Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Today's National Post: "In Afghanistan, An Air Of Hope."

. . .It was no great surprise, then, that the postures of the "anti-war" movement based in the world's rich countries leave the Afghan activists I interviewed utterly mystified. Without exception, the proposition that the 39-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is merely a tool of Western imperialism was greeted with derision. As for the notion that the way forward in Afghanistan involves the withdrawal of foreign troops and some kind of brokered pact with the Taliban, the response was invariably wide-eyed incredulity.

There was a range of opinion on these subjects, of course. At one end there was bemusement, and at the other was fury, with a great deal of worry and dread in between. . . Here in the 'west,' none of us on the liberal left would fail to recognise these brave women and men as our comrades and allies, and if we were to flatter ourselves we might even imagine them to be our Afghan counterparts. On the question of troop withdrawal, their views were varied and nuanced, but their answer was ultimately the same: Stay.

And yet this is not the position that the left has been fighting for, in the main, in Europe or North America. It changes by degree from country to country, of course, and the left's positions are varied and nuanced. But in Canada, the left's answer is pretty much unequivocal: Leave.

It's a slight abbreviated version of my essay in Democratiya, here.

The National Post version is accompanied by an editorial, "Our Mission in Afghanistan," with which there is much to agree, but which is also partly wrong, in two important ways.

Firstly, ". . .were we not to remain firm on our target withdrawal date, the Afghan government would not take seriously its need to bring its army and police up to the levels needed to maintain national and local security once we and other NATO nations are gone." Secondly, the editorial asserts that the Afghan people "have little taste for such Western preoccupations as feminism, free speech, due process, religious pluralism, literacy and even democracy itself. Our Canadian presumption that ordinary Afghans want the same sort of society we have, with the same sort of freedoms, turned out to be an act of psychological projection. . ."

On the first point, we don't need a firm target date to force the Afghan government to take more seriously the need to build up a competent and effective army and police force. ISAF and the U.S. have been taking this objective less seriously than the Afghan government has, and indeed NATO's laggardly approach to these challenges has been one of the prime causes of disaffection between Hamid Karzai and Britain's Gordon Brown.

More importantly, this business about Afghan disinterest in "Western preoccupations" such as women's rights, free speech, democracy and so on, is simply groundless and wrong. First, these values are not "western," and secondly, the vast majority of Afghans do want their version of "the same sort of freedoms" Canadians enjoy - including the right of women to work, to go to school, and to run for office - and they have said so, time and again, in poll after poll after poll.

Here's just a few:

National Democratic Institute of International Affairs: "Afghan Perspectives on Democracy: A Report on Focus Groups in the Kabul Area on the Eve of the Emergency Loya Jirga." May, 2002. http://www.accessdemocracy.org/library/1411_af_report_052802.pdf

Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC): "Speaking Out: Afghan
Opinions on Rights and Responsibilities." November, 2003.

National Democratic Institute of International Affairs: "A Society in Transition: Focus Group Discussions in Afghanistan." December, 2003.

Asia Foundation / Afghan Media Resource Center: "Democracy In Afghanistan." July 13, 2004.

Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC): "Take the Guns Away: Afghan Voices on Security and Elections." September, 2004.

Center for Strategic and International Studies: "Voices of a New Afghanistan." June 14, 2005.

ABC News Poll: "Life in Afghanistan." December 7, 2005.

Program on International Policy Attitudes (University of Maryland) / D3 Systems / Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research, Kabul: "Poll of Afghanistan." January 11, 2006 .

Asia Foundation / Afghan Center for Social and Opinion Research: "A Survey of the Afghan People." November 9, 2006.

Human Rights Watch: "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan." April, 2007.

Environics / D3 Systems / Afghan Centre for Social and Opinion Research: "2007 Survey of Afghans." October 18, 2007.

You're welcome.


Blogger cyirush said...

Terry - I am very sympathetic to your position on Afghanistan and to Canada's commitment to building a democracy there; but I am still sceptical that there are sufficient numbers of Afghanis who want for themselves what we want for them.
I realize that many in Kabul do. And that no one enjoys being ruled by religious fanatics (not even Sunnis in Anbar). But is there really enough of an appreciation for democracy, basic human rights, the equality of women, etc., among the mass of the population (in particular, rural males) for these ideas to take hold?
I am not usually a Burkean, but conservatives have a point when they argue that while these values may be universally true they are not universally held. And in the places where they first came into being (early modern Europe) it took centuries for these norms to really take hold.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"But is there really enough of an appreciation for democracy, basic human rights, the equality of women, etc., among the mass of the population (in particular, rural males) for these ideas to take hold?"

These ideas have already taken hold, Craig. Read the polls. You will see. Our friends are everywhere, not just Kabul. They are waiting. Hedging their bets. Waiting. But they are there.

We stay the course, and the people wil win.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Forgive me my nascent hippie tendencies, but I refute Craig's assertion that anyone, Afghan or whatever, desires to live under the screws of oppressors. This is not the world of the 20th century or prior. People are more aware of the possibilities that exist in today's world.

Here's something from Leonard and family and friends:

11:14 PM  
Blogger cyirush said...

Terry -
Will take a look at the links. I have got your Democratiya essay to read as well.
I wonder if Harper's plan to pull out of Afghanistan will change now that Ignatieff is the leader of the opposition?

12:13 AM  
Blogger J. L. Krueger said...

I too am in Afghanistan and I second Terry's assessment on what the Afghans want. Our greatest weapons in helping them achieve that are the Internet and television. It is happening, but it will be a struggle that lasts at least a generation.

Think about it. There are few Afghans below the age of 50 who understand what an orderly society -- any orderly society -- looks like, let alone a democracy.

People are hedging their bets, that should be understandable given what they keep hearing about the West cutting and running. The biggest threats this country faces are not the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but mismanagement (by both ISAF and their own government) and corruption.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

This item is in followthemedia.com, further proving that there is not uniform thinking in favour of religious zealots and military dictators in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area — a very brave and erudite editor and commentator (note that ftm has misspelled his name, though: it's Najaam Sethi... sigh):

Pakistani Journalist To Be Honored At Event In India

Given the political delicacies between India and Pakistan we found it of note that the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has voted to give its most prestigious press freedom award – the Golden Pen – to a Pakistani editor to be awarded during WAN’s annual convention in India next March.

WAN is honoring Najaam Asethi, Editor-In-Chief of Friday Times and Daily Times in Pakistan, for his defense and promotion of press freedom in what WAN described as “difficult circumstances and constant personal danger.” He has been threatened with death by the Taliban and he has been jailed and beaten for offending the Pakistani government, so he has both sides against him which surely must mean he’s doing something right!

We asked WAN, however, if there was any political message in presenting a Pakistani such an award in India or was it just pure coincidence? “Total coincidence,” replied WAN’s Larry Kilman. “He would have gotten it no matter where the conference would be held.”

So now you know.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hope and reality . . . collide.


6:02 AM  
Blogger RadicalOmnivore said...

Hope shapes reality and without it there is no future.

7:35 AM  

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