Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Case for Afghanistan

Others have given the political, treaty and other justifications - I will try to put it in a slightly different context.

According to Mullah Omar himself, the Taliban are

"a simple band of dedicated youths determined to establish the laws of God on Earth and prepared to sacrifice everthing in pursuit of that goal...The Taliban will fight until there is no blood in Afghanistan left to be shed and Islam becomes the way of life for our people" 'Ghost Wars' by Steve Coll, page 289

Of course, the Taliban meant their particular version of Whabist-inspired Islam, not the mainstream. So how did a goup of fanatical religous students ("taliban" means student) become a force that could repress Afghanistan for years and be involved in the most daring terrorist attack in recent memory?

Chaos and anarchy.

Afghanistan in the early 1990s was a governed by a number of corrupt warlords, loosely tied together by their opposition to the Soviets and then to the government of former Soviet-puppet Najibullah. They clung to their old regional, tribal and ethnic loyalties - Pashtun vs Tajik, Durrani vs Panjishiri - and the country was, by 1994 essentially an ungovernable no-mans land of banditry. Women and girls were regulary kidnapped and raped, merchants robbed and traveller murdered. The country was being used as a training ground for Arab terrorists with connections to Osama binLaden and others.

For the average Afghani, life was hell.

In 1994, in Kandahar province, a group of "seekers of knowledge" began vigilante justice. They apprehended and administered traditional Islamic justice to rapists and bandits - death by beheading, stoning and the public cutting off of hands. This endeared them to the merchants, who were loosing goods, drivers and daughters to bandits and kidnappers. The merchants began to fund them. Kandahar became safer as the Taliban roamed for village to village, asserting their authority, killing any warlords that refused. This further appealed to the local Durrani Pashtuns, the clan of the Afghan royal family and the deposed King Zahir Shah, since many of these actions paralelled their own history and myths.

The problem was, of course, that none of it was true. There were many stories and runours, but an actual eyewitness never seemed to materialize. It was all a well crafted myth to help gain popular support for the Taliban - the group was most certainly a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service the ISI and funded by the rich Shieks of Saudi intelligence (who also assisted Osama bin Laden).

But at that point it hardly mattered. The common Afghani, tired of nearly 20 years of war and a daily life of death and anarchy welcomed the safety, even at the price of the strict Islam force on them by the Taliban. Exiled Afghanis, like Hamid Karzai, and other opponents of the corrupt government in Kabul, like Abdul Haq, saw the Taliban as the warriors who would return the King to power. Pakistan, of course, saw them as an Islamist partner and buffer against Russia.

In short, the Taliban gained much of its early, widespread support because Afghanistan was failed state with corrupt rulers and warlords, and it had fallen chaos. This occured in no small part because of the US foriegn policy of the 1980s - funding and assiting any group or bandit that was "not Communist" - and then abruptly cutting off all the funding when the Soviet Union fell in 1990. Abandoned by its former benefactor, Afghanistan sank into civil war and chaos that was harldy noticed in the outside world.

From this volitile mixture is what made the Taliban possible and gave Osama bin Laden his fighters. Desparation, anarchy and fear are the perfect breeding ground for the radicalism that fosters terrorist movements and gives them their foot soldiers. Add in Islamist governments in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia with their own agendas simply influencing things, and the horror of the Taliban and Al Queda are all but innevitable.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of the 1990s. Afghanistan must no longer be the breeding and training ground for Islamist radicals. Afghanistan must not come under the influence of governments of this same ilk. This can only be accomplished if Afghanistan has a strong, popular and democratic central government and the Afghan people live in safety and have the infrastructure to carry on a normal life.

To fail will be to let history repeat itself.

Now, that means we do things differently. Its not quite combat and not quite peacekeeping. It is at times delivering medicine and building schools and at times hunting and killing insurgents. For those who are worried, we do more friendship building and security keeping, but we may still need be aggressive. Sometimes the best way to win hearts and minds is to kick ass and take names. Especially in a country with a history of anarchy that Afghanistan has. First, make sure the Afghanis are safe, then you can fix their house.

