Opinions

Support for Afghan mission waning

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Canadian casualties in Afghanistan have become common over the past few months. By now, Canadians' views regarding the mission are relatively fixed, with the majority believing it's doomed. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the military brass disagree with this assessment, it's hard to take them seriously given the wildly unrealistic nature of their goals.

Recent events in Afghanistan have made this much clear: democracy--in the sense that we know it--isn't going to take root there any time soon. Supporters often point to elections in the country since the 2001 invasion as evidence of progress, but there are relevant details they neglect to mention. Low turnout--just 53 per cent in last fall's parliamentary election--is one. Warlords winning seats is another.

Paradoxically, many of those who laud elections in Afghanistan and Iraq as proof of democracy also argue that democracy is about more than elections; it includes things like freedom of the press and minority rights. But there's little chance of either of those establishing a foothold in Afghanistan soon. Freedom of the press means little when just 36 per cent of the population is literate. Genuine freedom of religion would be a major development, but such prospects are bleak--just last year Afghani journalist Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was sentenced to two years in prison for suggesting Islamic law should be altered to give greater standing to women.

Rightly or wrongly, Canadian patience with this mission is limited. It's hard to believe our troops will remain there for long if we continue to suffer casualties at the current rate, but most admit achieving even a relatively peaceful, quasi-democratic Afghanistan will take at least a decade. The government, however, refuses to accept such a modest goal. Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor offered a refreshing note of candour recently when he conceded that the Taliban couldn't be defeated militarily, but retracted his comments shortly thereafter.

That's a shame. More troops and better equipment may better the odds for success in Afghanistan, but a continuing stream of lies from those in power will almost certainly condemn it to failure. Canadians will never fully support a mission until it's clear what we're fighting for.

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