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.

And thus only when the Taliban government refused to hand over individuals associated with Al Qaida residing in their territory did the war against the Taliban began. This despite offers from the Taliban that should they be provided with firm evidence of Al Qaida’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks, they would be willing to discuss the handover of suspects. However when such evidence failed to materialize, so did the Taliban’s willingness to hand over Al Qaida suspects to the US.[iii]

But such an exchange was just the latest in a series of approaches towards the Taliban-led Afghan government aimed at rooting out Al Qaida.

In the months leading up to 9/11, the Taliban’s continued refusal to handover their guests saw plans drawn up by the US Military for a full-scale offensive in Afghanistan, one whose purpose was “to remove al-Qaida from the face of the earth.”[iv] Other foreign nations were to be involved in this pre-emptive war, including India and Russia, both concerned at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their respective countries. An Indian military official noted that “the situation in Afghanistan cannot be ignored as it impinges directly on the 12-year old Kashmir insurgency.”[v] Again, the motive for intervention was domestic security, not the plight of Afghan civilians.

Two years prior to the attacks, in 1999, a year after the US had bombed suspected militant camps in eastern Afghanistan, UN Security Council Resolution 1267 acknowledged the humanitarian and human-rights failures of the Taliban regime, but noted that the country’s sovereign rights and sanctions were tied solely to the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaida.[vi] One can infer quite clearly that the world was unwilling to interfere in Afghanistan’s sovereignty on the basis of human rights but was on the basis of global security interests. And despite appeals from non-governmental organizations, aid groups and governments such as those of Malaysia that the resolution and sanctions would simply exacerbate the country’s humanitarian chaos caused by famine, the resolution passed unanimously.

Over the three years that followed, global condemnation closely tailed the Taliban’s continuing crackdown on human rights and culture, notably the 2001 edict that Hindu’s would be forced to wear yellow armbands to identify themselves as Hindu’s and the destruction of Buddhist statues at Bamiyan considered to be idolatrous later that same year. But said condemnation went no further than pleas for moderation and restraint.

The country’s sovereignty was never threatened due to these human-rights issues. Global security, i.e. the fight against terrorism, was the sole motivator for action in Afghanistan both before and after the 9/11 attacks.

Evidently, there are some who see more strategic issues at the heart of engagement in the region. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Advisor and highly influential geo-strategist, has said control of the vast hydrocarbon basins throughout Central Asia are fundamental to American interests. These reserves, mostly under the Caspian Sea, are amongst the largest in the world and are mostly unexploited. Such motives, or the potential control of opium production, are indeed plausible. However, given the information available from US, Canadian and other NATO members, they can only be seen as secondary, if that.

The motives for international involvement in Afghanistan were based on non-humanitarian issues. Security and strategic self-interest on the part of governments from both the region, Russia and India, and from likely targets of al Qaeda aggression, the US and UK, saw the removal of the Taliban by force as the only palatable solution.

The evident improvement in human rights associated with the removal of the Taliban from power was a secondary consideration at best. This was never meant to be a moral crusade for the rights of Afghans.

Our intervention in Afghanistan has been based on the threat that instability in the region might pose to our citizens at home.

Which, if true, means that given the continued strength of the insurgency, and the likelihood that effectively annulling the Taliban threat will take several more years, means that pulling out in 2011 is a counter-productive strategy; a strategy that chooses political expediency over the long-term interests of both NATO countries and Afghanistan.


[i] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20020201.htm

[ii] http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/

[iii] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/09/11/world/main310852.shtml

[iv] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4587368/

[v] http://www.janes.com/security/international_security/news/jir/jir010315_1_n.shtml

[vi] http://daccess-ods.un.org/TMP/9237704.html

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