Canada Obligated to “Stay and Make Things Right” in Afghanistan

Saturday, November 10, 2007

  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai with Canadian PM Stephen Harper (Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Afghanistan)

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai with Canadian PM Stephen Harper (Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Afghanistan)

Written by Ernie Regehr

Canada is obligated to “stay and make things right” in Afghanistan, according to Project Ploughshares co-founder Ernie Regehr. Last night, Regehr spoke at the University of Guelph about Canada’s role in the beleaguered country as part of the school’s Peace Week events.

“If you break it, you own it,” Regehr told his audience. “Canada participated in the destruction of the Taliban regime, and having participated in that and in the events that led up to the current situation I think that Canada has an obligation to stay and try to make things right.”

Canada’s current military role under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is set to expire in February 2009, but in last month’s throne speech, Stephen Harper indicated that he intends to keep troops in Afghanistan until 2011.

“I can't support it,” NDP leader Jack Layton said after the speech. “Not only are they not proposing to end the mission, they're talking about staying there and putting more money into the military,”

According to Regehr, much of the political debate has focused on the Canadian problem in Afghanistan and the question of troop deployment, rather than the fundamental needs and welfare of the Afghan people.

While he advocates a continued security presence is necessary in the current situation, Regehr says commitment to a peace process and development work should be the primary objectives of Canadian involvement. Since the Taliban and communities in the south of the country have not been included in any comprehensive peace talks, he says, Canada’s current role there continues to be perceived as one of fighting on one side of an ongoing civil war.

“Afghanistan needs to go through the transformative process of a developing a comprehensive peace agreement designed to develop a broad consensus in the country in support of the government and national institutions that are able to mediate conflict in that country,” he said.

Regehr said the refusal to deal with the Taliban to this point has prevented movements towards reconciliation in the country and damaged the legitimacy of the current Afghan government. Malalai Joya, the Afghan parliamentarian who has been suspended from parliament until 2010 for controversial remarks she made, recently toured Canada to speak against its support for a government made up of “warlords, drug lords and criminals.”

“The Northern Alliance fundamentalists are mentally similar to the Taliban, but superficially they have changed to suit their power by talking about democracy and the 9/11 tragedy,” Joya told CTV news last week, “Today, they control Afghanistan. Some of them are ministers, governors, commanders or ambassadors. They control Afghanistan and our people are like hostages.”

Human Rights Watch has estimated that about 60 per cent of the Afghan parliamentarians are warlords or their proxies.

“If [Afghans] view the government of Afghanistan as illegitimate, they will view the role of Canadian forces and development activities there as being illegitimate as well because it’s supporting something that they don’t’ trust,” Regehr said.

“There’s growing evidence that – even though initially there had been stronger support for the government – its legitimacy is waning. That just emphasizes all the more the need for a fundamentally different approach in developing a political consensus and identifying national institutions Afghans can support.”

Last month, Harper appointed an independent panel – including University of Guelph Chancellor Pamela Wallin – to make recommendations on what Canada’s role in Afghanistan should be after 2009. Headed by John Manley, the members of the panel have been criticized for having experience primarily in US-Canadian relations – not Afghanistan.

The panel announced that it will not be holding public forums due to time constraints, bu has invited Canadians to submit their ideas about Canada’s role in Afghanistan at this website, which also includes more information on the panel’s members and mandate.

Regehr’s presentation was part of the Peace Week events held every week leading up to Remembrance Day. His work with Project Ploughshares is based out of Waterloo, Ontario, and focuses on policy research and proposals regarding arms control, disarmament, defense policy and peace building.

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