Kandahar deal breakers: Op-Ed in Globe and Mail

Taylor and I published a web-exclusive op-ed on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan in today’s Globe and Mail.

I’ve noticed that the Globe and Mail has implemented a “Recommend this article” button at the bottom of pieces so that readers can “vote” for articles they like. Interesting feature and great filter to see what people say they think is compelling

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Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque

TAYLOR OWEN AND DAVID EAVES
Special to Globe and Mail
November 2, 2007 at 1:03 AM EDT

The results of the poll of Afghans by Environics on behalf of The Globe and Mail, the CBC and La Presse were surprising to many. Afghans are broadly content with their government, happy that Canada is in Afghanistan, and believe the work being done is beneficial and effective. Canadians should be proud. We are making a difference.

What is potentially worrying, however, is the fervour with which the poll was greeted in Canada by some of the mission’s supporters. While a useful reminder of why we are in Afghanistan, this poll is not a blank cheque for any and all future engagement.

Future actions, by us or our allies, could alter the political conditions in Afghanistan, negatively shifting indigenous public opinion. Consequently, this poll should reaffirm the necessity of debating how we engage, and under what conditions we walk away.

Two looming scenarios could derail the mission.

Consider, for instance, the spraying of poppy crops. This winter, under the leadership of the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, the Americans plan to spray opium fields with herbicides. Needless to say, the spraying will have little to no impact on the global availability of illegal opiates.

But the impact on Afghanistan will be dramatic. Opium is critical to the Afghan economy. Kill the poppies and you impoverish the farmers, their families and the communities they support. This will undermine Afghan support for the NATO mission and destabilize the Karzai government.

Perhaps most important, the U.S. spraying campaign undermines the agreed-on division of labour within the NATO alliance. Under the Afghan compact, Britain was given responsibility for counternarcotics. Unilateral spraying by the U.S. violates this agreement. Such actions call into question the terms under which the alliance agreed to function, and on which Canada agreed to sustain its presence in Afghanistan.

In short, a policy in which we have had no input, and we are not executing, will make Afghanistan more dangerous to our soldiers and less conducive to achieving a lasting peace.

A second possible deal breaker is also on the horizon. After the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the Americans are likely to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. The purpose, strategy and tactics of this surge will have dramatic implications on the nature and potential success of our mission.

This influx of American troops could secure the troublesome Pakistani border and enhance the security environment for reconstruction and development. Alternatively, this force, hardened in Iraq, could engage in the most counterproductive forms of counterinsurgency, driving support to the Taliban. In short, a sea change in the composition of American forces could alter the nature of the mission into one that is unacceptable to Canada.

Neither the opium problem nor the insurgency can be solved with magic bullets. The appropriate policies are complex and long term. There are, however, things we should clearly not do.

In order for us to effectively react to, or ideally influence, these scenarios, it is not enough to be clear on our strategy and objectives. Canada must also outline to its allies the policies that so harm our actions that they negate our involvement.

This is not an empty threat. As Canadians already know, no one is willing to take over our role. Either our work in Kandahar is valuable to NATO, in which case we have influence, or it’s inconsequential, and we should be reconsidering our involvement. If the former, then we possess political leverage with which to shape the mission. What’s more, it is an aberration of responsibility to deploy our troops in the field but allow others to determine the course and strategy of the mission.

The Afghan poll gave us reasons to stay in Kandahar and to be proud of our role, but it is not a blank cheque. We must use our hard-won influence to negotiate with our allies on the terms and implementation of the mission. Poppy spraying and widespread use of aggressive counterinsurgency tactics should be deal breakers. Our military has won Canada real influence in Afghanistan; will our diplomats use it to ensure the mission’s success?

9 thoughts on “Kandahar deal breakers: Op-Ed in Globe and Mail

  1. JimBobby

    Whooee! Good boogin’. Congrats on gettin’ in the Globe. I noticed the commenters at the G&M were casting serious doubt on the validity of the poll.

