Canada supported the US's foray into Afghanistan after 9/11, ostensibly to overthrow the Taliban and secure the country while a semi-secular Afghan government was set up. There were always other issues there for the US - the Central Asian pipeline, for one - but from all reports, it sounds like Canada was there to help thwart terrorism and to loosen the grip of the loathesome Taliban.
More than four years later, Canadian troops are still there. I understand that a continued military presence is often essential to prevent an extremely repressive regime from filling a power vacuum, or from the total lawlessness and extreme violence of, for example, Rwanda, Somalia, or Sierra Leone.
But is that what's actually going on over there? What kind of government is being supported? And is Canada's presence in Afghanistan assisting the US occupation of Iraq, by propping up an overextended US military?
When a Canadian diplomat was killed in Afghanistan two weeks ago, Canada's role there was highlighted. The public was warned that Canadian casualties there may become a more common occurrence, and that Canadian troops will increasingly take the offensive. In other words, Canada will make war to keep the peace.
I found this interesting analysis of the Central Asian situation by Tom Porteus on TomPaine.com. I'm quoting it here as food for thought.
Two scourges of western civilization - terrorism and heroin - were wheeled out again in London this week to justify increased U.S. and European military and economic engagement in Afghanistan. The occasion was the unveiling of a new Afghan Compact: yet another "blueprint" for rebuilding the country.The writer presents what he sees as the three problems with the west's approach to Afghanistan: first, that it's been proven repeatedly not to work, second, that other western policies encourage the very failed state that the west is supposedly trying to fix, and third, that the focus on terrorism and drugs is simplistic and reductionist, that it doesn't take into account the rest of Afghanistan's reality. He concludes:
Afghan and western leaders used the London conference to deliver a stark message to the world: If you don't help fix Afghanistan, you will be overwhelmed by a mountain of Afghan narcotics and hordes of kohl-eyed graduates from Al Qaeda's Afghan terrorist academies.
The analysis is familiar, and a common theme runs through it: Afghanistan is a "failed state," and in order to address the global threats that emanate from it, the west needs to address the problem of state failure.
There are three difficulties with this presentation of the problems of Afghanistan. Together they help to explain the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the West's policies there since the overthrow of the mad mullah/Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11.
The assessment of the political grandees at the London conference was that the west and its Afghan partners are on the right track in Afghanistan but need to go further. The reality is different.* * * *
Whatever pious statements may come out of international gatherings like the London conference, the west's strategic interests in Afghanistan and in the wider region will continue to pull in different, often contradictory and unpredictable directions - not all of them beneficial to Afghanistan. In short, the Great Game, which has so often undermined Afghanistan's prospects of peace and stability in the past, goes on. [Full story here.]
Feel-good pride in the military is very common in Canada now, a bit of quiet (because it's Canadian) chest-thumping that the military is no longer a predictable punchline. Canadians are very proud of their country's frequent role as international peacekeeper, which I can appreciate.
But that pride can easily morph into a blanket support-our-troops kind of cheerleading. Citizens can easily confuse support for the people in the military and empathy for their dangerous jobs with uncritical support for whatever mission their government sends them on. And that's dangerous.
I have no conclusion about this, only questions. How do you all feel about Canada's continued presence in Afghanistan?