Afghanistan – Responding to the Manley Report

I’ve read the Manley Report. Here are a few observations from that reading.

The major underlying assumption that is never addressed in the report:

A military solution is the only solution to solve the war on terror.

It was this attitude that lead to the initial October 2001 US and British air strikes on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. That was seven years ago and we are still there today to fight this war on terror. In his foreword Manley writes: “Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan matters because it concerns global and Canadian security, Canada’s international reputation, and the well-being of some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people.” I and many Canadians agree with each of those reasons for being in Afghanistan but fail to see how bombings, counter insurgency missions and destroying the poppy crops will result in a more secure Canada and world, an improved international reputation for Canada, and improving the everyday life of the Afghani people.

The initial air strikes killed a lot of civilians and included hitting a Red Cross food convoy, a military hospital, a boy’s school, an old age home, several small villages and residential neighbourhoods. Twice, US planes hit a Red Cross food distribution centre. This bombing campaign created more than half a million refugees. There was no post bombing political plan.

Afghanistan was already a failing state: struggling to deal with a Soviet invasion that lasted eight years, followed by years of civil war resulting in the Taliban takeover and the horrendous effects of their brutality. Why is it that the first and only solution that gets acted on is a military one? How exactly does killing some possible terrorists and destroying what infrastructure is left make us all safer? We all know that terrorists come from everywhere (even our own backyards). Remember that the perpetrators of 9/11 were not Afghans, they were mostly from Saudi Arabia, the pilots were trained in the US, and the major planning for the event took place (not in Afghanistan) but in Germany. If this engagement in Afghanistan is to improve global and Canadian security I’d like to know how. There are thousands and thousands of very angry and desperate men and women – all potential terrorists in Afghanistan and in many other nations. Is this Afghanistan mission about finding and killing all of them or just the leadership? Do we only start building democracy and schools, and hospitals when they are all gone – how will you ever know?

Did Afghanistan play a role in the World Trade Centre attacks? Yes, there were training camps there and members of Al Qeada – specifically Osama Bin Laden had found shelter there. The same Osama bin Laden that was used by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan some years earlier. This is a complicated story in which the role of good guys and bad guys has been interchangeable and many, many innocent people have been killed or injured.

Canada’s international reputation is on the line. We are told this is a UN sanctioned, NATO led, coalition mission, but a look at some of the charts in the Manley report makes me wonder. When divided by provinces, almost half the country is under the command/leadership of US forces. There are more American soldiers in Afghanistan (27,000) than all of the other 39 countries combined. The US led Operation Enduring Freedom initiated this mission. OEF, still led by the US, continues today in Southern Afghanistan and is exclusively about “counterterrorism”. I am afraid that we Canadians have become just another arm of the US Forces in Afghanistan. This will indeed hurt not help Canada’s reputation in the world and limit our ability to act as a broker between US interests and the developing world.
Are we patterning our engagement in failed states after the Americans? In 2004, only 10% of the $1.7 billion budgeted for Afghanistan went to development assistance and health, in 2005, more than 80 % of US aid to Afghanistan was earmarked for the military and police. The Manley Report repeatedly asserts: “we should give greater emphasis to diplomacy [can you name the present Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan?], reconstruction and governance…”

The Manley report makes many recommendations but all are subservient to this idea that the winning military solution is “only more troops and equipment” away. Those of us who question the “might is right” way of doing things are often portrayed as idealistic and unable to grasp the seriousness, the complexities of the situation. Manley wrote: “in 2005 Canada chose (for whatever reason,) to assume leadership of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City … and it has since become a centrepiece of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan.” Did you catch the “for whatever reason” part of that sentence? Why did Canada choose to take on the most dangerous part of the country? On a per capita basis, Canada has experienced more than twice the number of casualties as all other countries in Afghanistan. That question is never answered and it strikes me as extremely naïve and cavalier to put our most dedicated Canadians into a situation “for whatever reason.” This is unacceptable.   Even more disturbing is that John Manley was in government when that decision was made. Canadians want good reasons for doing what they are doing.
Again, the Manley Report states: “The essential questions for Canada are how do we move from a military role to a civilian one….” It seems simplistic and naïve to think that more troops and more equipment will do the job.
A second assumption: Western democracies can solve Afghanistan best.
Something that never really gets addressed in the Report is the fact that there is something wrong with the whole picture in Afghanistan. We (NATO) do not share a similar world view to the Afghani people and this causes no end to misunderstandings and mistrust. Why not engage the rest of the Muslim world in the Afghanistan situation? No matter how we try to “win the hearts and minds” of the locals we will always be seen as foreigners or invaders.
The Manley Report made this point: “ few counterinsurgencies in history have been won by foreign armies, particularly where the indigenous insurgents enjoy convenient sanctuary in a bordering country.” This is where the UN could make its’ most significant contribution. Afghanistan does not exist in a vacuum, how are we addressing activity in Pakistan and Iran? Not a word of advice comes from the Manley Report on that.

