I have predicted for some time that the perfect political storm likely to engulf the Harper government is Afghanistan.
Canada began its participation there for the right reasons. We agreed to help rid the world of the terrorists who organized 9/11 and the government that supported them - the Taliban. At the same time, we wanted to help the development of the country, to help children get an education, and assist in bringing about some semblance of the rule of law to the country. Good intentions. But as Samuel Johnson once wisely said 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Afghanistan is turning out to be indeed a road to hell - for NATO troops there and the politicians of the countries who sent them.
The reasons for this international nightmare are plainly evident. Now that at least some of us have read some history of the region (the Prime Minister excluded, it seems [see, DARRYL RAYMAKER BLOG, July 5, 2007, 'Harper Gets Ready To Cut and Run - Again'] ), we realize that this war is an attempt to bring order to one of the wildest countries on earth. For more than 2000 years Afghanistan has proved itself to be a tough and well-nigh impossible nut to crack by powerful invaders and occupiers. From the era of Alexander the Great to modern times this mostly lawless country has always left their opponents either lifeless on the battlefield or beating a hasty, bloody, and disorderly retreat. Even vast and well-equiped armies from far more sophisticatred empires have failed to subdue the war-like propensities of the Afghan people. Alexander the Great didn't stay long. The British Army at the height of its Empire was routed there. And more recently, the Russians left in failure after racking up 15,000 dead Russian soldiers as part of the lost cause (See DARRYL RAYMAKER BLOGS, July 5, 2007 and March 18, 2007, 'Gordon O'Connor - In Over his Head').
The Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan is particularly difficult. For centuries it has been home turf to Pashtun tribes who roam the mountainous and lawless border region of Pakistan-Afghanistan. To the people who live there, life is cheap. Islamic religious fanatics abound. Added to this holy mess is the timid and weak NATO offering to the project - a scant 35,000 troops scattered throughout the country. Neither is there any great enthusiasm among NATO nations to relieve or help Canadians who, with so far 66 troops killed in action, are taking the worst of it.
But it gets worse. The NATO forces, together with the Karzai government are looking the other way while the poor Afghan farmers cultivate their only significant cash crop - poppies. This year there is a record harvest of poppies in Afghanistan. That harvest will be turned into the production of opium, which will thereupon provide nearly 90% of the world's supply of heroin - heroin that continues to poison the minds and lives of millions of people throughout the world. Most of the heroin users reside in western member nations of NATO - rich nations - whose citizens are rich enough to support a heroin habit. So Canada and other NATO nations involved in Afghanistan are not only pursuing a lost cause with little support. They are tacitly supporting the production of heroin which fries the brains and ruins the lives of millions of people - mostly westerners, and many Canadians.
And according to all credible reports, the whole situation there is getting worse by the day.
Once again Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and the Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier are tripping over each other as to where Canada goes from here. Two weeks ago, O'Connor gave the sunny prediction - contrary to everybody else who knows something about what is happening in Afghanistan - that over the next four or five months Canada would take on a reserve role. He said that when Quebec's Royal 22nd Regiment - the Vandoos - had completed their rotation in Afghanistan, there would be 3000 Afghan Army personnel operating in Kandahar and that "we will continue to withdraw" as more Afghan army personnel are trained. He said that it would mean a reduction in Canadian combat duties.
A few days later, Hillier contradicted O'Connor, saying that the training process had just started and it would be a long time before the Afghans could do the job themselves. O'Connor tried to recover this past weekend at the Conservative caucus meeting in Charlottetown, by saying he and Hillier were on the same page and that he did not know how long it would be before the Afghans were capable of taking the pressure off of the Canadian troops.
This latest O'Connor/Hillier difference of opinion, when added to their misleading and contradictory statements on other embarassing issues surrounding the Afghan adventure, seems to have been the last straw for Harper. There is now strong speculation that O'Connor is on his way out in a very merciful and immediate shuffle to Veterans Affairs. Deputy PM Jim Prentice is widely predicted to replace the hapless O'Connor.
Chalk one up for Hillier. However the General, who has never met a microphone he doesn't love, may be next on the list for the secrecy obsessed Harper.
And if Harper doesn't wake up to the futility of it all soon, he too will be a victim.