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Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Brief to the Independent Panel on the Future Role of Canada in Afghanistan," December 1, 2007.

Let me thank the Panel for the opportunity to have a say on this vital issue. Last night, CBC's “The National” reported on your trip to Afghanistan and your visit with President Karzai, with a general from the Afghan army and with our troops. That report did not mention the December 1st deadline—or even the opportunity for public input. This crucial information I got from the grapevine and confirmed on your website.

More and more, over the last couple of years it has seemed that just as Canada's military is emerging from a period of darkness, the public is entering one of its own. Someone should notify the Prime Minister that his attempts to control the information that Canadians are getting about Afghanistan have failed. Instead of controlling media, his efforts have gone a long way toward discrediting both himself and them. There are much better sources of information than either one.

I have read the Panel's requirements for submissions. It seems to me that the options the panel has been asked to consider are more about Canada's military than about the more general role described in the Panel's name.

It is on everyone's lips. The Canadian Forces are coming out into the light after a “decade of darkness” that began with the Somalia Affair. Times have changed and not for the good—not in Somalia, not in Rwanda, not in Bosnia or Macedonia or Kosovo, not in Iraq. The very urgent question, if you are a military planner, is what role there might be for the renewed Canadian military? That, it seems to me, is really the question the four options are asking us to address. The Forces, and indeed NATO, are all dressed up. But where shall they go?

I don't intend to answer that question here, but I will mention two places I think they should not go. Then I will turn my attention to what I believe are realistic goals in Afghanistan and accompany that discussion with links intended to provide a few sources I believe may be of some use in your deliberations.

First, as far as Canada is concerned, there should be no expansion of the war, in particular not to Iran and not to Pakistan. Obvious as that may seem at the moment, should American operations not unfold as planned in those two places, they could be on our agenda sooner than we think, and much sooner than will again be expedient to convene another Independent Panel.

Numero Uno
Before doing anything else, we should embark on a long-term effort to find out what Afghans want. Note that the military is poorly suited to this kind of activity. Police forces are generally better if one can be found that is not under siege at home either for corruption or the killing of innocent Canadians or for overreacting. Further, I do not mean that Environics and D3 should be commissioned to do more polls.

Proponents of the Four Required Options may hasten to add that finding out what Afghans think is part of their program or even that it goes without saying.

In fact, the best known and one of the few proponents of this approach is the former British diplomat, Rory Stewart (see also Sarah Kamal or here for text.) Canadians were so taken with his ideas that the Conservative government has agreed to invest $3 million over four years in support of his Turquoise Mountain Foundation’s efforts to accelerate the economic, social and cultural regeneration of Murad Khane, a commercial and residential district in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. This is about 1 percent of the Canadian budget in Afghanistan.

But the point here is that Stewart's projects began with a trek of 6000 miles largely on foot and horseback across Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Nepal shortly after the rout of the Taliban in 2001. His story is filled numerous instances of one-on-one engagement. He talked with (not at) Afghans who live in humble dwellings or in the rubble that “civilization” has made of their country.

Meanwhile, back home the Panel might help to initiate some spirited soul-searching. Before it's over we might have to do something more difficult than throwing money and soldiers at Afghanistan.

For example, consider Brian Vallée’s new book, The War on Women,” He notes that between 2000 and 2006, there were more women murdered by their intimate partners in Canada and the United States than there were soldiers who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In Canada it was almost five times as many. Can it be that failure is likely when we base our strategic goals on weakness of our own that we prefer to deny?

Second, it seem like a excellent idea to assist in the licensing of the poppy crop for the legal market in opiates. As I am sure the Panel must know, the Senlis Council has explored this in depth.

Third, we should get ready to negotiate. Sooner or later there will have to be negotiations. The Panel could make it sooner by identifying who should be negotiating with whom, what issues should be on the table, and how other aspects of the operation in Afghanistan (including NATO, including the US) can be redirected to support getting to the table and concluding an agreement.

I note that in the past Minister Mackay has equated negotiations to having tea with bin Laden. This does not reveal a profound or even credible understanding of what happens in negotiations.

Rex Murphy has scoffed at the idea that we might negotiate gay rights with the Taliban, but others have scoffed at the idea that the present government might negotiate gay rights with anyone at all.

Fourth, the treatment of prisoners continues to be an issue. William S Lind, a conservative American strategist who has written at length about Fourth Generation War, addresses this issue and the issue of negotiations. Here are a few savvy paragraphs written in September when there was talk about removing the Marine Corps from Iraq and having them take over the war in Afghanistan, an approach that differs from the one I am proposing but which I believe may constitute good advice for the Panel anyway. Note the comment on Pakistan.