After a short discussion on the poppy problem as a complicating factor in Afghanistan, Manley expresses an apparently American style “war on drugs” approach- “coherent counter-narcotics strategies need to be adopted by all relevant authorities.” that is not helpful. Burning the only means of wealth generation will not help matters in Afghanistan. Here is an opportunity to engage Afghans, village by village, field by field, in world commerce. The world needs morphine. I spent several hours in a hospital in Kigali Rwanda where no one was receiving adequate pain relief because there is a world wide shortage of pain killing drugs. Obviously, poppies grow well in Afghanistan, give them a legitimate market for their crops and cut out the funding of terrorism. Simple? No. Possible? Yes. There are groups like the Senlis Council (which Manley sort of endorses when he said: “ a limited poppy-for-medicine project might be worth pursuing.”) that have plans and studies already for implementation under the Poppies for Medicine (P4M) project. This could be an area that Canada could support and help initiate. It falls under the weakest areas of our engagement in Afghanistan – diplomacy and development.

Something that wasn’t even mentioned in The Manley Report
We don’t connect Afghanistan with energy but this is a part of the story that is not being told – yet. I have often asked myself – why Afghanistan – out of all the failed states where terrorists live (Syria, Thailand, Sudan, etc.) why are we giving so much to Afghanistan? According to The Group of 78, one reason is its strategic position in relation to the energy rich countries of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and the possibilities of enormous oil reserves under the Caspian Sea. High level meetings about pipelines are taking place between Russia, China and US. This is an interesting part of the Afghanistan story that we hear very little about.

Overall, the Manley Report seems contradictory at times. While diplomacy and development are mentioned with some regularity the bulk of the Report is about our military engagement. It is the reference point for all other points. It seems to be presented as the most doable part of the puzzle that is Afghanistan, but not really. It is from the military that the Canadian public receives information about Afghanistan. Everyone can identify General Rick Hillier, but who are the diplomats? The Canadian embassy in Kabul opened in September 2003, I have never seen or heard from that Ambassador. I do not like to think that the military is establishing Canadian policy in Afghanistan or in any other country. I believe this is one of the major reasons Canadians are uncomfortable with the mission and so does Manley: “Almost the only Government accounts that Canadians have received have come from the Department of National Defence. Important issues of Canadian diplomacy and aid in Afghanistan have scarcely been acknowledged and seldom asserted in public by ministers or officials responsible.” It feels like the military is in charge and that is not a concept that most Canadians are comfortable with.

What is the Green Party Position on Afghanistan?

The Green Party does not support continued Canadian participation in the NATO-led combat mission to Southern Afghanistan, but neither do we believe that all of our troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The GPC supports a continued Canadian defense presence in the Kabul area and in the Central and Northern Provinces as part of the UN sanctioned “Blue Helmet” deployment. NATO is the wrong instrument for the Afghanistan problem. The new mission would focus on rebuilding critical infrastructure and governance systems that were destroyed as well as provide accelerated training to Afghanistan Army and Police Forces so that they can fully take over from international security as soon as possible.
The Green Party fully supports the recommendations of the Senlis Council to create a legal poppy-growing economy in Southern Afghanistan that would supply low-cost narcotic medicines to developing countries.
The following Green Party Recommendations were submitted to the Manley Commission:

