After 156 Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, the first instinct of many Canadians is to leave, and as quickly as possible. But Canada cannot walk away now, particularly when the needs of Afghans are so great, and when we are so well-placed to help.
The very security of Afghanistan is at stake. Many Afghans still fear for their safety, but, in a recent poll, 83 per cent said they support reconciliation with the Taliban.
Not so long ago, Afghan women could have acid thrown in their eyes for not wearing the burka. That was Taliban policy. Today, millions of Afghan women have no formal education. That is the Taliban legacy. And the Afghanistan / Pakistan border remains a porous region ruled by terrorists, drug runners and duplicitous Pakistani agents. That is the Taliban's formula for political success.
So while some power-sharing with the Taliban may be inevitable, it cannot be on their terms. Afghanistan will only be safe if the Afghan National Police and Army are dominant enough for the Karzai government to set the terms of negotiations. Afghans hold their security institutions in high regard (92 per cent think the ANA is honest and fair), but they need outside help.
Canadians have been providing that, in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar. The experience has given Canadians perhaps the best sense, of all NATO forces, of how Afghanistan security forces can help do nation-building, fight the Taliban, and defend their own people in the field. So a Canadian training force of 750 military trainers and around 200 support staff in Kabul would make a meaningful contribution at less risk to us.
The main impediment may now be Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. After giving principled, vocal support for an ongoing presence in Afghanistan, he has dissembled, asking a series of questions about government plans that obscures his own policy. His support is essential for the mission to have any chance.
Political hypocrisy, though, should be the least of our concerns. This is about our security too: Al-Qaeda grew when the Taliban offered it nourishment, and the Sept. 11 attacks were planned and launched from Afghanistan. For Afghans, prevailing over the Taliban means the difference between life and death.