|Only village idiot can remain hopeful in Afghanistan|
IT WOULD SEEM that even the most hawkish of pundits have now come to the conclusion that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and that this conflict is fast becoming a quagmire akin to the American fiasco in Vietnam.
There seems to be a general consensus that we should simply fulfil our nation’s obligation to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization until December 2011, while some others opine that without a hope of victory within that time frame, we should cut our losses, admit defeat and bring the troops home immediately.
The statistics released in last week’s quarterly report by the Canadian government’s task force on Afghanistan would seem to reinforce the notion that this mission is a costly exercise in futility. During the second quarter of 2009, the level of violence spiked dramatically, with the number incidents involving improvised explosive devices more than doubling in Kandahar.
On the plus side, it was noted that to date Canada has constructed five schools of the 50 that are planned for southern Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, these are the same five that were reported as built at the end of the previous reporting period, which means that in three months, we succeeded in building zero schools. During those three months, four more Canadian soldiers lost their lives.
It is also important to point out that the task force report does not include statistics for July, which saw the deadliest month on record in the war to date, and the widespread violence that disrupted the farcical election process held in August (the results of which continue to elude an international electoral commission).
Also not mentioned in the report is the outbreak of major Taliban activity in the northern province of Konduz earlier this month, which indicates the insurgency is now more widespread than at any other point since the American intervention after 9-11.
Last week’s deadly suicide bombing in the embassy district of Kabul, which left six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians dead, illustrates how the Taliban’s reach extends even into the most fortified enclave in the Afghan capital.
With reconstruction at a standstill, violence increasing, casualties mounting and the domestic political landscape plunged into a chaotic vacuum as the result of a laughable presidential election, one would require the eternal optimism of the village idiot to remain hopeful under such circumstances.
Thus, it was with great amusement that I watched Chris Alexander, Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, mount his one-man, countrywide, Don Quixote windmill-tilting tour to convince Canadians that all is not lost in Afghanistan.
From Canada AM to the Globe and Mail, Alexander continues to hammer home the well-worn press lines of the diehard believers: "More time, more troops" and, most importantly, "Blame Pakistan." Both are the cornerstones of Alexander’s crumbling foundation of an argument.
To his credit, Alexander, 41, has spent six years in Afghanistan — first as Canada’s youngest-ever ambassador, and then as the deputy special representative for the UN secretary general.
As such, he has come to not only be regarded as the primary consultant in shaping Canadian policy in Afghanistan, but by Alexander’s own admission, his expertise is also sought regularly by special U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and his former boss, Kai Eide, the senior UN representative in Kabul.
The Globe and Mail describes Alexander as being "arguably the most qualified Canadian to offer an informed assessment of the situation on the ground."
I would like to accept the Globe’s challenge and, in turn, argue that Alexander’s deep-rooted involvement — as one of the primary architects of not only Canada’s, but also the international community’s intervention to date — makes it virtually impossible for him to offer anything but a self-preserving reflection.
The very last person to admit that his creation had gone horribly wrong was Dr. Frankenstein himself. The torch-bearing mob would hardly have asked the mad scientist for his assessment of the monster he created.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I interviewed Chris Alexander in January 2007 at his UN office in Kabul. While he struck me as being intelligent, ambitious and personally dedicated to implementing his vision of a prosperous future for Afghanistan, I was alarmed by his naivety and reluctance to factor negative realities into his equation.
For instance, he was dismissive of the surveys conducted by the Senlis Council (now known as the International Council on Security and Development), which painted a dark picture of the security situation in Kandahar.
At that juncture, I had just spent three days with Senlis president Noreen MacDonald, travelling unembedded with her team as they risked their lives to interview local Pashtun villagers.
Alexander’s willingness to disregard these (admittedly unscientific) poll results while offering no concrete statistics to support his own assertions demonstrated a certain amount of wilful blindness on his part.
Subsequent events have certainly borne out the Senlis Council’s predictions and shattered Alexander’s contradictory perpetually rosy assessments.
The beauty of a public record is that it can be revisited, and those who continue to seek Alexander’s advice should do some research on his past statements.
Six years ago, when he first became ambassador, Alexander was certainly not predicting a violent insurgency spreading like wildfire in late 2009. In fact, when I interviewed him in 2007, he was still insistent that victory was all but a couple of constructed schoolhouses away.
Now that the international community has found itself at the end of a dead-end road, sinking knee-deep into a quagmire, perhaps it’s high time to ask if our leaders have been asking the wrong villager for directions.
It is also worth noting that Alexander returned to Canada in May and is now trying his hand as a Conservative candidate in federal politics. Dr. Frankenstein may have switched castles, but his monster is still running amok in Afghanistan.