By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister makes his latest statement of certainty on the mission in Afghanistan.
“The end date is firm and final,” he said. “Canada will not have a military mission in Afghanistan after March, 2014.”
NATO secretary-general had told reporters Sunday he wanted Canada to extend the training mission. Mr. Harper said he wished it could end sooner, but 2014 was the earliest feasible date. He said he believed it’s important to press ahead with withdrawing foreign forces from the country. His judgment, he said, is “that the longer a foreign intervention stays, eventually, the less likely its success becomes.”
By Stephen Marche - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 2:41 PM - 0 Comments
A new anthology is both depressing and revelatory
The U.K. release of Poetry of the Taliban this month has generated that rarest of media phenomena, a genuine poetry scandal. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, blasted the collection: “What we need to remember is that these are fascist, murdering thugs who suppress women and kill people without mercy if they do not agree with them.” He went on to accuse the publishers of “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda.” The editors defended the universality of the experiences described in the collection and compared their book to the recently published Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets. Both sides believe the poetry in the Taliban anthology will inevitably create sympathy for the enemy; the commander fears the sympathy, the poetry editors desire it. But the most shocking emotion the book inspires isn’t fellow feeling with the butchers of Afghanistan; it is delight. The pleasure of Poetry of the Taliban is its most upsetting feature.
As in many medieval societies, poetry is the essential means of expression in Taliban culture. When Mullah Mohammad Omar seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, he banned all music. The radios blared ballads instead. The Pashto poetic tradition is ancient even if its current material is predator drones and corrupt NGOs. As a poet identified only as “Zakir” says in “War Talk,” “The history of epics is not lost, reopen it!” The ghazal, an ancient Persian poetic form, is a favourite genre, and so we are confronted with the reality that the most rigid ideologues on the planet overwhelmingly choose an aesthetic of extreme lyrical ambiguity to express themselves. Every line is shot through with as many levels of meaning as possible.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 9:41 AM - 0 Comments
Arsala Rahmani, tasked with reconciling with the Taliban, is shot dead in Kabul.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Global reports that NATO would like Canadian troops to continue training the Afghan army after 2014 and the Prime Minister is not dismissing the possibility.
It appears Prime Minister Stephen Harper is open to keeping Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan a little longer. “We will assess what is necessary to make sure that Afghanistan continues to progress toward being a state that is not a threat to global security, and that is able to take care of its own security,” he said in Ottawa on Monday. ”Those are our objectives and beyond that, we haven’t made any final decisions.”
By Adnan R. Khan - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
A new generation of militants is rising in Afghanistan, turning its sights on former allies
There is nothing suggesting violence in the Taliban fighter quietly sipping tea in a corner of the room. In any case, the police headquarters for Afghanistan’s Sarobi district sit next to the safe house we’re in. He knows the building well. Not long ago, he was a member of the security forces, charged with protecting Afghans from the Taliban fighters he now calls his “brothers.”
Jawad speaks animatedly, between cautious sips from his teacup. “When the foreigners first came here, I thought, why not work with them?” says the 28-year-old, a native of Uzbin, northeast of Kabul, the Afghan capital. “I never felt animosity for foreigners,” he adds. That, however, was then.
Jawad joined the Afghan security services a decade ago, as a teenager newly returned from Pakistan’s dilapidated refugee camps, where he’d spent much of his life. It was an exciting time. Finally, his family would reclaim their land. There was the promise of a new future, of prosperity guaranteed by the money the outside world brought with it.
By Michael Friscolanti - Monday, April 30, 2012 at 10:43 AM - 0 Comments
His critics say he’s a danger; supporters say he poses no threat. Someone will be proven wrong.
As always, the latest “development” in the endless Omar Khadr saga provides few definitive answers. Here’s what we know for sure: Khadr’s official application for a prison transfer—from a cage at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a cell in his home country—is now on the desk of Vic Toews, Stephen Harper’s public safety minister. And Toews has confirmed, as reluctantly as ever, that he will sign his name to the bottom of the page. At some point.
Beyond that, the future of Canada’s most (in)famous child soldier/homicidal jihadist remains as hazy as ever.
When will the minister actually pull out his pen? When will Khadr spend his ﬁnal night at Gitmo? Which Canadian prison will become his next temporary home? Could he be eligible for parole the same day his plane touches down? And when the Toronto native is eventually set free (whether it’s five months from now or ﬁve years), where exactly will he go? Will Khadr run back into the arms of his notorious family and their fanatical sympathizers? Or will the feds ask a judge to impose special conditions on the convicted war criminal, limiting his movements and dictating his associates?
