3 min

Bring our troops home

What kind of mess have we got ourselves into?

Enough is enough. The mission was doubtful from the start. But it’s clear now that our presence in Afghanistan will make things worse there in the long-run, that the war is unwinnable, and that it’s putting Canada at risk of blow-back violence by terrorists.

When the US was attacked in 2001, it invoked the treaty that binds members of NATO to come to the defence of any member nation. Afghanistan was the target because that nation’s Taliban government gave shelter and moral support to Osama Bin-Laden, (Editor’s note: REVISED WORDING) who took credit for organizing the 9/11 terrorists (most of the terrorists were Saudi Arabians, so one may wonder why that nation eluded payback). Canada joined the pack, diverting troops from peacekeeping and other missions where we could have done some good, like Darfur.

Of course, we were all Americans in those days, suffering from shell shock at the horrible attack they’d suffered. And many convinced ourselves that we could track down the brains behind the attack and in the process eliminate from the planet the scourge of a Taliban government that made women wear veils and men grow beards, wouldn’t let girls go to school, executed gays, banned music and kite-flying and blew up giant stone Buddha statues. Some politicians and military leaders deluded themselves that we would be welcomed by average Afghans. And many of us fantasized about introducing democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and non-Islamic law to the nation.

Of course, we’ve since learned that al-Qaeda has a decentralized structure and so no coordinating braintrust. That the nation’s political and religious culture is stuck in the Middle Ages. That Sharia law, homophobia, oppression of women, and fear of free speech is deep-seated. That any attempt at democracy will be subverted through corruption (the Karzai government reeks of it) and by the country’s warlords (who sit in parliament) carving up territory and poppy-growing operations. That much of the country has a strong allegiance to the Taliban that will outlast any NATO operation and that other areas that oppose the Taliban have their own tribal traditions that are often anti-democratic, sexist and violent. And finally, we’ve learned that Afghans have, quite reasonably, a dislike of foreign soldiers who stay year after year on their soil.

Charming. What kind of a mess have we got ourselves into? With the count of dead Canadian soldiers now heading for the 100 mark, can we honestly say we’re making a permanent difference in Afghanistan? Can we honestly say that our nation’s sacrifices have made things permanently better for women and gays, for human rights generally, for the evolution of genuine, non-corrupt, democracy?

No, we cannot.

Sharia law prevails in Afghanistan, with all its attendant oppression of women and girls. Many more girls attend school than before, but teachers of girls are regularly killed, the schools destroyed — Amnesty reports 350 schools closed in the southern provinces in the past year alone. Clearly, we’re not changing things. There’s a parliament, but few women are elected, some women parliamentarians have been killed and others live in fear with death threats hanging over them.

A 23-year-old journalism student was sentenced to death Jan 22 under Sharia law for blasphemy after circulating an article about women’s rights in Islam that he had downloaded from the internet.

The Taliban’s old ministry overseeing moral purity is back in place in Karzai’s Afghanistan. They’re clamping down on sexuality, on freedom of speech and expression. On art. Last week they even banned a soap opera from India on the basis that it endangers Afghan morality.

It was arrogant of us to think we could change all this in a few years, that the institutions and power centres could be reinvented so quickly, that the majority of average Afghans even wanted to become more like us. It’s harsh, but Afghans are going to have to solve their own problems.

And, meanwhile, the Harper government, determined to hang in, is betraying Canadian values. We’re once again handing over prisoners to the Afghani forces despite evidence that they torture or kill some of them — and media are denied access to reports about this issue. Our government also tolerates outrageous corruption among the officials it deals with, corruption that risks the lives of Canadian soldiers and keeps aid from Afghan civilians. And we remain silent about the increasing human rights violations.

But the tide of public opinion is turning against our involvement in the war. It’s time to bring the troops home.