ITQ Flashback: Remembrance of Afghanistan mission reports past

What with the Parliamentary Budget Officer coming out with the most complete accounting to date of the full cost of the war in Afghanistan, it seemed as good a time as any to repost this summary of what Canadians told the Manley Commission during its consultations on whether to extend the mission until 2011.

(I still wonder whether anyone but me — and John Manley, one hopes — can claim to have read every single one of these submissions):

Touching a nerve

When John Manley asked Canadians for their thoughts on Afghanistan, he got more than he bargained for

Kady O’Malley | Jan 24, 2008 |
Kady O’Malley

For the full report and reactions from Maclean’s bloggers, columnists and Maclean’s 50 members, read our full coverage of Manley’s Afghanistan report here. For more submission samples click here

When the Manley panel announced, with little fanfare, that it was ready to take suggestions from the public on Canada’s future in Afghanistan, it’s likely that they didn’t expect more than a handful of contributions. The consultations, after all, were purely virtual: there were no public hearings or town halls, just a minimalist and virtually unpublicized website, and a form to file submissions. But over the next month, over 200 associations, interest groups and ordinary Canadians provided the Manley panel with their thoughts on where Canada should go from here – and not just in Afghanistan.

In contributions ranging from one sentence to eight single spaced pages (the maximum length accepted) they offered opinions not just on the mission in Afghanistan, but the future of Canadian foreign policy, particularly in the waning era of the Bush doctrine, and the post-post 9/11 world.

Just 30 per cent of the submissions, the website notes, “directly addressed one or more of the options included within the panel’s terms of reference.” Most advocate “either for Option 1 (continue training the Afghan police/military and pursue a phased withdrawal of Canadian troops starting in February 2009) or Option 4 (withdraw Canadian troops completely after February 2009 except for a small contingent to protect aid workers/diplomats).” conducted its own survey, and came up with the following breakdown:

Option 1 – 20 submissions
Option 2 – 10 submissions

Option 3 – 4 submissions
Option 4 – 35 submissions

Of the remaining submissions, which did not clearly endorse any of the available options, the tally was as follows:

Generally supportive of extending the mission: 18 submissions
Generally opposed to extending the mission: 53 submissions

Finally, 46 submissions were in favour of policies that were a blend of available options, most often those that would see Canada remain in Afghanistan, but in a strictly non-military role.

(Note: Final totals do not add up to 219, as there are a number of submissions that have not yet been posted to the website.)

First, the more predictable submissions:

  • The Air Force Association of Canada, to the surprise of no one, calls for more helicopters and tactical airlifts – a recommendation that made it into Manley’s final report.
  • The Afghanistan Working Group of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University wants to include “all major parties and belligerents” in working towards a “comprehensive peace agreement.”
  • The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre proposal states that the government provide funding for a new organization, built on the foundation of the PPC, with an “expanded mission” that would allow it to make a “substantially greater contribution to peace operations in priority countries and regions,” such as, presumably, Afghanistan, although it scarcely merits mention in the submission.

Other recommendations reveal longstanding rifts and turf wars that flare up amongst organizations working in the same war zones, but at different purposes.

The International Red Cross Agency, as well as other aid groups comes out strongly against any change in policy that would “blur the line between military, political and humanitarian actions by labelling all as “humanitarian.” Other aid organizations expressed similar concern over the prospect of the Canadian military getting involved in direct delivery of aid, including the Canadian Coalition to End Global Poverty, which finds it “tremendously problematic.” The Senlis Council, however, takes precisely the opposite view, and calls on the military to be more, not less visible in delivering aid, for both practical and political reasons.

The Liberals were the only federal party to make a formal submission to the panel, which also received contributions from several former Liberal MPs. Writing on behalf of the World Federalist Movement, Warren Allmand seemed to anticipate the controversy that would shortly ensnarl his party’s leader by stating that that there was “no sound basis in policy or in international law, for Canada intervening militarily in Pakistan.” Former Trudeau cabinet minister Jean Jacques Blais weighed in, albeit in point form, as did several self-identified members of the Green Party, including the party’s International Affairs critic, Eric Walton.

Other contributions, however, defy simple categorization. A submission from Canada’s former representative to NATO’s operational headquarters in Afghanistan opens with a quote from Thucydides, and goes on to advise Canadians to “avoid western rationalist thinking and the related conceptual trap of generalization.” Physicians for Global Survival advocates a “third option” which would include, among other things, “talks with everyone, including the Taliban.”

Even those who question the neutrality of the panel, or find the terms of reference needlessly narrow express their skepticism in a peculiarly Canadian way. After suggesting that the final report must address civilian casualties, and provide a “realistic projection” of what a strictly non-military mission would look like, Dr. J. Bavelas notes that his requests “come from an anti-war position,” but stresses that he is “not asking that you agree with me.”

Sara Kamal, who describes herself as a “Dari-speaking, Afghan looking woman” condemns the current state of security in Afghanistan as the worst she has ever seen.  “I first entered Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, and even then did not feel as threatened as I did in my most recent journey in October 2007,” she tells the panel. “There is no sense of safety anywhere, and even longtime Afghan colleagues of mine now feel uncomfortable entering downtown Kabul.”

Then there is  ‘e-Implosion: Countering global insurgency in the 21st century,’ submitted by Eric Dion (no relation, we presume), so laden with technological buzz words as to make it virtually unreadable. (A sample: “If we are to tackle the Pasthun puzzle, offer our expertise to Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we ought to have the right problem definition to task-tailor new holistic approaches. Thus, we ought to deploy more operators to neutralize first tier hard core global terrorists’ but we also ought to deploy the whole spectrum of Canada’s expertise to solve the issues.”)

Former Conservative turned Liberal turned Independent MP David Kilgour sent in a copy of an article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen last August – not one , it should be noted, authored by himself, but by Donna Jacobs. (Although he offers no explanation in his submission, the title of the piece – “Why Afghanistan is on the road to anarchy” – hints at a less than rosy outlook for the mission.)

In a handwritten letter, Hugh Dobson begins with an ode to “Our beautiful world, (except for earthquakes, illnesses, etc)!” Others, like this artistic rendering of ‘the Mathematics of Peace’ [Beaudoin], demonstrate an intensity of effort as impressive as it is incomprehensible.

John M. Johnson acknowledges that he “is only too aware that [he has] failed to offer ‘the answer’,” but is unapologetic. “The situation is difficult, very complex, and important,” he notes. “It simply does not admit simplistic solutions such as stay, go, cease combat, do only reconstruction, etc.”

It’s a sentiment with which Manley, and the rest of the panel, would be hard pressed to disagree.

For more submission samples click here

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