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 4:29 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair opened QP this afternoon with a look back to what the Prime Minister had said yesterday about what the United States had or had not requested of this country in Afghanistan after 2014. Mr. Mulcair wondered if Mr. Harper would confirm that Canada has had no contact from the United States about extending the mission. Mr. Harper stood and said that he said he had not received such a request.
The leader of the opposition then moved on to the question of whether or not an extension would be brought before Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister stated: “All of the military missions committed to under this government have come before the House.” However, that is not the case, and he knows it. The last extension in Afghanistan was authorized by the Prime Minister acting alone.
In his seat across the way, Mr. Harper turned to Peter Van Loan with a look of confusion on his face. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 5:29 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Thomas Mulcair began with a reminder of something Stephen Harper had once said. This is always a good place to start. Not for the sake of accuracy or precedent or for the purposes of demonstrating the seriousness with which one should regard the words of the Prime Minister, but for entertainment’s sake. A bit like sitting around with a bunch of friends recalling various things one of you once did or said. As that Nickelback song so poignantly captured.
“Mr. Speaker, this is what the Prime Minister said in 2009,” Mr. Mulcair said. ” ‘The military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011. I have said it here and I have said it across the country. In fact, I think I said it recently in the White House.’ ”
That is, indeed, what Mr. Harper said on October 1, 2009, as recorded in Hansard, in response to a question from Jack Layton.
“It is now 2012 and our soldiers are still in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mulcair continued, now speaking for himself. “Has Canada received a request from the United States to keep our troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014?”
Mr. Harper stood here and said another one of those remarkable things. ”Mr. Speaker,” he said, “our military presence in Afghanistan is determined by this House.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
David Pugliese reports that the Harper government is discussing with the United States the possibility that Canadian special forces will be on the ground in Afghanistan after 2014. This despite a vow two years ago that Canadian Forces would be out of Afghanistan when the current mission ends in 2014.
Before that the Harper government said 2011 was the deadline. And before that the Prime Minister said that it didn’t make sense to set a deadline.
Herein, the highlights of how we got this far. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Monday, April 23, 2012 at 4:16 PM - 0 Comments
Canada and Denmark split Hans Island and etiquette lessons for unruly NFL fans
Its 30th anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the many benefits of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Building on an earlier bill of rights unveiled by prime minister John Diefenbaker, the Charter enshrined and protected the rights of individual Canadians from governments’ law-making powers. In doing so it created a society much more focused on issues of equality and legal fairness. The Charter’s mobility rights, for example, have allowed Canadians to tear down provincial employment barriers.
No to nukes
Last Friday, a North Korean satellite rocketed to 400,000 feet, splintered into harmless pieces, then fell into the sea. A successful launch would have demonstrated intercontinental ballistic know-how. Instead, even Pyongyang pronounced the missile a dud. Meanwhile, nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S. and China, were deemed “constructive and useful.” More talks are slated for next month. There’s much work still to be done, but we can all breathe a little easier, at least this week.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
Though Vic Toews’ office has attempted to distance itself from Omar Khadr’s legal arrangement, the Harper government assured the U.S. administration that it would look “favourably” upon a transfer ahead of Mr. Khadr’s plea deal.
By Adnan R. Khan - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 4:10 PM - 0 Comments
The Afghan part of the journey used to be dangerous. Now that side is thriving—while Pakistan is not.
There is a point, more figurative than literal, where crossing the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan starts to feel like leaving one world and entering another. That point used to be clearly marked: a gate delineated the international boundary, splitting the border town of Towr Kham in two. One side used to be the deadly half, the other merely dangerous. That gate no longer exists. Towr Kham, 60 km west of Peshawar in Pakistan, and 100 km east of Kabul in Afghanistan, has, in a sense, been reunited. But the feeling remains: that unnerving sense of leaving the relative safety of one place behind and entering the dark abyss of another.
In April 2002, when I first made the trip from Peshawar to Kabul, Afghanistan was the danger zone, so thoroughly devastated by decades of war that reaching the capital was an epic, bone-jarring odyssey through precipitous mountain passes and barren river valleys prickling with land mines. At that time, stepping out of the taxi on the Pakistani side of the border and walking to the Afghan side was the point at which the feeling of dread reared its ominous head.
