2021 federal election week one: Climate crisis and peril in Afghanistan

A leaders’ election debate on the climate crisis is an urgent necessity

Four leading Canadian recipients of the Order of Canada, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Lewis, Michael Ondaatje and David Suzuki, have written to David Johnson, head of the Leaders’ Debate Commission, seeking an emergency leaders’ debate on the climate crisis. Calling the climate crisis “a mass and urgent existential threat”, they write:

As last week’s chilling report from the International Panel on Climate Change made clear once again, we’ve almost run out of time.

The sixth report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the Paris Agreement climate targets could soon be “out of reach” without “immediate and massive” greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions.

An accompanying Special Report on Climate Change and Land calls for a complete overhaul of the global food system to stop climate breakdown, in light of their finding that:

About 21–37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributable to the food system.

According to the report, our food system, from farm to grocery store, is the “top cause of deforestation” which, in turn, accounts for 30% of greenhouse emissions.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

On the positive side, this overhaul is entirely within our reach, if we only commit to the necessary action now. And the result will not only be major reductions in GHG emissions but healthy sustainable diets as well.

For more on how we need to revolutionize the way we use land in order to cut emissions, provide sustainable food and reduce poverty, click here.

For the full article on the need for a special Leaders’ debate, see: Suzuki, Atwood, Ondaatje, Lewis Call for Emergency Leaders Debate on Climate (Michael Harris, thetyee.ca, 18 August 2021).

Let us not compound our mistakes in Afghanistan

David Pugliese, in an article entitled Analysis: Afghan mission was doomed to fail, but Canadian leaders refused to listen (ottawacitizen.com, 18 August 2021) references some of the many voices critiquing the Afghanistan military intervention.

He quotes Liberal Senator Colin Kenny’s warning in 2009:

What we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible. We are hurtling toward a Vietnam ending.

Then he recounts Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance’s rebuke of Senator Kenny for his “uninformed” opinion.

Pugliese also recounts:

A few MPs such as NDP leader Jack Layton and the party’s defence critic, Dawn Black, as well as left-leaning analysts such as [former RI President] Steve Staples, raised questions about the mission.

They were denounced as traitors or accused of hurting the morale of troops.

In our blog of March 12, 2021, entitled Canada, NATO and Afghanistan: Lessons NOT learned entrap us still today, we set out at length the efforts of current RI President Peggy Mason in support of the only approach that might have ever worked in Afghanistan, a comprehensive peace process. The blog includes a speech she gave in March 2008 where she stated:

NATO military commanders themselves know that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s myriad problems.

She also referenced the views of respected analyst Paul Rogers of Bradford University that:

there is a widespread and bleak consensus among NATO commanders: unless there is a significant change in policy, foreign forces will remain in the country for decades, tied down in bitter counter-guerrilla operations.

See also her March 2006 Globe and Mail opinion piece entitled Analyst says current strategy making matters worse and an extensive May 2006 Globe and Mail moderated online question and answer session with Mason and Omar Samad, then Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada, attached in PDF format for all readers.  In the Q & A session Mason commented:

There is no military solution to this problem which cries out for a comprehensive peace process bringing in all but the true hardliners and involving all the neighbouring countries, so they become part of the solution instead of the problem.

President Karzai is ready to do this but needs a lot of help which, inexplicably, he is not getting from Canada or other NATO members.

Our March 2021 blog urged a last-ditch effort by the Biden administration to throw its weight behind a comprehensive peace process.

But there was no change in course, just a precipitous American and Allied military withdrawal, leaving chaos and panic in its wake.

Going forward we need constructive international engagement in support of the Afghan people

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

The international community has failed Afghanistan. What matters now is that we do not compound that failure with deeply felt, but dangerously counterproductive, attacks on the Taliban.

Our aim must be to support constructive international engagement under UN oversight.

How has Canada handled this diplomatic challenge so far?

On 16 August, as the Taliban seemed certain to complete its takeover of the country by entering Kabul, Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, speaking on CBC’s Power & Politics, stated that the federal government would take a “wait and see” approach to the question of recognition.

Canada, [will take] a “wait and see” approach to the question of Taliban recognition

This was an eminently sensible, prudent diplomatic approach, given the de facto Taliban control, the ongoing negotiations in Doha and in Islamabad, and the presence of the UN on the ground.

In this regard, consider the statement by the British chief of defence staff, General Nick Carter:

I think you have to be very careful using the word enemy. I think people need to understand who the Taliban actually are. They are a disparate collection of tribes people…

We have to be patient, we have to hold our nerve and we have to give them the space to form a government and we have to give them the space to show their credentials

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the Taliban would be judged on their actions, not their words, as they sought to convince the world they would not seek revenge after seizing Afghanistan.

