The derangements of the left

Posted July 21st, 2012 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

The longer I work as a journalist, the less patience I have for the derangements of partisans. They irritate me to no end. Whether its people who only rail against abortion or pro-life or hate Obama or Romney, it becomes an endless stream of gross exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies.

I follow a wide variety of people on twitter who have beliefs ranging from far left to far right. I’m tolerant of most views, so long as these people dont take propaganda and publish it as fact.

One such person today said we, assuming the collective countries of Canada, NATO members and the U.S. went into Afghanistan to steal their minerals. Which is just about as deranged and stupid a theory about why we went there that exists today.

Never mind the fact the minerals thing is largely based on theoretical unproven resource estimates. Never mind the fact harvesting these minerals would be a logistical nightmare in a country with the political instability of Afghanistan. Never mind the fact Canada has millions of kilometers of unexplored minerals in the Arctic, where one is unlikely to get attacked by Taliban.

The fact is that the minerals discovery came long after the 2001 war with the Taliban. Which leaves one wondering, just what do these half-wit anti-war left believe happened here? That the U.S. discovered these minerals prior to 9/11, staged a false flag attack with Al-Qaeda, spent billions and billions to fight insurgents, all for some future possibility of extracting minerals that may or may not even exist?

Stupid. Dumb. Crazy. Insane.

There are numerous geopolitical reasons to be in Afghanistan, none of which pertain to minerals. No serious Afghan observer or scholar would argue minerals has anything to do with the Afghan war.

And yet there are people in Canada who think they do. And scarier than that, these imbeciles are allowed to vote.

The United States is more than a ghetto in Detroit

Posted March 8th, 2012 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

Terry Glavin introduces a great analogy on Brian Lilley’s show:

“At any given time there’s no more than two or three Canadian journalists in Afghanistan and they’re in KAF. They’re embedded in Kandahar. And now if you can imagine the Canadian image of the United States of America, if all we knew about that country were the reports that we were getting filed back to us from two or three Canadian journalists riding around in the back of a police wagon in the darkest and bleakest streets of Detroit…”

Unfortunately, although some journalists do get outside the wire, too many are on “death watch” inside the bases.

The CBC Helped To Destroy The Afghan Mission

Posted October 28th, 2011 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

The CBC’s Brian Stewart has an introspective piece about Canada’s role in Afghanistan, and although we haven’t officially left the country yet, it’s a post-mortem of sorts. I don’t have a problem with much of his article, including his commentary about the lack of communication about the real war in Afghanistan, the problems within the government and the bureaucracy, and the lack of real understanding about the culture and history of the country.

I’m also inclined to be more lenient on Stewart than I would a lot of CBC journalists, since he made the same media familiarization tour I did, directly before me, which means a great deal more than simply writing about it from Ottawa. Stewart is also fair in his dispersal of the blame of mission failure on both the Harper and Martin governments, particularly the latter, who made decisions about Afghanistan quietly and before the Canadian public’s attention was really on the mission.

Indeed, Martin carries much of the failure for Canada’s miscommunication on the mission, including but not limited to the dreadful handling of the detainee agreement with the Afghan government. Originally drafted by Martin’s government with General Rick Hillier, it was the lack of oversight within the arrangement that led to the catastrophic media coverage, which in turn sapped all vim and vigour for the mission. The Harper government hurriedly overhauled the agreement in 2007, but also did so quietly and in secret, leading to the false appearance of torture complicity and cover-up.

And yet, what Stewart’s article is really missing is a fair appraisal of his own employer’s role in destroying the country’s morale, when from 2008 through to 2010 it wrote innumerable articles hinting at, digging for, and alleging the Canadian military was playing a complicit or even direct role in torturing Afghans. The tenacity with which the CBC attacked this issue was unparalleled by any other media source, releasing documents like it was some kind of publicly funded WikiLeaks, heedless to the implications of its allegations.

The media assault on the Canadian Forces and the Harper government led to a fairly predictable and blatant blackout on the issue, which Stewart refers to as “cabinet secrecy.” This is surely unsurprising. When the CBC diverted attention from reporting on the war itself and invested the tremendous weight of its resources into broadcasting the great torture scandal, it closed any door it might have had on open and transparent leadership.

