Defence Minister Peter MacKay recently travelled to Afghanistan and made a number of statements regarding Canada’s future role in the conflict. MacKay’s comments reflect a changing role for Canada beyond 2011 and allude to a bigger role in delivering aid, retreating from the rural regions and focusing on population centres. MacKay believes that the Canadian military is ready to act as a mentor to the Afghan army and police and focus on directing aid projects such as micro finance. While this new role may bring a sigh of relief to some Canadians, a warning of caution is in order.
MacKay appears confident that there are a number of roles we can play “but subject to the will of the [Canadian] people.” Further, MacKay upholds the principle of democracy and states that ” we can’t come to Afghanistan and help them develop their democracy and not respect our own.” This comment begs the question: whose interests are we looking to protect and serve? Not once are the interests of Afghans mentioned in this article. It is impossible to mold a democracy in Afghanistan based on the will of Canadian people. The latest Ceasefire.ca poll indicates that 46 % of Ceasefire.ca supporters approve of negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgents, thus, focusing on diplomatic efforts to include the interests of the Afghan people. Indicating respect for the Canadian people and the voice of Parliament comprises only half the picture. MacKay advocates for a “focus on population centres” which indicates a move away from the rural areas. This statement sets off a few alarm bells. The outlying regions are mainly made up of rural dwellers whose villages often serve as a base for insurgent activity. Neglecting these areas will detract from Canada’s ability to negotiate and deliver aid.
In the end, MacKay’s comments regarding a recent U.S. air strike that killed dozens of civilians do not inspire much confidence in the “new direction” Canada will be taking. MacKay doesn’t criticize the U.S. and adds that the “Taliban doesn’t play by any rules of engagement.” It almost seems like McKay is saying that NATO and U.S.-led air strikes have no choice BUT to kill civilians as the “Taliban deliberately places themselves in populations and uses them as human shields.” The logic of this statement is strikingly odd. If the U.S. cannot avoid killing civilians when fighting the Taliban, perhaps its time to admit that using violence to fight violence is doing more harm than good. Just because the Taliban doesn’t adhere to rules of engagement, doesn’t mean NATO is off the hook. Aren’t we the good guys? Clearly an over militarized logic continues to plague Canadian military strategy, despite the promises of a new direction.