NATO must change role in Afghanistan

UVic expert provides “realistic report”

By Christine Roulston



While last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $200 million in reconstruction aid for Afghanistan, many experts are questioning NATO’s effectiveness in the country where, since 2001, the organization has assisted the Afghan government in establishing authority in the turbulent area.

A new report released March 1 by UVic’s Dr. Gordon Smith says NATO must change its course in Afghanistan in order to achieve sustainable peace and a representative government in the country.

Smith, executive director of UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and former deputy minister of foreign affairs and ambassador to NATO, completed the report over six months with the help of a team of experts from across Canada.

Smith says he was motivated to provide a realistic report to illuminate the current debate about Canada’s role in Afghanistan, something he describes as woefully uninformed.

“People seem to fall into two groups,” he says. “Those who believe we need to support the mission all the way and those who believe Canada should get out right away. Both are wrong.”

But Smith can sympathize with Canadians’ seemingly simplistic views of the war in Afghanistan. “In all my years in government, I have not grappled with a tougher issue,” he says.

The report, prepared for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI), a think tank pursuing authoritative research to ensure Canada has an influential voice in the international arena, provides a pessimistic look at NATO’s role in Afghanistan.

The report recommends NATO find a way of negotiating with elements of the Taliban. It also questions whether there is adequate co-ordination in Afghanistan between military activities and civilian relief in the zones of conflict in the South.

Smith cites several problems with the mission to date, such as the lack of resources being expended by NATO and other members of the international community on the mission in Afghanistan.

“If you look at the resources given to the Balkans compared to the resources given to Afghanistan, 25 to 50 per cent more was devoted to the number of military and the amount of development assistance for the Balkans. That’s a major problem.”

The report details how the Taliban are deeply entrenched in Afghanistan and are organizing themselves for a new offensive, in part because of assistance flowing in from Pakistan. There are also signs al-Qa’ida is attempting to reconstitute itself in Pakistan.

“Meeting NATO objectives requires some form of political resolution within Afghanistan,” says Smith. “It also requires Pakistan playing a more positive role by facilitating negotiations with those Talibs not determined to fight to the bitter end.”

Smith highlights one group in particular, the Pashtun, a people living on the border with Pakistan, as key to the Taliban. “Even if you have more resources devoted to the mission, if the Pashtun don’t feel they are adequately represented in President Karzai’s government, it will cause problems.”

The report also criticizes the government’s poppy eradication campaign designed to cut down on illegal narcotic production. Smith says farmers in rural regions of Afghanistan have no other means of supporting themselves, and their poverty and discontent is leading to alliances with the Taliban.

He suggests the crop should be sold through a marketing board and processed for opiate-based medicine.

“Things have to change,” says Smith. “And change has to come from the inside to fight things like the corruption that is so prevalent in the country right now.”

The complete report, Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working? is available online at

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