Given that I am clearly fully behind this mission, I do have a few questions, especially for the Right Hon. Stephen Harper:

1. Who exactly is saying we should "cut and run?" No Canadian political party is calling for a withdrawl, but merely a debate on the mission and its objectives, to reasure the public of our role. With casualties starting to come in, this might be a good idea. I might also point out that a fair number of Blogging Dippers and Progressive Bloggers support the mission as well. they include:

The Amazing Wonderdog
Hope and Onions
Sinister Thoughts

There are others, judging by the comments sections of this sample. So where is this alleged left-wing conspiracy to make us "cut and run" - I have not been able to find it. I suspect it is a political strawman, meant to smear the opposition, but I might just be paranoid.

2. Why exactly is it we are not going to have a debate on our roll in Afghanistan? Apparently not now and not ever. I personally think an informed public makes the right decisions most of the time. I believe a debate would actually strengthen our resolve and increase support for the mission. I mean, I might by the arguement that a debate now might be superflous, but not in August, when it is time to renew, not next February when this mission ends, not ever for Afghanistan? Not only is that how you loose support of the public, that kind of undemocratic grandstanding is how you lose political allies as well.

Afghanistan is too important to be used as a political football to deflect attention away from Harper's other scandals (see David Emerson) or to demonize your opponents (see question 1) in true Straussian fashion. Refusing to debate will surely polarize the country and cause the mission to lose valuable public support.

Prime Minister Harper did a good thing in visiting the troops, he shouldn't blow it now by playing silly political games and grandstanding.


At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you pretty much layed out a cause to up root the taliban
my question is, haven't we done that already? what has(coalition)
done in the last 4 years?

our mission was to remove the Taliban from power because they refused
to hand over Osama bin Laden for his involvement in the September 11 attacks

By mid-March 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power and the Al Qaida network in Afghanistan had been destroyed.

so why are we still there?

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Annamarie said...

You explained it very well. Thanks! However, Jacobin's question is valid, the 'coalition' has been there for the last 4 years, and still no headway has been made? Obviously not, regardless of the rosy reports we were getting. For a while, things in Afghanistan were reported as getting better. Why the turn for worse? Could it be that the deteriorating situation in Iraq has emboldened the insurgents in Afghanistan?

I really would like for the long-suffering Afghanis to have a chance at a decent life. They deserve so much better than a lawless, dangerous, 'failed state', and to be the pawns of western powers, to be used then abandoned as they have been until the events of 9/11 and the hunt for Osama. As long as we are helping the Afghanis in rebuilding and truly democratising their country, my support is there. I only hope we see improvements before much more blood is spilled.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Mike said...


We are still there because, despite being removed from power, the Taliban is still there and Afghanistan is still not stable. Kabul is safe (in no small part thanks to our last mission) but much of the rest of the country is not - it is either ruled by sympathetic warlords (who are, after all, warlords) or currupt representatives. Much of the country's infrastructure has been destroyed, in both the recent American-led invasion and the preceding 30 years of civil war and Soviet occupation.

If we leave now, saying "well the job's done, the Taliban are gone", with the country still in shammbles and the Karzai government still relatively weak, the Taliban could very well be back in charge in a few years. then we will be right back where we started - Afghanistan will be a safe haven and breeding ground for Islamic militants of all stripes and the people will be enslaved by an autocratic theocracy.

Remember, this NATO-led, UN-santioned mission isn't huge in comparision to say Iraq. The US has less than 8000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Canada has (or will have) about 2300. Other NATO countries have contributed similar numbers to ours. With numbers that low, it will take longer than 4 years to complete. Now, had the Bush administration decided to fiocus on Afghanistan instead of pursuing an illegal war in Iraq, things might be different. Imagine what Afghanistan, a country that actually welcomed the Americans back in 2001, would be like today if 100 000 troops were on the ground there working on security and provincial reconstruction teams.

Stabiizing the government, rebuilding the infrastucture and capturing the old "hearts and minds" will take a longer. It the nature of the mission - we are not occupiers, but stabilizers.

