Saturday, January 16, 2010

'The question will be, for how long do you want to be paying the Taliban with your money?'

UPDATE: The Taliban have responded to the folly of the "reconciliation" plan that is the subject of this post with suicide bombings and a wave of coordinated attacks in the heart of Kabul this morning. A Taliban spokesman explains: “The world community and the international forces are trying to buy the Taliban, and that is why we are showing that we are not for sale.”

UPDATE II: Ahmed Rashid, for whom I have enormous respect, is edging close to resigning himself to the inevitable.

An "odd guard guarding an embassy" is all that will be left of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan next year. Thus Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared, unchallenged, and as though it were only up to him to decide in the first place. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledges to support only a "different role focusing on a humanitarian commitment," indicating such open-mindedness as to risk having his brains fall out, and the New Democrats haven't made a contribution to the discussion since their 2006 edict declaring that Canada should simply refuse the United Nations' entreaties altogether because Afghanistan is just "not the right mission for Canada."

But somehow, it is the right mission for Mongolia, Estonia, Macedonia, Singapore, and even little Belgium, and while all 43 nations of the International Security Assistance Force have been embroiled in difficult discussions about what ISAF should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011, when the Afghanistan Compact expires, Canada has been paralyzed by the frenzies and taboos that have come to afflict its entire political class. The most recent spasm combines elements of both.

The frenzy: The only thing the House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan has been allowed to talk about is whether or not someone in cabinet might have done something that might be cynically construed as an act or an omission that might be spun in such a way as to suggest something less than assiduousness in the care and feeding of captured Taliban brigands, three years ago. The taboo: It's only a war crime if the Conservatives did it. You know paralysis has set in when that all that's left to us is to answer harangues to light our torches and march on our summarily-prorogued Parliament, while the rest of the world goes about its business.

In little more than a week from now, in London, foreign ministers and other senior representatives from the entire ISAF alliance will gather with the UN's Ban Ki-Moon, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and top NATO officials. They will be making an historic decision about the way forward in the most ambitious undertaking in the UN's history, a project in which Canada, in spite of itself, has until now played an extraordinarily important role. As things stand at the moment, all Canadians can say with any certainty about what Ottawa's contribution will be in London is that it should be expected to include an announcement along the lines of, The Boss says that if there is even one Canadian soldier reporting for duty in Afghanistan after 2011, he must be assigned to guard an embassy, and he must be odd.

With nearly $18 billion of Canada's money spent and the lives of 139 Canadian soldiers lost to the unfinished and necessary work of rebuilding and defending a sovereign Afghan republic, is that all we can say for ourselves? By way of charitable understatement: "There is no record of an analysis by any party of the consequences of leaving," Douglas Bland, head of the defence studies program at Queen's University, recently observed.

Among brave young Afghans, however, there is. There is in particular a great deal of analysis and fear and dismay about the implications of a backroom "exit strategy" being considered by some of richest ISAF countries in league with some of the most anti-democratic and far-right forces that have managed to burrow into the body of the Karzai regime in Kabul. The plan has been percolating for some long while. Lately, the Karzai clan has been courting the English-language media with its proposals for a ramped-up Taliban compensation deal, and now the British are floating trial balloons about a formal Taliban "trust fund" to be put to delegates at the upcoming London conference. The idea is that the civilized world can somehow buy a commitment to peace and security from counter-revolutionary bandits who lynch schoolteachers, burn girls' schools and send retarded 11-year-old boys on "suicide bomber" errands into crowded marketplaces.

Just one worried young democrat is the courageous Afghan-Canadian Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, who fled the Taliban for Canada as a refugee in the months before September 11, 2001. He has since spent much of his time
back in Afghanistan, away from his wife and children in Toronto, shoulder to the wheel of Afghan democracy. Most recently, Kechkenni served as a senior adviser to Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main challenger in the recent, fraud-plagued presidential elections.

"They are going to try and pay off the Taliban to stop fighting. But if ISAF leaves, the Taliban will come back," Kechkenni told me in a recent conversation. It's fine to try and hive off roving bands of unemployable Kandahari illiterates who have found themselves for one reason or another in the hire of the Taliban, Kechkenni told me. In fact, it would be a good idea. But the Taliban leadership is not exactly short of cash, and there are lots of Saudi billionaires and other well-heeled Islamist religious fanatics only too willing to be parted with their oil money, and the Taliban also has the opium trade and sundry other strong-arm rackets at hand. "You cannot buy off your enemies. When your money is gone, they will go back to fighting. The question will be, for how long do you want to be paying the Taliban with your money?"

