by John W. Warnock
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Republished with permission.
On September 12, 2001, the government of Jean Chrétien pledged
Canada’s full support to any action by the U.S. government to confront
the al-Qaeda organization and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The
United Nations passed resolutions calling for all countries “to work
together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and
sponsor of these [9/11] acts.” But George W. Bush’s administration rejected
this proposal and refused to seek the approval of the UN Security
Council for the planned attack on Afghanistan.
On October 2, 2001, NATO gave full political support to the assault
on Afghanistan. Prime Minister Chrétien announced Canada’s support
and began to send Canadian Forces naval vessels to participate in
the U.S.-directed Operation Enduring Freedom, charged with bringing
about “regime change” in Afghanistan.
The assault began on October 7, 2001. The war was short, given the
overwhelming military superiority of the U.S. military and its massive
bombing campaign. The Taliban fled Kabul on November 12, and the
U.S. allies, the Islamist Northern Alliance, assumed the role of de facto
government. Kandahar fell in early December and the war was over.
The Liberal government pledged 2,000 Canadian troops to Operation
Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, and Joint Task Force 2 special
forces were engaged in military conflict near Kandahar as part of the
last campaign to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.
From this time on, Canada’s role in Afghanistan escalated. In
February 2002, Canadian forces were assigned to Kandahar to defend
the city and the airport, and to engage any remaining Taliban forces.
Creating the International Security Assistance Force
On December 20, 2001, the UN Security Council agreed to sanction
the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under
Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, an enforcement mandate. The ISAF is
completely outside the United Nations, part of the “coalition of the willing”
created by the U.S. government. This “stabilization mission” was to
support the UN humanitarian assistance program. Canada was to be
part of the ISAF, under British command.
Between 2001 and 2003, the ISAF was confined to Kabul in a peacekeeping
role. By early 2003, the rebellion against the interim Afghan
government and the occupation forces had begun. Under direction from
the Bush administration, which was preparing for an attack on Iraq,
NATO assumed the responsibility for the ISAF. Canadian forces served
in Kabul between October 2003 and November 2005. They were then
moved to Kandahar, first under OEF and then in July 2006 under the
authority of the ISAF. Canadian military forces made a major shift from
a peacekeeping role in support of humanitarian assistance to fighting a
Over this period, the governments of Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin,
and Stephen Harper all gave full support to the Bush administration’s
position on Afghanistan. In April 2008, a resolution was passed in
Parliament authorizing Stephen Harper’s government to extend Canada’s
role in the counter-insurgency war through 2011. The resolution by the
Conservative government received the support of the Liberal opposition
headed by Stéphane Dion.
According to public opinion polls, a large segment of the Canadian
public is opposed to the participation of Canadian Forces in this counterinsurgency war, ranging between 45% and 50%. An Angus Reid Strategies poll, released on March 26, 2008, found that 58% of those surveyed were opposed to extending the Canadian military mission until 2011. The political breakdown showed that only supporters of the Conservative party (72%) supported the extension. The majority of supporters of the other political parties were in opposition: Liberal party (63%), New Democratic party (74%), Bloc Québécois (78%), and Green party (68%). Only in Alberta did an overall majority support the extension.
Persistence of the insurgency
Over the past two years, the insurgency by the Taliban and their allies
has grown in strength, and the conflict has spread to all parts of
the country. The number of attacks on the NATO forces has greatly increased, and the number of deaths by the military forces and civilians
increased by 62% in the first six months of 2008. In spite of defeats in
direct conflicts with NATO forces, the resistance movement has been
able to continue to find replacements and expand operations.
Why is this happening? As the UN Secretary-General pointed out in
his report of September 2007, the main problem is the unpopularity of
the government of President Hamid Karzai and the country’s National
Parliament. The government is notoriously corrupt, and drug lords and
regional commanders have great power. The economy remains very poor
and at least 40% of the people are unemployed. The average Afghan
earns only $350 per year. Lack of food and housing is a widespread problem.
Public services are very limited.
The United States creates the new Afghan government
The formation of a post-Taliban government began in November
2001, when the U.S. government brought some representatives from
Afghanistan together at Bonn, Germany, to create an interim government.
The Bush administration chose groups aligned to the Northern
Alliance, the Islamists who have been their close political allies since 1979.
Five broad groups representing the democratic forces in Afghanistan
asked to participate, but they were refused official status and voting
rights. This set the pattern for everything that followed. The democratic
forces have been excluded from all the operations to create a new constitution and government, as well as from the first elections.
It is widely known that the Afghan people wanted a restoration of the
liberal, democratic constitution of 1964, a constitutional monarch with
a parliamentary government, political parties, elections by proportional
representation, and a federal state. The U.S. government, backed by
the Canadian government and representatives from the United Nations,
blocked this development. At the Bonn meetings in November 2001,
the U.S. government mandated that Hamid Karzai be appointed the
new interim president. He named 30 people, mainly Islamists from the
Northern Alliance, to form the transitional administration.