It was on that side of the border, for example, where Taliban militants summarily executed four foreign journalists on their way to Kabul in November 2001. Death was everywhere on that treacherous route: in the deserted farm fields hugging the Kabul River; in the impromptu cemeteries whose graves seemed to outnumber the living; and ever-present in the pockets of Taliban fighters still carrying out raids on any foreigners they could find.
By Paul Wells - Monday, April 2, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
We’re all positively giddy here on the Hill, ladies and gents. The stimulation is so intense we could plotz. There are things happening. There is action. And so much of it is… why, it’s as near as the blackberry in your hand, is what it is! Fun at our fingertips! Insta-politico-tension-drama! And it’s kind of about us, about Hill types, about those who rub elbows with — with — well, with those who know those who — who — well, who are in the know!
You see, Don Martin said something to Dimitri Soudas and something happened. Who’s Don Martin, you may ask? Who’s Dimitri Soudas? What, precisely, happened? Shush. It happened at Hy’s. This is all anyone here needs to know. So there is a story about it and another and, one feels secure in predicting, more soon to come.
You see, the tall skinny Parliamentarian turned out to be pretty good at hitting the shorter stockier Parliamentarian. And le tout Ottawa was there! And it didn’t go the way Ezra Levant expected! And there was a decorous amount of blood! Frissons! Continue…
By Gabriela Perdomo - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
Several polls reveal Americans are all but fed up with the war in Afghanistan,…
Several polls reveal Americans are all but fed up with the war in Afghanistan, now over a decade old. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows 69 per cent of respondents in the U.S. think their country should not be at war with Afghanistan. Two fifths (44%) say troops should withdraw sooner than 2014, while 33 per cent say the Obama administration should maintain its current timetable.
Canadian-based polling firm Angus Reid Public Opinion also issued its latest survey on the Afghan war today, revealing that support for the mission is at an all-time low amongst Americans: “52 per cent of respondents oppose the military operation involving American soldiers in Afghanistan, while 38 per cent support it. Since February 2010, support for the mission has fallen by 16 points, while opposition has risen by 14 points.”
By Alex Ballingall - Monday, March 12, 2012 at 10:48 AM - 0 Comments
Already fraught tensions between NATO forces and the local population in Afghanistan are mounting…
Already fraught tensions between NATO forces and the local population in Afghanistan are mounting after an American soldier—believed to be a staff sergeant—went on a shooting spree that killed at least 16 civilians, including nine children, while they slept in their homes in the early hours of Sunday morning. Britain’s Guardian reported that 11 of dead were members of the same family. After the shooter burst into their home, he spared only the father, named Wazir, and one child. The rest were killed.
The attack, which occurred in Panjwai, a suburb of Kandahar, has stoked widespread anger and calls for an immediate American withdrawal from the country. U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calling to express his “shock and sadness” according to a White House press release.
Karzai has called the attacks “unforgivable,” and the Afghan parliament passed a resolution Monday saying the country has “run out of patience” for NATO forces. The Taliban, meanwhile, has pledged attacks of vengeance.
In the past few weeks, anger against the military that many Afghans view as foreign occupiers has been on the rise. Last month, riots erupted in the country after it became known that Qu’rans had been inadvertently burned at a NATO base. This latest act threatens recent progress that was reportedly made between Kabul and Washington that would allow U.S. special forces and American officials to stay in the country after the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal for combat troops.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Soldiers armed with cultural training are teaching a new generation of Afghans how to protect their family
“This is the highlight of my career,” says Warrant Officer Trevor Lavallée, a combat veteran of Afghanistan who is leaving for Kabul to be part of Canada’s new training mission there. “I’m taking everything I’ve learned, and I’m trying to teach a new generation of Afghans to go out there and protect their families and their country.”
The 35-year-old is part of the second rotation of Canadian soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan since Canada’s combat role there ended in July. There are 900 or so trainers and support staff in the contingent; all will be in Kabul by the end of March. Many of them, like Lavallée, have been before—in a combat role. “I think it took the weight off my parents’ and my wife’s shoulders, knowing that I’m not going out to pick a fight anymore, knowing that I’m going over there to help,” he says.
