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Should Canada Continue Its Combat Mission In Afghanistan Politics Essay

Afghanada. This word captures the essence of a popular concept called global citizenship. The paths of Afghanistan and Canada have been intertwined for almost a decade now. It is therefore not very surprising that this new state of affairs has been captured by the award-winning Canadian radio drama series called Afghanada.

Is global citizenship a blessing or a curse? Which is more important, global citizenship or national citizenship? Should Canada continue its combat mission in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2011? This paper will answer these questions, with special emphasis on the pros and cons of Canada’s presence in Afghanistan after 2011.

Global citizenship versus National citizenship

The debate on whether Canada should continue its combat mission in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2011 can be summarized in two concepts: global citizenship versus national citizenship. The latter concept favors Canada discontinuing its operations in Afghanistan due to the high physical, financial, social and political cost to the citizens of Canada. The former concept – global citizenship – favours Canada staying on in Afghanistan.

Global citizenship

The reasons as to why Canada should stay on in Afghanistan can be seen when we take a closer look at the concept of global citizenship. Michael Byers, a Political Science professor at the University of British Columbia states that “global citizenship is a powerful term because people that invoke it do so to promote and justify action.” [1] But what exactly is global citizenship?

“In international relations, global citizenship can refer to states’ responsibility to act with awareness that the world is a global community, by recognizing and fulfilling its obligations toward the global world, as well as the rights of global citizens.” [2] Thus, an advantage of Canada staying on in Afghanistan is that it will have fulfilled its obligation as a global citizen.

However, above and beyond the issue of political and social responsibility, there is the higher issue of moral responsibility. Falk, in his article titled “The Making of Global Citizenship” sheds light on the spirit of global citizenship. He writes: “It is not a matter of being a formal member and loyal participant in a particular political community, whether city or state. Instead, it is a feeling, thinking, and acting for the sake of the human species, and above all for those most vulnerable and disadvantaged.” [3] 

There is no question that the people of Afghanistan are “vulnerable and disadvantaged.” Canada should play its role as a global citizen and continue to help the people of Afghanistan. To whom much is given, much is expected. Parekh (2005) puts it this way: “Since the conditions of life of our fellow human beings in distant places of the world should be a matter of deep moral and political concern to us, our citizenship has an inescapable global dimension and we should aim to become what I call a globally oriented citizen.” [4] 

“Global citizenship is related to the international theory of idealism…” [5] Falk talks of “a mixture of pragmatism and idealism…”. [6] Idealism seems to be the key word when it comes to matters of global citizenship. However, natural citizenship leans towards pragmatism/realism, as the Canadian tax payers and the friends and families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan, would be quick to inform us.

National Citizenship

It is very idealistic to assume Canada will embrace its global citizenship responsibilities and continue its activities in Afghanistan. However, the Canadian government has a higher responsibility to the tax-paying people of Canada. The disadvantages of Canada staying on in Afghanistan include:

The cost to Canadian tax payers

The loss of Canadian life

Disservice to the people of Afghanistan

The cost to Canadian tax payers

Canada’s presence in Afghanistan is costly. An article by Matthew Fisher has a headline that says it all: “Afghanistan mission price tag passes 525,000 Dollar per soldier” [7] . This amount does not include the various other costs that are incurred, for example cost of salaries, equipment, transport and health care.

Fisher’s article gives the following breakdown of costs:

Canadian soldier in Afghanistan (per year) $525,000

Cost of the mission for 2009/2010 fiscal year $1.5 billion

Equipment and infrastructure $2 billion

Operations and maintenance $250 million

Fuel $241,000

Feeding the troops $20.5 million

Expenses incurred by Department of Foreign Affairs

and Canadian International Development Agency $9 million per year

Looking at these figures, it is clear that a big disadvantage of staying on in Canada is that the Canadian tax payers’ money would go towards this venture instead of into things such as dealing with unemployment and the other effects of the global economic crisis. However, if Canada considers itself to be a global citizen, then it should be aware that it is not cheap.

It is all well and good for developed countries like Canada to rant and rave about things like trade, etc. But situations like those in Afghanistan are where the rubber meets the road. Being a global citizen is not just about carrying placards and shouting slogans. Being a global citizen involves sacrificing your resources; money, blood, sweat and tears.

The loss of Canadian life

Speaking of blood and tears, another advantage of Canada pulling out of Afghanistan after 2011 is that there will be no further loss of the lives of Canadian troops. Wikipedia informs us that “The number of Canadian forces’ fatalities resulting from Canadian military activities in Afghanistan is the largest for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. A total of 150 Canadian Forces personnel have been killed in the war since 2002.” [8] 

It is easy to play down statistics. After all, 150 is just a number and not a very big number at that. But Mrs. Short and her two children would probably beg to differ. Sergeant Robert Allan Short was killed in 2003 by a land mine. Ainsworth Dyer’s fiancée would also beg to differ. Her fiancé was killed in 2002 by American friendly fire. In 2006, 22-year old Private Robert Costale was also killed by friendly fire. He is survived by his wife and son.