And the more the media attacked the Harper government on the issue, the less inclined it seemed to want to fight the political battle that the predatory and purely hypocritical Liberals and NDP were happily exploiting. It could be argued that the CBC’s wanton sabotage of the moral integrity of the Afghan mission led to the opposition being forced to cast itself as the official voice for the “torture-rendition-war crimes” movement, which led to the capitulation of the Harper government on this political issue.

The odious hypocrisy of the NDP in the Afghanistan mission could not be more apparent or more collusive with the CBC either. The same people who called for the open release of all and any information related to the mission in Afghanistan in the hopes it could politically destroy the Harper government, have protected the CBC in its refusal to release documents to other media who have made freedom of information requests. I do not go as far as Sun Media in referring to it as a state broadcaster, but it’s certainly a public company that has no right, no excuse not to release any and all documents to us, the taxpaying shareholders.

The NDP never had a dog in the Afghan fight anyway. Jack Layton suggested we simply make peace with the Taliban from the first day and after successfully helping to self-sabotage Canada’s effectiveness in its mission, took credit when the NATO leadership began murmuring about a potential peace deal with the terrorist organization. This is surely like Brutus casting the last, lazy stab wound into a dying Caesar.

It’s preposterous for Stewart to say that Harper fed the Canadian public as little information for “reasons still unknown.” The obvious answer is that the media vultures, led by the CBC itself, was less interested in the war itself and more sniffing for any blood in the water at all that might lead to a political feeding frenzy. This led to the PMO clamming up on the mission, which saddened both opponents and proponents of the mission there, but the PMO can hardly be blamed for not wanting to aid and abet its own destruction.

There are many lessons to be learned about the Afghan mission, but we would be remiss to ignore the media’s role in distorting the importance of events there. And though torture has surely taken place in Afghanistan just as ubiquitously as it happens elsewhere in the region, Canada did not go to Kandahar to rid the country of torture. We went there to provide security to the people that they would otherwise not be able to receive on their own.

Taliban War Crimes? No, Canadian

Posted April 29th, 2011 in Afghanistan, Canada by Adrian MacNair

As one who has actually been to Afghanistan and seen how the military cares for and treats detainees, it’s a little difficult to swallow the news that the International Criminal Court could investigate Canada for so-called war crimes. I’m not sure what that would accomplish, but it certainly would do nothing to help with the main problem in the country: the insurgency.

I’m unsure as to how or why anybody believes that Canada’s role in Afghanistan is anything more than a humanitarian mission buttressed by security. We’re in the country to provide stabilization for the democratically elected (thought admittedly corrupt and fraudulent) government with whom we have specific agreements and rules we must follow.

In providing security to Afghans we are not allowed to hold Afghan nationals for more than 96 hours in our custody, though at the time of the allegations (pre-2007) this was 72 or 48 hours.

It doesn’t seem reasonable to me to expect a foreign military with finite resources to ensure absolute humanitarian oversight of detainees after they’ve been handed over to the Afghan government. That’s like expecting a police officer in Canada to ensure proper oversight of a prisoner he has arrested and brought to justice. Is a police officer morally culpable if a prisoner is raped in prison?

The answer in Afghanistan appears to be yes, but only if the arresting party knew that the prisoner would be likely to be exposed to harm. Well, in Canada we know that many prisoners are likely to be exposed to violence and rape in prison as a matter of routine consequence. So, again, who is responsible in a moral sense? The system allowing the rape and violence? Or the police officer doing his job?

Even worse, most Canadians are not aware that the charges facing us are based upon the 2005 agreement signed by Prime Minister Paul Martin and General Rick Hillier with the Afghan government, which did not include the sort of oversight that exists in the revamped 2007 agreement. The system now is very clean and involves oversight from third party humanitarian agencies, in particular the International Red Cross, who has said it presently has no issues with Canada or any other NATO member.

But what bothers me the most is we are seeing torture through a very narrow prism of self-interest. Canadians only seem to be interested in the kind of torture taking place in which Canada may have had an indirect hand, but not torture in the broader context and problem that it is in Central Asia. The facts remain and are borne out in many studies, that although torture is ubiquitous in Central Asia, it has been significantly reduced since the fall of the Taliban, and detainees captured by NATO enjoy perhaps the highest exemptions from mistreatment of any Afghan citizen.

