View-points on the Best Canada Can Do in Afghanistan



By: Sharif Ghalib

Toronto, November 15, 2007


Having learned the appalling lessons in the recent past what a failed state can make happen, the international community must heed the declining situation in Afghanistan now and before it is getting to the breaking point.


The situation in Afghanistan is heading to a wholesale deterioration, day by day, at an alarming proportion and yet at a rapid pace.


Owing to feeble security, dozens of districts have been falling to the Taliban or changing hands recently between the Taliban and the Afghan and coalition forces across the south and east, while amid heightened fears, there appear serious signs that the insurgency is bound to spilling over to the usually peaceful north of the country.  


The international community, to-date, has been evasive to responding to calls repeatedly made by President Karzai and his government over the rational need for  taking the battle to the actual sources of terrorism, i.e. the centers of ideological indoctrination, training, equipping, dispatch and the physical infrastructure of the insurgents outside Afghanistan.


Similarly, the government is being swamped by widespread corruption, and according to the UNDCP, the bumper illicit drugs production in Afghanistan this year accounts for the record 93-plus percent of the world total output.


Canada’s Afghanistan Mission:


In mid-October this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a panel to review Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and the future options after the mandate for the current mission ends in February 2009.

The following are itemized analyses of the looming problems confronted by the international community in Afghanistan, and the options available to Canada, per se, to carry the mandate forward now and then.

On the come-back of the insurgency and the role of Afghanistan’s neighbours:


It is widely perceived that certain circles within the Pakistani government remain

involved behind much of the worsening insurgency engulfing Afghanistan. Pakistani

ultra right wing extremists, Taliban and other radical armed groups all work in concert and at the behest of Pakistani Junta, with impunity, based upon the adopted complicit policy of persist and prevail with the assumption that NATO and coalition forces would soon be tired out, and as a result shall pull out of Afghanistan.


However, the recent developments unfolding in Pakistan all point to an evolving willy-nilly change in the strategic thinking within that country. The abrupt rise in militancy, involving domestic extremist forces as well as Pakistan-based cliques linked to international terrorist networks, their brazen territorial gains, the fiefdoms set up and being run by armed elements in areas as close as a few hundred kilometres to the nation’s capital, Islamabad, and the surrender, virtually at will, of government troops to the advancing militants in the area, mass-abductions and detention in large numbers of the Pakistani army servicemen by the rebels in north and South Waziristan regions, the massive bombings, etc., all seem to have led to the taking shape of an orthodox idea amongst the general public in Pakistan conceding the dramatic events as a boomerang to Pakistan’s protracted miss- guided and short-sighted policies vis-vis the neighbouring Afghanistan and the region, to which Pakistan chose to cling over the past several decades.


Canada must seek working closely with the rest of NATO allies in a bid to convince Pakistan on the dire need for a whole-hearted systematic change of policy toward Afghanistan, beneficial to both fraternal nations, and for the sake of mutual peace and harmony in the region and the world at large.


In this context, Canada, among other things, could join the US and European partners to encourage both neighbours to settle, justly and permanently, their historical border dispute over the Durand Line -- commonly viewed as the most important impediment against normalization of relations between the two countries through negotiations and by political means aimed at ensuring both immediate and long-term neighbourly concord.    


Otherwise, Canada should bring added focus on forging a collective and consistent methodology with the coalition partners aimed at sending Pakistan a stern warning against the safe havens within its territory used by terrorists and the cross-border militant incursions.


On the illicit drugs:


The international community has arguably failed in implementing an effective counter -narcotics strategy in Afghanistan. Soaring opium production, fundamental to the security and future of the country and bearing direct nexus with the insurgency and corruption, has plagued the nation’s economy, which makes up 1/3 of total economic activities in Afghanistan, according to the World Bank.


Canada may push for the idea of NATO getting involved in the combat for eradication of the drugs and the fight against narco-mafia. Likewise, Canada may need to appropriate exclusive funding for substitute crops for the needy farmers who depend on the poppy cultivation as a means of livelihood.


Meanwhile Canada must vehemently oppose the treacherous suggestions by certain corners for legalization of the notorious drug production in Afghanistan for the alleged global therapeutic use.


The intriguing proposition, if consented, will most definitely give rise to far-reaching

miseries and agonies for Afghanistan ranging from increased militancy, insecurity, corruption, criminality, drug-addiction and infatuation to social and ethical hazards, as consistently cautioned by President Karzai, while bearing potential perilous regional and global implications. 


On the raging corruption and the reform of the government:


The chronic rampant corruption within the government, to which President Karzai referred as rife during his blunt assessment of the problem, of late, has indeed reached the boiling point. The unchecked challenge has recently sparked tough criticism from the international community, prompting President Karzai to emphatically call for the reform of the government.


As a major donor-nation, Canada should earnestly use its leverage with the government of Afghanistan to fight against the widespread corruption, money squandering, mis-management, nepotism, and cronyism inside and out and at all levels.


Manipulating means at its disposal, Canada should help create requisite checks and balances within the government and promote the values of transparency, accountability, and meritocracy.


Canada should also advocate strengthening of Afghanistan’s legislature as a nationally representative body courting legitimacy for the process.


