What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Collateral damage: Afghanistan

The Toronto Star is a left of centre Canadian paper, so to see this coming wasn't altogether that surprising. Things are not looking as bad for Canadian PM Harper and his government nowadays as one could have expected about a month or so ago, back before the Québec by-elections last month. It's still not sure if Harper will win on the Afghanistan issue, especially since he seems to be just as ready to play games with it as any of his opponents he rightly accuses of playing political football with it. But for Liberals nowadays, as one Canadian political scientist sums it up, things are not looking that bright: "For him (Dion - Liberal leader - P.M.), it's tail you (Harper) win, or head I (Dion) lose," referring to early elections that the Liberals could force now but wouldn't be likely to win, against the Conservatives.
So I thought it's in a way normal to come across an article like this one, calling for a referendum to ask the Canadian people the question: "Should Canadian soldiers be involved in the Afghan war at all?"
The article also includes other questions, such as: "In 2005, Canada lost one soldier in Afghanistan. From 2002 to 2006, we lost eight soldiers in total. In 2006, the year Harper took over, we lost 36, with a further 27 so far in 2007, for a total of 63 soldiers having paid the supreme price during Harper's watch. Surely Harper would want to explain why this has occurred."
Formulating a question as though one wouldn't be aware of the fact that the decision to contribute to ISAF's Stage 3 expansion, to move into southern Afghanistan, was made before the Harper government came to office (sworn in in February, 2006) is something that certainly fits a certain kind of political logic. But I had a feeling that this already would have been perhaps too political, even for a left-of-centre journalist. And so I checked the author's name, and then his background. Sinclair Stevens. These two Wikipedia passages ran it home to me then:
" Stevens returned to prominence as a bitter opponent of the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives into the Conservative Party of Canada. Stevens backed an unsuccessful lawsuit to try to block the merger.
(...)
As of 2006, Stevens runs Freedom International Association along Noreen Stevens and Alice Patry, a registered corporation that controls the domain bloc-harper.com. This website promotes the idea that Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and now Prime Minister, and Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist Bloc Québécois, are collaborating to weaken Canadian federalism, to the point that - whether intended by Harper or not - it will lead to the separation of Quebec from the rest of the country. "
So he's a bitter former progressive conservative. Well, those of you who are familiar with domestic Canadian politics, feel free to yawn. For me this was all very interesting. So for this man any potential damage to Afghanistan is just collateral damage, apparently.
With that in mind it's amazing to come across these couple of sentences here towards the end: "The United Nations report states, "the yearly Afghan opium harvest may kill directly and not, over 100,000 people." It is estimated approximately 1,000 of those casualties will be in Canada."
Thanks. It's not so easy to find data on overdose and drug crime-related deaths by country, even though I would love to use it in research (rest assured I'll get it of course, but it'll take much digging). But Sinclair Stevens has just given me at least some sort of concrete figure, even if it's just a loose estimate, on Canada at least! Isn't that nice! And by the way, it's also one of the best arguments to explain to Canadians why they should support operations in Afghanistan. Unless you see it as advantageous to hand Afghanistan to the Taliban that is, which Sinclair Stevens seems ready to do on the basis of how he points to the Taliban's successes on the poppy issue as the defining feature of an era that Afghans might perhaps have more diverse memories of (I mean, unless he thinks it imaginable that some country will suddenly jump in to replace Canada in Kandahar; perhaps he never got down to considering such issues).
To be clear, I should add: before one can start doing something about the poppy issue, the insurgency has to be dealt with first. Read a serious article here on the issue.
Update: Others have already linked to news of a poll conducted by Environics Research on behalf of Canadian media, asking respondents throughout Afghanistan about attitudes towards international troops. It was one reader's pointing to it that gave me the critical impulse to realise I absolutely must link to it at the end of this post.
So clearly a majority of Afghans, crucially including Kandaharis, too, see the international troop presence as a good thing. Even more crucially, only 14 percent countrywide have positive views regarding the Taliban - so apparently the low cost, spontaneous local counternarcotics police force of choice for some war critics in the West is not so popular with the locals. Will we ever see those critics consider that?
Update No. 2: Here's the link to Environics, the original source, and their results. The Taliban is as dispreferred as indicated above, while the picture regarding the international troop presence is a bit more complex. With the obvious consequences of the 4GW-type fighting (e.g. IEDs blowing up) in mind it's understandable that the share of people who say that the troops' presence in general is good is greater than the share of those who say it's good in their own neighbourhood.
Update No. 3: Well, is it? I shall immediately revise that latter sentence. Here's a pic first of all to illustrate the difference in views of the international troop presence as positive, in general vs. in one's local area. Data taken from the Environics survey.
However, Environics say that in Kandahar 57 percent of the locals (as opposed to just 49% countrywide) see international troop presence in their local area as a good thing! According to data cited by The Globe and Mail but not given explicitly by Environics, that's only somewhat less than the 61 percent in Kandahar who, according to The Globe and Mail, see the presence as good in general. Weirdly, that latter data from The Globe and Mail contradicts Environics' own webpage which says that a smaller share of Kandaharis see the troop presence in general as a good thing than of Afghans overall (that is 60% of Afghans overall).
Anyway, before somebody makes a big deal out of this, I should add that still we're talking about clearly a majority of Kandaharis approving of the international troop presence, both in general and locally, as well as clearly only a small minority approving of the Taliban.

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