I don't know why Riley thinks it is obvious that Canadian troops will be withdrawn in 2009. Harper probably wants to extend the period and no doubt some people in the military as well. The drug trade depends on the co-operation of many people besides the Taliban and many of those who profit have connections with or are even part of the government. Partial destruction of the crops is worse than useless. It hurts the farmer's concerned who will then turn to the Taliban but the dealers remain unscathed as drug prices go up because of the relative scarcity and so their income may not decline at all. For some reason the news media never mentions that under the Taliban production was severely curtailed.
Susan Riley . The "other" war at home
The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, August 31, 2007
It is amazing the way politicians can make simple things so complicated. It seems obvious, for instance, that Canada's troops will be withdrawn from Kandahar in February, 2009, as originally planned.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the final decision will be made by the Commons, where a majority of MPs support withdrawal - in the case of the New Democratic Party, immediate withdrawal. Even if New Democrats insist, as they have before, on their own timetable and no other, it would be suicidal for them to support the government if it risks extending the mission, even if it risks prolonging the ambiguity.
On the other side, there isn't much political downside in voting for withdrawal. If anything, support for the war is likely to wane, rather than rise, with mounting casualties and increasing evidence of the mission's futility. Nor can Canada be accused of cutting and running, given the costs born by our much-admired military and the conspicuous reluctance of other countries to join the battle.
But instead of accepting reality and beginning the crucial debate on what role, if any, Canada should play in Afghanistan after Kandahar, the parties are consumed with domestic positioning. Gilles Duceppe has declared that he will not vote for the Throne Speech, expected in October, unless it confirms plans to leave Kandahar by 2009. Duceppe has little choice: with Quebec opinion massively against the war and hardening with every death, it is his best wedge against a resurgent Conservative party.
Yesterday, Liberal Leader Stphane Dion was more circumspect: he appears not to want a sudden election, but he keeps pushing Harper to make Canada's position clear to our allies. He has a point: why prolong the uncertainty, when everyone knows we are headed for the door? On the other hand, Harper - accused by Dion of wanting to extend the mission, not end it - has no reason to hurry. Anything could happen in the next 17 months (including, of course, increasing pressure for a speedier withdrawal). Whatever, even a delayed decision by Canada to pull out will hardly surprise our NATO allies; they read newspapers, too.
While this petty skirmishing continues, only glancing attention was paid to a report from the Senlis Council this week, an international research agency headed by Canadian lawyer Norine MacDonald. The council found scant evidence that Canada's aid money is finding its way to Kandahar. Although CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) has earmarked $5.3 million for Kandahar's main Mirwais hospital, for instance, MacDonald's team found starving children on the wards and over-taxed doctors dealing with acute shortages of drugs, beds and cleaning staff. As for $350,000 allocated by CIDA for a maternity facility at the hospital, MacDonald's video team found only an empty tent that was removed after it finished filming.
Newly appointed CIDA minister Bev Oda said MacDonald didn't have "all the information" and insists Canadian aid money is finding its way to Kandahar - even though CIDA only has three officers in the country and a small local staff to track it.
But whom to believe? A minister, two minutes into her job (and not a notable success at her last), confined, as are all Harper's ministers, to reading approved lines from the PMO? Or MacDonald, who has lived and worked in Kandahar for more than two years and travelled widely in the region, sometimes disguised as a boy? Nor does Senlis have a notably anti-Tory agenda: it supports the mission in Afghanistan and believes premature withdrawal would mean disaster for the people it is trying to help.
However, it is also urging western governments to divert some of Afghanistan's flourishing poppy crop to the production of legal medicines, much needed in poorer countries. This seemingly sensible suggestion has been met mostly with silence from our government. Meanwhile, U.S. forces continue destroying poppy fields, while some NATO countries quietly disagree, others take a hands-off position - and Afghanistan produces a record heroin crop destined for the world's most squalid neighbourhoods.
There are, in fact, two wars in Afghanistan: the real one that MacDonald, and other eye-witnesses describe, the one the Taliban and the drug lords appear to be winning. There is also the largely notional war being waged by western ideologues and politicians.
The fact that the Taliban is now killing our soldiers with roadside bombs, instead of bullets, for instance, is offered as evidence that we have beaten them on the battlefield. (Talk about Pyrrhic victories). The $1 billion earmarked by CIDA for reconstruction is advanced as proof of our humanitarian concern, although there is little to show for the money on the ground.
Never mind. This is the war we are winning.
Susan Riley's column runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007