(Part 5 of a series on the history of Afghanistan, and the role of Canada in the rebuilding of that country)
Six years into the Afghanistan intervention, it is still a failed narco-state state with inadequate aid and opportunities reaching down to affect the masses of poor people. Up to 60 percent of its GDP comes from opium sales. The prognosis is not encouraging. Although they don’t want the Taliban back, Afghans are less sure that the mission is succeeding. Canadian support for the mission is declining. The government is calling on other NATO countries to contribute more soldiers. All is not well and a change is required.
The Taliban’s terrible treatment of women and the need for rebuilding the infrastructure of the war torn country are often cited as the justification for our presence. The benefits that we are bringing to that poor forsaken country are real and good, but are not the reason we are there.
Speaking frankly, we are there because our country is a client state to the US commercial and imperialistic agenda. Our presence and those of others countries provides cover for the US agenda to divide and conquer Arab oil resources. We have a number of choices on the table:
Option A – Leaving Afghanistan when the mandate expires in 2009. Many Canadians reject our participation in the dubious foreign adventures of the United States. The recent years of the Bush administration have been particularly discouraging for those who believe in a world of cooperation and peace. Some argue that responsibility for fixing a broken state rests with those who broke it – in this case, the United States and the Soviet Union with some minor blame on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for encouraging extremist fundamentalism. On a moral basis, they owe large reparations to Afghanistan for the damage they have caused. Let’s not hold our breath waiting.
Likewise, the hunt for Al-Qaeda and senior Taliban is seen as a responsibility of the US government who created the problem. Supporters of this choice would likely contribute significant foreign aid dollars to the Afghan government or to UN agencies.
Option B – The Manley report (status quo with improvements)
While the Manley report very diplomatically acknowledges that changes are required, it does not provide clear answers on how and if the changes would be implemented. There is no defined end to our commitment. When 10% of foreign money goes for aid and 90% for military action, then we have a serious problem. When the NGO’s cost of program delivery is high and the corruption of the local government is rampant, we are not succeeding. The Manley report is long on optimism and short on creativity.
Option C – Establish 2013 as the firm date for removal of all Canadian soldiers
This approach insists that we take control of our destiny, demand changes from the central government but be prepared to fund the changes. We need to obtain agreement on a strategy to end corruption, to provide aid and jobs to the people, to ensure security and defeat of the extremist Taliban culture, and replace narco-agriculture with a sustainable alternative. Failing to change direction in 2008 means leaving immediately in 2009. These are incredibly difficult goals and will require extraordinary measures. We are in Afghanistan without a workable plan, and we are almost wasting our time.
Setting a firm and irrevocable exit date for Canadian personnel forces the government to increase the necessary resources and focus on accomplishing those tasks. If five more years isn’t enough, then 25 years won’t do it either. Either we wish to win or we do not. There are no half measures in this kind of war.
Here are a few ideas that would change the dynamics of security and accelerate progress.
- Directly hire and train an army of 100,000 men to aid in security in the Kandahar sector. Afghanistan has 40% unemployment. The ability to stretch our forces by this complementary group could shut down the effectiveness of the Taliban. Who knows the community better than Afghans? We will spend billions on our own forces to hunt down 5000 guerrillas but we hesitate to spend a pittance on an “Afghan strategy”. In the whole country, the National army (ANA) is only at 40,000 of a projected 70,000 men. Who has the best motivation to provide security for their community and their families? Isn’t it strange that Al-Qaeda can hire fighters for their forces but we can’t put together or train a formidable army that can protect its citizens in a country renowned for its pugnacity? At $300 a month for wages, benefits and training costs, this would cost $360 million a year.
- Supply significant aid and credit to farmers who grow crops other than poppies. Buy a percentage of their crops and distribute to the poor. Perhaps this would cost $100 million in our sector. Don’t try to eradicate poppies by force before a real alternative is developed.
- Effectively shut down the Taliban bases in the Pakistan federal areas (FATA). This can be done in several ways. This is a sensitive issue but it must be addressed. Search out the funding sources for the Taliban, whether in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or other locations.
- Accelerate the reconstruction process with Afghan workers. Mentor them if necessary. We have noted the construction projects where foreign companies and workers are brought in to build highways or schools. Get the local people to work at a cost of $500 million a year.
The last option to spend more, say $2 billion a year and effectively improve the life of ordinary Afghans is tempting. This is the only legitimate reason for our presence in that country, supporting their struggle for a peaceful and sustainable life. The government has just proposed a 2011 end date to the mission. Is this really an end to the current strategy in Afghanistan or just a strategic retreat on Parliament Hill for six months? Stephen Harper makes it clear that he wants a beefed up military with more interventionist roles to come in the future.
When the Prime Minister indicates that he wants NATO to contribute 1000 additional soldiers to Kandahar region, does he realize how silly that sounds? In World War II, Canada had over a million people in uniform out of a population of 12 million. Our present contribution is 2500 soldiers from a population of 33 million.
Mr Harper, either get out of Afghanistan or put a force into place with the appropriate strategy to win. You won’t earn the respect of Canadians by sitting on the fence or being creative with the truth.