The Canadian government is wise to plan for a non-combat mission in Afghanistan following the 2011 military withdrawal - but should not restrict itself only to nation-building.
Security will remain a fundamental concern, and there is no reason some of the 3,000 Canadian soldiers cannot stay behind, as they have been requested to do repeatedly by NATO and the U.S., to train Afghan National Security Forces.
Instead, according to the latest declassified plan, the Canadian government envisions a $549-million civilian mission whose primary aims will be to promote diplomacy, advance the rule of law and human rights, and deliver humanitarian assistance.
These are all laudable goals. However, security goes hand in hand with development. Afghanistan must be able to protect its people if it is to govern itself effectively.
While Ottawa may want to shutter Canada's long and costly Kandahar-based mission, especially with voters growing weary of war, that doesn't preclude Canadian forces from staying on the ground to contribute to the continuing NATO operation. The Afghan army needs to double its size within two years, and military trainers are sorely needed.
The 2008 parliamentary motion to withdraw from Afghanistan, passed by the House of Commons in March, 2008, states, "Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July, 2011." But it does not mandate an end to Canada's military commitment.
In fact, the resolution underscores the significance of training Afghan security forces, saying the country must have "properly trained, equipped and paid members of the four pillars of their security apparatus: the army, the police, the judicial system and the corrections system."
U.S. officials, who are overseeing 100,000 troops in the country, have publicly argued against a precipitous withdrawal of Canada's forces. General David Petraeus, commander of American and NATO forces, said in a recent interview that it is important not to telegraph to the Taliban that all they have to do is "outlast" Western troops.
"The more sensible option is to have indicators telling us when to scale back militarily, instead of having an arbitrary date telling us it's time," says Douglas Bland, chair of the defence studies program at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University.
Canada must ensure its role in Afghanistan continues to be a responsible one, and that the military withdrawal doesn't contribute further to the insurgency's momentum.Report Typo/Error
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