| Ander Nieuws week 42 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
Author urges Canada to rethink Afghanistan

The Canadian Press
October 3, 2007
By Sue Bailey
NATO has bitten off far more than it can chew in Afghanistan while expounding a "strange, dishonest rhetoric" that overstates progress as much as it builds false hope, says former British diplomat and best-selling author Rory Stewart.
Canada should help lead a major refocus on parts of the country, namely in the north, that actually support democratic reform and development, he says.
"NATO has set itself up for failure by taking on far more than it could possibly achieve," he said Wednesday during a visit to Ottawa.
"Canada's great challenge is to identify three or four things that could realistically be done with the kind of resources, commitment and will that we have. And to make sure we achieve them in a way that leaves Canadian people feeling proud, NATO feeling that it's done something and, most important of all, the Afghans feeling that they've gotten something out of this intervention."
Those three or four things may include efforts to improve education and infrastructure in Kabul and other relatively peaceful zones where such development is welcome, Stewart says.
Military action could be channelled to keep insurgents from controlling major cities, he suggests, while special forces could be used to monitor religious schools that double as training cells for terrorists.
That would leave huge swaths of the South without the kind of development many Afghans want, he concedes.
"You can only do what you can do."
Citizens who want greater freedoms and services may eventually gravitate toward centres where they've been allowed to flourish, he says.
Stewart, 34, now lives in Kabul after increasingly harrowing diplomatic stints in Indonesia, Montenegro and finally Iraq. The Oxford-educated former British army officer set off in 2001 on a 10,000-kilometre walk across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. The dangerous, epic journey started in the months just after the Taliban fell and was the basis for his acclaimed memoir The Places in Between.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed during a news conference Wednesday that Canada accepted a mission to protect "the poor people" in the volatile southern region of Kandahar.
"We took the responsibility as a country. I think that we should see that responsibility through to the best of our ability.
"We think we have a moral responsibility there. It's not a matter of just playing to the polls."
In a thinly veiled shot at Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, Harper said it would be unwise for anyone aspiring to be prime minister "to play to short-term or uninformed political sentiment on issues that are so critical."
Stewart says Afghans - like everyone else - want basic freedoms and a say in who governs them.
But many will never support a central government or free market, especially in the insurgent south where centuries-old tribal codes still shape an Islamic society that deeply mistrusts strangers, let alone foreigners.
Harper wants to extend Canada's combat role past February 2009, but faces three opposition parties that have vowed to fight it. The matter could be intensely debated this fall against the political backdrop of a potential election.
From politicians to military leaders and diplomatic brass, the mantra on Afghanistan has been to hold the course. Progress is being made. Failure means capitulating to the extremist anti-West forces that helped incubate 9-11.
Stewart says few people are willing to take the flak that goes with pointing out that proponents of the current Afghan mission are hopelessly optimistic in their belief that enough cash and goodwill can turn a fundamentally Islamic state into a Western-style democracy.
Besides, Afghanistan does not hold the anti-terrorism key, he adds. Another 9-11 could be planned in an apartment pretty much anywhere in the world.
"What on Earth are we doing in terms of state building?" he said.
"Having fooled ourselves that all you need is more money and more troops ... let's try to redefine the problem and find a more honest, realistic objective."
Stewart is pushing for much more open discussion on a topic that makes scapegoats of naysayers.
"If you point out that our state-building enterprise is not working, people will quite quickly accuse you of being a reactionary or even a racist. They will try to suggest that if you raise problems, you're being denigrating towards Afghans, that you're not respecting the sacrifice of the troops.
"Anybody engaged in this debate comes under a lot of pressure from the military, from diplomats and from the Afghan government itself to try to suggest that everything is going well when it's not."
2007 CTV Globemedia
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