Canadian troops said goodbye to Kandahar last week, ending five hard years of battle, street diplomacy and costly reconstruction. On his 17th trip to the southern Afghan city, The Globe's Graeme Smith found a richer but bloodier place and a local population uncertain about what the post-Canadian future holds.
He wrote in Saturday's Globe in his article Kandahar Then and Now:
"My first visit to Kandahar was a carefree road trip down a freshly paved highway, in the days before bombings blew holes in the blacktop and Taliban started kidnapping people along the way. I leaned out the window of my sedan and took snapshots. Those were better times, in 2005, before road travel became suicidal. The Canadians still talked about peace and democracy, about defeating the insurgency in two or three years. A battle group was preparing to surge into the south. It expected a warm welcome: Human Rights Watch claimed that locals were clamouring for the "benefits of international security assistance." Experts called this a post-conflict mission, as if the worst of the fighting was over.
"I flew back to Kandahar this summer, my 17th visit, before Canada formally ended its combat mission on Thursday. The violence was setting records. Peace and democracy seemed like half-forgotten dreams. After years of empty boasts about smashing the insurgency, military commanders admitted that they could not defeat the Taliban. They were packing up and leaving the mess to the Afghan government, telling it to negotiate some kind of settlement with its enemies.
"Whatever has been achieved over the past five years is sometimes called 'fragile progress,' but that delicate phrase does not capture the sense of looming disaster many locals feel, a fear that the foreigners built a system that will soon collapse."
Mr. Smith will be online Monday from noon to 1 p.m. ET to take your questions on his article and on the situation facing Afghanistan and the Kandahar region after the Canadian pullout.
Please join us at that time by clicking on the box below. Smart-phone users can follow the discussion here.
Follow us on Twitter: