Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Macleans in Afghanistan

The current Maclean’s (July 23rd edition) features a 5 page plea for support for the mission in Afghanistan. It was written by Sean M. Maloney whose bio-clip from his website ( reads as follows:

Sean Maloney currently teaches in the War Studies Programme at the Royal Military College of Canada and is the Strategic Studies Advisor to the Canadian Defence Academy. He served as the historian for 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, the Canadian Army's primary Cold War NATO commitment, after the re-unification of Germany and at the start of Canada's long involvement in the Balkans. Dr. Maloney has held grants from the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for both doctoral and post-doctoral research. He has also been a consultant to NATO, Canada's Privy Council Office, several directorates in the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Army. Dr. Maloney has extensive field research experience throughout the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central and South-West Asia.

Maloney’s argument is, of course, predictable given his long association with the Canadian military, NATO, etc. He sums it up in his last paragraph as follows:

Given the improving socio-economic situation in Kandahar province, withdrawing now would be like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. Canada has sacrificed too much to pull our when those incremental measures we’ve talked about for two years are just starting to have an effect.

Well, no, it would be nothing like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. But I’m sure that’s what it would look like to the military, for whom the war is, in part, a football game in which “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The militarism in Maloney’s rhetoric gives this sentiment away when he writes:

The troops are tired, but still pumped from the action this morning and keep a close eye out as they return to base. Officially there are 20 confirmed enemy dead, probably more, but the effects of this operation are greater than the body count.

At the same time as Maloney trumpets the achievements of the occupation of southern Afghanistan by NATO, he lets us in on some of the futility. For instance, even though NATO forces may be able to clear out a sector and kill or chase out all the Taliban fighters, an effective police force to maintain order and security in that sector doesn’t exist, and efforts to train and mobilize such a force are fragmented and unsuccessful. In turn, Maloney says, “[this fact] makes governance difficult.” In other words, “success” has to do mostly with the NATO forces having been able to win battles with the Taliban (compare their firepower; anything less would be laughable) and assist in the construction of some schools and other facilities.

Meanwhile, Afghanis have not been doing their part; they cannot police themselves and they cannot govern themselves. In all likelihood, it’s a matter of will as much as ability. Given the rosy future Maloney seems to think is possible—with enough time—why wouldn’t the Afghani response be an overwhelming enthusiasm for taking their future into their own hands?

Some knowledge of Afghanistan and the Taliban tends to make the long-term prospects for peace and security there a bit clearer. Afghanistan is extremely fragmented culturally and politically, power and control there have always followed religious and ethnic lines, and the economy leans very heavily on the drug trade. Without all of these things changing dramatically, the emergence of a unified, democratic state in Afghanistan is highly unlikely.

And what are the prospects of these changes happening? The Taliban would like to see unity under fundamentalist Islamic governance, and history is on their side: in Afghanistan, the separation of state and religion is a foreign concept. The Taliban come out of the Pashtun (Sunni) majority in the country (Afghanistan is 90% Pashtun, 10% Shiite) and it’s a safe bet that this predominant religious faction will play the major role in any unified country of the future. The force attempting to push the Middle East toward Islamic theocracy and the application of Sharia law is broadly based, as we all know if we read the news. I wouldn’t be prepared to guess at this time what the future of that struggle will be, but it’s certain that the conversion of the Afghan people to Western style democracy will not be achieved by NATO troops or reconstruction efforts of “foreigners,” even if they stay for,say, fifty years.

I would urge readers to explore the history of the Taliban at, for starters. The Taliban fighters are currently based primarily in Pakistan, where they have fought the Pakistani army successfully and are presently enjoying a cease-fire arrangement with Pakistan, one that more-or-less ensures them a base of operations for the foreseeable future. This is also the area where Osama bin Laden and his court are hiding out and managing Al-Qaeda’s affairs. But the Taliban is not “the enemy” in Afghanistan—as Maloney calls them—although it is the enemy of NATO forces there. The Taliban are Afghanis who share a philosophy based on a—probably ill-informed—fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. Their worldview is widely held although probably not in the majority in other Middle East and North African countries. The Taliban-philosophy will be around and thriving long after NATO forces have left Afghanistan.

I lean on the teachings of my Christian faith regarding the hoped-for peace in Afghanistan and a lasting arrangement by which Islamic states and Western democracies can be good neighbours.

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21 KJV).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV).

It’s amazing how we fuddle up our Christianity by putting a “yes, but” after its directives and principles, even when they are crystal clear. The West should have made itself a good neighbour to the Islamic world a long time ago. Instead, we have exploited their wealth and resources shamelessly and have prepared ourselves to deal with the fallout from this with military might. The USA’s military budget last year exceeded the military budgets of all the other countries in the world combined last. What does that say? (See:

Maloney and others are preparing the way for the impending failure by asserting in advance that “The only way the Taliban can win is to generate doubt and fear in Canada, and hope for a withdrawal of troops.” Right. When failure comes, it won’t be the fault of the military or those who directed it, we Canadian wimps will bear the blame. It’s the same rhetoric hawks in the USA have repeatedly used regarding the Iraq war, and despite massive expenditures and the “surge of troops,” that effort is failing badly. And it won’t be the “wimps” fault, it will be the fault of monstrously flawed goals and planning of the American administration and the militaries naivetĂ© in taking on a mission that was doomed from the start.

(For a sobering view of the extent of the failure of the USA’s war on terror, see the New York Times story at

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