May 23, 2006

What are we doing over there?

There were some new developments in the last week or so in Canada's intervention in Afghanistan. We had the first ever combat death of a female Canadian soldier, a sad triumph of equality I suppose. P.M. Harper held a ludicrous six-hour parliamentary "debate" on extending our mandate - an issue of such importance ought to have proper hearings and long study, not a feel-good exercise like that. Even so, he only barely managed a majority with a few votes from the Liberals, the other parties opposing.

And the latest - after an intense fire-fight with the Taliban involving Canadian troops, the Americans came in with jet fighters and Apache helicopters and bombed a nearby village where the retreating Taliban were thought to be hiding. The village, it seems, was destroyed (to save it?) and there was heavy loss of civilian life. (Numbers are disputed, as always in these things, but may be a hundred or more)

A number of serious concerns arise from this incident. First, Canada is supposed to be in charge in Kandahar province. Well, it turns out we're only in charge as long as the Americans say so. The Canadian commander has denied calling in the air-strike and blames it on "higher levels", meaning Americans.

So much for any effort the Canadians have been making in establishing rapport with the locals.

The proponents of Canadian involvement say that the purpose is to help the Afghans by building schools and so forth, and that because of the Taliban presence, military force is needed to protect the reconstruction effort. If so, air-strikes which destroy entire villages are completely counter-productive, both in physical and political terms.

We have to ask, do the local people want us there or not? (I don't care what Karzai says) I don't think this question is being addressed. If not, then this is just another colonial exercise of the powerful West telling the "backward" East what's best for them.

If we must be there, we should establish clear rules of engagement and if we are in charge in the operational area of Kandahar, as advertised, then that ought to mean that the Americans are barred from blundering in there with their heavy-handed fire-power whenever they want. If they won't agree, we should say "G'day" and leave them to it.

Will Harper take the American military and political leadership to task on this outrageous brutality? Not likely. Canadians need to pay more attention to foreign policy before we get dragged into another bloody Bush quagmire.


Anonymous said...

To directly address the heading for the blog (viz. "What are we doing over there?") I would point out that in the early protests against invading Iraq, it was broadly assumed (and vocally asserted) that this was "a war for oil". What the stated question must direct our attention to is this: the stated policy objectives of regime change are, in fact, much more demanding than merely securing U.S. oil interests. The war might well be over were oil the sole objective; that objective has been achieved in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. doesn't require more than the usual mercenaries (as used by Shell Oil rather infamously in defending their holdings in Africa) to perpetuate their control of pipelines and other capital investments.

One must conclude that the answer to "What are we doing over there?" really does entail the forced liquidation of the same Taliban that western powers funded (to the tune of many millions per annum) in the name of objectives more abstract than mere oil wells or opium fields.

None of this is said in the spirit of praise or blame; but it is a supreme irony that the U.S. is now digging itself into billions of dollars of debt in order to de-throne two of its former "client states" (viz., Iraq and Afghanistan). The new model of clientelism seems much more demanding of both parties --in dollars, oil, and blood.

Anonymous said...

It is very current and fashionable to blast American foreign policy in the West (however, you might want to thank America for that freedom). But while the most foreign aid to Afghanistan was flowing from the most hated nation, what were Buddhist Asian countries doing? Certainly, the millions of moolah towards lifeless artifacts couldn't be more counter-productive in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Air-strikes may not fit into the Buddhist scheme but to prescribe an immaculate outlook for the Afghan plight and a defeated solution to their debauched nation would also be unfitting. Preemptive attacks on these Islamic militants will persuade them to rethink the consequences to their techniques. I ask, even without the use of violence, how would Buddhists stamp out terrorism in Afghanistan? Running for the hills to Pakistan or Tajikistan may give the despot a smile, but what the subjugated Afghans?

Anonymous said...

"One must conclude that the answer to "What are we doing over there?" really does entail the forced liquidation of the same Taliban that western powers funded (to the tune of many millions per annum) in the name of objectives more abstract than mere oil wells or opium fields."
I am sorry, this is really too much. When the US was funding the Afghan resistance to the Russian invasion, there was no such thing as the Taliban. The Taliban filled a vacuum created by a combination of no unifying enemy and a lack of cooperation between the surviving warlords when the Soviet effort was suddenly abandoned. And there are no oil wells in Afghanistan.