Skills-based remittances

Stay, go and come back.

Economic development is often thought of in two simple terms: trade and aid. If one doesn’t work, the other will. Yet increasingly, with prolonged poverty and weak-GDP growth performance in many developing countries, we find that perhaps neither works as well as it should.

(I’ve previously reviewed Dambisa Moyo’s work on half of this topic, and my Masters thesis might explain the rest.)

So why then do some countries seem to be emerging from sub-Saharan Africa’s economic slumber? In particular, the West African countries of Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. Is it the consequences of decades of aid? Free trade? Or it because they have the right policy and institutional framework?

While it’s hard to disconnect any of the above metrics from eachother, I’d like to propose that growth in these, and other, countries is actually in large part linked to a concept of skill- and capital-repatriation that could be the “remittances” of the future.

Read the rest of this entry »


Canada in Afghanistan Part IV

Staying beyond 2011

Combined with a surge of NATO troops, we owe it to Afghani’s to attempt to give moderate forces in the country the breathing space necessary to gain control of the country.

Today, much of Afghanistan beyond Kabul is a no-mans land of warring factions. Even Kabul is easily penetrable by insurgent forces. And while some fear that the surge will cause undue humanitarian suffering, we have little choice but to coalesce one final push against the Taleban.

This push, and the continued build-up of domestic security forces in 2010 and 2011 must be accompanied by an allowance for change in the country’s governance.

The withdrawal of Hamid Karzai’s main challenger in the August 2009 elections, Abdullah Abdullah, from a decisive recount has left many to see Karzai as an illigitmate leader. Given the snails-pace progress the country has seen under Karzai, along with the continued violence both inside and outside of Kabul, we should owe Karzai no more chances. Should Abdullah be a more legitimate voice of the people then we should let that evolve as it may.

Moreover, as most now understand, the Afghan war cannot be won without a dramatic improvement of the situation, both military and political in neighbouring Pakistan. Stability in Afghanistan will be increasingly difficult without stability in Pakistan – hence the moniker of AfPak for the broad theatre of NATO/US operations in the region.

As it now stands, the Pakistani military’s inability to crack down on Taleban forces in Waziristan has created a safe-zone for militants on both sides of the mountainous border. Thus while the surge may push the Taleban out of Afghanistan, if they simply turn to a safe haven in Pakistan, then we’re left with little reassurance that they won’t be able to return shortly thereafter.

But pushing Pakistan to “deal” with their domestic Taleban is easier said than done.

Should 2012 arrive with no tangible change in the governance and development of Afghanistan then there’s no doubt many will call for Canada to go home, as others will do for their respective NATO nations. And while acknowledging that no one involved is prepared to run an Afghan protectorate, we must understand that the stabilization of Afghanistan is not a short-term project.

If we truly believe that our country, and those of our friends and neighbours, are at risk because of the ideologies and beliefs of the Taleban and its associates, then we cannot leave until we have left Afghanistan free of their power. And while this may mean more deaths for Canadian troops, it is a sacrifice we must be willing to bear to ensure our security and the stability of Central Asia.

Evidently, we could withdraw and leave the partnership for Afghanistan’s ongoing security and redevelopment to other NATO nations, notably the US and UK. Doing so however would leave us unable to influence the development of institutions and governance. This begs an important question – are we willing to hand over moral leadership for the West to the US and UK? The answer should be simple, no.

We can’t abscond from our international obligations because they are uncomfortable.

If we truly believe that the threat to our national security and national interests emanating from Central Asia is exponentially higher given the continued presence and strength of the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we can’t rely on others to shield us from the uncomfortable task at hand.

And ultimately, so long as our presence is met with a gradual development of domestic security and institutional capacity, we should disregard specific dates and instead focus our sights on progress.

We owe it to Afghanistan and the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for a mission that has yet to fulfill its aims.


Canada in Afghanistan Part III

What do Afghans want?

Poll after poll is released noting various figures related to the feelings of Afghans about their country’s plight.

A recent poll sponsored by American, British and German broadcasters showed that 70 percent of Afghans believe the country is headed in the right direction compared to just 40% of those polled a year before. However, other sources, notably the Asia Foundation’s annual survey of Afghans released in October 2009, showed that only 42% of Afghans believed the country was moving in the right direction versus 29% who thought it going the other way (though overall this represents a 7% improvement on the prior years results).  Moreover, 63% are in favour of a continued presence by NATO.

And perhaps most hopeful is data from the Asia Foundation that shows that 80% of those surveyed are against a return of the Taleban. As Canadian diplomat Chris Alexander noted in a recent speech at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, “The vast majority of Afghans view the Taleban as a foreign, non-Afghan force.”

Perhaps associated with that statistic is an 80% support for the rights of women. Proponents of continued engagement have long pointed to the increase in schooling for girls and opportunities for women across a country which under Taleban rule saw women demoted to second-class citizens as a sure sign of progress. Hamid Karzai’s government even includes three female parliamentarians.

These gains have, however, been limited by an aversion to full equality, highlighted painfully by a law passed by the Afghan parliament in the spring of 2009 that stripped Shia women in the country of many of their most basic rights. Even in Kabul, the centre of intellectual and economic activity in the country, women face harassment and threats if unaccompanied by a male companion.

