Tag Archives: stephen harper

The Prime Minister, the Taliban and Human Rights

Harper’s comment’s regarding the Liberal’s ‘passion’ for the Taliban was more than just a new low point in Canadian political debate, it reveals the government’s disturbingly shallow grasp of the strategy and tactics necessary to win in Afghanistan.

For the sake of both our military and the mission, the Prime Minister would be wise to read Lieutenant David Grossman’s landmark book, On Killing. In the book, Grossman, an Army Lieutenant Colonel and professor at West Point, describes the psychological implications of killing, both legally and illegally, in battle. Of specific interest to the Prime Minister would be the author’s argument and the historical evidence that explain why adhering to the Geneva Conventions and treating POW’s humanely is of supreme strategic and tactical importance to any organized army.

In short, enemy forces are much more willing to surrender when secure in the knowledge that in doing so they will be treated fairly and humanely. Enemies that believe otherwise are likely to fight to the death and inflict greater causalities even in a losing effort.

During the Second World War the Western allies’ adherence to the Geneva Convention resulted in German soldiers surrendering to US forces in large numbers. This was in sharp contrast to the experience of the Soviets, who cared little for POW’s. But one need not go back 60 years for evidence. Lieutenant Paul Rieckhoff, who fought in Iraq and then founded and became Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, makes a similar argument regarding today’s conflicts. Prior to the Abu Ghraib debacle he noted how: “on the streets of Baghdad, I saw countless insurgents surrender when faced with the prospect of a hot meal, a pack of cigarettes and air-conditioning. America’s moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets. It saved innumerable lives…”

When members of parliament, and ordinary Canadians, ask about the treatment of Afghan prisoners they don’t do so out of contempt, but out of a deep respect and concern for, Canadian soldiers. Canadians know we can ill afford to treat enemy combatants inhumanely. They know this because it is in opposition to our values and our very purpose in Afghanistan. However, they also know there is a compelling military reason: it would rob our soldiers of possibly their single most important tactical and strategic tool – moral integrity. Without this tool, who knows many Canadian lives will be needlessly lost in battles where an insurgent, believing that surrender is tantamount to execution, will instead opt to fight to the death.

The Prime Minister may believe that talking like a cowboy about Afghan prisoners and human rights will make the Government appear tough. The unfortunately reality is that it only makes him a danger to both the mission, and our soldier’s lives.

Afghanistan Op-Ed in Friday's Toronto Star

Taylor and I had an op-ed we’d written on Canada’s mission in Afghanistan published in the Toronto Star on Friday. Below is the original text we submitted to the Star. I like this version as it contains some of the arguments that got cut, most notably that there is a direct connection between our policies in the downtown eastside of Vancouver and the streets of Khandahar. Interestingly, Harper has promised, in the coming weeks, to table a strategy for Afghanistan. Our hope is that it will reflect some of the concerns outlined below.

Getting Back on Track in Afghanistan

Success in Afghanistan remains as vital today as when the government first sent troops, aid workers and diplomats to Kandahar in August 2005. Many Canadians, however, feel unsure about the mission and want to be assured that our government has a strategy. On February 6th, Prime Minister Harper promised as much, stating his government will table a report summarizing the progress and challenges to date, and will make a significant announcement about our next steps. This is an opportunity to clarify our strategy and to unite both Parliament and the country around the largest deployment of Canadian forces since the Korean war.

First, let us be clear. Canada has an unambiguous purpose in Afghanistan. Failure to secure and rebuild will leave the country as a failed state, a neo-Taliban led fundamentalist regime, or a training ground for terrorists. Any of these would fundamentally threaten Afghan human security, regional stability, and our Canadian national interests.

Prime Minister Harper must reaffirm our commitment and clearly articulate our way forward. We suggest that his report must address three critical areas that if left unchecked, will cause the mission to deteriorate and could cause it to fail.

