We need to understand what went wrong in Afghanistan


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This article was posted in the Calgary Herald yesterday by Declan hill, an investigative journalist and academic who specializes in corruption and organized crime. Declan has spent time in Afghanistan in an effort to find out if the war was worth Canadian sacrifices or if we were duped into fighting a war whose sole aim was to make the West’s arms industry richer. Too often we Canadians are naive because we want to believe in the best of everyone. Our reasons for risking our lives to help others is often at odds with the greedy agenda of Western politicians and industrialists. Declan Hill is raising questions no one wants to hear or face, but to ignore what is really happening in Afghanistan is to perpetuate it again and again in the Arab Spring sweeping the Middle East. I have fully supported our troops because they are the innocents doing the best they can in the quicksand where they have been stuck, but after I returned from Rwanda in 1994, while I was incredibly proud of our peacekeepers, I was ashamed of our government and its callous use of well-intentioned boots on the ground trying to do the best job they could with their hands tied behind their backs. Since then, it has not mattered which political party has been in power, the government has exploited the sincere idealism of our military forces and their belief in duty to country and to all who deserve democratic freedom. Self-interested politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists have betrayed all those committed to serve Canada here and around the world in the West’s manipulation of world events. God bless the Afghan people for they are the ultimate victims in this war. BONNIE 

Monday, February 27, 2012
By Declan Hill

So we lost.

We know now that more than 10 years after the invasion of Afghanistan, it will all end in failure. Like much connected with this odd war, there was no formal announcement, no hauling down of flags, rather the news came last month in a secret report written by NATO officials and leaked to the BBC which says that the Taliban will probably take over once western forces leave the country. This report was, in part, corroborated by the congressional testimony of a senior American field commander who this month spoke out in Washington about the “absence of success on virtually every level” in Afghanistan. Then we had the news that Hamid Karzai’s administration is negotiating with both the Taliban and the Iranian government (there is no better indicator that NATO has lost, than the rise of the influence of the Iranians). And this week, Karzai’s defence minister stated that if the Afghan forces are cut (i.e. $4 billion is not given to the government) it could all end in a catastrophe.

At this point, we need a Royal Commission into Canada’s part in NATO’s failure in Afghanistan. The Commission should be established in an innovative fashion — to borrow something from the Afghans — more a Loya Jirga than a traditional Canadian Royal Commission. For too often Royal Commissions descend into partisan sniping and the failure in Afghanistan goes deeper than simple Liberals versus Conservatives (both administrations helped in this war), it goes to the very heart of the Canadian political and military systems. In a Loya Jirga, all stakeholders (Afghan-Canadians, ordinary foot soldiers, translators, officers, senior generals, aid workers, politicians) get to enter into one large hall and speak their minds. Some of the meeting is on-the-record, some is off-the-record, but it goes on until answers are found and our entire system is rethought and reimagined.

We must undertake this exercise. More than 160 of our people died there. Their sacrifice demands that we find answers as to why our system failed. Here, then, to get the conversation started are a couple of possible explanations for the failure.

I suspect that NATO, as a whole, and Canadians specifically, fought too much like Americans. This is not a mean-spirited jibe. Lots of American soldiers are deeply principled and courageous, but from my experience in Iraq watching the current U.S. military in action is like seeing the part of the novel Catch-22 where Milo Minderbinder has taken over the war and brave people are being sacrificed for a system that is profiting off them. Currently, it seems the American military system is not set up to win wars, but rather to prolong them so lots of U.S.-based defence companies can make lots of money.

There are alternative ways of fighting. For example, the 19th-century British regime in India (which, leaving morality aside, was more successful than NATO operations in Afghanistan) emphasized that most senior officials, including all military officers, had to learn an indigenous language. Capacity in languages could and did extend all the way to regular soldiers. As well, the regiments of Sikhs, Pashtuns and other troops were not asked to swear allegiance using quasi-western methods — as they often are in modern-day Afghanistan, which allows Taliban traitors to regularly enter training camps and kill their trainers — but their own oaths, based on their own religions and cultures.

This inability to consider seriously, that our people — from foot soldiers to high-ranking diplomats — should be trained for years in Afghan culture is based, in part, on systemic racism. It is the same kind of institutional racism that gave rise to the idea of NATO training the new Afghan military. Twenty-five years ago, which set of fighters kicked the Soviet war machine’s butt — NATO or the Afghans? Instead of Canadians teaching their foot soldiers basic military manoeuvres, could we not have hired many of the former senior Afghan commanders to teach our officers and men their indigenous fighting methods? After all, to beat an enemy like the Taliban you have to understand them. How much useful cultural, linguistic and military training did our people actually have before setting foot in Afghanistan?

However, the real issue might be that we, as Canadians, never knew what our people were fighting for. At first, it was to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Now we know that for most of the time he was actually living in a comfortable house next to a military base in Pakistan. Then the casus belli was to bring democracy to Afghanistan. That claim went out the window when the 2009 elections were riddled with fraud and the UN’s own deputy election monitor resigned in protest. Then it was to teach the Karzai administration good governance. If good governance means widespread corruption and offshore bank accounts then we succeeded, by any other measure we failed. Then Canada and NATO were supposed to be in Afghanistan to reduce drug trafficking. Whereas United Nations statistics actually show that the drug trade has expanded exponentially since 2001 and some NATO officials even claimed that Hamid Karzai’s own brother had been heavily involved in the trafficking. Then came the nebulous claim that Canada was in Afghanistan so that our officials could be at some metaphorical table where they could share our unique views on international dialogue. This particular shibboleth was destroyed by WikiLeaks, when those previously secret diplomatic papers revealed not a single instance of Canadian diplomats having any worthwhile influence to speak of in Afghanistan. Then we were in Afghanistan to teach human rights. This view is challenging, as for years whenever our military captured any Afghans, they promptly put them in local jails where many innocent people are tortured.

In short, NATO and Canada failed because we did not know what we were doing or how to go about doing it. Finding out how we came to be in this situation means asking profound and complicated questions of our very system of government and military command. There will be few easy answers. Nor are they the fault of one particular political party. But more than 160 of our best people died in Afghanistan. We owe it to them to find out the answers and make sure that this failure never happens again.

Declan Hill’s book, The Fix, is an international bestseller.
Email: Declan_hill@twitter.com

About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, emotional trauma, federal government, Homecoming Vets, post traumatic stress disorder, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to We need to understand what went wrong in Afghanistan

  1. Thanks for posting, Bonnie.

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