Once again, the practice of training and equipping foreign armies in unstable conflict zones is coming to the fore as our “solution” to peace in Afghanistan. This seems to me like a nice neat political and dishonest way out of an impossible problem. All this in the face of history that gives ample argument to the possibility that we may again face that training and weapons in the future, or that the armies created will be used to oppress the population we hope to save. Remember, we in fact did train many Taliban to fight the Russians. All the power of NATO and the US forces, with the most sophisticated weapons on the planet, could not defeat the Taliban, yet we are naive enough to think that the Afghan army will be able to do so. If we cannot win, then how on earth do we think they can? Think of the suffering and the grim future to which we are condemning them.
Perhaps it is time to face and correct the mistakes we made at the very beginning of all this. It was so easy to respond to 911 with “war” and all the heavy weapons, death, collateral damage, fear and terrorist labels at our command. It created an “enemy” which proceeded to justify itself in terms of fighting a war, and so attract recruits and money. This is the power of language and the paths it takes us down.
If we had responded in the language of criminality, courts and tribunals, invoking international law and policing, using all the investigative and arrest methods of INTERPOL and global police forces to pursue and apprehend such criminals and deal with drug operations, the whole tragic story may have been much different. An international coalition of police forces already exists and cooperation would have light years easier than the path we went down. This is not to say that military forces would not be necessary from time to time, but in support of police forces to affect arrests or deal with large concentrations of such criminals. Think of the civilians that would be alive today.
So Canada is again at a crossroads. Perhaps we would make a better contribution in training police forces, strengthening governance, down to the municipal levels, so that the Afghans make a real difference themselves in their villages, rather than creating a huge arm of national political power that may be harder to control. The war is not militarily winnable. This is a fact. Perhaps it is winnable locally, through policing, one village at a time, and globally through a consensus of international law and justice. We have an opportunity here for the kind of real leadership that Canadians expect of their government.
Paul Maillet, Colonel retired. Former DND Director of Defence Ethics