by Doug McArthur
The U.S. invasion and overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001 seemed at the time to many in Canada, and in the Western nations generally, a welcome development. While doubts existed about the wisdom of proceeding so quickly with the use of force, United Nations approval was obtained, and the result was the removal from power of an unelected government that had shown a deplorable lack of respect for human rights and human life at home and abroad. The Taliban provided a sanctuary for terrorism against Western nations, and it treated its own people with disdain. The defeat of the Taliban was supported by a majority in Afghanistan itself, and support was widespread for a new, more democratic government that would protect basic human rights and provide stable government.
Five years later, it is hard to be so positive. The country is once more caught up in armed conflict. Hundreds of military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban government. More than 40 of these have been Canadians. The new government has proved less than successful at establishing order and at providing needed services and development. Many people in the country express fears about security; the longevity of the new democratically elected regime is in doubt.
The events of mid- and late 2006 are particularly alarming. In late May, an incident in Kabul brought thousands of armed people into the streets, and was suppressed with great difficulty and loss of life. This incident challenged the widespread assumption that Kabul is secure and supportive of the regime. There has also been intense fighting in the southern regions around Kandahar, generating new fears that a resurgent Taliban may be poised to lead a more broadly based uprising against the government. Incidents in other parts of Afghanistan also suggest that the ability of the government to impose order is in doubt over much of the country.
In Canada, the doubts and questions are particularly acute. For the first time since the Korean War, Canadian soldiers are dying on active duty in direct combat as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While Canadian soldiers are now part of an international force, the first deaths occurred when they were fighting with the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom forces. There is concern that the ISAF effort is simply part of a misguided U.S.-led venture of doubtful origins and even more doubtful management.