    Who buys all the heroin that comes from Afghan opium? Oh yeah. Western addicts.

    Yer right as rain about crop-sprayin’ drivin’ Afghanis off the fence and into the arms of the Taliban.

    Good point on how the Merkans learned nuthin’ in EyeRack an’ now they’re gonna apply that knowledge in Afstan.

    JB

    Reply
  2. JimBobby

    Whooee! Good boogin’. Congrats on gettin’ in the Globe. I noticed the commenters at the G&M were casting serious doubt on the validity of the poll. Who buys all the heroin that comes from Afghan opium? Oh yeah. Western addicts. Yer right as rain about crop-sprayin’ drivin’ Afghanis off the fence and into the arms of the Taliban. Good point on how the Merkans learned nuthin’ in EyeRack an’ now they’re gonna apply that knowledge in Afstan.JB

    Reply
  3. foottothefire

    A poll conducted in Afghanistan??????? Where in afghanistan? Did they get outside the only two cities with half assed protection?
    Methinks the poll is highly suspect and Canadian taxpayers probably paid for it…take the poll then sell it to the folks with the most need.

    Reply
  4. David Eaves Post author

    Foottofire,
    Thank you for the comment.

    We’ve had this conversation on the blog before. The poll was commissioned by Environics, a private polling firm based here in Canada started by Michael Adams (a left-leaning progressive).

    The CBC, the Globe and Mail and La Presse paid for the poll, no government or tax-payer money was used.

    Please also read the methodology section of the poll. It is actually quite possibly to do a polling in Afghanistan…

    Reply
  5. foottothefire

    A poll conducted in Afghanistan??????? Where in afghanistan? Did they get outside the only two cities with half assed protection? Methinks the poll is highly suspect and Canadian taxpayers probably paid for it…take the poll then sell it to the folks with the most need.

    Reply
  6. David Eaves

    Foottofire,Thank you for the comment. We’ve had this conversation on the blog before. The poll was commissioned by Environics, a private polling firm based here in Canada started by Michael Adams (a left-leaning progressive).The CBC, the Globe and Mail and La Presse paid for the poll, no government or tax-payer money was used.Please also read the methodology section of the poll. It is actually quite possibly to do a polling in Afghanistan…

    Reply
  7. Kim Feraday

    Some interesting insights. I didn’t know that the Americans were acting unilaterally. I agree that we need to be clear on the conditions for our continued involvement. Don Newman had, I think it was the minister of foreign affairs, on Politics this week and he made it pretty clear that the Germans won’t move into a combat role.

    I think some of the poll results stress the need for us to rotate out of a combat roll for a period of time, especially if this is going to be a 10 year mission. I also think consideration should be given to the situation in Pakistan. If that explodes it’s going to change the whole scenario.

    BTW I tried the vote button on the Globe, but it only shows results for the top few articles. I wish they would add a post to Facebook like the Star has.

    Reply
  8. Kim Feraday

    Some interesting insights. I didn’t know that the Americans were acting unilaterally. I agree that we need to be clear on the conditions for our continued involvement. Don Newman had, I think it was the minister of foreign affairs, on Politics this week and he made it pretty clear that the Germans won’t move into a combat role.I think some of the poll results stress the need for us to rotate out of a combat roll for a period of time, especially if this is going to be a 10 year mission. I also think consideration should be given to the situation in Pakistan. If that explodes it’s going to change the whole scenario. BTW I tried the vote button on the Globe, but it only shows results for the top few articles. I wish they would add a post to Facebook like the Star has.

    Reply
  9. Ada

    The situation in Afghanistan needs a new approach, the way to change a country is to get the people of that country working with you, blowing up their fields won’t change anything. Create alternative jobs from people to do so they wont enter the drug trade, offer free addiction treatment also, clean up the streets and inspire the people that their country can be better and they will slowly change. Then it will be clear who the enemies are and there shouldn’t be so much collateral damage to hinder any progress.

    Reply

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