According to a 2009 International Red Cross Survey, those Afghans who report having been tortured has dropped to 29 per cent from 43 per cent in 1999 during the Taliban rule. That one in three Afghans have still reported being tortured in some manner is disturbing, but it does provide a more contextual analysis than the cherry-picking of detainees who went through Canadian custody.

The Canadian military is also relatively savvy to what irks the population back home, which is why it now usually brings along ANA soldiers or ANP police who can take detainees directly into custody without ever having changed hands from Canadian to Afghan authority. In this manner, because Canadians are only interested in torture if it occurs to detainees who went through our control, our military can never be “complicit” in torture. Never mind if torture occurs independently of Canadian involvement.

What is more perverse than any of this is the fact that Canada would be investigated for third-party complicity in war crimes, when there’s a foe out there that has little qualms about murdering women and children indiscriminately. It’s difficult to bring to trial an insurgent army that has signed no international agreements and abides by no rules of international law.

There’s a reason why Canada has lost its appetite for humanitarian work in Afghanistan and it’s because we have focused so much on how well the Taliban have been treated in Afghan custody that we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Public morale has been sapped by such gross distortions of our work over there that at this point it makes little sense to try explaining or justifying it any more.

Our military has a job to do and it will continue to do it in the same professional manner it has since the beginning, until it is called back home. What the International Criminal Court rules is of little consequence to anyone.

Afghan Prison Breakout Another Embarrassment

Posted April 25th, 2011 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

I visited Sarposa prison in Kandahar on Oct. 2, 2010 during my embedded visit to Afghanistan with the Canadian military. Though it was a short visit on a trip that also included the FOB Camp Nathan Smith, I managed to snap a number of pictures which I’ve included in a gallery below. Those pictures are even more poignant today, following the news that 480 Taliban prisoners escaped under the incompetent watch of Afghan prison guards through a tunnel that took roughly 50 months to dig.

Shawshank Redemption nothing. The Taliban have made a complete mockery of Afghan governance by digging a tunnel from the political block of the prison all the way to a house 300 metres away. This comes just in time for fighting season as the Taliban return from their winter vacation in Pakistan to step up their attacks on NATO and ANA again. Even worse, this is the second time in three years the prison has been emptied by the Taliban, proving that no matter how much time is given, it doesn’t seem to be enough to prepare the government to do its job properly.

Click for full resolution:

From left to right, starting at top: Political prisoner (taliban) inside political wing; Outer courtyard with guard tower; inner courtyard (next two pictures); Taliban prisoner; tour of the criminal wing (non-Taliban); guard tower; Prison warden General Gih Dastgier Mayar with interpretor.

The War Tourist

Posted January 30th, 2011 in Afghanistan by Adrian MacNair

I recently read a two-year-old article in The Walrus from a former journalism student at my own college, involving his trip to Afghanistan’s heavily fortified capital city, Kabul. Charles Montgomery describes the city in The Archipelago of Fear, suggesting giant military fortifications and barriers have generated a feeling of colonization and segregation between Afghans and the western aid workers who have come to help them.

In several passages that ring true to my own recent visit of Kabul, he describes the decadence and opulence of western fortresses built right beside gnawing Third World poverty and human filth. “The air is shit,” observes the author’s friend upon arriving in Kabul. It’s not an inaccurate pronouncement. Without wood for fuel, human and animal excrement is burned in great quantities, filling the air with invisible particulates that make breathing difficult.

The Canadian Embassy is housed inside the heart of the city, behind ISAF fortifications and AK-wielding police checkpoints who bar entry to all vehicles without diplomatic plates. Armour-plated cars ferry dignitaries and important business leaders accompanied by Close Protection Teams full of ex-military mercenaries whose job it is to open fire on Taliban ambushes. These vehicular excursions take place at random and secretly arranged times in order to avoid detection by the enemy. Upon my arrival in Kabul, our first briefing involved the discussion of a new magnetic IED placed under the chassis by beggar children who mob western cars stuck in rush hour. One such device had killed two policemen the day before. Police use long handles with mirrors on the end to check the bottom of each car as it passes through the multitude of security blockades.

