The video footage of American soldiers urinating on what appear to be the bodies of Taliban fighters should not derail the most hopeful development that has come out of the Afghan war in years – that the Taliban has agreed to open a political office in Qatar.
It will provide the Afghan government and other participants in the conflict an address to call the insurgents’ leaders for peace negotiations.
But a precondition to any talks must be an immediate end to the Taliban’s assassination campaign against Afghan civilians – which is far worse than the desecration of dead bodies, as appalling as it is.
From governors to mullahs denouncing suicide bombers, from doctors to teachers, from construction workers to religious elders, anyone taking part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan is a marked man or woman.
In 2010, 462 Afghans were assassinated. In the first half of 2011, there were 190 targeted killings, according to the UN.
Insurgents armed with machine guns and suicide bombers are storming schools, hospitals, municipal buildings and even mosques, during prayers and funerals.
The goal is simple: to keep Afghanistan in chaos and ungovernable.
With NATO countries eager to get out by 2014, a lot of effort is going into building up the army and police so the Afghans can defend themselves.
But if Afghanistan is to become a country that can stop relying on outsiders for help, these killings need to end. If and when peace talks begin, Canada must push this issue.
The Canadian International Development Agency allocated $206-million from 2003 to 2011 to set up a functioning government. Some of the money paid the salaries of civil servants and teachers – who are among those being assassinated.
But it is not only NATO countries who have an interest in this. Senior Taliban figures keen on peace would no doubt negotiate for a role in any future government. They also have a stake in making sure there is an educated population left who can administer and develop the country when foreign forces leave.