First we heard that Canadian troops in Afghanistan were reaching out to low and mid-level insurgents, encouraging them through local villagers to sit down with Afghan authorities and perhaps even NATO forces. And that this was something that was strongly supported by the head of the Kandahar provincial council. But that was Thursday.
Today word is that any members of the military who have been engaged in such meetings are "out of line". Even though Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould, the new battle group commander, and Sgt. Tim Seeley, a civilian-military co-operation officer for Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, were quoted as saying that channels were being opened to moderate Taliban and other officials in Kandahar appeared to back up the military’s strategy, calling it "creative thinking", they were apparently sternly corrected by Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The idea that Canadian soldiers would be stepping up with Afghans to encourage militants in the war-ravaged province to lay down their weapons and talk has won high praise in Kandahar City.Oh yeah, one more thing. Out of the NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Canada and the United States are alone in their refusal to speak to militants. Um, officially that is, I suppose. Since there appears to be 'policy' (as in "The Department of National Defence 'doesn’t make policy', only the government does that") and ... reality, maybe?
Powerbrokers such as Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, say it’s just the kind of push that’s need to stem the tide of violence. Tribal leaders in the hotly contested Panjwaii district, where much Canadian blood has been shed, are also happy with the thought.
But MacKay said reconciliation isn’t something that Canadians can make happen for the Afghans. It’s an "initiative that must be led by them" and that Ottawa is content to support Karzai’s peace overtures, but "at a distance."
Now personally, I'm not sure whether this 'talking with the Taliban' is a good idea or not. But the whole discussion does take me back a few years to when the federal New Democrats suggested that peace talks be initiated with the Taliban. Actually, as I recall, it was a little stronger than a "suggestion". More like Jack Layton was demanding peace talks. Which prompted the Conservatives to hang Layton with the handle of 'Taliban Jack' at the time. And which prompted me to consider him quite the idiot.
So I'm thinking this whole kerfuffle should have Layton smiling at least. In a couple of different ways.
Mulling this over today, another thought occurred to me. Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, seems unusually quiet at the moment, don't you think?
Troops sweep through the village of
Khenjakak, where Canadians are attempting
to broker a meeting with Afghan forces and local
Taliban. (Graeme Smith/ The Globe and Mail)