1. Return to a strategy that complements counterinsurgency with reconstruction and the imposition of the rule of law. Over the past year Prime Minister Harper has increasingly relied on failed US policies and rhetoric, compounding existing problems and creating new ones. In a battle for the hearts and minds of southern Afghans, an aggressive approach will do more harm than good.

Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them.

We need to rethink our counterinsurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions. As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction. The Liberal cabinet deliberately chose not to deploy Leopard tanks and CF-18’s, prioritizing interpersonal contact with Afghans over brute military might. The Prime Minister must explain why we deviated from this strategy.

Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance. Support for the Taliban derived, in part, from their capacity to impose law and order. Many felt a draconian but predictable governance structure was preferable to chaos and anarchy. Afghan’s desperately want the stability and freedom that comes with the rule of law. If we want to win their hearts and minds we must enable them to establish a just and fair system as quickly as possible.

Diplomatically, the Taliban resurgence in the south remains unchecked. Our problem starts, not from lofty negotiations with Pakistan, but from our own polarised view of the Taliban. Like the failed de-Baathification of Iraq, categorising all who support the Taliban as “against us”, both radicalizes and creates enemies out of moderates whose political support could help stabilize the country.

2. Align Domestic and Foreign Policies. Support for US-backed counter-narcotics tactics endangers the Afghan mission. Poppy eradication destroys the livelihoods of many Afghans and fuels Taliban recruitment. Forcing farmers to shift from poppies, which generate $5,200 per acre, to wheat, which generates $121, is unrealistic. Farmers need a viable alternative. One that curtails the influence of warlords and reduces the global supply of heroin.

Internationally, the Canadian government should ally with the British to develop a regulatory regime that legalizes the purchase of Afghan poppy crops. These crops could be used in the legal production of codeine and morphine, which are scarce in the developing world.

The Canadian Government should also support the Afghan mission by curbing demand for opiates the one place it can – at home. In our globalized world there is a direct link between the poppy fields of Afghanistan and overdose deaths in downtown Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Domestic policies that reduce demand for illegal opiates – such as renewing Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site – diminish the market for these illicit crops and make it easier to shift Afghan farmers to alternatives.

3. Provide clarity of mission. Canadians must be provided with the necessary information to judge our strategy and progress in Afghanistan. When Canada agreed to the Kandahar mission it sought to balance development, military and diplomatic components. Prime Minister Paul Martin outlined this strategy on February 22nd, 2005 when he described how Canadian Forces “…will be assisted by aid officers, who will identify key assistance projects to help to reduce tensions, and by diplomats, who will work with the provincial and local authorities in building confidence with the local population.” Are we still implementing a 3D strategy? If not, why not? If so, what are the benchmarks with which we can measure our success and evaluate the balance between our defence, development and diplomatic efforts?

Transparency is particularly important for effective humanitarian assistance. Critical questions remain unanswered. Where is our development money going? How much are we spending, and on what? Are these programs symbiotic with our military and diplomatic operations?

The Government would be well advised to establish a development measurement framework with clear milestones, based on the Afghanistan Compact, enabling projects to be evaluated and held accountable. Canada could also appoint a Director of Reconstruction to serve as a counterpart to our military commander and charged with achieving our development objectives. Combined, these initiatives would enhance security by ensuring those programs that most positively impact the lives of local Afghans are prioritized and monitored.

While we are but one partner of a large coalition, smart, targeted Canadian policies can make a substantial difference. Because the Afghanistan mission is difficult and, at times, dangerous it continues to test our leadership. Harper’s report is timely, but will only be valuable if he addresses head on the critical challenges we face. Canada needs a clear strategy for success – one that builds trust, engages in development and reconstruction, and ensures the rule of law, simultaneously. Without such a strategy we risk defaulting to a US-style military approach, neglecting development and diplomacy. This is Canada’s mission – let us ensure we tackle it Canada’s way.

 

[tags]Afghanistan, Canadian Foreign Policy, International Affairs, Canada in the World[/tags]