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Supporting the Afghan government’s search for peace

In a recent Globe and Mail column Lawrence Martin chastises Canadian politicians, especially those of the Liberal Party of Canada, “the party of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien,” as he describes it, for not pushing negotiations with the Taliban. Predictably, given his oft expressed animus for General Rick Hillier, he blames the CDS – a public servant who is precluded from firing back at Martin’s journalistic cheap shots.

There is nothing to prevent the lawfully elected Government of Afghanistan from negotiating with anyone. It is a sovereign entity. It has its own duty to its own people and the world to seek peace.
No one would welcome peace more than Canadian soldiers: those who have served in Afghanistan, those who are serving in Afghanistan and those who will, soon, serve in Afghanistan – some for the second or third time. The Ruxted Group is certain that chief amongst the ‘cheerleaders’ for peace is General Rick Hillier. He, rather than sideline snipers like Lawrence Martin, meets the coffins which return the bodies of his soldiers to their grieving families; he knows the cost of this war – of any war. Ruxted knows that General Hillier is all too aware that he bears the heavy responsibility of command for the loss of his soldiers. To suggest that he is some sort of glory hound is an egregious insult – the more so when it comes from someone who is bereft of anything like a similar responsibility. Journalists, an old maxim goes, are akin to those who wait for the end of the battle and then come down from the hills and rob the dead. Commanders, like General Hillier, bleed with each casualty.

Lawrence Martin is correct in asserting that negotiations are, generally, a prelude to peace. No one in The Ruxted Group argues with history. Where Martin (and Rideau Institute ‘talking head’ and former disarmament ambassador Peggy Mason, whom he cites) are mistaken is in the belief that Canada has any significant and useful role in peace negotiations. Canada’s role in Afghanistan is to work in support of the legitimate Government of Afghanistan. If that government decides, as it may, perhaps as it should, that now is the time for negotiations then Canada should support it – diplomatically and, to the degree possible, militarily. Such support might involve reducing the intensity of combat operations, but it might, equally, involve stepping up the pace of offensive combat operations aimed at underlining the Taliban’s weak position. It will be up to the Government of Afghanistan to decide on the best strategy and for the Canadian military commanders on the ground to adjust their tactics accordingly. There is little else for the Government of Canada or for Canadian parliamentarians to do except hope that a route to peace for the poor, war ravaged people of Afghanistan can be found.

As we have recently said, Canada is engaged in a long, long war – a war which pits the forces of civilization, as we understand that term, against the forces of aggressive barbarism. Afghanistan is just one battle in one front of that long, ‘good’ and ‘world’ war – a war which we can and must win. Bringing peace to Afghanistan is a laudable goal – one the Government of Afghanistan should pursue, provided it is a real peace, not just a temporary ceasefire. Nothing that happens in Afghanistan will bring peace to the liberal, democratic, secular West – the enemy has its own war aims, as Ruxted described in ”A world war, too” just two weeks ago. Afghanistan is intended to be one of the lesser provinces of the new ‘Caliphate’ – it is not an end in itself. Canadians will be fighting this new, long, world war for many years, even decades to come in places beyond Afghanistan. Peace can be won – but not just on the battlefields, solid diplomatic and development work is required, too. Equally, peace – real lasting peace with freedom for the Afghans – can be lost at a negotiating table. The people of the ‘Islamic Crescent’ are the only ones who can make real peace and they can only do that when they decide that their futures do not involve a militant, medieval, jihadist version of Islam.

There is another factor which Lawrence Martin misses, that is that negotiating from a position of weakness is a mug's game. Talks with consequences as monumental as the fate of a nation and perhaps even Western civilization are not the same as resolving a dispute over a fence with a neighbour or negotiating a friendly takeover or a merger in the corporate world. In Ruxted’s opinion, we - the lawfully elected Government of Afghanistan and its Allies - are not yet in a position to impose our terms on the Taliban; to attempt to gain a lasting advantage at the table at this time would be folly.

For the time being Canada, and Canadians - including parliamentarians, anti-military busybodies, terrorist apologists and accomplices in the so called peace movement and sideline sniping journalists like Martin and other sheep in sheep's clothing - can only offer quiet, diplomatic support to the Afghanistan government’s quest to bring peace, security and prosperity to its people. General Hillier and the Canadian Forces can, as they must, adjust their tactics to the strategy of the Government of Afghanistan, as they await the next phase in this long, long war.

