Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Into the Arms of the Taliban

Canadian newspapers tend to give an upbeat, often jingoistic, portrayal of Canada's military effort in Afghanistan. No doubt that our troops over there are terrific and stoked for a fight and they're undertaking real battle against Taliban insurgents and yet a nagging uneasiness remains when most Canadians weigh "the mission."

What we don't get in our media is very much on the state of the Afghani people in Kandahar province. You can, however, find plenty of information, most of it troubling, from non-Canadian sources. These sources include studies done by some prestigious think tanks such as the Inernational Institute for Strategic Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and quality papers such as The Guardian, even The New York Times. The picture they portray is of a mission going downhill fast.

We jumped the gun on Afghanistan's opium farmers. A lot of little guys were left destitute when our soldiers destroyed their crops. That was their only means of feeding their families. We took away their livelihood but failed to give them alternative ways to earn enough to fend off starvation. With nowhere else to turn, where do they go? Straight to the Taliban.

It's difficult to imagine how we can give these people hope with this naive approach to the opium problem. Even if we were able to come up with alternatives, they probably wouldn't have much chance of taking hold unless we were also able to provide these farmers with proper security. The insurgents thrive off the opium trade and what farmer, without day and night, permanent security is going to defy the Taliban and start growing onions? We're not going to achieve that level of security for years, maybe not ever.

Think "the mission" is going to change? Ask yourself what are the chances Stephen Harper is going to tell General Rick Hillier to let the opium fields bloom again? Our morality just doesn't fit the reality on the ground in Kandahar and we're driving these people straight into the arms of our enemy.

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