Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan

Today a Canadian soldier was killed in Afghanistan. That makes 11 since 2002.

For the record, I opposed Canada's involvement in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. I didn't question the brutality of the Taliban regime, nor that they provided a haven for Al Qaeda. But I wasn't convinced at the time that invading the country was the best way to improve matters. The events that ensued haven't altered my opinion. Did the invasion improve life for Afghanis? Did it stabilize the region? Did it stop al-Qaeda?

What is clear is that a lot of innocent Afghanis were maimed or killed, Osama bin Laden is still at large, and the Taliban remain a force to be reckoned with. Hundreds of "enemy combatants" were shipped off to Guantánamo Bay where, according to Amnesty International, many
"... remain held in a legal black hole ... many without access to any court, legal counsel or family visits. Denied their rights under international law and held in conditions which may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the detainees face severe psychological distress. There have been numerous suicide attempts."
A recent Globe and Mail story quotes NDP defence spokesman Bill Blaikie as saying "Canada's silence on Guantanamo is related to the fact that we are complicit in the whole process".

Many Canadians cherish our role as peacekeepers, but it's quite evident that "peacekeeping" doesn't really describe the Canadian military role in Afghanistan. What should our role be? I'd say that's a question for the Afghani people to answer. In the mean time, we can do more good by providing financial, technical, and moral support.

Cursed by its strategic location, Afghanistan has been repeatedly invaded over the years. Foreigners seem intent on butting in. Could it be that we're the problem?
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Anonymous Mohammed-TA said...

I believe there is a difference between suicide and self-sacrifice -- in fact a huge difference.

That difference, however, is very subjective and locked in the heart. As another, I may not correctly judge who committed suicide and who sacrificed himself.

Nations have always warred with each other. Rulers and commanders may or may not have hidden agendas of theirs when they send armies to fight, but a dying soldier most often, I think, believes he/she is sacrificing him/her-self.

I know not how to judge the fallen, but I do know one thing -- I am not going to die for a cause unless it is just to me beyond doubt.

And when I honestly try to judge whether matters are right or wrong, or true or false, I often end up concluding .... I do not know. I usually lack information, and what little of it I do have, I won't bet my life on it.

Are soldiers gambling with their lives?

Honestly, I think they matter which army they belong to. I think their mistake is not in the dying, but in their lack of ascertaining the truth for which they might die beyond reasonable doubt.

8:46 PM, March 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is too late to debate whether Canada should or shouldn't be in Afghanistan. We are there. We need to understand what role our troops are playing there - what their presence means to the Afghani people and how (or if) our troops can help achieve the goals of the Afghani people. We need to understand what the consequences will be if Canada suddenly pulled its troops out. All the financial, technical and moral support in the world - however well intentioned - will be wasted without order.

11:08 AM, April 02, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I don't mean to sound like I think I have this all figured out. But I do think it's important that we seriously consider withdrawing. It doesn't have to be sudden. I take it as a given that we should "first, do no harm", a principle that seems to be more honoured in the breach than the observance.

We seem to agree that the goals of the Afghani people should come first. I can't help but think that the notion that we can burst in and tell other people how to run their country is the height of arrogance. And yet that's what we did. There have now been elections, but their legitimacy is questionable in a country under foreign occupation. Are the people of Afghanistan really in charge? What if the elected government decided to do something that the foreign occupiers really didn't like?

I agree that order is necessary, but it's not clear that we're the best ones to be establishing order. The Soviets wanted order after they invaded Afghanistan. And before them, the British. It's also not clear that a centralized government makes sense for Afghanistan given the geographical and historical context. Perhaps it's more of a fantasy dreamed up by foreign invaders. Order doesn't necessarily require centralized control.

And yet I remain uncertain. I'm pretty sure we didn't carefully consider the consequences of participating in the invasion and occupation in the first place. But what's done is done. I agree that we now need to carefully consider the consequences of withdrawing the troops. But let's also consider the consequences of keeping them there.

11:02 PM, April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Brother Neil said...

Your final paragraph could go a bit further. Count up a few of the past conquerers who tried to control the Afghans -- the Persians, the Greeks, the British, the Russians...they have a lot of practice resisting outsiders and winning -- more practice than Canadians have at pacifying hostile populations, I would say.

5:20 PM, April 03, 2006  

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