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Canadian Politics: Afghanistan, What Were We Fighting About Again?

There were two headlines in today's Globe and Mail, one of Canada's national newspapers, that caught my eye. They both dealt with the war in Afghanistan and to my eye provided an interesting perspective on how well the objectives of this conflict are being met. One dealt with the war effort, while another was about life for about fifty per cent of the civilian population.

We can't seem to have a week go by without new reports of casualties, deaths most often, of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. Today was no exception as the names of two soldiers killed while guarding road construction were released. It seems the area that we spent so many lives and time pacifying last month isn't as peaceful as was thought.

What was cited as a victory, turned out to be the Taliban just doing what guerrilla forces the world over have done since the Napoleonic Wars in Spain in 1805 when the term was invented (Spanish for small war); retreat in the face of superior firepower and come back to fight again another day. Over the last couple of weeks five Canadians have been killed along the same stretch of highway by either rocket attacks or bombs planted along the roadside.

I think the Canadian military have been taking stupid lessons from someone, which is depressing because you always kind of hope that the people leading the soldiers of your country might have a few brains. Judging by two comments quoted in the press today, I have to say that hope took a pretty sever beating.

The first example was one officer's attempt to paint the Taliban an even darker shade of evil, by saying that they are obviously against roads, because they keep attacking the Canadian soldiers who are guarding the building of a road. You don't think the attacks have anything to do with the fact that the Canadians are seen by the Taliban as an invading force has anything to do with it? Nope its just those godless Taliban are against roads.

The other officer, obviously attempting to offset the death of two more Canadian soldiers reported that in the ensuing skirmish that many rounds were exchanged with the Taliban, and that by the end the Canadians were shooting far more than the Taliban were. You don't think that maybe the Canadians were shooting at an empty hillside and the Taliban had left shortly after they had done all the damage they could without sustaining casualties?

It's not often a lightly armed guerrilla force is going to get into a drawn out conflict with a heavily armed troop of soldiers who can call in air support now is it. But this officer seemed to make it a point of pride that Canadian soldiers could blow up an empty hillside as well as any army in the world.

It was almost five years ago when the Canadian army followed the American lead into Afghanistan with the intention of overthrowing the oppressive Taliban regime and rooting out suspected terrorist training facilities. We were filled with horror stories, true unfortunately, of the horrendous treatment women were undergoing at the hands of the fundamentalists who were ruling the country. Their interpretation of the Koran was the Muslim equivalent of the Christian barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen take on the bible.

So what are we supposed to make of the fact that after five years of supposed democratic rule that just down the street from where the Canadian army is based is a prison housing a thirteen year old girl jailed because she had refused to marry a fifty year old man who she had been traded to by her father in exchange for another teenage girl? Or that in the same prison a husband, wife and daughter are all in jail because they offered a young woman who came to their door shelter not knowing she was a run away from the same sort of arrangement?

Because of their compassion the three of them were accused of prostitution and have been in jail since. According to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations the practice of jailing women for disobeying their male relatives or husbands is almost as widespread now as it was under the Taliban. These aren't isolated cases in small hill towns either but major metropolitan areas like Kandahar where there is a heavy international troop presence.

In other words in five years time the only thing that has happened is that a nice face has been put on the same old attitudes. Even when the fighting was at an ebb and the Taliban was supposedly "defeated" it seems like nothing was done in a real way to try and improve the lot of women in the country. Women are still considered as property that can be bought and sold on the open marketplace and seemingly nothing is being done about it.

Five years ago when our government agreed to send troops into Afghanistan it was an understandable attempt to liberate a people from a truly contemptible circumstances. Can anyone tell me what the objective of the mission is now? Why are we still fighting against an enemy that was supposedly vanquished before the invasion of Iraq? Why are the conditions that we were supposed to correct still in effect? The longer this war lasts the more questions there are raised then are answered about Canada's involvement.

When the Conservative Party Of Canada led by Prime Minister Steven Harper announced they would be keeping the previous government's commitment to expand Canada's role in the war in Afghanistan the majority of Canadians opposed the idea. With the government's parroting of Bush "We will stay the distance" rhetoric and talk of extending the stay of troops in combat situations, Afghanistan is fast becoming a major political issue in Canada.

In fact it is probably fair to say that Steven Harper's political future could hang on how well he deals with this issue. The province he needs to make serious gains in, Quebec, to win a majority government is also the province most opposed to the war. When there was even rumour of a Quebec battalion, The Vingt-Deux, being sent over seas the reaction was strong enough that the idea was quashed before it was spoken of officially.

Even a hint that a further expansion of the war would cause direct Quebec involvement would cause his shaky support in that province to disintegrate completely. His rigidity on social programs already harms his chances in Ontario, so not only can't he afford to lose support in Quebec, he is in need of gains there to even maintain his minority government status.

It would be ironic if the war everybody else seems to have forgotten about brings down a government in Canada.


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