The War on Women

Kabul women’s protest against Shia law raises ugly dilemmas about Canada’s mission.

Kabul women’s protest against Shia law raises ugly dilemmas about Canada’s mission. Musadeq Sadeq/ CP Photo

In Paul Weinberg’s recent article “War on Women- Canada’s Kabul allies condone rape while our troops die trying to stop women-hating Taliban,” a grim picture is painted regarding the challenges that lie ahead for NATO.

In light of the recent legislation condoning marital rape in Sharia law, Weinberg comments on the “motivational confusion” and “rational failure” of NATO’s war in Afghanistan, and notes that many Canadians are left to question the government’s support for the war. When the proposed solution is to engage in a troop surge, one begins to question the potential for success.

The Karzai government’s passing of the so called “rape law” appears to chip away at the “success” of the military operations on the ground. What it reveals is a major flaw in the design of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan. Military success, in terms of border security and cessation of hostilities, does not equate the successful transformation of social and political structures or the traditional norms and practices that underlie certain institutions.

U.S. President Obama’s troop surge of 21 ,000 troops is intended to gain “battlefield supremacy” in Afghanistan; however, Prime Minister Harper told CNN that we are not going to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, thus Canadians are left with a confused message on our goals in Afghanistan as a member of a supposed united force.

The real tragedy, according to Weinberg’s sources, is that “Canada has forsaken its traditional borkering role – especially since some elements of the Taliban appear receptive to talks.” Quoting Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute and, the mission in Afghanistan has been reduced to an endless “death watch” and with the recent failure of Karzai’s government to protect Sharia women from victimization Canadians are understandably feeling the “sting.”

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War on women

Canada’s Kabul allies condone rape while our troops die trying to stop woman-hating Taliban
by Paul Weinberg, NOW

Patriarchy, it seems, has finally elbowed its way into the controversy over NATO’s Afghanistan mission.

Events of the last few weeks, from the new law condoning rape in Shia marriage to the murder of a female politician in Kandahar and the brave demo by women in Kabul, have all provided a shocking and unmediated view of the challenges.

It’s left many Canadians wondering how it is our trusted allies in the Kabul government are enacting such a repressive code while our soldiers are fighting and dying in Kandahar to ensure that an equally misogynistic Taliban do not take power.

What’s happening, it appears, is a massive rationale failure for NATO’s war, made more confusing here by Canada’s and the U.S.’s seemingly differing mandate language.

Stephen Harper, for example, recently shocked Canadians when he told CNN, “Quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency” in Afghanistan. That was just a few weeks before the Obama administration’s March 27 white paper, which declared, “The core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens.”

That may be an American objective, but targeting the perpetrators of 9/11 has never had much traction here, says Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute. “In Canada we almost never talk about al Qaeda; we always talk about the Taliban. Our government knows Canadians are not up for a fight against al Qaeda.”

Moreover, the U.S. white paper is clear that democracy is no longer the object of the American intervention. Harperites, it’s true, have already lowered their democratic aspirations in favour of a “viable state,” but nonetheless, political officials here have sold the war on the basis of human rights and democracy, one reason why the sharia law controversy has such a sting.

Still, Staples says, “Anybody who thinks that by pouring in more troops we can defend these women against Neanderthals is not to be taken seriously.”

But beyond the motivational confusion is the strictly military one. Staples says the mission has been reduced to an endless “death watch” for our country. We’re able “to capture territory, but our troops aren’t holding it. So we end up fighting over and over again for the same turf.”

While some expect this to change with Obama’s 21,000-troop surge, due to take place in the next few months in the Afghan south, there are analysts who see the situation more skeptically and wonder if the U.S. president is serious about his stated goal of battlefield supremacy.

“NATO forces have become weaker as time goes on, and our negotiating hand has weakened in the same way,” says Staples. “Is this being recognized by the U.S., and is the surge of troops [intended] to improve the U.S.’s position in future negotiations that Obama may have in mind as part of an exit strategy?”

He isn’t the only one refusing to take the troop increase at face value. According to Gerald Ohlsen, an ex- Canadian diplomat and vice-president of Group of 78, a disarmament org, “One of the things not clear, even in the U.S. administration’s own statements, is if they see the surge as a means of encouraging the Taliban and others to negotiate, because it’s pretty clear that the level of increase is not going to radically alter the situation on the ground.”

If the real target is an eventual settlement, this strategy might make sense, Ohlsen says. But he nonetheless laments that Harper has forsaken Canada’s traditional brokering role, given that some elements of the Taliban (reports name Mullah Omar) appear receptive to talks. This is all the more poignant because the new U.S. admin has not entirely hardened its position, Ohlsen tells NOW.

Still, Eugene Lang, a former Department of National Defence official in the Lib government and co-author of The Unexpected War: Canada In Kandahar, foresees a lengthy NATO engagement in Afghanistan, including a smaller contingent of Canadian solders who will stay past 2011 in a non-combat role, likely the training of Afghan forces.

“Our forces have invested more in this mission than in any since the Second World War,” Lang says. “It’s not normally the case in these missions that all of a sudden one day we are completely gone.”


PRICEY POWER TRIP Canada’s Afghanistan mission (if it actually ends in 2011) is slated to cost $1,500 per household, or as much as $18.1 billion.

NO SMALL CHANGE Average annual cost of deploying a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan ranges from $420,000 to $530,000. Makes U.S. soldiers look like a bargain at $350,000.

ANTE UP The U.S. plans to add 21,000 troops to the 39,000 already stationed in Afghanistan.

MOUNTING DEAD So far, 118 Canadian soldiers have died in the Afghan war.

COLLATERAL IMPACT The United Nations recorded 2,118 war-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2008 (a 40 per cent increase over 2007). Of those, NATO and Afghan forces are blamed for 829 (552 from air strikes).

STAT SPIN NATO prefers a different way of counting, and figures the civilian tally is only 237 for 2008.

NOW | April 21-28, 2009 | VOL 28 NO 34

Tags: Afghanistan, Eugene Lang, Gerald Ohlsen, NOW Toronto, Paul Weinberg, Shia Law, Steven Staples