. We are wasting our time unless we are willing & able to go in and eliminate every 7th century tribesman (taliban). Otherwise nothing will ever change.

  2. Did Afghanistan cause 9/11? Did bin Laden (CIA invented) get his men to fly the planes into the TwinTowers?

    The US had an alliance with both the Taliban and bin Laden. The US actively supported the Mujaheddin, of which bin Laden and his foreign fighters were a sub group in a war against the Soviets. The Afghans were purchasing American weapons with Saudi oil money and receiving training from the CIA and ISI. Tim Osman as the CIA called Bin Laden had full support of the US and met with the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    The Saudis did. Tony Blair (representing the greedy bitch ursurper ‘queen’) helped convince Bush the younger to use the 9/11 attack as a pretext for an attack on Afghanistan.


    Saudi Arabia does the above and more. They like beheading, stoning, limb amputation, and lashing. It is norm in that filthy satanic wahabbi rat hole. So, why is the West sparing them? Why is Saudi Arabia spared criticisms, condemnation, and actions to “reform” and “democratise” that piece of desert that the filthy Brits created into a “kingdom” and installed an uneducated common soldier as “king” that the whole west pays obeisance to?

  4. The REAL reason the US attacked and took control of Afghanistan is because of the Poppy. You know the flower that yields cocaine and conduits billions into the coffers of America and NATO? The Taliban had cleansed Afghanistan of its poppy fields when they were in power.

    The “War On Drugs” Is A $2.5 Trillion Racket: How Big Banks, Private Military Companies And The Prison Industry Cash In
    By David DeGraw – AmpedStatus Report. To titillate your curiosity:

    Here’s a concise summation of how the global bankers cash in:
    How Drug Profits Saved Capitalism
    “Drug profits, in the most basic sense, are secured through the ability of the cartels to launder and transfer billions of dollars through the US banking system. The scale and scope of the US banking-drug cartel alliance surpasses any other economic activity of the US private banking system. According to US Justice Department records, one bank alone laundered $378.3 billion dollars between May 1, 2004 and May 31, 2007. Every major bank in the US has served as an active financial partner of the murderous drug cartels….
    If the major US banks are the financial engines which allow the billion dollar drug empires to operate, the White House, the US Congress and the law enforcement agencies are the basic protectors of these banks…. Laundering drug money is one of the most lucrative sources of profit for Wall Street; the banks charge hefty commissions on the transfer of drug profits, which they then lend to borrowing institutions at interest rates far above what – if any – they pay to drug trafficker depositors. Awash in sanitized drug profits, these US titans of the finance world can easily buy their own elected officials to perpetuate the system.”
    At a drug conference in Kabul this month, the head of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Service estimated the value of Afghanistan’s current opium crop at $65 billion. Only $500 million of that vast sum goes to Afghanistan’s farmers, $300 million to the Taliban guerrillas, and the $64 billion balance ‘to the drug mafia,’ leaving ample funds to corrupt the Karzai government in a nation whose total GDP is only $10 billion.”

    The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) , in its report Afghanistan Cannabis Survey estimated that between 10 and 24 thousand hectares of cannabis per year are cultivated in Afghanistan. Not only is the figure shocking, worse still is the affirmation that this production takes place in half of the country’s 34 provinces.
    UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa declared in the report that “the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop makes Afghanistan the world’s biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and and 3,500 tons a year,” being 145 kg per hectare, compared with Morocco’s 40 kg. Cannabis fetches 3,900 USD in income per hectare, compared with opium’s 3,600 USD.

    So what exactly is NATO doing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban was supposed to surrender ten years ago and still has not, where heroin production has risen no less than 40 times in the same period and now Afghanistan’s claim to fame is world record holder of opium and cannabis production?

    Another major beneficiary of the drug war racket is the booming US private prison industry. With a stunning 2.3 million citizens imprisoned, the US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.
    PUTIN of Russia has taken a Stand against opium and cannabis production and his administration has , on many occasions, APPEALED to the US to stop drug production.
    America’s INSATIABLE greedy banksters, politicians, NATO say NO. They post their US guards to protect the poppy fields.

    Democracy, human rights, filthy satanic America.

  5. Another piece Canadians should read is:
    Afghan History: Al Qaeda, The Taliban and the Texas Oil Giants

    A Three Part Series by
    Dean Henderson

    Webster Tarpley is another excellent source

    And get educated. Meanwhile, the common Afghan civilians, mainly old people, women and children are the daily, ultimate victims, targeted by the oh so democratic, so human rights America/Nato’s murderers callously and impetuously term the collective loss of innocent lives in that miserable part of the world as “collateral damage”, dying by the dozens, thanks to US & Nato’s use of drones, and depleted uranium.

  6. The OTHER reason is the vast untapped mineral wealth that lies beneath Afghanistan’s soil . “Early Bird”, a compilation of major national security stories that the Pentagon distributes each morning, asserted that Afghanistan may have close to US$1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits. These include “huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium” and of course, the US, that insatiable greedy nation that serves and worships Satan must Plunder and Murder as is their national wont.

  7. QV, wouldn’t it have made more sense just to legalize it and tax the shit out of it?????


    And lose all those coming billions? the current Drug Lord is America’s Nigger Muslim Psychopath sitting on $1 trillion drug trade.

    The CIA has control of the global drug trade. Just as the British Empire was in part financed by their control of the opium trade through the British East India Company, so too has the CIA been found time after time to be at the heart of the modern international drug trade. From its very inception, the CIA has been embroiled in the murky underworld of drug trafficking.
    It is well documented that US soldiers and private contractors are both protecting the poppy fields and safeguarding the cultivation. And with the occupation of Afghanistan, the US controls the source of this cheap high quality heroin, managed by the CIA, being is responsible for this plague upon the people of the Eastern Asia and Europe, not to mention the vast quantities of the drug which make it back to the United States.

    For more:

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