Friday, March 27, 2009

An Afghan perspective on the Canadian mission

Ian Elliot of the Kingston Whig-Standard provides that view from Omar Samad, the outgoing Afghan ambassador to Canada, who was in Kingston to speak to a group at Queen's University. I found this part of the article especially compelling:

He said one of the biggest oversights, and one that led to the Taliban taking over the country, was that during the 1980s and the 1990s, the fight to drive the Soviets out of the country was the only goal.

Large numbers of Western supported and armed zealots, largely foreign born and schooled in religious madrassas, became the Taliban and went on to support and shelter al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups when they ran the country.

"Nobody thought about a post-Soviet era in Afghanistan -- everyone was concentrating on defeating the Soviets and no one thought about what would happen after that."

Afghanistan remains a messy regional problem, but Samad said there has been progress in rebuilding schools, establishing a constitution and an elected national government, starting to eliminate the opium trade that became established in the country during Soviet occupation and setting up a professional Afghan police force and national army.

He asked the students to think about how long it would take to rebuild Queen's if the university was bombed and looted, the staff and students scattered and then equate that example to an entire country, to get some perspective on how large the job was in Afghanistan. [Babbler's bold]

The question's not a new one, but I wonder if we in the West have the patience for this task...


Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

The ambassador makes good points. But it is hard to see what the West (read mainly the US) could have done. The civil war against the Communist regime continued after the 1989 final Soviet withdrawal until 1992 when it was toppled; then civil war amongst the various Mujahedin groups broke out, with the Taliban only emerging (with Pakistani encouragement and assistance) to take Kandahar in 1994 and Kabul in 1996.

And remember the Talibs were quite distinct from the Mujahedin that the US, Pakistan and others had supported. The Talibs actually sprang largely from Pathan refugees grown up in Pakistan--and educated in madrassas.

What effectively could have been done to help Afghanistan in the midst of such turmoil, short of a major military intervention that no-one would ever contemplate at the time?

Indeed, "to drive the Soviets out of the country was the only goal." Western publics would not have supported any large or continuing intervention by their countries subsequent to the Soviets' forces leaving. Look at the problems in keeping support for the recent effort.


2:38 p.m., March 27, 2009  

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