An interim Emergency Loya Jirga (or Grand Council) was held in
June 2002. Delegates were chosen by local warlords and the regional
leaders of dominant ethnic groups. Their proposal for a constitutional
monarchy was rejected by the U.S. government.
Karzai and his U.S. and UN advisors then drafted a new constitution
through a very secret closed-door process. The general public did
not get a chance to see the constitution, and there was no public debate.
It was presented to the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) in December
2003. The majority of delegates opposed the plan for a highly centralized
government with enormous power entrusted to the president, and
there was also strong opposition to the re-creation of Afghanistan as
an Islamist state. When 48% of the delegates walked out in protest,
Karzai threatened not to run for president. The constitution was then
“unanimously” approved by the delegates even though no vote was held.
Representatives from the Canadian government played key roles in helping
the U.S. government in this entire anti-democratic process.
President Bush insisted that a presidential election be held in Afghanistan
prior to the U.S. presidential election in November 2004. But there was
no national government and no functioning provincial or local governments.
No political parties were allowed to participate. The whole process
was deeply flawed. Karzai won by default because Afghans feared
a warlord would win or U.S. government aid would be withdrawn.
The election for the parliament, held on September 18, 2005, was
worse. No political parties were allowed to participate, which greatly
strengthened the regional Islamist forces. The Single Non-Transferable
Vote (SNTV ) system was used, but there were no party lists. The goal
was to prevent the development of new political parties on the democratic
left. The Karzai administration refused the request by 34 political
parties for a system of proportional representation.
Of the 249 elected positions to the House of the People (the lower
house), over one-half were filled by men who had fought in the
Mujahadeen war, and one-half were clearly identified as radical Islamists.
The large majority of those elected had close ties to regional armed
groups. Voter turnout was very low, estimated at 40% overall and 30% in
Kabul. The Canadian government was deeply involved in these fraudulent
“demonstration elections,” as Noam Chomsky has called them.
The Harper-Bush military strategy
Stephen Harper’s government and Canada’s military leaders insist
progress is being made in Afghanistan, but this view is not shared by U.S.
and British military commanders. The U.S. Government Accountability
Office reported in June 2008 that the Afghan Army cannot operate without
the support of NATO . Only 52 of 433 units of the Afghan National
Police are capable of being deployed. There are widespread reports that
over 40% of all economic assistance funds disappear within the system.
NATO governments, mindful of their own public opinion, are refusing
to send additional armed forces to Afghanistan.
Stephen Harper’s new Canada First Defence Strategy dismisses
peacekeeping and promises even further integration of Canadian Forces
into those of the United States. Military spending will focus on expanding
the capacity to be “interoperable with the U.S. Military.” NATO
will be Canada’s first priority, described by President George W. Bush
as a new “expeditionary force” for the First World. The United Nations
and peacekeeping are ignored in the new Tory policy statement.
But a large percentage of the Canadian public does not agree with
this policy direction. It is time for Canadians to stand up and be counted,
to pressure the political parties and the government to break with
U.S. policy in Afghanistan. It is time to switch to supporting the people
of Afghanistan who want an end to the war and a chance to improve
What can be done
An opportunity for change appeared beginning in 2007, when the
Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) put Afghanistan high on its
agenda and called for regional negotiations to settle the conflict and promote reconstruction. The SCO members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
At the April 2008 meeting of NATO at Bucharest, the SCO position
was advanced by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan. He proposed
the reconstitution of the old Six Plus Two negotiations (1998–2001),
hosted by the United Nations, which included the six countries on the
border of Afghanistan plus the United States and Russia. To this group
would be added NATO . This body would design a general regional
plan for establishing peace and democracy in Afghanistan. The United
Nations would then replace NATO as the lead organization to direct
peace and redevelopment.
Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected out of hand by the U.S. government, and the Harper government agreed. None of Canada’s opposition parties seemed to be aware of this peace proposal, which would have had the broad support of the majority of Canadians and been welcomed by the Afghan people.
Since 2001, our Canadian governments have given complete support
to the United States on Afghanistan. But this policy has failed to
date and is doomed to fail in the long run. The challenge for Canada is
to take a different position: one which puts the interests of the Afghan
people first. In public opinion polls in Canada over recent years, a consistent
70% have indicated that they want Canada to return to a role of
peacekeeper. Higher majorities want Canada to emphasize humanitarian
and economic assistance.
The challenge we face is how to convince our elected governments
and political parties to join with this majority opinion.
This is an excerpt from The Harper Record, a CCPA publication edited bt Teresa Healy that examines the record of the Harper government. As with earlier CCPA reports on the activities of previous governments while in office, this book gives a detailed account of the laws, policies, regulations, and initiatives of the Conservative minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper during its 32-month term from January 2006 to September 2008. To download the book or specific chapters, and to find out how you can get a hard copy, visit the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.