GAR PARDY ON AFGHANISTAN: ‘Following the 9/11 attacks, there was an overreaction to the threat al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden represented to the West.’

A few days ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper casually declared that Afghanistan was no longer a threat to the world and there was no need for Canadian combat troops to remain.

Unfortunately, the prime minister was several years late in coming to these conclusions.

In the intervening years more than 150 Canadians were killed, hundreds were severely wounded and billions of dollars spent in support of a cause that was doomed from its very inception.

Largely ignored have been the tens of thousands of Afghans who have died in the fog of this unnecessary war.

The war in Afghanistan was born in the panic and bravado following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The initial successes of seeing the Taliban routed and, along with al-Qaeda, driven into the tribal areas of Pakistan, led to premature conclusions that the war was over.

It also led to erroneous conclusions on the nature of Afghan sociaety, its symbiotic relationship with Pakistan and Pakistani strategic interests in the region.

Equally, following the 9/11 attacks, there was an overreaction to the threat al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden represented to the West.

In part this was to create an enemy worthy of the attention of a super-power, but equally to attract international support for the war and to increase tolerance for the suppression of human righs and the use of torture.

As for Afghanistan, western leaders perpetuated the idea that the war had to be fought over there to avoid having to fight it at home.

In Canada, neither the political nor the military leadership, nor people generally, gave serious thought to going to war.

But, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, serious thought is just what is needed before going to war.

Canadian involvement was justified on NATO alliance solidarity with the United States and the threat al-Qaeda represented to Canada.

There was almost unanimity in the country that going to war in Afghanistan was both legitimate and appropriate.

The unanimity was reinforced by the ease of the early victories in 2001 and, with these, thoughts were given to ideas, programmes and projects that would see Afghanistan converted from a medieval state into one where social justice would abound.

In the meantime, Afghanistan dropped from centre stage with the American invasion of Iraq and the lack of success in tracking bin Laden.

A new government in Ottawa and a new chief of defence staff accepted military responsibility for Kandahar province and, before 2006 ended, Canadian casualties increased dramatically and the Canadian public realized that a new war was underway.

Instead of dealing with the important issues associates with the war, Ottawa decided that the issue was one of ensuring there was continuing public support for the troops fighting and dying.

An overdressed, inarticulate sports commentator, the chief of defence staff and a variety of public personalities entered the fray and sought to convince Canadians that it was unpatriotic to question the war and that victory was just around the corner.

A panel of experts was appointed to add gravitas, but  the reality of the war and the factually well-based perception this was unwinnable quickly undermined the earlier boosterism.

Meanwhile, it was becoming apparent that Pakistan was not the ally that had been assumed.

The arbitrary border did not divide people but rather established a common cause against the western invaders.

Islamabad was neither capable nor prepared to mount a significant counterinsurgency campaign within its own borders and its border regions remained at the centre of the war in Afghanistan.

Strategically, when the U. S. decided to legitimize the Indian nuclear weapons programme without offering to do the same for Pakistan, then the prospects of Pakistani co-operation on Afghanistan eroded even further.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama juxtaposed the war in Afghanistan as one of necessity in comparison to the war in Iraq.

In the succeeding months the war in Iraq was effectively ended, but to maintain his political credentials, Obama dramatically increased American troop levels in Afghanistan.

These increased levels partly offset the withdrawals by NATO countries and today there are few signs that there is any measurable success.

The death of bin Laden a few weeks ago provided Washington with an opportunity to reassess the war in Afghanistan, and there are now signs the United States will increase the pace of its troop withdrawals.

With the 2012 presidential election campaign already underway and the need for enormous cuts in expenditures, it could be that the western war in Afghanistan will begin its fade into oblivion.

The war had little to do with Afghanistan.

It was an unfocused, badly planned adventure, and the best that can be expected in the coming years is that the Afghans will be able to come to some conclusions about how they want to be governed.

Before that day arrives many more Afghans will die and regrettably it will be Afghans killing Afghans.

Perhaps out of that chaos, outsiders, without their armies, will be able to help.




Poorly planned misadventure cost many lives and billions of dollars

Victoria Times Colonist

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Page D3



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