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Default The mess NATO made in Afghanistan: Siddiqui - 05-07-2014, 08:41 PM

The mess NATO made in Afghanistan: Siddiqui

After a war longer than either of the two world wars, the outlook in Afghanistan remains bleak.

The last Canadian troops to leave Afghanistan deplane on Canadian soil in Ottawa, March 18, 2014.

By: Haroon Siddiqui Columnist, Published on Wed May 07 2014

Friday is “a day of honour” to mark our Afghan mission, courtesy of handouts by corporate Canada. Stephen Harper wants the photo-op but does not want to pay for it, though he did for the state funeral for his former finance minister, an occasion he used, in breach of protocol, to canonize the Conservative management of the economy.

Peace-loving but not pacifist, Canada rightly joined the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and helped topple the Taliban — doing far more than our share. But it’s been downhill since, due mainly to a series of American mistakes born of cultural ignorance, imperial arrogance, incompetence, indiscipline and political indecisiveness. Our own mistake was to re-commit to Kandahar in 2005. If a Liberal prime minister, Jean Chrétien, had the good sense to keep us out of Iraq, another, Paul Martin, lacked the judgment or courage to resist calls to please the Americans or NATO or merely buff up our armed forces under a war-happy commander, Rick Hillier.

Some good has obviously been done in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was scattered, Osama bin Laden killed. Roads were paved, schools and health facilities built. Eight million kids, including girls, are going to schools. Women are slowly getting empowered, voting in droves and running for a fifth of the federal and provincial seats. A third presidential election is paving the way for the first peaceful transfer of power at the top in decades. Afghans can fly kites and listen to music and sing — albeit only in urban centres.

That most rural areas remain blighted was inevitable. Such is the uneven nature of progress, anywhere.

But the real sin is that the “must win war,” as Barack Obama called it, has not been won. Far too many Afghans have little or no security. NATO comforts itself that the most civilian deaths have been caused by the Taliban. That’s an admission that it could not prevent it — thereby failing in the most basic duty of an occupying power, which is to provide security to the civilians.

Kabul has its version of Baghdad’s Green Zone, with President Hamid Karzai and the entire government operating from behind barricades. Across the country, there’s a humanitarian crisis, with nearly 630,000 Afghans displaced, many living in squalid camps. Malnutrition among children is going up, not down — up 50 per cent in the last two years, according to the United Nations.

The future looks bleak. If NATO pulls out at the end of this year, the Afghan government may or may not survive a Taliban onslaught, despite the development of 350,000 security forces paid for by NATO, including Canada, which has committed another $100 million a year until 2017. A NATO contingent, of about 8,000 to 12,000, must remain to keep Kabul from falling to the Taliban.

(America wants to be there for other reasons. It won’t abandon that strategic location to neighbouring China and nearby Russia. It has economic interests, given the estimated $1 trillion in natural resources. It wants to maintain the CIA bases along the Pakistan border, from where it launches drone attacks on militants in Pakistan and monitors Pakistan itself, especially its nuclear facilities).

Afghanistan cannot sustain itself financially, either. Eighty per cent of its budget comes in foreign subsidies — estimated at $7 billion a year for years to come — with little or no end to corruption in sight.

But opium production is up, even though the U.S. has spent $10 billion trying to eradicate it. About 200,000 hectares are planted this year, from which the Taliban will harvest at least $50 million.

Worse yet, we do not know who, exactly, are the Taliban? Has anyone seen them, besides the phonies who claim to speak for them?

There are the Afghan Taliban who lay mines to trip up NATO soldiers, and who send out suicide bombers. Are they locally directed or by the Quetta Shura, named after the city in Pakistan where Mullah Omar and other top Afghan leadership is ensconced, though nobody has seen them, either.

There are the Pakistan Taliban, of various stripes. Not all are under the thumb of the Pakistan intelligence service, as alleged. After all, different Taliban outfits are at war with Pakistan — killing at least 5,000 security personnel and nearly 50,000 civilians. Pakistan has its proxies, whom it does protect.

The U.S. has been trying to negotiate with some Taliban since 2011. They opened an office in Doha, Qatar, only to be told to shut it down within days under severe objections from Karzai.

He himself has been negotiating with some other Taliban. Strangely, his intelligence service abducted a Pakistani Talib last fall to talk to him (while the Americans were busy targeting his tribe in Pakistan with drones).

The recently elected government of Pakistan is fulfilling an election pledge to talk to the Taliban. Yet there’s no news coverage.

Are these various talks being pursued out of naïveté or some realistic belief that an agreement will emerge? Or is it merely to create the illusion of progress?

We don’t know.

What we do know is that Karzai, whom the U.S. helped put in power, no longer behaves as an ally. The Afghan people whom NATO freed from the Taliban do not trust NATO troops. Pakistan, an American ally, is rife with anti-Americanism.

This is the mess we have after a war that has lasted longer than either of the world wars.
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