Time for a Political Solution in Afghanistan?

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced that he will end Canada’s military participation in the Occupation of Afghanistan in 2011. The fact that we had an election and that the majority of Canadians are opposed to the War no doubt had some bearing on this election promise.

We have been told that we are bringing “democracy and freedom” to Afghanistan and fighting “a war on terror.” However, if a fair and democratic election was held in Afghanistan those opposed to the American and NATO occupation of their country would win a landslide victory. Afghans are like any other people on Earth they do not like being bombed, shot at and militarily occupied by foreigners who have little or no understanding or respect for their culture, history and religion. From the Afghan perspective they are resisting foreign invaders and fighting for their independence and freedom.

A poll published in the Globe and Mail last year showed that Afghans want the fighting to end, and they support negotiations with the Taliban. The Globe and Mail said; “Despite the enmity toward the Taliban, 74 per cent [of Afghans] said they supported negotiations between the Karzai government and Taliban representatives as a way of reducing conflict. In Kandahar, support for talks jumped to 85 per cent."

Afghans are no different from us when it comes to desire for peace, freedom and independence. If Canada was invaded and our government overthrown, our infrastructure destroyed, our land poisoned with depleted uranium, with tens of thousands being killed, hundreds of thousands wounded we would resist the invader. We would fight the invading army even if they claimed that they were bringing “democracy to Canada” and said they were “fighting terrorism.”

Aghans are fiercely independent. They defeated the British Empire at the height of its power. They defeated the Soviet Empire. And now they are defeating the American Empire and its allies, or should I say vassals. It clearly is a war that we cannot decisively win.

Just recently Britain’s most senior military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the British public should not expect a “decisive military victory” but should be prepared for a possible deal with the Taliban.

His assessment followed the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was “doomed to fail.”

France’s military chief, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, echoed suggestions of the senior British military officer that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won.

General Georgelin said that he interpreted British Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith’s comments as "saying that one cannot win this war militarily, that there is no military solution to the Afghan crisis and I totally share this feeling."

Prime Minister Harper has noted that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has always been open to talks with less hardened Taliban adherents in the name of integrating them into the Afghan mainstream. But Harper commented that is different "from throwing down arms and letting the Taliban take over the country."

John Manley, a former Liberal Foreign Affairs minister and former deputy prime minister, was appointed by Prime Minister Harper to head Canada’s independent panel into the Afghanistan Mission also endorsed Carleton-Smith’s assessment.

Manely said, "I don’t think it’s inconsistent with what we said in our report, or at the time of our report: that unless things changed, NATO was in danger of losing."

Manley’s and Carleton-Smith’s comments come following revelations that Taliban representatives met with Afghan government officials in September in Saudi Arabia. Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, acknowledged the meeting but denied that the gathering could be construed as peace talks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, however, has long called for negotiations with the Taliban. A spokesman for the Afghan President’s office “declined to comment on the alleged meeting in Saudi Arabia.”

The top US commander in Afghanistan also recently said he backed a "political solution" to the country’s dragging conflict with Taliban-led extremists.

It was up to the Afghan government to decide with whom it wanted to reconcile and how, General David McKiernan told AFP on the sidelines of a change-of-command ceremony at the main NATO force base in the western province of Herat.

"But I do believe that ultimately the solution here in this country will be a political solution and not a military one," General McKiernan said.

The United Nations also concurs with this view. The war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and success is only possible through political means including dialogue among all relevant parties, the United Nations’ top official in the country said.

"I’ve always said to those that talk about the military surge … what we need most of all is a political surge, more political energy," Kai Eide, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, told a news conference in Kabul.

"We all know that we cannot win it militarily. It has to be won through political means. That means political engagement."

Eide said success depended on speaking with all sides in the conflict. "If you want to have relevant results, you must speak to those who are relevant. If you want to have results that matter, you must speak to those who matter," he said.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has admitted publicly that “Afghanistan will never be completely free of an insurgency,” echoing the top British commander who said western forces could not defeat the Taliban.

"I don’t think that’s a realistic objective. The realistic objective is to build up the Afghan forces so they can manage their own security situation," Harper said.

In 2007 Lord Ashdown stated, “NATO has ‘lost in Afghanistan’ and its failure to bring stability there could provoke a regional sectarian war ‘on a grand scale." Lord Ashdown is the former leader of the British Liberal Democrats and a highly respected British political figure. He is also the former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ashdown delivered his dire prediction after being proposed as a new "super envoy" for Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown’s pessimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan was also shared by Great Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup. He said the military cannot resolve the situation in Afghanistan alone. The Chief of Britain’s Armed Forces warned “that British troops could remain in Afghanistan for "decades." He also said that even then the conflict will only be resolved by a political deal – after talks with Taliban leaders.”