Long before Canada's New Democrats hit upon the idea that the right mission for Canada would be to break with the UN, pull out its troops entirely and then return to Afghanistan with an offer to serve as some sort of wine steward at the hot-tub party to which Mullah Omar might one day invite Hamid Karzai, or whatever that was, Canada had already helped bankroll demobilization efforts that had talked about 50,000 footsoldiers down from the hills, out of the clutches of a variety of jihadi outfits.

By 2005, the project had pretty well run its course. But even now, Afghan-led "reconciliation" remains one of Canada's six priorities for its engagement in Afghanistan: "By 2011, we expect that national and provincial Afghan government initiatives will encourage political reconciliation, and receive timely support from Canada." And fair enough, but this is the "priority" that will guide the Canadian delegation when it shows up in London later this month.

At this rate, available for purchase in London will be an exit strategy that consists of a glorified schedule of post-dated bribes to the Taliban. The deal need only run a term sufficient to allow NATO to slink away, abandoning the Afghan people to a nation-wide score-settling bloodbath that will surely unfold, as night follows day, when there are no international soldiers left to stop it - or certainly no Canadian soldier anyway, except maybe that lone, odd embassy guard.

Presented with a cheap exit strategy like this, should Stephen Harper really be expected to keep faith with the millions of Afghans who have been inspired and emboldened by our promises all these years? Which cabinet minister would be assigned the job of meeting with the families of dead Canadian soldiers to explain the contents of the peace-and-security deal that
had just secured "timely support from Canada"? Would it be Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, or Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney? Which government bureaucrats would be assigned the grim duty of helping military families comprehend the provisions of the agreement that subsidize the extended-holiday budgets, axe-sharpening expenses and dancing-boy fees of the same Taliban thugs who had slaughtered their husbands, daughters and sons? Which "troops out now" MP would get up in the House of Commons to denounce the government for cutting and running from Afghanistan in such a craven fashion? Libby Davies?

If you think such a monstrous betrayal is beyond the pale of possibility, then you haven't noticed the depths to which Ottawa politics have lately sunk, or Hamid Karzai's repeated pleadings and cabinet-post offers to the "sons of the soil" who like wearing black turbans, or the tendency to debasement abroad in what passes for international statesmanship these days. You might not have noticed, but it is now actually within the bounds of Parliamentary language in Canada for portly and delicate gentlemen in the House of Commons to refer to one another, dead seriously, as "war criminals."

Last year, at another international Afghanistan conference, at the Hague, the smell of a betrayal was in the air then too. Afghanistan's women's rights leaders, democrats and secularists issued this warning: "Democratic principles, which Afghans have sacrificed their lives for and championed for the last century, cannot be negotiated away by the Afghan Government and the International Community under the guise of peace and security."

Who among the 43 ISAF delegations will speak for these Afghans in London? The French? The Turks? Maybe the Americans, maybe not. Maybe the Jordanians, or little Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Canadians have no idea what Ottawa intends to do in London and we can't cite Harper's recent proroguery as an excuse. Before they were sent packing, Opposition MPs hadn't even thought to ask, and I am not aware of anyone in the Ottawa press gallery who has been impudent enough to even wonder out loud about the question.

What we do know is that no matter whether the Canadian Forces battle group should come home or not, we cannot buy off our enemies, we can't break the solemn promises we have made to our brave Afghan friends, and an odd guard outside our embassy simply won't do.


Blogger vildechaye said...

One of your best posts ever Terry. Your passion for this issue shines through, and the logic is inexorable. I hope it gets picked up and is widely distributed. Not that the "anti-war" types give a damn, as long as the "imperialists" are momentarily thwarted.

Here's a sample of what we're up against, from the letters section of this week's Georgia Straight. The writer is discussing the Harper government's treatment of Omar Khadr: "one can only question exactly what it is about a 15-year-old boy—who was raised in a family that took him to Afghanistan, where he wound up fighting for his life against an American invasion..."

See, just a regular kid, parents took him to the homeland, which was invaded by nasty Americans. That's the worldview, and with a highfalutin' morally superior tone that is sickening in its simple-mindedness and/or duplicity.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Thanks for your comment, Vildechaye. I think I can say that the update I added this morning entitles me to at least a minor "I told you so" advantage over our adversaries.

12:32 PM  
Blogger lbnaz said...

I second vildechaye's first paragraph. Harper's statement was shameful. It hearkens to the same kind of foreign policy of calculated, heartless disinterest that studiously ignored Romeo D'allaire's impassioned pleas to thwart the imminent genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, as well as the culture of international bystanding that prevailed for far too long before confronting the Nazis.