But the training mission is certainly not without danger.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, January 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
Readers hoping to better understand Afghanistan and the outside world’s involvement in the country since 9/11 have been well served by Canadian authors of late.
Terry Glavin’s Come from the Shadows: the Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan has been reviewed in this space already. Next up are The Savage War: the Untold Battles of Afghanistan, by Canadian Press defence correspondent Murray Brewster, and The Long Way Back: Afghanistan’s Quest for Peace, by former Canadian and UN diplomat (and current Conservative MP) Chris Alexander. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 7:45 AM - 0 Comments
Abstract: This paper helps explain the variation in political turmoil observed in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] during the Arab Spring. The region’s monarchies have been largely spared of violence while the “republics” have not. A theory about how a monarchy’s political culture solves a ruler’s credible commitment problem explains why this has been the case. Using a panel dataset of the MENA countries (1950-2006), I show that monarchs are less likely than non-monarchs to experience political instability, a result that holds across several measures. They are also more likely to respect the rule of law and property rights, and grow their economies. Through the use of an instrumental variable that proxies for a legacy of tribalism, the time that has elapsed since the Neolithic Revolution weighted by Land Quality, I show that this result runs from monarchy to political stability. The results are also robust to alternative political explanations and country fixed effects.
I wouldn’t suggest taking this classic bit of political science too seriously, with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink regressions on a small data set and its inherently dubious use of an “instrumental variable” to ferret out causation. That said: Victor Menaldo’s basic observations would be hard to refute. Monarchies in the Middle East and North Africa have been stable relative to their republican neighbours; the replacement of a monarchy with a republic rarely if ever makes the people better off; and the monarchies in the region tend to be more liberal economically, even if they don’t have particularly liberal political structures.
In the ci-devant monarchies of the Arab and Persian world, nostalgia for overthrown Western-friendly regimes of the past seems fairly common. When the Libyans got rid of Gadhafi last year, for instance, they promptly restored the old flag of the Kingdom of Libya (1951-69), and some of the anti-Gadhafi protesters carried portraits of the deposed late king, Idris. From the vantage point of Canada, constitutional monarchy looks like a pretty good solution to the inherent problems of governing ethnically divided or clan-dominated places. And in most of the chaotic MENA countries, including Libya, there exist legitimist claimants who could be used to bring about constitutional restorations.
The most natural locale for such an experiment would have been Afghanistan, where republican governments have made repeated use of the old monarchical institution of the loya jirga or grand council. The U.S. met with overwhelming pressure from Afghans to include ex-king Zahir Shah in the first post-Taliban loya jirga in 2002, but twisted the old man’s arm to ensure that his participation would be no more than ceremonial. At least one South Asia analyst, Shireen Burki, thinks this was a regrettable missed opportunity that can only be attributed to reflexive suspicion of monarchism by U.S. officials.
“We don’t do kings,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said when she was asked if restoration could help solve the problems of the south Slavs. “Pity you don’t,” the happy Commonwealth realms and the peaceable kingdoms of northern Europe might have added. The U.S. turned out to be more interested in easily-overwhelmed American clients like Ahmed Chalabi and Hamid Karzai; and how has that turned out?
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
U.S. Defense Secretary promises probe into the case
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta strongly condemned what looks like an act of desecration of corpses by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. Panetta telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai immediately after viewing a short video shows four men in Marine uniforms urinating on three corpses. Panetta called the act “utterly deplorable,” and promised an investigation. According to a caption in the video, the corpses belong to deceased Taliban fighters. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “total dismay,” while Karzai called on the U.S. to apply “the most severe punshiment to anyone found guilty in this crime.” An anonymous Marine spokesperson said the troops are believed to be members of the thirds Battalion, second Marines, and added that a probe is underway. Both U.S. law and the Geneva convention forbid the desecration of bodies of those killed in war.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:54 AM - 0 Comments
“Canada demarched the Afghan government on this issue,” a spokesman for Foreign Minister John Baird told Postmedia News. ”Our diplomats have expressed in the strongest terms Canada’s disappointment with the government of Afghanistan’s handling of this matter,” Joseph Lavoie said. “We also underscored that transitioning full security responsibility to Afghan control is an important process that must be carefully managed, with effective co-ordination among (International Security Assistance Force) partners.”
Meanwhile, the squabble over images of detainee hairdos could result in a Charter challenge.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
The latest squabble over Afghan detainees, national security and access to information involves hairdos.
