Many Canadians are strong supporters of our military’s effort in Afghanistan, and we all share the grief of families and friends who lose loved ones in Afghanistan. It has even become virtually un-Canadian to doubt the role and the eventual success of our armed forces doing their job so far from home. Yet, the ramp ceremonies with flag-draped coffins, the bag-piper’s laments, and the motorcades along the “Highway of Heroes” continue with too many unanswered questions. Above all, why are our soldiers in Afghanistan? What is the job we need to finish?
Our American friends entered Afghanistan to overthrow a government that protected Al Qaeda terrorists, to deny those terrorists a safe haven for their operations, and to destroy the Al Qaeda leadership. One out of three is not so good. Canadians came on the scene to help stabilize the country, to assist in rebuilding efforts, and to train nascent institutions like a national army in a fragile new government. Zero goals achieved is worse.
Some Canadians have also bought into the American propaganda that we are making Afghanistan safe for liberal, western-style democracy. We are improving the lot of long-downtrodden Afghan women and we are fighting narco-terrorism in our own interest. If these new justifications have merit then why do we tolerate widespread and blatant electoral fraud? Why do we not complain more forcefully when an opposition Member of Parliament who dares to criticize is expelled from Parliament by the warlords and criminals amongst whom she sat? Afghanistan is still a conservative society where women have few rights. The Parliament and President even passed legislation effectively legalizing rape within marriage. If fighting the narcotics trade is our new mission, we shouldn’t be skirmishing with Taliban fighters near Kandahar, we should be neutralizing the opium processing facilities, interdicting and destroying the armed convoys of opium and heroin and evicting narco-warlords from positions of power. But, perhaps there is a ray of hope here. Some authors claim that the opium trade is a massive source of funding for the Taliban. If so, we are fighting the right enemy but with a strategy destined to be ineffectual.
However, we can win this war. Just declare victory, and leave. Yes, there could be a civil war if we and others leave, or a fragmentation of Afghanistan into a collection of feudal warlords governing at whim. But that situation exists now. Without an effective and reliable National Army, President Karzai’s influence on provincial governors (sometimes with their own private armies) is very limited. If NATO leaves, Al Qaeda might return and grow except that there is no shortage of failed or failing states to choose from as a secure base. Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and parts of northern Africa come to mind. The opium trade would operate unhindered, as it does now. Shipments south to Pakistan, west into Iran from Herat, and north in to Central Asia would continue without interdiction at the expense of European and Central Asian addicts.
There are no valid reasons for Canada to be fighting and losing lives in Afghanistan. The job – whatever it is – will never be finished until the Afghans finish it. It’s time to declare victory.