From a fragile to a durable peace

By  Ernie Regehr, Project Ploughshares
  • February 22, 2008

{mosimage}Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the article, “A Peace to Keep in Afghanistan,” by Ernie Regehr, a senior policy advisor for Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical advocacy group for peace and disarmament. It is a response to the Manley Report on the future of Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan. The entire article can be found on the organization’s web site,

The final report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (Manley Panel, 2008) reinforced a prominent misperception in the current debate over the role of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, namely that “there is not yet a peace to keep in Afghanistan.” In large areas of the country, essentially the northern half, there is indeed a peace to keep. To be sure, it is a fragile peace, but if it is not protected, built upon and genuinely nurtured it will yet be lost.

Security assistance forces in the north are critical to maintaining conditions that are conducive to moving from a fragile to a durable peace. International forces deployed in the north, unlike those in the south, follow the model of peace support operations intended to protect people in their homes, communities, schools and places of work. Thus these regions of the country, which are relatively free of the insurgency that increasingly plagues the south, have the opportunity to develop and advance the human security of Afghans. The peace support forces operate under a United Nations Chapter VII mandate and can certainly resort to lethal force, whatever national caveats may be in place. However, this use of force is clearly distinguishable from counterinsurgency combat that seeks to defeat the Taliban on their home ground in the south.

The harsh reality is that the counterinsurgency combat operations in the south are repeating history in their failure to stem, never mind defeat, the insurgency. The growing danger is that while the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and NATO focus on the south, the security, reconstruction and governance challenges in the north will be neglected to the point that declining northern confidence in local and national government will lead to collapse there as well.

Accordingly, the military choice facing Canada in Afghanistan is not between combat and no combat; it is between counterinsurgency warfare and Chapter VII peace support, or peacekeeping, operations.

The search for winning conditions

The Manley Panel clarified and actually generated consensus on at least one element of a coherent Afghanistan policy, namely, that Canada should not be putting its soldiers at major risk in support of a military strategy that stands little chance of succeeding. That may seem obvious enough, but given that Canada took on the Kandahar assignment largely out of a misguided desire to curry favour in Washington and without a thorough understanding of the situation in Afghanistan’s south, overt recognition of this key principle — that for the use of force to be appropriate or justified there must be a reasonable prospect for success — is significant.

In his foreword to the report, Chairman John Manley puts it this way: “Our panel concluded that the sacrifice of Canadian lives could only be justified if we and our allies and the Afghans share a coherent, comprehensive plan that can lead to success….”

The Manley Panel also accepts the troubling, but well-documented, truth that under present conditions the counterinsurgency effort is not succeeding and will continue to falter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also acknowledged this reality when he accepted the panel’s report. The Manley-Harper acknowledgment is more than the oft-repeated statement that the Afghan insurgency cannot be defeated by military means alone. Rather, it is a recognition that even in the context of a 3D strategy (defence, development and diplomacy), or whole-of-government effort, the military component of the Kandahar mission should not be continued as is.

Where Manley and the Harper government part company with many critics of the mission is in their assessment of what is required to make the military component of the mission successful.

The Manley-Harper formula is set out in the panel’s most discussed recommendation, and repeated in the resolution to extend the mission that was tabled in Parliament on Feb. 8, that making the military mission in Kandahar effective and worth continuing will require 1,000 more soldiers from a partner country, as well as additional equipment, principally helicopters and drones. The panel did not claim that these adjustments would produce an early defeat of the insurgency, but it argued that they would set the insurgency back enough so that, with further training of the Afghan National Army, by 2011 the Afghans would be in a position to take over the lead responsibility for military security operations from ISAF in Kandahar province.

Critics of the military counterinsurgency effort argue that increases in foreign forces and equipment will not break the back of the insurgency, pointing out that several years of counterinsurgency warfare have actually seen the insurgency steadily gain strength. Some conclude that it is therefore time to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan. However, others say that Canadian and ISAF troops need to refocus on a mission to protect and stabilize those parts of the country (largely in the north and west) that are not heavily challenged by the insurgency.

Using the language of the “clear, hold and develop” strategy, it is logical to argue that priority should now be given to holding and maintaining security (which can involve the resort to lethal force) and developing those parts of the country that are largely clear of insurgency. Those areas are in danger of slipping out of control, like much of the south, if residents don’t soon see major improvements in their security and well-being and the performance of their government. Thus there should be, as the Manley Panel also says, redoubled emphasis on security sector reform and training, especially of a national police force that respects basic rights and that serves the welfare of, and gains the confidence of, the people of Afghanistan. Accelerated development and reconstruction would not only enhance the welfare of Afghans, but would discourage support for insurgent forces.

Still losing the counterinsurgency war

Neither the Manley-Harper formula, which focuses on intensified efforts to militarily “clear” more parts of the country of Taliban insurgents, nor the alternative, which focuses more on holding and developing those parts of the country that are already cleared, can guarantee success in Afghanistan. Neither can assure gradual and irreversible progress toward the safer future that Afghans want and need. But if our responsibility in the Canadian political debate is to identify the course of action with the better chance of success, experience tells us that the odds do not favour the Manley-Harper formula.

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