The other day, in separate interviews, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar and Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae spoke to CBC News about the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
From their tone, they sounded as if they were musing about the pros and cons of an extension of the TransCanada Highway and how many clover leaves the road ought to have. From neither of those worthy gentlemen was there the slightest hint that we are talking about an ill-conceived mission in a disastrous war, about which people have been repeatedly misled for years.
Dewar said that Canada's military mission should end in July 2011 as scheduled and that after that date Canada should shift its attention to civilian projects in Afghanistan. He pointed out that to date ninety per cent of our effort has been military, that we've done our part on that front, can hold our heads high, and should now shift to civilian aid. He speculated that the Harper government's about-face on extending the military mission, without a vote in Parliament, might have been cooked up in a deal with the Liberals.
Fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough.
In his CBC interview, Bob Rae, who traveled to Afghanistan a few months ago, and later opined that the Liberal Party supported a Canadian commitment that could "include a role in training the Afghan army and police" after 2011, was critical of the Harper government for its lack of clarity about the future of the mission. Tell us exactly what you have in mind, involving how many soldiers, and costing how many dollars and we might go along, Rae seemed to be saying to Harper.
He appeared still to be prepared to countenance the training of Afghan troops by Canadian soldiers and said he couldn't understand why the NDP didn't want to train a single soldier.
If I have to choose, I'll take Dewar's line over Rae's.
But what's missing in all this is any frankness about what's gone on in Afghanistan. For years, Canadian soldiers have been fighting in this dirty war. 152 of them have died, 1,500 of them have been wounded and Canada has so far spent $18 billion on the mission.
We've been fighting on behalf of a government that is deeply implicated in corruption, that is tied to warlords, and that has close connections to the drug trade.
The Karzai regime, with the backing of the Obama administration, has been negotiating with elements of the Taliban to end this phase of the conflict.
While figures in the Pentagon and the U.S. foreign relations establishment have recently signaled a willingness to prolong the military mission well beyond July 2011 the date when the Obama administration has pledged to begin a major withdrawal of troops, the point of the new emphasis is to convince the Taliban, the Afghan regime and U.S. allies that the Americans are determined to continue the fight.
Meanwhile, the White House has been insisting that there is no change in U.S. planning. Americans are weary of the war in Afghanistan, and much of the base of the President's party wants a firm timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.
What is now underway is a drive to come up with a settlement between the Karzai regime and some of the insurgents so that Obama can claim success and start bringing American troops home in time for the 2012 presidential election campaign. The peace settlement that may be in the works will not be one that will gladden the hearts of those who hope for an agenda in Afghanistan that will extend human rights, the rights of women in particular, and progress toward democracy.
Canadian political leaders, especially members of the opposition, should address the hard realities of the conflict we have been engaged in when they speak in Parliament this week. Canadians are sick and tired of phony assurances about the progress being achieved by the West's military mission in Afghanistan. For once, how about the truth?
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