First, we would have to adopt a realistic strategic goal, one that might be attainable. The present strategic goal of turning Afghanistan into a modern, secular, capitalist state with "equal rights for women" and similar claptrap lies in the in realm of fantasy. The most Afghanistan can become is Afghanistan in its better periods, which is to say a country with a weak central government, strong local warlords, endemic tribal civil war, a drug-based economy and a traditional Islamic society and culture. The dominant tribe, controlling the central government in Kabul, will be the Pashtun, because it always has been.

There are two possible strategies for attaining this goal, neither of which guarantees success, but both of which have a potential for success, unlike what we [i.e., the US -jt] and NATO are doing now. The first is to split the Pashtun from the Taliban, making the Pashtun our allies instead of our enemies. Since the Pashtun always win in the end, we must be allied with them if we are not to lose.

The second possible strategy is to split the Taliban from al-Qaeda and similar ethnically Arab 4GW entities and make a deal with them in which they would again get Kabul and the government. That central government will, as always in Afghan history, be weak, so we are not giving up all that much. This strategy has the advantage that it would reduce the pressure on Pakistan, which remains a de facto ally of the Taliban. If Pakistan goes, and it is going, our position in the region collapses overnight.

Of the two strategic options, I think the second is more likely to work. It gives us a central authority to make a deal with; other than the Taliban, who can deliver the Pashtun to the alliance we need? The same lack of an alternate legitimate authority—the Karzai government is not one—makes splitting the Pashtun from the Taliban a tall order. Most probably, attempting to do so will leave us enmeshed in endless local politics we can neither understand nor bring to any sort of useful conclusion. While we would have to swallow some of our (overweening) pride to give Kabul back to the Taliban, the Taliban is not in and of itself any threat to America, so long as it is not in bed with al-Qaeda.

Both strategic options require a radical change in American tactics, from "winning battles" defined by "kills" to the tactics of de-escalation. The FMFM-IA lays out in detail what a tactics of de-escalation means. Suffice it here to say here that it includes an end to airstrikes, trying to capture rather than kill those Pashtun we have to fight (and treating prisoners very well, as future allies), and replacing the American addiction to firepower with good light infantry tactics.

If the Bush administration is able to adopt these strategic recommendations, then handing Afghanistan over to the Marine Corps makes sense.

Fifth, I think it is imperative that we stop treating civilian casualties as if they were “unfortunate” and start treating them as if they were guaranteed, predictable and unacceptable. Start by taking responsibility. No one should get a medal or other commendation for an operation on which there are civilian casualties. Canada should not do anything at all until we are prepared to adopt a humble and apologetic tone rather than making excuses about the inevitability of civilian casualties.

Sixth, there should be a full public accounting and progress report on Canada's development and governance commitments. Minister Mackay told the House of Commons defence committee this week that additional expenses since his predecessor's report to them in May are mainly for additional tanks and force protection expenses. In the media, development projects seem to be mentioned mainly for rhetorical purposes. Yet no one believes that the tanks are for social work. Keep the military far from the development process and stop undermining the neutrality of traditional humanitarian organizations.

Seventh, stop all projects that require air support and that offer few opportunities for direct personal contact.

Finally, get all the dehumanizing foreign influences out of Afghanistan.

Even from what little we know in the current blacked out media environment, the risk is that Afghanistan could be far more damaging to the CF's reputation and morale (and to NATO) than Somalia was, especially if the war escalates to Iran and Pakistan.

The redirection of Canadian foreign policy must begin by reclaiming it from what NATO fancies as its new global role and from the US's highly unpopular military and economic meddling around the world. I spoke to Bahukutumbi Raman, a former Additional Secretary in the Indian Cabinet Secretariat this October. I will conclude with the following quotation:
I want the United States to succeed in the war on terrorism. It is in the interest of the United States; it is in the interest of the international community; it is in the interest of India....The problem with them [the US] is they think they know all the answers. They've got the resources; they know all the answers et cetera. So they don't need the experience of other countries. They don't need the advice of other countries. I would say a little more humility on the part of the United States in carrying out this war on terror. (B Raman, Interview, October 19, 2007.)

A Canadian with the ear of the Americans might whisper something to this effect in it.

Respectfully submitted,
James L Terral
Nelson, BC
November 29, 2007

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