Afghanistan Is Getting Messy: Shifting Politics Are Certain

This past week in Afghanistan five Canadian soldiers have been killed.  For a Canadian nation not used to combat deaths the recent killings will surely focus the political debate surrounding the merits of the Afghanistan mission this fall in Parliament.

NDP leader Jack Layton has stepped up to the plate.  The NDP have never been warm to the Afghanistan mission, but now they are calling for Canadian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan.  Jack Layton said last week, “This is the wrong mission for Canada.”

I have met Jack Layton on a couple of occasions.  The last was before a crowd of 10,000 farmers in front of the Parliament Buildings.  I like and respect Jack Layton.  He is a great Canadian.  Is he right about Afghanistan?  Or with the deaths of Canadians so fresh in our mind, was it a knee jerk reaction to a tragedy?

It may be for some people but not the NDP.  They made their decision on August 31st, a week before their convention in Quebec City.  Canadians used to “peacekeeping missions” might have mistaked the Afghan mission for something traditionally Canadian.  However, they were surely mistaken.  Our role in Afghanistan has always been a combat position.

Some of you might be wondering what’s this all about.  “Whatssup” with Canadians in Afghanistan?  What quarrel do we have with those people?  Let me tell you.  Five years ago next week many of us thought we had a quarrel.  That was when 19 murderous hijackers took over four planes crashing them into the World Trade Centre towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  It changed our world like never before.

For people in North America, there was nothing quite like it.  September 11th, 2001 was a beautiful day.  However, by the end of it we all knew things had changed.  We all knew the Americans would seek vengence for the death and destruction in New York, Washington and Pennslyvania.

Five years later Osama bin Laden is still on the run.  The Americans invaded Iraq and now occupy it with several other countries.  NATO is patrolling Afghanistan trying to support a new government.  The Taliban, the protectors of Al Qaeda seem emboldened, but were thrown from their government perch in the war.  Now they are fighting Canadians near Kandahar.

Kandahar?  Yes, that’s Kandahar, which in Canadian speak might sound like some foreign named hockey player.  However, Kandahar was once the headquarters of the Taliban.  Now it has its own Tim Horton’s outlet.  I’m sure five years later many of you must think what’s up with Kandahar?  Have our immediate post September 11, 2001 feelings changed to such an extent, as a nation we might entertain the idea we shouldn’t risk Canadian troops there anymore.

Clearly the answer is yes for many of you.  I haven’t quite got around on that yet.  However, as many of you know I have traveled extensively in Muslim countries.  I sometimes think we have got this thing all wrong.  Afghanistan has been a wasteland for any western power, whether it be Britain, Russia or anybody else.  Why will it be any different this time?

The NDP is just being consistent when it comes to their stance on Afghanistan.  However, Layton’s annoucment will surely flesh out the Liberal leadership candidates on where they stand on Canadian troops in Afghanistan.  That should cause wide separations between Liberal leadership candidates.

It’s a bit of a dicey issue.  It was the Liberals who committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan.  On October 8th, 2001 Defence Minister Art Eggleton announced that Canada was sending six naval ships, six air force planes, special forces soldiers and more than 2000 troops.  The JTF 2 elite troops hit the ground in December of 2001.  Canadian solidiers hit the ground in Afghanistan on January 14th, 2002.

So the Liberals have a lot of Afghanistan baggage.  Many of them voted with the government when this past May when parliament voted by a slim margin to lengthen the mission to 2009.  With their December leadership convention getting closer and Parliament set to reopen this month, you can bet some are set to break ranks.  The long shadow of September 11th, 2001 is fading for some.

Part of this whole tragedy is our media’s fixation on what is wrong with Afghanistan.  How about the victories since Canadian troops have arrived?  How about the advancement of Afghan girls and women?  How about the new schools?  How about the rule of law?  How about building the foundations to give the Afghan people some hope?  Yes, there is another story.

Clearly though, when it comes to Canadian blood being splashed on national TV our collective patience grows thin.  Afghanistan is getting messy.  For many Canadians, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.