Lawrence Martin must, finally, come to appreciate that we are not the Russians – we did not invade Afghanistan, we are not a colonial, occupying power – we are part of an alliance, properly exercising our ‘Responsibility to Protect.’ It appears that some Liberal Party of Canada politicians understand that fact and that is why they are not joining Martin in attacking the Canadian government for being responsible.


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Peggy Mason on :

One of the main lessons from international efforts to help end civil wars through peace negotations, particularly in the post-cold war period, is the vital importance of legitimate, credible third party facilitation. If one takes the example of Northern Ireland, one can see that even the UK needed outside help - in the form of American Senator Mitchell's mediation efforts, not to mention the role of Canada's General de Chastelain on the thorny issue of weapons decommissioning by the IRA.

The plain fact is that there is too much distrust among the parties to negotiate a lasting peace agreement on their own.

The issue with respect to Afghanistan is not whether Canada will negotiate but whether it will put its diplomatic weight behind the need to bring high level international support to the haphazard efforts to date of the Karzai government to launch a negotiation with more moderate elements of the Taliban.

The best time to negotiate is when both sides are more or less in stalemate because neither foresees defeat or victory within any reasonable time frame. The other, far less likely basis for negotiation, is when the stronger side concludes that the best way forward is through a negotiation, the costs of pushing through to victory being too high (and there being some recognition that the other side actually has some legitimate grievances). Being strong enough to "impose" one's will is not a peace negotiation but the other side conceding defeat and being forced to agree to ceasefire conditions. (This is what happened at the end of the first Persian Gulf war.)

If NATO is in a stalemate, then it should support negotiations. If NATO has the upper hand for the moment, it should support negotiations (it being clear to any one who chooses to see that a decisive victory is not in the cards either now or later.) If NATO is slowly losing ground, then the sooner a credible negotiation begins the better.

In Afghanistan, the best opportunity to negotiate - in the immediate aftermath of the routing of the Taliban government at the end of 2001 - was squandered by the USA in its delusions of unilateral pre-eminence. That makes the prospect of negotiating a good deal now - when the Taliban, Al Qaida and a whole range of marginalized and disaffected warlords and tribal entities have been able to regroup and come together - infinitely more difficult.

But short of a much larger NATO-led force occupying Afghanistan for years to come, there is no other option to ending the civil war than negotiation. NATO can get on board now while it still has some leverage or wait until Karzai is ousted and the United National Front seeks to make whatever deal it can with the Taliban.

There IS a difference between robust peace implementation and war - it is called a credible peace process. Militant extremists will still have to neutralized but the difference will be that non-Al Qaida disaffected Pashtuns will have somewhere else to go.

Anon on :

Peggy, I think anyone who has even the faintest knowledge of insurgency or guerrilla warfare knows that there will be no decisive victory in Afghanistan. But I as a human being am unwilling to have the representatives of my nation sit in negotiations with people who deny the most basic of human rights to everyone they dominate.

The bi-polar disorder suffered by the political Left which on one hand cries foul that Afghan civilians might be being tortured in Afghani prisons while at the same time calling to negotiate with the very people that turned soccer stadiums into killing fields for public executions and stonings has me baffled.

Would you advocate negotiating with Hitler if he had promised not to exterminate the Jews, but just enslave them instead?

No. We should stay the course. We should continue to build the ANA and ANP to the point where they will be able to effectively exercise the lawful and legal sovereign power of the Afghan government.

We should continue to fight the Taliban, Al Quaeda and the rest until relieved by the ANA and ANP, and even once we are we should stand beside a new, strong and democratic society to assist them should they ask us to.

If it takes a village to raise a child then certainly it would take an entire planet to raise a nation.

GAP on :

Who do we negotiate with, the present day mulla's/leaders of the Taliban, the Pakastani ISI, the AQ arabs, or the moderates who just want to get on with life.

Until Mullah Omar is gone like Mullah Dadullah, you are not going to see any change in the Taliban stance. They can't because they have boxed themselves into a course of action via a radical political stance that even if they changed direction, nobody would trust them.

Maintain security, complete reconstruction projects, and make inroads through backdoor communications with the more moderate of the Pastuns that want things to simmer down, until the opportunity to negotiate openly occurs, is probably the best we can expect.