But you put your finger on it Terry, were it only Harper that was to be blamed for this recently embraced insouciance. No, it's not just Harper. In fact it is each and every Canadian parliamentarian. Not a one of them appears to have the resolve, let alone the comprehension of the issues at stake to challenge this disgraceful betrayal of the Afghani people.

Is there not even a single Canadian parliamentarian who can read this post and shrug off the shackles of mental paralysis that grips the Canadian political class- the latter who seem entirely oblivious to what the Taliban are explicitly telling them?

We seem to be living in an era where bystanding and appeasement are the only foreign policy alternatives that the privileged can think of to deal with ultraconservative clerical murderers, misogynists and totalitarian bigots. May the sordid remains of this shameful day be looked back on with deep and profound regret.

4:36 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Welcome back Lbnaz.

Taking your question directly, the answer is that there are many Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs who are fed up to the teeth with the cynical and weak postures adopted by their respective leaders on this file. The prospects of any utterances coming from them are as dim as the likelihood that anyone in the news media will take the time to notice, and resolve to chase down this story and its implications, but there we are.

As Afghanistan goes, so goes the world. What happens there will determine what unfolds in Pakistan, across Central Asia, and in all likelihood, the resolution of the struggle in Afghanistan will set the terms for the struggle for human rights and democracy in any number of contested spaces, from Syria to Somalia and from Tehran to Tblisi. I truly wish these decisions were not so critical, but there we are.

I'm all for buying off as many jihadist commanders as possible; most of them are merely self-interested gangsters anyway, as cynical as any Eurotrash diplomat or Ottawa politician. I'm all for negotiating the surrender of as many "mid-level" Taliban commanders as are willing to be bought, and I'm all for negotiating the disarmament and demobilization of as many of their mercenaries as are willing to return to civilized life.

But what none of us should be prepared to do is sit back while the democratic states of the world build a funeral pyre for the Afghan democratic movement onto which we heap the bodies of all those Afghans who believed our promises. None of us in the world's democracies should countenance a negotiating position against the Taliban leadership that is anything more elaborate than a straightforward demand: surrender or die.

The terrible and disgraceful reality we face is that there is no "left" remaining in the English speaking world that is capable of mounting an effective challenge to even the most abject and craven sell-out of the kind that is always lurking in the darkness, always just a moment away, in the corridors of statecraft in London, Washington, and Ottawa.

So we must work with what we've got. Clear, hold, build. Reach out to what allies we can secure to our Afghan friends, and carry on.

9:04 AM  
Blogger lbnaz said...

Thanks for the welcome back Terry, I was always a lurker but until recently I had a problem with my google account which prevented me from commenting here. It appears to be sorted out now.

As to your reply, I fully agree Terry, buying off as many fair-weather Taliban foot-soldiers and henchman as possible should be part of an integrated strategy which alongside also includes improving the effectiveness of the ISAF against those jihadists striving to continue to murder, until such time that the elected Afghan government has a monopoly of force throughout Afghanistan.

By contrast, a strategy envisaging attempts to buy off fair-weather Taliban insurgents coupled to withdrawing most of the Canadian forces from Afghanistan and leaving an odd guard at an embassy post 2011, is a strategy of betrayal of Afghanis and forebodes deleterious regional and international consequences.

But I am curious. You wrote: there are many Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs who are fed up to the teeth with the cynical and weak postures adopted by their respective leaders on this file. The prospects of any utterances coming from them are as dim as the likelihood that anyone in the news media will take the time to notice, and resolve to chase down this story and its implications, but there we are.

What are the names of these MP's and especially the names of those Dippers who are "fed up"? Are you suggesting that the aforementioned "fed up" MP's won't voice their concerns out loud? If that is the case, how do you know they even exist?

If I go along with your promise that there are a substantial number of such MP's, do you think they would be more or less persuaded to make their voices heard a little more on this file were they to be inundated with letters demanding them to speak up or face the consequences of being outed should they continue to remain silent?

2:31 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I won't be outing anyone just yet, if at all, but it is not as though they are covert, or that there would be any great difficulty in pointing them out. We will see who has the courage of their convictions, and who does not.

9:12 AM  
Blogger ModernityBlog said...

A British blogger has been intimidated by the police. The Reverend Stephen Sizer didn’t like comments and criticism made on the Seismic Shock blog, so got the police to physically intimidate the blogger, to take down that mild criticism.

This is a clear freedom of speech issue, the police should not be used to intimidate bloggers.

I urge you to publicise this issue and support Seismic Shock, as “I too am Seismic Shock”

For more information see


2:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home