Outside the embassy is filth, garbage and dust that swirls and covers the scant vegetation that has survived three decades of war. But inside are spacious gardens and flowers, fountains, grass and trees. A dazzling-blue pool sits outside the lounge, which offers a bar stocked with alcoholic beverages, a pool table, leather chairs and a large-screen television. The walls are adorned with autographed hockey sweaters of each Canadian team, folded neatly and presented from the front. It seemed extravagant in comparison to the dry and dusty barracks back in Kandahar, where soldiers were sweating under sixty-pound packs with body Kevlar, not sipping Coronas on air-conditioned leather.

As Montgomery wrote:

It was hard to believe we were in Afghanistan. And really, we weren’t. Kalashnikov-armed guards kept Afghans from approaching the compound gate unless they happened to be employed there as waiters, cleaners, or bartenders. A few years ago, one aid worker felt so comfortable, so fancy free inside the compound, she once opted to swim topless. She was ejected from the country.

And later he wrote “shame pushed me beyond the city’s fortified isles.” The word “shame” isn’t alien to me. At first I was frightened, and then excited about the idea of driving through Kandahar in an armoured vehicle. But as I passed row upon row of shanty dwelling made of corrugated galvanized iron scrap, housing small children without shoes or the slightest of possessions, I grew ashamed. My beard crept out from between the holes in my helmet’s chin strap, a token effort at cultural sensitivity wasted by being strapped into a five-point seat-belt situated behind six inches of IED-resistant steel plating. As we passed Afghans I could see them through the windows, gazing up in awe up at the gunner, this phalanx of wealthy western power needing to train .50 calibre bullets on bearded men car-pooling on tiny motorcycles.

It’s hard to believe I went to Afghanistan. And really, I didn’t. I never got to meet a single Afghan woman that the government hadn’t prearranged for us to meet. I never conversed with any Afghans, save for the desperate translators provided to us at the junior officer college who pleaded with me to ask my government to allow them to immigrate to Canada. And as Montgomery alluded to, the only other ones I met were the servants at Ambassador Bill Crosbie’s mansion, where I dined twice on what I can only speculate would be a King’s banquet for most people in the country.

It isn’t as though I have a right to complain about the situation. I didn’t show up and ask to be pampered. I was invited by the Department of Defence for a familiarization tour, presumably because of my profile in the National Post. As their guest I was subject to their choice of itinerary, under their control and command which included a preposterous level of security. And though I hated the fact I was segregated from Afghanistan, kept inside of military bases and compounds for almost the entirety of my trip, the truth is that it wouldn’t have been a very good idea to simply go for a walk in downtown Kabul either.

That’s the challenge that NATO faces in its battle to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. As Don Rector, Human Terrain Team Director in Kandahar, told us in a briefing at Canadian HQ, “You can talk about winning hearts and minds, but how do you know what is in those hearts and in those minds unless you talk to the people?” And how can you talk to the people when there is this segregation between western agencies and forces in the country and the ordinary Afghans who are forced to detour around these palatial fortresses?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, these seemingly impervious compounds serve as a more enticing target for the Taliban. Worse still, though the mission in Afghanistan shouldn’t be compared to the Soviet occupation, similar mistakes have been made in setting up conspicuously intrusive bases in the heart of the capital city. It’s difficult not to feel occupied when your city is militarized into checkpoints with razor wire and sand bags. As Montgomery writes, the architectural impediments drive people to sympathy for the Taliban. One old man was quoted on a now-defunct website:

“What have these irreligious Christians come for that they write on their cars, ‘Don’t approach, keep away’?… If these bloody foreigners try to stay away from us, then for what reason have they come to our country?”

In one of the lighter moments of our trip, Andrew Potter noticed a car to our right as we meandered along in the dusk of Kabul’s chaotic traffic. On the rear window was stenciled, “My name is Khan, And I am not a terrorist.” As it turns out this was a Bollywood film, but as we sat in an armoured car hoping a suicide bomber wouldn’t descend upon us the irony was entirely appropriate.

