Time to quit Afghanistan

Eric Margolis | Edmonton Sun, Oct 5, 2008

At last, a faint glimmer of light at the end of the Afghan tunnel.

Last week, the U.S.-installed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, revealed he had asked Saudi Arabia to broker peace talks with the alliance of tribal and political groups resisting western occupation collectively known as the Taliban.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar quickly rejected Karzai’s offer and claimed the U.S. was headed toward the same kind of catastrophic defeat in Afghanistan that the Soviet Union met. The ongoing financial panic in North America lent a certain credence to his words.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, urgently called for at least 10,000 more troops but, significantly, also proposed political talks with the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are increasingly on the defensive, hard pressed to defend vulnerable supply lines in spite of massive fire power and total control of the air.

I recently asked Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s former senior adviser, how this seemingly impossible war could be won. His eyes dancing with imperial hubris, Rove replied, “More Predators (missile armed drones) and helicopters!” Which reminded me of poet Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful line about British imperialism, “Whatever happens/we have got/the Maxim gun (machine gun)/and they have not.”

Though Karzai’s olive branch was rejected, the fact he made it public is very important. By doing so, he broke the simple-minded western taboo against negotiations with the Taliban and its allies.

DRUG FIGHTERS

The Taliban was founded as an Islamic religious movement dedicated to fighting communism and the drug trade. It received U.S. funding until May 2001. But western war propaganda has so demonized the Taliban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: A negotiated settlement to this pointless seven-year war. Even NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the war could only be ended by negotiations, not military means.

The Taliban and its allies are mostly Pashtuns (or Pathans), who comprise half of Afghanistan’s population. They have been largely excluded from political power by the U.S.-backed Kabul regime, which relies on Tajik and Uzbek ethnic minorities, chiefs of the old Afghan Communist Party, and the nation’s leading drug lords.

Canada, which lacks funds for modern medical care, has spent a staggering $22 billion to support its little war against the Pashtun tribes. It’s a war which Canada’s defence minister actually claimed is necessary so that Canadian delegates would be “taken seriously” at international meetings. A better path to credibility might be to not plagiarize from other right wing leader’s speeches.

Ottawa and Washington should listen to Karzai who, despite being a U.S.-installed “asset,” is also a decent man who cares about his nation. In fact, Ottawa should remember Canada’s venerable position as an international peacemaker, a role that has made it one of the world’s most respected nations.

Mr. Harper’s role model, George W. Bush, is probably the most disliked man on earth and certainly America’s worst president in history, who has led his nation from disaster to calamity. Only 22% of Americans support Bush. Half of them believe Elvis is still alive.

The Taliban are not “terrorists.” The movement had nothing to do with 9/11 though it did shelter Osama bin Laden, a national hero of the war against the Soviets. Only a handful of al-Qaida are left in Afghanistan.

The current war is not really about al-Qaida and “terrorism,” but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin to the West. Canada and the rest of NATO have no business being pipeline protection troops. Canada’s military intervention in Afghanistan has jeopardized its national security by putting it on the map as an anti-Muslim nation joined at the hip with Bush and his ruinous policies.

As the great Benjamin Franklin said, “there is no good war, and no bad peace.”

I hope Ottawa will have the courage to admit it was wrong about Afghanistan and bring its troops home — now.

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