Friday, July 06, 2007

Staying the Course

An op-ed piece in the Toronto Star to-day by the doyenne of Canada's Great Afghan Adventure, Rosie DiManno, mourns the loss of six more Canadian Servicemen, and goes on to extol the cause which put them in combat.

Basically Rosie is saying, in her piece, that Canada is one of the few western nations who have lived up to their commitment to the 'Bonn agreement' which was the basis for to-day's Afghanistan. She denigrates those countries who 'signed on' to rehabilitate the country, but who have yet to join the fray against the 'problem areas'. This is OK, but the 'agreement' she mentions is a fairly significant one, and should be looked at more carefully.

The agreement came from a meeting of disaffected Afghan parties held after the American forces had toppled the Taliban government in 2001. Those parties meeting in Bonn represented most of the Afghan groups who opposed the Taliban - Royalists, warlord forces, Northern Alliance, socialist and democratic exiles, etc. The meeting, largely called at the behest of the US, laid the 'framework' for setting up an effective and recognized government in Afghanistan. The UN gave the agreement its blessing and NATO was called upon to assist. Needless to say, most of the agreement's parameters were put into effect: the provisional Karzai government was confirmed and internationally recognized, a constitution written and signed into law (not without controversy) and a pacification and development program initiated. The US was looking after the former, and NATO (including Canada) was doing the latter.

It didn't take long for the US forces to generate resistance to to their 'drive, shoot and call in the air strike' pacification tactics, particularly in the south and western provinces of the country. In fact the resistance developed to the point where the US started asking for more NATO assistance. The coalition forces including Britain , Australia and some others were first in, and Canada's contingent was eventually switched from development and reconstruction to combat operations in Khandahar province. The coalition (US, UK, Netherlands, Canada, et al) remains engaged in suppressing Taliban activity, while the US maintains its own, separate anti-insurgency operation and other NATO forces from France and Germany, etc. concentrate on the original reconstruction and development mission.

The original notion of the Bonn agreement, setting up a strong, centralized government, was compromised from the get-go by American support for different Afghan groups which permitted them to get a firm hold on various areas of the country, and the government, which they have since used to enhance their power bases. Afghanistan's continuing organizational problems and burgeoning opium trade can be laid in large part to this.

Outside interference - from tribal areas of Pakistan and more lately from Iran - continue to be blamed for problems that more likely have a cause of domestic nature.

Afghanistan has yet to develop an independently operating military or security force. Development and reconstruction remains 'spotty' with a preponderance around the capital and larger cities and none in areas that are not 'secure'. Transportation remains vulnerable and some aspects like hydroelectric or water management systems remain concerns for security purposes.

One overriding consideration, and particularly applying to the 'problem ' areas of Afghanistan is the proposed oil pipeline route, which has to run through Shiite and Taliban areas of the country. Without peace there can be no pipeline, and without the pipeline, Caspian Sea oil remains exactly that, only potentially useful.

So where does this put Canada? Having bought into the American-created problem of having to make Afghanistan free for democracy, Canada is stuck on the old 'cut and run' or 'stay the course' dilemma. Some pundits would have us believe that we're making a difference in Afghanistan, but what kind of difference. These six young Canadians were killed only miles from where their unit first engaged the Taliban last Fall when it was first deployed. So their six month stint has been spent pacifying an area that remains unpacified. The Vandoos take over next, and so things will continue until, at least, 2009.

Rosie notes the fact that military men are different from the milquetoast pols who put them in harm's way. The military has the gumption to hold on, while the easy bleeders might decide to pull the plug on their valor. She also mentions that the Taliban have more patience than our politicians. In doing that she hits the nub of the problem, but she misses the point. She buys into the common wisdom that, like AlQaeda in Iraq, the Taliban are a group of outsiders bent on upsetting a nice applecart, or a group of unemployed Afghans who'll take $20 for burying a bomb. When actually their patience comes from the fact that they have nowhere else to go. They live there, Panjwai and the other 'hotspots' are their homes, and the Canadians, Americans - whoever, patrolling the roads and villages, doing visits and rounding-up suspects are foreign invaders - no matter what they call themselves, or how they describe their 'mission'.

They want something out of Afghanistan. And it isn't girls' schools or a washer dryer in every mud hut. Rosie ought to take a look at why the Afghans, even the Taliban, aren't buying into our 'mission'.

Valor and military acumen there is in abundance, but there's also an element of 'seeing the elephant' just below the surface, of 'sojers doing what sojers have to do'. There's a lot of Canada invested in Afghanistan, I'm just not sure that we, or Rosie, really understand why.

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