1. Give NOTICE of withdrawal from the NATO mission in Southern Afghanistan. It will press for an entirely new multi-lateral approach, renouncing air strikes except in extreme specific strategic circumstances, working with all parties and maintaining a ground force in peacekeeping and security in the Kabul area and the Northern Provinces.
2. Promote the Senlis Council recommendations that Canada take the lead in implementing a comprehensive strategy to break the cycle of illicit poppy growing and violence that has kept Afghanistan in turmoil for decades with a licensing and quota system for growing poppies and selling the products to legal drug firms that produce morphine and codeine for legitimate legal painkilling use. This legal opium market would produce essential medicines to help the millions of people in developing countries (including Afghanistan itself) who are unnecessarily dying in pain because they don’t have access to these medicines. Green Mps would also urge Canada to purchase such opiate drugs and distribute them as part of our health and poverty-related ODA programs.
3. Focus and strengthen CIDA efforts on poverty alleviation, reconstruction and development programs to supplement opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
4. Invest in more robust diplomatic efforts focusing on improving domestic governance mechanisms and democratic institutions and protection the slowly emerging democracy and civil society in Afghanistan. It will expand diplomatic and intelligence efforts to identify Taliban strongholds in Pakistan and press the Pakistan government to act in concert with the UN to bring Taliban insurgents to justice.
5. Protect the right of Afghanis to maintain the control over the right to ownership of their resources and infrastructure and oppose privatization of natural resources in Afghanistan as part of reconstruction programs.
6. Explore opportunities for peace talks through Third Party intermediaries between the Afghan government and moderate elements of the Taliban.
7. Further accelerate and support training and equipping or the afghan Army and Police recruits and concurrently support reform and renewal of the administrative capacity.

April 1, 08 John Manley speaks on Afghanistan

We are so fortunate to have The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in our community. Today at UW, I heard John Manley speak about Afghanistan at an event sponsored by CIGI and The Friends of the Library. Having spent a fair bit of time reading the Manley Report and thinking about Canada’s role in Afghanistan I was very interested in hearing Mr. Manley in person.

Here are some of my thoughts on his thoughts:

1.     “CIDA was the only government organization that remained in Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover.” So Canada has a history in Afghanistan before 9/11., a development history. Even before 9/11 the international community knew that Afghanistan was headed for trouble. Too bad CIDA’s role has been so limited.

2.     In Manley’s own words: “NATO is not winning.” And “the consequences of this are quite severe.” He did not elaborate on these sentiments other than to say that Canada’s role in Afghanistan is “entangled with international obligations” (I’m wondering if he was referring to NATO or the US). He did, however explain why this cannot be a peacekeeping mission in the traditional way that Canadians are used to.  There aren’t just two opposing forces that need help establishing and keeping peace from an objective party as was the case in Cyprus.

3.     Manley seemed genuinely frustrated that his reports’ recommendations to move from a military solution to a greater focus on development and diplomacy has been reduced to “1,000 more soldiers”. He called for a cabinet committee on Afghanistan, greater diplomatic initiatives from the PMO, and more accountability from the government of Afghanistan (corruption at the government level must be dealt with).

4.     The Afghan National Army is growing and considered a more successful part of the mission.

5.     The police are a larger more complex problem. They are vulnerable to corruption since they are not always paid. Policemen in Afghanistan are killed at a faster rate than those in the army.

6.     What to do about Pakistan and the ungovernable border region? Manley offered no solutions.

7.     What to do about the poppy problem? Again no solutions were given.

8.     At present there are 2500 Canadian soldiers and 47 Canadian civilians in Afghanistan. This ration needs to change in order for more projects – building schools,  and homes, and growing food.

9.     Manley said that human rights in Afghanistan means education, food and shelter for the population.

It’s a bit disconcerting that a man of Manley’s intellect, experience and position offered so little hope for Afghanistan. I very much appreciated his candour – something we seldom get from politicians. The fact that over 250,000 people have downloaded a copy of The Manley Report speaks volumes about the interest in this situation. It also means that Canadians want information, and our present government does us a great disservice by simplifying and reducing everything. If Afghanis need education, food and shelter we need people and projects in that country that have the capacity and experience to do that. I’m not at all convinced that more soldiers and helicopters are the answer.