Sunday, May 16, 2010

Canada's role in untying Af-Pak Gordion Knot

Pakistan has been sliding into chaos for too long to be pulled out quickly.

Jihadism was encouraged and paid for by the U.S. in the 1980s to roll back the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, using the Islamic mujahideen as proxies. In the 1990s, Pakistan created the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan. It created other militias as proxies in Kashmir against India. Since 2001, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have spawned offshoots in Pakistan. Now it’s difficult to tell the difference between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, or their affiliates.

Anti-Americanism runs rampant, which is why the drone attacks are not acknowledged. But being an open secret, the attacks are feeding even more militancy (Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square terrorist, is said to have been seeking revenge for civilian deaths from the drone attacks).

The U.S. wants the Pakistani army to continue its military offensive in the border region. But the army is stretched (having committed 240,000 troops and lost 800 last year alone) and the Pakistani public has other priorities.

The economy is in the doldrums. Power shortages are acute. Corruption is rampant (worse than in Afghanistan). Pakistanis see their government following an American agenda, which they do not regard as being in their interest. The U.S. recasts its request in terms of Pakistan needing to deal with its own internal jihadist cancer. (Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, Sunday May 16, 2010)

The Canadian government cannot wash its hands of the Af-Pak problem simply by withdrawing troops in 2011. However, it must marshall the best minds in foreign policy (remember Lester Pearson, Flora McDonald, Allan MacEachen and others) in order to mount a substantive debate in this country, about our future participation in the region.
If we listen carefully to John Ralston Saul, Canadian governments have not considered Foreign Affairs to be a significant policy department, and have shuffled different suits and faces into the ministry for decades.
This is one Canadian tradition we can no longer afford!
Canadian scholars in International Relations are teaching and writing about these matters every day. The Prime Minister could and should bring a dozen of these thinkers to a table and spend at least a week-end listening to their insights.
This gordion knot will not untie itself. And it's untying could use some Canadian intelligence. And we know there is lots here waiting to be asked!

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