Progress is slow and uneven, and faces challenges well beyond the threat of Taleban retribution. Read the rest of this entry »


Canada in Afghanistan Part II

The Myth of the Moral Crusade

“Removing the Taliban regime was an afterthought. There had been no interest in this before September 11, or even in the month that followed.”[i] Noam Chomsky, 2002.

Indeed, in his September 21st 2001 address to Congress, President Bush proclaimed that “By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban:

  • Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land.
  • Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned.
  • Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country.
  • Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities.
  • Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.”[ii]

While there was mention of the suffering the Afghan population was suffering under the Taliban in his speech, Bush’s condemnation was pointed at the Taliban’s role as host to Al Qaida, not as a perpetrator of harm against a civilian population.

In Canada, the rationale for intervention was similar. Jean Chretien’s Liberal government defined our participation as resting on three pillars: defending Canada’s national interests; Ensure Canadian leadership in world affairs; and Help Afghanistan rebuild. This was about terrorism and security, about the Taliban and their offer of sanctuary to al Qaeda, not about rights and freedoms. Read the rest of this entry »


Canada in Afghanistan Part I

Eight years and counting

Our perspectives on Afghanistan are largely shaped by the usually violent images seen on television and the seemingly non-stop barrage of bad news emanating from NATO participants and Afghan experts alike.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a majority of Canadians are subsequently against our ongoing military presence in Afghanistan (55% in December 2009 according to Angus Reid, and 60% in April 2010 according to Ekos).

NATO’s military strategy in Afghanistan has, according to US National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell, seen the resurgent Taliban take control of 10 percent to 11 percent of the country while Hamid Karzai’s government controls 30 percent to 31 percent. The majority of Afghanistan’s population and territory remains under local tribal control.[i]

More worrying is that, according to the International Council on Security and Development, the Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, up from 54 percent a year ago. Combine these stats with the powerful images of soldiers returning home in coffins and of continuing insurgent activity in Kabul, and it comes then as no surprise that around the world governments and concerned citizens are debating the merits of continued military engagement in Afghanistan.

The last year has seen an increasingly aggressive and assertive Taliban, as well as the growth of several other insurgent groups across the country. Conversely, the government of Hamid Karzai is weak, fractured and considered by some illegitimate after fraudulent activity marred last August’s presidential elections. Not exactly a recipe for success.

With Canada slated to withdraw from Afghanistan in December 2011, and with the American government enacting its long-awaited surge of troops into the country, 2010 will define the world’s engagement in Afghanistan and will likely define which direction the country embarks upon in a post-occupation era. Read the rest of this entry »


Canada’s future in Afghanistan

The Way Forward in Afghanistan: Is withdrawal an option?

Since the beginning of the Afghan war in October 2001, over twelve-thousand Afghan civilians, twenty-two thousand insurgents and over fourteen-hundred NATO soldiers have died in the conflict.

The US has spent nearly $250 billion fighting this war. Canada’s role has been no less important, spending over $20 billion, and seeing 141 valiant soldiers give their lives to the mission.

Yet despite the loss of life, the financial cost, and the immeasurable disruption of life for millions of Afghanis, a full eight years after the international community’s initial engagement in Afghanistan, NATO forces are still fighting the Taliban for control of the country.

We, both Canadians and the broader global community, must decide what the future of our engagement in Afghanistan will look like. How long are we prepared to stay? And what ends are we prepared to accept in the development of Afghanistan?

These are questions that I’ve struggled with over the past several months as the situation in Afghanistan has ebbed and flowed, and as discussion about Canada’s role in Afghanistan has been blurred by the recent Afghan detainee debate.

However, with current government strategy aimed at a withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011, and regardless of American wishes for us to stay, we need to ask ourselves whether leaving is the most appropriate strategy for both Canada’s national self-interest and our desires to help Afghanistan rebuild.

The next four short essays will try and delve into the topic of Afghanistan’s progress and continued conflict in an effort to help me, and perhaps others, decipher what Canada’s plan for its role in Afghanistan should be.

Part 1: Afghanistan today – Eight Years and Counting
Part II: The Myth of the Moral Crusade
Part III: What do Afghans want?
Part IV: Beyond 2011

This isn’t an ideological yes or no, I don’t believe in those. Rather this is an attempt at a pragmatic look at one of the most important issues to involve Canada since the Second World War.

Unfortunately, pragmatism rarely produces clear answers.


Prisons vs. Poverty – getting to the root of the problem.

Canadians will soon be spending more than ever to catch, convict and incarcerate criminals across the country. Figures released by the Federal Government show that the budget for Corrections Canada will rise to over $3-billion annually by 2013.  This represents an increase of over 27 per cent from 2010-11 figures which is largely tied to new infrastructure development and the addition of over 4,000 new correctional positions across the country.

Such increases are necessary, the Government notes, due to the growingnumber of criminals staying longer behind bars thanks to the current government’s tough-on-crime approach – this despite a decline in overall crime.

On an average day last year, Corrections Canada was responsible for 13,287 federally incarcerated offenders and 8,726 offenders in the community – which at a cost of over $95,000 per year per inmate certainly adds up.

In theory, the Conservative strategy would have mandatory sentences, longer period of incarceration and a focus on young offenders deter criminals from re-offending or even risking crime in the first place. It’s a strategy that is popular at the polls, and one that speaks to our innate desires to see crime met with punishment.

But is this actually an effective means of reducing crime and the propensity to recommit crimes? Read the rest of this entry »