Don't expect any help from Pakistan. It is in Pakistan's interest to keep things formenting in the border region to avoid the Afghan and Tribal Area Pastuns from uniting into an enlarged province(s) of southern Afghanistan

E.R. Campbell on :

The Rideau Institute's Peggy Mason makes the case for negotiation über alles. Negotiate, she advises, when we are winning, negotiate when we are losing, negotiate when we are stalemated. Negotiate for the sake of negotiation. “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Anon disagrees. There are those, he suggests, who are beyond the pale those with whom we must never negotiate. But we have negotiated with the worst of the worst. Indeed, in the 20th century, we actively courted one devil to save us from another. There is no reason why the freely and fairly elected Karzai government cannot or should not negotiate with the Taliban to try to find ways to bring peace to that sad, war ravaged country and its people. If NATO was willing to negotiate with Ratko Mladic then Afghanistan, backed by NATO, is free to negotiate with Mullah Omar – one is no better or worse than the other. The fact that one is a European and a nominal Christian is neither here nor there – or, at least, it ought not to be.

Of these two positions Ambassador Mason's is the weakest. Sadly, it is also by far the more widely held. Mason's position reflects the last 35 years of Canadian policy and social attitude: greedy spinelessness. The origins of this position are found in the 1970 'Foreign Policy for Canadians' in which the government of the day explicitly rejected the policies established by Louis St Laurent and advanced by Lester B Pearson and declared that Canada could no longer afford to take a leading position in the world, we could not even, the authors added, be a 'helpful fixer.' Canada was, Prime Minister Trudeau declared, too poor, too weak and too preoccupied with its own domestic problems to help, much less lead in the wider world. It was an act of policy vandalism. But, sad to say, it resonated with Canadians. “The world was too much with us” in 1970 – we were tired of the threats and of the cost of protecting ourselves from them. Better, Trudeau suggested, to withdraw from the world and focus on our own petty, provincial interests. “Agreed!” Canadians cried, “Leave us alone.” We adopted negotiation über alles as our national position – there was no one so bad that we could not sit down with them and no one so good that we needed to offer them military support in a crisis.

That position is, *in my personal opinion*, disastrous. A country which cannot differentiate good from evil, which is not willing to defend the right and defeat evil is a poor, sad thing – unworthy of the sacrifices made by past generations. Peggy Mason and her fellow travellers have broken faith with those who died. She, and all the 'Trudeauistas', dishonour the 100,000+ Canadians in war graves scattered around the globe – including those freshly buried after making the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan. Peggy Mason's Canada is unworthy of the sacrifices.

The answer to a world which is too much with us is not to retreat to “this pleasant lea” and gaze at our national navel. It is, as St Laurent understood, when the world was much more with us, to go forth and meet it, head on, and make that world more amenable to our ideas and ideals - preferably in the vanguard of an alliance of like minded and equally committed nations. That is the Canada I want: a nation willing to help others to achieve what we have managed: peace, prosperity,individual liberty. That is what a Responsibility to Protect is all about; that was lost on Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, Lloyd Axworthy and, evidently, on Peggy Mason, too. With regard to R2P, Canada has devolved into an irresponsible nation, a cheap whiner, careful to rush away to the wash-room when the dinner bill is presented, as former Deputy Prime Minister John Manly so aptly put it. That's Trudeau's Canada and Mason's Canada. It is a Canada which is a failing state, a worthless hulk of a nation, adrift on a sea of greed and envy.

Anon on :

9/11 "changed the world", although the "world" might not be accurate our perception and reaction to it certainly changed.

After 9/11 we as a nation were shocked out of our Pearsonian peacekeeping stupor, and for the first time since WW2 we recognized that it could happen here.

Had Miladic attacked the WTC there would have been no negotiation. As a matter of fact, the world was more than willing to negotiate with the Taliban prior to 9/11. It was that one seminal event, or more rightly the Taliban's unqualified support for it that pushed us to where we are. Cause and effect.

Should the Taliban abandon their dreams of religious domination, penchant for torture and their quest for totalitarianism within Afghanistan then negotiation might be possible, but I have yet to hear from any moderate Taliban voice with the power to make it happen. Mulla Omar is not suing for negotiations.

Negotiation, in spite of what Peggy seems to think, is a meeting between 2 or more parties in which each hope to give a little to get a little. I've yet to hear any indication that the Taliban are willing to negotiate, willing to give at all.

There is also another cook in this soup, what of Al Quaeda? What use is it to negotiate with the Taliban if AlQ continues to commit high explosive murder on the roads and in the marketplaces of Afghanistan?

As for R2P, this is a UN construct, which quite frankly that organization neither has the courage or conviction to honour. It lies much more within the spirit and ability of the post 9/11 NATO than the useless debating society which is the UNSC. NATO has realized their R2P while the UN never will. Why? Because so many of the UN’s members are states that people must be protected from.

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