Monday, September 17, 2007

Time for some honest answers on Afghanistan

If Canadians are entitled to straight talk from their government on any issue, it's the war in Afghanistan.
Instead, it feels like we are being conned, either misled or kept in the dark to suit the government's political agenda.
It's a poor way to approach such an important issue. Families are sending their loved ones off to war. They deserve clear answers from their government.
The basic question is simple: Does the government support continuing our military mission in Afghanistan once the current commitment ends in February 2009?
Getting a straight answer has proved impossible. It sounded like Defence Minister Peter MacKay was providing real information earlier this month in a television interview. He was asked if Canada should be telling NATO what our plans are - after all, the mission ends in less than 18 months.
"As far as the signal that has been sent already, our current configuration will end in February 2009," he said. "Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that, and the Afghan compact itself goes until 2011."
Sounds pretty clear. The military mission is almost over.
But within hours, a government spokesman said MacKay hadn't meant to say anything, certainly not that NATO had been told that we intended to end the mission as scheduled. He was just trying to sound like he was saying something.
Which left Canadians in the dark about what the government believes should happen.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a little clearer this week. He says the future of the mission is up to Parliament.
But he added that the Conservatives won't allow a debate or vote on the mission until he's convinced that the Commons will extend the war commitment, Harper says.
Which means an indefinite period of political jockeying.
That's unfair. Canadians deserve a full debate now. NATO deserves to know whether our troops will continue fighting after 2009, so it can plan.
And our troops deserve to know what their futures hold.
The Conservatives could argue that they need more time to persuade Canadians of the progress being made.
But they have had 19 months to make the case for the mission. It's now time for a debate and a decision.
Reaching a decision will be difficult, because the correct course is not obvious.
There are reasons for Canada to be at war in Afghanistan - to support the government, prevent terrorists from using the country as a safe haven and improve the lives of citizens.
But there are also reasons to question the effectiveness of the mission, the chance of success and the high cost in Canadian lives.
Recent months have been discouraging.
Canadians are fighting to regain control of areas they secured earlier this year, which the Afghan police and army were unable to hold. They are battling an insurgent campaign that poses enormous tactical challenges. The enemy can avoid confrontation, harass Canadians with IEDs and wait for the chance to reclaim the territory once the NATO forces have moved on. At the same time, the rising civilian death toll is reducing support for the NATO campaign.
Independent reports suggest Canadian aid - at least in terms of some of the major projects touted by the government - has failed to translate into change on the ground.
And the Afghan government and police remain corrupt and inefficient.
Canadians have weighed the evidence and decided our troops have done enough. A national Decima Research poll this summer found two out of three Canadians want the troops out of the fighting when this commitment ends. About 75 per cent of those surveyed did not believe our effort would produce real change in Afghanistan.
It's time for the Harper government to make its best case for a continued mission, and then listen to Canadians.
Footnote: The issue could come to a head when Parliament resumes sitting in October. Dion has said the Liberals would introduce a motion calling on the government to inform NATO that the mission would not be extended. Harper could choose to consider the vote a confidence motion, which would mean an election if the government is defeated.


Anonymous said...

There are reasons for Canada to be at war in Afghanistan - to support the government, prevent terrorists from using the country as a safe haven and improve the lives of citizens.

I don't accept these reasons, but can someone who does explain why these reasons are more important to Canadians than to any other coutnry in the world. I base that conclusion on the fact that, on a per capita basis, Canada has paid a far higher price, in terms of lost Canadian lives, than any other country in the world.
Military Fatalities By Country:
Country Total(as of Sept 17, 2007)
Australia 1
Canada 70
Czech 1
Denmark 4
Estonia 2
Finland 1
France 11
Germany 25
Italy 9
Netherlands 10
Norway 2
Poland 1
Portugal 1
Romania 5
South Korea 1
Spain 21
Sweden 2
UK 78
US 441
Total 686

Anonymous said...

The leader opf the country is now playing the same tune as our PM. If we leave the country will fall back into anarchy. Is't it there now? War lords with controp of the biggest poppy crops as our fols get blown up[ along some road. Our PM says we don't cut and run, but there is a time tbales so lets get out now or at elase some time before the posted date. almost forgot the fellow runnning the place is suggested alks could occur with the more moderate Taliban. amoving target in that god forsakenplace.