Gwynne Dyer, a respected Canadian and international foreign policy expert, recently wrote, ” …. a negotiated peace deal must give the Pashtuns a fair share of power at the centre, and that means giving the Taliban a share of the power. This is still seen as unthinkable in most western capitals, but it is a thoroughly traditional Afghan way of ending the periodic ethnic bust-ups that have always plagued the country, and it will happen sooner or later.”

According to Dyer, “The reason neither side can win is that they are too evenly balanced, and each can hold its own territory indefinitely. The United States allied itself with the main northern ethnic groups, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara, who together account for about 60 per cent of the population, in order to drive the Taliban from power in 2001. But the Taliban were and still are the major political vehicle for the Pashtuns, who are about 40 per cent of the population.”

“The Pashtuns were traditionally the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan, but in 2001 they were effectively driven from power by the other ethnic groups and their western allies. That is why they are in revolt: the area where western troops are fighting "the Taliban" are all the areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where Pashtuns are in the majority, and nowhere else. In practice, the foreigners are fighting Pashtun nationalism. That is why they cannot win.”

Eric Margolis, a Toronto Sun columnist and a well known conservative commentator, writes that “Startlingly, Gen. McKiernan appeared to break with Bush administration policy by proposing political talks with Taliban and admitting the war had to be ended by diplomacy. The military men know this war cannot be won on the battlefield. McKiernan’s predecessor told Congress that 400,000 US troops would be needed to pacify Afghanistan. There are currently 80,000 western troops in Afghanistan, many of them unwilling to enter combat.”

Margolis also writes that “Let us remember that Taliban is not a `terrorist movement,’ as claimed by western war propaganda, but was founded as an Islamic religious movement dedicated to fighting Communism and the drug trade.” They also fought against the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan with American support.

Margolis notes that the “Taliban received US funding until May, 2001. In fact, CIA kept close contacts with Taliban, many of whose members were US-backed mujahidin from the anti-Soviet war of the 1980’s, for possible future use against the Communist regimes of Central Asia and against China. The 9/11 attacks made CIA immediately cut its links to Taliban and burn the associated files.”

More recently, Margolis writes, “Western war propaganda has so demonized Taliban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: a negotiated settlement to this pointless seven-year war. A noteworthy exception came last April when NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who admitted the war could only be ended by negotiations, not military means.”

The problem according to Margolis is that “The Karzai government cannot extend its authority beyond Kabul because that would mean overthrowing the very same Uzbek and Tajik drug-dealing warlords and Communists chiefs that are its base of power. There is no real Afghan national army, just a bunch of unenthusiastic mercenaries who pretend to fight.”

Margolis also argues that “The current war in Afghanistan is not really about al-Qaida and `terrorism,’ but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West. The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops fighting off the hostile natives.”

Margolis who has a great deal of expertise in foreign affairs and Afghanistan, writes this war “is not a `good’ fight against `terrorism,’ but a classic, 19th century colonial war to advance western geopolitical power into resource-rich Central Asia. The Pashtun Afghans who live there are ready to fight for another 100 years. The western powers certainly are not.”

According to the former Indian Ambassador to the region M.K. Bhadrakumar “the great game” and battle for control over Caspian energy “has taken a dramatic turn.” In the words of the former Ambassador, “In the geopolitics of energy security, nothing like this has happened before. The United States has suffered a huge defeat in the race for Caspian gas.”

In July 2008 Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant, signed two major agreements for purchase of Turkmen gas. The first one set the price for the Russian gas purchase from Turkmenistan over the next 20-years. The second agreement made Gazprom the financier for local Turkmen energy projects.

“In essence, the two agreements ensure that Russia will keep control over Turkmen gas exports.” Gazprom, and Russia, paid top dollar to secure Caspian gas but that is a lot cheaper then invading and occupying the country. It also means that there is little chance a pipeline is going to be built through Afghanistan.

It is time to deal with political realities in Afghanistan. It is also time for Canada and other Western countries to realize that they cannot impose their will at the point of a gun.

Canada once had the respect of the World as peace loving and fair-minded country. Gone is the legacy of Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Jean Chretien when Canada’s soldiers were almost universally welcomed as peace keepers and Canada was respected internationally.

It is not in Canada’s interests to be seen as an appendage of the George W. Bush’s reviled foreign policy. It is time to restore Canada’s reputation in the international community, restore our independent foreign policy and assist legitimate United Nations peace keeping operations.

Delusional thinking, aggressive posturing and military action is not the Canadian way and is opposed by the vast majority of Canadians. It also does not serve any rational purpose and certainly does not benefit Canada in any way.

It is time that Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion and the other Canadian political leaders use common sense and follow the wishes of the majority of Canadians who see no-good purpose in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is time to work towards a political solution, to help rebuild Afghanistan for the Afghan people and end a futile destructive war.

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