Canada needed in Afghanistan

  • June 27, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - The founding executive director of Project Ploughshares — one of Canada’s leading Christian voices for peace — wants Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan, for now.

Following 10 days interviewing Afghanis and Canadians in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, Project Ploughshares senior researcher Ernie Regehr concludes Canadian troops are not creating the peace and stability necessary for economic and social development in Kandahar province. However, the soldiers are still necessary to prevent an all-out civil war.

“The country really is in deep-rooted conflict between the southern communities and the northern communities,” said Regehr.

Deacon Steve Barringer, peace activist and spokesperson for the Toronto group Catholics for Peace, concedes that pulling the troops out now is not practical.

“We’ve propped up a situation and if we walk out from under it something is going to crash,” Barringer said.

For a successful transition to peace, Canada and the other International Security Assistance Force countries have to do more to promote an active peace and reconciliation process, Regehr said.

“You can’t really start with a position that we do not talk to anybody who is fighting,” he said. “Those are the ones you need to talk to in particular.”

{mosimage}Where Canadian officials seem stuck on whether or not to speak to groups actively involved in terrorist activities, Afghani leaders and members of the development community all agree negotiations have to involve hard-core Taliban, Regehr said.

Canada should marshal diplomatic efforts behind negotiations that will fundamentally reconfigure the government in Kabul, Regehr said. Rather than trying to tempt a few Taliban commanders to switch sides by making them ministers in the government, a peace and reconciliation process should aim to give Pashtun tribes a sense that they have a real stake and real influence in the government, he said.

“It’s not going to be solved by military means. So, what are the means that are needed?” Regehr asked. “The neglected mechanism is that of diplomacy.”

McMaster University’s Centre for Peace Studies director Bonny Ibhawoh complains that Canada doesn’t have a diplomatic strategy for Afghanistan.

“There has to be a clear strategy for ending the military role of Canada, and for facilitating a diplomatic initiative. So far, there is none,” Ibhawoh told The Catholic Register.

Unless Canada exercises its diplomatic muscle it’s going to be stuck in a military holding pattern with the Taliban “ad infinitum,” Ibhawoh said.

The problem has been that Canada lacks both the will and the number of troops necessary to pursue a policy separate from the Americans, he said.

Barringer agrees with the experts on how it is practically impossible to immediately withdraw Canadian troops.

“If all you’re talking about is practical, then yes it doesn’t make sense to pull the soldiers out,” he said. “Because practically we can all see what will happen there.”

But Barringer believes Christians should have their own spiritual strategy for Afghanistan.

“If we (Catholics) could simply institute a policy that we prayed for peace, and not only for peace but specifically for the Taliban and for our enemies, for conversion of hearts,” he said. “We have to believe that that would work. If we don’t, why are we calling ourselves Christians and Catholics?”

The debate on Afghanistan in Canada has to evolve, Regehr said.

“The issue isn’t Canada’s Afghan problem — should we be there? How long should we be there? That’s not the primary question,” he said. “The question is the fate of Afghanistan and the fate of Afghans in particular.”

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