Piv­otal year comes again

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Cana­di­ans are in­ti­mately in­volved in the stick-and-carrot strat­egy ramp­ing up in Afghanistan, a bold – some say des­per­ate – at­tempt to sal­vage some­thing from nine years of fight­ing.

It has been a costly ven­ture, the brunt of the hu­man suf­fer­ing borne by Afghan civil­ians. Canada’s toll since 2002 in­cludes 139 sol­diers dead, along with four civil­ians. It’s es­ti­mated that by the end of our planned mil­i­tary with­drawal about a year and a half from now, the mis­sion will have cost Cana­dian tax­pay­ers $18 bil­lion.

What we’ve pur­chased with that sac­ri­fice re­mains very un­clear. Lists of schools and other de­vel­op­ment projects to Canada’s credit make an un­con­vinc­ing an­swer in the ab­sence of as­sur­ance that any shadow of this will re­main five years af­ter our troops come home.

Now the mes­sage, though we’ve heard sim­i­lar prog­nos­ti­ca­tions be­fore, is that 2010 will be the turn­ing point that will de­cide whether some po­lit­i­cal deal can be done that re­spects the new con­sti­tu­tion with hu­man rights. It’s a two-pronged strat­egy de­vised by U.S. Army Gen­eral Stan­ley McChrys­tal, head of NATO forces in Afghanistan. The idea is turn up pres­sure on the en­emy in both Afghanistan and neigh­bour­ing Pak­istan, boosted by U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 30,000-troop surge (along with an­other 7,000 from other NATO coun­tries) while at the same time of­fer­ing “rein­te­gra­tion,” us­ing en­tice­ments such as jobs and ed­u­ca­tion, to so-called moderate el­e­ments of the in­sur­gency.

This, it is hoped, will be enough to coax some of the Tal­iban lead­er­ship to en­gage in peace talks that could bring “rec­on­cil­able” fac­tions into the gov­ern­ment. So we have the gen­er­als declar­ing on the one hand that there’s no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion in Afghanistan while Canada’s top com­man­der there, Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Daniel Me­nard, speaks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about new of­fen­sives and is op­ti­mistic the back of the in­sur­gency can be bro­ken be­cause or­di­nary Afghans will de­cide “they’ve had enough.”

We can only hope some of this turns out to be right, though there are lots of crit­ics ea­ger to dis­miss it as elab­o­rate face-sav­ing on the part of the 42 NATO coun­tries in­volved.

Canada of­fi­cially sup­ports the strat­egy, while re­main­ing cau­tious about in­vest­ing in the rein­te­gra­tion idea. No doubt part of the rea­son for this hes­i­tancy is that it’s a long po­lit­i­cal climb-down from the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion that all the fight­ers op­pos­ing our pres­ence in the coun­try are “ter­ror­ists” – or “de­testable mur­der­ers and scum­bags,” in the mem­o­rable words of then Cana­dian chief of de­fence staff, Gen. Rick Hil­lier – to the po­si­tion that large num­bers of those fight­ers might end up in the Afghanistan army and po­lice force even as their leaders take their places in gov­ern­ment.

The sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated and messy. It al­ways was, but when our gov­ern­ment’s do­mes­tic com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy con­sists of eas­ily mem­o­riz­able talk­ing points there just aren’t any blank spa­ces left on the sheet for com­pli­ca­tions.

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