An Arizona In Afghanistan Every Day

Posted January 11th, 2011 in Afghanistan, united states by Adrian MacNair

The recent assassination attempt of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has shocked the North American continent like nothing since the terrorist attacks nearly a decade ago. And rightly so. That sort of prolific violence in America is usually relegated to the drug war or organized crime.

The reaction from media has been predictably voluminous. I don’t mean that in a cynical or disparaging way. The story hits on all points for news interest — timely, significant, proximal, prominent and human interest. The fact a nine-year-old victim was born on 9/11 was one of the more tragic aspects of the affair.

But nearly a world away, this sort of story happens far more frequently. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, political leaders, policemen and tribal elders are targeted and assassinated by the Taliban with little media fanfare in the west.

It’s important that I clarify this isn’t meant to be a scolding of western media’s coverage of Afghan mayhem, though it certainly has its share of shortcomings on that front. I merely want to put into perspective the scope of reality for which an Afghan citizen might consider normalcy.

The truth is that part of the reason it’s been difficult to really keep Afghanistan in the spotlight is that it fails some of the points for newsworthiness listed above. Afghanistan is as far from Canada as can be, taking three days travel by airplane, particularly if the jumping point is the Eastern United States.

Significance and prominence of such events tend to be fairly difficult to judge, given the frequency with which people are killed in Afghanistan. Sadly, a murdered government official over there isn’t very significant in this part of the world.

It’s also no small fact that Afghanistan is a war zone, so our expectation of such events are fairly routine. We’ve become accustomed to reading about large numbers of people being murdered on a daily basis without raising so much as a “what a shame.”

It doesn’t make us heartless. But it does explain why sustaining interest in Afghanistan has been so difficult. Could it be that if the country were as near as the United States that events would have as much resonance as the Arizona murders? It’s certainly plausible.

Though by now everybody is probably aware of a heretofore relatively obscure congresswoman, there are a lot of people who would have no idea who Salman Taseer is. If you’re one of those people, don’t feel bad. He was the Pakistani governor of Punjab, gunned down in a market in Islamabad on Jan. 4.

Canada’s large Sikh community has contributed to the increased awareness of this assassination, but news articles bearing mention of it pale in comparison to the Arizona shootings.

Though the definition of targeted assassination and random suicide bombing seem blurred in the violence of Afghanistan’s troubled southern provinces and Pakistan’s western frontier, the bloodshed has been significantly greater than anything we’re likely to see on this side of the world.

On Christmas day, a suicide bomber murdered 46 people in a United Nations food center in the Bajaur region of Pakistan. On Nov. 11 while people in the west were remembering the fallen of past wars, a truck bomb killed 18 and wounded hundreds in Karachi, Pakistan. Those are only a couple of what the military refers to as “spectaculars”, large explosions designed to maximize casualties and cow political leaders into acquiescing to extremist demands.

But a simple google search involving the terms “Afghanistan” or “Pakistan” and “bomb” reveals a near daily toll of Arizona-shooting-sized casualties.

It isn’t that we should weigh tragedy with artificial equality; proximity will always be the prism through which events affect us. But it does offer a clue as to our fatigue in the Afghan war.

Dutch government wants a return to Afstan…

Posted January 7th, 2011 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

…to train police. Further to the Update here,

Media out! Of Afghanistan/People’s Daily Online Update

the latest:

THE HAGUE — The Dutch cabinet agreed Friday to a police training mission to Afghanistan, 11 months after the last government collapsed in a spat over military deployment to the conflict-torn nation.

“The cabinet decided today to send an integrated police training mission to Afghanistan in the period 2011 to 2014,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced after the weekly cabinet meeting.

“In total, the mission will entail 545 men and women,” he said, adding it would have a “strict training objective. No component of this mission will be involved in any military offensive.”

The decision comes some six months after Dutch troops withdrew from Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)…

NATO’s request for an extension of the Dutch deployment sparked a political row that led to the centre-left government’s collapse in February last year, precipitating the August pullout.

The governing coalition at the time was led by the Christian Democratic Action, which is now part of a right-leaning minority government in a loose alliance with the anti-Islam PVV, which is opposed to the training mission.

The government “needs a majority in parliament” to send the mission, said spokesman Henk Brons.

That means Rutte will need support from opposition lawmakers in the face of the PVV’s disapproval.

