Monday, March 16, 2009

Is NATO failing in Afghanistan?

There has been more and more talk about NATO not being able to 'win' in Afghanistan, that there is no point in having troops there because nothing will change.

There is an interesting article in the Economist on the Uruzagan province and how well the Dutch are doing there. They are in the province neighbouring Helmand (where the Brits are) and Kandahar where the Canadians are. They Dutch are having some success through modeling the benefits of stablity in the core areas. The withdrawl of NATO troops from this area would end this success.

Over drinks with Terry Glavin last week, we talked about Afghanistan and what is happening there. Clearly there is a strong desire among the people in the country for NATO to be there and bring stability, but somehow this does not get expressed much in the media.

Ashraf Ghani, candidate for president of the country, wants more western intervention to help a civil society develop. But his concern about the west is the lack of sympathy or engagement by the people in the west.

People in the west are willing to dismiss the people of Afghanistan as ignorant and unruly tribal people that are unable to function in a modern society, that are unable to make a rational decision at the ballot box. There is a strong prejudice in the west against the people in Afghanistan as being 'not like us' and therefore better left to the gangs and warlords than try to help them have a stable and open society.

It is through this lens of 'they are not like us' that the media is reporting the story of Afghanistan and reporting it as being lost by the west. The media also makes little distinction between the NATO mission in the country and the Soviet invasion in 1979 or even the British in 19th century.

The mission is very different because the troops are there because of a request of the government that was chosen by the people. It is also different because there is no national interest being pushed by NATO. Canada is not in Afghanistan to make sure Tim Horton's has the exclusive right to sell bad coffee.

Clearly the process to work towards a civil society in Afghanistan is going to take a long time. There is no quick fix and no easy way to change what generations of despotic rulers that worked hard to keep the people poor and uneducated means to the country.

So, is NATO losing? I do not think so, there is clearly a much better life for most of the people in the country. There are actual infrastructure projects underway for the first time in almost two generations. The population is better educated than it was seven years ago.

The problem in the nation is that there are gang leaders who want to steal as much as they can for themselves and they see the changes in the country threatening their generations long free ride off of the backs of the people. The Taliban warlords are trying to kill as many civilians as possible to scare the population into submission. Should they be allowed to do this? What responsiblity does Canada have to protect the civilian population from the attacks of the warlords? Is it not ethical for the west to intervene in favour of democracy? Is withdrawl unethical?

I still struggle with all of this as I am a pacificist. I can not condemn NATO when it chooses to intervene on behalf of human rights, I just wish we could do all of this without resorting to violence.
Post a Comment