As for the current situation I suspect that Annamarie is correct - the Americans being bogged down in Iraq may have emboldened the remaining Taliban. Time to recover and recoup in the hills of Pakistan may have also played a part - after a few years of laying low, they are ready to start again. We should never count out duplicity of Pakistans ISI or Saudi intelligence refunding and rearming them either - their are many elelcments in both governments that preffered the Taliban to the current, US and Western friendly government.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Stabiizing the government, rebuilding the infrastucture and capturing the old "hearts and minds" will take a longer. It the nature of the mission - we are not occupiers, but stabilizers."

those are all nice sugarcoated words, but this is afghanistan man, it's been that way for centuries, you know, maybe if the americans would have not redeployed to iraq, maybe our troops you be in a better position today! people keep forgetting that it was osama that attacked america on 9/11 not iraq, not even the taliban, sure they allowed him to stay in afghanistan, but those al queada training sites he built in afghanistan were built during the soviet invasion in the 80's which ronald reagan praised as "freedom fighters" and which america pourred billions of dollars into for training and arming those same freedom fighters that we now call terrorist.

once people start to understand history, they'll understand more that when canadians troops are being killed it's because afghanis are seeing us as being foreign occupiers (like the soviets), while canadians back home see our troops as stabilizers

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Mike said...

"but this is afghanistan man, it's been that way for centuries,"

Actually, before the 1978 Soviet-sponsored coup, whne the King was deposed, Afghanistan had been quite stable for quite a while.

Having read about the area I am well aware of the history. I would highly recommend "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll, which I quoted. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. It is an exceptional book.

From it you learn that indeed Osama built quite a few of his camps after he came to Afghanistan in 1996 (when he was kicked out of Sudan). I generally agree withwhat you asy about the US, but I still maintain that we are not occupiers of Afghanistan, based on the small numbers of troops any country has there. We have the fire power and the know how to make things safe, but not nescesarily to impose our will. Read the "Floppy hats vs Helmets" link above.

I look at Afghanistan as the opposite of Iraq. Afghanistan was a fractured theocratic country that harboured and spawned terrorist, specifically those that attacked the US embassies in Africa, the Cole and 9/11. With the invasion and war, it was stabilized and democratized. Still more needs to be done to ensure it does slip back to anarchy.

Iraq on the other hand was a stable, secular state. Sure it was ruled by a ruthless dictator (who was supported by that same Ronald Reagan, I might add), but it was not sponsoring or cottling terrorists (except retired ones needing medical attention, as a way to flip the political bird to Isreal). After the Gulf War, it was not a danger to anyone. Ater the US invasion in 2003, the country has sunk into anarchy and chaos. and now it is a training, breeding and fertile recruiting ground for terrorists and radicals of all stripes. It can be argued that the Afghanistan invasions succeeded in making us safer (it effectively eliminated Al Queda as a fighting force - now they write cheques) while Iraq has made us remarkably unsafe.

The commonality is anarchy - the more chaos, the less securiy and infrastructure a place has, the more likely it will become a centre for radical terrorists. Afghanistan is moving in the right direction, not the wrong one. Abandoning it now would have the same effect as the US invasion of Iraq - a much more unsafe world.

That's the selfish stuff.

Regular Afghanis are being helped and are genuinely grateful for what NATO hs done. We should continue if only to help them.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mike i pretty much agree, but take a look at
afghans history and how osama and al queada were
supported by the u.s.
Bin Laden only became a “terrorist” in US eyes
when he fell out with the Saudi royal family
over its decision to allow more than 540,000 US troops
to be stationed on Saudi soil following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan

in December 1979, thousands of Soviet troops entered the country to prevent the new government's fall

Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion
worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the mujaheddin factions.
Other Western governments, as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia,
kicked in as much and Wealthy Arab fanatics, like Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.

Osama bin Laden, arrived in Afghanistan to join the jihad in 1980.
bin Laden specialised in recruiting, financing and training
the estimated 35,000 non-Afghan mercenaries who joined the mujaheddin.

In 1986, bin Laden brought heavy construction equipment from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan.
Using his extensive knowledge of construction techniques
he built “training camps”

Al Qaeda, bin Laden's organisation, was established in 1987-88 to run the camps

The Soviet Union was eventually to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989
and the mujaheddin captured the capital, Kabul, in 1992.

Al-Qa’ida was established by Usama Bin Ladin in 1988
with Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.

