Diplomatic surge needed for Afghanistan, not military

  • December 18, 2009
{mosimage}A “diplomatic surge,”  including talks with willing Taliban leaders, should be the next step in Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, the majority of Canadian churches have told Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The governing council of the Canadian Council of Churches sent a letter and detailed brief to the Prime Minister Dec. 10 urging the government to invest heavily in diplomacy before Canada begins withdrawing troops in 2011.

“We urge that every possible effort be made to seek negotiated solutions. This should include discussions with Taliban insurgents willing to participate in peaceful negotiations,” said the brief to Harper.

The Canadian Council of Churches consists of 22 national churches, including the Catholic Church through the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, that represent the majority of Canadian Christians.

“Putting all of our hope in a military strategy is not likely to result in the hope of reconciliation that the Canadian government itself has said is one of its six major aims,” Canadian Council of Churches president Rev. Bruce Adema of the Christian Reformed Church told The Catholic Register.

From an American Catholic point of view, as the United States moves 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, the Canadian churches’ proposal is eminently practical, said Pax Christi USA spokesman Johnny Zokovitch.

“Our investment in peace and reconciliation has not even come close to our investment in military solutions,” said Zokovitch. “And that’s part of the problem.”

More troops invite more resistance in an essentially civil war, Zokovitch said.

Entangled in an unwinnable war, Canada has to have the courage to invest in non-military solutions, said Deacon Steve Barringer, spokesman for Catholics For Peace — Toronto.

“We’re going to have to put our money where our mouth is, because we’re going to have to accept responsibility for the damage we’ve done if we’re going to have any value as part of a reconciliation process,” Barringer said.

Canada can’t make peace for the Afghans, but it can conduct diplomacy with a variety of players to help get Afghans talking to each other, said Project Ploughshares executive director John Siefert.

“Finally, they have to make peace among themselves,” Siefert said. “The current Afghan administration in Kabul is not capable of brokering that. The international community has to set the table.”

Having conceded that there’s no military solution, Canada has to propose alternatives to its allies, he said.

“Canada can play a vital role, but primarily that’s in changing the minds of its own allies on how to pursue the end game in Afghanistan, which is peace and security for Afghan civilians,” said Siefert.

Like a friend taking the car keys away from a buddy who has had too much to drink, Canada has to challenge the U.S. surge, said Barringer.

“We, as a country and as a government, have to have the stomach to stand up to our ally and say you are our friend, but we’re not going to stand by and watch you do something that’s wrong,” he said.

Pax Christi representatives have been on the ground in Afghanistan since 2002, and churches have a legitimate role in promoting citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in Afghanistan, said Zokovitch. Churches have more experience in truth and reconciliation processes and more credibility when addressing Afghan anxieties about religion, tradition, family and identity, he said.

Adema is hopeful Harper will take the churches’ proposal seriously.

“We are a significant part of his constituency and we have a perspective that should inform the debate,” Adema said. “We have something to say, something thoughtful and worthwhile to hear.”

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