Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Afghanistan - MacKay Still Has Questions to Answer

Questions remain concerning Canada's Post-2011 Role in Afghanistan

The promised 2011 end-date to Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan may be welcome to those many Canadians who end the war, but even in making this promise, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defense Minister Peter MacKay have some explaining to do.

The now-planned end of the combat mission in 2011 doesn't constitute "cutting and running", according to MacKay. "Certainly not. We have been there in a military developmental and diplomatic role for some time now. We made significant contributions to the development of Afghanistan. We have done our share."

Of course, at the end of the day, it will matter very little as to whether or not Canada has "done its share" if the job remains undone.

Fortunately, in comments reported in the September 11th issue of the Globe and Mail, MacKay has suggested that Canada will maintain a role in Afghanistan after 2011.

"We're there in numerous roles. We're there participating in reconstruction and development through CIDA,” he said. "We have diplomats who are working in Kabul. We have a significant number of civilian police trainers and military trainers and there are of course going to be NGOs [non-governmental organizations], so Canada will continue to support the effort to rebuild Afghanistan."

"But the Stephen Harper was crystal clear. He said the mission ends in 2011 and that's consistent with the vote that was taken in Parliament. That's respecting Parliament's voice."

Unfortunately, there are questions that remain unanswered. To have CIDA and Canadian diplomats at work in Afghanistan after 2011 is all and good, but an important question remains:

Afghanistan will almost certainly remain a theatre of warfare after 2011. As such, Canadians need to know who will fill the role of securing said theatre for our aid workers and diplomats.

To effect a full-scale withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan -- as Stephen Harper has indicated -- would be, as Jim Davis has noted -- irresponsible.

And not merely so the deaths of the soldiers already killed in Afghanistan aren't in vain, because it would be irresponsible to leave our aid workers and diplomats in harm's way.

In the end, only one real option remains: that of Canadian troops remaining in Afghanistan to ensure our aid workers and diplomats are properly protected. This would, by necessity, mean Canadian troops staying in Afghanistan in more than simply a "technical" role.

MacKay and Harper may want to wait until after the election to make any final decisions on Afghanistan. After all, it may be "Parliament's wishes" that the combat mission in Khandahar end at that time, but if "Parliament's wishes" are that Canadian diplomats and CIDA workers remain in Afghanistan protected only by the good graces of the Afghan army and our NATO allies, Parliament as a whole may find itself explaining itself to Canadians in the event that any of them come to harm.

Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay most certainly don't want to find themselves at the forefront of that.

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