The prime minister said Friday the purpose of the new training mission would be “the strengthening of the civilian police and justice system in Afghanistan” and the “advancement of the constitutional state”.

The mission would include 225 police trainers in Kabul, Kunduz and Bamiyan.

“We will also retain four F16 (fighter jets) in Afghanistan. The F16s play an essential role in finding roadside bombs and boosting our security on the ground,” he said.

That will involve technical support personnel, including medical and logistics experts, as part of the team, said Rutte, arguing that the Netherlands’ work in Afghanistan “is not done”…

Rutte, who insisted the decision was “thoroughly deliberated” and based on the outcome of two fact-finding missions to Afghanistan, said the security of the Dutch trainers would be ensured by troops from Germany, the lead ISAF nation in Kunduz.

More from AP via the CBC website (will our other major media cover the news?):

The government says in a letter to parliament the mission will involve 225 police trainers and 320 military support staff who will be stationed in the capital Kabul and the northern province of Kunduz…

Plus earlier from Radio Nederland:

…The Dutch trainers would be deployed under the auspices of the European Police Training Mission (EUPOL)…

…Four Dutch F-16s would have to stay on in Afghanistan to provide protection to the troops. The jet fighters would have to be relocated from the southern province of Kandahar to the north of the country. The F-16 unit includes about 120 troops, bringing the total number of personnel for the mission to about 500…

So much for those quittists hoping for a grand Western bug-out. And aren’t those F-16s just a hoot?

Our government…has not been willing to employ our CF-18s in Afghanistan to support the CF and allied forces there even though urged to do so by our allies.  Too fearful of political and media reaction if a bomb or missile killed some civilians accidentally, don’t you know…

H/t Terry Glavin.

Update thought: The real message here, what with Canada’s also retreating to a training role, is that only two NATO members–the US and UK (plus the Danes)–are willing to engage in extended combat in Afstan.  Pathetic.  And why the Brits have a real special relationship with the Americans and we do not.  The way of the real, not Byers and Staples, world.


Ivory Coast: Is the UN good for anything? (Or Prof. Byers?)

Posted January 7th, 2011 in Afghanistan, Canada, International by MarkOttawa

Eric Morse and Eugene Lang have their doubts:

…Small, relatively prosperous, yet ethnically and religiously divided, this West African country with one principal export (cocoa) already has 9,000 UN peacekeepers on the ground, one of the UN’s largest operations. Gbagbo [still claiming to be president after an election the UN says he lost] faces both an international and African community united in outrage against his intransigence.

It should be a recipe for successful international action to remove him.

Instead, the aftermath of the election is turning into a prolonged standoff, a test of the relevance of the UN…

As for the UN, Gbagbo has thumbed his nose at New York, demanding peacekeepers leave the country. Although the UN is steadfastly refusing to retreat, the Security Council peacekeeping mandate does not extend to active military intervention in a political confrontation.

It’s unlikely Gbagbo will go anywhere he’s not forced to go, and that is the nub of the issue: How do you get rid of a despot who shows no sign of moving, and has a significant armed force at his disposal?…

That leaves the possibility of armed intervention. ECOWAS has had a fairly respectable record with this in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, but Ivory Coast is something else again. Gbagbo’s forces are capable of strong resistance if they are so minded.

Unless Gbagbo is persuaded it is in his self-interest to quit, the possibility of either a prolonged standoff or a bloody civil conflict or both is uncomfortably real. The international community has expressed its will and may be close to finding out that it has no realistic way to impose it, despite having thousands of UN troops on the ground. That would highlight the impotence of the UN as an entity capable of forging the political consensus for a military intervention, much less actually organizing an effective on-the-ground effort. And if civil war, genocide or crimes against humanity occur in Ivory Coast following the failure of the international community to force Gbagbo out, you can effectively say goodbye to the lofty and idealistic UN doctrine of Responsibility to Protect [see "There’s a responsibility to protect us from Pink Lloyd and Soft Rock"]…

It might well take the military efforts of France — the former colonial power that still has troops in the region and has a record of intervening in African hot spots — to save the UN’s bacon and restore something resembling democracy to Ivory Coast. France has said it won’t do it but in the end it may not have much choice. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Eugene Lang, former chief of staff to two Liberal ministers of national defence, is co-author of The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar. Eric Morse is a former Canadian diplomat who is now vice-chair of security studies at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

Meanwhile, in the same edition of the Ottawa Citizen, pernicious Prof. Michael Byers reveals a sweet stink of hypocrisy:

Canadians can help…by demanding that Ottawa support a UN-authorized military intervention by ECOWAS…

But why not simply have the Security Council give the UN peacekeepers already there (and reinforce them if necessary) a more robust mandate rather than outsourcing the job?