The loss of Canadian life is an issue that cannot just be ignored. One lost life is one lost life too many. However, once again, it needs to be pointed out that being a global citizen is expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of human life. Freedom is not free. It has to be fought for and defended. The brave troops put themselves on the line so that this freedom can continue to be enjoyed. Casualties are a part of war.

Disservice to the people of Afghanistan

(a)Apathetic Afghan Army

There comes a point in every child’s life when the training wheels have to come off. One disadvantage of Canada staying on in Afghanistan is that the troops may become a crutch for the people of Afghanistan, especially the government and the security forces of Afghanistan. Daniel Greenfield (2010) is of the opinion that the presence of international troops in Afghanistan are “cultivating tame useless armies of soldiers who won’t stand and fight because they know American [and Canadians} will do the real fighting for them.” [9] 

(b) Neo-colonialism

One of the reasons the Canadian government gives for its continued presence in Afghanistan is that it wants to fulfill its objective of helping to rebuild Afghanistan. It is very idealistic of the Canadian government to want to do this. However, Greenfield (2010) takes issue with this too. He believes that this goal is “completely detached from reality” and that ensuring that Afghanistan has a government that is functional and stable will be “a long and painful process.” [10] 

Unlike Greenfield, I see no problem in this. As a global citizen, just like a citizen of a particular country, commitment is the key world. Canada must be willing to be in Afghanistan for the long-haul. As Travers and Owen ask in their 2008 article titled “Between Metaphor and Strategy: Canada’s Integrated Approach to peace building in Afghanistan”: “Is Canada committed to remaining involved until Afghanistan is capable of functioning independently?” [11] The answer should be a resounding “Yes!”.

However, Greenfield then raises a very pertinent point. He is of the opinion that long-term presence in Afghanistan can only be sustained if a system that mirrors that of colonialism, used by the British Empire in years gone by, is put into place. In his own words, Greenfield writes: “The leftover ideas from WW2 about nation building might seem fine in theory, but are virtually unworkable in reality without turning into a vast multi-generational colonial project in the British model.” [12] 

The idea of an empire like that of the British Empire is disturbing to say the very least. But the good news is that this new kind of ‘empire’ is not at all like the empires of the past. In his article titled “Empire and Citizenship”, Joe Painter (2003) points out that “In Empire today, there is no Crown or Presidency…” [13] 

Greenfield is concerned that a long-term project like this would change both the people of Afghanistan and the people of Canada. Indeed, it would. But this is just a side-effect of global citizenship. Global citizenship creates never-before-seen hybrids like Afghanada; like a half-Kenyan American president who has a half-Indonesian sibling who is espoused to a Chinese-Canadian man; like a golf-star who has Chinese, Native American, Dutch, Thai and African American blood!

The above-mentioned American president, when he was still Senator, said it aptly when he quipped: “The burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. Partnership among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.” [14] Greenfield chooses to see a long-term participation in Afghanistan as a kind of colonialism. I choose to see it as global citizenship in action.

(c) Allegations of detainees being tortured

A cartoon shows a Canadian solider with a sword written “Detainee Allegations” on its handle, protruding from his back. The soldier is thinking “At least we know why the Taliban are trying to do us in…” [15] The implication of this cartoon is that the Canadian soldiers see the torture of detainees allegations as a betrayal by the Canadian government and they perceive the allegations as an attempt by the government/those concerned to do them in or at the very least, to give them a bad reputation.

The detainee torture allegations is one reason why Canada should pull out from Afghanistan after 2011. Many times, allegations do have an element of truth in them. One can argue that the troops should be gotten out before more harm than good is done. The torture of detainees is a huge disservice to the people of Afghanistan because it might set precedence where ill treatment of prisoners is considered appropriate.

These allegations are also a huge disservice to the people of Canada. Another cartoon regarding the torture allegations shows five Canadians reading various newspapers with the following headlines: “Canada knew torture”, “Canada Complicit”, “Amnesty Slams Canada”, “Canadian Cover-up” and “Govt Dismisses Allegations”. The readers respond by saying: “Ouch”, “That hurts”, “Mercy!”, “Please make it stop” and words fail one of the readers. He simply groans. [16] 

One would be led to suspect that the readers are in pain. The final section of the cartoon confirms this suspicion. It reads: “Canadians being tortured over torture revelations.” [17] These allegations cast a dark shadow on Canada and Canadians. Of course, the people of Canada want the torture to stop – both the torture of detainees and the torture to their Canadian national pride. A good way to do this would be to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan after 2011.

The existence of organizations such as NATO crystallizes the idea of global citizenship. The Afghanistan issue is not just a Canadian concern. Canada also has its allies to think about. Whatever Canada does will have far reaching implications in the global scene.