Furthermore Canada should push for further reform of the judiciary, within the context of a thorough reform of the system, recently called for by President Karzai and the international community at large.


On the reconstruction and development:


Over six years into the peace process and the efforts for reconstruction of Afghanistan, there is little doubt that the international community lacks the resolute will to deliver on its lofty promises made to the people of Afghanistan, measured by the negligible extent of the reconstruction across the country.


Lagging and decelerating due, in part, to the persistent insecurity, the rebuilding schemes implemented, thus far, staggeringly stand not even near the envisaged “mini-marshal plan” for Afghanistan.


However, the shortcoming is believed to be, by far, associated with the lack of a clear-cut reconstruction strategy by the international community, leading to the ensuing disillusionment and disappointment of the populace.


Canada should broaden the parameter and increase the efficacy of its reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan. Canada needs to re-examine CIDA’s existing approach and strategy, ensuring added focus on targeted infrastructural rebuilding and major developmental projects across the nation.


On the formation of Afghan national army and police force:


The process of the formation of the national army and police force projected to be

completed by 2009 remains quite sluggish and runs behind the schedule. The process is being faced with manifold problems such as lack of adequate training, shortage in military resources and hardware, low wages, delayed salary payments, etc.


Canada should ratchet up focus, devote more resources and step up the task of providing extra training and logistics to the nascent Afghan national army and police force aimed at furthering their combat and logistical capabilities. As well, Canada should speed  up the conduct of the endeavours directed at the degree of preparedness of both the ANA and Afghan police, so as to be able to independently take charge of ensuring local security and defending the country at the earliest possible time.


On the policy and operational coordination by NATO-members:


Lack of a cohesive policy, of coordination and harmonious operational undertakings

amongst NATO-member-nations in Afghanistan, has caused increasing military setbacks in the campaign against the insurgency. The adverse effects stemming from this handicap though has caused public frustration and cynicism about campaign’s stated objective as much as it has led to an emboldened Taliban able to bring the fight with the coalition next to a standstill.


Canada needs to play a more robust role in advocating the need for a unified, concerted and collaborative policy amongst the NATO allies for a sustained and comprehensive strategy founded on a consistent action plan in Afghanistan. Thus stated we must not fail to recognize the foreseeable prognosis of the catastrophic regional and international implications of any backtracking and/or failure in the common quest for a comprehensive stabilization of the country.   


On the need for an impartial approach to the Afghan government:


A great many within Afghanistan hold the perception that the international community has been selective in its approach via-vis the ethno-political forces within the  government.

If so pursued, the practice would prove to be insensitive to national unity, ethnic harmony and equilibrium of the country, hurtful to the on-going political process, counter-productive to the pivotal social justice and political pluralism, damaging to the efforts for

the reconstruction, and certainly unfitting to the concurrent state-building process.


Canada should pursue a clear line of policy ensuring promotion of national unity

amongst all Afghans and avoiding ethnic tilting, in line with the new geo-political and socio-strategic realities of the present-day Afghanistan bound to becoming a modern, pluralistic and democratic state, as lauded time and again by President Karzai, and of the region.


Canada needs to follow an inclusive and even-handed approach toward all ethno political forces enjoying grass-root support and influence in different regions of Afghanistan, who represent the heterogeneous dynamics of the political set up as a democratic institution.


Canada should engage all parties who are committed to the success of the peace process, are part of the government and essentially part of the solution as a whole.


We must avoid needless alienation of moderate peaceful ethno-political forces deemed to be elements of stability within the country.


Canada may need to support the government of Afghanistan in its bid -- already approved by the nation’s Parliament -- for engaging all those rank and file combatants, who choose to break with their past and come to the government fold, in good faith and without any pre-conditions whatsoever, pledging allegiance to Afghanistan’s constitution in its entirety, with the sole aspiration to re-integrate into the society and pursue a peaceful life.


On Canada’s mission in Kandahar:


The government and the people of Afghanistan truly appreciate the continued solidarity and generous humanitarian, reconstruction and development contributions as well as the invaluable sacrifices made by the international community including Canada for the sake of peace and security in their country.


In the broader context, however, Canadians must realize that, resembling other partners, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, apart from assisting the country and the people of Afghanistan, also serves their own safety and security objectives vitally important for Canada’s national interests at home.


On the future options:


1/ Canada may consider shifting the PRT to a different more peaceful region pending a replacement force by NATO to take over the mission in Kandahar.


2/ Canada may also consider drawing down its troop’s level in Kandahar by formation of a combined PRT involving another NATO partner to shoulder the difficult mission. In the mean time, this shall allow Canada to consider assigning the splinter reduced force for deployment to another province.


3/ Canada may finally consider the establishment of a joint mechanism for rotational deployment of the Canadian contingent in Kandahar along with a group of fellow-NATO-partners. 


Sharif Ghalib was the first Afghan diplomat to negotiate the establishment of full bilateral diplomatic and consular relations between Afghanistan and Canada at resident-embassy level. He opened the Embassy of Afghanistan in Ottawa in late 2002 and served as the country’s Charge d’Affaires, a.i., and Minister Counselor until 2005.