Alas, by 17 August, political calculations overtook diplomatic restraint among all of Canada’s federal political leaders, who outdid each other in denouncing the Taliban and declaring they would not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government. Prime Minister Trudeau stated:

Canada has no plans to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. When they were in government twenty years ago Canada did not recognize them as the Government.

The Conservative Party issued a statement announcing that:

a Conservative government will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Jagmeet Singh followed suit with the added accusation, one taken as fact by much of the media, that the Taliban is:

clearly a terrorist organization.

This is a position Russia holds, but not the USA. 23 Aug Update: PM Trudeau confirmed on Monday that the Taliban was still a listed terrorist entity under Canadian legislation.

Individual Taliban members and certain Pakistani-based Taliban groups are listed by the UN and the USA as terrorist entities. But the negotiations in Doha could not have proceeded with the Afghanistan Taliban if the group as a whole was currently an internationally designated terrorist organization.

Annamie Paul, leader of the federal Green Party, has called for an emergency debate in Parliament over the Canadian response to the Afghanistan crisis. This is a worthy call that should be reiterated after the election.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

Diplomatic recognition is NOT approval. It is a response to the facts on the ground and a precondition to exercising meaningful influence on the direction of the de facto government of Afghanistan.

Of course we want to act in concert with the UN and other like-minded nations and in support of the power sharing negotiations, which is why the “wait and see” approach was the prudent one.

Doha negotiations included talks on broad power-sharing agreement

We are now learning more about the Doha negotiations and related ongoing discussions in Pakistan. In the words of former Afghanistan Ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, and a negotiator in Doha (referenced above in the 2006 Globe and Mail online question and answer with Peggy Mason):

I know for a fact that the Taliban put forward on two occasions a power sharing arrangement – with details as to how it would work – to Afghan politicians in Kabul.

The person who basically sabotaged it was [then Afghan President] Ashraf Ghani.

Samad goes on to say that Ghani did so for his own political purposes, knowing that the Taliban would never agree to his inclusion in the new government.

For the full discussion, see Will Taliban rule be different this time in Afghanistan? (Aljazeera.com/inside-story, 18 August 2021).

Another extremely important factor is the potential interplay between different Taliban factions, particularly the hardliners versus the moderates. In a paywalled article for project-syndicate.org, former Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev writes:

The Taliban are not a unified force, but rather a motley collection of groups with conflicting interests….

That is why it is essential to identify and support the more moderate Taliban leaders.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

The plain fact is that we simply do not know if the Taliban will live up to their promises of respecting fundamental human rights, especially of women.

But one thing is for sure, even if the intentions of some of the Taliban leadership are good, they are going to need an immense amount of international assistance going forward.

Mature, measured action needed from Canada

All federal parties should support Canada working with other countries under the leadership of the UN to ensure constructive engagement with the de facto Afghanistan government on the basis of broad UN oversight as a basic condition of international support.

We call on the Government of Canada and all federal political parties to support UN-led efforts to constructively engage with the de facto Afghanistan government with a view to facilitating broad UN oversight as a condition of international support going forward.As an urgent pre-condition, we need to fully align Canada’s Taliban designation with the UN terrorist entity list.

We also call on the Government of Canada to immediately increase its humanitarian assistance for UN relief agencies working in Afghanistan.  The need is acute.

For the broader context of disastrous American military interventions and the continuing failure to learn any lessons from them, see the article American Wars: Blood in the Sand by Jeffrey Sachs (project-syndicate, 17 August 2021), reprinted for non-subscribers here.

We need to debate foreign policy during this election

The climate crisis and the pandemic have underscored the inextricable link between international affairs and Canadian well-being. It is more important than ever that the leaders of each federal political party indicate their vision of Canada’s place in the world, going forward.

We call on all federal parties to support either a specific foreign policy debate or a significant allocation of time for this subject in one of the two scheduled leaders’ debates.

RI co-hosted webinar on nuclear disarmament – 25 August 2021

Kazakhstan, the former nuclear weapons testing site for the Soviet Union, has championed nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation since its independence 30 years ago.

Do not miss the webinar, co-hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Canada, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), the Rideau Institute and Project Ploughshares on the role of Kazakhstan in promoting nuclear disarmament as well as an examination of Canada’s record and what further action is needed.

When: August 25, 2021 10:00 -11:20 AM EST

RSVP to: kazembottawa@gmail.com to get registration information.

See the Event Poster here and the Webinar Programme here.

Photo credit: Canadian Forces images (Afghanistan female training army brigade, 2013).

Tags: Afghanistan, Canadian federal election 2021, Canadian foreign policy debate, Climate Change and Land, climate crisis, comprehensive peace process, David Pugliese, diplomatic recognition of Taliban government, Kazakhstan and nuclear disarmament, Kazakhstan and nuclear testing, Leaders' Debate Commission, NATO counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan, non-diplomatic recognition of Taliban government, power sharing agreement, Sixth IPCC Report on Climate Change, Taliban, terrorist entities