After all Mr Byers has not approved of the Security Council’s outsourcing (more here) the job in Afstan to NATO:

…Prof. Byers believes that “it’s time to move from a combat-oriented approach to one that focuses on negotiation, peacemaking and nation-building. … It’s time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in.”..

So the Security Council’s outsourcing military intervention is a Good Thing in Ivory Coast but a Bad Thing in Afstan. UN peacekeepers are all that’s needed in the latter but not in the former.


Update: A version of this post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog.


Comments Off


Posted January 6th, 2011 in Afghanistan, International, Islam by MarkOttawa

Three worth reading:

1) Foreign Policy’sAfPak Channel“:

Salmaan Taseer and the Punjabi Taliban

The brutal assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a man in his security detail is being tied to a courageous stand he took opposing the nation’s antiquated blasphemy laws and supporting a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, accused of blasphemy.

But there is another important position Taseer has taken that should be emphasized: he was one of very few Pakistani politicians who honestly and openly recognized the existence of the “Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab,” sometimes called the “Punjabi Taliban,” comprised, through the years, of an alphabet soup of sectarian militant organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), among others, inspired by an intolerant brand of Sunni Islam called Deobandism [the subcontinental counterpart of Salafism/Wahhabism--more here and here].

This past June, Dawn, a leading English language daily in Pakistan, carried this headline: “Punjabi Taliban are a reality: Taseer.” The governor of the province of Punjab was taking a brave stand because the militants of these groups were born in his state in towns with names such as Bahawalpur and Raheem Yar Khan. But, with attacks on mosques, bazaars and police stations in Punjab, they were also killing his innocent citizens. Aasia Bibi, the Catholic woman sitting in jail for blasphemy, was one of the citizens of Punjab, and the call to kill her comes out of supporters of the Punjabi Taliban.

The best way for Pakistan to honor Taseer is to admit its homegrown militancy and destroy it. America and the West must also recognize that the problem of militancy in South Asia isn’t restricted to Afghanistan or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. It’s also in the very heartland of Pakistan…

A Facebook page went up hours after the assassination with messages of support for Qadri. One message: “nation hero u win a hearts of All muslim umaah……..Saluteeeee You……..!!!!” (“Umaah” is a reference to “ummah,” or “community.”) It’s not clear if the assassin was directly linked to any militant groups, but his sympathies most certainly would have been with them…

2) Wall St. Journal:

The End of Jinnah’s Pakistan
Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder raises questions about the future of Pakistan’s Western-educated elites.

Every time you think things can’t possibly get worse in Pakistan, along comes something to prove you wrong. On Tuesday, in possibly the country’s most consequential political shock since the 2007 murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, the 65-year-old governor of Punjab province, was gunned down in an upscale Islamabad market by one of his police bodyguards. The reason: the governor’s plain-spoken defense of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. According to press reports, Taseer’s killer pumped nine bullets into him for daring to call the blasphemy provision a “black law.”

Needless to say, Taseer was right. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws belong more in a chronicle of medieval horrors than in a modern society, let alone one that receives billions of dollars in Western largesse. Since the mid-1980s, blasphemy—including criticizing the prophet Mohammed—has carried a mandatory death sentence. Amnesty International calls the laws “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced” and “typically employed to harass and persecute religious minorities.” Over the past quarter century, at least 30 people have been lynched by mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Many others have been forced to flee the country. Though Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population, they account for about half the country’s blasphemy cases.

In a larger sense, however, the significance of Taseer’s murder lies in what it says about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan [see below]. Carved out of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India in 1947, the country has long struggled to reconcile two competing visions of its reason for being. Is Pakistan, as imagined by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah—a London-trained barrister with a fondness for pork sandwiches and two-toned spats—merely a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims? Or was it created to echo the far more ambitious formulation of Abul Ala Maududi, the radical Islamist ideologue born roughly a generation after Jinnah: for the enforcement of Islamic Shariah law upon every aspect of society and the state?

