by Eric Margolis
January 28, 2008
The report on Afghanistan delivered by the Manley Panel to Canada’s government last Monday was deeply flawed and most disappointing. Its totally predictable findings could have been written without the panel of instant Afghan experts wasting millions of taxpayer money.
This whitewash was designed to provide political cover for the Conservative government of PM Stephen Harper, which has faithfully followed the Bush Administration’s party line on Afghanistan. PM Harper has hung his political hat on the failing war in Afghanistan. By threatening to quit the conflict if NATO does not provide more troops, the Manley report provided the government with a handy escape hatch if things go terribly wrong in Afghanistan and the 2,500 Canadian troops there are forced to cut and run.
The Manley report provides the latest doleful example of the opposition Liberal’s pathetic failure to demand Ottawa answer tough questions about the growing mess in Afghanistan. Canada’s opposition has done even worse than the Democrats in Washington. Both are petrified to oppose a war that no matter how futile and foolish risks provoking charges of ‘not supporting our boys,’ and ‘being soft on terrorism.’
Most disturbing, the report claimed continued military operations in Afghanistan, which had so far cost 79 Canadians dead and untold billions, were necessary to ‘enhance’ Canada’s international influence. Two days later, another Canadian soldier died in action, presumably reinforcing the report’s contention about enhanced image.
As one who spends half his time abroad, I can attest that Canada’s military role in Afghanistan is virtually unknown to Americans, save occasional pats on the back to the Harper government from Bush Administration officials. Many Americans can’t find Canada, never mind Afghanistan, on the map.
In Europe and Asia, most people regard the Afghanistan conflict as a 19th century-style colonial war over future oil pipeline routes, and NATO’s role there the result of severe arms-twisting by Washington. That’s why most NATO troops are kept out of combat. Canada, by contrast, foolishly sent its small troops contingent into one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions due to the ignorance of its military and political leaders.
Canada’s position as one of the world’s most respected, admired nations has nothing to do with its military role in Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. Ottawa’s rash blunder into a tribal civil war in Afghanistan, and one-sided policy in the Mideast, has put Canada squarely in the gun sights of violent anti-western groups, and makes it appear an eager spear carrier in the Bush/Cheney wars in the Muslim World. Every bombed Afghan village breeds new enemies for Canada.
Ottawa is hiding the full truth about Afghanistan from Canadians. Its flag-waving media has further obscured the facts. When did one last see a report filed from the side of Taliban and its growing number of allies? The North American media has done as lousy a job in reporting Afghanistan as it did Iraq.
The report’s claim that Afghanistan’s US-imposed regime is ‘democratic’ is absurd. CIA ‘asset’ Hamid Karzai was installed by Washington and is kept in power by US troops and a stream of cash payoffs to drug-dealing tribal chiefs. His rigged ‘election’ was supervised by US troops and bought with $100 bills.
Afghanistan’s so-called ‘national army’ is made up of US-paid mercenaries. The ‘army’ does not need more training, as Manley claims. It needs loyalty to a legitimate national government – which does not exist.
Half of Afghanistan’s population, the Pashtun tribes (the source of the Taliban religious movement), has been largely excluded from political power. Until included, there will be no stability, never mind democracy. But Washington and Ottawa, have painted themselves into a corner by so demonizing Taliban and making enemies of the Pashtun (half of Afghanistan’s population), that overt negotiations with the movement or its growing number of allies is impossible.
Ominously, the Afghan war is steadily spreading into Pakistan, threatening the kind of ‘mission creep’ seen in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Canada is hypocritically backing Musharraf’s ugly dictatorship in Pakistan while claiming to be fighting for ‘democracy’ in Afghanistan.
The Manley report also soft-soaped government corruption. It ignored the 800 lb gorilla in Kabul: senior government officials up to their turbans in the heroin trade. Canada, the US and NATO find themselves patrons of the world’s leading narcostate, which supplies 90% of the world’s heroin and runs on drug money. The drugs are exported through Pakistan, another key western ally being corrupted by billions in drug money. Taliban eliminated the drug trade before being overthrown in 2001.
Most important, Manley’s report completely ignored the biggest problem of all. Canada has no political objective in this aimless war beyond making high-ranking Ottawa officials feel self-important at NATO meetings.
The Karzai regime, which rules only Kabul, would not last a week without western troops. There is no prospect of national political consensus until Taliban and its allies are brought into the process. The reborn Afghan Communist Party (now known as the Northern Alliance) is again a dominant influence in Kabul, including running torture prisons to which the US and Canada have been sending captives.
If the Afghan conflict is a vital matter of national security, as Canada claims, then maintaining a mere 2,500 troops in Afghanistan is no more than a gesture that wastes the lives of its soldiers. If fighting Taliban is that important, then Canada should mobilize and send 100,000 troops, not a handful. If it’s not, then Canada should withdraw its troops and let the Afghan tribes get on with resolving their differences. One either wins a war or goes home.
Canada is not being ennobled by this sordid, ugly, drug-fueled war, as Mr. Manley wrongly believes. To the contrary, Canada’s honor and reputation are being injured, and its security endangered. The Manley report is the political equivalent of a sub-prime mortgage. It does the nation a disservice.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007
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