Monday, April 09, 2007

Tim Hortons Invades Afghanistan

What is the difference between trying to change a society by force and trying to change it by undercutting its parameters? If it's changed, the inhabitants of that society are faced with different modes of existence than they had before – and they may well be ones that they do not welcome. If it was done to you or I, we would probably react against it. So why do we act so surprised when the people of Afghanistan respond to our generous acts of kindness ( purely for their own good, of course) with violence?

I suspect there were very few people in the world who admired the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that held power before 2001. The lack of infrastructure to educate the young and protect their health, alone, were remnants of an older, dark period of human history. The conditions under which women lived were (and in many places, still are) a crime against humanity. But it was a native grown and developed Afghan society that something approaching half the population appeared to be comfortable with. What proportion of the Afghan population are comfortable with the present situation? 20%? How many people in the world are admiring the regime the western Crusaders have set up in its place?

What differences are our Canadian forces making to that ongoing disaster the Bush administration set in motion? We are certainly not changing peoples lives and minds by the multitude of successes in development our people are alleged to be there for. Wow, a new road out of Kandahar – but it's not a very long road – and it only serves to keep out troops away from a much more dangerous route they had to traverse before we built it. Advantage for the Afghans? Somewhere around zilch. Schools – even for girls – are something to be proud of, but are we providing education for young people who will lift up the Afghanistan of the future or for a new crop of refugees who will flee from a repressive and corrupt culture that looks all too likely to reassert itself?

Without the Afghans themselves accepting a new mindset – one which sees them welcome the influences and processes of the world beyond their borders – our presence is doomed to failure. There is only one way to have them accept new ways – they must see themselves gaining benefits from them that they never had before. You would think that our Canadian troops, with a history of peacekeeping, would have been naturals to work on hearts and minds in this way. The Germans are doing it, in the North, the Dutch are doing it next door to Kandahar, but what are the Canadians doing? Following the Darth Vader's Star Trooper methods of the American forces – that's what. You don't win hearts and minds from inside a tank.

The Bush regime is obsessed with drugs. The War on Drugs is a huge business in the USA – millions of Republicans are wedded to it. Although the Europeans have long been arguing for NATO to buy the Afghan's cash crop of opium poppies and use them to end a scarcity in our own pharmaceutical production – the Americans and their pit bulls, the Brits, have been burning the fields and ruining the Afghan farmers' livelihoods. Starving people find it hard to think kindly about the foreigners who have brought them to that state. People who have had loved ones strafed and killed by Warthogs or bombed by F-16s are not likely to change the mindset that has had them pick up a weapon and fight back against every invader who has ever crossed their borders.

Who should be the people voting about the length of time our Canadian troops will serve in Afghanistan? Not Tories – not Steven Harper with his rose coloured spectacles filled with images of his right wing idols in Washington. Not even Canadian Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Bloc Quebecois. The Afghans should be the ones to vote – the people, and not the regime that was foisted upon them by Washington. And if we want them to invite our men and women to stay in their country longer because they are doing some real good – they'd better be doing some good first.

Support our troops – sure, when they are doing something Canadians can support.

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