Sunday, October 07, 2007

A nattering nabob of negativism

Doubting Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star will do anything to undermine support for Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan:
Canada's purpose in Afghanistan is changing subtly but significantly. When then-prime minister Paul Martin agreed to send combat troops to Kandahar, his aim was to defeat the Taliban. Now, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai actively lobbies to bring his Taliban adversaries into a coalition government, the role of Canadian and other NATO-led troops is not to destroy the insurgents but to pressure them into talks.

In the real world of power politics, this is classic carrot and stick strategy. The carrot Karzai is offering his adversaries, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is a major role in the country's government. Canada and other NATO countries willing to have their soldiers die for the Afghan regime constitute the stick.

"If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, `President, we want a department in this or in that ministry, or we want a position as deputy minister ... and we don't want to fight any more' ... If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it," Karzai said last week.

What he left unsaid was the threat that if Taliban leaders don't compromise, they will continue to come under attack from NATO.

For Karzai, this makes perfect sense. As long as the insurgents have support in Afghanistan and hideouts in neighbouring Pakistan, they cannot be defeated.

In effect, he is saying to Mullah Omar: I can't win but neither can you. So let's make a deal and divvy up the spoils.

Yet it is a strategy that can work only if NATO keeps fighting. Otherwise, faced with a carrot and no stick, the Taliban would be tempted to battle on until they win.

Which explains why, even as Karzai makes overtures to Omar, he continues to plead with Canada to stay the course.

His problem, however, is that Canadians – even those who now support the war – may not be willing to have their soldiers used as pawns in this new great game...

...when the rationale for war is simply to buttress the negotiating position of an obscure foreign leader, will Canadians be as amenable?

It's one thing to fight a war to kill "scumbags." It's another to fight a war in order to persuade these same "scumbags" to accept six cabinet seats in a coalition government rather than seven.

I applaud Karzai for his attempts to end Afghanistan's nightmare through negotiation. Ultimately, a political solution is the only way out.

But at the same time, I wonder how the parents and husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan will feel if he succeeds – if Mullah Omar becomes Karzai's prime minister; if, as part of a coalition deal, more severe forms of sharia law are imposed on women; if the very few gains Afghanistan has made in the field of human rights are reversed.

Won't they wonder if the whole thing was a waste of time? Won't they suspect their lovers and sons and daughters died for nothing?
Mr Walkom certainly has a talent for twisting things. The Martin government did not send the CF to Kandahar "to defeat the Taliban". Rather, a Provincial Reconstruction Team was sent to do what its name implies; it was followed by a task force with the mission of providing security. That certainly entailed combat with the Taliban but I do not believe outright military victory was claimed as the mission.

Note Mr Walkom's negative and emotive language: our soldiers "as pawns in this new great game"; President Karzai as "an obscure foreign leader" (who just happened to address the Parliament of Canada just over a year ago).

Of course Mr Walkom is a reasonable man: "I applaud Karzai for his attempts to end Afghanistan's nightmare through negotiation." It's just that his heart bleeds fake blood for "the parents and husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan...Won't they wonder if the whole thing was a waste of time? Won't they suspect their lovers and sons and daughters died for nothing?".

That would be if negotiations eventually produce a Taliban-heavy and repressive Afghan government with Mullah Omar back almost in the saddle as prime minister.

What a straw man argument. President Karzai has clearly said that any former Taliban types would have sincerely to renounce violence before being accepted in government. I can't see the good Mullah doing that and I can't see his ever being accepted back in any case.

The whole point of any negotiations is gradually to split the Taliban apart if that can be done, not to accept the old gang back holus-bolus. In the meantime security must be provided, with combat as necessary, whilst the effort continues to build up the Afghan security forces so that they can be ever-more capable of defending the government and people themselves--and so that reconstruction and development can gather pace.

That plan may not work. But so far there is no proof that it has failed or is failing. It is a plan worth supporting with Canadian troops--who are not dying simply to permit a Taliban return as Mr Walkom so deceitfully suggests. And how would those lovers and sons and daughters feel about those deaths if, after a Canadian withdrawal, undefeated, from combat the Taliban some time later regained complete power by force?

Mr Walkom has in fact been advocating peace for some time; he simply does not care if it's peace with honour.

In the end there may be no NATO, just the UK and US, along with the Australians. Even the Australian Leader of the Opposition, from the Labour Party, has said he will increase the Diggers' military presence in Afstan.


Update: IED again:
Australia suffers first combat death in Afghanistan
Upperdate: Australian blogger Tim Blair provides a selection of reaction the death by leftist compatriots.


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