Thursday, October 6, 2011

Avoiding Pol Pot in South Asia

Mathew Ingram, now at, was once at the Globe and Mail and pioneered, with the then Dominion Institute, an on line "Policy Wiki," a very interesting experiment that had a short, interesting life; I suspect it was ahead of its time. Readers were invited to comment, debate, or contribute to policy ideas, including so-called "Briefing Notes," positions on issues of the day, Afghanistan being one. This was in early 2009 if I recall. I'm not sure of the date because the results have for some reason been taken off-line. Anyway, I contributed a suggestion that amounted to admitting NATO military involvement was a mistake, promoting regional diplomacy, and getting out, Canada taking a lead role because of its contribution and world famous common sense. The on-line community gave my contribution a frankly cool reception.

I still think it's a good idea though, but it's probably way too late for this sort of thing, certainly for Canada, and especially the current delusional government. On the other hand, some version of this is going to have to happen: there are millions of people who live in and around Afghanistan, and a "Pol Pot" waiting to happen.

Afghanistan Briefing Note - Regional Diplomacy Initiative


Military disengagement and revised regional diplomacy (“Bootlegger Turn Policy”).

1. Continue withdrawal of Canadian troops as planned,
2. Advocate for a withdrawal of NATO from Afghanistan;
3. Advocate for UN sponsored peace conference in the region, e.g., Qatar.

This policy rests on the assumptions that:

1. The Taliban movement is irrelevant to NATO security;
2. The number of NATO troops required to provide adequate security in Afghanistan is in the region of 400-500,000, and at that level, the political outcome would still be uncertain;
3. NATO does not have the political or financial resources to field such a force;
4. Even if a NATO force of such size could be fielded, it would destabilize the entire Gulf region.


1. Debate and adoption by the Government of Canada – one month.
2. Presentation of policy to NATO, April 2009.
3. Representation to Security Council, by right of membership in ISAF.
4. Representation to UN Secretary General of proposal for conference on Afghanistan.

Cost of Proposal

Military costs will be no different from current policy.

Expected Impact – Short-term

The effect on Afghans will depend on how the policy is implemented. If Canada makes clear that the policy is not “abandonment”, but a determined, conscious change from military “peace-making” to diplomacy, the effect should be positive, and reflect a realistic appreciation of Afghan reality, rather than a fantasy promoted by NATO ignorance.

Fears that might be expected to surface could be allayed with acceptance of Afghan immigrants who might fear retribution under a new regime, negotiation of a realistic narcotics policy, acknowledging that NATO populations are part of the problem in their role as consumers, negotiation for a new Afghan government that would self-determined, acknowledging tribal realities, and negotiations to drastically limit power of existing warlords.

The Canadian military will benefit from having a positive, realistic objective, and be removed from the current highly exposed and completely unrealistic policy.

Expected Impact – Long-term

The policy would be expected to cause vigorous debate within Parliament, the United Nations Security Council, and NATO. This will be perceived as strength, rather than weakness, by thoughtful Afghans.

Any claimed “victory” by the Taliban, can be countered with an honest description of the policy and an attempt to engage representatives in negotiation for representation in the government under the existing constitution, and negotiation with the current government and warlords. The Taliban are the only force known to be able to provide a lawful and safe society in Afghanistan, and to reduce opium production.

In the longer term Afghanistan will have to determine for itself the nature of its society. A virulently hateful theocracy will not survive: there is no Islam without social justice. The evolution of an open Islamic society in Afghanistan is almost inevitable under current conditions, given the difficulty of maintaining a totalitarian society in a time of rapid global communication. In any case, some of Afghanistan’s neighbours, not occupied by NATO, are extremely oppressive totalitarian states, or corrupt, or both.


There are no coherent political or military objectives for NATO in Afghanistan, although NATO is the biggest consumer of Afghan opium. Afghanistan’s central government is systemically corrupt, and its legitimacy is doubtful. Afghanistan is surrounded by Muslim nations that are also corrupt, including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Whatever threat is represented by “al-Qaeda” is now very small, and will be vanishingly small if Canada adopts the proposed policy. The legality of NATO’s operations is very dubious, and seen that way in much of south Asia, including Pakistan. Civilian casualties caused by NATO in this setting are extremely toxic to any good will towards NATO still present in the civilian population. The Pashtun tribes do not recognize the legitimacy of the Durand Line, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The obvious historical precedent is the forced American withdrawal from Vietnam, followed by gradual improvement in the nation’s health and welfare, and integration into world community and economy.


The impact on the United States and NATO allies would be to foster a vigorous and fearless debate – not one conducted behind closed doors as is currently the case for NATO – with Canada assuming the role of a sovereign, independent ally that does not fear controversy, and indeed encourages controversy as essential to development of improved and healthy international affairs. A stated goal would be to remove Canada’s Afghan policy from the realm of the military, and in particular, NATO.

Political Implications

The majority of Canadians wants out of Afghanistan, and sees the current policy as a losing proposition. Framing the policy as a “retreat” would be expected from the Canadian military industrial complex and its political allies (e.g., the Conference of Defence Associations), but an aggressive, independent diplomatic policy might neutralize this position, or better, win its co-operation.