Canada in Afghanistan...Failed Promises

By Dunia Abbas

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Image source: Flickr.

Last Saturday, on May 28th, 2011, Bombardier Karl Manning became the 156th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan and the second to be killed in 2011. He was found dead from non-combat related wounds and an enemy action had been ruled out. Accordingly, Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay released a statement of condolences as well as the following: "The Canadian Forces continue to make a positive difference in Afghanistan while protecting and promoting both Canadian and international security". What is this positive difference that MacKay is speaking of? And how are they protecting and promoting both Canadian and International security? This is an issue that has presented many concerns for Canadians and dominates much of their conversations. And if it is not dominating their conversations, then it should because it is their own government's credibility at stake and Canadians are the real investors in their government's operations in Afghanistan.

Canada's combined resources and expertise on the security, governance and development fronts are playing no small part in helping the Government of Afghanistan secure a supposed better future for its people. Canada has been unable to deliver the results it has promised and has provided more ground for people questioning Canada's presence there instead of answers and tangible results.

The first question that might come to one's mind is why is Canada so interested in the well-being of the Afghan people? For almost 5 years now, Israel imposes a harsh siege and the worst of its kind on the population of Gaza which is causing new generations to be raised in poverty, fear and trauma of Israeli warfare. Somalia is a nation that must surely qualify for the worst place on Earth, with armed gangs roaming the streets as two groups vie for the ability to become its government, meanwhile the population barely survives on whatever food supplies reach it. In Uganda, an entire society - the Acholi - is being systematically destroyed -physically, culturally, socially and economically - in full view of the international community. The situation in Uganda has been going on non-stop for almost 20 years but Western governments have turned a blind eye to a pliant regime and dictatorship under President Museveni that practices genocide. And yet, there is no NATO to stabilize the situation, no U.S. military to surge its forces, no foreign interventions promising to "free and stabilize" these places. That is why all these humanitarian arguments for deploying in Afghanistan, invading Iraq, and the recent United States/French joint bombing of Libya are just destined to fail before they even begin.

The argument that Afghanistan poses a threat to Canada's national security is the one most mentioned. Assuming that because a country is a mess, then it is a direct threat to Canadian's security is very inaccurate and illogical. It needs to be understood that terrorism and insurgency are two very different things. It is very possible to counter terrorist groups without starting wars in their respective countries and claiming to build "new and better states". NATO needs to revise its plans of deploying even more troops into Afghanistan and refocus itself on how to really counter terrorism, if that is what its agenda is really all about.

It seems that the west is worried about its credibility since it has promised to build  a "decent state" in Afghanistan, but who asked for them for this moral obligation of "saving the Afghans"? It is more apparent now than ever before that the human rights of the Afghans are much worse than before. Controversies have of course also swarmed throughout, with a Canadian soldier charged with second-degree murder in late December 2008 and the Afghan detainee abuse scandal.

And what about the problems at home? Isn't ignoring problems at home much worse for the west's credibility? In 2009, 6 out of 10 Canadians could be in trouble if their pay cheque gets delayed and Canadian consumer debt to financial assets ratio is the worst of 20 OECD nations. In 2011, According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the richest one percent of Canadians increased their income two-fold since the late 70s, the richest 0.01% seven-fold, and yet the income of the common person hasn't noticeably changed.  Obviously this level of inequality is indefensible by any moral standard, and every thinking person knows there is something wrong with an economic system in which the fastest-growing incomes are those which are already the biggest. The estimated cost of continuing Canadian operations in Afghanistan? As high as CAD$18.5 billion at the end of last year, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The argument that if the west fails in Afghanistan, then NATO might fall apart and all of the west's enemies around the world will become more powerful is hugely overstated. When foreign intervention is reduced in Afghanistan and all this faith in a NATO-led war disappears (if it hasn't already), only then will its government be able to take control and build its country. Afghan government efforts need to be coupled with its people's involvement if good government is to be secured long-term.

Where is the evidence that Afghanistan is more "stable"? In fact, the fighting is intensifying, casualties are mounting and the Taliban is becoming more confident. These patterns of failed foreign interventions, with massive ground interventions to "combat terrorism" and help build a new and improved state, which then lead to high human costs (which means dead family members and friends) and the destruction of countries, and  are immoral, counter-productive, and just do not work.


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