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.

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