Eight years in: rethinking Canada's strategy in Afghanistan

On October 6, 2009, TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin had a panel discussion entitled ‘Eight Years in Afghanistan’ with Steve Staples of Ceasefire.ca, retired Cpl. Alain Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations, Graeme Smith of the Globe and Mail, Mark Serda of the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Mercedes Stephenson of Mercedes Stephenson Investigates, a political and defence analysis series on iChannel.

Watch the video above, or by clicking here. A brief synopsis follows.

Retired Cpl. Alain Pellerin argued that the panel should keep in mind the fact that many military operations last much longer than eight years, such as those in Cyprus, the Golan Heights and Northern Ireland. Indeed, in his opinion, there should be a surge in troops, as he belives that a successful counter-insurgency requires “a lot of boots on the ground”and that  withdrawal could cause a civil war. Lastly, Cpl. Pellerin expressed his concern over the impact that early withdrawal could have on others in the region such as Pakistan and Iran.

Steve Staples began by asking the panel to consider whether or not the war in Afghanistan has changed Canada. Once example of how this has manifested itself are the scarcely-publicized cases of child abuse that has been allowed to take place on Canadian bases in Aghanistan. Although it has been alleged that only Afghan officials partake in these activities, Canada has become complicit in the overt violation of fundamental human rights of the young Afghanis in question. i He acknowledges that some progress has been made but reafirms the view held by many that it was easier to provide aid when the Taliban was in power because there was security at that time. Security is so bad now that aid work is jeopardized because aid workers are often confused with the army. On the subject of the need for a troop surge, he believes “no military leader would ever feel he had enough troups”. In closing, he expresses the need for a completely different strategy, one that focuses on ways to bring peace to the Afghan people; a diplomatic solution.

Mercedes Stephenson, a military analyst, emphasized that progress made to date and the impact its had on individual afghans. She gives  examples, the construction of the first ever maternal ward in Afghanistan and the fact that afghan women were able to go out in the streets and protest the new marital rape law. Further, she asserts that development is not possible without security and according to her, only the military can bring security. In closing she states that even if we were to change our strategy going forward to focus on training, this will still requier troops to go into combat with the afghan army and therefore there will still be casualties.

Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith who has spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan, believes the international community rushed into the war and the longer we stay the more Afghans will die. He believes political peace is needed in order for development to last. He sees subsidizing the Governement of Afghanistan as the solution, not a troop surge.

Mark Serda, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation believes it was essential to go to Afghanistan eight years ago and it will be essential to stay and warns against leaving the “job half-done”. For him, the key point is protecting the afghan people as a means to win their hearts and minds. He is confident in the Karzai government which he believes is succeptible to influence by the right people.

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