What is Canada’s role in strengthening Afghanistan?

We’re more than two generations removed from the Second World War, the one most of us try to fathom as we bow our heads in two minutes’ silence; the least we can do before dashing off to the mall or a matinee.

By George Brown, editor

It’s interesting to observe that while the number of Canada’s surviving war veterans is getting smaller by the day, the size of the crowds at Remembrance Day services I’ve attended in the last 10 years seems to be increasing, as though nature and politicians abhor a vacuum.

We’re more than two generations removed from the Second World War, the one most of us try to fathom as we bow our heads in two minutes’ silence; the least we can do before dashing off to the mall or a matinee.

But now we’re adding our soldiers stationed in Afghanistan to our silent prayers, a romantic reason to breath life into the memorial service — if that’s not too oxymoronic. Canada has about 2,800 troops serving in the Afghanistan mission that the government has decided will wrap up by the end of 2011. At this writing, 133 soldiers have died in combat.

Seventy years removed from the reasons again Canada went to war beside Great Britain, we’re trying to understand why Canadian forces are still stationed in Afghanistan. We have a renewed sense of pride in our troops but we want them to stop fighting and come home before peace and democracy have been proven in a country that has resisted for more than 150 years any attempt at occupation or conquest.

Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan because we want shorter lineups at the border when we go shopping in the United States. Our American cousins drew us into their “war on terror,” co-opting our participation for easy travel at the border post-9/11 — that and we pride ourselves on being a leading nation in the promotion of democratic governance and human security. In 2005, Canada’s International Policy Statement stated that one of the key objectives of our nation’s role in the world is “strengthening and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” We were invited to show that our reputation as liberators has not been lost to the history books; that we can still be counted on by our allies to do our part and to do it well.

Canadians will need to decide whether whatever military success we have achieved in Afghanistan would be diminished if we remain after 2011 with a smaller force stretched to the limit. Whether we’ve done our job depends on what you consider our mission to be. This isn’t your grandfather’s war. This is a civil war with terrorism and the drug trade at its roots.

Of course Canada is helping to prop up President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government because it’s the lesser of the many evils at play in the region. Earlier this month Karzai was declared the winner of a corrupted election when his opponent refused to contest the runoff election. Despite a million stuffed ballots, democracy would seem to be working as Karzai received fewer than half the 4.4 million votes he got five years ago. You can fool some of the Afghans some of the time…

Clearly, these people deserve a president who shares their desire for democratic reforms.

But instead, we heard last week the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom believes a future political solution for Afghanistan will include senior Taliban commanders in government. David Miliband said the Afghan government would include “high-level commanders that can be persuaded to renounce al-Qaeda and pursue their goals peacefully.”

It’s hard to believe the Taliban, just when it seems to have pushed western leaders to the brink, have picked up their ploughshares and will work for a diplomatic solution to war. And just to illustrate what a maze of contradiction Afghanistan is, the British prime minister said a week ago that Kabul would forfeit its right to international support against the Taliban if it failed to root out corruption.

Where will these high-level meetings be held? In Osama bin Laden’s wardroom?

You can’t tell the corrupt players without a scorecard. Karzai’s brother is suspected of being involved in the opium trade; one of his generals is accused of involvement in the killings of thousands of Taliban prisoners; and a former defense minister is a suspected drug trafficker.

It would certainly be a blemish on the memory of those men and women we pledged never to forget if we did not recognize our moral obligation to offer aid and to try to rid the world of intolerance and hatred.

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