And as Afghan rebels fought Soviet invaders during the 1980s,
the United States gave aid from afar while Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden
provided support from within Afghanistan.
In 1988, with U.S. knowledge, Bin Laden created al-Qaeda

afghanistan is a cluster fuck
canadians at home will see that our troops
are there for good, and rightly so,
but i doubt that the afghanis will, they
will view them as invaders
thats my take on it!

At 7:30 PM, Blogger kevvyd said...

Thanks for the great post, Mike. You are right that no political party is calling for 'cutting out', but there is such talk in the blogs - I've seen lots of it. Certainly no 'conspiracy', but there is some chatter about it.

And to me, that's part of the debate that we must have.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Mike said...


I realize that as well. Of course

a) I doubt very much that Stephen Harper was refering to those blogs

b) I was more attacking the meme that this is solely a lefty thing and that all the lefties arefor pulling out (as indicated by that digusting cartoon Cathie From Canada put up yesterday). I just showed that support for this crosses the political specturm and this should not be used to attack ones political opponents.

But yeah, it certain shows the need for the debate.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger kevvyd said...

Good points, Mike. I think I was conflating your post, his comments, and the stuff I've been reading from the blogging tory side of things.

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jacobin is leading on points, so far. The Afghan mission has not been clearly defined and the goal of "stabilizing" the country, given the current troop levels, is not achievable.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"The Afghan mission has not been clearly defined and the goal of "stabilizing" the country, given the current troop levels, is not achievable"

Gee, I guess we need a debate in Parliament.


I have no illusions of Canada doing this alone, nor do I think there are enough troops either - these are all points that need to be raised.

My point was that we should be involved militarily in Afghanistan. We need to do it right, yes, but we need to do it.

I would say the same about Dafour. I wanted more forceful action in the Balkans as soon as I heard about the rape camps and Srebreniza. I remember hearing Romeo Dallaire on As It Happens and wished we could have done something in Rawanda.

Some fights are worth it and stabilizing Afghanistan is one of them. If that mission is being implemented improperly, as you say, then it needs to change. And that is why I fully support a debate in Parliament on the subject.

You may disagree. I respect that.

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My point was that we should be involved militarily in Afghanistan. We need to do it right, yes, but we need to do it."

Doing it right is more important than doing it. When I referred to troops previously, I was talking about the entire NATO committment, which is way below what is required to stabilize the country.

Will enough troops be sent? This isn't up to Canada, but up to the U.S. and Europe. Will the Americans want to increase their committment to Afghanistan, given their experience in Iraq? Nope. Will the Europeans give a damn? Nope. There is no plan to stabilize Afghanistan; there is just a lot of hope, prayers and bravado.

God help anyone sent over there.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

Totally off topic, was just reading on Cerberus and found your comment regarding childcare choices.
Is this you Mike P? If it is, I haven't forgotten about you, and my ECE class is almost over. I still plan on getting back to you on a better childcare " plan". You are on my list!!!
Take care, your prairie friend Nicole in Regina

At 3:05 AM, Blogger marguer_d said...

As far as cut and run goes I think it's Harper doing it away from his promise to hold debates and free votes.

Holy cow even the pro-lifers are pissed off:

Harper's newly hardened position unilaterally rejects and renders meaningless resolution P-90 which was passed by the party grassroots at last year's Conservative policy convention.

That resolution, which supposedly marked the Conservatives as a democratic contrast to the Liberals, and which is official party policy, stated,

A Conservative government will restore democratic accountability in the House of Commons by allowing free votes. A Conservative government will make all votes free, except for the budget and main estimates. On issues of moral conscience, such as abortion, the definition of marriage and euthanasia, the party acknowledges the diversity of deeply held personal convictions among individual party members and the right of Members of Parliament to adopt positions in consultation with their constituents and to vote freely.

blah blah blah

Democratic Accountability HAHAHAHA!

At 3:13 AM, Blogger marguer_d said...

By the way, the present troops in Afghanistan are not operating as a NATO mission.

If you're interested in a US perspective on US involvement in Afghan and what mess Martin and Harper have blindsighted us into check [url]http://www.cfr.org/publication/10273/[/url]

As far as the PM's speech on why we have troops there, well, check his speech out on this webpage


Post a Comment

<< Home