A cartoon titled “The tug of war in Afghanistan” captures the dilemma in regard to Canada in Afghanistan. It shows Stephen Harper and Jack Layton in a tug of war. Stephan Dion is the rope. In the cartoon, there seems to be a stalemate, with neither Harper nor Layton making headway. Dion looks like the most miserable of the three, implying that in this contentious issue, there is no easy answer. Both sides have pros and cons. It becomes a matter of choosing the lesser evil that will do the greatest good.

A cartoon that captures the complicated nature of this issue is one depicting a tank emblazoned with the world NATO. On this tank are three generals. One points to the East, the other points to the West and the third to the North. Looking closely at the wheels, you find that the artist has drawn in question marks. The main question is of course, what’s the way forward in this issue?

The third option

It seems that there are only two sides to this issue; that either Canada should continue its combat mission in Afghanistan after 2011 or that Canada should not. However, there is a third option that can take into consideration all the pros and cons of both sides of the argument so as to come up with a solution that will be acceptable to both the people who are pro Canada exiting from Afghanistan and those who insist that Canada should continue its operations in Afghanistan.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the main issues that are of concern to those who are pro Canada exiting Afghanistan include the cost involved, the loss of Canadian life and disservice to the people of Afghanistan. These are all valid concerns but we shouldn’t just jump to conclusions and insist that because of these valid concerns, Canada should just up and leave after 2011. There are ways in which these problems can be managed, lessened and hopefully, even be done away with.

Dealing with the issue of cost

In the case of cost of maintaining soldiers in Afghanistan, the costs can be reduced. One way of doing this is by reducing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan after 2011. The current number is approximately 2500. This number could be halved. In this way, the Canadian government will still be fulfilling its obligations as a global citizen but at the same time will be fulfilling its obligations to the tax-paying Canadian citizens.

Dealing with the issue of loss of lives

A look at the statistics regarding the Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan shows that quite a number of deaths were as a result of friendly fire. [18] In fact, the very first four fatalities that occurred in 2002 were as a result of friendly fire courtesy of the Americans. This issue needs to be looked into so as to reduce the number of Canadian fatalities especially at the hands of the Americans.

The issue of loss of life, of course, cannot be completely dealt with. Loss of life is part and parcel of any war effort. However, senseless loss of life at the hands of people in your team can be reduced.

Dealing with disservice to the people of Afghanistan

Regarding the issue of disservice to the people of Afghanistan, several things can be done. One way of making sure that the Afghan Army does not become apathetic and does not use the Canadian and American armies as a crutch is by intensifying their training. Soldiers in the Afghanistan army could be deployed to other areas where the NATO forces are active so that they can get a taste of real combat. In this way, they will gain the necessary real life experience that will come in handy while defending their own home country.

Vicious cycle versus Virtuous cycle

Some would argue that Canada should only stay on in Afghanistan in a non-combat capacity. This idea is unacceptable. In the case of Afghanistan, one cannot separate the peace-building initiatives from the military aspect. They go together. Travers and Owen (2008) put it this way: “…underdevelopment and political instability engage one another in a vicious cycle of poverty and violence.” [19] 

Canada cannot hope to help in a non-combat capacity if she does not actively engage in combat. The panel involved with the Manley Report further underline this point. They outline how Canada’s goals in Afghanistan – that is, security, development and governance – form a virtuous cycle. They posit that: “Security enables development; effective governance enhances security; development creates opportunities, and multiplies the rewards of improved security and good governance.” [20] 

Conclusion

The existence of organizations such as NATO crystallizes the idea of global citizenship. The Afghanistan issue is not just a Canadian concern. Canada also has its allies to think about. Whatever Canada does will have far reaching implications in the global scene.

The panel of the Manley report puts it this way: “Canadian interest and values, and Canadian lives, are now invested in Afghanistan….What we do there (or stop doing) affects the Afghan people. It can affect Canadian security. It can affect Canada’s reputation in the world. It can affect our influence in international affairs.” [21] 

A political cartoon gives truth to the age-old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. This cartoon vividly portrays how withdrawing troops from Canada paint a very bad picture of Canada and puts it in a less than flattering light. The cartoon shows President Obama riding a wave comprise of American troops, straight into Afghanistan as he yells “Surge!”. Meanwhile, a little boat that is choc-full of troops who are Canadian as is indicated by the Canadian flag on the boat, is riding on the back of the same wave of American troops but is going in the opposite direction – away from Afghanistan. [22] 

Several words come to mind when looking at this cartoon. Words like betrayal, abandonment, cop-out, apathy, non-commitment, disloyalty and yes, even cowardice, come to mind. Canada is part of NATO. She is therefore obligated to help out in Afghanistan. It’s the right thing to do.

The Editorial section of an article titled “Rehabilitating Afghanistan” which was featured in the February 2002 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal sums up this topic for us very well: “These are difficult times for economies everywhere, but while we in industrialized societies fret about questions of sustainability, much of the world faces questions of survival. Assist we must….” [23] 

Canada should therefore continue its combat mission beyond the end of 2011 – not necessarily in the same way that she has been conduction its operations - so as to secure the social and political development of Afghanistan.

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