American officials, caught off guard by the president’s order, scrambled to figure out the source of the allegations. Now they have at least part of an answer: the Afghan commission that documented the abuses appears to have focused mainly on the side of the prison run by Afghan authorities, not the American-run part, according to interviews with American and Afghan officials.
Mr. Karzai was, in essence, demanding that the Americans cede control of a prison to Afghan authorities to stop abuses being committed by Afghan authorities.
Detainees taken by Canadian Forces are presently being transferred to the Americans.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 9, 2011 at 9:28 PM - 0 Comments
John Baird informed the House this morning that detainees in Afghanistan will now be transferred to American forces.
Mr. Speaker, with the combat mission in Afghanistan now complete, I am pleased to inform the House that our government has signed an arrangement with the Obama administration to facilitate the transfer of detainees captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to U.S. custody at the detention facility in Parwan. The U.S. operates this facility with full agreement of the Afghan government and detainees can be prosecuted under Afghan law. Canadian officials will continue to be present on the ground to monitor all Canadian transferred detainees until they are sentenced or released.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s top soldier in Afghanistan tells Maclean’s he’d go back if he could
When the time came, Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, the last Canadian commander of Task Force Kandahar, didn’t want to leave. Milner presided over the historic withdrawal of Canada’s combat troops from Afghanistan last July, marking the end of fighting that began in deadly earnest when Canadian soldiers took responsibility for the violent southern province of Kandahar in 2006. “To be honest, I would have liked to stay on in the south a little longer assisting the Americans,” he told Maclean’s. “You hate to go because of the experience, the knowledge, the connection we established.”
Milner, who was deployed to Kandahar in the fall of 2010, said he arrived after a summer when Taliban insurgents had regrouped and “really spiked up their activities.” But a U.S. troop surge had also flooded Kandahar with American soldiers in unprecedented numbers, allowing the Canadians to concentrate their efforts more than ever before, particularly in Panjwai district. By the time of Canada’s exit, Milner could claim significant progress in the notorious Taliban hotbed: a new road he calls “a dagger in the heart of the Taliban,” 10 open schools—compared to just one when he arrived—and 600 Afghan police officers, up from 100 in less than a year.
Still, Milner doesn’t deny that the gains won at such cost—158 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, along with a diplomat, two aid workers and a journalist—are far from secure. “It is reversible,” he says. “It is fragile.” The Taliban have suffered punishing losses recently, but their ability to find sanctuary in Pakistan remains troubling. He points to the role Canada has taken in training the Afghan National Army as the key to ultimately ending the need for large numbers of NATO troops to prevent a Taliban rebound.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
Shiite Muslims targeted in deadliest attack since 2008
An explosion killed at least 55 people in a shrine at the heart of Afghan capital Kabul, followed by a bicycle-bomb that went off killing four more people outside a mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Tuesday. The attacks come the day after Western governments pledged long-term support to Afghanistan after combat troops leave in 2014. By targeting commemorations of the Ashura festival, the largest event in the Shiites’ religious calendar, the attacks could mean the resurgence of a historically violent relationship between Sunnis and Shiites in Afghanistan. Large sectarian attacks have plagued neighbouring Pakistan for decades, but have not taken in place in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM - 18 Comments
The prepared text of the Prime Minister’s remarks at today’s Parliament Hill ceremony marking the end of the mission in Libya.
“Your Excellency, Speaker Kinsella, Speaker Scheer, Ambassadors, Ministers, Honourable Senators and Members of Parliament, General Natynczyk, Lieutenant-General Bouchard, Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces, honoured guests , ladies and gentlemen; this is a day of honour. It is a day to celebrate the success of the NATO mission to Libya, and Canada’s contribution to it; it is a day to pay tribute to the extraordinary men and women of our Armed Forces who played their part; and yes, it is a day to honour the great Canadian who led them. This is, as I said, a day of honour.
“Of course, when it comes to the Canadian Armed Forces, every day is a day of honour. We must always remember it is no small thing to put your life on the line, day in and day out for your country: something we should always honour. But, even by that measure, today is special because we are celebrating a great military success: the success of Canada’s participation in Operation Unified Protector and Operation Mobile, respectively the NATO mission to Libya and Canada’s contribution to it.
“It is a day to pay tribute to the extraordinary men and women of our Armed Forces who played their part. And yes, it is a day to honour the great Canadian who led them.