Taseer broadly belonged to Jinnah’s Pakistan…

The murder highlights anew the way in which Pakistan’s English-speaking classes resemble a small island of urbanity surrounded by a rising tide of fundamentalist zeal. They have only themselves to blame for their predicament. From independence onward, successive governments—military and civilian alike—have ridden the tiger of fundamentalism out of political expediency, misplaced piety or geopolitical ambition. A statistic from Zahid Hussain’s “Frontline Pakistan” is telling: When Pakistan gained independence in 1947 it housed 137 madrassas. That number has since swelled to about 13,000, between 10% and 15% of which are linked to sectarian militancy (Sunni versus Shia) or terrorism…

3) The Economist:

Pakistan’s increasing radicalisation
Staring into the abyss
Salman Taseer’s murder deals a huge blow to liberal Pakistan

THERE is a small space in which a liberal vision of Pakistan hangs on. It shrank a lot further with the murder on January 4th of a notable progressive politician and critic of religious extremism, Salman Taseer. Even before the assassination, the leading liberal-minded political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the government in Islamabad and counted Mr Taseer as an activist since the 1970s, was in deep trouble. On January 2nd the PPP lost its majority in parliament when the second-biggest party in the government coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), walked out…

Mr Taseer was the governor of Punjab, a largely ceremonial position in Pakistan’s most populous province, but a high-profile one for all that. He had run a lonely but fearless campaign against Pakistan’s pernicious blasphemy law and was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad by one of his own police guards. The smirking killer later said he acted because Mr Taseer’s call for the blasphemy law to be repealed made Mr Taseer himself a “blasphemer”…

Mr Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, may have acted alone—an investigation may get to the root of it. Yet his cause has support in Pakistan. Lawyers outside the court showered him with rose petals. The murder follows a campaign of vilification by the clergy and sections of the press. A broad alliance of the clergy rushed out a statement lionising the assassin. “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer,” said Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, which represents the large and moderate Barelvi sect of Islam.

Religious parties do not attract much support at election time—they polled less than 5% of votes in the last ballot, in 2008. However, Ijaz Gilani, head of Gallup Pakistan, argues that it would be a “very serious miscalculation” to judge society’s religiosity by the showing of Islamist parties at election time. Pakistan has a first-past-the-post system, so people vote for one of the mainstream parties that have the best chance of coming to power. It means that both the PPP and, especially, the other main party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by Nawaz Sharif, have a bank of religious-minded voters whom they must be careful not to offend.

Pakistan’s public culture is riddled with hardline views, from the school curriculum to the nightly political talk shows. Meanwhile, as Mr Taseer himself never failed to point out, the state gives succour to violent, extremist organisations…


Great Gaming: Pak paranoia and a WikiHoax

How a nuclear war may begin

Predate: Do you think this sort of, er, context from ace Globeite Graeme Smith (of Taliban reporting renown) is worth reading?

Some analysts expressed hope that the death might ease the in-fighting among political elites, forcing them to confront the broader division between Pakistan’s wealthy urbanites [and the feudal landowners like the Bhuttos] and the poorer, conservative masses. The spot where Mr. Taseer lay bleeding to death could not have been more symbolic of that divide, a row of expensive shops and restaurants known as Kohsar Market. Not far from the presidential palace, it’s one of the rare places in Islamabad that overflows with Christmas decorations during the holiday season [how terribly provocative, eh?], and where stylish cafés rival their European counterparts.

Such places stand a world apart from the village outside Islamabad where Mr. Taseer’s bodyguard reportedly grew up…

Guess he deserved it. But it is true that those few who have effectively ruled the country since 1947 have done a dreadfully dismal job for their people whilst mesmerizing them with the Indian menace.  And one consequence of emphasizing that menace?  A naturally increasing focus on Islam the religion itself (no big deal for Jinnah for whom it simply defined a distinct society) as the essence of Pakistani identity–and hence of what should shape Pakistani reality.  The elites have much to answer for.


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