Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Beginning of the End?

* Updated Below*

I fear that we are in danger of losing our mission. I really think that at this point Canada could be in danger of completely losing popular support for its mission in Afghanistan.

It's not like the polls were looking stellar before this.

Last month, an Angus Reid poll found that almost half of Canadians would end our role in Afghanistan before 2011 (the scheduled pull-out date) if the choice were up to them. In the online survey, 48 per cent of respondents wanted the bulk of the troops currently deployed in Afghanistan to be withdrawn before 2011, 35 per cent would continue until the end of the mission in 2011, and only seven per cent believe Canadian soldiers should remain in Afghanistan after 2011.

And now?

Now, even I, in the die-hard 7% group apparently (which, by the way, I don't quite buy, I think the actual number of Canadians who would support Canada staying in Afghanistan after 2011 would be somewhat higher than that) have begun to question what, exactly, we think we are doing there.

The way I see it, we went to Afghanistan for both selfish and humanitarian reasons. To prevent the country from becoming another hot-bed for terrorists who threaten not just our way of life, but our very lives. And, equally as important, to help the Afghan people rebuild and gain control of their country. To help put them in a position to live a better life. To help improve the life of women who have lived for years in conditions that Canadian women can barely fathom.

Not to perpetuate a society where it would be illegal for women to refuse to have sex with their husbands. Not to perpetuate a society which requires women to get approval from a male relative in order to leave the house.

You've got to be kidding.

Yes, I understand there are "cultural and religious differences" between life in Canada and life in Afghanistan. I equally understand that "cultural and religious differences" can easily be used as a cover for other intents and purposes. Intents and purposes which Canada simply cannot, in good conscience, be part of.

Yes, it's complex. We said we would give them democracy. And shouldn't democracy include the right to make their own decisions, form their own laws? Maybe so, but it doesn't mean that we have to be a part of it.

If that is the choice their 'democratically elected' government makes, then we need to seriously consider our continued presence in Afghanistan and take a serious look at what options are open to us. I don't see how staying and supporting such a government can result in anything less than tainting our soldiers, our government, ourselves. Making us equally guilty.

Apparently, my fellow Canadians agree.
A survey by The Canadian Press/Harris-Decima suggests 40 per cent of Canadians support the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. But should the family law code be enacted, the poll suggests opposition to the mission would rise to roughly 75 per cent.
I am well aware that international outrage has forced the Afghan government to promise a review of the proposed law. A review that is expected to take two to three months, likely postponing the law's enactment until after the presidential election in August. And then?

Then, if such a law is still "on the table", so to speak, Canada must take a stand. I may not be entirely sure what the *right* thing to do is but I do know that we cannot simply keep doing what we are doing. Not in those circumstances.

Update: It's nice to see that it's not just us *foreigners* protesting the passage of this law. And that Afghan women are actually willing to speak truth to power.

Although I must say that taking the position that the legislation, which has already been approved by both houses of Parliament and signed by the President, is not yet law because it has yet to be published in the government’s official register is a bit of stretch, don't you think?

H/T to Neptunus Lex for the update


Pogue said...

We're all in Afghanistan in our own self interest. That we can help improve their lives is secondary, though not unimportant. We can encourage a democratic government, but we have to accept that they may take a path that we don't care for. On the other hand, they have to accept that their decisions have consequences. The withdrawl of the support that makes their government possible could well be one of those consequences.

As an aside, you really seem to becoming quite conservative Michelle... Must be some of the unsavory characters you associate with on the internet :-)

MMC said...

That's funny, Pogue.

A grain of truth, perhaps, although I'm sure in some ways you would still find me rather *liberal". It just depends on the topic. Remember, I happily live in a *socialist* country. ;-)

Isabelle said...

Who said the Afghans wanted democracy? Our western way of life is obviously not something that has much support amongst those who have been holding power over the years. I’m not suggesting the Afghan women might not appreciate living full lives but Afghan men must first consider them full human participants. Even the democratically elected Karzai has been exposed as an unenlightened person by our western standards.

I appreciate your argument for why we went to Afghanistan but we are trying to impose our values on a culture that sees the world differently. If we want to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans then we will have to engage them on another level. There are religious groups here in the west that want to have the same kind of control over women and we have found a way to live peacefully with them even though we disagree.

I belong to that group that never thought Canada should be in Afghanistan. But regardless of that I’m glad it was the issue of women’s rights that woke the public up to the futility of our being in Afghanistan. Even if Canadians are over there building schools, roads, infrastructure, etc., if women are not allowed to participate equally in society then we have no business trying to impose our values on them.

I enjoy the political commentary on your blog …

MMC said...

Like I said, I may not be entirely sure on what the *right* answer is but I'm pretty sure it falls somewhere in between offering our tactic support to a government that passes such a law (assuming it will actually be enacted) and just pulling out. Because we need to ask ourselves the question, if all of us did just that, what would the result be for the people of Afghanistan? And, by extension, the rest of us?

BTW I could be wrong but I seem to recall the majority, maybe even the vast majority, of Canadians being in favour of Canada joining NATO in Afghanistan. You may be right in that we may not be able to impose our values over there. But that still leaves me unsure of what the answer is. I don't see how simply pulling out now (or never having gone in the first place) could possibly make things better.

Perhaps the only real tool we really have left is, as Progue noted, reinforcing that old lesson that choices are actions, and that actions have consequences. Because something tells me that Karzai is smart enough to realize that without the support of Canada and other NATO allies, his government won't be around much longer to pass any laws.

In other words, political pressure backed up by the will to follow through might be our best, or only available, alternative at the moment. But even at that, I'm not so sure that the will to follow through should mean leaving the country to its own devices at the moment.

And I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. Thanks for dropping by.

Eileen said...

You and Progue are right, political pressure and the will to follow through sounds like a very viable 'solution'. And if not ... I have no answers, there are too many 'ifs' ... If the world backs out of Afghanistan ... will it get more proficient as a breeding ground of terrorists and islamic extremism? As I said, many many ifs.

MMC said...

Well, that's certainly the fear. It's certainly my fear, anyway. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Because in some senses, I have the feeling this law is already a done deal. And they are just 'humouring' us, like.