Prime Minister Stephen Harper has in effect declared victory in Afghanistan, at least as far as the original reason for sending troops to that country goes. His comments were made during a “secret” visit to Afghanistan on Monday (Campbell Clark, “Afghanistan no longer terrorism threat to world, Harper tells troops,” Globe and Mail, 30 May 2011):
…the Prime Minister thanked troops on behalf of Canadians – and argued that despite “successes and failures” in a complex mission at the heart of the insurgency in Kandahar, it has achieved its goal.
“Afghanistan is no longer a threat to the world,” he said
Calling the mission in general “a great success,” Mr. Harper also recalled that “we have been charged with the single most difficult province in this country,” in remarks to reporters at the end of his 12-hour visit.
“Afghanistan is still a violent place, a dangerous place for its citizens, and we’re working to improve things for them. But this country does not represent a geo-strategic risk to the world. It is no longer a source of global terrorism. This is a tremendous accomplishment, one that obviously serves Canadian interests.”
Of course, some might point out that it is possible to fight terrorism with intelligence work, sensible policing, a foreign policy that seeks to build the foundations of sustainable peace, and, yes, occasional special forces activities (see Pakistan, Abbottabad) without actually engaging in the frequently counterproductive activity of invading and occupying countries.
Be that as it may, it is clear that “victory” in Afghanistan does not mean that Canada’s troops are about to come home. Interventions tend to develop new goals and justifications over time, and the Afghanistan mission seems to have had more than its share in that regard. The Liberals and Tories recently worked together to extend Canada’s presence in Afghanistan until at least 2014, and Canada’s allies are already pressing the Harper government to widen the new training role it has committed us to play (John Ivison, “NATO allies push majority Tories to up Afghanistan role,” National Post, 20 May 2011).
(Libya, too, seems to be headed down that road [Peter Chase & John Ibbitson, “PM to extend Libyan mission,” Globe and Mail, 27 May 2011].)
It is certainly the case, despite the Prime Minister’s happy talk, that Afghanistan is far from a stable and peaceful place at present. One need only consider the fact that neither Mr. Harper nor any other Western leader ever goes to Afghanistan except on a secret visit — for fear of being blown up.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office recently reported that security has been worsening in many parts of Afghanistan (Murray Brewster, “Aid watchdog warns of ‘escalating stalemate’ in Afghanistan as attacks increase,” Canadian Press, 29 May 2011):
A new report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office suggested insurgent forces are growing in areas that have previously been assessed as calm.
“We anticipate 2011 will be the most violent year since we have been keeping records,” said the organization’s quarterly report, which was released over the weekend.
The grim assessment coincided with the deadly attack in Takhar province Saturday that killed six, including two German soldiers, and wounded the NATO forces northern commander, as well as the provincial governor.
Attacks by “armed opposition groups” soared 51 per cent in the first three months of this year when compared with the same period in 2010. The total number of attacks — 1,102 — surpassed those conducted in the run up to the 2009 presidential election, which was considered one of the most violent periods in recent memory.