In October, Emily Paddon and I wrapped up our DFAIT project on integrated peacebuilding (or 3D/Whole of Govn’t) in Afghanistan, with a forum at the Liu Institute in Vancouver. The idea was to bring together some of Canada’s leading voices on Afghanistan, both in person and via video conference, to discuss our role in the country following the 2011 parliamentary mandated pull out date.
Chris Alexander (former Cnd Ambassador and Deputy Special Representatives of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)
Ellisa Goldberg (former ROCK, Canada’s top civilian official in Kandahar)
Graham Fuller (former vice-chairman of the CIA National Intelligence Council and CIA Station Chief in Kabul)
Janice Stein (Director of the Munk Center for International Studies)
Graeme Smith (Globe and Mail)
Gordon Smith (Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to NATO)
Michael Petrou (Maclean’s Magazine)
Mark Sedra (Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation)
Robert Muggah (Research Director, The Small Arms Survey)
Lauryn Oates (Professional human rights advocate, women’s rights in Afghanistan)
Mirwais Nahzat (Sauvé Scholar examining Canada’s development policy towards Afghanistan)
Intro Remarks: Beyond 2011?
Emily Paddon and Taylor Owen
In Kabul, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, and Amsterdam, the debate over NATO’s role in Afghanistan is building. President Obama is not only considering the possibility of General McChrystal’s recommended troop surge and tactical shift towards far greater civilian protection, but more importantly, he is reconsidering the broader strategic objectives of the mission. Is the goal to protect America from a resurgent al-Qaeda, to build an Afghan state that can hold the Taliban at bay, or to reconfigure both Afghanistan and Pakistan? The answer will drive his decision in the coming weeks. As the president deliberates, the U.S. media and public are increasingly engaged.
In Canada, while there is a similar conversation occurring behind the closed doors of government – our mandarins must decide what we will do after the 2011 deadline set by parliament in March 2008 – there has been an astonishing silence in the public domain. What should Canada be doing in Afghanistan post-2011?
The government of Canada has skirted this issue in public with various opaque statements by the prime minister, the minister of Defence and other members of the Conservative cabinet. They have confirmed our withdrawal but have given hardly any indication as to what this will look like, whether a military presence will remain to carry out the development and training tasks they assert will continue or whether the U.S. will fill the void. Meanwhile Lt. General Andrew Leslie, the head of the Canadian army, has stated that they “currently do not have any plans, or even any line diagrams on a blank sheet of paper for post-2011.”
Motivated by the belief that decisions need to be taken long before 2011, that we can’t just up and pull out – that there are substantial strategic, ethical, and financial considerations – last week we convened a roundtable at the University of British Columbia in order to discuss these critical issues. We started with our own “blank sheet” and to fill it in, several seasoned Canadian experts who have lived and breathed Afghanistan over the last eight years, including Gordon Smith, Chris Alexander, and Graeme Smith. We posed a series of guiding questions that we hoped would incite debate. They were as follows:
1) Public support for the Afghan mission stands at 37 per cent in Canada and roughly half of Canadians are in support of a civilian mission post-2011. How are domestic politics likely to influence the shape of Canada’s involvement? And what influence should they have?
2) The Canadian government has committed itself to a set of tasks for the benefit of the Afghan people. At the same time, the fighting has killed 131 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat. The war has cost between $11-12 billion. What responsibilities and obligations have we incurred? To the Afghan people? To NATO and the UN? To Canadians?
3) The Government has been unclear as to whether a contingent of Canadian forces will remain to protect delivery of assistance, or whether the ensuing void post-withdrawal will be covered by our U.S. and NATO allies. Moreover, does the withdrawal of a “mere” 2800 Canadians, compared with the U.S. 80,000, really mean a “gap”? What would assistance look like without military support? Can we “do” development without the military? What are the implications of a withdrawal for NATO and U.S. relations?
4) What are the options for our involvement? What are the costs and benefits of different options? What are the standards of evaluation? What is desirable? What is doable? How do we avoid what Gen. Hillier recently called “pie in the sky” ideas about Afghanistan? How do we avoid such ideas and ensure success in whatever it is that we commit ourselves to post-2011.
It is a tall order, we know, but we hope that this web forum, based on last week’s roundtable meeting, will be, at the very least, the start of a much needed discussion on these important issues.
All of the Opeds and Videos from the Workshop are available here